The Best Songs Of 1982: 66 Essential Singles

From Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ to Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ ‘Come On Eileen,’ the year had something for everyone.

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Dexy's Midnight Runners wrote one of the best songs in 1982, this is a picture of their frontman Kevin Rowland in that year
Photo: Max Redfern/Redferns

The best songs of 1982 reveal it to be an incredibly varied year. On one hand, you have one of the biggest pop songs of all-time, Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller.” But right next to it, you have the strange and wondrous “Come On Eileen” from Dexys Midnight Runners. The Misfits sit near Luther Vandross. Laurie Anderson close to Bad Brains. So sit back and enjoy one of the most eclectic years in all of pop music. These are the best songs of 1982.

Listen to our 80s pop playlist on Spotify.

66: Squeeze – Black Coffee In Bed

Squeeze were among the best singles bands of their time, with a slew of hits like the addictively catchy “Black Coffee In Bed.”

Black Coffee In Bed

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65: Brian Eno – The Lost Day

Brian Eno’s series of ambient albums laid the groundwork for a whole new generation of electronic composers. “The Lost Day” is a prime example of his meditative style.

64: Judas Priest – You’ve Got Another Thing Coming

As forefathers of the new wave of British heavy metal, Judas Priest were leather-clad stadium rock gods by 1982, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” from their Screaming For Vengeance album is a fantastic punch in the gut of a song.

63: Iron Maiden – Run To The Hills

Iron Maiden tapped into their peak period with the addition of singer Bruce Dickinson. “Run To The Hills” is the band’s defining moment.

62: The Clean – Getting Older

Pioneers of the New Zealand underground pop sound, The Clean were a foundational influence on many of today’s hippest indie stars. “Getting Older” is among their classic singles.

61: Hiroshi Yoshimura – View From My Window

Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Music For Nine Post Cards is among the greatest highlights of Japanese environmental ambient music, with “View From My Window” being a gentle treasure.

60: Frida – I See Red

With an unmistakable voice and Phil Collins himself on production, Frida makes an unforgettable pop anthem on “I See Red.”

Frida - I See Red

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59: Flipper – Sex Bomb

Flipper ruled the early 80s San Francisco punk scene with songs like “Sex Bomb,” one of the most outrageous tracks of the band’s career.

58: Van Halen – Dancing In The Streets

Van Halen updated their heavy rock sound with an almost proto-techno track, held together by David Lee Roth’s signature vocals.

57: Descendents – Suburban Home

“I want to be stereotyped, I want to be classified,” deadpans Milo Aukerman on the snotty, sarcastic pop-punk 1982 classic song “Suburban Home.”

56: Donald Fagen – New Frontier

A futuristic soul-pop gem, Steely Dan‘s Donald Fagen sings about survival in a dystopian future, an oddly ominous message over an upbeat, dynamic track.

55: Steve Miller – Abracadabra

This late-period hit for Steve Miller proved that the veteran chart-topper had a few moves left for 1982 with his stellar song “Abracadabra.”

Steve Miller Band - Abracadabra

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54: Void – My Rules

One of the great anthems of the hardcore punk movement, “My Rules” by Void set a benchmark for chaos.

53: Charanjit Singh – Raga Bhairav

Rarely has a new sound been introduced so directly as when Charanjit Singh released 10 Ragas To a Disco Beat. Drop “Raga Bhairav” on a dancefloor today, and it sounds as contemporary as ever.

52: Adam Ant – Goody Two Shoes

Punk-pop star Adam Ant scored big with his monster hit ”Goody Two Shoes,” an ode to a stick in the mud amidst a party atmosphere.

51: Dolly Parton – I Will Always Love You

Dolly Parton made one of the all-time great love songs with “I Will Always Love You,” a track that would only become more powerful in the hands of Whitney Houston.

50: Roxy Music – True To Life

Roxy Music went out in style on their final studio album Avalon, with songs like “True To Life” that are both worldly and elegant.

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49: Alan Parsons Project – Eye In The Sky

Complex vocal harmonies helped propel Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye In The Sky.” It’s one of their best.

48: Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City

On one of Bruce Springsteen’s most direct albums, the singer/songwriter details corruption, and working-class strife.

47: Kate Bush – The Dreaming

Mixing an incredible amalgam of styles, Kate Bush on “The Dreaming” was in a class of her own.

