A Preliminary Defense Of The Music Of 1986

Recently Todd In The Shadows, a music channel I enjoy watching and a twitter figure I occasionally interact with, posted that he thought that 1986 was a particularly bad year for music, and posted its year end hot 100 list.  I looked at the chart and didn’t see a bad year for music at all.  Admittedly, my taste in music is a lot different from most people, in that I grew up fondly listening to the adult contemporary and soft rock of the 1980’s and generally saw the music as responding to my own complicated and generally downbeat emotional state.  It must be clearly admitted that if you do not have the same fondness for sad and slow music that I do that 1986 will be a terrible year, but if you have my taste in music it is one of the best years of the decade.  It’s not as good as 1983, but it’s a very good year, better than anything in the 2010’s by my own personal standards at least.  And while I do not intend on putting together a top 10 (at least not yet, unless you ask very nicely) or bottom 10 of this list, I would like to at least break out the list into various tiers so that the reader can see (if one is interested) what sort of songs that were popular in 1986 really resonated with me.  And just for the sake of simplicity, I am choosing to order the songs within tiers based on the position of the song within the year end hot 100, rather than my own preference.  It would take more time and effort to refine the list to a true ranking, but this is the first step of such a process.  With that said, let’s go.

Among the best songs of the decade/all time:

5. Broken Wings – Mr. Mister
9. Kyrie – Mr. Mister
10. Addicted To Love – Robert Palmer
14. Glory Of Love – Peter Cetera
22. Holding Back The Years – Simply Red
23. Sledgehammer – Peter Gabriel
25. Human – The Human League
27. Take My Breath Away – Berlin
33. These Dreams – Heart
34. Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone) – Glass Tiger (with an uncredited feature by Bryan Adams)
35. Live To Tell – Madonna
37. Something About You – Level 42
41. True Colors – Cyndi Lauper
44. No One Is To Blame – Howard Jones
47. Words Get In The Way – Miami Sound Machine
49. Walk of Life – Dire Straits
57. Talk To Me – Stevie Nicks
59. Take Me Home Tonight – Eddie Money
60. We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off – Jermaine Stewart
62. Your Love – The Outfield
68. Word Up! – Cameo
74. All I Need Is A Miracle – Mike & The Mechanics
78. Life In A Northern Town – Dream Academy
87. Nikita – Elton John
91. Your Wildest Dreams – Moody Blues
96. King For A Day – Thompson Twins
99. I’ll Be Over You – Toto


4. On My Own – Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald
6. How I Will Know – Whitney Houston
13. Friends and Lovers – Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson
15. West End Girls – Pet Shop Girls
16. There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry) – Billy Ocean
17. Never – Heart
18. Kiss – Prince and The Revolution
19. Higher Love – Steve Winwood
20. Stuck With You – Huey Lewis and the News
24. Sara – Starship
26. I Can’t Wait – Nu Shooz
28. Rock Me Amadeus – Falco
29. Papa Don’t Preach – Madonna
30. You Give Love A Bad Name – Bon Jovi
31. When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going – Billy Ocean
32. When I Think Of You – Janet Jackson
36. Mad About You – Belinda Carlise
38. Venus – Bananarama
42. Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins
43. What Have You Done For Me Lately? – Janet Jackson
45. Let’s Go All The Way – Sly Fox
46. I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On – Robert Palmer
48. Manic Monday – The Bangles
50. Amanda – Boston
52. Crush On You – The Jets
54. Invisible Touch – Genesis
55. The Sweetest Taboo- Sade
56. What You Need – INXS
58. Nasty – Janet Jackson
63. I’m Your Man – Wham!
64. Perfect Way – Scritti Politti
65. Living In America – James Brown
66. R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A. – John Cougar Mellencamp
67. Who’s Johnny – El DeBarge
69. Why Can’t This Be Love – Van Halen
70. Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground) – Mike & The Mechanics
73. Tarzan Boy – Baltimora
75. Sweet Freedom – Michael McDonald
81. Tonight She Comes – The Cars
83. A Love Bizarre – Sheila E.
84. Throwing It All Away – Genesis
88. Take Me Home – Genesis
89. Walk This Way – Run D.M.C. featuring Aerosmith
90. Sweet Love – Anita Baker
92. Spies Like Us – Paul McCartney


