Music Lists #10: 150 Greatest New Wave Songs of the 1980's

In the late 70’s/early 80’s music experienced big changes all at once. Disco was dead, classic AOR was on its way out, punk was finished, and a concentration on image (i.e. music videos) all but washed out the non-photogenic soft rockers like Christopher Cross. Funk was also went bye-bye, along with it went the heavy-duty soul music of the Isley Brothers and Al Green variety.

Catchy top 40 pop never goes out of style, so that remained relatively unchanged. Rap music replaced the void left by funk (and even disco). Heavy metal bands like Def Leppard and Judas Priest found their heyday in the early 80’s. Another big change came with New Wave which combined the ashes of punk and disco to create something new entirely. The punk aspect was evident in their “alternative” style, readily apparent in new wave groups like Siouxsie and the Banshees who once shared venues with The Sex Pistols. The disco element was also readily apparent in their tendency to glam it up and make tunes you could dance to; and they also weren’t opposed to a heavy use of synthesizers– New Order and Depeche Mode being perfect examples.

I’ll spare you any further history lessons and get on with The Retrospace list of Great New Wave Songs. In making the list, there was only one guideline: I can only use 1-2 songs per band. This is to encourage a little variety, and make the list a bit more interesting. Also note: these are not in a particular order.

1. Metro - Berlin
2. Melt with You – Modern English
3. Save It for Later – English Beat
4. Cancer – Joe Jackson
5. Destination Unknown – Missing Persons
6. Just Like Heaven – The Cure
7. In Between Days – The Cure
8. All of My Heart – ABC
9. There’s a World Outside – Psychedelic Furs
10. This Is the Day – The The
11. Dogs of Lust – The The
12. The King Is Half Undressed – Jellyfish
13. Bedspring Kiss – Jellyfish
14. Tower of Strength – Mission UK
15. Vienna Calling - Falco
16. Relax – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
17. Two Tribes – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
18. Europa and the Pirate Twins– Thomas Dolby
19. She Sells Sanctuary – The Cult
20. Love Removal Machine – The Cult
21. Metropolis – The Church
22. Under the Milky Way – The Church
23. Timeless Melody – The Las
24. There She Goes – The Las
25. Summer’s Cauldron – XTC
26. Runaways – XTC
27. Down in the Park – Tubeway Army
28. Cars – Gary Newman
29. Daytime Drama – Billy Idol
30. White Wedding – Billy Idol
31. Can’t Be Sure – The Sundays
32. Here’s Where the Story Ends – The Sundays
33. Bedbugs and Ballyhoo – Echo and the Bunnymen
34. Seven Seas – Echo and the Bunnymen
35. Six Months in a Leaky Boat – Split Enz
36. Der Kommissar – After the Fire
37. Master and Servant – Depeche Mode
38. Shake the Disease - Depeche Mode
39. The Chauffeur – Duran Duran
40. Planet Earth – Duran Duran
41. Vanishing Point – New Order
42. Everything’s Gone Green – New Order
43. How Soon Is Now? – The Smiths
44. Last of the Famous International Playboys – The Smiths
45. Darkness- The Human League
46. Fascination – The Human League
47. Desire – Gene Loves Jezebel
48. Heartache – Gene Loves Jezebel
49. Mexican Radio – Wall of Voodoo
50. Ring of Fire – Wall of Voodoo
51. Peek-a-Boo – Siouxsie and the Banshees
52. Inside Out - Mighty Lemon Drops
53. Out of My Head – Mighty Lemon Drops
54. No Stars – Figures on a Beach
55. Faron Young – Prefab Sprout
56. Working Girl – The Members
57. Christine – House of Love
58. It’s My Life – Talk, Talk
59. Summer of Love – B-52’s
60. Legal Tender – B-52’s
61. Litany – Guadalcanal Diary
62. Ship of Fools – World Party
63. Michael Caine – Madness
64. House of Fun – Madness
65. Celtic Soul Brother – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
66. Come on Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
67. Hit – Sugarcubes
68. Birthday – Sugarcubes
69. Here Comes Your Man – The Pixies
70. Veloria – The Pixies
71. I Ran – A Flock of Seagulls
72. I Wanna Be Adored – Stone Roses
73. She Bangs the Drums – Stone Roses
74. Mirror People – Love and Rockets
75. Yin and Yang and the Flowerpot Man – Love and Rockets
76. One Thing – INXS
77. Johnson’s Airplane – INXS
78. Missionary Man – Eurythmics
79. Beethoven (I Love to Listen to) – Eurythmics
80. Mad World – Tears for Fears
81. Pale Shelter – Tears for Fears
82. Tainted Love – Soft Cell
83. Sex Dwarf – Soft Cell
84. Back on the Chain Gang – The Pretenders
85. Talk of the Town – The Pretenders
86. Overkill – Men at Work
87. Kings of the Wild Frontier – Adam Ant
88. Dog Eat Dog - Adam Ant
89. Wouldn’t It Be Good – Nik Kershaw
90. Genius of Love – Tom Tom Club
91. Don’t Wanna Know - Husker Du
92. Put Your Hands on Me – Sinead O’Connor
93. Jerusalem – Sinead O’Connor
94. Don’t Let’s Start – They Might Be Giants
95. Sun Always Shines on TV – A-ha
96. Really Saying Something – Bananarama
97. Dreaming – Blondie
98. One Way or Another – Blondie
99. Come Out to Play – UB40
100. Chains of Love – Erasure
101. What’s on Your Mind (Pure Energy) – Information Society
102. Just Like Honey – The Jesus and Mary Chain
103. Spirits in the Material World – the Police
104. On Any Other Day – The Police
105. Gardening at Night – REM
106. So, Central Rain -REM
107. Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds
108. Kids in America – Kim Wilde
109. Eye of Fatima – Camper Van Beethoven
110. Don’t Tell Me – Blancmange
111. Do You Wanna Hold Me – Bow Wow Wow
112. W.O.R.K. – Bow Wow Wow
113. Let Me Go – Heaven 17
114. Just Another Day – Oingo Boingo
115. Dead Man’s Party – Oingo Boingo
116. Our Lips Are Sealed – Fun Boy Three
117. Ghost Town – The Specials
118. Good Thing - Fine Young Cannibals
119. Johnny Come Home - Fine Young Cannibals
120. Higher Ground - Red Hot Chili Peppers
121. Taste the Pain - Red Hot Chili Peppers
122. Crash - The Primitives
123. Every Day Is Like Sunday - Morrissey
124. Suedehead - Morrissey
125. Cuts You Up - Peter Murphy 
126. Anything, Anything- Dramarama
127. Suburbia - Pet Shop Boys
128. Head Over Heels - The Go-Go's
129. We Got the Beat- The Go-Go's
130. Peek-a-Boo - Devo
131. Up All Night - Boomtown Rats
132. Mr. Pharmacist - The Fall
133. A Million Miles Away - The Plimsouls
134. Small Town Boy - Bronxi Beat
135. Making the Body Search - Wire
136. Born in Xixax- Nina Hagen
137. Strange Town- The Jam
138. Lessons in Love - Level 42
139. Something About You - Level 42
140. It's My Life - Talk Talk
141. Tenderness - General Public
142. Love Plus One - Haircut 100
143. Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream) - Icicle Works
144. Rush - Big Audio Dynamite II
145. Don't Go - Yaz
146. Repo Man - Iggy Pop
147. No One Is to Blame - Howard Jones
148. Birth, School, Work, Death - Godfathers
149. Kiss and Tell - Brian Ferry
150. Headhunter - Front 242

