30 Songs from the Summer of 1987

Music-wise, I’d have to rank the summer of 1987 as… OK. Either way, we’re going to take a look at 30 Songs from the Summer of 1987.

30 Songs from the Summer of 1987

Don’t get me wrong: thirty years ago, beachgoers were slathering on that Coppertone lotion to some very, VERY good songs– I’m talking classics, such as U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Heart’s “Alone,” and Sammy Hagar’s “Give to Live.” (OK, that last one might not technically qualify as a classic…)


During any other era, those kinds of songs would translate into an amazing summer.  But this is the Great 80s we’re talking about, a decade that included summers absolutely jampacked with musical goodness. Consider…


  • Summer 1982 had Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” Toto’s “Rosanna,” Toto, and Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”


  • Summer 1983 had The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” Eurythmics’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” and Irene Cara’s “Flashdance… What a Feeling.”


  • Summer 1984 had Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters,” and TWO Prince chartbusters– “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy.”


How could any summer possibly compete with line-ups like that?


But hey, don’t take my word for it.  As Summer 2017 officially comes to a close, I compiled a list of thirty songs from the Summer of 1987.  The songs are in no particular order, until the final four– which I believe are true contenders for the Songs of the Summer for 1987.  (Just my opinion, of course… peruse the list and decide for yourself.)


My Thoroughly Subjective Evaluation of Thirty Pop Songs from the Summer of 1987


“La Bamba,” Los Lobos– According to a May 2017 Forbes article, only three songs with all or mostly Spanish lyrics reached Numero Uno on the Billboard charts: “Despacito” (“Song of the Summer, 2017” ); “Macarena” (from 1996); and the Los Lobos remake of “La Bamba”— the very first song with all Spanish lyrics to reach number one. (Incidentally, the original Ritchie Valens version from 1958 only went to number 22.)

“Moonlighting,” Al Jarreau–You mean the theme song to the TV show Moonlighting was a semi-hit on the radio (peaking at 23 on the Billboards)?  Do bears bear? Do bees be?


“I Wanna Dance With Somebody Who Loves Me” AND “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” Whitney Houston– Whitney didn’t almost have it all in 1987; she really DID have it all. This summer alone, her album Whitney spawned these two songs, both of which went to number one.  She later released two more number-one singles from this same album, “So Emotional” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.”  In fact, she was the very first female artist to have four number one hits from a single album. And combining these four with the three number ones from her previous album results in an even more impressive accolade: Whitney Houston is the only artist EVER to have seven consecutive number one songs.  So much success… and now her legacy is largely that of a cautionary tale. Very sad.


“Touch of Grey,” Grateful Dead– I devoted a whole article to “Touch of Grey,” which you can read here.


“Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine– I can’t hear this song without thinking of that Friends episode, when Joey was singing and dancing idiotically, and Chandler deadpans, “Gloria Estefan was right: Eventually, the rhythm is going to get you.”


“I Want Your Sex,” George Michael AND “Shakedown,” Bob Seger AND “Cross My Broken Heart,” The Jets (all from the soundtrack of Beverly Hills Cop II)–Yeah, the film sucked, but the soundtrack was solid, generating three top-10 hits: “Cross My Broken Heart” reached number 7; “I Want Your Sex” peaked at 2; and “Shakedown” went all the way to 1. I’m sort of surprised “I Want Your Sex” stalled out at 2, since it was played ALL the time that summer– much to the chagrin of your parents who considered it the dirtiest song they ever heard. And don’t get me started on the fact that “Shakedown” is Bob Seger’s only number one song. “Night Moves,” “We’ve Got Tonight,” “Turn the Page”… Seger has so many amazing songs in his discography, and THIS is the only song that went to number one? Life isn’t fair…


“You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” Kim Wilde AND “Always,” Atlantic Starr AND “Head to Toe,” Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam– I am lumping all three together as One-Week Wonders, because they all had one-week reigns at the top of the Billboard charts in 1987.  And they did it in a row.  Kim Wilde’s remake of the Supreme’s classic went to number one on June 6th, 1987.  But Kim couldn’t hang on for more than a week, as Atlantic Starr overtook the top spot on June 13th. Alas, they too proved to be falling Starrs, as Lisa Lisa went to the head of the class for June 20th– before surrendering the throne a week later to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance…” (Incidentally, in October 1987, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam once again hit number one for just a single week, with  “Lost in Emotion.”)


“The Pleasure Principle,” Janet Jackson AND “Doing It All for My Baby,” Huey Lewis and the News AND “Back in the High Life Again,”  Steve Winwood– And I am lumping these three together because they are linked by the theme of longevity.  All three acts had songs on the charts in the Summer of 1986; a year later, they were STILL churning out songs from those same albums. So…


  • Stevie Winwood released the album Back in the High Life and the single “Higher Love” in June 1986.  The album eventually spawned four songs that went to the Top 20.  (“Back in the High Life Again” went to 13.)


  • Huey Lewis released “Stuck with You” from the album Fore! at the very end of August 1986; over the next year, that album produced five top-ten hits. (By contrast, Huey’s 1983 album Sports, regarded by many as his masterwork, had four top-ten hits.)


  • Janet Jackson has them both beat, though. Janet released the album Control in February 1986. That means, by the time she released “Pleasure Principle” in May 1987, Control had been on the charts for almost FIFTEEN months. “Pleasure Principle” was the sixth single from the album, and although it was the least successful as far as the Billboards go (the song peaked at 14 on the charts, while the previous five singles from the album all made it to the top five), Jackson’s control over the pop music for such a long time is one nasty feat indeed.


