Monday, 3 July 2017

The Best Of '80s Various Artists Compilations - part 1

JUMP TO: 30-16 II 15-1

Can you believe it's been five years since I started this blog? In that time, I've recapped nearly a decade's worth of ARIA charts, counted down my own favourite songs from every year since 1979 until 2016 and bored everyone to death about one-hit wonders

So when I was coming up with something special to do for my anniversary, I thought it might be fun to take a look at a chart staple from the '80s (until they got moved into their own chart exactly 28 years ago): the various artists compilation.

Why? It's not like I owned many. As part of my mother's continued efforts to get me to stop buying music, she warned that compilations were a waste of money since there were always lots of songs you didn't like among the two or three you did. But I did always covet them, especially when significantly more than two or three songs I liked all appeared on one album.

Well, it's easy to have heaps of hits when you're a double album, now isn't it?

I thought about ranking the albums according to their chart performance or how well the songs they contained performed individually, but in the end I've come up with a highly subjective countdown. I'm going to rank the top 30 (according to me) various artists compilations released in the '80s by the major record labels (as opposed to dodgy collections from Dino, J&B, etc.).

For an album to do well on this list, it has to contain a high proportion of songs I like versus songs I don't like. The more I like the "good" songs, the better it will fare. Obviously, since this blog is subtitled A Journey Through Pop, there's a bias towards albums with a high pop content. Honourable mention must go to Heaps Of Hits '85, which will not appear on this list. It easily has the highest number of songs I like - but then it was a double album, so I've stuck to single albums to be fair. Oh, and I'm only including tracks on the LP versions, not cassette or CD bonus tracks.

Judging by the number of times '80s compilations get mentioned in the comments section of this blog and its Facebook page, plenty of you have fond memories and strong opinions about these albums as well, so be sure to get in touch with your own favourites or to tell me how I've got it all wrong. I can't guarantee I'll agree with you...

Chart debut: August 25, 1980
Peak: number 7
Biggest hit: "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Queen (number 1 for seven weeks)
Smallest hit: "Geno" by Dexy's Midnight Runners (number 44)
Best song: "All Out Of Love" by Air Supply
Worst song: "Cheap Wine" by Cold Chisel
The earliest album on this list is also the only entry from 1980, a turning point in the history of compilations. 1980... The Music became the first non-soundtrack various artists collection to reach the top 10 since Explosive Hits '75. From hereon in, the major labels seemed to take more control of their chart hits instead of just leaving them to K-Tel to package up and the era of chart-hogging compilations was born. Were it not for the glut of dreary ballads as well as the pub rock double of Australian Crawl and Cold Chisel, this would have done better on this list.   

Chart debut: May 9, 1983
Peak: number 1 (four weeks)
Biggest hit: "Up Where We Belong" by Joe Cocker/Jennifer Warnes (number 1 for two weeks)
Smallest hits: "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson and "Wot" by Captain Sensible (number 30)
Best song: "Our House" by Madness
Worst song: "Hooked On Hooks" by Skyhooks
There are actually quite a few contenders for worst song on this collection - with the tracks by Monte Video And The Cassettes, Thomas Dolby and Chas & Dave all marginally less annoying than the Skyhooks medley. Despite all that dross, there are plenty of great tunes from the summer of '82-'83 here - thank goodness for the 20-song tracklisting. Typically, for this era, it's the British stuff that's the best - hits by Billy Idol, Madness, Kajagoogoo and Joe Jackson.

28. Thru The Roof '83

Chart debut: December 5, 1983
Peak: number 1 (five weeks)
Biggest hit: "Australiana" by Austen Tayshus (number 1 for eight weeks)
Smallest hit: "Some People (Have All The Fun)" by Jon English (number 50)
Best song: "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club
Worst song: "Australiana" by Austen Tayshus
It's a testament to how competitive a list this is when an album that features 1983 megastars Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Culture Club and Elton John, and a track from Flashdance is this low - but blame it on the second half of Side Two, with four songs I'm not a fan of (Jon English, Cold Chisel, Austen Tayshus and The Blues Brothers). I've also never been that keen on the Malcolm McLaren, UB40 and Paul Young songs.  

Chart debut: April 20, 1987
Peak: number 1 (one week)
Biggest hit: "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" by Aretha Franklin/George Michael (number 1 for four weeks)
Smallest hit: "Graceland" by Paul Simon (number 62)
Best song: "You Keep Me Hangin' On" by Kim Wilde
Worst song: "Graceland" by Paul Simon
I really thought this would be higher, but that's what happens when you choose Paul Simon over Wa Wa Nee, whose "Sugar Free" was relegated to the CD version (which I own) despite being a top 10 hit. I also don't love the inclusions from Boris Gardiner, The Style Council or Michael Hutchence. But from Kim Wilde to Dead Or Alive, Berlin to New Order, Europe to Bon Jovi, Cameo to Gregory Abbott and, of course, the George and Aretha duet, there's plenty of gold.