I realize many of you haven't heard a lot of the songs on this list. I hope it will inspire you to seek them out. I've also made a playlist for you to listen to a few of the perhaps lesser known entries on the list.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Note (1): I realize there's going to be some songs on this list that you wouldn't classify as new wave; unfortunately, that's the danger in making genre lists. If the Pixies and Husker Du are new wave, then why not include some Sonic Youth? It's like this: If an umpire makes the strikezone too large, it pisses off the batter, and if he makes it too small, the pitcher gets mad.  Moral to the story: you can't please everybody, so just do the best you can.

Note (2): There are few songs that dip into 1990 (recorded in '89 but in '90) such as "Timeless Melody"; and also a few recorded in 1979, but released in 1980.

If there are any glaring omissions, please put it in a comment. I like to hear suggestions - especially ones I'm not familiar with or have long forgotten. I enjoy discovering songs that have slipped under the radar all these years.


  1. Great tunes. I know many of them, but definitely not all of them. I like the ones that I know. I've been thinking a lot about this kind of music lately.

  2. you listed fun boy three 'our lips are sealed' twice

  3. That's quite a list, and a lot of the tunes aren't the "usual" ones by an artist. I'm glad someone besides me thinks Bananarama belongs on a list like that. MIA - The Thompson Twins!

  4. Der Kommissar by After the Fire (your #36) just cycled up on iTunes the other day so I'll be featuring it as my Song of the Week on Sunday a week )the 22nd). I'm going to feature the Falco version as well.

  5. OMG I love your list, I was about 13 when new wave music came out so I recognise 90% of the songs, still like some of them today especially Berlin.

  6. Never a big fan of the Thompson Twins, not sure why.

    I'm impressed, Amy, that you recognize so many. This was back when MTV played videos, and I watched so much of it that "The Reflex-flex-flex-flex-flex" is still reverberating in my skull.

    Note: I just noticed that the Gene Loves Jezebel mp3 on my playlist is the shitty live version. Sorry. Skip this tune if you happen to be listening to the playlist.

  7. Neat list! I'd add "Saved by zero" by The Fixx and "First picture of you" by The Lotus Eaters. Also, "Nova heart" by the Spoons.

  8. Saved by Zero is a great song. Not familiar with your other two suggestions - I'll have to find them. Thanks for the suggestions.

