30 Best Rock Bands Of The ’80s
When it comes to Rock, 80s bands were when the genre truly became massive in terms of mainstream popularity. Though there were bigger and more lauded bands in the decades before and since, the 80s was Rock's zenith in the limelight.
However, that is not to say that the decade did not consist of legendary bands who, aside from popularity, didn't push the genre forward. In fact, the 80s had bands that sold well and were critically acclaimed.
This list of the 30 best Rock bands of the 80s will attempt to contain bands who did a lot with either, or even managed to do both.
U2 is regarded as one of the best rock bands of the 80s due to their unique sound that perfectly blended post-punk and anthemic rock, captivating audiences worldwide.
Their socially conscious lyrics addressing political and humanitarian issues reflect their commitment, both then and now, to making a positive impact. Their longevity is evident in their consistent success and ability to evolve.
2. Guns N’ Roses
Guns N' Roses is remembered as a defining rock band of the 80s due to their rebellious image, gritty attitude, and impact on the hair metal genre.
Their fusion of punk, hard rock, and metal, accompanied by their unpredictable behavior, symbolized a raw and authentic representation of rock 'n' roll, challenging the polished and commercialized nature of hair metal bands.
3. The Police
The Police deserves a spot among the best rock bands from the 1980s due to their ability to evolve their sound from punk-inspired beginnings to incorporating reggae and new wave elements. Their pop hits, such as "Every Breath You Take" and "Message in a Bottle," showcased their mainstream appeal.
The band's enduring legacy is evident through their influence on subsequent generations of musicians, as well as the continued appeal of not only their biggest hits but discography as a whole.
AC/DC's popularity stems from their electrifying sound and undeniable presence. With their signature blend of hard rock and blues, they created an iconic sound that resonated with millions.
Their high-energy performances and timeless hits like "Back in Black" and "Highway to Hell" solidified their status as one of the greatest 80s rock bands, influencing countless artists and shaping the genre of hard rock.
5. Bon Jovi
Bon Jovi may seem like an odd pick for an 80s best bands list due to their pop-oriented sound, but they undeniably deserve it. Their catchy anthems and infectious melodies dominated the charts, captivating a massive audience.
Despite lacking critical acclaim, Bon Jovi's enduring mainstream success solidifies their rightful place among the era's greatest bands.
Though many consider them a 70s band, Queen should also be considered one of the best bands of the 80s due to their continued mainstream success with hits like "Under Pressure."
Their electrifying live performances, notably the 1985 Live Aid concert, showcased their unmatched showmanship. As it stands, their stardom reached its peak in the 80s, solidifying their status as one of the era's greatest bands.
7. Van Halen
Van Halen is next on our list as one of the best bands of the 80s, and this is because they are truly undeniable. Their sound fused hard rock with catchy melodies, creating an infectious and unique style.
Their popularity soared with chart-topping hits and sold-out concerts, influencing countless bands. Eddie Van Halen revolutionized guitar playing, showcasing unparalleled skill, innovation, and a signature sound that redefined rock music.
8. Def Leppard
Def Leppard deserves to be alongside Van Halen as one of the best bands of the 80s due to their immense popularity, chart-topping hits, and significant contributions to the genres of Hard Rock and Hair Metal.
Their energetic performances, anthemic songs, and innovative sound solidified their place as icons of the era. Simply put, they took what Van Halen did, and instead of copying it, made it their own.
Metallica's impact on heavy metal in the 80s is undeniable. Their groundbreaking albums like "Master of Puppets" and "Ride the Lightning" pushed the genre to new heights, combining aggressive riffs, complex song structures, and powerful lyrics.
Their influence on countless bands and their ability to redefine heavy metal make them a deserving choice for any list of the best bands of the 80s.
Despite first gaining fame, and according to some, peaking, in the 70s, Aerosmith is one our list of the best bands of the 80s for pulling off the impossible: a successful comeback and revival in popularity during that decade.
Despite their supposed peak in the decade prior, their successful albums and hit songs in the 80s, such as "Permanent Vacation" and "Pump," solidified their status as one of the era's top bands. In fact, to generations since, they are seen as more of an 80s than a 70s band due to how they influenced bands of the era.
R.E.M. has a spot on the best bands of the 80s list due to two reasons: their widespread success in the decade as well as their profound influence on alternative rock in the 90s.
Their unique sound and introspective lyrics paved the way for countless bands, shaping the entire genre. One can say that R.E.M. acted as vanguards, pushing boundaries and inspiring a new wave of musicians. Rock of the 90s as we know it probably wouldn't exist without them.
12. The Cure
The Cure honestly has the best shot at the title of best band of the 80s for multiple reasons. Their critical and commercial success, with numerous hit songs and albums, solidify their acclaim.
Additionally, their continuous evolution of sound, ranging from post-punk to new wave, showcases their musical versatility. Moreover, their role as the (reluctant) face of Goth culture further cements their significance in the music landscape of the 80s.
13. The Smiths
Due to the immense impact they made in their short-lived existence, The Smiths can and should be considered one of the best 80s bands. Their continued popularity amongst the youth means that for a large part of the population they already are.
Morrissey's profound and emotive songwriting, coupled with his unique and captivating voice, resonated with listeners. Johnny Marr's exceptional guitar skills and the band's overall musical talent created a distinct sound that influenced generations to come.
14. Duran Duran
Though they may not be as influential as some of the other bands on this list, Duran Duran should also be considered one of the best bands of the 80s due to their influential blend of new wave and pop, captivating music videos, and innovative use of synthesizers.
