The best songs withstand the test of time and anybody who grew up in the 80s knows this. Though many people scoff at “old music,” the fact of the matter is a good song is a good song no matter how old it is. When bands cover certain songs, the results can be horrific (think the Ataris’ cover of “Boys Of Summer.”) Conversely, when talented artists remake songs, the results can be absolutely remarkable. Here’s the undoubtable proof with the 20 Best Covers of 1980s Songs.
1. Islands In The Stream by Constantines and Feist
The classic 1983 American country song written by the Bee Gees and recorded by the legendary Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton was brought to the future by Indie greats the Constantines and Feist. This is one of the rare but true covers which may outshine the original, pairing the suggestive baritone with the sensual soprano all to the steady beat of the heart drum.
2. Time After Time by Quiet Drive
No mention of the 1980s is complete without Cyndi Lauper. The quirky, She’s So Unusual singer, songwriter, and actress blew up the decade with a slew of chart topping hits and lit up the silver screen with the cult classic Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. The proof is in the 1983 song “Time After Time.” Though no one can truly compete with the original, Quiet Drive certainly closely compares.
3. Careless Whisper by Seether
George Michael contributed to the 1980s music scene as much as jelly shoes, big hair, and legwarmers when he broke on the scene clad in black stating “I Want Your Sex.” How his story would unravel years later is irrelevant in comparison to how Wham!’s 1984 saxophone led hit “Careless Whisper” could still affect millions in 2008. That year post grunge/alternative metal band Seether added grit and screaming guitars to one of the most acute songs about infidelity.
4. Wicked Game by Three Days Grace
Chris Isaak and Helena Christensen frolicked on a Hawaiian beach for the music video accompanying one of best songs born during 1989. Weaving the sad but true tale that no one wins that “Wicked Game” of love, complete with smoky vocals seething with desire, this song is a staple of any seduction soundtrack. Three Days Grace gave the song a modern edge in their excellent cover. It’s not the same as the original yet it’s good, eh?
5. Boys Of Summer by DJ Sammy
Don Henley, balladeer and often squishy romantic, captured the essence of aging and regretful romance with his song “Boys Of Summer” in 1984. The song not only lead the album Building The Perfect Beast but rests permanently on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs Of All Time. The Eagles performed the song during their reunion tour, the Ataris tried their best to pull off a cover, but DJ Sammy’s 2002 remix adds toe tapping, booty shaking beats to the sweet, angelic voice of Mel.
6. Bad Reputation by Half Cocked
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts busted the music scene in 1980 following Jett’s split from The Runaways. Their debut album, Bad Reputation, was full of chart topping hits, like “Shout,” “Wooly Bully,” and of course the title track “Bad Reputation.” The tune, and several others which followed, earned Jett her the 29th place on VH1’s Best Hard Rock Songs Of All Time. Many lesser and well known artists cover the tune, like Avril Lavigne, yet the group Halfcocked maintained the passion of the original for the Pixar film Shrek.
7. Dancing With Myself By Blink 182
Punk rocker Billy Idol’s pinnacle career moment happened in 1981 with the release of his sensational album Kiss Me Deadly. Along with his band, Generation X, Idol ROCKED the world with the super sexy music video which accompanied the tune. Though many question the ultimate meaning of the song, suggesting the song is about loneliness, preferring one’s own company, and even self pleasure, the song is timeless. Many great covers exist but none are quite as good as Blink 182’s version.
8. Romeo and Juliet by The Killers
Mark Knopfler’s sheer genius in the retelling of the epic Shakespearean love story Romeo and Juliet through the help with his band Dire Straits in 1981 is as classic and true as the tragic tale itself. Though Knopfler, and his musical prowess can’t be outdone, Brandon Flowers of The Killers gives Knopfler and crew a run for their money for nothing less than a tribute to an epic musical masterpiece .
9. Yesterday Is Here By Cat Power
The 1987 release of Franks Wild Years by the crooning barroom balladeer Tom Waits is complete with his brand of music: growly vocals, pianos, guitars, brass, and grit. Among the treasures on this album are songs like “Innocent When You Dream,” “Way Down In The Hole,” “Train Song,” and “Yesterday Is Here.” One of the more powerful Tom Waits’ covers is by the very talented and highly unconventional Cat Power. Her raw energy paired with the cacophony of guitars is sheer magic.
10. Sweet Dreams by Marilyn Manson
British duo Annie Lennox and David Stewart began their on and off again band the Eurythmics during the early 80s. Despite an initial struggle to get recognized, everything changed for the pair with the 1983 release of their mega success second album Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This). The title track climbed U.K. and U.S. music charts and earned the group its fame. It did the same for alternative metal/shock rocker Marilyn Manson. His blackened, grisly twist on the central theme of the song sharpens the edges of human nature.
11. Love Song by Adele
The Cure’s 1989 Disintegration album marked the English alternative rockers’ pinnacle of their hard earned commercial success. Robert Smith, his band, and the makeup happily melted hearts with tunes like “Pictures of You” and “Love Song.” Years later, when English songstress Adele Laurie Blue Adkins remade the song, fires reignited in hearts all over the world. Who won’t always love The Cure and Adele?
