35 essential Synth Pop songs of the history

35 essential Synth Pop songs of the history

The rise of synthesizers in Pop music

This is not the usu­al art­icle about the prim­or­di­al soup of elec­tron­ic music. So it's not a story about the first elec­tromech­an­ic­al piano from 1867 or the first com­puter music from the 1950s. There were already many elec­tron­ic music­al instru­ments in the 1960s, but they were a nerdy niche. The art­icle "35 essen­tial Synth Pop songs of the his­tory" is about the tri­umph of Synth Pop and accept­ance of elec­tron­ic music, which was soon to become main­stream from that time on.

The genres of New Wave, Post-Punk or Disco are often used on one or the oth­er track. There is rarely a clear-cut music­al style, as everything is influ­enced by everything else, which makes blends sound more inter­est­ing and is import­ant for pro­gress­ive development.

However, these are the essen­tial Synth Pop songs from 1978 – 1986 before syn­thes­izers was accep­ted as mainsstream music. They build the fun­da­ment­al sound of Synth Pop until today. We cel­eb­rate those music­al pion­eers by hon­our­ing them in this import­ant list '35 essen­tial Synth Pop songs of the his­tory'. In addi­tion, this list also con­tains all the import­ant tracks that have shaped my music­al taste and inflamed my heart for Synth Pop.

The 35 essential Synth Pop songs in chronical order

Blondie – Heart Of Glass (1978)

Blondie – Heart Of Glass (1978)Debbie Harry and Chris Stein wrote the song 'Heart Of Glass' already in 1974–1975. However, the song only became a Synth Pop Disco pearl with the help of pro­du­cer Mike Chapman in 1978. 'Heart Of Glass' is taken from the album 'Parallel Lines' by 'Blondie'. The song was released as a Single in 1979.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 1, UK: 1, US: 1

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Kraftwerk – The Model (1978)

Kraftwerk – The Model (1978)'Das Model' by Kraftwerk is prob­ably the best-known and com­mer­cially most suc­cess­ful song by the German band from Düsseldorf. About the pion­eers of elec­tron­ic music there is not much I have to say. 'Kraftwerk' has influ­enced more than just the genre of Synth Pop. You can read about my per­son­al rela­tion­ship and first con­tact with their music on the page 'The story behind the ori­gin of Electrozombies'.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 7, UK: 1, US: – 

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Gary Numan – Cars (1979)

Gary Numan - Cars (1979)'Cars' is the lead Single from Gary Numan's album 'The Pleasure Principle' from 1979. After the rebrand­ing of 'Tubeway Army', this was the first release as 'Gary Numan'. The music video still radi­ates the won­der­ful aes­thet­ics of 70s space age design. I guess this is my favour­ite 70s music video.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 45, UK: 1, US: 9

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OMD – Electricity (1979)

OMD - Electricity (1979)Shortly before the begin­ning of the new dec­ade, the debut single 'Electricity' by 'OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark)' is released. The warm, ana­logue sound of the 70s can still be clearly heard through the char­ac­ter­ist­ic bass line. The naive syn­thes­izer melody, how­ever, cata­pults the track into the early 80s. As you can see from the peak pos­i­tions in the charts, this song was not worth men­tion­ing on main­stream radio, but for the elec­tron­ic pion­eers of OMD it is the fun­da­ment of their suc­cess­ful career.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: – , UK: 99, US: – 

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John Foxx – Underpass (1980)

John Foxx – Underpass (1980)After John Foxx left 'Ultravox', 'Underpass' was the first single as a solo artist. The single was released in 1980 on the icon­ic Synth Pop clas­sic album 'Metamatic'. The music video is typ­ic­al 80s, but for­tu­nately not in the cheesy music video style. Despite its con­sid­er­able age, the song is simply time­less and would work just as well as a new song today.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: – , UK: 31, US: – 

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Visage – Fade To Grey (1980)

Visage – Fade To Grey (1980)To this day, 'Fade To Grey' by 'Visage' is one of the fig­ure­heads of the early 80s New Wave / New Romantic move­ment. In terms of con­tent and sound, I find this song abso­lutely time­less. Cold, min­im­al­ist sound for an uneasy mood, dis­guised in an eas­ily digest­ible Synth Pop song. Ingenious!

