Top 80’s dance hits and the Irene Cara wonders that shaped the era

Flashdance song by Irene Cara
Image via Paramount Pictures

With the recent passing of Irene Cara, fans are pouring out their love for a true icon of the 80s. Remembering her role as Coco in Fame and her greatest hit in Flashdance, which she co-wrote and performed, fans remain enamored with Cara’s cultural contributions.

Of all the songs of the 80s, it really is hard to pin down a top 10, especially if the question is: “What songs defined the era?” This list is a shot at best, but Irene Cara’s placement on it is undeniable. If anyone is old enough to remember the 80s, they know she was all over it.

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics

Released in 1983, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” enters the list because, like Irene Cara, Annie Lennox has a voice that takes fans back to the 80s. She was weird and wonderful, driving a bold new movement that never slowed down at all, but has only evolved throughout subsequent musical eras.

“Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson

When Thriller was released in 1982, it brought with it many hits like “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Beat It,” “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” and “Thriller” itself along with a duet with Paul McCartney called “The Girl is Mine.” However, it’s “Billie Jean” that somehow keeps getting played over the years, more than the others, and makes it to the list as a great song that has transcended decades and generations.

“Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler

“Total Eclipse of the Heart” doesn’t have the same vibe as the other songs on this list, but it was released in 1983 by Bonnie Tyler as pop rock and transcended that genre to become a fan favorite across the board of pop culture. This song makes the list because it has been the background song of commercials as well as highlighted in movies and on television. Its survivability makes “Total Eclipse of the Heart” a voice of the 80s that is still shining through today.

“What’s Love Got to Do with It” by Tina Turner

There is no list of the 80s, the 70s, or the 90s for that matter that wouldn’t include the Queen of Rock and Roll, the legend who insured her legs, Tina Turner. “What’s Love Got To Do With It” was released in 1984 on the Private Dancer album and was everywhere in the 80s. On the radio, in the stores, dance clubs, pool houses, outhouses, and Bingo rooms across the nation, it was heard by fans over and over throughout the decade and into the next.

“Let’s Hear It for the Boy” by Deniece Williams

From the movie Footloose, “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” is another 80s anthem of a different kind. With Deniece Williams at the helm, she drove this hit to the top of the charts because it was a big dance favorite back in the day. It got fans up and dancing, which if anyone remembers the movie, that’s what it was all about.

“Girls Just Want To Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper

Released in 1983, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” appears on Lauper’s She’s So Unusual. With quirky attire and a playful style, Cyndi Lauper gave girls a new role model. She also gave them a new way of thinking, leading the way in letting girls from all walks of life know that they are free to be just the way they are.

“Let’s Dance” by David Bowie

It’s nostalgic to talk about David Bowie on an 80s list. The fact that he had been in the music industry since the early 60s means that he had been significant in every decade and every era from that moment on until the day he died. His hit “Let’s Dance” is not the only one he had while the 80s were ripping, but it was the most prolific.

“Kiss” by Prince & The Revolution

The song that won Prince and his team a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals has to be included on the list. To be honest, no list is complete without a song by Prince. He was an outrageous performer who played about 27 instruments and was often on every track of his own songs. “Kiss” was not the only hit he had in the 80s, but just as with David Bowie, it was another voice of the era.

“Fame” by Irene Cara

“I’m gonna live forever / Baby, remember my name” Irene Cara sings in “Fame,” which she performed in the movie she starred in of the same name. Those words will now stand in infamy because her fans will remember her forever. This song inspired generations to go after something that seems at first unattainable, convincing them that with work and dedication, anyone can get there.

“Flashdance…What a Feeling” by Irene Cara

“Flashdance…What a Feeling” was more than a feeling for so many fans. Irene Cara’s hit has sparked the entire entertainment industry with moments that have been parodied in movies and television. Released in 1983, it became a symbol for having a dream and going for it at all costs. For fans, it will always be the theme song that propelled a decade of people to go do something about it if they weren’t happy with where they were.

“Holiday” by Madonna

We said pinning down a top ten would be difficult. It turns out it’s impossible because no 80s list can exist without Madonna. She was another role model who created an entire movement of weird clothing and accessories that included stacks of bracelets and laced gloves. She just gave young girls a different perspective of what it was like to be truly themselves while embracing her identity as an unabashed sex icon — a role she continues to fulfill today.

This list has been an absolute flashback saddened by the fact that Irena Cara passed away at the age of 63. She will be sorely missed, but her music has lived on throughout the generations and that’s the way fans will keep her alive.