Top Artists and Bands of the 80s

The 1980s were a defining era in the music industry, characterized by groundbreaking developments in sound, style, and cultural influence. This decade witnessed the emergence of diverse genres, from the electrifying beats of pop and rock to the revolutionary sounds of hip-hop and electronic music. Central to this vibrant musical landscape were the artists and bands who not only defined the decade’s auditory ethos but also left an indelible mark on the global cultural fabric. The 80s music scene was a melting pot of innovation, where traditional genres were blended with new technology, giving rise to unique sounds and iconic performances.

Among these artists were figures who transformed the music industry and became household names. Artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna, known respectively as the “King and Queen of Pop,” pushed the boundaries of music and performance art, creating a legacy that transcends the decade. Bands like U2 and Guns N’ Roses brought new energy and depth to rock music, while pioneers like Run-D.M.C. and Public Enemy catapulted hip-hop from the streets of New York to international acclaim. Each artist and band brought their unique flair, creating timeless hits that continue to resonate with audiences today.

The 1980s also marked a significant shift in the way music was produced and consumed. The advent of music television, epitomized by MTV, revolutionized the industry, making the visual presentation of music as important as the sound. This shift resulted in iconic music videos and stage performances that are still celebrated for their creativity and impact. The decade’s music scene was not just about sound; it was a multi-sensory experience that captured the imagination of a generation and influenced future artists.

Michael Jackson

Known as the “King of Pop,” his 80s hits include “Billie Jean” and “Thriller.” Michael Jackson, known as the “King of Pop,” was an American singer, songwriter, and dancer whose contributions to music, dance, and fashion made him a global figure in popular culture. His albums, including “Thriller,” “Bad,” and “Dangerous,” broke numerous records and influenced generations of artists.

Born: August 29, 1958, Gary, IN, United States

Died: June 25, 2009, Los Angeles, CA, United States

Member of: Jackson 5, The Jacksons, U.S.A. for Africa

Notes: Father of Paris Jackson; brother of Janet Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Rebbie Jackson, La Toya Jackson, Jackie Jackson, Tito Jackson and Randy Jackson; uncle of the members of 3T. Formerly married to Lisa Marie Presley [1994-96].

Genres: Pop, Contemporary R&B, Dance-Pop, Pop Soul, Disco, Soul

Artists Profile Prince


Iconic for his eclectic work and flamboyant stage presence, with hits like “Purple Rain.” Prince was an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer known for his flamboyant persona and wide vocal range. His music blended a variety of genres, including funk, rock, R&B, and pop, making albums like “Purple Rain” and “Sign o’ the Times” iconic.

Birth name: Prince Rogers Nelson

Also known as: Jamie Starr, Christopher, Alexander Nevermind, The Purple One, Joey Coco, Prince logo.svg, The artist formerly known as Prince

Born: June 7, 1958, Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.

Died:  April 21, 2016 (aged 57)

Genres: Funk, R&B, rock, pop, new wave, Minneapolis sound, synthpop

Instruments: Vocals, guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, drums, saxophone, harmonica, Linn Drum

Years active: 1976–present

Labels: Warner Bros., Paisley Park, NPG, EMI, Columbia, Arista, Universal


Madonna, often referred to as the “Queen of Pop,” is an American singer, songwriter, and actress known for pushing the boundaries of songwriting in mainstream popular music and for her visual presentation and style. Her hits include “Like a Virgin,” “Vogue,” and “Like a Prayer.”

Born: August 16, 1958, Bay City, MI, United States

Member of: Breakfast Club, Emmy

Also Known As: Madonna Louise Ciccone [birth name], Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone

Genres: Pop, Dance-Pop, Electropop, Art Pop, Downtempo, Film Soundtrack

George Bush and Bono of U2


This Irish rock band gained international recognition with albums like “The Joshua Tree.”  U2, an Irish rock band formed in Dublin in 1976, is known for their unique sound, socially and politically conscious lyrics, and innovative live performances. Led by Bono’s distinctive vocals, the band’s albums like “The Joshua Tree” and “Achtung Baby” have achieved critical and commercial success worldwide.

Year Formed:  1976 in Ireland

Band Members:  Bono (Paul David Hewson) on lead vocals, The Edge (David Howell Evans) on guitar and keyboards, Adam Clayton on bass guitar, and Larry Mullen Jr. on drums and percussion.