  1.  That’s What Friends Are For – Dionne and Friends
  2. Say You, Say Me – Lionel Richie
  3. I Miss You – Klymaxx
    11. Greatest Love Of All – Whitney Houston
    12. Secret Lovers – Atlantic Starr
    17. Alive And Kicking – Simple Minds
    39. Dancing On The Ceiling – Lionel Richie
    40. Conga – Miami Sound Machine
    51. Two Of Hearts – Stacey Q
    53. If You Leave – Orchestral Movies In The Dark
    61. All Cried Out – Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam
    71. Typical Male – Tina Turner
    72. Small Town – John Cougar Mellencamp
    97. Love Will Conquer All – Lionel Richie


7. Party All The Time – Eddie Murphy
82. Love Touch – Rod Stewart


(the sound of crickets chirping, at least so far)

I need to listen more to decide:

8. Burning Heart – Survivor
76. True Blue – Madonna
77. Rumors – Timex Social Club
79. Bad Boy – Miami Sound Machine
80. Sleeping Bag – ZZ Top
85. Baby Love – Regina
86. Election Day – Arcadia
93. Object Of My Desire – Starpoint
94. Dreamtime – Daryl Hall
95. Tender Love – Force MDs
98. A Different Corner – George Michael
100. Go Home – Stevie Wonder

[Edit:  See below for how I placed these songs.]

8. Burning Heart – Survivor – Good
76. True Blue – Madonna – Good
77. Rumors – Timex Social Club – Decent/Meh
79. Bad Boy – Miami Sound Machine – Good
80. Sleeping Bag – ZZ Top – Decent/Meh
85. Baby Love – Regina – Good
86. Election Day – Arcadia – Good
93. Object Of My Desire – Starpoint – Good
94. Dreamtime – Daryl Hall – Good
95. Tender Love – Force MDs – Best of Decade/All Time
98. A Different Corner – George Michael – Decent/Meh
100. Go Home – Stevie Wonder – Good


Looking at this list, I have to say that it would be very hard to come up with a best and worst list for me.  If I include only those songs that I think are among the best all time, coming up with a top ten would fill out my honorable mentions with songs that I think are among my favorite songs ever.  And then there would still be a lot of other songs that I think of as good that would deserve at least some mention, which would make up the vast majority of the chart (if not quite as many as 1983).  On the other hand, there is a collection of songs that I simply don’t know, at least by their names, and would have to listen to in order to place them on the list, and I’m not going to assume that all or even most of them will be on the bad side.  This means that a worst ten list would include plenty of songs that I think are decent but which were killed due to overplay (Small Town by John Cougar Mellencamp belongs in this category) or that I am just indifferent to but not actively hostile to them (most of the songs on the list).  There are only two songs in the list that I am aware of having an actively negative view towards, and even these are not ones I view with revulsion, but rather just see as cringy and not very good, like, say, the level of Drake’s Scorpion album last year, but not at the level of a true atrocity like Takashi 69 or XXXTentacion, for example.

It must be emphasized that this is my own personal, subjective opinion.  For me, I think the music of 1986 certainly resonated with my own melancholy and reflective personality, to the point where even relatively upbeat songs like Sly Fox’s “Let’s Go All The Way” were attempting to motivate people to act on behalf of the various problems that could be found in society and were not the sort of optimistic songs that others would find more appealing.  There are some people (Todd In The Shadows among them) who view Peter Cetera’s voice as among the worst things ever, which is definitely not the case for me.  As for me, 1986 is a great year in music, one that contains a large number of songs that I still actively seek out to listen to or to watch the music videos of and have written about at some length, and a great many more songs that I enjoy whenever I hear them.  My taste may not be everyone else’s, to be sure, but for me 1986 is one of the best years of music of the 1980’s, and there are not very many years whose music I would prefer overall.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Music History, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Preliminary Defense Of The Music Of 1986

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    I, too, think that 1986 was a strong year for good music. What I like about these selections is that they have catchy melodies to go with their rhythms. This, I feel, is what is sorely lacking in the type of music that has now overtaken the radio airwaves. So much of the music today borrows from hits of the past that I wonder if any original thinking exists. The mode might be different, but the inserts aren’t. That’s taking the easy road to me. By the way, I also happen to enjoy Peter Cetera’s voice.

    • I don’t think much in the way of originality exists except when people combine areas of music that others have not thought to combine before. There are plenty of hooks, but melody-writing has tended to suffer recently.

  2. Pingback: A Review Of The 2019 YE Hot 100: Part One | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s