“Who’s That Girl,” Madonna– I always found this one of the more insipid Madge songs, but it went to number one, so as always, what do I know? Then again, Madonna was so popular at this point, she could put out an album of her reading The Epic of Gilgamesh and people would have bought it.


“Why Can’t I Be You,” The Cure– This surprisingly upbeat testament to self-loathing only went to 54 on the charts, but at the time, it was the band’s highest-charting single. (And the follow-up, “Just Like Heaven” peaked at 40– which is crazy, since it’s now such a beloved staple of the 80s.)


“Kiss Her Goodbye,” The Nylons– In the Summer 1987, I actually purchased this song, a cover of Steam’s 1969 hit “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” as a 45 record.  (Don’t laugh: it was a fun song, and it went to #12.)


“Heart and Soul,” T’Pau– There was more than a little bit of “Heart and Soul” in the 80s.  T’Pau’s “Heart and Soul” went to number four on the charts in 1987, and four years earlier, Huey Lewis and the News had a number eight hit with their own “Heart and Soul”— which apparently was a remake of a 1981 song by a group called Exile. (The Exile version just missed the Billboards, peaking at 102.)  And lest we forget, in 1988’s Big, Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia played the 1938 version of the song “Heart and Soul” on the giant floor piano.  And speaking of Tom Hanks…


“City of Crime,” Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd–  The theme song to the film Dragnet.  The song is actually better than the film, which is saying something because the song is thoroughly immemorable.  However, in the video, Tom Hanks (along with his co-star Dan Aykroyd) raps and does some pretty impressive dance moves– proving, as always, that there is nothing Tom Hanks can’t do. (Side note: apparently, the video’s choreographer was none other than Paul Abdul.)


“Give to Live,” Sammy Hagar– Too bad no one remembers this, because it’s a pretty good tune with a uplifting message about, essentially, the importance of faith, hope, and charity.  Man, who knew Sammy Hagar had it in him?


“Rock Steady,” The Whispers– Never one of my favorite songs, but I have to say, it has, in fact, rocked quite steadily over the past thirty years. In the last two weeks alone, I heard it on the radio three times, on three different stations.


“Good Times,” INXS with Jimmy Barnes (from The Lost Boys soundtrack)–No, it never cracked the Top 40 (stalling at 47), but I’m including it on this list, for two reasons: (1) It’s really catchy; and (2) I wanted to give a shout-out to the underrated yet very awesome Lost Boys soundtrack, which also featured Echo and the Bunnymen’s version of “People Are Strange” and Gerard McMahon’s “Cry Little Sister”).


“Only in My Dreams,” Debbie Gibson–Deborah’s debut single and her entrance into the world’s stage. (And she was only fourteen years old when she wrote it!)


“Don’t Mean Nothing,” Richard Marx– Marx’s debut single, which went all the way to #3.  (By the way, Marx has a great podcast called Song Talks, where he interviews other singer/ songwriters about classic songs. Very informative and entertaining.  Check it out.)


“I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” Michael Jackson– The debut single from the album Bad– an adjective which, conveniently enough, aptly describes this song. The song is just bad. And if anyone else recorded it, at any other point in history, it wouldn’t even make it to the Top 1,000. But because it’s a Michael Jackson song, and it’s the first single from the follow-up to Thriller, the song goes to Number One.  But it’s just a terrible song all around.


“Alone,” Heart– Now we’re getting into the final four, what I consider potential candidates for “Song of the Summer, 1987.” First up is the song that no less an authority than Billboard.com, in its May 2017 list of “Summer Songs 1958-2016: The Top 10 Tunes of Each Summer,” identified as 1987’s Song of the Summer. And Billboard wasn’t, uh, alone in its admiration: even Daughtry seemed to like it, since he ripped off the beginning piano for his song “What About Now.” (Come on: you know it’s true.)


“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” U2– Amazing, enduring song, for sure… but in a weird way, the fact that it is so enduring makes it hard for me to call it a Song of the Summer. The song is SO timeless, it’s hard for me to place it in a specific period of history, in the way that I can a song like “Eye of the Tiger” or “When Doves Cry.” The song almost transcends “SotS” status, if that makes any sense.


“Here I Go Again,” Whitesnake– Before I even started writing this list, I figured this would be my pick for Song of the Summer 1987. After all, it’s one of the best songs of the entire decade, and I remember it being played all the time that summer.  But then I did some research, and some pesky facts conflicted with my memory: it seems “Here I Go Again” didn’t enter the Top 40 until August 8th, and it didn’t reach Number One until October 10th.  Fo rizzle? So I’m torn: can a song that lived the majority of its life on the charts in the Fall be considered a Song of the Summer?


“Luka,” Suzanne Vega– You know what?  Even if “Here I Go Again” could qualify, THIS is my personal Song of the Summer for 1987. Yeah, it only reached number 3 on the charts, but who cares?   This song, Vega’s heartbreaking portrait of an abused child, still moves me, even thirty years later.  Vega gives such a layered depiction of denial– not just the narrator’s denial (“I walked into the door again”), but also the unwillingness of the audience, the “you,” to acknowledge the narrator’s suffering. (“Yes, I think you’ve seen me before.”) Just a perfect, tragic song. One of my all-time faves, and my pick for Song of the Summer 1987.


How about the rest of you?  What was the Song of the Summer thirty years ago? And are there other classics I omitted from this list? Send your thoughts…

Author: Mark Dursin

Mark Dursin is an English teacher at Glastonbury High School in Glastonbury, Connecticut. His writing has appeared in the Hartford Courant and several online publications, including The Faster Times and JMWW. He and his co-conspirator, his wife Sheri, blog at www.edgeofstory.com.

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