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Best 80s Music For Your Wedding: Top Songs From 1981

29 October 2021

My year-by-year salute of 80s music as it pertains to wedding playlists continues today in the very early part of this fine decade.  It was the year that MTV would sign on the air and you'd be bugging your parents to get the cable TV turned on so you could "see" all the new music hitting the radio.  Who knew that just creating a mini-movie with some of the best songs of the 80s would create indelible, iconic images for an entire generation!  The inspiration for today's post comes from one of the most experienced guy I know as it pertains to music research.  This guy has a photographic memory when it comes to all music and how it affected each decade and evolved during each decade. He could tell you which genre of music began to take over one of the Billboard charts. His name is Sean Ross, he works at Edison Research, and his intelligence about music and it's trends are practically unmatched. You'll want to read on as we explore some of the music from the early 80s, and I think you'll agree there are definitely some songs from 1981 worthy of being added to your wedding playlist.

When MTV launched on August 1, 1981, the way that music was introduced to us changed forever. Prior to the launch of MTV, radio was the driving force of introducing us to new music. DJs would introduce us to new music and then we'd find ourselves heading to the record store to purchase the latest single or album. While we were still frequenting record stores to buy music after the launch of MTV, it was the music video that created iconic images of some of our favorite artists from the 80s.  It was not too obvious by the way the charts looked in 1981, but MTV would pave the way for another British invasion.  An invasion that would include bands like Duran Duran, Bananarama, and Spandau Ballet. In my opinion,  the music of 1981 saw the continued decrease in the popularity of disco, country crossover, and music that became staples of adult contemporary radio during the 80s and beyond.

Flashback To 1981 Right Now By Heading Over To My Spotify Profile
Professional wedding DJs adjust to the trends and the times.  Nearly 2 years ago, I set out to put together a Spotify profile that would assist the modern bride and groom in providing that much needed insight into creating the perfect wedding playlist for the biggest party of their life.  As this profile continues to gain traction, you'll be able to find this playlist, as well as so many others. Just head over to Spotify now and search for DJ Mike Bills.  

"Bette Davis Eyes" | Kim Carnes
Originally recorded by Jackie Deshannon, Kim Carnes would cover this song with sexy and raspy voice in 1981.  While it would not be a song for the dancing portion of your evening, it would certainly fit well into cocktail hour or dinner time.   "Bette Davis Eyes" would top the Hot 100 for 5 weeks, and also top the charts in a total of 21 countries. For more of the Best Soft Rock Songs Of The 80s, <--Click HERE

"Endless Love" | Lionel Richie & Diana Ross
You can also find this song on my recently published 50 Top Love Songs Of The 80s. "Endless Love" became one of the biggest songs of 1981, and up to that point was one of the longest standing Number 1 songs.  I suppose you could call the Summer of 1981 the summer of "Endless Love". The song was released as part of the soundtrack to the movie released that summer.

"Jessie's Girl" | Rick Springfield
I'm still not sure why this song occasionally shows up on playlists, especially when you analyze the song and find out it's true meaning. But when I have played it, I generally are met with a lot of guests who should be on Tiktok.  Back in the early 80s, Rick Springfield was playing Noah Drake on General Hospital, which became one of the most watched soap operas of the decade. Released in February of 1981, "Jessie's Girl" would make it all the way to Number 1 on the Hot 100 chart.

"The Tide Is High" | Blondie
Blondie was all over the radio from the late 70s, and continuing into the early 80s. Perfect for a feel good and chill cocktail hour, "The Tide Is High" was originally recorded in 1967 by the Jamaican group, The Paragons.  Blondie's version was released in October of 1980 and would make it all the way to #1 on the Hot 100 and Dance chart.

"Just The Two Of Us (With Bill Withers)" | Grover Washington Jr.
Looking for one of best soft rock songs of the early 80s, this song would be perfect for the dinner music portion of your evening.  "Just The Two Of Us" would become the only song that would enter the Top 40, but he would make it all the way to #2 on the Hot 100. The song would also win a Grammy for Best R&B song.

"The Stroke" | Billy Squier
Billy Squier was riding high in the early 80s and a lot of his songs would become staples on classic rock radio decades later.  "The Stroke" was the first song to be released from his album Don't Say No and would peak at #3 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart. For more ideas about 80s Rock For Your Cocktail Hour, <---Click HERE

"Whip It" | Devo
And when I mentioned up above about MTV allowing us to form iconic images in our minds as music was distributed to us, "Whip It" would be the quinttesential example. "Whip It" would peak at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as the Dance chart.