12. Take My Breath Away By My Morning Jacket
Berlin belted the Academy and Golden Globe Award winning ultra love song “Take My Breath Away” in 1986. Featured in the epic film Top Gun (starring Tom Cruise), the song was written by legendary songwriters Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock and quickly reach the top of most international charts. It was also certified gold in four countries. Once “Take My Breath Away” reached the hands of My Morning Jacket during 2004, it lived on. And on. Released on the group’s compilation album Early Recordings, this remake is certain to keep everyone breathless.
13. Working For The Weekend by Grand: PM
Canadian group Loverboy lent leather, big hair, and the working man’s anthem to everyone during the height of their career with the 1981 album Get Lucky. Their first hit was “Working For The Weekend” flew to the top of the charts and earned the band a record breaking six Juno Awards. Years later the band earned three more Junos, securing their place as the only group or individual to ever make that achievement. Rated 100th in the 100 Greatest Song of the 80s by VH1 and used in various commercials, television shows, and films, this tune has yet to fall out of the spotlight thanks to the punk/rock/pop group Grand:PM. Delivering a smashing cover on this timeless favorite, Grand:PM keeps this track rocking.
14. King Of Pain by Alanis Morissette
The 1983 release of the album Synchroncity was the last hit record released by English rockers The Police. Within one year, the album climbed to the number 3 position on US charts and number 17 on UK charts, earned the group two Grammys, and propelled members’ solo careers. Tracks from the album like: “Every Breath You Take,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” and “King of Pain” include tales of love, loss, and loneliness. During 1999, just two years following her man-bashing hit “You Oughta Know,” Canadian Alanis Morissette revealed her softer side with her immaculate cover of “King Of Pain.”
15. Mad World by Gary Jules
English synthpop rockers Tears For Fears experienced the harvest from successfully sowing Seeds Of Love during 1983. That year, the group’s third single, Mad World, reached the number 3 spot on UK charts and quickly climbed to the upper reaches of 14 international charts. The track was featured on the debut album The Hurting which explored concepts like distress, relationships, and even different approaches of therapy. When Gary Jules simplified the the tune, stripping it of the electric sound made famous by Tears For Fears, the result was magnificent.
16. Kiss Me Deadly by Reel Big Fish
The Runaways may have parted ways to pursue solo careers, using the passion which fueled each members’ success to reach new levels. Former Runaway Lita Ford went on to produce several albums with the help of Sharon Osborne, including the 1988 chart topping timeless hit “Kiss Me Deadly.” The female hard rocker’s killer song transformed into ska punk and lived on during 2000 when Reel Big Fish released Viva La Internet.
17. Never Tear Us Apart by the Robotanists
During 1987, the Australian new wave/dance/ pub rock band INXS busted to the top of international music charts with the album Kick. Featuring tracks like “New Sensation,” “Devil Inside,” and “Never Tear Us Apart” the album earned the band massive popularity and worldwide attention. With four Top 10 U.S. singles and chart peaks in the U.K., Australia, and France, Kick had the world dancing. Years later, in March 2010, Los Angeles based Indie band the Robotanists boosted their impact with a brilliant cover of the superbly sensuous song.
18. I’m On Fire By Ben Harper and Jennifer Nettles
The 1980s without Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen would have been like air without oxygen. The release of the songwriter, singer, and instrumentalist’s seventh album Born to Run on June 4, 1984 marked Springsteen’s mainstream massive appeal. With seven Top 10 singles, like “Born In The U.S.A.,” “Glory Days,” “Dancin’ In The Dark,” “My Hometown,” “Cover Me,” and “I’m On Fire” Springsteen and the E Street Band skyrocketed to fame and commercial success. The album earned platinum and diamond certification throughout seven countries and topped 9 international charts. During 2009 at the Kennedy Center Honors, Ben Harper and Jennifer Nettles performed “I’m On Fire” as a tribute of the blaze of attraction first captured in the Springsteen original with steamy, steamy results.
19. Sacrifice By Sinead O’Connor
One of Elton John’s most powerful ballads topped a number of international charts during 1989. Laced with palpable emotion regarding the end of a marriage, “Sacrifice” is perhaps one of the best songs written by and considered a favorite of the Rocketman and Bernie Taupin. The way the song completely shifts when sung by a woman captures the spectrum of emotions the song evokes. Sinead O’Connor, with all of her residual angst from Nothing Compares 2 U, struck a high note and shredded the heartstrings with her cover.
20. Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley
In 1975 Leonard Cohen abandoned the album “Songs For Rebecca” to concentrate on a Best of Album, touring, and producing two other albums. The 1984 release of Various Positions included some tracks from the “lost” album and contributions from vocalist Jennifer Warnes. Songs like “Dance Me To The End Of Love,” “The Captain,” “Heart With No Companion,” “If It Will Be Your Will,” and “Hallelujah” propelled Cohen’s musical mastery. In fact, statistics from multiple international music industry associations indicate that over 200 artists have covered “Hallelujah” and over five million copies of the song have been sold in compact disc formats alone. Of those 200 artists, no cover is so powerfully heart wrenchingly powerful than Jeff Buckley’s version. The cover appeared on Buckley’s only studio album, released just three years before his untimely death, and truly anchors the song’s ultimate message: that with a lot of faith, heartbreak is good (and best navigated with really great music.)