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Melody is a passion of mine. I love all aspects of music — performance, lyrics, groove, recording quality, and others. But anyone who knows me as a musician knows melody is almost an obsession of mine, and in writing songs in my band Kicklighter, discovering great melodies is always my foremost goal. For this top-ten list, I am looking for amazing and inventive melodies from the 1980s: melodies whose composition alone, “on paper,” stands out as inspired, as amazing discoveries on the part of the songwriter.
This is not a “greatest songs” list. A recorded song can be great in any of the different aspects I mentioned above, and some truly great songs may have a melody that, while a perfect fit for the song’s needs, isn’t sufficiently unexpected, sophisticated, or inventive to make this list. The classic example is “Every Breath You Take,” by the Police. Would you change a note of it? No! It’s a perfect melody! Is the song great? Yes! But you can’t say the melody is exactly amazing or brilliant. It’s just too simple, too predictable, too nursery school. “Every Breath You Take” is kind of like a perfectly-performed dive with a low difficulty level. You admire its idealistic perfection, but you can’t win a competition with it.
While there are no hard and fast rules, some of the things I look for in a melody are: that tells a musical story or has a significant narrative arc; that it shares in common with great jokes that they set you up and then shatters expectations, but in a way that makes perfect sense after the punchline is delivered; and that it take chances, opting for the unexpected jump or the unanticipated rhythm.
The 1980s, as it turns out, were a special time for great melody in popular music. I’ve almost shed tears as I’ve compiled this list, confronting over and over again how great, how musical, how beautifully crafted, were so many hits from this decade. So here we go with the most amazing melodies of the 1980s.
Get ready to be lost in nostalgia! And, of course, I’m ready to surprise you a few times with some songs you may have forgotten, or whose greatness you may not have noticed when they were popular. And I’m ready for your arguments, too!