Many of us came of age rebelling against shoulder pads and triangle earrings, apartheid and corporate pollution. We felt a crushing amount of trouble heading our way and struggled with our own role to provide solutions—plus we had to do it while wearing acid wash jeans and about a million black rubber bracelets.
We were attracted to moody artists and dark eyeliner, gravitating toward music that meant something. Oh sure, we knew all of Exposé’s songs, but they didn’t move us quite like Depeche Mode.
We went from 10 to 20 in the 1980s—and those are some formative fucking years.
My mom began the decade hoping my worldview would be formed by Marie Osmond and Sunday school. By decade’s end, she lost me to combat boots and poetry slams. But come on, which would you choose—musicians who sang thought-provoking lyrics in a dark, noisy club or Catechism with some nuns?
These are the songs that egged us on. I purposely left off Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” because that song made everyone a badass.
12. Things Can Only Get Better, Howard Jones
This is some potent wisdom at 15 years of age. Go for it and regret nothing, even if you fall flat on your face. For example, that Mohawk combined with what looks like a relaxed perm was, in retrospect, a bad idea. But at least we learned something.
11. Channel Z, B-52s
Social action with a sense of humor. Added bonus: Everyone in the group was ambiguously gay. Much like Drama Club.
10. Crumblin’ Down, John Mellencamp
Socks with penny loafers. Well, we’ve all worn worse. Who cares that our friends referred to him as John Cougar MenstrualCramp? Stand the fuck clear.
9. Synchronicity 2, The Police
This song scared the shit out of me. It painted such a realistic portrait of marriage that I vowed to stay single forever—like Gloria Steinem.
And Miss Piggy.
8. Shake the Disease, Depeche Mode
I was the only one of my friends that didn’t mistake the title to mean we were heading to the free clinic. Again.
We had the nerve to tell our single moms that their hostility was more a sign of sexual frustration, and less about our grosser-than-gross jokes, then went into our rooms to blast this song at a volume they could hear in Guam. We were so misunderstood.
7. We Are Not Alone, Karla DeVito
If you didn’t thrash out to this song, at least once, in your black Chuck Taylors channeling Ally Sheedy’s character in The Breakfast Club, then I don’t even want to know you. Unless of course you let me bum one of your clove cigarettes. Then, best friends for life.
6. Under Pressure, Queen/David Bowie
With abandon, we sang along with Freddie Mercury’s high notes. And angels lost their wings.
5. Fall on Me, R.E.M.
Nothing brought down the mood of a party quite like this song, petitions and weed. As an adult, I wizened up and removed the petitions. Y’all wanna chill Saturday?
4. Faith, George Michael
“I need someone to hold me / But I’ll wait for something more …” This went over real well in high school.
3. Sowing the Seeds of Love, Tears for Fears
At some point, we realized love is a sign of strength, not weakness. We also realized it was OK to wash concert T-shirts in between wearing them.
2. The Emperor’s New Clothes, Sinead O’Connor
We tried to look like her, and then when we realized we couldn’t sell it, we told everyone we passed out at a party and some anarchist shaved our heads. Because that sounded so much better than the truth.
1. Bad Reputation, Joan Jett
Don’t pretend you don’t have Joan Jett in your head when you’re out there raising hell. It’s a great song, and totally drowns out all the hisses and boos.
I take no responsibility for the fact that “Tarzan Boy” is still in your head.
This article was originally published on