80s Music: Most Popular Articles
Female pop stars of the era generally got most of the press and media attention, but here's a list of the most influential women of '80s rock.
To be among the greatest singles of the '80s, a song must become impossible to ignore in the context of the era's music. These songs fit that bill.
Owing to a string of classic hit songs throughout the decade, few acts are more strongly linked to '80s music than the long-running duo Hall & Oates.
From her early years as a full-tilt rocker to her quick evolution into a pop/rock singer with wide appeal, Pat Benatar always remained an important and skilled representative of '80s music at its finest. Here's a look at a collection of her most signature tracks of the period.
Few would argue that the '80s represented Madonna's peak of influence, but choosing the artist's top songs from that era is a challenging enterprise indeed.
'80s R&B held plenty of variety and quality beyond the decade's biggest stars. Here's a look at finest unsung R&B artists of the '80s.
As one of the strongest pure pop/rock performers of the '80s - dependent equally on accessible songwriting, a propensity toward love ballads, and powerful injections of rock guitar - music veteran Kenny Loggins found a niche in soft rock and uplifting film soundtracks for his work. Here's a look at not only his most popular hits as a solo artist but his finest compositions and performances of the period.
With only three albums released within the decade - albeit huge, successful ones - Michael Jackson is really best examined as a singles artist. As such, from a Billboard charts perspective, it's tough to pinpoint his best work because he was such a phenomenon of the decade. Here's a chronological look at what I think are the top 10 Michael Jackson songs of the '80s, warts and all.
As one of the most recognizable if short-lived superstar acts of the early '80s, Culture Club released some remarkably consistent soul-inflected pop that has stood the test of time. Led outlandishly by the stylishly androgynous Boy George, the band released two classic albums and racked up a number of deserving hit singles worldwide.
One of pop music's best opportunities to explore its theatrical side reveals itself quite often in duets featuring aptly paired male and female performers. This form has persisted throughout many eras of music but perhaps never belonged more fully than during the '80s. Here's a look, in no particular order, at some of the decade's finest duets featuring the blend of male and female singers.
The early '80s may have been best known for new wave, but fiercely independent punk rock and hardcore bands like these continued to make vitally significant music throughout the decade.
1970s hard rock band REO Speedwagon transformed into a commercially successful mainstream rock band in the 1980s. Her's my top 7 list from that decade.
The massive popularity of hard rock, arena rock and heavy metal during the '80s culminated in a form that came to symbolize the decade's decadence and glitz. Alternately called hair metal, pop metal or glam metal, this subgenre specialized in lighter-worthy power ballads about the travails of heartache or at least matters of the flesh. Here's a look at 10 of the best '80s songs of this type, and the abundance of tunes to choose from makes for some tough choices.
An effort to count down the best and most memorable songs of the '80s can certainly begin with a short list of tunes covering the entire decade, but in order even to approach doing this chore justice it's necessary - at the very least - to break down the decade's songs by year. Here's an attempt to suss out the best the '80s had to offer musically, but of course it's just a start.
One of hair metal's most popular and simultaneously most vilified bands of the '80s, Poison made some of the era's most defining music, for better or for worse depending on every listener's individual perspective. Here's a chronological look at the band's best songs - culled from two commercially successful late-'80s album releases.
As arguably pop metal's finest and most accessible band of the '80s, Bon Jovi churned out a number of arena rock classics, combining a straightforward, almost heartland rock sound with a glossy image to rule the latter half of the decade. Some were hits without being great songs, but this New Jersey band's best work stands confidently with the best mainstream rock the '80s had to offer.
Canadian arena rock band Loverboy produced some of the most memorable mainstream rock songs of the '80s. Along the way, the group blended elements of hard rock and new wave in novel ways, always emphasizing a passionate marriage of synthesizers and guitars. Frontman Mike Reno and his bandmates are responsible for some highly iconic '80s music, and here's a look at some of the band's best songs.
Hard rock during the '80s was a lucrative style of music that brimmed with multitudes of bands representing various genres. Therefore, separating out the best songs from such a large pool of possibility is quite the challenging enterprise. Here's a look at 10 tracks that stand out as would-be, should-be or set-in-stone classics from this fruitful era of hard rock.
Here's a look at the cream of the crop from the band Chicago's distinctive if somewhat disappointing '80s phase, a list of songs far shorter than the Billboard charts back then might have suggested.
