The 20 greatest love songs of the 1980s, ranked

3 February 2022, 17:50 | Updated: 8 February 2022, 17:32

1980s love songs
Picture: YouTube

By Tom Eames

Depending on our mood, there's nothing quite like a love song playlist.

What's even better than love songs? 1980s love songs!

  • Listen to the greatest love songs of all time in our exclusive Smooth Love Songs Live Playlist, only on Global Player.

Here's the very best of what the decade's die-hard romantics gave us...

See also:

  1. Fat Larry's Band - 'Zoom'

    Fat Larry's Band - Zoom (Official Music Video)

    A Smooth favourite, this is a classic ballad that brings us right back to a school disco slow dance.

    Easily their standout hit, it reached number two in the UK in 1982. Sadly, Fat Larry passed away just five years later.

  2. Madonna - 'Crazy for You'

    Madonna - Crazy For You (Official Music Video)

    You'd be forgiven for not remembering the movie this song came from (it was Vision Quest).

    Madonna was still relatively unknown when she was first offered the song, and it became one of her biggest ballads ever.

  3. Stevie Wonder - 'I Just Called to Say I Love You'

    Stevie Wonder - I Just Called To Say I Love You (Music Video)

    This became Stevie's biggest ever hit in 1984, and topped the charts in 19 different countries.

    The song was written for the movie The Woman in Red, and ended up winning a Grammy and Oscar for Best Song.

  4. REO Speedwagon - 'Keep on Loving You'

    REO Speedwagon - Keep on Loving You (Official Music Video)

    One of the early examples of the 1980s rock power ballad, it was also one of the first videos played on MTV. It was written after singer Kevin Cronin found out his wife Denise had cheated on him before they were married.

    Instead of leaving her, he decided that he would keep on loving her, whatever happened next. He called it “the most painful song I ever wrote”. It didn’t work, as he and his wife split a few years later.

  5. The Style Council - 'You're the Best Thing'

    The Style Council - You're The Best Thing (Official Video)

    After leaving The Jam, Paul Weller took on a far more soulful sound with his next band The Style Council.

    Taken from their debut album, this romantic tune is arguably their most famous song.

  6. Jennifer Rush - 'The Power of Love'

    Jennifer Rush - The Power Of Love (Official Video) (VOD)

    Released in 1985, 'The Power Of Love' was the first ever million seller by a female soloist in Britain. It held the record for the largest-selling single ever by a woman until Whitney Houston's 1992 smash 'I Will Always Love You'.

    Celine Dion later scored a hit with this song, which is about as good a 1980s power ballad you're likely to hear!

  7. Madness - 'It Must Be Love'

    Madness - It Must Be Love (Official Video)

    Labi Siffre first reached number 14 with this love song in 1971, and 10 years later Madness scored a huge hit with a ska-infused cover.

    Siffre had a cameo in Madness’ music video for the track as a violin player.

  8. Cyndi Lauper - 'Time After Time'

    Cyndi Lauper - Time After Time (Official Video)

    This was one of Cyndi's first ever singles, and was written with Rob Hyman of the band The Hooters. It has become known as one of the best love songs of the 1980s.

    The inspiration for the song came after both songwriters were going through similar situations in their own relationships: he was coming out of a relationship, while she was having issues with her boyfriend at the time, David Wolff.

  9. Bangles - 'Eternal Flame'

    The Bangles - Eternal Flame

    Bangles member Susanna Hoffs teamed up with seasoned songwriters Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly to write this power ballad.

    The song was inspired by two eternal flames: one at the gravesite of Elvis Presley that the Bangles saw when the band visited Graceland, and one at a local synagogue in Palm Springs which Steinberg attended as a child.

    Hoffs later revealed she sang the recording completely naked after producer Davitt Sigerson pranked her by saying Olivia Newton-John had done the same thing.

  10. Lionel Richie & Diana Ross - 'Endless Love'

    Diana Ross & Lionel Richie Endless Love 1981

    Quite possibly the greatest duet of all time? Certainly one of the most successful.

    Ross and Richie recorded this song for Motown, and it was used as the theme for the film adaptation of Scott Spencer's novel Endless Love. While the film was a modest box-office success, the song became the second biggest-selling single of the year.

