Top 10 Best 80s New Wave Songs: Timeless Hits

Colorful 80s neon lights illuminate a crowded dance floor. A band performs on stage, while the audience dances and sings along to the top 10 new wave hits

The 1980s were a vibrant decade for music, marked by the rise of New Wave. This genre combined elements of punk rock, electronic, and pop, creating a unique and memorable sound. As the music evolved, New Wave artists gained massive popularity, leaving a lasting impact on the music industry.

What makes the best 80s New Wave songs stand out is their innovative fusion of sounds and styles. These tracks not only defined an era but also influenced future generations of musicians. Whether you’re a longtime fan or new to the genre, exploring these songs provides a glimpse into an exciting musical period.

1. “Blue Monday” by New Order

“Blue Monday” by New Order is a standout track in the 1980s new wave genre.

  • Song name: Blue Monday
  • Album: Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)
  • Release date: 7 March 1983

Why we included this song on the list:

“Blue Monday” revolutionized electronic dance music with its catchy beat and unique sound. It became the best-selling 12-inch single ever, showing the impact it had in its time. The song’s blend of synthesizers and drum machines set a new standard for electronic music.

Interesting or fun facts about the song:

The song was written and produced by Gillian Gilbert, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, and Bernard Sumner. It’s known for its distinctive intro and the use of a synthesized kick drum. “Blue Monday” appears on some versions of the album Power, Corruption & Lies. In 1988, a version called “Blue Monday 88” was also released, becoming iconic in its own right.

2. “Just Can’t Get Enough” by Depeche Mode

“Just Can’t Get Enough” is an iconic song by Depeche Mode. It was their third single and marked their first release in the United States.

  • Song name: Just Can’t Get Enough
  • Album name: Speak & Spell
  • Release date: September 7, 1981

Why we included this song on the list

“Just Can’t Get Enough” showcases Depeche Mode’s early talent for creating catchy electronic pop. It was a defining track for the band’s beginnings and remains a fan favorite. The song’s upbeat melody and infectious synths helped it become a significant part of the 80s New Wave music scene.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

The song was recorded in the summer of 1981 at Blackwing Studios. It features the band’s original lineup, with Vince Clarke, who later left to form Yazoo and Erasure. Depeche Mode’s live performance on Top of the Pops in 1981 is a classic moment in synth-pop history.

3. “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell

  • Song Name: “Tainted Love”
  • Album: Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
  • Release Date: 1981

Why we included this song on the list

“Tainted Love” by Soft Cell is a defining track of the new wave genre. The song originally by Gloria Jones gained new life and massive popularity in the ’80s. Soft Cell’s version transformed the track with a slower tempo and heavy use of synthesizers, aligning perfectly with the new wave sound.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

The original song was recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964. It became a favorite in the UK’s Northern soul scene in the 70s. Glen Campbell played the lead guitar in the original version. Soft Cell’s cover version spent 43 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and reached number 8. This transformation from soul to synth-pop became iconic in the music world.

4. “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League

Why we included this song on the list

“Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League is a classic track from the 80s that captures the essence of the New Wave genre. The song combines catchy synth melodies with a memorable chorus, making it one of the defining tracks of its time. With its blend of electronic music and pop sensibilities, it became an iconic hit.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

This song was the best-selling UK single of 1981 and the Christmas number one that year. Over the years, it has sold over 1,560,000 copies in the UK. Despite its success, band members initially did not think it would be a hit. The song’s narrative about a turbulent relationship is told from two perspectives, adding depth to its lyrics.

Many artists have covered “Don’t You Want Me” across different genres. The song also ranks highly in numerous greatest hits lists, solidifying its status as a significant cultural artifact of the 80s.

5. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics

  • Song name: Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
  • Album: Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
  • Release date: January 21, 1983

Why we included this song on the list

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” became a defining track of the 80s New Wave era. Its catchy synth riff and Annie Lennox’s powerful vocals created an iconic sound that resonated with listeners. The song helped establish Eurythmics as global stars and is still considered a classic today.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

The title track’s music video features Annie Lennox with her striking orange hair and suit, an image that became iconic. It was filmed in a single day and directed by Chris Ashbrook. The song achieved the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States. The expression “Sweet Dreams” became synonymous with Eurythmics’ distinct style and sound.

