Rob Sheffield’s 11 Favorite ’80s Songs to Talk About with Girls


Critic and author Rob Sheffield opened both his heart and his record collection to the public with his 2007 best-seller Love Is a Mixtape, chronicling his life with first wife Renée via mixtape and memory. Sheffield’s new book, out today, is called Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man’s Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut. The memoir follows the author through his awkward ’80s teenage years and recounts his awe of glittery pop and, more importantly, the girls who loved to talk about it.

“Girl language can’t be duplicated or faked,” says Sheffield. “When I was 16, the way that girls communicated with each other seemed so much more interesting. Duran Duran were these pretty boys and really girl-crazy, but in their videos and songs they’re not trying to tame these wild women, not trying to conquer or possess them. They’re just gazing at them and listening to them in this awestruck kind of way. That’s what made them relateable.” We asked Sheffield to curate a a video playlist chronicling his pursuit of girlie knowledge. His guided tour of the lacquered ladies of ’80s pop is after the jump.

Heart – “Nothin’ At All”

“Nothin’ At All” is the last single from Heart’s self-titled 1985 album, during their big hair and shoulder pads era, and VH1’s Behind the Music “treated this period of Heart like an aberration,” says Sheffield. “They didn’t write [this song] and they didn’t produce it, and they’re probably embarrassed of it, but it’s just great.” Hey, nothing screams “power” like reclining with a black cat and narrating your own music video from your posh backstage dressing room. Bonus fact: Sheffield is known to queue this one up at karaoke.

Eddie Money – “Shakin”

“So,” says Sheffield, “the girl [who happens to be Apollonia before she met Prince] stole her daddy’s car, and she takes Eddie Money for a ride. He’s scared of her driving… she’s ‘doin’ 80 and slammin’ on the brakes.’ It sums up the ’80s… where even someone like Eddie Money could be totally cool.” Unfortunately, the only recipient of a kiss in this video is the car. Sorry, Eddie.

New Order – “Temptation”

“It’s a great song about being completely crushed-out, jubilant, confused, and frightened. You’ve never met anyone like this girl before, and you don’t even know what color her eyes are. You’re wondering if they’re into you or not and, and as long as you’re dancing, you don’t have to make that decision,” says Sheffield. One of the few bright spots in New Order’s notoriously dark catalogue, “Temptation” could make even a heroin addict (namely, Ewan McGregor as Renton in Trainspotting) fall in love.

Bruce Springsteen – “Bobby Jean”

The Boss may have written a video love letter to Courtney Cox with “Dancin’ In the Dark,” but according to Sheffield, the real romance shows up in “Bobby Jean,” another track from Born in the USA: “He’s a mild-mannered, gawky boy who’s not sure if he’s cool enough or not, and he has this badass girl who’s a friend of his. It gives him confidence. He was such a pro-girl rock star.” In case you’ve A) never heard this song or B) never thought of Bruce as a geek, note this line: “Now you hung with me when all the others turned away, turned up their nose / We liked the same music, we liked the same bands, we liked the same clothes.” Bruce Springsteen and Duckie have more in common than you think.

Girlschool – “Yeah Right”

“There’s a story about Girlschool playing on Top of the Pops, and Jeff Beck was watching and said, ‘No way those girls are playing those instruments, and I will drive to the BBC to expose them!’ Then he was proven wrong.” Shoot, Beck didn’t trust a band under Lemmy’s wing? “Yeah Right” is Girlschool’s markedly Brit-tinged reaction to anyone daring to challenge their partying, and Sheffield lets us in on the extent of their sisterhood: when guitarist Kelly Johnson died in 2007, the remaining members of Girlschool put her ashes inside a percussion shaker so she could still be on their 2008 album, Legacy.

Lene Lovich – “New Toy”

“Not that I don’t love it, but ‘Material Girl’ is a rip of this song, both musically and lyrically. Lene Lovich in this video? Absolutely batshit crazy. Gwen Stefan’s hiccup-y voice has a lot to do with Lene Lovich,” Sheffield observes. Behold: one woman singlehandedly owns the gothy leanings of early ’80s New Wave while hinting at the room where you will find her with her “new toy” (hint: you sleep there).

Prince – “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”

“All of the girls who I was really in awe of in high school loved Prince,” says Sheffield. “I wanted to be like them and hear what they heard in Prince. ‘Let’s Pretend We’re Married’ is filthy and it’s funny, which is hard to do. And… it’s not a mean song at all.” Too bad Prince is a little less “gonna have fun every motherfuckin’ night” and a little more “I’m in love with God, he’s the only way” these days. Back in the ’80s, he had it all figured out.

Neneh Cherry – “Buffalo Stance”

Neneh Cherry only wished she was from Brooklyn (she was actually a Brit), but her video for a railing anthem against gigolos is still tarty fresh and oddly reminiscent of present-day M.I.A. album cover art. Sheffield tells us, “This is about hangin’ tough. ‘Wearing padded bras / drinkin’ beer through straws.’ Being tough girls and scaring everybody. ‘I give you love, baby, but not romance!’ Neneh Cherry watched a lot of Run-DMC videos, and no one told her she couldn’t do that, too.” We kinda want a gold dollar-sign necklace now.

Scritti Politti – “The Word Girl”

Click here for the video. (A warning for those of you at work: It will autoplay.)

“This is about having a romantic crush on a girl who’s smarter than you,” says Sheffield. “He’s trying to keep up with what she’s talking about and wanting to be smarter so he can hold his own. Plus, it’s got a reggae beat, which for some reason was very big in New Wave.” Remember: reading is sexy.

Haysi Fantayzee – “Shiny Shiny”

“Haysi Fantayzee were also sort of reggae-influenced, in that they never washed their hair, so they had dreadlocks,” Sheffield recalls. “They made one perfect record with some terrible rapping [1983’s Battle Hymns for Children Singing] that made Neneh Cherry sound like the master of the microphone. Kate Garner seemed touched by the music, like there’s some psychological damage there. This is some creepy New Wave.” Indeed, Garner’s vacant stare in this video can variously be described as piercing or just vaguely psychotic.

Duran Duran – “Rio”

Sheffield: “There’s this fascinating woman sneaking around a yacht, and none of them get to have a claim on her. They’re just passing through her ocean. It has the same theme as ‘Hungry Like the Wolf,’ where he doesn’t find her and catch her… they meet in the jungle and she leaves him with these big scratches all over his face. They weren’t too cool to be impressed by girls.”