Also Known As:  The band went by the names “Feedback” from 1976 to 1977 and “The Hype” from 1977 to 1978.

Genres:  Rock, alternative rock, pop rock, and post-punk

President Bill Clinton and Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen

His storytelling and energetic performances earned him the nickname “The Boss.” Bruce Springsteen, an American singer-songwriter nicknamed “The Boss,” is renowned for his poetic lyrics, distinctive voice, and energetic stage performances. His music, with the E Street Band, often explores the lives, struggles, and dreams of American working-class people, with albums like “Born to Run” and “Born in the U.S.A.”

Born: September 23, 1949, Freehold, NJ, United States

Resides Currently: Rumson, NJ, United States

Member of: The Rogues, The Castiles, Child, Steel Mill, Dr. Zoom & the Sonic Boom, Sundance Blues Band, The Bruce Springsteen Band, U.S.A. for Africa

Related Artists: E Street Band, The Max Weinberg 7

Also Known As: Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen [birth name], The Boss

Genres: Rock, Heartland Rock, Singer/Songwriter, Pop Rock, Contemporary Folk, Americana

Check Out Our Introduction to Bruce Springsteen


They played a key role in popularizing hip-hop music. Run-D.M.C., an American hip-hop group from Queens, New York, is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential acts in the history of hip hop culture. With their fusion of rock and hip-hop, exemplified in hits like “Walk This Way” and “It’s Tricky,” they brought hip-hop to a wider audience.

Year Formed: 1983

Members: Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell

Genres: Hip hop, rap rock

Vanhalen 1981

Van Halen

A major force in the American hard rock scene.  Van Halen, formed in Pasadena, California in 1972, is a seminal American hard rock band known for their energetic live shows and the revolutionary guitar playing of Eddie Van Halen. With hits like “Jump” and “Panama,” they were one of the most popular and influential bands of the 80s rock scene.

Year Formed: 1973

Members: Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth, Mark Stone, Michael Anthony, Sammy Hagar, Gary Cherone, Wolfgang Van Halen

Genres: Hard rock, heavy metal, pop rock, AOR, glam metal

Related Bands: Spinoff – Mammoth WVH

Public Enemy

Known for their politically charged music and criticism of the American media. Public Enemy, an influential American hip-hop group formed in Long Island, New York in 1985, is known for their politically charged music and criticism of the American media. With Chuck D’s powerful lyrics and Flavor Flav’s dynamic presence, their albums like “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” and “Fear of a Black Planet” are considered landmarks in hip-hop.

Formed: 1982, Roosevelt, NY, United States

Members: Chuck D (MC), Flavor Flav (MC), Terminator X (turntables, 1986-98), Professor Griff (MC, 1986-89, 1994-present), DJ Lord (turntables, 1999-present)

Genres: East Coast Hip Hop, Political Hip Hop, Conscious Hip Hop, Hardcore Hip Hop, Film Soundtrack, Hip Hop

Billy Joel

His narrative-driven songs like “Uptown Girl” were radio staples. Billy Joel, an American singer-songwriter and pianist, is known for his soulful voice and piano-driven songs. With numerous hits like “Piano Man,” “Uptown Girl,” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” his storytelling ability and versatility have made him one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

Year Born: 1949

Currently Resides: Long Island, New York

Bands Involved With: Primarily a solo artist, he was initially part of groups like The Echoes, The Hassles, and Attila.

Other Names: Often referred to as the “Piano Man,” after his famous song.

Music Genres: Pop, Rock, Soft Rock, Classical

Police with Sting

The Police

The band rose to fame with their new wave, reggae-influenced sound. The Police were a British rock band formed in London in 1977, known for their blend of rock, reggae, and jazz. Fronted by Sting, the band achieved international fame with hits like “Every Breath You Take” and “Roxanne.”

Year Formed: 1977

Members: Sting (lead vocals, bass guitar, primary songwriter), Andy Summers (guitar), Stewart Copeland (drums, percussion)

Genres: New wave, reggae rock, post-punk, pop rock

Related Bands: Spinoffs include Animal Logic, Oysterhead, Gizmodrome; Spinoff of Curved Air, Last Exit, Strontium 90

Phil Collins

Made his mark with a successful solo career after his time with Genesis. Phil Collins is an English drummer and singer, who gained fame both as the drummer and lead vocalist for the rock band Genesis and for his solo career. Known for his distinctive voice and pop-oriented music, Collins’ hits include “In the Air Tonight” and “Another Day in Paradise.”

