Further to the post of several months ago wherein I anointed "Tumblin Dice" to be the best song of the 70's, I have now the distinct pleasure of informing my readers as to the identity of the best song of the 80's. This is not a task I take lightly. See, there are a couple of ways to go about this kind of thing. I can discern 3:
1: The Sage: you pick a band so old school that nobody has ever heard of it/them and then declare that they had some "influence" or other on the flow of events. This influence guides some contemporary favored son to a righteous path of music-making and the "influencers" song is the best song ever. To this I say bollocks – the spirit of Howlin' Wolf's music might be present in Slayer's music but the DNA ain't there.
2: Captain Obvious: consult a chart of record sales and coronate the king. This is as phoney as the sage. Captain Obvious has no cred. These are salt of the earth early movers. Not fancy pants overpaid corporate sell-outs.
3: Tail-end Charlie: The final-movers in any musical revolution. By the time that Tail End Charlie arrives on the scene, there isn't any risk in fully engaging the genre and all of its particulars. In Charlie's defense, he is probably the best expression of the genre but he ain't the most important.
No, selecting the best song of any age is a careful blend of finding a first-mover who has cred, influence AND success. The 80's is a very difficult era in which to pick a single song. Disco was, thankfully, dying out and pop music was becoming more polished. You had some pretty important blues-based rock still being produced: Stones, Zep and The Who were still around at the beginning of the decade. You had some important UK bands of wildly different genres coming out with great music: Pistols (although broken up still too important), Clash, Maiden, U2 and Priest. There was also an emerging pop-scene that had at least one transcendent star in the mix. From the inner-cities we started to hear of something called "rap". Early movers there on the lighter side: Sugar Hill, Furious Five with Public Enemy and NWA being harder-edged early movers. In short, the 80's were very much a time of musical reconstruction. What a chaotic mess!
So, to generalize, I think the most important themes coming from the 80's were an increasingly hard-edged genre called "Metal" that had several manifestations, a nascent genre (to mainstreamers anyways) called "Rap" and someone called "Madonna" who didn't much look the part. Hey! don't get crazy on me here. Don't start drooling and shouting at the screen. These are "themes" bretheren. Focus.
Allow me an aside here: Although not the person with the song of the decade, Madonna deserves her own paragraph. She's a tough nut to crack from a historical point of view. She was undeniably sexy and maybe even lewd (easy pilgrim). She could perform decently. She befitted tremendously from the intersection of her willingness to wear a bustier (and little else) and the creation of Music Television. She was willing to perform songs that used difficult imagery. I don't think her music has aged well at all and, up reflection, most of it seemed crafted to just get attention. I'll never pick up a Madonna disk, lay it on the turntable (Hey!, you kids get off my lawn!) and reverently lay the tone-arm on the record like I would "The Lemon Song" from LedZep II. However, as an icon I believe she's tremendously important to female performers. Almost every one of these ladies who perform solo (Katie Perry, P!nk and even Ke$ha) owe some of that to Madonna.
Now, on to the best song. If I were a posuer or using "The Sage" methodology as above, I might say that the most important song of the 80's wasn't delivered in the 80's but only really recognized in the 80's. If I were to do that, I might say that a little 1 minute and 29 second ditty called "Eruption" was the most important song of the 80's. You couldn't escape the 2 handed tremolo (tapping) in the 80's…or even today. However I AM NOT going to pursue any individual misguided course in order to pursue an easy way out. Nosiree. Nope. Negative.
The best song of the 80's is "Back in Black" by AC/DC. It's been certified to be 22x Platinum. This was an album that said to the world that Rock was still here and still relevant. Recall that we were coming out of the dreadful era of Disco and many of the Monster Bands were aging and weren't generating their most creative and relevant music than they did earlier in their careers. Pop music was becoming saturated with pop-synth from Michael Jackson and his ilk. No doubt they sold many many records but they just weren't all that important. Back in Black started the ball rolling towards a decade of Heavy Metal (or at least various levels of density) that was crowned by the monstrous "Appetite for Destruction" album from Guns in the late 80's. Back to AC/DC – talk about grace under pressure! They had recently lost their wildman of a singer Bon Scott and had considered disbanding! They responded with an album that is a cornerstone of the musical tapestry of the 80's.