The Most Popular Song from Each Month Since January 1980: 40+ Years of Changing Musical Tastes in 50 Minutes

As Helen Red­dy sang in the 70s:

You live your life in the songs you hear

On the rock n’ roll radio…

The 80s ush­ered in a new era, leav­ing the music indus­try for­ev­er changed, though the songs them­selves retained their pow­er to speak to us on a deeply per­son­al lev­el.

In 1979, the Eng­lish New Wave band The Bug­gles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” — which famous­ly became the very first song played on MTV the fol­low­ing year (1980) — was get­ting a lot of atten­tion.

40 years lat­er Puer­to Rican rap­per and reg­gae­ton artist Bad Bun­ny dom­i­nates, which speaks not only to the public’s evolv­ing musi­cal tastes but also to the expand­ed access and oppor­tu­ni­ties of the Inter­net age.

Lis­ten­ing to all 512 songs on Boogiehead’s mashup Most Pop­u­lar Song Each Month Since Jan­u­ary 1980 in their entire­ty would take over 24 hours, so Boo­giehead set­tles instead on a sin­gle rep­re­sen­ta­tive phrase, get­ting the job done in a whirl­wind 50 min­utes. Watch it above.

For many of us, that’s all it takes to unleash a flood of mem­o­ries.

Queen, Madon­na, David Bowie, and Michael Jack­son make strong show­ings, as do, more recent­ly, Rhi­an­na, Bey­on­cé, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, and Ari­ana Grande.

Else­where, there are reminders that fame is not just fleet­ing, but often teth­ered to a sin­gle hit.

That said, some­times those hits have remark­able stay­ing pow­er.

Wit­ness Dexys Mid­night Run­ners’ Come On Eileen from 1982, with its pre­scient lyric “I’ll hum this tune for­ev­er…”

And some songs turn out to be an unex­pect­ed slow burn. How else to explain one of the third-to-last ear­worms on Boogiehead’s list, “Run­ning Up That Hill” from Eng­lish singer-song­writer Kate Bush’s 1985 album Hounds of Love?

Its appear­ance on the hit series Stranger Things led it to go viral on Tik­Tok, net­ting the 64-year-old Bush a host of new fans in their teens and 20s as well as a cou­ple mil­lion dol­lars. Talk about old wine in new bot­tles!

ForbesPeter Suciu observes how songs’ shelf lives and in-roads are longer and wider than they were in the 80s and 90s:

Run­ning Up That Hill has cer­tain­ly become more pop­u­lar now than it was when it was released – and one fac­tor could be that social media has changed the way peo­ple lis­ten to music. In 1985, when Michael Jack­son was the undis­put­ed King of Pop, Kate Bush would have been rel­e­gat­ed to “alter­na­tive” music radio sta­tions, which were few and far between, or col­lege radio.

Read­ers, what song from Boo­giehead­’s Most Pop­u­lar Song Each Month Since Jan­u­ary 1980 do you most wish would make a come­back? Which of the new­er songs could you imag­ine lis­ten­ing to forty years from now? Let us know in the com­ments.

Lis­ten to the playlist of every song fea­tured on the Most Pop­u­lar Song Each Month Since Jan­u­ary 1980 here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

1980s Met­al­head Kids Are Alright: Sci­en­tif­ic Study Shows That They Became Well-Adjust­ed Adults

All the Music Played on MTV’s 120 Min­utes: A 2,500-Video Youtube Playlist

Hear a Neu­ro­sci­en­tist-Curat­ed 712-Track Playlist of Music that Caus­es Fris­son, or Musi­cal Chills

How Rick Astley’s “Nev­er Gonna Give You Up” Went from 80s Pop Smash to Bas­tion of Inter­net Cul­ture: A Short Doc­u­men­tary

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • Radiorack says:

    Com­pi­la­tions like this are essen­tial for our own work­ing mem­o­ry banks to be able to get our times, dates and life occur­rences in cor­rect order by realign­ing to the musi­cal record­ings and air­times as these doc­u­ment­ed times and dates are like­ly far more accu­rate our less than pho­to­graph­ic remem­brances. Espe­cial­ly, when we pass into ‘old age’ and mem­o­ries become tan­gled up in tau, we need these sort of prompts to get a realign­ing and “tune” up…
    So, thanks for the mem­o­ries.

  • J says:

    Los­ing My Reli­gion by REM should make a come­back, ide­al­ly the Sesame Street ver­sion.

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