20 Best Melancholic Indie Songs of UK‘s Bittersweet 80s

The punk music from the 70s paved the way for considerable 80s bands of new music genres like postpunk, indie, synthpop, dark wave and gothic rock. Especially the UK spawned bands that became world famous and created numerous musical classics of popular music.

Numerous UK´s melancholic indie songs from the 80s became world famous

Exceedingly in the UK, 80s indie solo artists and bands conjured up melancholic masterpieces and made melancholy a listening pleasure. In this diversity and artistic value, the melancholy of the UK’s 80s in popular music was perhaps unmatched anywhere in the world.

Especially UK indie bands shaped the 80s with their melancholic masterpieces. Again and again we see movies that underlay scenes with 80s indie music. Even after many decades after their creation, these bittersweet melancholic songs have not lost their musical strength, have achieved timeless beauty and are now world famous.

An attempt to describe the adjective melancholic

If you look up synomyms for the term melancholic in online dictionaries, they list adjectives like sad, unhappy, depressed.
Good melancholic indie music, however, cannot be fully equated with these negatively afflicted words. Timelessly beautiful melancholic songs composed out of creativity describe a momentary not cheerful emotional state, but in such an extraordinary way that it can give you subliminal joy.

1. Morrissey - Everyday is like Sunday

Morrissey solidified the beginning of his solo career with “Everyday is like Sunday“ as the third single release from his debut album Viva Hate. Shortly before that, he was the singer and songwriter of one of the most successful indie bands ever: The Smiths.

“Everyday is like Sunday“ is a song that has on the subject, which we have probably all somehow experienced ourselves. Sundays, when there is no work to do and we can not spend quality time with friends, is not always a day of merriment. The music video is a great representation of the melancholy and frustration of a young woman.

The single reached #9 in the UK Top 40 chart in 1988.

2. Depeche Mode - Never Let Me Down Again

The song "Never let me down again" by the British band Depeche Mode is based on an epic, monumental sound construct with well-tempered melancholy, not too much, not too little. Musically, "Never let me down again" finds perfection in the optimal tuning and expression of singer Dave Gahan's voice.

The music video has the video director ingeniously matched to the pace of the song. In walking pace up to a dragging tempo you see Dave Gahan dragging on almost with his last strength. Until he finally has to be supported by his bandmates to get ahead at all.

The song was released in August 1987, reached number 22 in the UK charts and could climb up to position 2 in the German single charts.

3. Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart

"Love will tear us apart" by the British band Joy Division is a melancholic indie classic, which is assigned to the music genres of post-punk and new wave. 

Gaylord Fields wrote in RollingStone in 2012:" THIS HAUNTING ODE to romantic melancholia was the crowning moment in Joy Division's brief career, ...".

The single was released in June 1980, reaching #13 in the Official UK Singles Chart (OCC) and #1 in the UK Indie Chart. "Love will tear us apart" has cult status and is recognized in numerous best songs of all time lists, published by renowned music magazines like NME or RollingStone.

4. New Order - The Perfect Kiss

Arguably one of the most remarkable indie 12-inch singles, "The Perfect Kiss" of New Order is an epic timeless piece of 80's contemporary history.

The musical song structure of "The Perfect Kiss" is very complex. A melancholic undertone is also unmistakable in this track - as in numerous New Order music pieces.

The not only critically acclaimed but also commercially successful indie band recorded the song in a sleepless 72-hour session. It also looks to me in the music video like all the band members are pretty exhausted and hoping this take will be good enough to finish recording the song. In fact, the video shows the band during this long sleepless session.

For about 13 years, New Order couldn't perform the track live because the conversion of the programs from the E-mu to the Roland synthesizer was enormously complicated.

The song was released in May 1985 and managed to reach position 46 as the highest positioning in the UK charts.

5. The Smiths - Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before

The song „Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before“ by british indie band The Smiths remarkably brings out the congenial songwriting Talents of Morrissey and Johnny Marr: The special melancholy of Johnny Marr's music, which makes many a rainy day a lot more bearable, and Morrissey's extraordinary lyrics, which is almost impossible to predict.