Their catchy hooks, stylish image, and chart-topping hits like "Rio" and "Hungry Like the Wolf" made them a force in mainstream rock. Given how they still pull numbers on streaming services, they're definitely beloved by fans, old and new, even now.
Though not a first choice by any means, Journey deserves to be remembered as one of the best bands of the 80s due to their immense success during that era.
Despite being overplayed (everyone knows that one song), and the many, many internal tensions they faced as a band, their run of albums and hits showcased their unique sound, exceptional songwriting, and ability to captivate audiences, leaving an indelible mark on the decade.
16. Dire Straits
Dire Straits is an underrated pick as one of the best bands of the 80s due to their immense success, iconic hits, and unparalleled musicianship. Their music, like the band themselves, were subdued but powerful.
Their timeless tracks like "Money for Nothing" and "Sultans of Swing" showcase their unique sound blending rock, blues, and jazz, elevating them to legendary status.
17. The Clash
The Clash is on this list due to their immense popularity and reputation as one of the most influential punk rock bands. They revolutionized the genre with their fusion of punk, reggae, and other genres, addressing social and political issues.
Despite their many, many detractors, their impact on music and their rebellious spirit cannot be denied. After all, for many, The Clash is the only band that matters.
18. Motley Crue
Motley Crue's blend of catchy hooks, high-energy performances, and glam image perfectly encapsulated the essence of hair metal. They pushed boundaries with their rebellious attitude and wild behavior, contributing to the genre's allure.
Despite controversies, their undeniable musical talent and influential impact make them a top band of the era.
19. Talking Heads
Talking Heads' relentless musical exploration, coupled with their unwavering ability and eagerness to pursue creativity, propelled them to greatness.
From their early punk roots to their groundbreaking fusion of genres, their willingness to push boundaries and experiment with new sounds solidified their status as one of the best bands of their time.
20. Depeche Mode
Depeche Mode's greatness lies in their ability to blend dark, introspective lyrics with infectious synth-pop melodies, creating a unique and captivating sound.
Their electrifying live performances, innovative use of synthesizers, and emotional depth resonated with fans, establishing them as a beloved and influential band of the 80s.
Rush belongs on this list because they defied genre expectations and became popular despite being a Prog band. In fact, their success continued from the 70s into the 80s, but saw a big boost in the latter decade, thus their placement here.
Each member brought a unique element to the band's success - Geddy Lee's distinct vocal range and bass skills, Alex Lifeson's innovative guitar work, and Neil Peart's exceptional drumming and poetic songwriting.
INXS deserves its placement on this list due to their immense musical talent, successful career spanning over two decades, influential impact on the rock genre, iconic frontman Michael Hutchence, and their ability to consistently deliver catchy and memorable songs that have stood the test of time.
Though not as lauded as other bands found here, INXS could go toe to toe with any of them back in their day, and definitely belongs here.
23. Echo & The Bunnymen
Echo and The Bunnymen may be labeled as a one-hit wonder due to their popular song "The Killing Moon," but their status as one of the best rock bands of the 80s is justified by their rich discography.
Their 80s output showcased their unique blend of post-punk, new wave, and psychedelic rock, resulting in timeless and influential music.
24. The Replacements
The Replacements were a phenomenal 80s band due to their immense talents both individually and as a unit. Their raw and heartfelt songwriting, combined with Paul Westerberg's soulful vocals and the band's tight musicality, created a unique sound that influenced countless artists.
Their ability to blend punk, rock, and pop with authenticity makes them truly remarkable. And any band who can do all that, deserves to be counted among a best-of list.
Poison stood out from other hair metal bands like Motley Crue due to their catchy hooks, glam image, and a more mainstream sound that blended pop sensibilities with hard rock.
Their anthemic hits, which sometimes were even soulful, energetic live performances, and enduring popularity make them deserving of recognition as one of the best bands of the 80s as much as the Crue.
Scorpions were a special band due to their unique blend of hard rock and melodic metal, captivating lyrics, and exceptional guitar work by Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs.
Their anthems like "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and ballads like "Wind of Change" showcased their versatility and enduring appeal. Considered a top-tier 80s band, they left an indelible mark on the music scene with their memorable hits and influential sound.
Foreigner's popularity in the 80s stemmed from their ability to strike a chord with listeners through their emotionally charged and relatable lyrics.
Their catchy melodies, powerful vocals, and memorable guitar riffs resonated with a wide audience, creating an enduring connection that transcended any initial reputation for melodrama. Thus their placement on this list.
Whitesnake deserves their placement on this list as they were undeniably a great 80s band. Their signature blend of hard rock and bluesy melodies, coupled with David Coverdale's powerful vocals, created timeless hits like "Here I Go Again" and "Is This Love."
Though they were eventually overshadowed by more popular Hair Metal bands, they've outlived most of them in terms of continued significance.
Megadeth's powerful and intricate guitar riffs, intense lyrics, and unique blend of thrash and progressive metal genres make them equally deserving as Metallica to be considered one of the best bands of the 80s.
Their influential albums and technical expertise have left a lasting impact on the metal music scene, which is no small feat as most people thrown out of a popular band rarely end up making another popular one.
30. Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden's influence on metal is immeasurable, pioneering the genre's signature sound and captivating millions with their energetic performances. Their distinctive blend of melodic guitar harmonies, galloping basslines, and Bruce Dickinson's soaring vocals set the standard for countless bands.
Iron Maiden's enduring legacy cements their status as one of the greatest rock bands of the 1980s. And with that, our list is at a close.
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