We’ve Got You Covered: 15 Hits of the 80s (And Their Covers)

With a hip 80s theme for our Confluence Conference this year, the Confluence team has had so much fun compiling the best of the 80s (music, fashion, movies, you name it!) to share with you in the weeks leading up to the conference in September.

This month the Confluence Conference team has been bringing you the best of 80s music trivia and entertainment. In our last blog post, we took a look at 30 hits from 1987 that will celebrate their 30th birthday this year.

The 80s in music were an influential period for many musical artists that came after, and nowhere is that evidenced more than in the covers of 80s songs that have emerged in recent years. Today, we bring you 30 songs, again, but with a twist – we’ve compiled 15 smash hits from the 80s, and included notable covers of those songs by modern artists.

1. “Call Me” (Blondie, 1980)

Blondie’s “Call Me” just barely makes the list of 80’s songs, released in the US in February 1980. It went on to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained there for six weeks, becoming the band’s biggest single. According to Billboard, it was the #1 song on the year-end charts for 1980.

The Cover: “Call Me” (Franz Ferdinand, 2008)

Blondie themselves asked Franz Ferdinand to cover their biggest hit for War Child Presents Heroes, a charity album devoted to aid efforts in war-ravaged countries.

2. Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (Cyndi Lauper, 1983)

Cyndi Lauper’s breakout hit, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” would go on to be recognized as her signature song and as a feminist anthem. The song was actually originally written by Robert Hazard in 1979 from a male’s point of view. Lauper changed the lyrics to a female point of view with his approval.

The Cover: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (STRFKR, 2012)

Portland indie rockers STRFKR covered Cyndi Lauper’s signature hit in 2012, and their version was featured in a Juicy Couture ad the same year.

3. “Lovesong” (The Cure, 1989)

From their 1989 album Disintegration, “Lovesong” was The Cure’s only song to enter the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. The song has been covered by several artists in the years since, in varying musical styles.

The Cover: “Lovesong” (The Brunettes, 2008)

New Zealand indie pop group The Brunettes covered “Lovesong” on the 2008 tribute album Just Like Heaven – A Tribute to The Cure.

4. “Running Up That Hill” (Kate Bush, 1985)

Although it enjoyed more success in the United Kingdom, English songwriter Kate Bush saw her first charting hit in the US with “Running Up That Hill.” Bush claims the song is often misinterpreted, saying, “I was trying to say that a man and woman can’t understand each other because we are a man and a woman. And if we could actually swap each other’s roles … I think it would lead to a greater understanding.”

The Cover: Chromatics (2007)

Chromatics’ electronic-heavy version strips down the original, relying on electronic drums, synthesizers and singer Ruth Radelet’s breathy vocals. Radelet has said she was initially hesitant to cover the song, but that it’s now one of her favorites to sing on tour.


5. “Just the Two of Us” (Grover Washington, 1980)

Recorded by saxophonist Grover Washington and Bill Withers, “Just the Two of Us” won a Grammy for Best R&B song. The song is actually sung by Withers but credited to Washington.

The Cover: “Just the Two of Us” (Will Smith, 1998)

In 1998, Will Smith took “Just the Two of Us” and incorporated the melody and sampled many of the lyrics, but changed the song to be about the relationship between a father and his son – the video features clips of fathers with their children, including Will Smith himself and his son Trey.


6. “Billie Jean” (Michael Jackson, 1983)

Although there are conflicting opinions of the meaning behind the song’s lyrics, Jackson himself claims the song is simply based on groupies he had encountered. The song’s smashing success (winning two Grammys and being inducted into the Music Video Producers Hall of Fame) lifted the Thriller album to the status of best-selling album of all time.

The Cover: “Billie Jean” (Chris Cornell, 2007)

The late Chris Cornell, of Soundgarden, covered “Billie Jean” on his 2007 solo album. Cornell had performed the song live in Europe, taking a “completely different approach, musically,” in his words. The bluesier, more serious feel of the song gained many positive reviews.


7. “Careless Whisper” (George Michael, 1984)

“Careless Whisper” was the late George Michael’s first solo single, and the prominent saxophone riff has become widely recognized in the years since. The song reached #1 in almost 25 countries around the world, and about 1/3 of the total copies sold were sold in the US alone.

The Cover: “Careless Whisper” (Ben Folds and Rufus Wainwright, 2011)

Ben Folds covered “Careless Whisper” with Rufus Wainwright (whose version of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah,” itself a cover of Leonard Cohen’s original version of the song, would achieve success after being featured in the first Shrek movie) at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California. In their version, the eponymous saxophone solo is played on the piano instead.


8. “If You Leave” (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, 1986)

“If You Leave,” released for the soundtrack to 1986’s Pretty in Pink and featured prominently in the movie’s final scene, was written after John Hughes changed the Pretty in Pink ending in response to bad audience reactions. The last-minute change meant that “If You Leave” was written and recorded in under 24 hours.

The song that the dancers in the scene originally danced to? “Don’t You (Forget About Me,” played in both the opening and final scene of The Breakfast Club, released the previous year. The song is deliberately written at the same tempo as a result, to avoid problems with re-editing the scene.