Chart debut: November 20, 1989
Peak: number 1 of the compilations chart (12 weeks)
Biggest hit:"If I Could Turn Back Time" by Cher (number 1 for seven weeks)
Smallest hit: "Don't Look Back" by Fine Young Cannibals (number 38)
Best song: "Cherish" by Madonna
Worst song: "Dr Feelgood" by Mötley Crüe
As with 1980, we only have one entry from the final year of the decade - there were some awful compilations in 1989! Featuring a rare post-1985 licensing of a Madonna song, Let's Do It... Summer 1990 boasted a pretty strong tracklisting overall. Mötley Crüe aside, I liked the rock inclusions from Alice Cooper, Boom Crash Opera and The Hummingbirds, but could live without "Hangin' Tough", "The World Seems Difficult" and "Communication".

Chart debut: August 31, 1981
Peak: number 5
Biggest hit: "Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes (number 1 for five weeks)
Smallest hit: "I Don't Wanna Dance" by Split Enz (number 65)
Best song: "Kids In America" by Kim Wilde
Worst song: "They Won't Let My Girlfriend Talk To Me" by Jimmy And The Boys
Just look at those first four songs on Side Two - the best the Brits had to offer in 1981. Points also for tracks by Rupert Hines, Rick Springfield, Mondo Rock and The Church. Bizarrely for me, I'm not into the Split Enz track, but I don't mind the Australian Crawl one.

Chart debut: November 21, 1983
Peak: number 1 (three weeks)
Biggest hit: "Reckless (Don't Be So)" by Australian Crawl (number 1 for one week)
Smallest hit: "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" by Air Supply (number 45)
Best song: "IOU" by Freeez
Worst song: "(She's) Sexy & 17" by Stray Cats
The real highlight of this collection from late 1983 is the presence of one-hit wonders Men Without Hats, Taco, Freeez, F.R. David and JoBoxers. They're exactly the types of songs you want on a compilation - who wanted to shell out for a full album by any of them?

Chart debut: November 30, 1981
Peak: number 4
Biggest hit: "Physical" by Olivia Newton-John (number 1 for five weeks)
Smallest hit:"What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted" by Dave Stewart (number 34)
Best song: "Chequered Love" by Kim Wilde (sorry, but she had a lot of great singles)
Worst song: "The Stroke" by Billy Squier
I have a bit of a soft spot for this album since we had it on cassette in my house - a rarity! I was only six at the time, but I have pretty strong memories of many of these songs, like "Queen Of Hearts", "Louise (We Get It Right)" and, of course, "Physical". Even though there aren't many duds at all on here, the songs by most of the local acts are ones I like but don't love - and so it doesn't rank as high as it could.

Chart debut: August 18, 1986
Peak: number 1 (four weeks)
Biggest hit: "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)" by Samantha Fox (number 1 for three weeks)
Smallest hit: "Hyperactive" by Robert Palmer (number 72)
Best song: "If You Leave" by OMD
Worst song: "Who Made Who" by AC/DC
Although it features what is possibly the worst ever start to a compilation, thanks to the disastrous Side One opening trio of Queen, AC/DC and Robert Palmer, the rest of 1986... Just For Kicks more than makes up for it, especially the flawless Side Two. 

21. Pump It Up '88

Chart debut: April 4, 1988
Peak: number 4
Biggest hit: "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley (number 1 for seven weeks)
Smallest hit: "Everywhere" by Fleetwood Mac (number 45)
Best song: "Love In The First Degree" by Bananarama
Worst song: "Unchain My Heart" by Joe Cocker
And you know, I don't actually mind that Joe Cocker song - it's just the worst of a pretty decent bunch. A bunch that includes Rick Astley's mega-hit, some of my favourite songs from the tail end of 1987 by Communards, Tiffany, Cher, Dragon, Bananarama and Foreigner, and The Bangles' early-'88 soundtrack smash. I even like the David Lee Roth song.

