Top Adam Ant Songs of the '80s

A Chronological List of Hits From the Iconic Singer-songwriter

English singer-songwriter and '80s pop culture icon Adam Ant managed to stake out solid standing as both a major figure of British post-punk as well as an essential pop star of the early MTV era. His musical output ranged from an almost classic, guitar-based punk rock sound to an eclectic post-new wave approach that always seemed his own.

Over the course of five studio albums and many singles that captured audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, Ant forged an impressive career even if his chart relevance and musical activity had fizzled by 1986. Here's a chronological look at Ant's best songs of the '80s, including his short stint as leader of Adam and the Ants and his later full-fledged stardom as a solo artist.

Following the excellent 1979 Adam and the Ants debut album, Adam Ant put together an entirely new band to record during the 1980's. Thus began an artistic partnership with guitarist Marco Pirroni that would carry the artist through much of the decade. This single from the latter record became the band's first huge hit, peaking at No. 4 in the U.K. and then later finding some success on Billboard's mainstream rock chart in 1981. It captures the essence of the Ant-Pirroni collaboration, including busy rhythms, spaghetti western-styled guitars and an affinity for almost jungle-themed vocalizations. It also set the stage accurately for Ant's further, distinctive variations on post-punk. The song was certainly an important one in terms of Ant's rising career.

Although the Ants' second album featured other big U.K. hits in the title track and the rather silly "Antmusic," this album track actually far better represents Ant's strengths as a vocalist and envelope-pushing pioneer of punk-influenced modern rock. Pirroni's guitars here are alternately punishing and complex with arpeggios, and the songwriting on display is exciting. Even better, Ant's singular take on punkish lead vocals — which smartly employs falsetto finishes and detached, repetitive swagger — truly makes this tune a can't-miss deep album track from a solid, if uneven, sophomore effort for Adam & the Ants.

Self-referential singles like "Antmusic" and "Ant Rap" certainly achieved far more commercial success than this album track of Kings of the Wild Frontier. Nevertheless, the dynamic performance of both Ant and Pirroni here spotlights the pair's unique talents. Benefiting from Pirroni's distorted riffs and fills as well as his clean spaghetti western flourishes, this tune develops a favorably claustrophobic spell that simply compels the listener in mysterious ways. It's important to remember that despite Ant's eventual status as a music commodity, he started off as an imaginative post-punk pioneer. More evidence for that statement can be heard right here.

Ant's first record as a solo artist also featured his first real American pop hit. This successful crossover helped turn that year into a major turning point for Ant as a pop superstar and early MTV idol. This song heavily features Ant's playful side, from the ample use of horns to the typical shuffle beat he and Pirroni often favored. Characterized by frequent key changes and an intriguing staccato delivery of witty (if repetitive) lyrics, the song introduces a previously low-profile but increasingly apparent fascination with rockabilly guitars on the part of cowriter Pirroni. Fun and innovative, this is a worthy Ant single that deserves most of its attention over the years.

Though this track barely scraped into the U.K. Top 40 and made nary a dent on the U.S. pop charts, it's a solid, sprawling example of Ant's continuing inventiveness as an evolving artist. Horns play a significant role, but then Ant and Pirroni unveil a hauntingly beautiful verse section that leads perfectly into a gothic chorus that employs the same simple, but effective, riff. As usual, there's quite a bit going on in this pair's arrangements, but at his best, Ant avoids doing so merely for show. This should have been a bigger hit and surely proves that Ant should be remembered as more than just a pretty face fond of stylish clothing.

Aside from his sometimes suggestive image during his early-'80s peak as a sex symbol, Ant also liked to bring some swing to his music as well. This album track from Friend or Foe certainly brings swagger in surplus, riding on the strength of some sassy horns, old-timey whistles and Pirroni's always surprising mix of riffs and licks. At his best, Ant has frequently managed to be alluring and intriguing at most turns of his artistic output. Although the song fails to identify in any clear terms just what the "something" is that defines the female subjects of the lyrics, the listener is engaged completely by the nimble artifice and musicianship on display.

On 1983 album Strip, Ant may have gotten a little carried away peddling his sexy image, as the title track — although a minor, sub-Top 40 single — is pretty much embarrassing. This track on the album is a far better example of what Ant continued to do well at this latter point of his peak period. Atmospheric and minimalist at the same time, this song focuses on shifting rhythms, Ant's breathy vocals and a mostly tasteful use of saxophone. Not always given credit for being a great singer, Ant probably deserves more attention for his versatility and artfully mixed influences as a vocalist. "I know a girl, she's got a lust for danger," Ant sings, probably from the personal experience of a handsome rock star.

Ant manipulates and expounds on his own well-known image more effectively on this impressive album track than perhaps he had done in his entire career. Not that the tune is obviously autobiographical, but the combination of potent guitar riffs, strings and keyboards, proves once again Ant's willingness to break down barriers in his own typical approach. During spoken-word portions, Ant sets up the catchy chorus perfectly: "What do you wear in bed? Some headphones on my head. What do you like to hold? My breath, she said. He's a playboy." Then, when Pirroni breaks in with a brief but squealing guitar surge, the song becomes a full-fledged unpredictable treat.