Romance was alive and well in the 1980s, with love songs counting among the biggest hits of each year. From the soppy to the sophisticated, romantic ballads struck a chord with music fans, whether they were loved up, heartbroken or looking for that special someone.
What a lot of heartbreak and longing there was as the 70s became 80s. Despite having quite positive-sounding titles, “More Than I Can Say” by Leo Sayer, “Dreaming My Dreams With You” by Colleen Hewett and “Woman In Love” by Barbra Streisand, they were all about relationships that had ended or absent lovers. And as for Long John Baldry and Kathi McDonald’s remake of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”, well, that title says it all.
More proof that love songs aren’t necessarily happy, some of 1981's biggest hits were tracks like “Keep On Loving You” by REO Speedwagon, “You Weren’t In Love With Me” by Billy Field and Bryan Ferry’s cover of “Jealous Guy”. What a miserable time everyone was having. Relief came courtesy of Lionel Richie and Diana Ross’ celebratory “Endless Love”, an anthem for sickeningly contented couples everywhere.
There are many stages to love, and 1982 had us covered with that flicker of initial interest (“Waiting For A Girl Like You” by Foreigner), a declaration of feelings (Cheap Trick’s “If You Want My Love”), the inevitable apology when it all goes wrong (“Hard To Say I’m Sorry” by Chicago) and the despair when it looks like it might be over (“Key Largo” by Bertie Higgins).
We were sorted for power ballads in 1983 with Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes’ soaring “Up Where We Belong”, the soundtrack to that romantic final scene in An Officer And A Gentleman (“Way to go, Paula!”). And for the other side of the coin there was the epic yearning of “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. Things got a little sad with “Heartbreaker” by Dionne Warwick and quite stalker-ish with The Police’s frequently misinterpreted “Every Breath You Take”, while for long-distance lovers there was “Save Your Love” by Renee and Renato.
While Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton kept things buoyant with “Islands In The Stream”, and Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You” was Australia’s favourite song for eight weeks, 1984 had a darker side, too. Cheating boyfriends (“Careless Whisper” by George Michael) and combative lovers (“Love Is A Battlefield” by Pat Benatar) were the subjects of two of the year’s biggest hits, while Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” kept things physical. Ever reliable Lionel Richie made a tentative expression of interest, meanwhile, with “Hello”.
There was no denying the power of love in 1985 with two chart-toppers extolling its virtues – Jennifer Rush’s emotional ballad and Huey Lewis & The News’ more pragmatic approach. Foreigner struck again with “I Want To Know What Love Is”, while UB40 teamed up with Chrissie Hynde on a cover of “I Got You Babe”. Even Madonna came over-sentimental with her first ballad single “Crazy For You”, which flew to the number 1 spot.
From the hesitance of Feargal Sharkey’s “A Good Heart” to the pure schmaltz of “The Lady In Red” by Chris De Burgh, 1986 was, in the words of Robert Palmer’s more upbeat hit from that year, addicted to love. Berlin even traded in the synthpop dance tracks for something a bit gentler with “Take My Breath Away”, while Huey Lewis & The News gave in to their feelings with “Stuck With You”.
It was the theme to 1987’s TV wedding of the year between Scott (Jason Donovan) and Charlene (Kylie Minogue) on Neighbours, and “Suddenly” proved that even tough rockers like Angry Anderson have a soft side. Not as soft as Boris Gardiner, mind you – he had one of the decade’s sappiest love songs in the form of “I Want To Wake Up With You”. A more anthemic approach came from Starship whose “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” was perfect for all those couples looking to disprove all the doubters saying they’re cray-zay.
He might have been a bit miserable earlier in the decade, but Phil Collins delivered “A Groovy Kind Of Love” in 1988. It was also the year when the biggest single was “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, which summed up that sudden realisation that “this could be love”. Things got a little bit sexier with Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name”, while Cheap Trick’s comeback hit “The Flame” made their feelings perfectly clear.
We started the decade in a troubled place, but by the end of the 1980s, love was all around. From The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” to Richard Marx telling his soon-to-be wife that he was “Right Here Waiting” to Kylie and Jason doing it “Especially For You”, everyone was head over heels. None more so than 1927, who really made it obvious how much they cared with “If I Could”. Even U2 gave the social consciousness a break and got in the act with “All I Want Is You”.
If you love a big ballad and are a bit of a romantic, you may fall in love with our Classic Love Songs playlists.
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