20. '87 Hots Up

Chart debut: September 28, 1987
Peak: number 8
Biggest hit: "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" by Whitney Houston (number 1 for five weeks)
Smallest hit: "Good Times" by Hoodoo Gurus (number 36)
Best song: "Respectable" by Mel & Kim
Worst song: I'm torn between "Star Trekkin'" by The Firm (which I kind of liked as a 12-year-old but despise now) and "First We Take Manhattan" by Jennifer Warnes (which has always bored me).
Whitney. Swing Out Sister. The Cure. Three Stock Aitken Waterman tracks. Rockmelons. Noiseworks. Jenny Morris. ABC. This is why 1987 was such a great year for music. I even like the Gino Vannelli song.

19. 1985 Comes Alive

Chart debut: February 25, 1985
Peak: number 1 (four weeks)
Biggest hit: "One Night In Bangkok" by Murray Head (number 1 for one week)
Smallest hits: "Singing In The Shower" by Solid Citizens and "The Unforgettable Fire" by U2 (number 59)
Best song: "Cruel Summer" by Bananarama, although that was a re-release from 1983, so I'll go with "The NeverEnding Story" by Limahl
Worst song: "I'm Tuff" by George Smilovici
Pop bands didn't get much bigger in early 1985 than Duran Duran, Eurythmics and Frankie Goes To Hollywood - and all three are present and accounted for here. Throw in some of the biggest female singers in the world (Pat Benatar, Sheena Easton, a resurgent Tina Turner) and a smattering of local talent (Models and The Radiators' best song), and you have a well-rounded release.

Chart debut: August 26, 1985
Peak: number 2
Biggest hits: "Live It Up" by Mental As Anything and "One More Night" by Phil Collins (number 2 for three weeks)
Smallest hit: "Everything I Need" by Men At Work (number 37)
Best song: "Walls Come Tumbling Down!" by The Style Council
Worst song: "Baby U Left Me (In The Cold)" by Marilyn
There were no chart-topping singles, but no less than five number 2 hits on this pretty unobjectionable compilation from later in 1985. I don't even mind "Walk Of Life", which was here thanks to its appearance as the double A-side of "So Far Away" and would show up again on an album we'll see in Part 2 once it had been a single in its own right.

Chart debut: August 30, 1982
Peak: number 3
Biggest hit: "I've Never Been To Me" by Charlene (number 1 for six weeks)
Smallest hit: "Without You" by Eurogliders (number 34)
Best song: "Don't You Want Me" by The Human League
Worst song: "Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk" by Dr Hook
It's a bit of an odd name for a compilation that features new wave (The Human League, Simple Minds, The Waitresses, Eurogliders and ABC), funk (Prince!), cheesy ballads (Bertie Higgins and Charlene) and the solo debut of Adam Ant, but whatever. And what rock was included was of the good variety - Mondo Rock, John Cougar, Tommy Tutone... even the Cold Chisel song wasn't my least favourite track on the album.

Chart debut: June 20, 1988
Peak: number 1 (four weeks)
Biggest hit: "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car" by Billy Ocean (number 1 for five weeks)
Smallest hit: "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" by Whitney Houston (number 48)
Best song: "I Want You Back" by Bananarama
Worst song: "The Flame" by Cheap Trick
An excellent collection from my favourite year for music is only marred by the presence of MOR tracks by Cheap Trick, Little River Band and Michael Bolton (I'll let Whitney slide). Otherwise, it's wall-to-wall pop with teen queens Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, dance-pop chanteuses Taylor Dayne and Sabrina, some SAW courtesy of Bananarama and Rick Astley (thankfully "My Arms Keep Missing You" and not "When I Fall In Love"), and A-grade tracks from a diverse array of groups: Underworld. Bros, Wet Wet Wet and Eurogliders.

If you can't read any of the tracklistings, links are provided in the album titles. Cover art has come from all over the web, but especially the excellent Australian Compilation LPs site.

In Part 2: the 15 best compilations of the '80s, including our first entry from 1984 and a pretty tight top 3.


  1. An interesting look at '80s compilations! I liked how the compilers used to put the year in the title, and made up all sorts of random names for them – that all disappeared once the 100% Hits series took hold.

    I've been on a compilations kick lately, picking up various artists CDs from 1989 to 1995 from eBay and op shops. Since February I've collected 16 so far!

    Oh and happy 5th blog-anniversary Gavin. Always a fun read, and it shares its birthday with me. Yeah!

  2. Excellent idea for an anniversary post Gavin, and well done. I own everything from Summer'87 onwards on CD, and had all the previous ones on vinyl or cassette at some stage. I pretty much love 90% of the tracklistings on all of them. I like rock and MOR more than you do, but I can't abide novelty songs. 1985 Comes Alive is my favourite out of this lot.