  11. Soft Cell - 'Say Hello, Wave Goodbye'

    Soft Cell - Say Hello, Wave Goodbye (Official Video)

    This song has had people debating over its meaning, from a simple breakup to a gay man coming out of the closet.

    In 1981, Marc Almond was inspired by his flat in Soho, saying: “That was Brewer Street in the rain, outside the Pink Piano bar where the drag artists used to sing, with the neon light from the Raymond Revue Bar reflected on the wet streets. It was what Non-Sop Erotic Cabaret was about, what Soft Cell was about, what I was about.” 

  12. Spandau Ballet - 'True'

    Spandau Ballet - True

    This ballad was composed by Gary Kemp, who wrote the song at his parents' house, where he lived at the time.

    It pays tribute to Marvin Gaye, who is mentioned in the lyrics, and also partly about Kemp's platonic relationship with Altered Images singer Clare Grogan.

  13. Whitney Houston - 'Saving All My Love for You'

    Whitney Houston - Saving All My Love For You

    This song was originally a minor hit for Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr in 1978, before Whitney turned into a huge hit in 1985.

    When co-writer Michael Masser heard that it might not be released as a single, he proposed that if all the women get on their feet when Whitney sang it at a club, then Clive Davis would agree that it should be the next single. The rest is history.

  14. Lionel Richie - 'Hello'

    Hello by Lionel Richie

    One of Lionel's biggest ever hits, this song went to number one in both the UK and US in 1984.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Hello'

    Richie initially felt that the song was "corny" but "by the time I finished the verse, I fell in love with the song again". And you've got to love that music video!

  15. Bryan Adams - 'Heaven'

    Bryan Adams - Heaven (Official Music Video)

    First appearing on the soundtrack of the romantic movie A Night in Heaven, Bryan Adams included it on his Reckless LP a year later. It reached number one in the States a year and a half after its first release.

    The song was inspired by Journey’s ‘Faithfully’, after Adams had toured with the band. DJ Sammy reached number one in the UK in 2002 with an uptempo dance version, while a stripped ‘Candlelight’ remix featuring the vocals of Dutch singer Do also became popular.

  16. U2 - 'With or Without You'

    U2 - With Or Without You

    From U2's album The Joshua Tree, this love song was inspired by Bono's conflicting feelings about the lives he led as a musician and domestic man at the time.

    It became one of U2's biggest songs ever, reaching number one in the US in 1987.

  17. Phil Collins - 'Against All Odds'

    Phil Collins - Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now) (Official Music Video)

    The ultimate power ballad sees Phil implore an ex-lover to "take a look at me now", knowing that reconciliation is "against all odds" while considering it worth a shot.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Against All Odds'

    It was recorded for the movie of the same name and reached number one in the States. It was later a number one in the UK for both Mariah Carey with Westlife in 2000 and X Factor winner Steve Brookstein in 2005. 

  18. Foreigner - 'I Want to Know What Love Is'

    Foreigner - I Want To Know What Love Is (Official Music Video)

    The band's biggest ever hit, it reached number one in both the UK and US. Writer Mick Jones said of the song: "I don’t know where it came from. I consider it a gift that was sent through me. I think there was something bigger than me behind it. I’d say it was probably written entirely by a higher force."

    Read more: The Story of... 'I Want To Know What Love Is'

    Bonus fact: it features keyboard work by Thompson Twins frontman Tom Bailey.

  19. ABBA - 'The Winner Takes it All'

    Abba - The Winner Takes It All (Official Video)

    Bjorn Ulvaeus has denied that his heartbreaking ballad is about his and Agnetha Faltskog's divorce. However, he has said that is about divorce in general and the emotions that come with it.

    Read more: The Story of... 'The Winner Takes It All'

    The song put Agnetha in the strange situation of being asked to sing a breakup song, written by her ex-husband, just a short period afterwards. However, Bjorn didn't intend it to happen this way. She later said it was her favourite ABBA song to perform.

  20. George Michael - 'Careless Whisper'

    George Michael - Careless Whisper (Official HD Video)

    This was the song that made people stand up and take notice of George as a credible artist outside the pop fun of Wham!

    Read more: The Story of... 'Careless Whisper'

    Released when he still in the boyband with Andrew Ridgeley, the song topped the charts around the world. Co-written with Andrew when they were 17, the song took inspiration from stories from Michael’s early romantic experiences with two different girls.