Posted on December 23, 2011
My Favorite 80s Music Cover Songs
What is it about 80s music that makes that decade so memorable? I’m no music expert, but I definitely have an opinion. The 80s marked the launch of MTV (Music Television), which in its early years actually played music videos. Because of the expansion of cable throughout the country, it was now possible to see and hear music that was unavailable to the majority of Americans.
Prior to the 80s, radio was a filter and the major labels conspired with stations to control which songs were played and how often. As more FM stations emerged during the decade, competition forced specialization, giving DJs more freedom to explore different genres and play songs that otherwise might never be heard outside of college stations.
And finally, modern technology gave artists far more creative latitude both in the music itself, and with the emerging visual medium. This, combined with modern communications, meant that a little band in Dublin could be seen by a kid in Texas. The 80s was the first music decade to really benefit from so much exposure.
And of course I graduated from high school and college in the 80s, so I have plenty of fond memories of the music from that decade. The musical options were limited in the 70s IMO. But in the 80s, you had an explosion of new choices from rap to punk to alternative and on and on. And for the first time, you had easy access to hundreds of artists from all over the world.
While I explored all types of music, the punk/alternative/goth coming out of Great Britain emerged as my favorites. You will notice this with my selections.
What makes a good cover?
- Don’t reinvent the wheel unless you can make it better
- If you can’t improve it, do it in a unique fashion
- Make me like the song even more – if possible
- It needs to be at minimum as good as the original
- At the very least, make the video entertaining
With that in mind, here are a handful of my favorite 80s cover songs in no particular order.
It’s My Life (Talk Talk – No Doubt) – In 1984, an English group named Talk Talk released the song It’s My Life, reaching Number 1 on the US Dance charts. I love this remake by No Doubt. Gwen Stefani’s voice and screen presence in the video make this one of my favorites.
Running Up That Hill (Kate Bush – Placebo) – In 1985, Kate Bush released the song Running Up That Hill. It was a truly unique song made even better by her amazing voice. This remake by Placebo blew me away. This is how you do a cover. My only complaint is the video could be much stronger.
Cruel Summer (Bananarama – Ace Of Base) – In 1983 this English group hit it big with this song which is generally considered among the top 50 songs of the 80s. Ace Of Base does a really good job with the cover and the video.
Cruel To Be Kind (Nick Lowe – Letters To Cleo) – The song was actually released in 1979 making it not technically an 80s hit, but the video survived into the 80s on MTV. This cover by Letters To Cleo can be found on the “10 Things I Hate About You” soundtrack along with a cover of Cheap Trick’s I want You To Want Me. During the closing credits you can see the band performing on the rooftop of the school. The video is from the movie and features the band playing at the school dance – What did you expect? Its a teen film.
La Isla Bonita (Madonna – Alizée) – I was never a big Madonna fan, but there is no doubt that she had numerous hits in the 80s. Her song La Isla Bonita (The Beautiful Island) was an exception. Released in 1987, it reached #4 on the charts. If you have read my blog at all, you know I have an interest in foreign music. One day I stumbled across this cover by French artist Alizée that I really enjoyed. This is my random foreign artist on the list.
Just Like Heaven (The Cure – Katie Melua) – In the film Just Like Heaven starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo, the score included a cover of The Cure’s song of the same name as the film. If you know anything about The Cure, their music is a little dark and edgy – exactly why I like them. This version performed by Katie Melua is the perfect cover of one of my favorite Cure songs. Again, this is an example of a good cover.
Blue Monday (New Order – Orgy) – How can you have a blog about the 80s and not talk about New Order? Their music filled the dance clubs throughout the decade. Blue Monday made it to Number 5 on the US Charts and is still one of the favorite club songs from that decade. There have been several attempts at covering this song, but this version by Orgy is my favorite.
Come On Eileen (Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Save Ferris) – If you watched MTV in 1982 for any amount of time, you would see the Come On Eileen video. It hit number 1 in the US and UK and was voted #3 on the world’s best one-hit wonders list. Save Ferris does as admirable job with the cover and a video that projects the same energy as the original.
Take On Me (A-ha – Reel Big Fish) – In 1985 a Norwegian group hit it big both with this song and video. It hit #1 just about everywhere. The original video combined live action with pencil-sketch animation. Even though the song is fun, I always believed the unique nature of the video made this the hit that it was. It has been copied and parodied all over the place, including an episode of Family Guy. I still have no idea what all the lyrics are to this song.
Lovesong (The Cure – 311) – Coming out in 1989, Lovesong is still one of my favorite songs by The Cure. This version and video by 311 is a very nice homage to the original and a great way to end this blog. Although I may be back with more.
I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. Leave them as comments below!