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 1, UK: 8, US: – 

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Kim Wilde ‎– Kids In America (1981)

Kim Wilde ‎– Kids In America (1981)With a deep pump­ing bass line, the hit 'Kids In America' opens the year 1981. The post-punk influ­ence can be heard and seen strongly. With this debut single, 'Kim Wilde' also had her inter­na­tion­al break­through. A music­al rock­et launch, so to speak. Mistakenly you would assume a num­ber 1 hit here, but except in Finland and South Africa the single nev­er made it to the top of the big charts. Nevertheless, a fant­ast­ic song.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 5, UK: 2, US: 25

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The Human League – Don't You Want Me (1981)

The Human League – Don't You Want Me (1981)Of course "Don't You Want Me" by 'The Human League' to in this list is an oblig­at­ory entry. This is an abso­lute clas­sic in terms of the orgin of Synth Pop and New Wave. The song from the must-have album 'Dare' is still the band's most com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful song. The song had numer­ous num­ber one place­ments world­wide and even more top ten entries.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 5, UK: 1, US: 1

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Soft Cell – Tainted Love (1981)

Soft Cell - Tainted Love (1981)The song 'Tainted Love' by 'Soft Cell' is prob­ably the most fam­ous cov­er ver­sion in the his­tory of the early Synth Pop / New Wave move­ment. The ori­gin­al is by 'Gloria Jones' from 1965 and Soft Cell secured sev­er­al num­ber 1 hits in vari­ous coun­tries with this classic.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 1, UK: 1, US: 8

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Yazoo – Don't Go (1982)

Yazoo - Don't Go (1982)After Vince Clark left 'Depeche Mode', he had a short band pro­ject with Alison Moyet called 'Yazoo' before his band 'Erasure'. The songs that were released were all suc­cess­ful. The most influ­en­tial, how­ever, was "Don't Go" from the 1982 album "Upstairs At Eric's".

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 4, UK: 3, US: 1

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Heaven 17 – Temptation (1982)

Heaven 17 - Temptation (1982)The music video is visu­ally an 80s icon, while the song itself has aged very well. You don't really notice the song's age. The song is taken from the album 'The Luxury Gap' and is still a must at every 80s party.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 11, UK: 2, US: 34

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A Flock Of Seagulls – I Ran (So Far Away) (1982)

A Flock Of Seagulls - I Ran (So Far Away) (1982)In the song 'I Ran (So Far Away)', many typ­ic­al 70s song ele­ments (drums and bass) can still be clearly heard and filtered out. Skilfully mixed with a syn­thes­iser, the band 'A Flock Of Seagulls' has turned it into an early 80s New Wave clas­sic. Interestingly, the song was not so well received in its own coun­try and had its highest place­ment at No. 43. Unjustified, in my opin­ion. For me, the song was worth a No. 1 rank­ing. At least they man­aged to do that in Australia.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 31, UK: 43, US: 9

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ABC – The Look Of Love – Pt.1 (1982)

ABC - The Look Of Love - Pt.1 (1982)Everything about the song 'The Look Of Love' is so early 80s. The clichéd stage music video, the life­style in the lyr­ics and of course the typ­ic­al Synth Pop sound with the funky gui­tar in the back­ground. 'ABC' may be the most notori­ous "Poppers" of the 80s, as they are just not a gritty band for the Synth Pop and New Wave move­ment, but the song still influ­enced many and is loved by every Synthie.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 36, UK: 4, US: 18

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Kajagoogoo ‎– Too Shy (1983)

Kajagoogoo ‎– Too Shy (1983)In early 1983, the song 'Too Shy' by 'Kajagoogoo' was released from the prob­ably less­er known album 'White Feathers'. Here, radio-stand­ard Pop music merges with Synth Pop ele­ments, which were com­mer­cially extremely suc­cess­ful. However, it was more pop­u­lar with the very young tar­get group (tweens and teen­agers). Even though the band released sev­er­al singles, only 'Too Shy' was heard on the radio. For Kajagoogoo, this is only a one-hit won­der, while Limahl had anoth­er brief suc­cess as a solo artist with 'Neverending Story'. BTW. The Single 'Too Shy' was pro­duced by none oth­er than Nick Rhodes and Colin Thurston (Duran Duran).