Year Born: 1951

Bands Involved With: Most notably associated with the band Genesis. He also had a successful solo career.

Music Genres: Rock, Pop, Progressive Rock

Guns N’ Roses

Their raw sound on “Appetite for Destruction” influenced the late 80s rock scene. Guns N’ Roses, an American hard rock band formed in Los Angeles in 1985, quickly rose to fame with their debut album “Appetite for Destruction,” known for hits like “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and “Welcome to the Jungle.” Their raw sound, rebellious attitude, and frontman Axl Rose’s distinctive voice made them one of the most influential bands of the late 80s. They are celebrated for their contributions to rock music and for their tumultuous yet highly successful career.

Year Formed: 1985

Band Members: Axl Rose (vocals), Slash (lead guitar), Izzy Stradlin (rhythm guitar), Duff McKagan (bass), Steven Adler (drums)

Genres: Hard rock, heavy metal

Related Bands: Velvet Revolver, Hollywood Rose, L.A. Guns

Def Leppard

Among the leaders in the British heavy metal movement.  Def Leppard, a British rock band formed in 1977, became one of the leading bands of the new wave of British heavy metal movement. Their albums “Pyromania” and “Hysteria” produced a series of hits that defined 80s rock, characterized by their blend of hard rock with refined melodies and polished production. Def Leppard’s sound and energetic performances made them one of the era’s most popular rock bands.

Formed: November 1977, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom

Members: Joe Elliott (vocals), Rick Savage (bass), Pete Willis (guitar, 1977-82), Tony Kenning (drums, 1977-78), Frank Noon (drums, 1978), Rick Allen (drums, 1978-present), Steve Clark (guitar, 1978-91), Phil Collen (guitar, 1982-present), Vivian Campbell (guitar, 1992-present)

Genres: Hard Rock, NWOBHM, AOR, Glam Metal, Pop Rock, Heavy Metal

Janet Jackson

Influential in pop music with hits like “Nasty” and “Rhythm Nation.”  Janet Jackson, an American singer, songwriter, actress, and dancer, is known for her innovative, socially conscious music and pioneering role in the development of the contemporary R&B genre. Emerging from the shadow of her famous family, Janet made her mark with albums like “Control” and “Rhythm Nation 1814,” which combined pop, R&B, funk, and industrial beats with socially conscious lyrics.

Year Born: 1966

Other Names: Often referred to as “Miss Jackson.”

Music Genres: Pop, R&B, Dance

George Michael 

Dominated the charts with Wham! before going solo.  George Michael, a British singer, songwriter, and record producer, first found fame as part of the pop duo Wham! before embarking on a highly successful solo career. With Wham!, hits like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Careless Whisper” became global successes. As a solo artist, George Michael continued his success with albums like “Faith,” becoming known for his work in pop and R&B.

Year Born: 1963

Year Died:  2016 (aged 53)

Bands Involved With: Started his career with the band Wham! before transitioning to a solo career.

Other Names: Known by his stage name George Michael, his birth name was Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou.

Music Genres: Pop, Post-Disco, Pop Rock, R&B

Whitney Houston

Known for her powerful vocals and pop ballads.  Whitney Houston, one of the best-selling music artists of all time, was an American singer and actress known for her powerful, emotive voice and hit songs like “I Will Always Love You” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” Her success in the 1980s and 1990s earned her the nickname “The Voice,” and she remains an iconic figure in pop and R&B. Houston’s influence on singing styles and vocal performance has been profound and enduring.

Year Born: 1963

Year Died:  2012 (age 48)

Other Names: Sometimes called “The Voice.”

Music Genres: R&B, Pop, Soul, Gospel


Their fast tempos and aggressive musicianship made them one of the “Big Four” bands of thrash metal.

