HomeListsSoft Rock’s Best Year Ever? 10 Tunes from 1985

Soft Rock’s Best Year Ever? 10 Tunes from 1985

In 1985, the average price of gas eclipsed $1 for the first time, Live Aid was the event of the summer, and the Coca-Cola Company brought the high-fructose taste of New Coke to confused Coke drinkers. I turned 19 years old and completed a wild first year away at college. There was a lot going on in ’85: romance, dancing, partying, fraternity life, and checking out Brat Pack movies starring Molly Ringwald, et al. Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of studying going on. But no matter the activity, there was always some kind of radio playing nearby. Here are ten great soft rock tunes that hit the charts and were released on the new compact disc format: 

“Cherish” – Kool & the Gang

Released June 1985
Chart Peak: #2 Billboard Hot 100 on September 21

Kool & the Gang transitioned from a funk band to a disco band to a full-fledged pop band. Then they released this hook-filled ballad. If the initial keyboard lick doesn’t draw you in, maybe some sweet falsetto background vocals will. An unabashed song of thanksgiving, this single was a slow climber, premiering in the Hot 100 back on July 6 before spending an impressive 25 weeks on the charts, peaking at #2 and finally dropping off in late December.

“Missing You” – Diana Ross

Released November 1984
Chart Peak: #10 Billboard Hot 100 on April 13, 1985

A tribute to the great Marvin Gaye, written and produced by Lionel Richie. The song starts slowly and gently then gradually builds through to a beautiful chorus. But by the time the horns punctuate the bridge about halfway through the song, you’d be hard-pressed not to be transported back to her earlier hits from the late ’60s and ’70s – bringing the power and emotion as only Ms. Ross can. Then she eases off the gas pedal with a brief-but-touching spoken word section. A wonderful tribute. Sadly, this would be the last Top 40 single for Ross.

“Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid” – Daryl Hall & John Oates

Released March 1985
Chart Peak: #18 Billboard Hot 100 on May 4

My favorite cut on the stacked Big Bam Boom album, this thing is atypical Daryl Hall blue-eyed soul. The big difference is the production – there’s a lot going on behind the vocals, all heavily layered and run through an echo chamber. It starts off as a sparse, moody ballad with light electronic percussion and heavily-processed, chugging guitar. Drums and background vocals kick in at the chorus, transforming it into a mid-tempo pop song without changing tempo. There’s an instrumental break full of production tricks then a bridge after the second chorus, right where you’d expect it to be. The bridge features a heavy half-time back-beat drum solo. Then, instead of going back to the chorus as expected, it rocks all the way to the end with a ton of power chords, while the drums are brought way up in the mix. Big Bam Boom has been criticized for its slick production, but even with all the chorus and reverb in the mix, I love the cumulative sonic impact of this single.

“Everything She Wants” – Wham!

Released December 1984
Chart Peak: #1 Billboard Hot 100 on May 25, 1985

Not only my favorite song from the Make It Big album, “Everything She Wants” is my all-time favorite George Michael song not just because it’s catchy as hell. It’s also because I thought I was living the lyrics at the time the song was peaking in the top spot on the pop charts. This thing grabs me immediately with the repetitive synth pads and percussion. George’s vocals are as soulful as anything he would ever do and, even with the instrumental chorus, the meaning and emotion shine through. Actually, I probably wasn’t remotely living these lyrics, but lemme tell ya, when George sings, “My God! I don’t even think that I love you,” it definitely got me to thinking about my current relationship.

“Too Late for Goodbyes” – Julian Lennon

Released January 1985
Chart Peak: #5 Billboard Hot 100 on March 23

After starting his career with “Valotte,” a beautiful ballad, Julian Lennon gave us possibly the peppiest break-up song of all time. I’d classify the syncopated, upbeat accompaniment as “reggae light,” but it certainly gets the job done. Lots of synths – both keyboards and drums. And man-oh-man does Julian ever sound like his father. Don’t worry Julian, I too sound like my father (although mine didn’t have the same cultural impact). The song doesn’t have a bridge, but instead a harmonica solo from famed session musician Toots Thielemans who also contributed to Billy Joel’s “Leave a Tender Moment Alone” around the same time.

