11 Summer Songs That Take Us Back to the 1980s

Relive your best summer ever with these quintessential summer anthems of the 1980s, a playlist of rousing rock hits and infectious dance tracks that defined Gen X, and continue to get everyone dancing decades on.

From the electrifying strums of guitar riffs to the catchy, poppy beats that had everyone on the dance floor, the 1980s birthed an array of summer songs that not only defined a generation of music but continues to resonate through the decades. These 12 tracks captured the essence of an era through revolutionary music videos and iconic live performances, shaping today’s musical landscape in profound ways.

‘The Power of Love’ by Huey Lewis & the News (1985)

The album cover for "The Power of Love" by Huey Lewis and The News features a photo of the band members. They are dressed in casual rock attire, standing against a wall with various graffiti. The text mentions the song is from the Steven Spielberg film "Back to the Future.

Written for the high-concept sci-fi blockbuster Back to the Future, “The Power of Love” was such a formidable anthem of the ’80s that, according to Huey Lewis, was a big reason the film spent just nine weeks between principal shooting and its commercial release. The track, conceived by Lewis while on a run, soared to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. The song’s association with so many of the film’s memorable scenes – who can forget Marty McFly shredding with an Ibanez Roadster – has helped etch this feel-good classic into the minds of an entire generation and remains a popular song covered by bands worldwide.

Listen: ‘The Power of Love’ by Huey Lewis & The News

‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ by Guns N’ Roses (1988)

A red album cover featuring a metallic circular emblem with a pair of roses and a revolver. The text "GUNS N' ROSES" is wrapped around the circle, and "SWEET CHILD O’ MINE" along with "ALSO AVAILABLE AS A CASSETTE SINGLE" is written above it.
Brian CC: By-NC

With an opening riff by Slash, charismatic raw vocals of Axel Rose, and romantic lyrics, it’s no wonder “Sweet Child O’ Mine” was a massive hit. Together with the album “Appetite for Destruction,” this Billboard No. 1 was the epitome of Guns N’ Roses’ blend of hard rock with heartfelt lyrics. A song that’s been sampled by everyone from Red Hot Chili Peppers to C+C Music Factory, its infamous melancholic vocal melody lives on even when it’s being piped through elevators as Muzak.

Listen: ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’ by Guns N’ Roses

‘Born in the USA’ by Bruce Springsteen (1984)

The image shows a person standing with their back turned, wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans, with a red cap in their back pocket. The background consists of red and white horizontal stripes. Text at the bottom left reads: "BORN IN THE U.S.A. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN.
Lawren CC: BY

Bruce Springsteen has been quoted saying “Born in the USA” was “one of my greatest and most misunderstood pieces of music.” Even if you’re not paying attention to the gritty lyrics (save for its iconic chorus), this protest song/anthem’s pummeling drums and synthesizer’s haunting refrain have taken up permanent space in many of Gen X’s core aural memories.

Listen: ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ by Bruce Springsteen

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‘Billie Jean’ by Michael Jackson (1983)

Album cover of "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson. The cover features a portrait of Michael Jackson against a black background, dressed in a white jacket with dark clothing underneath. His name and the song title are written in cursive yellow and pink text.

Produced by Quincy Jones and written by Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean” was just one of many iconic tracks from his “Thriller” album. With the iconic bassline and mesmerizing melody, this song gave birth to a complex, groundbreaking layered sound that reshaped music (and moves) of the ’80s. Remember his electrifying debut of the Moonwalk at a 1983 Motown special?

Listen: ‘Billie Jean’ by Michael Jackson

‘Purple Rain’ by Prince (1984)

Album cover for "Purple Rain" by Prince and The Revolution. The image features Prince, dressed in purple, sitting on a motorcycle with steam around him. The background shows a dark street scene with buildings and the title "Purple Rain" in stylized text at the top.
Piano Piano! CC: BY

“Purple Rain” is more than just a song; it’s a cultural moment. This 10-minute-long power ballad won Prince an Oscar. According to bandmate Lisa Coleman, the song symbolized a new beginning. The emotional depth and soaring guitar work have made it a true masterpiece, even if Prince himself thought it sounded too much like Journey’s “Faithfully” – he even called Jonathon Cain to check.