Formed: October 28, 1981, Los Angeles, CA, United States

Currently: San Rafael, CA, United States

Members: Lars Ulrich (drums), James Hetfield (guitar, vocals), Hugh Tanner (guitar, 1981), Lloyd Grant (guitar, 1981), Ron McGovney (bass, 1981-82), Dave Mustaine (guitar, 1982-83), Cliff Burton (bass, 1982-86), Kirk Hammett (guitar, 1983-present), Jason Newsted (bass, 1986-2001), Robert Trujillo (bass, 2003-present)

Also Known As: The Four Horsemen [1985], Frayed Ends [1988], The Lemmy’s [1995], Spun [2002], Dehaan [2013]

Genres: Thrash Metal, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Alternative Metal, Symphonic Metal, Speed Metal


Pioneers of gangsta rap, they reflected the social issues of urban America.  N.W.A was a groundbreaking American hip-hop group from Compton, California, formed in the late 1980s. They are renowned for their explicit lyrics and reflection of urban life and racial issues, making them one of the most significant and controversial groups in the history of rap music. Their album “Straight Outta Compton” is a landmark in the gangsta rap genre and played a pivotal role in bringing West Coast hip-hop to the mainstream.

Year Formed: 1986

Band Members: Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella

Genres: Hip hop, gangsta rap

Related Bands: The D.O.C., Above the Law, Westside Connection

Dire Straits

Their unique rock sound was marked by hits like “Money for Nothing.”  Dire Straits was a British rock band known for their rootsy guitar-driven music. They achieved mass popularity with hits like “Sultans of Swing” and “Money for Nothing,” the latter of which became known for its innovative music video on MTV. Their sound was characterized by Mark Knopfler’s distinctive fingerstyle guitar playing and narrative songwriting.

Year Formed:  1977

Band Members:  Mark Knopfler, David Knopfler, John Illsley, and Pick Withers,


Continued their success into the 80s with a string of high-energy rock anthems.  AC/DC, an Australian rock band formed in 1973 by brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, is known for their hard-hitting rock and blues-influenced music. They became one of the most influential rock bands of all time with albums like “Back in Black,” which is one of the best-selling albums in music history. AC/DC’s music is characterized by simple, heavy chords, catchy hooks, and the distinctive vocals of Bon Scott and later, Brian Johnson.

Year Formed: 1973

Band Members: Angus Young (lead guitar), Malcolm Young (rhythm guitar), Bon Scott (vocals, deceased), Brian Johnson (vocals), Cliff Williams (bass), Phil Rudd (drums)

Genres: Hard rock, blues rock, heavy metal

Related Bands: Geordie, Fraternity, The Valentines


The Canadian rock band known for their musicianship and complex compositions. Rush was a Canadian rock band formed in 1968, consisting of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart, known for their complex compositions and virtuosic musicianship. Their music blends elements of progressive rock, hard rock, and heavy metal, and they are celebrated for their lyrical themes, which often delve into science fiction and fantasy. Albums like “2112” and “Moving Pictures” cemented their status as one of the most proficient and enduring rock bands.

Year Formed: 1968

Band Members: Geddy Lee (vocals, bass, keyboards), Alex Lifeson (guitar), Neil Peart (drums, deceased)

Genres: Progressive rock, hard rock

Related Bands: Victor, My Favourite Headache

Iron Maiden

One of the leading bands in the new wave of British heavy metal. Iron Maiden, formed in East London in 1975 by bassist Steve Harris, is one of the most successful and influential bands in heavy metal. Known for their melodic guitar riffs, operatic vocals, and epic themes often drawing on history and mythology, they are pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Albums like “The Number of the Beast” and “Powerslave” have made them a mainstay in the global metal scene.

Year Formed: 1975

Band Members: Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Adrian Smith (guitar), Nicko McBrain (drums), Janick Gers (guitar)

Genres: Heavy metal

Related Bands: Samson, Blaze Bayley, Gogmagog

Judas Priest

Innovators of the heavy metal genre with a career spanning several decades. Judas Priest, formed in Birmingham, England in 1969, is a seminal heavy metal band known for setting the template for the genre with dual lead guitars, a wide operatic vocal style, and a dark leather-and-studs image. Fronted by Rob Halford, their albums “British Steel” and “Screaming for Vengeance” are considered landmarks in heavy metal. They are revered for their powerful sound and are known as one of the greatest metal bands of all time.

Year Formed: 1969

Band Members: Rob Halford (vocals), Glenn Tipton (guitar), K.K. Downing (guitar), Ian Hill (bass), Scott Travis (drums)

Genres: Heavy metal

Related Bands: Fight, Halford, Two

Lionel Richie

Lionel Richie

His smooth ballads and lively dance hits made him an 80s favorite. Lionel Richie, an American singer, songwriter, and record producer, first gained fame as a member of the Commodores before launching a highly successful solo career in the 1980s. Known for his smooth, soulful voice, he produced a series of hit ballads like “Hello” and “Endless Love,” as well as upbeat tracks like “All Night Long.” Richie’s work has had a significant influence on the pop and R&B genres.

