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Worthy But Underrated Arena Rock Songs of the '80s

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Arena rock enjoyed its moment in the sun for as many as six years stretching from the late '70s through the early '80s, which is a pretty good run indeed for one of rock's most maligned genres. Still, while familiar names typically dominate the conversation when it comes to this style of music, a number of veteran bands of classic rock, progressive rock and even hard rock contributed favorably to the arena rock landscape during the '80s. Here's a look at some of the finest tunes from this period that don't always receive the recognition they deserve for capturing the pop-oriented side of guitar-based mainstream rock.

1. Rainbow - "Street of Dreams"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of PSM Records
There may be harder-rocking songs to select from the early-'80s output of Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow - "Since You Been Gone" and "Can't Let You Go" pre-eminent among them - but the melodic pop appeal of "Street of Dreams" and the top-notch power ballad "Stone Cold" deftly demonstrate the versatility and broad skill set of lead singer Joe Lynn Turner. Longtime fans of the band - especially when Ronnie James Dio sang lead during the late '70s - likely turn their nose up at this arena rock version of Rainbow, but I've always seen Turner as one of the most unfairly neglected hard rock and arena rock singers of all time. Keyboard layers or not, 1983's "Street of Dreams" turns the listenability meter up to 11 and makes no apologies for it.

2. Yes - "Changes"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino Atlantic
I continuously marvel that the possibly accidental fusion of arena rock and progressive rock on the 1984 Yes release 90125 works as well as it does still today. But every time I listen to a shining example of the era like "Changes" (which, for me, far exceeds the much more popular "Owner of a Lonely Heart"), I remember exactly why I not only make room for it on my iPod but also save a special place for it in the perpetual playlist of my mind. Trevor Rabin and Jon Anderson do a compelling job on tandem lead vocals, but the power chords of the chorus and the meandering melodic journey of the rest of the song make for incredibly compelling mainstream rock that never gets old.

3. Pink Floyd - "Hey You"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol
The most famous lineup of Pink Floyd barely made it into the '80s, but the impact of 1979's sweeping double concept album, The Wall, extended well into the decade for millions of fledgling rock fans. This is definitely one of those bands that sometimes stretches into the realm of painfully overplayed, but I've never grown tired of hearing this particular track. Roger Waters' dark lyrics and anguished vocals have never been better than this, and though the band has always operated somewhat outside the typical boundaries of arena rock and even the classic rock niche it ruled on radio, "Hey You" navigates the outer reaches of mainstream rock on the considerable strength of Waters' cerebral genius and David Gilmour's powerful, singular guitar.

4. Styx - "Snowblind"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of A&M
Theatrical frontman Dennis DeYoung famously obscured the considerable hard rock capabilities of bandmates James Young and Tommy Shaw through cheesy ballads like "Babe" and "Don't Let It End," but on occasion the power of Styx came through loud and clear even during the '80s. This track from 1981's Paradise Theater is definitely one such instance, a combination slow ballad and scorcher that spotlights the aggressive sound favored by the band's pair of guitarists. Young's creepy vocals during the song's verses add a uniquely gothic touch to the proceedings, while Shaw's soaring contributions fuel the chorus more than effectively. A genuine if somewhat overlooked arena rock classic, this track blows the doors off "The Best of Times."

5. Blue Oyster Cult - "Burnin' for You"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia
Despite a history more experimental than other progressively minded acts on this list, the boys affectionately abbreviated as BOC have crafted an undisputed arena rock classic here that has few if any rivals. Dominated by impressively precise guitar riffing typical of the group's efforts, the tune bridges pop and rock styles with aplomb. The band doesn't neglect fans of its murky lyrical approach, nor does it entirely abandon the punishing guitar heaviness of its best work. The skillful fusion on display here manages to cover a tremendous stylistic range without ever sacrificing the BOC mystique. When parents hear "I'm livin' for givin' the devil his due" from a band with "cult" in the name, their disapproval only adds to the attraction.

6. Boston - "We're Ready"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of MCA
As originators of the '70s style now identified so freely as arena rock, Boston might have been unable to produce any kind of music other than its dense, perfectionist guitar-based version of the style. But that's perfectly agreeable to most fans of the band, who grew up defending the group's work against detractors so quick to dismiss the music as faceless dinosaur rock. The comeback 1986 release Third Stage re-established Boston as the foremost purveyor of classic arena rock, even if it was only its third full-length release in 10 years. The alternating chiming and chugging of Tom Scholz's distinctive guitar helped "We're Ready" become a perfect midpoint between soft rock and hard rock so popular among the masses.

7. Billy Squier - "Lonely Is the Night"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

The half-century that's passed since Billy Squier's unbelievably embarrassing video clip for "Rock Me Tonite" is probably enough to exceed the statute of limitations for his crimes against dancing and fashion. So then I promise you that I will make no further mention of this moment that continues to haunt one of arena rock's most consistent solo artists. Squier failed to become a huge star, always floating somewhere short of true celebrity, but that never stopped him from churning out highly listenable, surprisingly timeless mainstream rock. 1981's "Lonely Is the Night" stands out as one of the singer's finest rockers, featuring a memorable guitar riff and direct approach not favored by many of his early-'80s contemporaries.

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