The best prom songs of the '80s, '90s and '00s
It's prom season again, and while most schools will likely play songs like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' "Thrift Shop" (edited, of course) and Calvin Harris' "Sweet Nothing" at this year's dance, we can't help but reminisce about the classics. Below you'll find some of the most iconic prom songs from '80s, '90s and '00s, many of which are still played at the end-of-school dance today. While we understand that times and music tastes change, there's something about Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" and Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You" that still get us every time.
"Take My Breath Away" - Berlin
Just like 1986's Top Gun, Berlin's single from the movie, "Take My Breath Away," remains a classic. Not only has it endured the test of time, but it also had renewed life two decades later, when Jessica Simpson released it as the third single off of her 2004 album, In This Skin. But Berlin's version remains our favorite, and it's the one we hope still plays at proms today.
"I've Had the Time of My Life" - Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes
Nobody puts Baby in a corner, and no one's forgotten Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes' single "I've Had the Time of My Life" since Dirty Dancing came out in 1987. Maybe it's the dancing nature of the movie or maybe it's the romantic storyline, but somehow this song transformed into the ultimate slow jam of the late 1980s. Who didn't want to imagine they were being held in Patrick Swayze's arms—and that their moves were as good as Jennifer Grey's? In fact, we still do.
"Every Breath You Take" - The Police
The Police's Grammy-winning single "Every Breath You Take" wasn't just a mandatory prom song of the 1980s—it remains one today. Interestingly enough, Sting has said time and again that people incorrectly view the song as being romantic when he actually considers it to be negative. "I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song," he told BBC 2 radio. Think about that the next time you're slow dancing to it.
"Crazy For You" - Madonna
The 1985 romantic drama Vision Quest may not have become the stuff of pop culture legend, but Madonna's single that she made for the soundtrack, "Crazy For You," certainly has. With opening lyrics like, "Swaying room as the music starts/Strangers making the most of the dark/Two by two their bodies become one," it's no wonder that the track became a staple of prom slow dances in the 1980s.
"My Heart Will Go On" - Celine Dion
Is there any question why this song is mandatory on this list? Titanic was the romantic movie of the 1990s, and similarly, Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" was the romantic song of the decade. It didn't matter that the 1997 track was about Rose and Jack's tragic romance—this ballad is irrefutably romantic. Some people wait a lifetime for a love like that, but all we had to do was wait for prom every year to be sure that we'd hear it.
"I Will Remember You" - Sarah McLachlan
Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You" was likely used as either a prom or graduation song at least once in every high school during the 1990s. It was first used on the soundtrack to the 1995 indie movie The Brothers McMullen, but grew to such fame that McLachlan's 2000 live version of the song earned her a Grammy nomination. The track continues to be timeless, and was even sung during the Emmys in memoriam tribute in 2009.
"Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" - Green Day
"Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" was a welcome surprise from the punk band Green Day when they released their fifth album Nimrod in 1997. Green Day was known for pop-punk tracks like "When I Come Around" and "Basket Case," so "Good Riddance" was about as close to a ballad as the band came at that point in time. The fact that it was so easy to play on guitar only helped the song's popularity; not only did many prom DJs play the track, but men could later serenade their dates with it for an added bit of romance.
"I Will Always Love You" - Whitney Houston
Though "I Will Always Love You" is a song released by Dolly Parton in 1974, it's Whitney Houston's cover of the single for her 1992 film The Bodyguard that lands on most modern playlists. Something about her R&B take on the country hit still resonates with people today—and it definitely works better as a prom song. Of course, it's bittersweet to listen to the track since Houston's death in 2012, but it's nice to know that she left such a powerful legacy behind.
"Wonderwall" - Oasis
English rock band Oasis released a number of songs during their 18-year-long career, but it's their 1995 track "Wonderwall" that is unquestionably their most famous. It's romantic, slow enough to dance to, and definitely an iconic hit from the 1990s, so of course it was a high-school dance staple. When Noel Gallagher croons, "Because maybe/You're gonna be the one that saves me/And after all/You're my wonderwall," it's easy to realize why it still resonates.
"A Moment Like This" - Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson's Season 1 American Idol win with "A Moment Like This" back in 2002 is still arguably the FOX reality competition's most iconic moment. Clarkson has had plenty of hits since then, but fans—and proms—kept returning to "A Moment Like This" during the 2000s. Seasons of American Idol have come and gone, but Clarkson's first hit still has staying power.
"Shape of My Heart" - Backstreet Boys
The Backstreet Boys' last album before their 2002-2003 hiatus, Black & Blue, provided one of the mandatory prom songs of the early 2000s. "Shape of My Heart" was more a redemption song than a love song, but it still perfectly fit the boy band-centric mindset of fans at the turn of the millennium. Lyrics like, "Lookin' back on the things I've done/I was tryin' to be someone/I played my part, kept you in the dark/Now let me show you the shape of my heart," aren't exactly poetry in retrospect, but that didn't stop us from wanting to dance along to the single any less.
"Here's To The Night" - Eve 6
Full disclosure: Eve 6's "Here's To The Night" was my prom song, so I had to include it on this list. But the whole track is about a night that easily could have been anyone's prom, so it makes perfect sense why it was a must-play at dances after being released in 2001. The way Max Collins sang, "Here's to the nights/We felt alive/Here's to the tears/You knew you'd cry/Here's to goodbye/Tomorrow's gonna come too soon," definitely made it feel like he was singing it directly to all of us mourning the end of our high school days.
"Chasing Cars" - Snow Patrol
Blame the Grey's Anatomy's Season 2 prom scene for this, but Snow Patrol's 2006 ballad "Chasing Cars" definitely brings us back to slow dancing and heartbreak every time we hear it. It was nominated for Grammys and Brit Awards and remained on the official UK's Top 75 Singles Chart through 2012, so that's a testament to its continued popularity. It might not have played at every prom during the late 2000s, but it definitely earned its place among the greats thanks to its iconic usage on ABC's romantic medical drama.
"You and Me" - Lifehouse
"You and Me" is such a perfect ballad to dance to that Lifehouse released a special wedding version of the track just six months after the original one hit the Internet in January 2005. It's no wonder then that it was frequently used during proms in the mid- to late-2000s, and still appears in popular TV shows. "It's you and me and all other people/And I don't know why, I can't keep my eyes off of you," Jason Wade sings, describing a situation prom attendees likely wanted to experience as they joined their dates on the dance floor.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.