  9. " Another big change came with New Wave which combined the ashes of punk and disco to create something new entirely. The punk aspect was evident in their “alternative” style, readily apparent in new wave groups like Siouxsie and the Banshees who once shared venues with The Sex Pistols. The disco element was also readily apparent in their tendency to glam it up and make tunes you could dance to;"

    You left out the strong influence of David Bowie and the early '70s Glam/Glitter movement, which was brought into New Wave by the "New Romantic" subgenre of New Wave and spread throughout the whole genre by 1983.

    New Wave thus combined in a wondefully creative way the top three '70s genres: Glam/Glitter, Punk, and Disco. It was also wonderfully diverse and creative, and its Nerd-friendly (i.e. Devo, David Byrne of Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Thomas Dolby), Artiness-friendly (Talking Heads, Culture Club, Bowie), and oddball freindly (Talking Heads again, Cindi Lauper) nature made it cool to be an quirky outsider.

    I Love New Wave!!

  10. Where the %&*@ is Blue Monday or West End Girls?

  11. No "Whirly Girl" by OXO? I also have a nomination for Wet,Wet, Wet's "Wishing I Was Lucky".
    Kudos to listing World Party. I still love them-very underappreciated!!

  12. Wow, no Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, or Kirsty MacColl?

  13. this is a phenomenal post, thank you!

  14. anonymous, I didn't put "Blue Monday" because I already have 2 songs by New Order which I like better, and the rules of the list are that I can only have two from a particular artist.

    Elvis Costello is noticeably absent, but I just can't listen to him anymore. It just hasn't aged well IMHO.

    I agree that West End Girls belongs on this list somewhere, although I'm not sure what I'd take off to make room for it.

  15. Great point by anonymous regarding the influence of the glam/glitter movement. Well said.

  16. I hate when I see a long post and I think, "I'll get right back to that," because I never do until the post is "stale." Anyway, some of what you are calling New Wave I would call Alternative, not that I'm arguing with your list at all, it's just I personally never thought of Camper Van Beethoven or The Pixies as New Wave. Anyway, it's a great list and some new songs for me to check out. Maybe over the holidays I can do some lists of my own.

  17. Nice list, recognize most, but will have to check out some others. I might've included B-Movie's "Nowhere Girl," the '81 version in addition to the already mentioned missing "West End Girls." Maybe instead of giving some bands two slots on the list, next time everyone gets just one, though it is pretty tight.

  18. What about Real Life's "Send Me An Angel"?

    Anyway, Gilligan still made a really good list. Thumbs up!

  19. Thanks for posting this list. It inspired me to post a short list of some of the better Canadian New Wave tunes with links to the YouTube videos.

  20. Thanks for posting your list. I collect '80s music and I love lists like this. Yours is especially interesting since you included many songs that didn't receive much if any radio play (at least where I lived at the time).

    If you're interested, I also have a list of favorite '80s songs. It's here. I hope you enjoy it...

  21. I use to be a DJ at a very trendy nightclub during the eighties and we had a very popular New Romantics/New Wave night that always was well packed with many beautiful people I myself still listern to all the great tracks as I have still got many of them now loaded on to my hard drive at the last count I had over 650 tracks and remixes Now having reached 50 I feel this era was the greatest of all it was just a happy and somewhat Gay time if you know what I mean..............

  22. Where is the Clash!!! and Hangin on the telephone by Blondie but it was a good list so happy to see the Sundays on the list one of my favorties as is the Plimsouls!! I would of done Lips like Sugar by EATBM and I heard Mayor of Simpleton today is that XTC? and remember The policy of Dancing by Relfex and I used to love Josie Cotton as well love this list and this music it was the best!!

  23. How about big country's fields of fire and chance.

  24. Nice list, although mine - of course - would look a bit different. Glad you included "Whisper to a Scream," the chorus of which is instantly recognizable to me, as somebody who was a teen in the 1980s, and yet somehow the song slipped past my radar because I didn't know the artist/song title.

    You listed Talk Talk's "It's My Life" twice - at #58 and #140.

  25. It's Gary Numan,not Gary Newman.You did however made an
    impressive list,so I forgive you.

  26. You might like "Fade To Grey" by Visage,"Still Life In Mobile Homes" by Japan,and who can forget "Love Will
    Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division?

  27. Missing Persons and The Bangles were gr8 New Wave artists in the early 80s and even later

  28. I'm not really knocking this list. I have much of my personal music selection characterized similarly, but strictly speaking, due to the fact that New Wave grew out of punk, it's sound generally makes more use of guitars than some of the bands listed here of which I would be happier to call something like SynthPop.

  29. this list is not complete without talking head psycho killer

  30. We obviously have a different idea of New wave. Many of these artists are goth, punk, alternative or simply pop.
    The sounds of Berlin and Eurhythmics and Missing Thompson Twins are New Wave.

  31. I love this! I am stuck in these times. I want it back. Today, there is only a handful of good music. It will never be the same. We need to bring this back to young, deaf ears! yea!

  32. AnonymousMay 05, 2016

    Nice list, I like most of these songs.