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 1, UK: 1, US: 5

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Eurythmics ‎– Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (1983)

Eurythmics ‎– Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (1983)The first music video I saw of 'Eurythmics' was 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)'. The song and visu­als was revolu­tion­ary in terms of sound and aes­thet­ics at that time. The atyp­ic­al, andro­gyn­ous Annie Lennox in a fant­ast­ic, abstract music video and the cold elec­tron­ic sound were way ahead of the time. The song is not only burnt into my memory and has left its mark.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 4, UK: 2, US: 1

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Madonna ‎– Holiday (1983)

Madonna ‎– Holiday (1983)Only (or already) the third single 'Holiday' helped 'Madonna' to her inter­na­tion­al break­through. The song comes from the self-titled debut album 'Madonna'. Now, from today's per­spect­ive, most people think: "What is Madonna doing in this list?". Madonna mainly stands for radio-friendly Pop music. In 1983 it was a dif­fer­ent story and 'Holiday' was an extraordin­ary Synth Pop hit.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 9, UK: 2, US: 16

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Real Life ‎– Send Me An Angel (1983)

Real Life ‎– Send Me An Angel (1983)The band 'Real Life' made it into the charts twice with the song 'Send Me An Angel'. The first release from the album 'Heartland' (1983–1984) and then an updated ver­sion from 1989. A Synth Pop song that the Cure Heads move­ment also danced to, beside dark­er tracks in the under­ground disco.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 1, UK: – , US: 29

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New Order – Blue Monday (1983)

https://youtu.be/nOTRqbEKgXM

New Order – Blue Monday (1983)Anyone who wants to fill up the elec­tron­ic dance floor today, just start 'Blue Monday' by 'New Order'. This icebreak­er is a guar­an­tee for a dance-happy audi­ence. When the song appeared in 1983, how­ever, the track was revolu­tion­ary in sound. The band man­aged to suc­cess­fully com­bine Post Punk with Disco ele­ments to cre­ate this mas­ter­piece. Incidentally, it is one of the few tracks that made it into the British charts with a remark­able (not radio-friendly) length of 7:29 minutes.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 2, UK: 9, US: 5

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Alphaville – Big In Japan (1983)

Alphaville - Big In Japan (1983)The debut single 'Big In Japan' by 'Alphaville' from the legendary Synth Pop album 'Forever Young' was a huge suc­cess for the band. Number 1 in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland and numer­ous Top 10 place­ments in oth­er coun­tries. Even though the song is very poppy, the lyr­ics are typ­ic­ally rather dark and deal with the dreams of a dif­fer­ent life of a drug addict.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 1, UK: 8, US: 66

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Frankie Goes To Hollywood ‎– Relax (1983)

Frankie Goes To Hollywood ‎– Relax (1983)I think 'Relax' from 'Frankie Goes To Hollywood' has more num­ber 1 rank­ings world­wide than any oth­er song in this list. So it was a pop­u­lar song in 1983! Well, there's no deny­ing the song has hit poten­tial. The cool elec­tron­ics were way ahead of their time back then. The ques­tion I still ask myself today (I was only 9 years old when the song came out) is wheth­er the song was so suc­cess­ful because it was good or because it was so con­tro­ver­sial? There were sev­er­al radio bans because of the sug­gest­ive, sexu­al lyr­ics and the music video was also banned for a long time. MTV, for example, did not air the first ver­sion of the music video because of the scenes of a S&M gay nightclub. Forbidden things magic­ally attract young people in par­tic­u­lar, per­haps that's why the run on the Single. I was too young to under­stand, but loved the song deeply.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 1, UK: 1, US: 10

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Spandau Ballet ‎– Gold (1983)

Spandau Ballet ‎– Gold (1983)Another import­ant hit with ear­worm poten­tial is 'Gold' by 'Spandau Ballet'. If tracks like 'Relax' were still pro­voc­at­ive, oth­er bands have sub­ver­ted the sys­tem more subtly. Synth Pop had to become more and more radio-friendly in order to get a cer­tain fan base. The New Wave band achieved this goal with this hit, among others.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 16, UK: 2, US: 29

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Tears For Fears – Shout (1984)

Tears For Fears - Shout (1984)As with many oth­er Synth Pop songs, 'Shout' by 'Tears For Fears' con­veys a ser­i­ous mes­sage via a catchy, radio-ready song. It's about polit­ic­al protest, at the time of the cold war, against the pos­sible con­sequences of a third world war. More widely inter­preted, protest­ing in gen­er­al and not simply accept­ing suf­fer­ing and injustice. By the way, there is a fant­ast­ic cov­er ver­sion done by 'Scandroid' that you should listen to as well.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 1, UK: 4, US: 1