6. “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order

  • Song Name: Bizarre Love Triangle
  • Album: Brotherhood
  • Release Date: November 1986

Why we included this song on the list

“Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order is an iconic track of the 80s New Wave era. Its blend of synth-pop and rock elements showcases the band’s ability to create catchy and thoughtful music. The song has a timeless quality, remaining popular with fans and frequently played on classic hits stations.

The song’s impactful lyrics, combined with its upbeat, danceable rhythm, make it a standout. Its unique sound and emotional depth resonate with many listeners, earning its spot among the best New Wave songs.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

Despite its lasting popularity, “Bizarre Love Triangle” did not achieve significant commercial success in the U.S. when it was first released. It didn’t chart in the U.S. during its initial 1986 release, though it became a favorite among fans and on the dance club scene.

The song reached the top five on the US Hot Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart and hit No. 5 on the Australian ARIA Charts in March 1987.

The song has been covered by several artists, including the Norwegian band Apoptygma Berzerk. It remains a staple in New Order’s live performances, proving its enduring appeal.

7. “Mad World” by Tears for Fears

  • Song Name: “Mad World”
  • Album: The Hurting
  • Release Date: 1982

Why we included this song on the list

“Mad World” by Tears for Fears is iconic in the new wave genre. The song captures the essence of early ’80s electronic music with its haunting melody and poignant lyrics. It reflects the feelings of a generation grappling with existential concerns and societal pressures.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

  • “Mad World” was Tears for Fears’ first major hit in the UK.
  • The song was written by Roland Orzabal and performed by Curt Smith.
  • It gained renewed popularity after being covered by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules for the film “Donnie Darko.”

“Mad World” stands out for its minimalist instrumentation and impactful lyrics. It remains a staple of 1980s music and continues to resonate with new generations.

8. “Take On Me” by A-ha

  • Song Name: Take On Me
  • Album Name: Hunting High and Low
  • Release Date: 1985

Why we included this song on the list

“Take On Me” by A-ha is one of the most iconic songs from the 80s. Its catchy melody and synth-driven sound make it a standout New Wave track. The song’s popularity helped A-ha reach international fame and secured its place in music history.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

The song’s success wasn’t immediate. It took three versions and a groundbreaking music video to become a hit. The video used a mix of live-action and pencil-sketch animation, which was innovative at the time. The persistent efforts of the band and their creative approach with the video contributed to the song’s lasting impact.

For more details on how “Take On Me” became a hit, visit Classic Tracks: A-ha ‘Take On Me’.

9. “Cars” by Gary Numan

  • Song name: “Cars”
  • Album: The Pleasure Principle
  • Release date: 1979

Why we included this song on the list

“Cars” is one of Gary Numan’s most famous tracks and a defining song of the New Wave genre. Its blend of electronic sounds and punk music created a unique and forward-thinking sound that resonated with many listeners around the world. Numan’s innovative use of synthesizers set the stage for many artists in the ‘80s.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

“Cars” was inspired by an incident of road rage. Gary Numan came up with the idea for the song after nearly being attacked by thugs while he was in his car. This real-life experience gave the song a raw and genuine edge.

In 1980, “Cars” reached No. 1 on the UK and Canadian charts and climbed to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. It remains a staple in Numan’s live performances and is considered a classic in electronic and New Wave music circles.

“Cars” not only made waves for its music but also had a pivotal role in popularizing the use of electronic instruments in mainstream music. Its lasting impact can be seen in how it continues to be referenced in media and covered by various artists.

10. “Together in Electric Dreams” by Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder

  • Song name: “Together in Electric Dreams”
  • Album name: Not originally part of an album, featured in the “Electric Dreams” soundtrack
  • Release date: 1984

Why we included this song on the list

“Together in Electric Dreams” stands out as a hallmark of 80s new wave music. The partnership between Philip Oakey of the Human League and the renowned producer Giorgio Moroder created a catchy and memorable track. The song’s upbeat tempo and heartfelt lyrics capture the essence of the era. It has remained a beloved anthem, epitomizing the synth-pop sound that dominated the decade.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

The song was part of the soundtrack for the 1984 film Electric Dreams. Although it was intended to be a solo track by Moroder, movie director Steve Barron suggested Philip Oakey for the vocals. This collaboration resulted in a track that reached the UK Top 3 nearly a year after its release. The song is celebrated for its enduring appeal and is considered a classic in electronic music.

