The ’80s saw the rise of hip-hop culture and scores of thriving underground scenes, but sadly, those minor musical revolutions rarely got as much radio airplay as the over-synthesized new wave-tinged pop music that otherwise dominated the decade. It goes without saying that there’s plenty of music to love throughout the ’80s, but the unfortunate perversion of metal music into hair metal, funk into disco, and new wave into the cheesiest of cheesy pop ensured that much of that decade’s music has already aged worse than the ’70s and most years that came before.
For all the good they produced, the ’80s now feel like a shared joke we can’t help but feel some fond nostalgia for, in spite of all the questionable fashions and pop songs that came out of them. Let’s enjoy the joke of the ’80s by remembering the worst of the worst the decade produced.
1. ‘We Built This City’ by Starship
Often cited as one of the worst songs of all time, Starship’s only hit sounds like the death knell of rock and roll. The cause of death could only be the 1980s, as a band that once dabbled in interesting psychedelia as Jefferson Airplane rebranded themselves as an ugly collective of drum machines and synthesizers. The song keeps shoving its amelodic hook about “rock and roll” down your throat, as if desperate to assert that this sad semblance of dated production tricks ever had any right to be called rock.
2. ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ by Falco
Austrian artist Falco’s only American hit is certainly a bad song, but it’s still easy to understand how it could sail to the top of the charts as a sort of strange novelty. In the context of the ’80s, those omnipresent organ bloops and dramatic synthesizer riff probably sounded perfectly reasonable, if not for German man grunting and groaning atop it with all the urgency of David Byrne waiting in a long line for the men’s room. How was this music supposed to pay tribute to Mozart again?
3. ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ by Wham!
A band as silly and goofily enthusiastic as the explanation point at the end of their name, Wham! boasts all the bright colors and homoerotic energy we associate with the ’80s, but their dated styles might be forgiven simply for how catchy some of their better tunes are. “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” is most certainly catchy thanks to its central hook, but somehow the ’80s model of music production had a way of turning a passable pop melody into a hellish cavern of excessively upbeat noise.
4. ‘Hangin Tough’ by New Kids on the Block
Few people involved in mainstream music seemed to understand what rap was in the ’80s. So many bands and even comedians dabbled in the genre, mistakenly thinking shouting a few rhyming words without any semblance of flow would be enough to please fans. New Kids on the Block are among the worst offenders, trying to repetitively rap about their own toughness when this preemptive hybrid between Vanilla Ice and the Backstreet Boys is about as intimidating as a cuddly baby sloth.
5. ‘Kokomo’ by The Beach Boys
The genius of singer-songwriter Brian Wilson elevated the Beach Boys from a sunny bubblegum group into mature masters of pop songcraft, but his old bandmate Mike Love determined to keep the band going long after Wilson’s departure, reducing them to something far less than their original incarnation. Gone are the sonic experiments of “Good Vibrations,” replaced by a Jimmy Buffett-level ditty about tropical vacation destinations.
6. ‘I Eat Cannibals’ by Toto Coelo
A one-hit wonder that thankfully has been forgotten for the most part, “I Eat Cannibals” is the worst of the ’80s perversion of new wave from a novel, self-aware approach to music into an utter parody of itself, devoid of any actual content. There’s an industrial din to this impressively nonsensical song that can’t distract from the sheer lacking of original ideas beyond an amelodic chorus chant that sounds like it belongs to a villain in an animated film rather than to an actual band — though that label may be giving Toto Coelo too much credit.
7. ‘The Birdie Song’ by The Tweets
You might not know the name, you might not have even registered it as a real song, but you’ve heard “The Birdie Song” before. It’s an innocuous bit of soul-sucking synthesizer music that’s scored many a chicken dance at your great aunt’s birthday party, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it must be the song they play in hell, on a continuous loop, consistently but subtly speeding up until it’s turned into the voice of Satan and you’ve lost every last shred of sanity. But hey, at least it’s catchy!
8. ‘I’d Rather Jack’ by The Reynolds Girls
“I’d Rather Jack”‘s mashup of bloopy synthesizers and inhuman harmonies seems especially egregious for the lyrics, which attempt to paint this painful ditty as a call to action for a new generation to embrace modern pop music and reject the earlier musical pioneers. “Golden oldies! Rolling Stones! We don’t want them back! I’d rather jack than Fleetwood Mac!” First off, when did Fleetwood Mac become a verb? And how does a song so devoid of compelling ideas find the gall to diss two legitimate artists? Thankfully, time has been kind to the Stones and Fleetwood Mac, but not so much to the Reynolds Girls.
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