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Ultravox ‎– Dancing With Tears In My Eyes (1984)

Ultravox ‎– Dancing With Tears In My Eyes (1984)The clas­sic 'Dancing With Tears in My Eyes' by 'Ultravox' is one of those Synth Pop / New Wave songs where the syn­thes­izer is not neces­sar­ily the dom­in­ant instru­ment. It is more or less bal­anced with the ana­logue instru­ments like bass, gui­tar and drums. Today stand­ard for many Pop songs, but at that time still a nov­elty and for many too electronic.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 7, UK: 3, US: 108

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Duran Duran – The Wild Boys (1984)

Duran Duran - The Wild Boys (1984)Besides the cool, elec­tron­ic sounds of 'Wild Boys', the music video should be men­tioned here as well. It embod­ies the early 80s like no oth­er. Doomsday atmo­sphere, No Future Generation, Mad Max styled set­ting, cyborgs and mul­lets. In addi­tion, the cost of the video was over a mil­lion pounds, which was an astro­nom­ic­al amount at the time. But in return, world­wide broad­cast­ing and suc­cess were as good as guar­an­teed. The song landed sev­er­al No. 1 place­ments world­wide or in the front ranks of the Top Ten.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 1, UK: 2, US: 2

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Talk Talk ‎– Such A Shame (1984)

Talk Talk ‎– Such A Shame (1984)The British band 'Talk Talk' is also one of the big­ger ones of the early 80s Synth Pop and New Wave move­ment. Their biggest suc­cess was with 'Such A Shame' from the album "It's My Life". Side fact: What sounds like a sup­posed ele­phant sample at the begin­ning of the song is an arti­fi­cially pro­duced syn­thes­izer sound!

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 2, UK: 49, US: 89

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Dead Or Alive ‎– You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) (1984)

Dead Or Alive ‎– You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) (1984)Alongside Boy George (Culture Club) and Steve Strange (Visage), Pete Burns from 'Dead Or Alive' was anoth­er great andro­gyn­ous light fig­ure of the early 80s Synth Pop move­ment. With the song 'You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)' from the album 'Youthquake', the band man­aged to score sev­er­al num­ber one hits and numer­ous oth­er top ten entries.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 2, UK: 1, US: 11

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Depeche Mode – People Are People (1984)

Depeche Mode – People Are People (1984)

Of course, 'People Are People' by 'Depeche Mode' should not be miss­ing from this list. For one thing, this song is spe­cial because, des­pite its rad­ic­al sound ideas and effects, it man­aged to achieve sev­er­al top ten pos­i­tions and even num­ber 1 in Germany. And Depeche Mode doesn't have many num­ber 1 pos­i­tions. The music is prob­ably too unwieldy for the main­stream. Furthermore, the band made their inter­na­tion­al break­through with 'People Are People' from the album 'Some Great Reward'. I also have a very per­son­al con­nec­tion to the song, which I explain in more detail on the page 'The story behind the ori­gin of Electrozombies'.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 1, UK: 4, US: 13

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Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy (1984)

Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy (1984)Jimmy Somerville from 'Bronski Beat' had a fant­ast­ic hit with 'Smalltown Boy' by reflect­ing the homo­phobic people in his old town lyr­ic­ally. The tra­gic lyr­ics are trans­por­ted via a very catchy Synth Pop melody and there­fore rightly deserve the suc­cess. This is also a clas­sic dance floor filler till today.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 3, UK: 3, US: 48

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Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls (1984)

Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls (1984)1984 was the year of the great inter­na­tion­al Synth Pop break­through. More and more bands landed chart pos­i­tions with elec­tron­ic songs. One of them was none oth­er than the 'Pet Shop Boys', who imme­di­ately shot through the roof with their debut 'West End Girls'. The accom­pa­ny­ing debut album 'Please', which was released almost two years later, also landed decent chart pos­i­tions and sold more than 3 mil­lion cop­ies worldwide.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 2, UK: 1, US: 1

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Anne Clark – Sleeper In Metropolis (1984)

Anne Clark – Sleeper In Metropolis (1984)

