As promised, it’s time to start collecting everyone’s favorite retro songs for Spinning® and indoor cycling classes. Will you add to this list? Just leave your suggestions in the comments below. If you want to receive the full list of all the songs, plus the winners of our 1980s profile and event contest, make sure to register here (it’s free).
I’m a product of the 1980s. My music tastes at the time leaned towards the more alternative and post-punk groups, as well as dance-house tracks. The Cure, Depeche Mode, and New Order were on the top of my list. I also was attracted to what turned out to be one-hit wonders. Bruce Springsteen was a favorite too, mostly from the late ’70s but The River, released in 1980, had a big impact on me. I painted an over-life-size mural of The Boss with Clarence Clemmons (from the Born to Run album) on my dorm-room hall at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) in 1982! (I was an art major at the time.)
One of the reasons I like using songs from the 1980s in my Spinning® classes is that many of them are a faster bpm, making them great to use in higher-cadence scenarios. For example, many songs from The Cure are good for cadences in the high 80s and low 90s. These days too many of the popular songs are in the 120–135 bpm range.
I’ve got hundreds of fun songs from the 1980s, but I want to just get you started and see what some of your favorites are, so I had to hold myself back in my list. You’ll see that many well-known pop songs and any metal songs of the era are missing from this list; that’s why I need your help! The plan is to compile all of these songs into one PDF for all instructors to download. So tell us your favorites and what you do to them! (If you have it, can you also post the album, the length, and the bpm? This way we don’t have to search for all that when we compile them.)
Jennifer’s top retro groups and tracks:
New Order. First comes my favorite 1980s track of all time. This is one I played over and over and over. I moved to San Francisco in 1985 and this and Depeche Mode are the songs that take me back to iconic dance clubs such as DV8 and the I-Beam. Even many years later this one was one of my favorite songs to ski to. There was no other song they played that I cared about.
- Blue Monday, New Order, 7:26, 131 bpm. This is a great long climb at 65 rpm. There are a lot of remixes of this, but in my opinion, nothing beats the original.
Interesting trivia about this song: It was the longest track to ever chart on the UK Singles Chart (maybe that’s one reason I liked it so much; I still prefer longer songs), and is the biggest-selling 12″ single of all time.
The Cure. I couldn’t pick one, or even two of my favorites, I had to go with five! These are all from the album Staring At The Sea: The Singles 1979–1985. You can do a series of 3- to 4-minute intervals with the following Cure songs, either increasing or decreasing cadence from one interval to the next.
- The Love Cats, 3:40, 92 bpm. Excellent for fast cadence intervals. And great for cat lovers!
- Close To Me, 3:41, 91 bpm. Also great for fast flat intervals.
- Primary, 3:36, 171 bpm. Not quite as fast as the two above.
- In Between Days, 2:57, 144 bpm. What a great dance song; probably my favorite of the era. On a bike, get on a moderately fast climb in the saddle.
- Let’s Go To Bed, 3:34, 128. The slowest of all of these. Load on the resistance and alternate seated with standing climbs.
Depeche Mode. After New Order and The Cure, probably my next favorite. I was into that synch-pop sound that was characteristic of 1980s alternative. These are all from the album The Singles 81–85.
- Master And Servant, 3:48, 128. In my top 10, perhaps even top 5 faves of the ’80s. Not sure why, I just really like this. Now, when I use it in a cycling class, it’s a vigorous but slow climb, percolating to the strong beat.
- Just Can’t Get Enough , 3:44, 130 bpm. Slow climb.
- People Are People, 3:46, 120 bpm. Really slow climb. If you can find a remix of this song that is faster, I think it works better.
The English Beat. I love the saxophone and the ska/punk rhythms of their songs. These songs are all from the album What is Beat.
- Save it for Later, 4:56, 129 bpm. This is their best-known hit. Stand up and climb on the chorus “Sooner or later.” The rest is a moderate intensity, easygoing climb.
- Best Friend, 3:05, 85 bpm. This short song for a flat road works well as a recovery in between harder intervals.
- Twist and Crawl, 2:35, 86 bpm. Even though it’s only 1 bpm faster than the previous song, the high energy makes this one better for a higher-intensity short interval!
- Mirror in the Bathroom, 3:09, 171 bpm. Another good high-intensity interval at 85 rpm. (Funny story…for the longest time, I thought the words were “meet her in the bathroom”!)
R.E.M. Who doesn’t love REM? When they broke up I even wrote a blog post about it and created a profile to mark the occasion. You can find that post and profile here. (Note: Not all of the songs are from the 1980s.) They have so many songs, it’s hard to limit myself to four of my favorites, but these four were all released in the 1980s.
- Don’t Go Back to Rockville, R.E.M., Reckoning, 4:32, 151 bpm. Nice moderate pace on a climb. There aren’t any highs or lows of this song; it’s nice and consistent throughout. Use it for a warm-up or easier climb.
- It’s the End of the World As We Know It, R.E.M., Document, 4:05, 103 bpm. Great very fast flat, for cadence drills.
- Driver 8, R.E.M., Fables of the Reconstruction, 3:24, 160 bpm. This one works really well as a warm-up song, or a flat break between harder segments.
