The Most Memorable 1980s MTV Female Pop Stars

Unless the compiler uses quantifiable statistics, data, or criteria, the list piece appraisal of anything from bass guitarists to summer reads to outside linebackers is going to be subjective.

For that reason, Janet Jackson and Madonna are not on my list of memorable female pop music stars of MTV’s 1980s Golden Age. Jackson’s brand of urban pop was the soundtrack for someone else’s life, and while I dug a couple of Madonna hits like “Vogue,” she of the blown-up White House and the unmentionable hat is forever consigned to some other list.

To be clear, if holding conservative values is applied as a litmus test, none of these ladies would make the cut; they’re all some shade of liberal. But celebrity women on the right side of the spectrum tend to talk and write, not sing. It’s a dilemma for musically appreciative conservatives who insist on ideological purity when assessing the performance arts. If you keep paring openly progressive women from a list like this you’re pretty much down to… Debby Boone — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

You will however find noted whiny liberal Cher on my list, an iconic singer who has repeatedly threatened to leave the country over Republican election results. The reason Cher makes the cut? “If I Could Turn Back Time” simply can’t be ignored.

Stevie Nicks is also not on my list because I’ve already covered her at length here at PJM.

With these codicils, here are my choices for the most memorable hot female pop singers of MTV’s Golden Age, a more innocent, more Reaganesque time:

1. “If I Could Turn Back Time” — Cher

There’s nothing half-mast about this steamy naval exercise. Reaching #1 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart in June of 1989, the single signaled Cher’s big late-eighties comeback.

Whatever the political affiliations of the able sailors in the song’s video, nobody’s asking for Cher’s voter registration card. It was anchors away and damn the torpedoes as the snaggle-toothed diva showed all.

I get verklempt.

2. “There’s Something Going On” — Frida

There are two video versions of this fabulous soundscape, produced with drums by maestro Phil Collins. The version that got all the rotation was a typical 1980s music video with a storyboard scenario. The version featured here is smoking hot, and yet has been criticized for its haphazard direction and the former ABBA co-star’s imprecise lip synch. Balderdash.

Hold on to your hearts, or whatever. The net effect of the beautiful Frida sashaying around and calling out her lover’s unfaithfulness was one of a slightly tipsy private dancer. Men love that.

The song peaked at #13 on the Billboard Top 100 in March of 1983 and enjoyed a 26-week chart run.

3. “Only the Lonely” — The Motels (Martha Davis)

How many cocaine-fueled dark and smoky New Wave bars did we frequent back in the early 1980s? In this sultry and moody masterpiece, Martha Davis enshrined that particular place in time. The AIDS epidemic was spreading — especially in Davis’s home turf on the West Coast — and in terms of the so-called sexual revolution, the party was soon over.

Debuting at #90 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1982, the song peaked at #9.

Discretion in sexual choices was making a comeback, and in the song, the songstress has made her choice, been unlucky in love, and, like so many others, rides out the night alone.

4. “I Touch Myself” — The Divinyls (Chrissy Amphlett)

Technically not an eighties song (#4 on the Billboard Top 100 after its 1990 release), this anthem to onanistic pleasure closed out a decade wherein the pleasure principle fully evolved from “love the one your with” to “love yourself.”

The late and unforgotten Amphlett (she died of breast cancer in 2013) couldn’t have been hotter as she extolled the virtues of what the good Lord gave her, backed by cranking Aussie rockers.

Rest in peace, Chrissie, you touched us too.

5. “Buffalo Stance” — Neneh Cherry

And now for something completely…heated.

Among several definitions for “buffalo stance” in the Urban Dictionary, the most apt for this erotic romp has to do with the way prostitutes stand on street corners. And all this time I thought it had something to do with Buffalo, New York.

Whatever. Propelled by a throbbing bass line, the song climbed inexorably to #3 on the Billboard Top 100. In this 1988 clip, Cherry’s got the hair, the matching bra and stage jacket, and, no question about it, she’s got the mouth.

And she was pregnant—wow, just wow.

6. “What’s Going On” — Cyndi Lauper

Social consciousness and caring about humanity is sexy, as long as it doesn’t become preachy and pedantic. In this stunning cover of Marvin Gaye’s monumental hit, Cyndi Lauper captured the tragic sadness of Gaye’s end and provides a revitalization of the song’s message.

The song reached #12 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1987, and the video for it was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award

Aided by the venerable rhythm guitar of “Rock-and-Roll Hootchie Coo” originator Rick Derringer, Lauper left it all on the stage here, with fabulous choreography and killer emotion.

It’s enough to make a guy want to give her a big hug and say, “It’s going to be all right, baby.”


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