Besides the big chart place­ments and how Synth Pop and New Wave made it more and more into the radi­os, there was also a small revolu­tion in the under­ground club scene. While at the end of the 70s and begin­ning of the 80s mainly Disco or Rock dom­in­ated the dis­cotheques, smal­ler clubs also offered elec­tron­ic music a stage. In addi­tion to the chart hits already men­tioned, new, dark­er bands like 'Front 242', 'The Neon Judgement' and 'Anne Clark' were also play­ing. With Anne Clark's biggest hit 'Sleeper In Metropolis' she is still played in clubs today.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: – , UK: – , US: – 

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Kate Bush ‎– Running Up That Hill (1985)

Kate Bush ‎– Running Up That Hill (1985)'Running Up The Hill' is without a doubt a bril­liant song! It's weird to think that sing­er-song­writer 'Kate Bush' makes almost exclus­ively acous­tic music and that her biggest hit is a Synth Pop / New Wave icon. Or did this song just get more atten­tion in 1985 because more radio play­time was being giv­en to elec­tron­ic music? Here, the bound­ary between scene music and main­stream is soften­ing more and more and is dif­fi­cult to sep­ar­ate in retrospect.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 3, UK: 3, US: 30

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Propaganda ‎– p: Machinery (1985)

Propaganda ‎– p: Machinery (1985)

Cold, metal­lic-sound­ing pre­ci­sion was also to be heard from the German Synth Pop band 'Propaganda' in 1985. A band name that was pro­voc­at­ively chosen just 40 years after the NS regime of the Third Reich and at the peak of the RAF and there­fore caused quite a stir. Of course, the Düsseldorf band only flir­ted with it and even if they were not quite as suc­cess­ful as 'Kraftwerk', the band does not need to hide behind their city col­leagues. Songs like 'p: Machinery' were also played more in dark clubs than on the radio. Still, an import­ant and great song.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 26, UK: 50, US: – 

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A‑ha – The Sun Always Shines On T.V. (1985)

A-ha - The Sun Always Shines On T.V. (1985)'A‑Ha' had count­less Synth Pop hits in the 80s as a boy band with an extreme girl charm factor. Yes, I know this should be the big­ger hit 'Take On Me', but I just like the second single 'The Sun Always Shines On T.V.' much bet­ter. It's a bit dark­er and doesn't have that huge Pop factor. Not true, it does, but the music video with the man­nequin dolls is really creepy. Synth Pop has def­in­itely arrived in main­stream Pop in 1985.

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 5, UK: 1, US: 20

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Erasure ‎– Sometimes (1986)

Erasure ‎– Sometimes (1986)From 1985 until the end of the dec­ade, the charts are vir­tu­ally over­run by elec­tron­ic music, mostly Synth Pop. What was still under­ground a few years earli­er, at the end of the 70s, now dom­in­ates the charts. Among oth­er things, 'Erasure' made their grand entrance into the world of the greatest Synth Pop bands in his­tory in 1986 with the song 'Sometimes' along with "Oh L'Amour".

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 2, UK: 2, US: – 

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Level 42 – Lessons In Love (1986)

Level 42 - Lessons In Love (1986)The song 'Lessons In Love' by 'Level 42' was very suc­cess­ful select­ively. Similar to 'Kate Bush', the band comes from a com­pletely dif­fer­ent music­al dir­ec­tion. Since the begin­ning of the 80s, the band has pro­duced music styles such as Jazz-Funk or Pop-Rock. With the use of syn­thes­izers, the band first slid some­what in the dir­ec­tion of New Wave and then had its greatest suc­cess with the Synth Pop hit in 1986. Those were the golden years of Synth Pop!

Peak pos­i­tion in the charts: Germany: 1, UK: 3, US: 12

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Listen to our Spotify list of '35 essential Synth Pop songs of the history'

And here is the offi­cial Spotify playl­ist for this art­icle. Ideal for on the road, while doing house­work or just to enjoy and dream.

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Have you enjoyed the list of '35 essential Synth Pop songs of the history'?

Of course there were many oth­er amaz­ing bands that con­trib­uted to the New Wave / Synth Pop revolu­tion. Nevertheless, this list ends here. If you think a band or song should def­in­itely be men­tioned, please post it in the com­ments below. After review they will be approved and the list of '35 essen­tial Synth Pop songs of the his­tory' can be extended.