From hair metal to synth-driven power ballads, the 80s were a time of dramatic change for pop music and the music industry as a whole. And even though the 80s are long gone, the spirit of the decade lives on through some of the most iconic 80s songs.
The Most Memorable 80s Songs
1. “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1982)
Most people associate this song with Joan Jett. But they may not know that Joan Jett & the Blackhearts weren’t the first to release the song; it was first released in 1975 by a British band called the Arrows.
This song’s catchy opening guitar riff makes it a fun one to learn. And if you want to focus on rhythm guitar, you might be relieved to hear that it’s not hard to learn, either. You’ll need E, A, and B. And if you want some guidance, this video tutorial (below left) can help you learn it.
2. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston (1987)
You’ve almost certainly heard this famous 80s hit. Its lyrics are deeper than the melody would lead you to believe Whitney Houston’s vocals helped propel the track to fame: she won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance!
This song isn’t too easy to play accurately, but with some patience and practice, you should be able to master it. This video (above right) talks you through the rhythm pattern and the range of chords needed.
3. “Upside Down” by Diana Ross (1980)
Diana Ross is one of the most versatile artists of the 80s. She’s the only female artist to have achieved a #1 hit as a solo artist, part of a duo, part of a trio, and part of an ensemble.
This insanely catchy song also isn’t too hard to learn on guitar. You can strum it using easy barre chords. You will need B, Bb, C, F, Gm, G#m, and Bbm. This video tutorial (below left) will talk you through it.
4. “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses (1988)
Is this the greatest song by the legendary Guns N’ Roses? It at least helped catapult the band to fame. The first two singles released off the band’s first album flopped, but “Sweet Child o’ Mine” ended up charting at #1.
This song can be a bit tough to learn, so you may want to break it up a bit. Start with the famous guitar riff (played by Slash) at the beginning of the song; this tutorial (video above right) will teach you!
5. “When Doves Cry” by Prince (1984)
Some of the best songs of the 80s caused controversy, and this one (from Prince’s Purple Rain album) certainly did. The song’s music video upset TV network executives, as many thought it was too explicit for TV!
This hit song sounds especially good when played acoustically, and you can even sound great with a simple four-chord version using only Am, G, Em, and F. For a brief run-through, check out this easy tutorial (video below left).
6. “Beat It” by Michael Jackson (1983)
No list of best 80s songs is complete without Michael Jackson! This particularly catchy song also includes another of the top musicians of the 80s, as Eddie Van Halen played the solo.
This song’s cool riff sounds great played on an electric guitar with a little overdrive or distortion. This tutorial video (above right) shows how to play the riff. There’s even some sliding built-in. And if you want to really make the song your own, try adding some vibrato or string bends.
7. “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi (1987)
“Livin’ on a Prayer” is easily one of Bon Jovi’s best songs. It tells the story of a working-class couple, making it highly relatable for many of Bon Jovi’s fans at the time.
Since “Livin’ on a Prayer” is so popular, there’s no shortage of cover versions out there! But if you want to start simply, you can check out this beginner-friendly tutorial (video below left) that uses Em, C, D, G, Gm, Eb, F, and Bb.
8. “Take on Me” by a-ha (1985)
The band a-ha is originally from Norway, but they still managed to chart all over the world. The song was rewritten and re-recorded with different producers a few times before the song really took off.
Though “Take on Me” is propelled forward by a keyboard riff, it can still sound surprisingly well played on acoustic or electric guitar. You can play an easy version (as seen in this video [above right]) using only Am, D, C, G, and Em.
9. “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John (1981)
This might be the most-played song of the 80s, as it spent the longest amount of time at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 list. It topped the chart for 10 weeks!
“Physical” is in the key of E minor and is a little more challenging than some of the other songs on the list, but this tutorial (video below left) will take you through it. You can learn to play through both the solo and the rest of the song.
10. “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield (1981)
“Jessie’s Girl” is probably most people’s favorite song by Rick Springfield. It reached #1 in the United States and has appeared in several movies and TV shows.
This song is somewhat intricate and can be tough to learn if you’re just starting out. If you’d like some video guidance plus tabs to follow, this tutorial (video above right) can help you learn it quickly. It sounds best on an electric guitar!
11. “Mony Mony” by Billy Idol (1987)
This song isn’t all that difficult to play in terms of chords and chord progressions. This video (below left) will take you through it; you just need A, D, E, D#, G, G#, C, and C#. Don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with some of the chords; the tab will show you how to play each one.
12. “Faith” by George Michael (1987)
In the music video for “Faith,” George Michael appears to be playing guitar. But if you look closely, he’s actually faking it! The video was intended in part to help cultivate a new image, and the guitar was part of it.
If you’re looking for an upbeat, strummy song to play on an acoustic, “Faith” is a great song to choose. As you can see in this video (above right), you can play it using four chords: B, F#m, D#m, and G#m.
13. “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder (1984)
This song has the distinction of being Stevie Wonder’s best-selling hit worldwide. It became famous after becoming an integral part of the soundtrack for the movie The Woman in Red.
There are plenty of sites out there that can take you through the chords of this song. But we think it sounds best-played fingerstyle on an acoustic guitar. This video (below left) takes you through a beautiful fingerstyle arrangement of the song!
14. “Every Breath You Take” by The Police (1983)
Many people think this is a love song, but it’s about an unhealthy, stalker-like obsession. Even Sting, frontman for The Police, has called the song “really rather evil.”