Australian duo Air Supply dominated the pop music charts during the first half of the '80s, even if rock music purists cringed at the mere realization of the group's existence. However, that certainly didn't stop legions of adult contemporary and soft rock record buyers from making the singing partnership of Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock one of the era's most successful. Here's a chronological look at some of Air Supply's highest-quality songs of the period.
While George Michael has always been far from perfect in both his musical and personal life - committing some obvious missteps along the way - his best work and his finest years as a superstar remain impressive accomplishments two decades later. Detractors certainly accused the singer-songwriter of being superficial and slight, but there's no doubt Michael's best compositions qualify as pop classics in any era. Here's a look at this artist's proudest '80s moments, all well worth remembering.
Although largely Anglicized and therefore not obviously distinct from rock and pop musicians of the U.S. and U.K., artists from Australia and New Zealand spun an intriguing web of musical offerings during the '80s. The two Down Under island nations contributed a wide array of styles and demonstrated unique tinges of eclecticism, all of which rounded out the decade and filled it with richness and character.
Here's a look at some of the best and most memorable songs from 1980, and not necessarily just the biggest hits. Many songs hit No. 1 or even the Top Ten during this year, but not that many of them truly epitomize the exciting transitional period between the '70s and '80s.
With one of the most varied and challenging catalogues in all of '80s music, The Cure offers many candidates for a celebration of its finest songs. Here's a look at some of the band's best work produced during a prolific decade.
Here's a look at the most essential songs from the extraordinarily varied '80s catalogue of fiercely original, iconic American singer-songwriter Prince.
People tend to think of the '70s first when they consider the genre of soft rock music, but a great deal of the finest examples of this ballad-heavy form actually saw the light of day during the first half of the '80s. This was a special time when smooth adult contemporary pop record buyers actually wanted to hear rock bands play love songs, before arena rock and hair metal became the primary dominion for the lighter side of rock.
Even when topping the charts as one of pop/rock's most successful bands of the early '80s, Journey never received much respect for its hard rock and arena rock achievements. Disdain still follows the group today in some circles, but music fans appreciative of guitar-infused melodic hard rock and soaring power ballads don't question the high quality of Journey's most memorable songs. Here's a chronological look at the best Journey songs of the '80s.
The American melodic power rock band Survivor was always more of a singles act than a producer of consistent albums, but the group's best songs truly capture a moment in time during the early '80s. Stop in here for a look at the group's essential tracks, all celebrations of excessive romantic bombast.
As one of Australia's most successful musical exports to the United States, the long-lasting sextet INXS also ranks as one of the most consistent pop/rock acts of the '80s. From its early rough-edged pub rock/new wave days to an evolving mid-'80s sound to full-fledged pop superstardom, electric frontman Michael Hutchence, the Farriss brothers, and Co. delivered solid songwriting and imaginative grooves to a bevy of mainstream listeners. Here's a look at the group's finest '80s offerings.
Though often unfairly labeled as a teeny bopper's fantasy lacking in artistic substance, Rick Springfield was actually one of the finest '80s practitioners of mainstream rock, striking a singular marriage between a power pop obsession with melody and a rebel rocker's penchant for guitar riffs. If you need proof, take some time to re-examine these tracks, all of which added positively and enduringly to the decade's musical landscape.
As one of the most quintessential bands of the '80s, Huey Lewis & the News actually carved out a rather independent if middle-of-the-road path to pop stardom. After all, while other artists responded to changing trends and adapted to emerging genres, the Bay Area band continued to play its accessible brand of bar band heartland rock throughout the decade. And record buyers kept snapping up tunes like these with a similar level of consistency.
Songs about work have always been a staple of popular music, but modern music has placed a special spin on the topic. The '80s in particular were blessed with plenty of fodder for meditations on the changing landscape of the workplace, from gender roles to the erosion of America's industrial base. Here's a look at some of the decade's most memorable musical meditations on this subject, ranging from dark and edgy to slight and simplistic.
Prior to the '80s, the word "riff" was most often applied to the electric guitar and bands such as Led
'70s hard rock outfit Heart didn't release its best, most memorable music of the '80s until it had entirely transformed into a mainstream pop/rock band. And although that transition had its drawbacks, much of this music was among the best of its kind.