“Crazy for You” – Madonna

Released March 1985
Chart Peak: #1 Billboard Hot 100 on May 11

This sultry make-out ballad from the soundtrack of the movie Vision Quest, finds Madonna at the height of her ’80s powers. Ms. Material hadn’t released a ballad single prior to this record, but it became her second #1 and resulted in her first Grammy nomination. Plus, she got to perform and promote the song, in her on-screen role as as a nightclub singer. The verse is super hot, but the chorus is where this song really smolders. I had a Madonna poster on the wall of my dorm room, and when she sang this song I melted into a puddle of teenage hormones.

“Do What You Do” – Jermaine Jackson

Released December 1984
Chart Peak: #13 Billboard Hot 100 on January 5, 1985

Jermaine certainly brings the tortured longing on this laid-back smoothie. With the strings and electric piano, it’s almost a throwback to soft rock of the late ’70s. Clive Davis brought Jackson to the Arista label hoping to capitalize on brother Michael’s success and it worked, albeit on a much smaller scale. With a repetitive a chorus and soaring bridge, this song ultimately was one of Jermaine’s biggest singles. Dig the sepia-toned gangster video.

“Who’s Holding Donna Now” – DeBarge

Released May 1985
Chart Peak: #6 Billboard Hot 100 on August 10

Early in the summer of 1985, I ended an eight-month relationship with a much older woman. The woman’s name was Donna, so when “Who’s Holding Donna Now?” hit the chart that summer, the lyrics couldn’t have been more apropos. I took a fair amount of good-natured ribbing from my friends every time the song played on the radio. It’s a stellar pop offering, written by soft-rock royalty – David Foster, Jay Graydon and Randy Goodrum – and produced by the incomparable Graydon. While credited to DeBarge, El DeBarge is the sole family member to appear on the recording alongside session musicians from the likes of Airplay, Toto, and Mr. Mister.

“Foolish Heart” – Steve Perry

Released November 1984
Chart Peak: #18 Billboard Hot 100 on February 16, 1985

The aforementioned Randy Goodrum not only co-wrote “Who’s Holding Donna Now,” he also co-wrote this hit with Steve Perry. And it would be difficult to pick a favorite between the two. A mid-tempo number about longing and impulsive romance, it uses a simple structure without a bridge or solo, but with plenty of sweet electric piano fills. This record was the fourth single released from the 1984 album, Street Talk, and all four hit the Top 40. I’d often try to sing along with Perry when the song came on my car radio, but his impressive wide vocal range meant that wasn’t gonna happen. Didn’t stop me from trying, though, much to the chagrin of those riding in the car with me. [Editor’s note: I’m still an “Oh Sherry” guy]

“Saving All My Love For You” – Whitney Houston

Released August 1985
Chart Peak: #1 Billboard Hot 100 on October 26

This chart-topper was written by Michael Masser and Gerry Goffin, and was originally recorded by Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr. Ms. Houston takes it to a whole ‘nuther level with her amazing, powerful voice. Not surprisingly, it won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.  Gene Page’s arrangement is perfect as the track builds from a simple electric piano intro, gradually adding instruments. Eventually, a bunch of instrumentalists and backup singers do their best to keep up with Whitney. Add a perfect solo from legendary saxophonist Tom Scott and this song is easily my favorite Whitney Houston song. Has been since the first time I heard it.

By the end of ’85, I had settled down a bit and started concentrating a little more on my studies. I also found a more age-appropriate girlfriend (whom I would eventually marry). The fashions and videos – and even the production – may seem dated now, but some of these soft rockers remain our favorites to this day. They are, quite simply, great pop songs.

Please stick & stay for more coverage of soft rock’s best years

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