The single was not released in the UK, but was released in the US and other countries in 1987.
In 2007, the British producer, DJ and songwriter released a cover version of the song, in which Daniel Merriweather took over the vocals.

6. Peter Murphy - A Strange Kind of Love

The single "A Strange Kind of Love" by the British artist Peter Murphy undoubtedly has a melancholic mood, however, the CD Review magazine wrote: "communicates feelings of hope," (Compared to the predominantly dark songs of the band Bauhaus, where Peter Murphy was the singer.).

There are four different versions of the song "A Strange Kind of Love".
I have chosen the Deep Album version or "Version One" for this playlist, because I feel that it gets under your skin the most.

Now you could quickly find out on the internet on Wikipedia or big online music databases that the single was only released in July 1990.
But the album Deep, on which "A Strange Kind of Love" appeared, came out in december 1989.
It would be a shame if this profound ballad didn't appear in this 80s playlist because of that.

The single failed to make the UK charts, but landed in the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart as the best placing at #21.

7. Ultravox - Lament

The song deals, as the song title suggests, the lamenting („… Returns that softly sighing lament …“) and has a suitable pinch of melancholy. However, after pain follows positive again: „…after all the pain the twist in my life starts healing …“.

Finally, from the song's lyrics, it becomes clear that pain and healing alternate over and over again.

The song text is quite short and it follows but after the vocal part a long instrumental concluding part, in which only the word „lament“ is repeated a few more times.

Ultravox was not an indie band per se, but the song fits very well in this song compilation.

The single was released in June 1984 and managed to reach number 22 in the official UK charts.

8. Echo And The Bunnymen - The Killing Moon

The song "The Killing Moon" by the British band Echo & The Bunnymen is a timeless melancholic masterpiece of the 80s.

The story of how the song came to be is fascinating. In an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian about the genesis of "The Killing Moon," Ian McCulloch revealed that he played the song Space Oddity by David Bowie backwards and then started tinkering with the chords.

The single was released in the UK in January 1984, reaching the top 10 of the UK single charts at #9 and was one of the band's three most successful UK single chart successes.

9. Siouxsie and the Banshees - Happy House

The melody of the song Happy House by the british band Siouxsie and the Banshees has a rather melancholic character, not as the title "Happy House" suggests.

In an interview on the 1982 Dutch music program Pop-Electron, Siouxsie revealed, that the lyrics of the song are meant rather sarcastically, because reality is not such a perfect world, as we are led to believe in commercials, among other things.

Italian Eurodance project Capella sampled the song "Happy House" in 1993, reaching #10 on the UK Singles Chart in 1994.

The single was released in March 1980 and reached #17 on the UK Singles Chart.

10. Anne Clark - Sleeper In Metropolis

"Sleeper in Metropolis" is a song by British singer-songwriter Anne Clark. The track advanced to one of the biggest melancholic dark wave dancefloor hits of the 80s, and is still played up and down in alternative radio stations and clubs with indie, alternative or electronic audience.

It is surprising that Anne Clark could not primordially achieve the success in UK as abroad.

In the lyrics of "Sleeper in Metropolis", Anne Clark criticizes society by pointing out the dark side, especially the anonymity in very large cities, the metropolises: "... Love is dead in metropolis. All contact through glove or partition ...."

11. The Stranglers - Golden Brown

The song "Golden Brown" by the British band The Stranglers has a very pleasant melancholic melody and gave the band the biggest chart success in the UK singles charts.

The band originally wanted to use the basic melody of Golden Brown only as a minor component of another song. In the end, it evolved into a song in its own right and Golden Brown became a timeless pop classic of the 80s.

The single was released in January 1982 and made it all the way to #2 on the UK Singles Chart.

12. The Chameleons UK - Tears

The melancholic song "Tears" by the British band The Chameleons has been released in several versions, a more rock version and several more acoustic versions.