The Cover: “If You Leave” (Nada Surf, 2004)

Nada Surf’s version of “If You Leave” appeared in season 1 of early 2000s teen drama The OC in 2003. In the scene SPOILER AHEAD Seth chases after Anna to try and stop her from getting on her flight and leaving California, believing he’s the reason she’s leaving.


9. “Don’t Stop Believin’” (Journey, 1981)

As of its 30th birthday in 2011, “Don’t Stop Believin’” had sold more digital copies than any other song originally released in the 20th century. It is also the #1 most common song sung at karaoke nights. (Okay…I might have made up that part.) Notable appearances of the song are the final scene of The Sopranos, as well as a rallying song for multiple sports teams across the country.

The Cover: “Don’t Stop Believin’ (Petra Haden, 2007)

Manhattan vocalist Petra Haden recorded an a capella cover of “Don’t Stop Believin’” in 2007 for Guilt by Assocation, a collection of cover songs. The version is similar to the version done on Glee later on, in 2009.

10. “Africa” (Toto, 1982)

Ever wondered what the story behind this karaoke staple is? Drummer Jeff Porcaro explained the idea as follows: “A white boy is trying to write a song about Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.” In 2015, singer and keyboardist David Paich said the song is about a man’s love of Africa, rather than a romantic relationship. 

The Cover: “Africa” (Lowry, 2008)

“Africa” was featured in the first season of Netflix hit Stranger Things, but it was also covered by Brooklyn indie rock band Lowry years earlier for the Guilt by Association Vol. 2 cover compilation album.

11. “Beat It” (Michael Jackson, 1983)

In the music video for “Beat It,” Michael Jackson brings two gangs together through the power of music and dance. It went on to win Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.

The Cover: “Beat It” (Fall Out Boy and John Mayer, 2008)

This team effort by John Mayer and Fall Out Boy was the only single from Fall Out Boy’s Live in Phoenix album. The guitar solo in “Beat It,” which was performed by Eddie Van Halen in the original version, is performed by Mayer in this version.

12. “Tainted Love” (Soft Cell, 1983)

The Soft Cell recording of Gloria Jones’ 1964 hit took a drastically different arrangement than its predecessor, with a slower tempo and different key. The original instruments were replaced with synthesizers and rhythm machines. Even with all the changes, Soft Cell’s version was recorded in only a day and a half.

The Cover: “Tainted Love” (My Brightest Diamond, 2008)

My Brightest Diamond, the project of singer and instrumentalist Shara Nova, covered the Soft Cell version of “Tainted Love” (itself a cover) for the cover compilation album Guilt by Association Vol. 2.

13. “Straight Up” (Paula Abdul, 1988)

In years past you saw her on American Idol, but in the 80s Paula Abdul climbed ‘straight up’ to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1989, after a late 1988 release. Thanks, moms! Paula Abdul says her mom found this song for her, as a demo version. The demo version was apparently so bad that Abdul’s mom threw it in the trash, but Abdul liked something about it and saved the demo. And the rest is music history.

The Cover: “Straight Up” (Luna, 2007)

New York dream pop band Luna recorded a cover of Paula Abdul’s career-defining hit in 2007 for the first cover compilation volume of Guilt by Association.

14. “Personal Jesus” (Depeche Mode, 1989)

“Personal Jesus” was Depeche Mode’s first gold-certified single in the US, although it would be quickly followed by another (“Enjoy the Silence”). According to songwriter Martin Gore, the song was inspired by Priscilla Presley’s book Elvis and Me.

The Cover: “Personal Jesus” (Johnny Cash, 2002)

Johnny Cash’s cover of “Personal Jesus” features a guitar part re-worked by John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers into an acoustic version. Frusciante’s work stripped the song down to a blues style, and he plays guitar on the track alongside Mike Campbell, guitarist for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It appears as the B-side to what is possibly Johnny Cash’s best known cover – his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.”

15. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (Bonnie Tyler, 1983)

Thanks to the success of this song in the US, Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler is the only Welsh singer to reach #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. And what you may have heard is true: it’s about vampires. Songwriter Jim Steinman said this about the song:
“I was trying to come up with a love song and I remembered I actually wrote that to be a vampire love song. Its original title was Vampires in Love because I was working on a musical of Nosferatu … If anyone listens to the lyrics, they’re really like vampire lines. It’s all about the darkness, the power of darkness and love’s place in dark.”

The Cover: “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (The Protomen, 2009)

With a number of covers in their repertoire, it’s no surprise The Protomen covered “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” The covers selected by the band usually fit thematically with the band’s underlying concept – that is, songs about heroism, struggle, resistance or sacrifice, although this song demonstrates a sub-theme of love.

Until next time …

We’re having a blast sharing the best (and our favorites) of 80s pop culture with you – and we hope to see you at Confluence Conference, where our group of speakers, influencers, and leaders in the digital marketing world will be sharing something else with you – knowledge! For more information about the conference, or to get your tickets, visit the Confluence Conference website! 

And if you aren’t already, follow Confluence Conference on Twitter and Facebook for conference updates, and fun 80s trivia and entertainment leading up to Confluence Conference in September!

Diggin’ the tunes you heard in this post? Listen to the full list below (and subscribe) on Spotify here.