Say what you want about the ’80s, but you can’t say they failed to stand the test of time. Hundreds of all-time hit numbers and chart-toppers, box office bombs like Ghostbusters, the style, the spirit. You might as well just take a look out of your window and you’ll likely see someone wearing certain kind of ’80s t-shirt.
But what we’re here to discuss are the music singles. We’ll be bringing you cold, hard facts based solely on sales numbers. And when you think about it for a bit, it becomes more than clear that the ’80s brought some mean smash hits to the table. Whether it wiggly pop or intricate metal, the ’80s did it right, so buckle up and check out the list of best-selling ’80s singles based on the official data from the UK Singles Chart.
10. Dexy’s Midnight Runners – “Come on Eileen” – 1.31 million copies
You may not know of the band called Dexy’s Midnight Runners, but you will definitely recognize their song called “Come on Eileen.” Released in 1982, it propelled the group straight to the top of the charts, debuting at No. 1 in a total of six countries, including both the US and the UK, where it sold 1.31 million copies.
Pretty much the epitome of a one hit wonder, “Come on Eileen” was ranked at No. 3 of VH1’s “100 Greatest One-hit Wonders of all time” list. It also won the Best British Single award at the 1983 ceremony of the prestigious Brit Awards.
9. Jennifer Rush – “The Power of Love” – 1.39 million copies
You might remember “The Power of Love” as a hit tune from Air Supply or Canadian pop diva Celine Dion, but the track was originally performed by American singer Jennifer Rush back in 1985. With 1.39 million copies shipped in the UK, it debuted at No. 1 in eight countries, but flopped in the US, peaking only at No. 57 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
8. George Michael – “Careless Whisper” – 1.45 million copies
After his departure from Wham, George Michael delivered what many considered a surprisingly classy hit single. Actually, with 1.45 million copies sold in the UK, “Careless Whisper” was an instant smash, easily climbing the top of the charts in 12 countries around the world, including both UK and the United States.
Released in 1984, the tune managed to combine pop and smooth jazz in a subtle, yet gorgeous manner. Although it wasn’t exactly a standard pop hit recipe, Michael’s memorable vocal lines and a few nifty jazz fills were more than enough to make this one a distinctive ’80s classic.
7. Culture Club – “Karma Chameleon” – 1.47 million copies
You may consider Boy George and his Culture Club group as lightweight pop, but their 1983 chart topper “Karma Chameleon” actually has a deeper meaning hidden behind the pop groove. In singer’s own words, “the song is about the terrible fear of alienation that people have, the fear of standing up for one thing. It’s about trying to suck up to everybody.”
The track originally dropped in 1983, selling 1.47 million copies in the UK and over 7 million worldwide, rightfully earning its spot on our list.
6. Wham! – “Last Christmas / Everything She Wants” – 1.58 million copies
George Michael is back with yet another hit single, this time around from his Wham! period. With their double A-side single “Last Christmas / Everything She Wants,” the ’80s pop duo applied some clever marketing moves, appropriately unleashing their work around the Christmas of 1984. Such strategy gave sales a significant boost and a solid portion of radio airplay time, making the single ultimately sell well over 1.5 million copies.
5. Frankie Goes to Hollywood – “Two Tribes” – 1.58 million copies
We’re not sure whether you kept track of the exact years the singles listed so far were released, but believe us when we tell you that 1984 was possibly the most fruitful year when it comes to smash hits. Frankie Goes to Hollywood only confirm it with their “Two Tribes” track, which eventually went on to sell a figure of almost 1.6 million copies.
The tune also saw the band tackling the subject of war, an unusual topic when it comes to chart-toppers. However, seeing that the world was in a midst of a Cold War, “Two Tribes” proved as the perfect track to raise the public awareness and send a message of peace around the globe.
4. The Human League – “Don’t You Want Me” – 1.6 million copies
Back in 1981, British sythpop sensation called The Human League unleashed their smasher tune “Don’t You Want Me.” As a prime example of an early ’80s hit number, the single went on to sell just over 1.6 million copies. And with such a recognizable hook in the chorus, it seems like “Don’t You Want Me” was simply meant to top the charts.
3. Stevie Wonder – “I Just Called to Say I Love You” – 1.84 million copies
Once again, we have a 1984 hit at our hands, this time around from the Motown titan Stevie Wonder. Possibly his biggest hit ever, “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” gets to crack open the top 3 as one of the greatest love ballads ever written.
The tune took the world by storm, topping the charts in as much as 18 countries, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song and a Golden Globe along the way. Apart from numerous awards, the single sold 1.84 million copies in the UK.
2. Frankie Goes to Hollywood – “Relax” – 2 million copies
“Relax” is just one of those songs that are bound to make you grab your pair of Sing-a-Long microphone tongs and kick out the jams! Once again, we are talking about Frankie Goes to Hollywood and their 1983 chart topper.
Although it was a major hit in the UK and the first song on our list to cross the 2 million sales mark, “Relax” scored only moderate success in the United States, where it debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
1. Band Aid – “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – 3.7 million copies
Could there be a better way to top the charts than for a good cause? Written by the legendary activist, philanthropist and musician Bob Geldof, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” took crème de la crème of the music business, gathering them in a noble cause of helping to end the world hunger.
The single sold a whopping figure of 3.7 million copies in the UK, topping the charts with no problem whatsoever. More importantly, it raised funds for those who need it and became what many consider a humanitarian classic. Chances are that you’re still listening to this one, at least around Christmas.