The Chameleons are a lesser known in the mainstream and commercially not so successful band of the 80s. Nevertheless, The Chameleons inspired numerous bands such as Oasis, The Editors, The Flaming Lips, as well as the band Interpol and Moby from New York.

The single "Tears" was released in 1986 and reached #85 on the UK Singles Chart that same year.

13. The Cure - A Night Like This

The song "A Night Like This" by the British band The Cure is wonderful melancholy with concise drums, impressive electric guitars and the unmistakable voice of Robert Smith.

The song is included on the 1985 album "The Head on The Door" and on the singles compilation "The Cure: Staring At The Sea - The Singles".

14. Cocteau Twins - Lorelei

The song "Lorelei" by the British band "Cocteau Twins" appeared on their album Treasure - released in 1984- and on the promo vinyl sampler - released in 1985 - which includes three other songs from the album Treasure.

Lorelei is one of the first dreampop songs from the 80s. Cocteau Twins' label 4AD is famous for the first ever dreampop performers.

15. Talk Talk - Time It‘s Time

The song "Time It's Time" by the British band Talk Talk has a touch of melancholy, radiates great confidence and the lyrics are very life-affirming: „…Time it's time to live…“.

Talk Talk was commercially very successful in the mid-80s, but broke out of the commercial corset quite quickly and released avant-garde works in the direction of jazz at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s.

The song "Time It's Time" is the last piece of music on the album "The Colour Of Spring" (released in 1986). The song has the considerable duration of 8:53 minutes.

16. Hazel o’Connor - Will You?

The song "Will You?" by Hazel O'Connor is a melancholic 80s ballad from the soundtrack of the movie "Breaking Glass". 
However, the song was not written especially for the film, but the songwriting happened much earlier.
The saxophone part especially intensifies the intensity of the song.
The single was released in May 1981 and reached #8 in the UK singles charts.

17. UB40 - Food for Thought

Originally intended as a B-side single, the song "Food for Thought" gave UB40 their first commercial success. 

An interesting side fact is that the band couldn't afford a studio for the recording, so the single and the entire album were recorded at producer Bob Lamb's home in his bed-sit.

The single reached #4 in the official UK singles charts and #1 in the UK Independent Singles Chart (UK indie chart) in 1980.

18. A.C. Marias - One of Our Girls (Has Gone Missing)

A.C. Marias was a notable alternative music side project of band members of the British band Wire and Angela Conway, who produced music videos for Wire and other bands. 

The song "One of Our Girls (Has Gone Missing)“ from the album of the same name is characterized by the ethereal vocals of Angela Conway and the strikingly simple and monotonous drum machine, but overall decidedly atmospheric instrumentation.

The album with the The album "One of Our Girls (Has Gone Missing)" with the track of the same name was released in June 1989.

19. Erasure - Ship of Fools

With the song "Ship of Fools" the English band, or rather the synth-pop duo, Erasure once again scored a UK single chart hit: In 1988 the single made it to #6 on the UK Single Chart and #1 on the UK Indie Single Chart.

The track manages to keep the balance between melancholy and musical lightness, so the listener experiences feather-light melancholic synth pop.

20. The Psychedelic Furs - Love My Way

"Love My Way" by the English band The Psychedelic Furs is featured as a song in the movie "Valley Girl" (1983) as well as in the video game "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" (2002) and appears as a track in several movie soundtracks.

The single has charted in the Top 50 of the official UK Singles Chart and US Billboard Hot 100 in 1982, among others.

In the song floats a well-dosed touch of melancholy, so not too much melancholy, which also gives the track room for a certain lightness.

The single was produced by Todd Rundgren. The music video was directed by Tim Pope, who is particularly known for the music videos for the British alternative rock band The Cure.

Final words worth mentioning

The melancholic music of the 80's was so aesthetically elegant by musicians, bands from the UK, that they have become timeless classics.
But since life is not only melancholy, this blog will soon feature the most cheerful and motivating songs of the 80s from the UK. Because without joy there would be no pain and vice versa. Let's us keep the balance and enjoy life.

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