As 1980 quietly slipped into 1981, many changes were brewing that would inevitably change the musical landscape forever, and begin to quash the last remnants of the 1970s once and for all. First and foremost was the debut of a cable television channel called MTV, which, upon its inception, played music videos 24 hours a day. A guy named Billy Idol left the band Generation X to begin a solo career, Ozzy Osbourne bit off the head of a dove and an all-girl band called the Go-Go’s were signed to IRS Records. In New York City, while sitting in Tom’s Restaurant, a then unknown Suzanne Vega penned the lyrics to “Tom’s Diner”.
While 1981 was the year we lost Rock & Roll’s iconic Bill Haley, Reggae pioneer Bob Marley, singer/songwriter Harry Chapin and the epic and legendary songwriter and musician Hoagy Carmichael, the world saw the births of future stars like Justin Timberlake, Josh Groban, Beyoncé Knowles and Britney Spears.
But through it all, there was still love, and love songs in 1981; some great, some good and some not so good. The twelve love songs on this list are void of any “you done me wrong” or “why did you hurt me” or “please notice me I’m a stalker” junk, just good love songs about the good kind of love.
“Every Woman In The World” by Air Supply
This tune was actually released toward the end of 1980, but reached its peak chart position of #5 on the Top 40 charts in early 1981. Sounding slightly Country at the start, this Air Supply classic slides quickly into the staple mushy-wushy Air Supply mold. Thanks to this Australian band (and perhaps Dan Fogelberg), elevators around the world are filled with joyous love.
“Giving It Up For Your Love” by Delbert McClinton
Another love song originally released near the close of 1980, this one-hit-wonder (on the Top 40 charts) for Country artist Delbert McClinton reached #8 in early 1981. Although likely one of the least recognizable today, in 1981 this was an upbeat hit with catchy lyrics that were (and still are) fun to sing along with. As the title proclaims, this song is a declaration of love, and a great love song.
“Woman” by John Lennon
The title is “Woman”, and the chorus repeats “I love you now and forever”. One can only guess this was meant from John to Yoko, and with Lennon’s senseless assassination less than a month before this love songs debut on the Billboard Top 40, John Lennon left us with a gem of a love song. “Woman” peaked at number two on the Billboard Top 40 in 1981.
“The Best Of Times” by Styx
If you attended middle or high school in the 80s, it’s likely this song was played, and played, and played again. This Styx tune is one that “happens to be” a love song, although its original intention is suspect, as it can have many meanings (particularly the questionable second verse). Regardless, it resounds in love somehow being the best of times. This tune reached #3 in early 1981, and remained a go-to track through the early and mid eighties.
“Morning Train (Nine To Five)” by Sheena Easton
“Morning Train” was Australian songstress Sheena Easton’s Top 40 debut in the United States, and remarkably rocketed to the number one spot on Billboard’s U.S. Pop charts. As far as love songs go, “Morning Train” is sort of untraditional, and while too bouncy and upbeat for a wedding first dance or anything remotely romantic, it is without question a great love song helping to re-definine the new 80s sound.
“Just The Two Of Us” by Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers
In a new decade, with Hip Hop yet to come and Rock still the predominant genre, this Jazz/R&B fusion by Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers was an unpredictable chart hit, reaching number two on the Billboard Top 40. Today, “Just The Two Of Us” is a classic among classics, and if ever a love song were written specifically for dinner or cocktail music at a wedding, it would be this one.
“I Love You” by Climax Blues Band
As if the title didn’t say it well enough, a thorough listen to the lyrics says it even better. Perhaps one of the greatest Soft Rock 70s/80s sounding love songs ever written, this one is an unquestionable home run. I want you, I need you, I got you, I love you. The Climax Blues Band charted in the Top 40 only twice, with this being the second and last, charting at number twelve.
“You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall & Oates
As Daryl Hall and John Oates – originally dubbed as “Philadelphia blue eyed soul” – evolved their sound in the early 1980s into a Pop hit-making machine. “You Make My Dreams Come True” is yet another title that reveals the theme of the song. This tune reached #5 on the Top 40 charts in 1981.
“Lady (You Bring Me Up)” by The Commodores
Lionel Richie and The Commodores were soon to split, with Lionel to launch a hugely successful solo career, but before he left the group left us with this awesome upbeat just pre-disco love song. This one is a proclamation/declaration of love from the guy to the girl (Lady), and broke the Top 10, settling at #8 in late 1981, yet Lionel was to do it once more that year (see below).
“Endless Love” by Diana Ross & Lionel Richie
An epic mega hit song from a not-so epic or memorable movie. To be clear, this is the original and only version of this ballad worth playing, with all remakes falling far short. Written by Lionel Richie, he and Diana Ross deliver an unrivaled duet, one which not only reached #1, but went platinum and was named by Billboard as the greatest duet of all time.
“Cool Love” by Pablo Cruise
The fifth and final Top 40 hit for the group Pablo Cruise, this love ballad reached #13. The topic is somewhat unique and interesting in that it refers not to the subject or recipient of the love, but to the love itself. As the title infers, it’s a “Cool Love”. What can be better than that?
“Waiting For A Girl Like You” by Foreigner
Again, the title is a dead giveaway. “Waiting For A Girl Like You” was the second single release from the album Foreigner 4, and reached #2 on the 1981 Billboard Top 40. This epic love song was yet another that was played again and again at Proms and school dances throughout the 1980s, and almost as recognizable today as when it was released.
Each song on this list has been vetted for proper nouns (girls/guys names), or any hint of bad love like breakups, infidelity and/or done-me-wrong themes, or and sort of unrequited love (like when the person doesn’t love you back). They’re safe for a wedding first dance, or just to dedicate to someone you love without your girlfriend saying something like, “But ‘Superfreak’ is a girl you won’t take home to mother”.
Love the love…
Sources: The Billboard Book of Top 40 [Pop] Hits and The Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B Hits by Joel Whitburn and Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits by Fred Bronson.