Year Born: 1949

Currently Resides: Los Angeles, California

Bands Involved With: He started his career with the Commodores before becoming a solo artist.

Music Genres: Soul, Pop, R&B, Country

Bon Jovi

Their blend of rock with pop sensibilities led to widespread popularity. Bon Jovi, formed in 1983 in New Jersey, is an American rock band led by singer Jon Bon Jovi. Known for their blend of hard rock with pop sensibilities, they achieved massive success with hits like “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Wanted Dead or Alive.” The band’s longevity and appeal have made them one of the best-selling American rock bands of all time.

Year Formed: 1983

Band Members: Jon Bon Jovi (vocals), Richie Sambora (guitar), Tico Torres (drums), David Bryan (keyboards), Alec John Such (bass)

Genres: Hard rock, glam metal, arena rock

Related Bands: Richie Sambora, David Bryan


Megadeth is an influential American heavy metal band known for their complex, technical style and politically charged lyrics, Megadeth is considered one of the pioneering bands in the thrash metal genre. With iconic albums like “Rust in Peace” and “Countdown to Extinction,” they’ve left a profound impact on the metal scene and have a dedicated global fanbase.

Formed: July 1983, Los Angeles, CA, United States

Members: Dave Mustaine (guitar, vocals), David Ellefson (bass, 1983-2002, 2010-present), Greg Handevidt (guitar, 1983-84), Dijon Carruthers (drums, 1983), Lee Rausch (drums, 1984), Gar Samuelson (drums, 1984-87), Chris Poland (guitar, 1984-87), Chuck Behler (drums, 1987-88), Jeff Young (guitar, 1987-88), Nick Menza (drums, 1989-98), Marty Friedman (guitar, 1990-99), Jimmy DeGrasso (drums, 1998-2002), Al Pitrelli (guitar, 2000-02), Glen Drover (guitar, 2004-07), James MacDonough (bass, 2004-06), Shawn Drover (drums, 2004-14), James LoMenzo (bass, 2006-10), Chris Broderick (guitar, 2008-14)

Also Known As: Fallen Angels [1983]

Genres: Thrash Metal, Heavy Metal, Speed Metal, Hard Rock, Technical Thrash Metal, Acoustic Rock

Tears for Fears

Tears for Fears is an iconic British pop rock band formed in 1981 by Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith. Known for their chart-topping hits like “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” their music combines deep lyrics with a polished, synth-pop sound, making them one of the defining groups of the 1980s.

Formed: 1981, Bath, Somerset, United Kingdom

Members: Roland Orzabal (vocals, guitar, keyboards, programming), Curt Smith (vocals, bass, keyboards, 1982-90, 2000-present), Manny Elias (drums), Chris Hughes (drums, 1982-88), Ian Stanley (keyboards, 1982-88)

Genres: Synthpop, Pop Rock, New Wave, Art Pop, Sophisti-Pop, Psychedelic Pop


Mudhoney made an explosive entrance onto the music scene with their single “Touch Me, I’m Sick” from the Superfuzz Bigmuff E.P. released by Sub Pop. The band quickly gained popularity in Europe and the U.K.

Formed: January 1988, Seattle, WA, United States

Members: Mark Arm (guitar, vocals, harmonica, organ), Steve Turner (lead guitar), Dan Peters (drums), Matt Lukin (bass, 1988-2000), Guy Maddison (bass, 2001-present)

Genres: Grunge, Garage Rock, Garage Punk, Alternative Rock, Noise Rock, Psychedelic Rock

Final Thoughts

Reflecting on the top artists and bands of the 80s, it is evident that this decade was more than just a period in music history; it was a cultural phenomenon. The artists of this era did more than just create music; they inspired change, challenged societal norms, and became symbols of a transformative period in world history. Their contributions went beyond the charts, shaping fashion, language, and lifestyle, and their influence is still felt in contemporary music and culture.

As we look back at the 1980s, the legacy left by these artists and bands is a testament to the power of music as a unifying and expressive force. Their innovative sounds, visionary performances, and cultural impact continue to inspire new generations of musicians and fans. The 80s, with its blend of rhythm, rebellion, and revolution, will always be remembered as a golden era in music, immortalized by the artists and bands who made it unforgettable.