46: Kid Creole and the Coconuts – Stool Pigeon

Kid Creole and the Coconuts blended funk, salsa, Jamaican music, and so much more into a potent stew of energetic dance music.

45: Gregory Issacs – Sad To Know (You’re Leaving)

This 1982 reggae song by the great Gregory Issacs exudes melancholy.

Sad To Know (You're Leaving)

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44: Kurtis Blow – Tough

An early pioneer of hip-hop, Kurtis Blow channels frustration in this ode to how hard modern life can be.

43: The Gun Club – Mother of Earth

Unique among the underground American scene, The Gun Club tapped into a dark country influence to produce an authentic sound all their own.

42: Simple Minds – Promised You A Miracle

New wave heroes Simple Minds come with the fantastically vivid and electro-influenced 1982 song “Promised You A Miracle,” a stylish dance floor hit.

41: Mission of Burma – That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate

Boston’s finest post-punk trio, Mission of Burma made insightful, richly complicated music that still pulsed with urgency. “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate” was among their finest moments in an impeccable catalog.

40: Talk Talk – Talk Talk

One of the most sophisticated and inventive of the new wave bands, Talk Talk transformed pop music into a bold hypercolor adventure on tracks like their early signature, “Talk Talk.”

Talk Talk - Talk Talk (Official Video)

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39: Venom – Black Metal

The song “Black Metal” by Venom started a ferocious new genre, a heavy music devoid of frills.

38: Grace Jones – Nipple to the Bottle

Grace Jones took 1982 by storm on her Living My Life album, flaunting her distinctive style on the song “Nipple To The Bottle” over a thumping bass line.

37: Misfits – Skulls

Glen Danzig and company perfected the horror movie take on punk with their iconic devil lock haircuts and bold skull logo. In a catalog filled with perfect songs, “Skulls” could very well be the band’s theme.

36: R.E.M – Carnival of Sorts (Boxcar)

It’s amazing how fully formed R.E.M. sounded on their debut e.p. Chronic Town. Tracks like “Carnival of Souls (Boxcar)” display their melodic take on southern post-punk and early indie rock.

35: The Jam – Town Called Malice

In one of Mod culture’s last big bursts, The Jam gave us one more hit with “Town Called Malice” off their final studio album, The Gift.

The Jam - Town Called Malice

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34: The Fall – Hip Priest

At almost eight minutes long, “Hip Priest” is practically an eternity for the usually concise Mark E. Smith and company.

33: Supertramp – It’s Raining Again

A brilliantly upbeat pop song from 1982, Supertramp conjures nostalgia and emotion with surging melodies and a huge chorus built for radio/MTV glory.

32: Rush – Subdivisions

The prog icons scored another hit with the 198s song “Subdivisions,” a dark critique of suburban culture off their 1982 Signals album.

31: XTC – Ball and Chain

The early 80s were halcyon days for complex British pop bands. XTC were among the finest purveyors of the form, as heard on tracks like “Ball and Chain.”

30: Elvis Costello – Man Out Of Time

Elvis Costello and the Attractions were already huge stars by the time the Imperial Bedroom album was released and the group sounded like seasoned vets on “Man Out Of Time”.

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29: Siouxsie and the Banshees – Cascade

Few first-wave punk stars transitioned to New Wave as easily as Siouxsie and the Banshees, but their distinctive look and oddly catchy hooks on tracks like “Cascade” made them perfect for the video era.

28: Phil Collins – You Can’t Hurry Love

Phil Collins remade The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” to score an international chart smash off his 1982 Hello, I Must Be Going album.

27: Luthor Vandross – You’re The Sweetest One

Luthor Vandross is one smooth operator on his funky anthem “You’re the Sweetest One,” a dance floor burner featuring the singer’s velvety vocal style.

26: ESG – Dance

This Bronx group combined minimal elements of funk, post-punk, and soul to produce one of the decade’s grooviest and infectious tunes with “Dance.”

25: King Sunny Ade – Ja Funmi

One of Nigeria’s most successful exports, King Sunny Ade found international acclaim with his unique brand of modern African sounds as featured on the track “Ja Funmi” from his 1982 Juju Music album.

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24: Yazoo – Don’t Go

This English synth-pop duo ushered a new sound onto dancefloors with their energetic anthems like “Don’t Go.”

