We’ve reached two milestones: The ’80s, and modern music.
This is the first time we have hip-hop, punk and metal in the top five. While rappers had been performing through the ’70s, the first two widely-released singles (Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks” and Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”) didn’t come out until 1980, because racism. And honestly, I could just do the top five metal songs and not regret anything. It caused me actual anguish not to have room to include “The Prince” by Diamond Head.
Sugarhill Gang — “Rapper’s Delight”
You’re listening to history here, people. Show some respect. Either this or “The Breaks” had to make it, and “Rapper’s Delight” won out for two reasons: because it was the first hip-hop single to be a Top 40 hit and because while both songs sound primitive by today’s standards, Sugarhill Gang has better flow.
Devo — “Whip It”
I apologize for the aural whiplash. The songs are listed in chronological order. There are going to be jarring transitions like this.
I’m not going to pretend Devo isn’t weird. In fact that’s the band’s appeal; they’re pioneers of weird. This video has that uniquely ’80s aesthetic in 1980! I’m always going to respect bands and songs that are both influential and bizarre.
Also it’s just so very catchy, and the video is a master class in surrealism.
Queen — “Another One Bites The Dust”
I spent far too long going back and forth between this song and “Crazy Train,” off Ozzy Osbourne’s first solo album. Both are still well-known, both sound far more modern than their age. Considering Queen already made the top five, I probably should have given the nod to Ozzy. But come on, how do you deny that bass line?
Dead Kennedys — “California Über Alles”
This one’s got a lot going for it. For one, they’re a Bay Area band, and I have a long and storied bias for local acts. Lead singer Jello Biafra attended my alma mater, UC Santa Cruz, and ran for Mayor of San Francisco in 1979 in one of the greatest campaigns in political history. Criminally underrated guitarist East Bay Ray is an Oakland native.
Oh, and it’s a really great song.
Mötorhead — “Ace of Spades”
The year 1980 was great for metal. “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest, “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC, “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne, and “The Prince” by Diamond Head all came out that year. That year probably did more to shape metal than any year since.
I couldn’t very well just have an all-metal list, though, so I had to pick just one to represent the group. And I feel like even the other bands in the running would agree that representative should be Lemmy, the most metal man who ever lived, with the best song he ever wrote.
Blondie — Call Me
The Ramones — Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio
Judas Priest — Breaking the Law
Diana Ross — I’m Coming Out
AC/DC — You Shook Me All Night Long
Ozzy Osbourne — Crazy Train
Kurtis Blow — The Breaks
Diamond Head — The Prince
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.