Songs that "embody the '80s"
That's a question in the comments to the post below. I take it to mean which songs embody the general feeling in the air. Well the '80s were part of the apocalyptic phase of the zeitgeist cycle, which began in the mid-'70s and lasted through the early '90s. That new worldview brings along all sorts of other changes in people's thinking, feeling, and behavior.
Those features are what really set that period apart from the cult of curability from the 1960s and early '70s, and from the glib nihilism of the '90s through the mid-2000s. Here are the most important pieces of the zeitgeist, as I see it, with one or two songs that capture that feeling. There are lots to choose from, though, because any truly important part of the atmosphere will have a pervasive influence.
- The initial revelation that the apocalypse is coming:
"I Know There's Something Going On" by Frida, one of the singers from ABBA. Despite the menace in the song, she doesn't sound panic-stricken or paralyzed. "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins works here too (and so would the average new wave song), but I give the edge to Frida for the electric guitar that makes it feel more charged up.
- Broadening the group that you feel solidarity with, beyond your nuclear family:
"Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson for class and economic status. "Born in the USA" by Springsteen for patriotism (nobody cares what the lyrics "really mean" when we're talking about capturing a feeling).
- Intenser relationship bonds:
"Summer of '69" by Bryan Adams for buddy-buddy relationships. For male-female, "Like a Prayer" by Madonna and "Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi. Surviving larger threats requires building a broader and tighter social network.
- Looking to the supernatural for redemption or salvation:
"Higher Love" by Steve Winwood. There were some other religious pop songs, but none anywhere as great as this one. The exotic rhythm and instrumentation, plus the guest vocals by Chaka Khan, underscore the cross-racial focus of the religious revival.
"Flesh for Fantasy" by Billy Idol takes an accepting though ambivalent look at the pleasure-centered culture. The insider addict's view is better conveyed by Depeche Mode's "Strangelove." Hedonism was of course a minority choice in the face of a seemingly unstable future, but it did become a larger minority then than during other times.