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.)
There She Gos
Come on Eileen
Dexy’s Midnight Runners
Frankie Goes to Hollywood
On the Dark Side
Beaver Brown Band
If You Leave
Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (OMD)
What I Like About You
Rock This Town
Our Lips are Sealed
The Go Go’s
We’ve got he Beat
The Go Go’s
Goody Two Shoes
One Way or Another
Shook Me all Nigh Long
Take on Me
Walking on Sunshine
Katrina & the Waves
It’s the End of the World
When in Rome
Beds are Burning
I Cant Let Go
Stray Cats – rock this town 100bpm
INXS – new senseation – 57 bpm but a nice grindy climb
The clash – too many to mention
Spandau Ballet – Reformation, 70bpm – never had the courage to use this one as it sounds so retro
Echo Beach – Martha and the muffins – a genuine one hit wonder – 85bpm
The Cure – a forrest – tree mix. nicely jazzed up classic – 83bpm. use in a version of your speed/strength profile
Fine young cannibals – Good thing, (80 bpm)
Fine young cannibals – jonny come home, (66 bpm)
B52s – rock lobster, (1979!!!!) but its in as I like it so much. 92bpm
Don’t Stop Believin . . . Journey
White Wedding, Rebel Yell . . . Billy Idol
Call Me . . . Blondie
Things Can Only Get Better . . . Howard Jones—there is a remix with Cedric Gervais that is great and more current
Under Pressure/Let’s Dance/Modern Love/Dancin In the Streets . . . David Bowie also there is a great remix of Let’s Dance with InFiction String that I use at the college I teach at
Alive and Kicking . . . Simple Minds
While You See a Chance/The Finer Things . . . Steve Winwood
Stand Back/Edge of Seventeen . . . Stevie Nicks
Dance Hall Days . . . Wang Chung
I have a confession to make. I sort of missed the 80s for all the wrong reasons. They passed me by while I was working hard to establish myself in my (first) career. Last week I realized that I use some later Tina Turner. Does that count?
Ditto to the love for Bronski Beat. They were the soundtrack for quite a few all night bridge games fuelled by red wine (hey, even careerists have to have some fun!) I was surprised to see that I only use one piece by them in all my playlists. That will change very soon.
Oh, and Queen Living on my Own
Bonnie Tyler ‘I need a hero’ is a great song that my students love.
@Ed Paul, I too knew other Bronski Beat songs and was a big fan, but I bet very few people would ever remember anything else from them. I saw their name on several “One Hit Wonder” lists. I’m looking forward to watching that documentary on New Order – I read that he never made any money from the song, even though it was a big hit. Thanks for the link!
Some great suggestions here! This playlist is going to be incredible.
As incredible as it seems, they lost money on that song and the bigger it got, the more money they lost! Crazy.
Hard to limit, but here are a few faves:
On the Dark Side, John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band, 2:43, 84 bpm – quick and energetic climb
It’s In the Way That You Use It, Eric Clapton, 4:12, 100 bpm – excellent for fast cadence work – how can it get better when working on technique and the song tells you “It’s in the Way that You Use It”?
Take a Chance on Me, ABBA, 4:07, 107 bpm – I love this for an opening song
The Warrior, Scandal, 4:01, 123 bpm – great for gritting the teeth and muscling up a climb with the mantra that they are warriors
ROCK in the USA, John Mellencamp, 2:54, 82 bpm’s, excellent when used with On the Dark Side as short climbing intervals
Devil Inside, INXS, 5:13, 151 bpm’s – I love INXS, and this one has a great climbing beat
Bizarre Love Triangle, New Order, 6:42, 118 bpm’s – like Jen, I love New Order, and this is a great song. I use it for a heavy hill.
Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, Starship, 4:31, 96 bpm’s – great for a fast flat against the wind – chorus lyrics are great
Epic, Faith No More, 4:54, 87 bpm’s – love this song for a very aggressive climb
If You Leave, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, 4:29, 120 bpm – A great stretch/cool down song bc it reminds everyone of the Breakfast Club
Forgot to mention…if you like Blue Monday, you MUST see the documentary about the making of the song. Completely fascinating, IMHO, (about 28 mins long). Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qseAVl9ikxQ
Hey Jennifer, how can you say Bronski Beat was a one hit wonder? Their song. “Why?” was a big hit and their remake of “I Feel Love” (both on Age of Consent) in addition to “Hit That Perfect Beat Boy.” Sorry, but they were more than just one hit. BTW…only 3 songs from Depeche Mode??? Their catalogue is huge, including lots from their recent albums over the past few years, Songs of the Universe, and Delta Machine.
BLANCMANGE – Living On the Ceiling, 115 bpm, accelerations
THE CLASH – Police On My Back, 148 bpm, hill climb with leg speed surges
SLY FOX – Let’s Go All the Way, 98 bpm, fast cadence flat road…all the way!
PRINCE – Let’s Go Crazy, 96 bpm, fast flat
EDDY GRANT – Electric Avenue, 121 bpm, into song while class is setting up
THE LA’S – There She Goes, 123 bpm, recovery
Remix of MURRAY HEAD’s One Night In Bangkok by Vinyl Shakerz, 130 bpm, driving hill climb
ZZ TOP – Legs, 126 bpm, hill climb using those legs
THE FIXX – One Thing Leads to Another, 136 bpm, hill climb
TONE LOC – Wild Thing, 125bpm, progressive hill climb. Also a nice remix version released more recently with Peaches.
KISS ME – Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy, 123 bpm. Robbie Williams did a remake that’s good for cycling too.
UB40 – Don’t Break My Heart, cool down/stretch
TALK TALK – Life’s What You Make It, stretch
ELO – All Over the World, outro
You have to include – Back to the 80’s – Aqua (Warm-up or pre class) Great lyrics to set the stage for the rest of the class.
Janet Jackson, Escapade, Rhythm Nation 1814, 111 bpm?
Hi Great Idea thanks I will go though my songs and get back to you..Kathy
Lunatic Fringe, Red Ryder, hill song with a bite!
SPIRIT IN THE SKY BY: Norman Greenbaum ~ 3:15. Participants find a seated climb with cadences between 70 and 75 they can hold for at least 4 minutes. On the chorus they increase a few rpm’s until the chorus is over then add a little bit more resistance and increase again the next chorus. The last chorus they climb out of the saddle for a 20 sec. burst up to 80 rpm’s.
KARMA CHAMELEON by: Culture Club ~ 3:55. I use this song primarily for flat work. There’s are part where the song slows and builds up. I have them at the slow point find their preferred, comfortable cadence then have them add enough that will slow them a bit. From there as the song accumulates rpm’s, so do they so they know how to work hard on flats with resistance.
HOT FOR TEACH by: Van Halen ~ 4:44. I do lots of things with this song, but he focus is on just plain ol’ having fun! During the talking portions I engage the audience and have them blurt out the lyrics if they know it. You have to be particular with the kind of clientele and population you’re dealing with in this method.
Another alternative I often have them not necessarily do Spinning Jumps, but have them focus on their transitions from in and out of the saddle. Whether they choose a flat or climb doesn’t matter. I ask them to monitor which foot is on the down stroke when coming up and coming down. If it’s the same all the time, focus on switching.
DANCING WITH MYSELF by: Billy Idol ~ 3:30. One minute flat at threshold, 1 minute seated climb at threshold, 1 minute standing climb at threshold with an option to sprint at the end. When Billy is singing then screaming “sweat, sweat, sweat, it gives a new accountability partner.
DIAMOND’S ON THE SOLES OF HER SHOES by: Paul Simon ~ 5:25. I use this as a pre-cool down song after an intense class. The rhythm is beautiful for folks to use in order to get back their balance and flow; sort out stuff in their mind; reflect on their previous effort; allows time for all the blocks of energy it took to accumulate to an intense effort to come back down, i.e, mentally, emotionally, physiologically, and physically.
Are you on Spotify or do,you post on pedal-on
I like your music choices and the explanations on how you use the music
What a great idea. I will submit my songs!
This is great! 😉 I’ll have to go through my mind and iTunes library and get back to you!