Sometimes, it's just good to settle things once and for all. Considering the number of beer-soaked conversations this writer has had about this very subject over the years, and the invariable Googling that results, we figured we may as well throw our two cents into the search results by offering our questionable and non-scientific tallying of the Top 20 Synth Pop Jams of ALL-TIME along with some pithy comments for your eye marbles to roll over while you listen.
20. Dead Or Alive - Brand New Lover
This was a toss-up between BNL and "You Spin Me Round", but BNL won due to how fucking bad-ass that record still sounds 30 years later. In that sense, it truly is the master template for what every synth-pop track should aspire to be: catchy, rhythmically tight from start to finish, with more bells & whistles than an AutoZone.
19. Kraftwerk - The Model
May as well get the obligatory Kraftwerk appearance out of the way. While "Autobahn" was inexplicably a U.S. Top 40 single, "The Model" holds up a heckuva lot better and comes closest to being a conventional song by these zany German minimalists.
18. T'Pau - Heart And Soul
If you were alive in 1987, then you were plenty sick of this song, which dominated the airwaves and stormed up the U.S. charts to #4. What makes this song so unique, of course, is the overlapping overdubbed vocals by Carol Decker that mix spoken word verses with a soulfully sung pre-chorus, all building up to the song's masterful ear worm of a chorus.
17. Berlin - The Metro
While America may have given birth to rock & roll, we've never been major players in the synth-pop sweepstakes, leaving it to the Brits, for the most part, but it's apt that the first appearance of an American act is via their initially independently released single "The Metro." Terri Nunn, fresh from coming thiiiiiiis close to nabbing the role of Princess Leia, takes an otherwise rote synth-pop rocker and turns it into a smoldering hot pit of burning, yearning desire.
16. Killers - Mr. Brightside
Any mention of the Killers (the second American act in a ROW to grace this list) is usually followed by a discussion of how their first album is darn-near perfect and that everything after has, to varying degrees, sucked. There is no track from their debut Hot Fuss that more fully encompasses all that is great about those synth-pop tunes that actually manage to rocks.
15. When In Rome - The Promise
If you wanna keep yourself in free beers down at the local watering hole just ask people to try guessing what year this song came out. Most of your fair-weather music heads will swear it came out in 82 or 83 because, let's face it, the song sounds like part of that first empirical wave of UK synth hits but, in truth, the song charted in 1988.
14. a-Ha - Take On Me
The last time I saw a-Ha perform here in the States, they played this song twice. It's impossible to know if the song would have still been a hit if not for the groundbreaking video that propelled them to U.S. fame and fortune. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that, after the residual semi-success of second single "The Sun Always Shines On TV", the band would never score another Top 40 hit in the States.
13. Bruce Springsteen - Dancing in The Dark
Boy, do I remember the day my friend (a huge Boss fan) and I heard the new Bruce Springsteen single. After the much-too-bleak-for-its-own-good Nebraska had effectively killed whatever momentum he'd built from the success of "Hungry Heart", Bruce knew he had to deliver the goods. Even so, nobody could have guessed how wholeheartedly Springsteen would embrace synthesizers on the album that, to this day, remains his commercial peak.
12. Devo - Whip It
One has to wonder if Devo didn't receive a commission every time someone in America bought a Minimoog synthesizer. perhaps more than any other band, Devo brought keyboard synthesis to the mainstream and, dare we say, were the first to make "nerd-dom" fashionable.
Having said that, there are so many better Devo songs that the song's continuing popularity among the fair-weather fans verges on the insufferable.
11. Men Without Hats - Safety Dance
Hey, even Canada made the list! Not much else to say except that this might just be one of the weirdest videos ever filmed. Oh, and we once had a philosophy professor who swore this was a protest song against nuclear war when we kids always knew it was about pogo-ing, bro!
Another great way to win free beers down at the hipster club: challenge strangers to name the band's only other U.S. Top 20 hit (answer: "Pop Goes The World").
