10 Songs That Embody the Wars of the 1980s

Editor’s Note: See the first three installments in Allston’s wonderful new series: “10 Classic Songs from the World War II Era,” “10 More World War II-Era Classic Songs,” and “10 Songs That Embody the Vietnam War Era.” And please leave your suggestions in the comments.

Grenada – Operation “Urgent Fury”

Grenada, beginning on October 25, 1983, just two days following the bombing of our Marine barracks in Lebanon, was a test-case – it signified America’s return to major military Operations, and the end of our post-Vietnam doldrums. More important, it sent a direct message to the Soviets – when they pushed, Reagan pushed back.

Ostensibly conducted to rescue American Medical School students held hostage by an unfriendly Marxist government, there was also the small matter of a certain airstrip under construction by Cuban Combat Engineers (reported by our press as “50 of them,” ultimately turning out to be over 500), and soon capable of handling Soviet bombers that could easily reach the Continental US. No, sorry, this will just not work for us.

The very next year, “Weird” Al Yankovic released a parody of the song, titled “I Love Rocky Road.” The band was also parodied in a Bloom County segment, as “Tess Turbo and the Blackheads.”  One rockin’ mama is Joan Jett.

1. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “I Love Rock and Roll” (1982)

From the height of their popularity, with five number one hits to their credit already.

2. Darryl Hall and John Oates – “I Can’t Go For That” (1982) 

For an act most widely associated with the 70s and 80s, they formed in 1961 (in the Netherlands!), and had their first hit song in 1965.

3. Golden Earring – “Twilight Zone” (1983)

One of only a few acts I can think of, in which, early-on, all but two of the original members died (apparently, all drug-related), yet a new cast of musicians kept on performing and remaining at the top of the charts.

4. The Pretenders – “Back on the Chain Gang” (1983)

If I had to do a list of the 100 most iconic 1980s songs, this would utterly be on it.

5. Don Henley – “Dirty Laundry” (1983) 

Panama – Operation “Just Cause”

Panama was an odd case, in which we went to remove a strongman dictator and stop his nation from being used for the wholesale trans-shipment of drugs to the US.

It’s too bad no one thought this fully through, but here would have been reasonable justification and the means present to take back the Panama Canal. If your nation is going to breed military strongmen and large-scale drug trafficking, then you are not capable of managing the Canal, an international responsibility. A missed opportunity, I think.

Meanwhile, some very slinky babes were bumping and grinding to the beat. Frontman Robert Palmer was as cool as ever.

1. Robert Palmer – “Simply Irresistible” (1988) 

This was originally released by Winwood in 1982, but didn’t get a lot of traction at that time.  It wasn’t until this year’s remix that it went to #9 on the charts.

2. Steve Winwood – “Valerie” (1988) 

The inspiration for this song was a conversation Michael Stipe was engaged in with the band, on the “Bubblegum” songs around (that is, those by “the Banana Splits,” “The Monkees,” and so on).  He said, “I’ll see that bet and raise you.”  “Stand” was the result, goofy with nonsense lyrics.

3. R.E.M. – “Stand” (1989)

A very Left message from this act.  The lyrics, “Politician granny with your high ideals, have you no idea how the majority feels?” refers to Margaret Thatcher after her re-election as PM.  Odd how their rankings plummeted following this album.

4. Tears for Fears – “Sowing the Seeds of Love” (1989)

There are ups and downs associated with this action, featuring frequent and abrupt entrances by complete strangers.  Which apparently almost happened to Tyler, who was In Flagrante Delicto with some young thing in said conveyance, and the doors opened; he said that it “felt like a lifetime, waiting for those doors to close.”

5. Aerosmith – “Love in an Elevator” (1989)