At the risk of making an inflammatory statement, everything about music in the 1980s was better than it is now. The fashion was better. The sound was better. The gigs were better too, and so were the bands who performed at those gigs. It was a decade where style and sound came together in total cohesion, and it gave us some of the most memorable recording artists of all time. Pop music was doing its own thing, but today we want to talk about the best bands that came from that decade.
Anyone who was around in the 80s probably has their own list of preferred performers, and our list shouldn’t be looked at any differently than your own – but we have taken some solid facts into account when putting our top five together. We’ve looked at album and single record sales and also touring revenue and ticket sales. They aren’t always a measure of quality, but they do help us to separate the good bands from the truly great ones.
The 1980s was probably the last great decade for fantastic rock bands, but who deserves to be on top of the pile? Without any further ado, let’s find out.
In fifth place: Bon Jovi
If you’re under 40, you’ll probably know Bon Jovi best for being two things. Firstly they’re your mum’s favorite rock band, and secondly, they’re the band who released ‘”Livin’ on a Prayer,” which is always the song they’ll be best known for. Identifying them just for that one song isn’t giving them their full dues, though. There was much more to Bon Jovi than that, and during the 1980s, they were unstoppable. It’s easy to write them off as a more ‘lightweight’ band than many of their contemporaries, but Jon Bon Jovi is criminally underrated as a songwriter. There’s a reason he’s been awarded an honorary doctorate in music.
You could easily make an 80s soundtrack just from Bon Jovi songs. Everyone knows “Livin’ on a Prayer,” but what about “Wanted Dead or Alive,” “Bad Medicine,” or “You Give Love A Bad Name?” They might not have lived the wild and excessive lifestyle of some other 80s bands, but they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.
In fourth place: Van Halen
Like Bon Jovi, Van Halen is mostly known these days for the song “Jump.” Also like Bon Jovi, that’s a gross under-representation of their output. There are thousands of people all over the world who picked up a guitar for the first time because they were inspired by the way that Eddie Van Halen played the instrument, and his influence can be heard in many rock bands you hear today. “Jump” might be the headline, but there’s so much more to this Californian band than that.
While the band may have been named after Eddie Van Halen, lead singer David Lee Roth deserves just as much credit for the success story that the band became in the 80s – a story that started in the 1970s when the group was formed. If you’re not familiar with their expanded output, check out “Hot for Teacher” or “Dance The Night Away.” You won’t be disappointed.
In third place: AC/DC
You probably can’t name many bands from Australia, but the one that everybody knows is the one that’s most worth remembering anyway. Angus and Malcolm Young struck gold when they formed AC/DC together in 1973, and although Malcolm is sadly no longer with us, Angus Young still occasionally tours a version of AC/DC to this day. Whenever they show up, thousands of adoring fans aren’t far behind.
If we had to pick just one AC/DC song to sum up the band’s sound, it would have to be “Back in Black” – it’s the most obvious choice, but the song still sounds fresh even though it was released in the very first year of the 80s. “You Shook Me All Night Long” was released the same year. Their 1985 album “Fly On The Wall” might not have shifted quite so many copies or received quite so much attention, but it’s still an essential purchase for any fan of classic rock.
In second place: Guns n’ Roses
The only controversial thing about putting Guns n’ Roses on this list is that we’re not putting them on top of it. Guns n’ Roses are still every bit as big a deal as they were 35 years ago. They can still sell out stadium tours. They’ve even become the soundtrack to many online slots websites thanks to the staggering success of their official online slots game. There are a few other bands from this era who have their own licensed slot games, including Alice Cooper, but Guns n’ Roses have the most successful one.
The moment you hear the first line of “Welcome to the Jungle,” you’re instantly transported back to the 80s, and you have an urge to dig out your hairband and faded jeans. “November Rain” was the most heartbreaking ballad any of us had ever heard back then, and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is the first thing every aspiring rock guitarist wants to learn on their instrument. The word ‘legendary’ is overused, but not in this context.
In first place: Queen
Some of our American readers will be shaking their heads at this pick, but we’re sticking with it. It’s true that Queen was bigger in Europe and their native United Kingdom than they were in the USA when they were at their peak, but we could make a strong argument that they’ve created a bigger lasting legacy. Look at the success of the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” if you don’t believe us.
Queen had something that nobody else did in the 1980s – Freddie Mercury. He’s considered by millions of fans – and many of his peers – to be the greatest frontman who ever lived, and he’s still sadly missed today. Some might say that their best work was done in the 80s, but we invite those people to consider “Under Pressure,” “Another One Bites The Dust,” and “Hammer To Fall.” When you’ve done that, find footage of the “Live Aid” concert from 1985, and try to tell us with a straight face that it isn’t the greatest live performance in history. That’s why we’re naming Queen the best band of the 80s – and possibly the best band of any era full stop.