As the calendar of the 20th Century initially flipped from 1979 to 1980, nothing really changed in regard to popular music. Artists popular in the late 1970s (and some from the 1960s) still dominated the charts, “Soft Rock” was still an actual thing and the world had no concept that there could someday be a bad Star Wars movie.
In 1980 in the United States, a movie actor became President, a volcano erupted, Olympic Games were boycotted and although hard to believe, the Philadelphia Phillies won a World Series. In T.V. land, the Cable News Network (CNN) was launched and J.R. was shot, and in world news, Paul McCartney was arrested for possession of Marijuana in Japan (back then it was illegal) and Israel and Egypt decided to give peace a chance. It was the year that Jesse Owens, Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Sellers and Colonel Sanders passed away while Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, Mackauly Culkin and Yao Ming were born.
But through it all, there was still love, and love songs in 1980; 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.
“Cruisin’” by Smokey Robinson
Although this single made its chart debut in 1979, it, like many end-of-year releases do, crossed over into the following year, and in this case the following decade. Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin” peaked at #4 on both the Soul and Hot 100 charts. It’s a tender track with a metaphoric title, and aside from being pure love song it makes for a great slow dance.
“Longer” by Dan Fogelberg
This number two hit love song drips with mushy, mushy love. Years after its release, Mr. Fogelberg jokingly described “Longer” as the song that put him on elevators”, and I think it’s safe to say he was correct in that “Longer” epitomized the “elevator sound”. Love doesn’t get much sappier than this.
“Special Lady” by Ray, Goodman & Brown
Formerly known as The Moments but re-branded as Ray, Goodman & Brown in 1979, this soulful love song became the second highest charting hit for the group. The single went gold, reaching #5 on the Top 40 and #1 on the R&B Billboard charts. “Special Lady” is sung as a dedication from him to her, and its sincere sentiment is nothing short of pure love.
“With You I’m Born Again” by Billy Preston & Syreeta
This epic duet by Syreeta (former Motown star and ex-wife of Stevie Wonder) and legendary fifth Beatle Billy Preston is a near-perfect love song, reaching #4 on the Billboard Top 40. Its beautiful lyrics are complimented by an orchestral backing arrangement of strings; including a harp… you can’t really get much more romantic than that!
“Lost In Love” by Air Supply
This was the first Top 40 hit for the “soft rock” Australian band Air Supply, and was also featured in the soundtrack of the 1981 movie “Private Lessons” (a real 80s throwback there). “Lost In Love” topped out at #3 on the Billboard charts. This tune is unquestionably one of the sappiest love songs of the year… Thanks Australia!
“The Rose” by Bette Midler
From the movie of the same name, “The Rose” reached #3 on the Billboard Charts, went gold, won a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. Additionally, in 1980 “The Rose” was the most requested song at weddings for the bride and groom’s first dance. The tender lyrics are beautiful and moving, consisting of all of the elements of a perfect love song.
“Shining Star” by The Manhattans
Another Grammy Award winner, this time for Best R&B Performance by a Group, “Shining Star” reached #5 on the Pop Top 40, and #4 on the R&B Billboard charts. This soulful track truly rejoices in the love shared by two, and makes for a great slow bow-chicka-bow-bow jam.
“Magic” by Olivia Newton-John
Olivia Newton-John was a mega-superstar sweetheart throughout the 1970s, and she wasn’t going anywhere in the early 1980s. “Magic” is a sultry love song, and the first love song on this list to top the charts at the #1 spot in both Canada and the United States during the summer of 1980.
“More Love” by Kim Carnes
Yet another sultry love song by the scratchy-voiced Kim Carnes, this tune is truly a declaration of love and a bit a grinder slow dance at that. Of all the songs on this list, “More Love” is perhaps the best glimpse into what the early 80s sound was to be. “More Love” reached the number ten spot on the Billboard Top 40 in 1980.
“One In A Million You” by Larry Graham
Larry Graham – former bass guitar player for Sly & The Family Stone – made his solo debut with this epic love ballad, and it was to be quite the one hit wonder. At just over four minutes, “One In A Million You” is a romantic dedication perfect for all time… reaching #9 on the Top 40 and #1 on the R&B charts respectively, it’s everything a love song is supposed to be.
“Never Knew Love Like This Before” by Stephanie Mills
Stephanie Mills was twenty four years old when she reached the number six position on the Billboard Top 40 charts with “Never Knew Love Like This Before”. The title of this up-tempo love song says it all, and it’s light but catchy lyric won Stephanie two Grammy’s for this certified gold tune in 1981.
“(Just Like) Starting Over” by John Lennon
The last love song on our list for 1980 is bittersweet. “(Just Like) Starting Over” was the first single released from the album “Double Fantasy”, and debuted on the Top 40 charts on November 1, 1980. Thirty eight days later, on December 8, 1980, John Lennon would be brutally and senselessly assassinated.
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, “Yeah, except my name isn’t Sweet Caroline”.
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.