  3. Greatest blog on the internet! Congrats on 5 years man!

  4. '87 Hots Up was the first compilation I bought, on cassette. It was also where I discovered the existence of Stock/Aitken/Waterman, after noticing that 3 tracks (Mel & Kim, Bananarama, Samantha Fox) were written and produced by them. I wanted it mainly for the Mel & Kim and The Firm (yes, really) tracks.

    In more recent years, mostly through trades with other people, I've appreciated the VHS compilations that sometimes accompanied these releases - although I think this only ever happened for one of the two (near) simultaneously-released compilations, with the EMI/Festival/(later Polygram too) compilation being more-prolific with a VHS release up until 'Hits of 1990 Volume 3', and then the CBS/BMG/(initially) Polygram/Warner compilation taking the reigns from 'Take 40 Australia #1'. I never bought one of the VHS compilations at the time though, oddly.

    I didn’t really like when they reverted to boring ‘100% Hits’ and ‘Hit Machine’ volume names. The last one I bought was ‘Hit Machine 6’, though I received volumes 7 and 8 as gifts. One thing I never liked was when the final compilation of the year was named after the coming year, so e.g. ‘Hits of 1990 Volume 1’ contains mostly tracks that were old and dropping/had fallen out of the chart by the time 1990 actually began.

    Sometimes it was fascinating to see the depths the companies had to scour to fill up the 18 track quota. There were several songs on 1989 Be Happy, for example, that I hadn’t heard until buying it (Pat Benatar’s ‘Don’t Walk Away’, Sam Brown’s ‘Stop’, Keith Richards’ ‘Take It So Hard’, James Reyne’s ‘Always the Way’ among them).

  5. 1981 Over The Top was my first introduction to music at the age of seven, so it's nice to see that compilation get some attention here. From there it was Hit Wave '82, 1982 With A Bullet...until I stopped in March 1986 with around 20+ compilations. After then I only bought albums by singular artists as opposed to these compilations because I didn't regard them as highly. I still have them all and treasure them in my own little way. Looking forward to Part 2...and great job on Part 1.

  6. I cant agree with your choice for the best compilation album of the 1980's. Youve left out 1985 On Fire. Most of the songs on the album made the top 10, with only one dud track by Beargarden.

    1. It almost made the cut. But the songs by Paul Hardcastle, Uncanny X-Men, Beargarden, Australian Crawl and China Crisis let it down. I've also never been that fond of those Do-Re-Mi and Machinations tracks.

  7. Thank you for this mighty interesting. I have always been fascinated by these compilation LP's and later CD's from the era and have all of them from 1980 until 1991. Each album just brings back memories from back in the day - where one would study these albums and their excellent tracks. IMO, the best were 1986 Out Now, 1981 Rocks On, 1982 With A Bullet, Choose 1985 & Summer '87. The first album I ever bought was Full Boar with the pig on the front cover with headphones and sunnies - plus a poster of the same! (which was a K-Tel comp.) - But as mentioned in this article, from 1980 when the record companies combined to come up with complilation albums the quality of sound and track listings improved somewhat. BTW - anyone got 1987 Into the Groove or '87 Right on Track on CD - these CD's are worth hundreds nowadays!

  8. Reading parts 1 and two, it's been an interesting read, and opinion, however when it comes to many of your worst tracks choices, I strongly disagree. When I got 88 Kix On, I pretty much nailed Cheap Tricks, "The Flame", I was a huge fan of power ballads back then, a musical style unique to the last two thirds of the 80s decade. I've recently reconstructed all these comps in lossless from my CDs, downloaded flacs, and mint condition 7 inch singles. It's fun having all these on my mobile, one that gets a good playing is the RCA comp; Dancing into the 80s, heaps of good disco stuff on there. From memory, I saw this one at our local Sound Advice around April 1980. Other favourites of mine include, Bullseye, Full Boar, Gone Troppo, Hitwave 81, Hitwave 82 (surprised you didn't mention that one, it's literally pure pop). The Winners 82 (still absolutely love this comp), Breakers 83, Thru the roof '83, Throbbin 84, Hit's Hot 84 85, Choose 1985, 1985 Comes Alive, Turn it up 1985, and my favourite of them all, Just Hits 85 86, so nice seeing a 21st century device playing this album with it's art work. :) And you know the biggest bummer of it all? They were so many good songs of the 80s that never made it onto the official compes. I've made my own hits series (warner polygram cbs side) to fill in all the gaps. I've done most of the EMI Festival RCAs, but still quite a few gaps to fill in, here is a snapshot of my unmastered project. The name of the project comes from the fact that every digital remaster sounds like dogs crap. The idea is to source the songs from as earlier pressings of cds and vinyls as possible.