10 College Rock Songs That Ruled During Hair Metal


R.E.M. photo from Nashville photo shoot

R.E.M. appear on Audio Ink Radio’s list of college rock songs that ruled during hair metal – Story by Anne Erickson, photo via Warner Bros. Records

Audio Ink Radio presents its list of 10 college rock songs that ruled during the hair metal era

The hair metal movement was obviously king in the 1980s. Hard rock and metal music were the hottest musical genres on the planet, and artists such as Kiss, Van Halen and Motley Crue seemed unstoppable. But, were they? Even before the flannel and lo-fi recordings of grunge took over in the 1990s, a very different kind of popular music was also booming and taking over the airwaves. That music was college rock. So, what are some college rock songs that ruled during hair metal?

So, what exactly is college rock? The term brings together the non-mainstream rock music that was played on college radio in the 1980s. College rock brought together a plethora of genres, including new wave, synth-pop, punk rock, post-punk and more. But, it had nothing in common with the over-the-top antics and fashion hair metal or glam metal.

In honor of those college rock songs that somehow rose to fame amid the flash, noisy glam metal scene, Audio Ink Radio presents its list of 10 college rock songs that ruled during hair metal. Furthermore, send your choices to us on Twitter here and Facebook via this location.

10. New Order, “Blue Monday”

Synth-rock was a huge part of the college radio movement, and New Order was one of the genre’s biggest stars. “Blue Monday” combined synth-pop and dance music, making this a very ’80s-sounding song. It was played on college radio stations across the country and helped bring the synth-pop genre to America.

9. Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” arrived in 1980 and kicked off the decade with an incredible dose of post-punk. The song was a hit on college radio and introduced Joy Division to an American audience. Sadly, frontman Ian Curtis died in May of 1980, just when Joy Division were starting to break. The surviving members launched the band New Order, which became one of the most popular alternative pop bands of the decade.

8. Echo & the Bunnymen, “The Killing Moon”

Echo & the Bunnymen were a strong voice on college airwaves, and singer Ian McCulloch’s powerful voice was always recognizable. He actually had the kind of pipes that could have fronted a much heavier band, but he decided to go mellow with Echo & the Bunnymen. “The Killing Moon” marked the band’s first single from their 1984 album, “Ocean Rain,” and took off on university radio.

7. The Replacements, “Left of the Dial”

The Replacements certainly have their place in the college rock sphere. While the band was known for their punk-rock, they very much leaned into the college rock genre. Their memorable song “Left of the Dial” found much popularity on the college airwaves, introducing a new audience to the catchiness and charm of punk music.

6. Pixies, “Here Comes Your Man”

Pixies were one of Boston’s most popular post-punk bands, and they caught on nationally when their music hit the college airwaves. “Here Comes Your Man” was one of their most-played songs on university radio. Moreover, Pixies got even more ears on them in the 1990s, when Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain said he was trying to make his own Pixies song when he wrote “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

5. Violent Femmes, “Blister in the Sun”

Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” is one of the only 1980s college rock songs that crossed over in the 1990s and was on alternative stations alongside bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. The band was strong out the gate, as their self-titled 1983 release earned them a solid following from the get-go. “Blister in the Sun” is their biggest radio hit.

4. Talking Heads, “Cities”

We snuck a 1970s song into this list, as “Cities” by Talking Heads arrived in 1979. Talking Heads were one of the early forces in college rock, offering a cool funk and world sound to the audience. Vocalist David Byrne’s contemplative, philosophical lyrics also caught on with the college audience, as was apparent with “Cities.”

3. Sonic Youth, “Teen Age Riot”

Sonic Youth were one of the early champions of alternative rock music. The band famously inspired Kurt Cobain to start making his own music in Nirvana. At times, Cobain has said that he was just hoping Nirvana could be as successful as Sonic Youth. Of course, Nirvana blew up much bigger. But, Sonic Youth always maintained its core fanbase. “Teen Age Riot” was the first single from Sonic Youth’s “Daydream Nation” album and is one of their most memorable.

2. The Smiths, “Sheila Take a Bow”

The Smiths’ “Sheila Take a Bow” was a college radio favorite. The band rose to fame, thanks to lead vocalist Morrissey’s dark and witty lyrics and guitarist Johnny Marr’s unforgettable guitar playing and melodies. Sadly, the band was short-lived, but they inspired countless musicians to follow. Morrissey still makes headlines on a regular basis.

1. R.E.M., “Radio Free Europe”

Much like Nirvana changed the musical world in the 1990s with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” R.E.M. altered the landscape in the 1980’s with “Radio Free Europe.” The song marked their debut single and arrived in 1983. The band named the song after the United State’s broadcast channel, so the song was a commentary on the misinformation brought from the station. It’s arguably the most famous and recognizable college rock songs from the ’80s. For that, “Radio Free Europe” is No. 1 on our list of college rock songs that ruled during hair metal.

Check out Audio Ink Radio’s list of 10 grunge bands that should have been bigger here.

Anne Erickson
Posted by Anne Erickson | Alternative, Features, Music, Rock