Top Dan Fogelberg Songs of the '80s

It may be customary to exaggerate the achievements of musicians after they die young, but the fact remains that singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg will probably always remain a bit underrated. Even so, he was a major pop star through the '70s and '80s, presenting some of the latter decade's most melodic music - most of which had little use for trends or genre identifiers. Here's a chronological look at some of Dan Fogelberg's finest if not always most popular songs of the '80s, all standout musical gifts that keep on giving.

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"Heart Hotels"

American singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg performs live in Chicago in 1981. The artist found an '80s music niche as a soft rock crooner, but his music always retained a generous level of eclecticism.
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

This song from late 1979's Phoenix - also Fogelberg's first charting single of the '80s - was a definite sign of things to come in its gentle, orchestrated portrait of solitude and introspection. During the post-punk era in which this music appeared, it's no surprise that some music fans responded with a backlash to Fogelberg's sensitive singer-songwriter mode, but the single performed well on the adult contemporary charts, climbing to No. 3, and fell just short of breaking the Top 20 on the pop charts. So there was still certainly an audience for Fogelberg's lovely piano and string arrangements, even if not everyone caught the powerfully lugubrious nature of the singer's heart-focused lyrical metaphor: "But there's nobody living inside, there's nobody living inside."

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Perhaps Dan Fogelberg's signature soft rock ballad,
Single Cover Image Courtesy of Full Moon/Epic

Probably responsible more than any other tune for inflicting Fogelberg with the persistent label of wimpy singer who feels too much and doesn't mind expressing it, this pure love song nonetheless boasts a nearly flawless lyrical structure built upon a rock-solid melody. Naturally, it has become a perennial favorite for weddings, candlelit romantic evenings for the irony-free, lucky-in-love types, and adult contemporary orgies of all shapes and sizes (OK, that last part is perhaps a bit overstated). The bottom line is that in 1980 this was a justified pop chart bridesmaid (with a No. 2 peak) and remains a memorable example of Fogelberg at his most earnest when it comes to his favorite songwriting theme of romantic love.

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"Hard to Say"

American singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg released 'The Innocent Age' in 1981, highlighted by near-perfect soft rock song
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Full Moon/Epic

Fogelberg maximized his broad appeal with this tune, an excellent mellow song of romantic lament that enjoyed a Top 10 showing on both the pop and adult contemporary charts, surprisingly posting a Top 15 showing as well on the mainstream rock charts. All in all, it's a highly versatile pop/rock song, buoyed by backing vocals from The Eagles' Glenn Frey and seasoned interestingly with some fine guitar licks that balance out the use of keyboards and saxophone. But it's the majestic and highly pleasing chorus that steals the show, confirming that Fogelberg has always been one of the masters within the singer-songwriter movement at developing distinctive, powerful melodies. This is certainly no fierce rocker; it's just a pop/rock song of very high quality.

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"Same Old Lang Syne"

Dan Fogelberg's 1982 'Greatest Hits' would ultimately become one of the biggest-selling compilation albums of the decade.
Compilation Album Cover Image Courtesy of Full Moon/Epic

Another Top 10 pop hit from 1981's double album, The Innocent AgeĀ - the record that is considered one of Fogelberg's critical and artistic peaks as well as his definite commercial triumph - this song has become quite the seasonal holiday favorite in the three decades-plus since its release. That's a bit of a shame, as the track's distinctly Yuletide and New Year's themes may sometimes detract from its prominence on radio stations, CD players and iPods during the rest of the year. But this is simply a heartbreaking, seemingly non-fictional recollection of an encounter with a gone-but-not-forgotten lover during Christmastime. The narrative exudes truth and hard-won wisdom in its depiction of the universal "old familiar pain" of love and loss.

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"Leader of the Band"

Every son out there probably realizes that this is the song he wishes he could earnestly and accurately dedicate to his father. Some of us may feel ample admiration but lack the eloquence or expression to convey the sentiment, while others don't want to sacrifice honesty for a rose-colored portrait of a relationship we never actually had. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, I challenge you to listen to this beautiful acoustic guitar ballad without at least feeling a significant tug in the chest regarding paternal issues. Despite the apparently highly positive attitude Fogelberg seems to hold toward his own father, the song never lacks complexity in its examination of the deep bonds of one of life's most important family relationships.

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"Run for the Roses"

Fogelberg's sweeping, majestic sound has always relied quite equally upon piano and guitar, and this Top 20 pop hit from 1982 continues that trend for this instantly recognizable performer. In his typically melancholy way, Fogelberg crafts a horse racing metaphor to express the search for joy and freedom in everyone's life. In doing so, he combines a trademark soft rock arrangement with a hint of country steel guitars to match the bluegrass feel of the literal side of his lyrics. For humans as it is for horses, every time we step up to compete constitutes an acceptance of risk, a sentiment Fogelberg expresses eloquently: "It's the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance, and it's high time you joined in the dance." Inspiring stuff.

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"The Language of Love"

Dan Fogelberg's albums of the later '80s were far less commercially successful than his first two records of the decade, but he still generated consistently high-quality music.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Full Moon

I think I figured out why so many people tend to see Fogelberg as a '70s artist, even if the great bulk of his hits and popularity didn't come until 1980. With his first couple of albums of the decade, the singer-songwriter kept one foot firmly in the decade of his musical debut, retaining an organic if highly orchestrated sound that sounded a bit retro. But that changed on 1984's lesser-known Windows and Walls, at least on this particular track. The marriage of power guitar and keyboards was not totally unprecedented in the Fogelberg canon ("The Power of Gold" stands out as an obvious example), but this is the first time the artist had rocked this hard since that moderate 1978 hit. It's an '80s kind of rockin', but it's rock nonetheless.

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"She Don't Look Back"

Dan Fogelberg's 1987 LP - 'Exiles' - represented a move toward roots music influences.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Epic

Perhaps because his pop fortunes had faded almost entirely by his '80s swan song, 1987's Exiles, Fogelberg again produced a strong tune based around simple guitar riffing in this pleasant if dated offering. It's a little as if the singer came by the '80s sound a little too late to actually succeed with it, as the keyboards, guitars and glossy production may be applied a little thickly here. Even so, Fogelberg continues to demonstrate his grasp of melody and his natural curiosity in vastly different styles. After all, 1985's High Country Snows had delved quite authentically into bluegrass and country. So perhaps this artist faded from the charts not so much because his material had weakened but because he insisted so thoroughly on taking his own path.