23: The Gap Band – You Dropped a Bomb On Me

The Gap Band scored one of their biggest hits with “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” featuring an ageless electro groove that still packs the floor.

22: Orange Juice – Rip It Up

Scotland’s Orange Juice did just what they said in the title, ripping up the rules of post-punk and delivering a classic.

21: Madness – Our House

The UK ska scene produced several serious hits, Madness’ endlessly addictive “Our House” is just one shining example.

20: Richard and Linda Thompson – Walking On A Wire

This couple were headed for a split on their 1982 Shoot Out The Lights album, and the tension can be heard on the bittersweet “Walking On A Wire”

19: George Clinton – Atomic Dog

The Parliament/Funkadelic superstar brought a seriously funky futuristic jam on “Atomic Dog,” a 1982 song that would also lay a blueprint for G-funk in the next decade.

Atomic Dog (Original Extended Version)

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18: Kiss – Creature of the Night

As the 80s started kicking into full gear, metal got heavier and glam rock superstars Kiss upped the ante on “Creature of the Night,” a hard rock stomper for the headbangers.

17: The Go-Go’s – Vacation

The Go-Go’s took the world by storm with their incredibly catchy hits, like the timeless “Vacation,” a song whose message rings eternal.

16: Billy Idol – White Wedding

Billy Idol shot to the top with his perfect sneer and pop-punk hooks. “White Wedding” from his 1982 self-titled album remains one of the singer’s most recognizable tunes for good reason.

15: Joe Jackson – Steppin Out

With its luminously bright keyboards and blue-eyed soul, Joe Jackson continued his hot streak with “Steppin Out.”

Joe Jackson - Steppin' Out

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14: Culture Club – Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?

Culture Club and their colorful singer Boy George were a cultural phenomenon of truly 80s proportions with monster hits like “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?”

13: Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf

Teenagers were obsessed with this handsome foursome whose radio/MTV hits were among the biggest of the decade. “Hungry Like The Wolf” channeled the group’s sexuality to hit the top of the charts.

12: Laurie Anderson – O Superman

By far the biggest hit for this multimedia artist, “O Superman” finds Laurie Anderson in rare form, meeting the pop charts head-on without sacrificing her bold vision.

11: Toto – Africa

Toto’s “Africa” was one of 1982’s most catchy moments with a huge, anthemic chorus that sticks in listeners’ heads like cement, an unforgettable hit.

10: ABC – The Look of Love

Over an electro-funk backing, ABC sprinkled pop gold on their massive hit “The Look of Love,” a must-have track on any New Wave dance party playlist.

ABC - The Look Of Love

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9: Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing

Marvin was in a zone when he recorded one of the sexiest songs of all time with “Sexual Healing.”

8: Bad Brains – Pay to Cum

The four-piece hardcore punk band was one of the wildest, fastest, and baddest bands in the punk underworld. “Pay to Cum” was their debut single.

7: Haruomi Hosono – Sports Men

One of the most influential pop artists to emerge from Japan, Haruomi Hosono is best-known for his work in the Yellow Magic Orchestra. Among his finest moments is “Sports Men,” an insanely catchy tour de force.

6: The Clash – Rock the Casbah

“Rock the Casbah” is a 1982 pop song of such earworm qualities it’s hard to believe there’s anyone who doesn’t know it.

5: John Cougar – Jack and Diane

Few songs capture the ennui and hardships, as well as the hopes and dreams of small-town America like John Cougar’s “Jack and Diane.”

John Mellencamp - Jack & Diane

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4: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 – The Message

Hip-Hop was still in its infancy when Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five changed the game with their foreboding tale of urban decay.

3: Prince – 1999

It doesn’t matter what the year is: “1999” by Prince is sure to rock a party and is a must-have for any New Year celebration.

2: Dexys Midnight Runners – Come On Eileen

Come On Eileen” represents a pinnacle of 80s music, the kind of fun and carefree singalong that is absolutely irresistible.

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1: Michael Jackson – Thriller

Certainly for 1982, but just as much for the entire 20th Century, “Thriller” is one of the greatest songs of all time, accompanied by a video that set the trends for the medium and made Michael Jackson one of the biggest pop stars ever.

Listen to our 80s pop playlist on Spotify.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Paul

    October 30, 2023 at 2:57 pm

    Em….Love My Way by the Psychedelic Furs..? Seriously guys that’s a big omission.

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