- Can’t Get There From Here, R.E.M., Fables of the Reconstruction, 3:40, 147 bpm. Nice fast climb.
Other faves of the 1980s
- Situation, Yaz, The Best Of, 2:30, 121 bpm. I LOVED this group! This might be up there in my Top 10 or 12. Indoors it’s a slow climb.
- Burning Down the House, Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues, 4:01, 103 bpm. Once you’ve taught your students how to pedal quickly with great skill, see if they can hold this the entire time (with resistance of course)! It’s a killer.
- Wild Wild Life, Talking Heads, True Stories, 3:40, 138 bpm. A fun, perky song for alternating seated with standing climbs.
- Only A Lad, Oingo Boingo, Best O’ Boingo, 3:49, 189 bpm. The best of the underground alternative groups. My one year at UCSB introduced me to Oingo Boingo, a favorite of southern California. There wasn’t a party that didn’t blare this post-punk/ska group. At 94 rpm, this is another great high-cadence song. (Trivia…did you know the lead singer, Danny Elfman, is now an extremely successful composer for film and television, including composing the soundtracks for all of Tim Burton’s movies?!)
- Goody Two Shoes, Adam Ant, Friend or Foe, 3:28. 95 bpm. My roommate at UCSB was in love with Adam Ant, so I can’t think of the 1980s without thinking of her and this song! It has a great beginning for your cyclists; there’s no way to not grab that distinctive drum beat for your higher-cadence flats.
- She Sells Sanctuary, The Cult , Pure Cult: The Rock, 4:13, 144 bpm. Sometimes I can’t believe this is an ’80s song. It seems timeless. Indoors, it’s a great moderate-paced climb.
- Goodbye To You, Scandal featuring Patty Smyth, Patty Smyth’s Greatest Hits Featuring Scandal, 3:46, 160 bpm. Ride this one hard! This is a racing song, a slower flat road with a head wind or big gear, or a fast climb, however you feel like describing it. Stand and attack when she screams “Goodbye to you!”
- Relax, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Bang! The Best of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, 3:57, 120 bom. Lots of resistance; stand up every time it builds up to “Relax”!
- Working On The Highway, Bruce Springsteen, Born In The U.S.A., 3:12, 91 bpm. Perfect for when you need a moderately fast flat; works well for intervals (you can stress the “working” lyrics), and for cadence drills.
One-Hit Wonders. I had a thing for one-hit wonders; here are my favorites:
- Melt With You, Modern English, 4:13, 156 bpm. In my Top 10. This one is a wonderful fast climb at 78 rpm. You’ll stand every time he sings “I’ll stop the world and melt with you,” and stay through the chorus. This is especially fun after he slows down and hums at 3:05.
- Big Country, BIG COUNTRY, 3:55, 125 bpm. In my Top 5 for sure. Why oh why didn’t this group do anything else? I thought this song was so unique at the time—it didn’t sound like many of the other typical songs of the era. The Scottish accents and the bagpipes gave it an exotic sound. I use this in almost all of my retro playlists. You can only climb to it, and at 2:28 you power out of the saddle after he sings “When every single hope has been shattered” until 2:45.
- Genius of Love, Tom Tom Club, Tom Tom Club, 5:35, 103 bpm. I use this song a LOT! It never gets old to me and always brings a smile to my riders’ faces, especially at the lyrics “James Brown…James Brown.” At 103 bpm, I use it for cadence drills pushing to about threshold. If my students are skilled they can hold it the entire time. If they are still developing the skills, then I let them do it in 60- to 90-second intervals at 103 rpm, then a short 30-second break, then come back to the higher cadence.
- Smalltown Boy, Bronski Beat, The Age of Consent, 5:03. The pain in this artist is so discernible. I find it to be a climb that I want to sit the entire time. If you need to stand, do so when he sings “Run away turn away run away.”
- Politics of Dancing, Re-Flex, The Politics of Dancing, 3:57. This was another of my top favorite dancing songs in college; I’d grab whoever was near me to drag out on the dance floor. The shorter original is somewhat hard to find these days—you have to purchase the entire album on iTunes to get it—but you can find a longer extended version (6+ minutes), which I think is even better. In your cycling classes, it’s definitely a climb (I don’t know the bpm, but it’s lower 60s for rpm). Stay seated until the chorus, when you stand on “The politics of dancing.”
- Belly Of The Whale, Burning Sensations, Burning Sensations, 5:02, 86 bpm. Released in 1983, this was a little-known song with a reggae influence. I only discovered it about 5 years ago. Not sure why I never heard it back then; I think it’s every bit as good as some of the most famous songs of the era! I use it a lot and my students are always surprised to hear it’s from the 1980s. Use it as either a moderate-speed flat, or as a very fast climb, with surges (seated or standing) when he sings “I feel like Jonah in the belly of the whale.”
So, what’s your favorite songs from the 1980s?
If possible, please post it in the same order I have my songs listed above, so we have some consistency (it will make it so much easier to compile into a larger consistent list): Song Title, Artist, Album, Length, BPM
(Note: If you don’t have the bpm, don’t sweat it. But if you do, please include it!)
Remember to register HERE for the free compilation of all our favorites
from the 1980s plus the theme profiles and events.
(It will be sent in mid-June.)