Learn more about how this unique collaboration came to be.

Origins of 80s New Wave

The 1980s New Wave movement emerged as a unique blend of electronic music and punk rock, pushing the boundaries of conventional rock. Key influences came from earlier genres, and pioneering bands played crucial roles.

Influences and Precursors

New Wave music has deep roots in 1970s punk rock, synthpop, and glam rock. Punk rock’s rebellious spirit and minimalist approach provided a foundation. Synthpop, with its use of synthesizers and electronic beats, introduced a new sound that became central to New Wave.

Artists like David Bowie and Roxy Music blended glam rock and avant-garde elements, influencing future New Wave acts. Additionally, the rise of disco and funk added danceable beats, making New Wave music both innovative and accessible. This fusion created a diverse yet cohesive genre that resonated with a wide audience.

Key Bands and Artists

Several bands and artists were instrumental in shaping the New Wave sound. Talking Heads, known for their eclectic style and pioneering use of synthesizers, became icons of the genre. Depeche Mode and Gary Numan brought electronic music to the forefront with hits like “People Are People” and “Cars”, respectively.

Duran Duran and The Police merged rock and New Wave, achieving mainstream success. The B-52’s, with their quirky style and energetic performances, also played a significant role. These bands not only defined the sound of New Wave but also influenced fashion and music videos, establishing a lasting cultural legacy.

Cultural Impact

The 80s New Wave music had a profound influence on both the fashion and media landscapes. Its unique style and sound left a lasting mark on pop culture.

Fashion and Aesthetics

New Wave music wasn’t just about the sound. It played a key role in defining 80s fashion. Bands like Duran Duran and Depeche Mode popularized bold and edgy looks. Bright colors, asymmetrical hairstyles, and dramatic makeup were all part of the New Wave aesthetic.

One standout look was the use of neon colors. Clothes featured geometric patterns and metallic fabrics. Accessories like chunky bracelets and statement earrings were common. This fashion was not just for women; men embraced it too, with sharp suits and bold patterns.

These styles spread beyond just fans of the music. Designers took inspiration from New Wave, influencing mainstream fashion. The impact of this fashion can still be seen today in various retro-inspired styles.

Media and Popular Culture

New Wave music changed not just fashion but also media and popular culture. MTV, launched in 1981, played a huge role in this. Music videos became a crucial part of an artist’s presence. New Wave bands used this to their advantage with creative and visually stunning videos.

Songs like “Take On Me” by a-ha featured groundbreaking animation techniques. This blend of music and visual art created memorable experiences for viewers. Movies and TV shows from the 80s also showcased New Wave music. This integration helped the genre reach a broader audience.

Iconic films like “Sixteen Candles” and “Pretty in Pink” included New Wave tracks. This genre therefore became synonymous with the 80s teen experience. Its influence remains visible today in modern media that pays homage to this vibrant decade.

Legacy and Evolution

The best 80s New Wave songs have left a lasting impact on modern music, influencing various genres and inspiring countless artists. This era of music continues to evoke nostalgia and has seen several revivals over the years.

Impact on Modern Music

New Wave music from the 80s has greatly influenced today’s music scene. Bands like Simple Minds, with hits like “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” helped shape alternative rock and modern pop.

Many contemporary artists draw inspiration from the synth-heavy sounds and innovative production techniques that were popular in New Wave. This genre’s unique blend of electronic music, punk, and pop has helped create diverse music styles.

Artists such as The Killers and LCD Soundsystem have openly credited New Wave as an influence. This shows how the genre’s distinctive sounds and styles continue to resonate with new generations.

Revival and Nostalgia

The 80s New Wave era is remembered fondly, leading to numerous revivals over the years. Events like 80s-themed nights at clubs and concerts featuring New Wave bands have become popular.

Films and TV shows set in or inspired by the 80s often feature New Wave tracks, keeping the music relevant. Songs like “Burning Down the House” by Talking Heads evoke strong nostalgic feelings and are still widely recognized.

Music streaming services have also contributed to the revival of New Wave, making it easier for new listeners to discover and enjoy these classic hits. This ongoing interest helps keep the legacy of 80s New Wave alive and well.

For more information on the impact of 80s New Wave and its memorable songs, take a look at the detailed lists and articles available online.

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