Listen: ‘Purple Rain’ by Prince

‘Celebration’ by Kool & The Gang (1980)

The cover art for Kool & the Gang's single "Celebration." The image features the band's name in bold, yellow, stylized text on a background with an exploding disco ball and vibrant multicolored streaks that suggest movement and energy. The word "CELEBRATION" is below.

If you went to a wedding in the ’80s or ’90s, was it even a celebration if you didn’t hear this euphoric horn and funk guitar anthem dropped by the DJ? Synonymous with joyous occasions, from weddings to sports events, this feel-good party song is so famous it was played on the Space Station. Many years on, it still has a magic ability to get everyone to “bring your good times and your laughter too” to groove on down to the dance floor.

Listen: ‘Celebration’ by Kool & The Gang

‘Footloose’ by Kenny Loggins (1984)

The image is an album cover for the single "Footloose" by Kenny Loggins. It features a photo of Kenny Loggins with a beard, wearing a gray and black outfit. The album cover includes text and a smaller image of a person dancing with the title "Footloose.

There are few songs that instantly drum up nostalgic feelings for Gen X’s pre-teen years than this hit by Kenny Loggins. The song’s infectious energy paired with Kevin Bacon’s enthusiastic performance make it one of the most memorable tracks of the decade inspiring kicking lose and being free.

Listen: ‘Footloose’ by Kenny Loggins

‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’ by Whitney Houston (1987)

A young woman with curly hair, wearing a white tank top and blue jeans, smiles brightly on the cover for Whitney Houston's single, "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)." The background is blue, fading to white with the text in black on the left side.

“Perky” and “deliciously raucous” are some of the better descriptors of this Grammy-winning single. Aside from exemplifying Whitney Houston’s amazing vocal range and pop music chops, its upbeat tempo and vibrant synthesizers made it a dance-floor hit, boosted by a music video filled with big hair, neon colors, and a lot of confetti!

Listen: ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ by Whitney Houston

‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ by Rick Astley (1987)

Cover of Rick Astley's single "Never Gonna Give You Up." The image features Rick Astley resting his head on his hands, staring off to the side. Above the photo, text reads “NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP”, and below, his name “RICK ASTLEY” is printed.

Never mind that some of today’s younger generations only know Rick Astley because they were Rick-Rolled, we still love this cheesy debut single. A song that catapulted the pompadoured vocalist to be a bona fide pop star in the ’80s and ’90s, the catchy beat and Astley’s rich, baritone voice, make it a genuine pop classic that’s now evolved into a global phenomenon.

Listen: ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ by Rick Astley

‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ by Wham (1984)

Close-up of a woman with colorful eyeshadow looking to the side. The text "Wham!" in large letters and "Wake me up before you go-go" in smaller font is displayed above her head. She is holding a polka-dotted fabric partially covering her face.

Inspired by a note left for Andrew Ridgeley’s mum, this high-energy track with ’50s and ’60s up-tempo beats speak about a man pleading for his girlfriend not to go dancing without him again. The infectious chorus, the exuberant pop sound, the big, glorious hair… Even without George Michael’s charismatic delivery, the song’s vibrant, upbeat groove with crisp finger snaps is such an earworm that it still randomly pops into our heads.

Listen: ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ by Wham!

‘Material Girl’ by Madonna (1984)

A stylized album cover with "Madonna" and "Material Girl" text. The image features a woman lying down surrounded by luxurious items like pearls, a framed photo, and a large fabric M. The color scheme is warm and golden, evoking a sense of opulence.

This song went on to define not just Madonna but the excesses of the ’80s. The song and its Marilyn Monroe-inspired music video highlighted the era’s fascination with affluence and visual media. The catchy chorus and danceable funk grooves – you can thank the legendary Nile Rodgers for that – remains iconic, and Madonna’s performance still inspires artists and fans alike.

Listen: ‘Material Girl’ by Madonna