10. Duran Duran - Hungry Like The Wolf
Both song and video stand as a reminder of the exact moment new wave went mainstream. What had previously been a burgeoning underground scene in the UK (the New Romantic movement) was suddenly all over MTV and the radio. While few of their counterparts made the jump to Stateside fame and fortune, Simon leBon and the boys did so in unflappable style.
9. New Order - Bizarre Love Triangle
When one hears this song, you can't help but ask "What if Ian Curtis hadn't taken his own life?" because the answer is, more than likely, that this song wouldn't exist. There are few bands who have responded better to sudden tragedy than the members of N.O. who were left with no other choice than to reinvent themselves and, by 1986, had come to define the term "Synthpop".
8. Depeche Mode - Just Can't Get Enough
Sure, "People Are People" was "the hit" here in the U.S., but this Vince Clarke nugget has aged very well in the 35 years since its release and stands as a fitting "adios" to the fans as he parted ways with the band and went on to found Yazoo and Erasure.
Thing is, while they certainly went in a darker direction on subsequent releases, Depeche Mode were always at their best when indulging in poppier fare, such as this.
7. Pet Shop Boys - West End Girls
Anyone who consider the PSB's a one hit wonder need only listen to the band's first album, Please, in its entirety. "Love Comes Quickly", "Opportunities" and "Suburbia" round out what surely has to be one of the best "album sides" in all of music. Of course, there is no topping this song's atmospheric production and wonderfully detached vocals, all of which combines to truly define the term "evocative".
6. Tears For Fears - Everybody Wants To Rule The World
Sure, the band also had a sizable hit with the bang-and-clang of "Shout", but there is just something about this track, with its unusual shuffle beat, that screams '80s elegance and refinement, which is what synth-pop always had on mere "rock & roll".
The song was the last tune to be written for their breakout second album Songs Ftom The Big Chair and might not have made the album at all after Roland Orzabal felt the song was too lightweight. Luckily, producer (and former Adam & The Ants drummer) Chris Hughes successfully talked the duo into not giving up on the song.
5. Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Relax
What was, at the time, one of the most controversial songs to ever grace the charts or the airwaves, as far as the mainstream British press was concerned, has turned into one of the most durable songs to come storming out of the '80s.
Produced by Trevor Horn (Yes, Buggles, Seal), the song has had more lives than a cat, it would seem, returning to #2 on the charts after second single "Two Tribes" went to #1, again in 1993 when it returned to #5, and again in 2001.
4. Eurythmics -Sweet Dreams
Apparently all it took for Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart to become worldwide pop stars was to part ways with legendary German producer Conny Plank. After all, he'd produced their last album as members of the Tourists (Luminous Basement), which tanked, but also the first Eurythmics' album In The Garden, which also tanked.
Fitting that the song that would be their first hit and go on to be their signature tune would wind up being recorded in their tiny eight-track recording studio with help from The Selecter bassist Adam Williams.
3. Soft Cell - Tainted Love
Proving yet again that sometimes simplicity is the key to a great tune, Marc Almond and David Bell transformed this R&B hit by Gloria Jones into a deceptively sinful slice of dance floor gold. The song's success, of course, was far from immediate. as it took 19 painful weeks to reach the U.S, Top 40 and then refused to leave, staying on the chart for a whopping 43 weeks.
2. Gary Numan - Cars
This is the song that started it all and ushered in the '80s with a pulsating synth swirl, giving Numan his one and only U.S. chart hit. If not for the discovery of a Moog synthesizer at the studio in which his band, Tubeway Army, was recording, it might never have happened at all.
In the end, Numan chose the synth over his conventional rock band and has never looked back. In fact, he'll be performing "Cars" and the entire album on which it appears, Pleasure Principle, on May 16 at Chicago's esteemed Metro. Tickets are STILL AVAILABLE.
1. Human League - Don't You Want Me
"You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when I met you" begins that most majestic of synth-pop jams as Phil Oakey begins his tormented tale of rescuing a damne from obscurity only to watch helplessly as she strikes out on her own. While I may have been too young to truly understand the cinematic genius of the lyrics, only recently did I come to learn the complexity of the video for the song itself.