"Tainted Love" | Soft Cell
Gloria Jones first recorded the song in 1965, but it was Soft Cell who released the song in a new wave / synthpop sound in 1981.  Soft Cell's version would reach #1 in six countries, and peak at #8 on the Billboard charts in America. 

"Stars On 45" | Stars On 45
Disco was fading fast in popularity by`1981, but it was this dance track that included a medley of songs from the 60s that allowed the genre to be the center of attention.  Released in the early part of 1981, the song would take over the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart by June of 1981. 

"Start Me Up" | The Rolling Stones
With the death of Charlie Watts last month, I found myself listening to more of the songs in my catalog from the Rolling Stones. What a career they've had! It's hard to believe that it's been 40 years since the release of this iconic Stones song.  Released in August of 1981, the song would peak at #2 on the Hot 100 chart.

"Let's Groove" | Earth, Wind & Fire
While most DJs would say that "September" is the Number 1 requested EWF song, there are lots of modern brides and grooms who love to add this song into the mix for their wedding reception. In 1981, Earth, Wind & Fire would release their album Raise!, and this song would be the first single to be released, "raising" some pulses on the dance floor.  "Let's Groove" would make it all the way to #3 on the Hot 100, and #1 on the Hot Soul singles chart.

"Hit Me With Your Best Shot" | Pat Benatar
If you are a fan of 80s movies, you might remember this song from Spring Fever. Pat Benatar's voice is hands down one of the greatest female voices in rock history.  "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" would become her signature song and become a very popular choice for brides seeking a Bouquet Toss From The 80s. <--Click HERE for more bouquet toss song ideas. 

"Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" | Christopher Cross
You really couldn't turn on the radio in the early 80s without hearing Christopher Cross. Then, as the 80s progressed, you heard him more and more on General Hospital as his song was featured as a backdrop for the Luke & Laura relationship.  Featured in the movie Arthur starring Liza Minelli and Dudley Moore, the song would hit #1 on the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts.

"Centerfold" | J. Geils Band
Because 1981 was the year that MTV was launched,  the songs that were released in that year seem to have the most effect on me in terms of iconic images. "Centerfold" was released in September of 1981 and peak at #1 on the Hot 100 chart.

"Celebration" | Kool & The Gang
A wedding playlist for years, it's popularity has decreased in popularity in recent years.   After a decade of funk and disco in the 70s, Kool & The Gang would release a song that would become their only #1 song, and one that still gets most parties started.

"Genius Of Love" | Tom Tom Club
Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz broke away from the Talking Heads to form the Tom Tom Club in the early 80s.  "Genius Of Love" was the second song to be released from their first record and would make it all the way to #1 on the Hot Dance chart.

"In The Air Tonight" | Phil Collins
Around 1980, Phil Collins was on a hiatus from Genesis and took some time to put together what would be his solo album. Face Value would be released in early 1981 and this song would become the lead single, and a signature song for a music icon. "In The Air Tonight" would only slightly break into the Top 20 on the Hot 100, but would peak at #2 on the mainstream rock chart.

"I Love You" | Climax Blues Band
The Climax Blues Band got their start in England back in the late 60s. They would have a hit with "Couldn't Get It Right", and peak at #12 on the Hot 100 in 1981 with this wonderful love song. 

"Superfreak" | Rick James
Wedding dance floors still get "funky" with this signature song from Rick James.  "Superfreak" would make it all the way to Number 1 on the Hot Dance Singles chart. 

"Physical" | Olivia Newton-John
There was a fitness craze happening in the early 80s and Olivia Newton-John had the perfect song to work out to. "Physical" was the title track of the 11th record for Olivia Newton-John and would spend 10 weeks at the top of the Hot 100.

Interested In Speaking With Mike Bills About Being Your Wedding DJ?
If you are as a big a fan of music from the 80s as I am, you'll want to look over my blog some more and find out all the other years I've spotlighted, as well as check out my Spotify.  I like to consider myself a "different" type of DJ as it pertains to playing music at weddings. Being a lover of music, I love to speak to couples in love about their musical tastes. I also enjoy getting to know my couples and their taste in music.  You are invited to check out my website and reviews and then click the link up above to be taken over to my contact form. There you'll be asked for a few details, at which time we'll set up a time to talk about your wedding. Thank you for speaking with me and I look forward to talking with you!