With this song, it’s worth the effort to go beyond just the chords and learn the tablature. The melody is somewhat repetitive, so once you have the basic riff down, the rest of the song should be easy. This video tutorial (above right) will take you through it.
15. “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen (1980)
Queen released a number of great songs, but this number-one hit is one of the catchiest. “Another One Bites the Dust” was written by John Deacon, the band’s bass player. You might be able to tell based on the prominent bassline!
This song is a fun one to learn whether you play guitar or bass. But if you want some guidance on the guitar side, check out this comprehensive video tutorial (below left).
16. “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” by Phil Collins (1984)
Phil Collins didn’t originally write this song for the film Against All Odds. But when the film’s director got in touch with him and asked him to write a song for the movie, Phil revisited a track he’d already written to ultimately write this #1 hit.
This song also isn’t too terribly hard to learn to play. And if you’re a beginner mastering chord changes between open major and minor chords, “Against All Odds” might be a good choice. This helpful acoustic tutorial (video above right) can talk you through it, and you just need Dm, G, Am, Bm, C, F, G, and Em.
17. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler (1983)
Many of the best 80s songs are high-energy dance tracks, but not all of them are! This slower, mysterious love song might just be one of the most famous on the list. Jim Steinman, who wrote and produced the song, said it’s a tribute to Nosferatu, a 1922 vampire film.
“Total Eclipse of the Heart” is a song that works well played on acoustic or electric guitar. This helpful video (below left) lesson will take you through it. You’ll need Am, C, G, Bb Eb, Ab, D, A7, Em D/F#, and B7.
18. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears (1985)
This catchy song might be ostensibly upbeat, but its lyrical themes are much darker. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is about the desire for power and the damage it often causes.
Even the band itself has said that the song is very simple. You can even play it using four chords: Em, D, G, and A. Check out this easy tutorial (video above right) for a quick run-through. You don’t have to feel limited to guitar, either: one artist went viral playing the song on a hammered dulcimer!
19. “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League (1982)
“Don’t You Want Me” is another song dealing with power. The Human League’s lead singer has said the song is about power politics between two people.
This is a very interesting song to play, as it includes some common chords and some not-so-common chords. And if you’ve never used diminished chords before, it might be a good introduction! As this tutorial (video below left) shows you, you will need Am, C, F, G, Dm, Em, Bdim, Am/C, and E7.
20. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel (1989)
“We Didn’t Start the Fire” carries an important message: that some generations ultimately inherit world problems from their predecessors. Billy Joel says that he wrote it after a conversation with John Lennon’s son about the state of the world.
Like many 80s songs, this one manages to be catchy without being too tough to play. As you’ll see in this tutorial (video above right), you can play it using just G, D, Em, C, and Bm. It makes a fun sing-along song, too!
21. “All Night Long (All Night)” by Lionel Richie (1983)
You might know Lionel Richie from his “Endless Love” duet with Diana Ross. But this laid-back song is one of his other number-one hits. Richie has said that to write the song, he had to “find that beat that everybody dances to when they go on vacation.”
This song has a distinctive groove; mastering it is a great way to build up your chops as a rhythm guitarist. It can be easier to learn if you can watch someone else play through it beforehand. This tutorial (video below left) lets you do just that.
22. “Jump” by Van Halen (1984)
If you know anything about Van Halen, you know that the band relied heavily on guitars. “Jump” marked a huge departure, as it was primarily played on a synth.
If you’re looking for an in-depth tutorial that really shows you how to play the best song by this famous band, check out this video (above right). In terms of chords, you’ll need C, F, Gsus4, Am, and Dm7.
23. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” by Tina Turner (1984)
Of course, there are plenty of versions out there if you want to do a cover. But this one is especially accessible for beginners. To play it, you’ll need a few chords you may already know: Em7, D, and C. Play these chords with a capo at the fourth fret, and you have a simple yet beautiful arrangement!
24. “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie (1983)
The music of the 80s was certainly great for the dance floor, and Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” was no exception. Bowie even asked legendary guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan to play lead guitar on the track.
If you want a feel for the song’s rhythm, it shouldn’t be too difficult with a little practice. As you can see in this video, you’ll need to use Eb, Bbm11, Ebm6, Gb6, Bbm, Db, Ab, and Fm7. These chords aren’t ones you see every day, so learning the song can be a great way to build your chord vocabulary!
25. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics (1983)
MTV was responsible for introducing this song (and the Eurythmics as a group) to America. And though the song has quite a danceable beat, its lyrics offer an almost eerie exploration of the nature of existence.
Since it’s originally played on a synth, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” might seem hard to translate to guitar. This video gives you an idea of how to play it. But once you get a feel for the chords, you might try creating your own arrangement of this highly unusual song.
Even More 80s Songs
- “Candy Girl” by New Edition (1983)
- “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley (1980)
- “Super Freak” by Rick James (1981)
- “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats (1982)
- “Hold Me” by Fleetwood Mac (1982)
- “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode (1989)
- “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes (1987)
- “Free Fallin'” by Tom Petty (1989)
- “(I Just) Died in Your Arms Tonight” by Cutting Crew (1986)
- “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” by Simple Minds (1985)
- “Material Girl” by Madonna (1984)
- “Hungry Heart” by Bruce Springsteen (1980)
- “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” by Elton John (1983)
- “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House
Hopefully, you now know a few more 80s songs to learn on guitar, sing at karaoke night, or play in the car. Did we leave out any great songs? What’s your favorite 80s song? Let us know in the comments, and please don’t forget to like and share if you found this list useful!
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