Top '80s Love Songs of Heartache & Heartbreak

Overwrought Love Songs for the Hopelessly Lovelorn

Oh, those aimless '80s crushes and paralyzing breakups, especially the ones when you weren't even really with the person in the first place. Oh, you know what I'm talking about; don't act like you don't. Well, suit yourself, but you should still check out this suggested premium soundtrack for the romantically hopeless among us. There is certainly no shortage of candidates for this collection but come with me while we reopen old wounds and memories of fetal-position misery. There may be higher-quality '80s love songs than these, but few are more emotionally wrenching or delightfully predicated on heartbreak.

Dokken was always one of the most talented and listenable hair metal bands to come out of the early-'80s L.A. scene, combining the blistering, intricate guitar work of George Lynch with the aching, romantic lyrics and vocals from namesake lead singer Don Dokken. This tune is an exemplary power ballad, as its chiming guitar arpeggios and passionate vocals set the bar high for something to listen to during hand-wringing episodes of romantic self-pity. Impassioned fist-clenching sold separately.

Who said obscure overuse of metaphor is the best way to communicate romantic longing? This all-female band turned this song into its biggest hit on the strength of the tune's straightforward, unabashed sense of lovesick regret. But the simplicity of the song's title serves as merely one layer of thematic terseness, as the chorus even insists that "there's no other way to say it" than through repetition of the title. But of course, that doesn't keep the rest of the song from counting the ways.

At no time are humans more susceptible to pathetic impulse than after a romantic breakup leaves them ravaged and desperate. Phil Collins illustrates this concept perfectly not only through his lyrics of amorous decimation but also the song's deliberate, almost halting tempo. Waiting by the phone hopefully but stripped of all dignity is most definitely a recurrent theme of this strain of soft rock love song, and this tune does not disappoint.

Unofficially titled "Tail Between His Legs," this lounge crooner piano ballad came out of nowhere to rule the charts in 1987, a full six years after Vera originally recorded the song. Strangely but somehow appropriately, it took a rather overwrought application of the tune on multiple episodes of TV's Family Ties to break the song commercially. But in the subgenre of total surrender of dignity, this song stamped out a place of its own in love song history.

Say what you will about the '80s manifestation of Chicago, but this adult contemporary nugget featuring a very blustery vocal performance from lesser-known bandmember Bill Champlin delivers the goods when it comes to self-involved narcissism. If the singer's ex-lover has indeed rejected him so completely, why would she even notice or recognize him when he walks by? It's a twisted notion that even at your most romantically vulnerable low point the world somehow still revolves around you.

Besides being a pretty splendid pop song, Waite's biggest hit distinguishes itself from other tunes in this category through its honest portrayal of heartsick obsession. In other words, Waite refuses to shy away from the self-deception that drives scorned lovers to say one thing, and perhaps even believe it, just before admitting the exact opposite to be true. Ah, yes, there are many short-circuits that result from a "heartbreak overload," and Waite doesn't let us forget them.

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia

OK, maybe this one would be No. 1 if it didn't suck so desperately. Nonetheless, this has to be the whiniest broken-hearted love song ever recorded, which, come to think of it, somehow makes it not suck in the context of this list. Confused yet? Well, let's put it this way. There's a reason you've probably never heard of Jimmy Harnen. It's probably because he never sang again because some angry music fan tracked him down and tightly superglued a pacifier to his mouth, to industrial specs. More »

As a Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition, this song does not qualify strictly as an '80s tune, but the Naked Eyes synth pop version has since become so definitive that it simply must make the cut. Unlike Harnen's (cough) contribution, this is without question a high-quality pop song, laced with yearning and some haunting, tasty keyboards. Memories, longing, and regret have never seemed as universal as when this optical duo belts out the line, "And I will never be free/She'll always be a part of me."

Well, I think maybe Johnny shouldn't be so quick to throw stones. But still, cheesy '80s production and presentation aside, this is an inescapably catchy tune that epitomizes the verse-bridge-chorus songwriting structure. Also, it's always a clear sign that you have a wailing, stricken lover on your hands when the references to death start flooding in. All in the space of one song, Johnny gives us dying promises and pledges of death from the absent lover that were apparently never redeemed.

I'm sorry, but I must include this one, and I'm afraid I'm going to spill personal reasons for doing so. Here goes. When I was in sixth grade and in the midst of one of my earliest obsessive crushes, which involved one of my brother's eighth-grade classmates, I was with my parents when they dropped off my brother to depart for his class trip. I remember sitting in the car listening to Lionel Richie and imagining the object of my affection caressing my face, just like in the video. Yeah, I know, ewww!

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Your Citation
Peake, Steve. "Top '80s Love Songs of Heartache & Heartbreak." ThoughtCo, Feb. 21, 2017, Peake, Steve. (2017, February 21). Top '80s Love Songs of Heartache & Heartbreak. Retrieved from Peake, Steve. "Top '80s Love Songs of Heartache & Heartbreak." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 25, 2018).