Some of the names on this list will be entirely unsurprising, linked as they are with some of the most ubiquitous hit songs of '80s pop. Others, however, may come as at least a mild shock given their association with other eras or genres that seem completely unrelated. But ultimately the artists that displayed the most consistent hitmaking prowess over the course of the '80s have accomplished something special regardless of how some of us may feel regarding the validity of hit singles and the various charts that track them.
1. Elton John
Based on his consistent activity across a 40-year career, it may not be a particular eyebrow-raiser to learn that Sir Elton John has amassed 68 Hot 100 pop hits in America - though that is an impressive number. But what I find most fascinating is that 23 of these songs - or about one-third of the total - became hits during the '80s, a decade that's not typically seen as one of John's most fruitful periods. Still, this beloved British pianist, composer and singer endured personal struggles and an increasingly volatile pop music landscape to stake a solid claim as one of the most successful artists of the '80s. "I'm Still Standing" indeed, although John turned out to be far more than just an '80s survivor.
Another prominent artist who has maintained an active pop music career well after his most potent period as hitmaker, Prince nonetheless co-headlines this list because of his massive showing on the pop charts during the '80s. Smash albums 1999 and Purple Rain churned out nearly endless record sales and press during the mid-'80s, but this musical prodigy's songwriting quality ensured major audience notice even if the pop establishment had somehow been able to ignore him. I'm not sure today's pop superstars display even a fraction of the musical prowess Prince possessed at his artistic peak, but maybe that's just the old geezer in me talking.
3. Billy Joel
As a solo artist, Joel may have made his biggest splash during the late '70s, but the quiet consistency of his '80s catalogue places him among the royalty of the era's hitmakers. In fact, he trails frequent recent touring partner Elton John by only one Hot 100 hit. The pop hits dried up almost immediately for Joel once the '90s commenced, but the singer-songwriter's clever navigation of shifting musical trends helped him succeed as a new wave artist ("Sometimes a Fantasy"), a retro rocker ("It's Still Rock and Roll to Me") and R&B/doo-wop purist ("The Longest Time") in the span of just a few years. All of this fails to land Joel a spot on the coveted list of critical darlings, but the term "pop" is derived from "popular."
For those of us who remember only the unavoidable '80s hit "I Just Called to Say I Love You" - if only for its ability to tempt us dangerously toward self-injury - Stevie Wonder's sweeping presence on that era's pop charts is a jarring truth. After all, in terms of critical regard the R&B legend's '80s career hardly compares to his socially conscious, accomplished and moving work of the '60s and '70s. But with 21 of his total of 64 American pop hits coming during the '80s, Wonder undoubtedly rises to the top of the best-selling musical artists from the age of Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna. If you're looking for signature '80s hits, however, please check out the underrated "I Ain't Gonna Stand for It" to protect your aural integrity.
5. Rod Stewart
Unlike his '80s pop contemporaries Madonna and Prince, British singer-songwriter Rod Stewart had already made his name during the '70s and performed a reinvention of himself to keep the streak going. In addition, Stewart enjoyed a level of success in his native U.K. comparable to that of his American run, if not nearly its equal. The funny thing is that Stewart's disco-inflected early-'80s work and his adult contemporary-tinged output later in the decade completely left his rocking past behind and drew no shortage of ire from detractors. But that sure didn't stop the ever-savvy Stewart from compiling 21 Top 100 singles over a decade-long period that actually saw more than a few dips and valleys. But pop genius comes in many forms.
6. Hall & Oates
Though everyone remembers the early-'80s heyday of Hall & Oates - and more than a few recognize the brilliance of the duo's unmistakable musical fusion - I always thought this memorable pair experienced declining fortunes on the charts as the '80s wore on. I think, however, I may have developed the wrong impression, as I now notice that Hall & Oates amassed 21 hits on the American charts stretching from 1980's "How Does It Feel to Be Back" to 1988's "Downtown Life." These tunes may not reside anywhere near the level of a masterpiece like "Kiss on My List," to name an obvious choice, but they certainly prove that this indestructible duo never really went anywhere during the '80s even when the pop culture world tried to forget them.
7. Kenny Rogers
Don't ever question the power of crossover success, especially when it comes to the early-'80s phenomenon of country pop. Even without legendary hits like "The Gambler" and "Coward of the County" showing up on his '80s resume, Kenny Rogers racked up 20 Hot 100 showings as either a solo artist or collaborator. I don't even want to try and count Rogers' country chart hits right now, not to mention fast food chicken franchises. Suffice it to say that the '80s dominion of Rogers was so complete for a time that this man with the white beard rivalled Santa Claus in visibility among certain circles. Rogers could never match the pop culture exposure he cultivated during the first half of the '80s but remains a major artist.
Wow, isn't this one a shocker? Actually, the amazing thing about Madonna's string of Top 100 pop hits is how quickly and consistently they came during the confined, 10-year period the singer absolutely ruled. Even more, out of the 19 '80s hits that charted, an astounding 17 of them made the Top 10, which of course should not be possible it's so ridiculously phenomenal. Now certainly I strongly believe that pop hits don't mean everything (and sometimes don't mean anything at all), but it's more than difficult to argue against Madonna's tremendous relevance as an '80s flashpoint of achievement. In fact, it's ludicrous to do so, and the singer's sustained success since the '80s continues to argue in her favor.
Few of us think of this particular funk and soul outfit as an '80s kingpin, despite the impossibly lengthy staying power of 1980's "Celebration." But the charts don't lie, at least in terms of the specific stories they're able to tell. It's one thing for an artist to produce hits on the many niche charts Billboard has cooked up over the last 30 years, but it's entirely another for the ripples of popularity to reach the Hot 100 on a regular basis. 18 times earning that distinction may not be the attention-grabber that a No. 1 hit is, but tracks like "Too Hot," "Joanna," and "Get Down on It" hold more than enough quality to sidestep the label of fluke or accident.
10. Michael Jackson
What possible validity could a list like this have without the King of Pop somewhere front and center? Though not the leader in this particular category, Jackson ensured himself '80s pop immortality with the success of 1982's Thriller alone, what with its unprecedented seven Top 10 singles from its nine-track total. However, that album's immediate predecessor and successor also blazed an almost unbelievable trail of superhuman success, which allowed Jackson to release only three studio albums within the decade (and a few other odds and ends) but still maintain position at the top of the pop music mountain. That kind of high percentage indicates a precision that few musicians have ever been able to display since American pop's inception.