The Best ‘80s Unrequited Teen Love Pop Ballad Playlist Ever
I wonder if you have to have actually grown up in the ‘80s to feel the torn angsty, yearning, forlorn pull of the love-torn ballads the decade is known for. When you hear them, do they tear at your unrequited teen-love heart strings like it does at mine?
When you hear Human League’s “Human,” do you remember holding hands with Dan Mitchell at Sheri’s roller skating birthday party when the DJ called out “couples skate?” Are you thrown back into 8th grade, when Dave Widland asked you to go steady and then tried to kiss you goodbye in front of everybody at Jodi’s pool party while your mom waited to take you home in the Volvo station wagon? Do memories of not sleeping with—or even making out with!— your true love prom date in the limo come back to haunt you? No? Just me?
Well, you’re missing out. ‘80s emo music, as I like to call it, defines the word “sappy” with its bass-pumping, overly synthesized beats. But these romantic why-not-me love songs are mostly known for their lyrics. And for helping girls like me survive high school.
Somehow, these songs filled the gap of never having my crushes returned. I could rely on them. They were there whenever I needed them. They never forgot to pick up the phone.
There’s a confessional innocence to these songs that appealed to my teenage brain. (Never having a boyfriend in high school didn’t help.) They all talk about how “perfect love’s so hard to find” like in Almost Paradise on the soundtrack to Footloose which, of course, I listened to on my yellow sport Walkman while sporting my white high top sneakers and pastel parachute pants. Finding these gems of missed kisses and stolen glances—songs that made love sound like it was the only thing missing in my life—was all I needed to get through another week of sneaking into the middle school pool bleachers after school to watch John Davis’s biceps quiver after swim practice.
The sexy back beats of songs like Misled by Kool & The Gang kept me dancing for hours in my room on the mint green shag carpet, while I imagined my newest crush watching me. I was Kelly McGillis making out with Tom Cruise while Take My Breath Away wafted slowly from the boom box my friends and I would play at the beach in our bikinis, slathered in orange gelee Bain de Soleil suntan lotion.
Somehow, these songs filled the gap of never having my crushes returned. I could rely on them. They were there whenever I needed them. They never forgot to pick up the phone. They didn’t care if I never got to hold hands in the hallway with a boyfriend, or if I was always the third wheel with my best friend and her boyfriend.
And in the scenes they allowed me to imagine, my dreams always came true. I always got the guy, like Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink. He always called me back. He was always happy to see me. Proud to call me his, like Eric Stolz in Some Kind of Wonderful. I always got the validation I yearned for, like the girl in the MTV music video always did from her admirers. My hair was always perfectly feathered. My Kissing Potion lip gloss was always shiny. And his letter jacket fit me with just the right amount of baggy oversizedness, making me look like upperclassmen Dave Holcomb or Pete Crippen were enveloping me in their football throwing arms.
Alright, enough of this wistfulness. Let’s get to the playlist, shall we? Below, my fellow freaks and geeks, is the penultimate group of ‘80s emo ballads you will ever find or ever need to get you through another night of Love Boat reruns. You’re welcome. Gotta run before Casey announces # 1!
Let’s stay together. Keep up with me and my writings here.