Top Richard Marx Songs of the '80s

Singer-songwriter and one-time late-'80s teen idol Richard Marx eventually built a reputation as an adult contemporary balladeer, but his early releases also demonstrate an ability and inclination to rock out to a certain pleasing extent. Ultimately, Marx's songwriting craftsmanship and studio savvy probably became his most apparent musical contributions, but more than a few of his compositions fully deserved the late-'80s hit status they generated. Here's a chronological look at the best songs from Marx's first two smash LPs, which offer a versatile tutorial of the era's broadly appealing mainstream rock.

Aided by the instantly recognizable slide guitar work of Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, this lead-off single from the debut LP filled a classic rock niche that was woefully under-represented at the time. It also happens to be a solid lyrical treatment of the pitfalls inherent in pursuing show-business goals in southern California, a topic with which Marx had become quite familiar during his early-'80s music industry dues-paying days. Marx would be better vocally in future releases, extracting a bit more soul from his workable tenor. But this is where it really got started for Marx, a worthy single that deserved its No. 3 peak in late summer of 1987.

Though it falls somewhat short of the very similarly titled Beatles hit from 1964 ("I Should Have Known Better"), no one should hold that against Marx. In fact, these two sparkling guitar pop hits share more than a passing titular resemblance, as both display almost impeccable song structure and an impressive mastery of simple melody. Matching its predecessor in terms of pop chart singles success, this is tasteful, the polished mainstream rock of the highest order. That may not be enough for some detractors who would have preferred to see more creativity and edge from Marx, but there's something to be said for identifying and maximizing one's artistic strengths.

Careful listening is not required to hear the massive turn toward soft rock and adult contemporary on this track, as the blaring saxophone solos alone exhibit some of the worst of '80s music cliches. Nevertheless, the lovely verse melody here overcomes many of these limitations, even if the pulsing keyboards and power(less) ballad presentation don't do it any favors. Ultimately, Marx shines through the thick layers of production as a genuinely gifted songwriter, and this tune - which peaked at No. 2 in early 1988 - certainly knows its way around romantic nostalgia.

Practically tailor-made to be a prom theme, this chart-topping piano-based ballad again displays Marx's uncanny ability to pinpoint simple but highly memorable melodies and structure them skillfully. In addition, the performance manages to incorporate key elements of arena rock in transforming the song about halfway through to genuine power ballad status. This is certainly not edgy stuff, but the smoothness of the songwriting and Marx's sweetly earnest tenor don't betray the emotional authenticity of the romantic subject matter.

Marx returned to the electric guitar rather triumphantly for this riff-happy tune, which hit No. 1 as the lead-off single from the singer's sophomore LP. As a rock single, this one jumps headlong into Bryan Adams territory, but in its defense, that is a pretty comfortable place for Marx to operate. It's hard to spotlight weaknesses in an artist who reached the Top 5 with each and every one of his significant '80s singles, but perhaps it could be said that Marx's choruses often pale next to his more subtle verse melodies. Still, that's a quibble in the face of this much success.

Even though his singles success continued to rise upon the release of his second album, the melodies and lyrical preoccupations in Marx's music grew a bit blander each time out. This 1989 track joined "Satisfied" and "Hold on to the Nights" as a No. 1 pop hit, but the piano lines here - not to mention the simplistic acoustic guitar solo - could have used an energy drink (if those even existed back in the day). Few listeners have ever pointed to Marx's soulfulness or passion as his most enduring qualities, but there's probably too little going on here to qualify this song as a true '80s classic.