We all know that country music has long been big business, sometimes at the expense of the music itself. The '80s certainly added to this unfortunate trend to a greater or lesser extent, as urban cowboy and countrypolitan crossover pop often ruled the day. That said, '80s country also harbored more than a few talented, visionary artists who made their greatest contributions during the decade. Here's a look at some of the most memorable of these, tied inextricably to the '80s.
When asked to name important artists of the '80s, very few music fans of that era would leave Duran Duran off their short lists. Here are eight reasons why the band has become so inextricably tied to the glamorous, shimmering decade it matched so perfectly.
The sheer volume of rock and pop music since the Beatles that has originated from the relatively tiny land mass of England qualifies certainly as astounding. Therefore, culling the best English artists from any era of pop music quickly becomes an overwhelming task. As for the '80s specifically, England remained just as fertile as ever in producing popular, interesting and innovative musicians, especially in the burgeoning genre of alternative music.
The Police were unique among its '80s compatriots as a band that produced remarkably consistent albums, so coming up with a short list of the group's top 10 songs of the decade is a challenging enterprise indeed. Nonetheless, this chronological selection of Police classics proves that the effort is a worthy one.
Mainstream rock supergroup Asia enjoyed huge and immediate success upon the release of its debut album in 1982. However, internal conflict prevented the band from maintaining its initial momentum, eventually leading to a breakup in 1986 after only three studio albums. Nevertheless, Asia produced several hit singles that appealed to fans of arena rock and pop music fans alike. Here's a chronological look at Asia's top songs of the band's initial active period.
Artists from continental Europe made a definite impact on '80s music in Britain and America, and although they were generally able only to do so when they sang in English, sprinklings of European culture found their way into heavy metal and synth pop alike.
Pop-oriented Genesis frontman Phil Collins hasn't always received a lot of respect as a rock artist, but his solo work during the '80s provides no shortage of evidence that he released plenty of high-quality music as he made the transition from rock to full-fledged pop throughout the decade. Here are some of his finest tunes from that era, all solid compositions and performances with considerable merit.
Though originating in New Jersey, guitar rock band Uncle Green relocated to Atlanta and became a well-received if generally little-known underground band.
Although Whitney Houston burst onto the scene when the '80s were already half over and released only two albums within the decade, she was an '80s icon through and through. Still, her small output and singles-heavy albums require a greater selectivity when it comes to compiling her best work into a list format. After all, as big a superstar as she was, Houston charted only about a dozen songs within the decade. Check out my list of the top five Whitney Houston singles of the '80s.
Our neighbor to the north has always produced an impressive array of entertainers, from movies to TV and, of course, music. The '80s were a particularly kind decade to Canadian artists, as the U.S. mainstream rock and pop charts often left plenty of room for them to spread out and get comfortable.
At its best, .38 Special was one of those bands that comfortably occupied the middle of the road - musically speaking - with great comfort, while at the same time presenting undeniably exhilarating music. That's an exceedingly rare combination, as generally musical artists who work in a safe zone quickly begin to sound bland and forgettable. But there's something about .38 Special's winning pop/rock formula that transcends its simplicity and somewhat derivative nature.
Cyndi Lauper became an unforgettable '80s icon through her unique blend of punk/new wave style and a distinctively free-spirited persona. But the relatively small amount of music she released during the decade is what will continue to fuel her legacy as a recording artist. The strength of her best songs will continue to ensure that Lauper is remembered fondly as an important '80s pop music artist as well as a highly visible one.
If you're even a casual fan of '80s music, you're more than familiar with the rising use of saxophone in pop and rock music during that decade. It's hard to say exactly why the sax solo became so popular and yet so offputting during this period, but maybe a kitchen sink approach to production helped drown out selectivity in the decade's often busy arrangements. Even so, there are certainly examples like these of the saxophone being used wisely and even perhaps tastefully during the '80s.
For better or worse, few things scream '80s quite like the songs of Lionel Richie. Even for listeners who fancied themselves sophisticated music fans, Richie's biggest hits formed a semi-permanent soundtrack inside their brains. Here's a look at a few of the smooth singer's best, the ones you might not have to be ashamed of enjoying.
The Go-Go's made quite a splash as one of rock's first entirely self-reliant, highly successful all-female rock bands. In the process, the band released an impressive variety of quality music over three studio albums. Here's a look at the group's best.
The '80s witnessed a number of tragic deaths involving both contemporary artists and musicians who had become legendary during previous decades. Though it's impossible to do justice to the many left off of this list that deserve commemoration, here's a sampling of some of the decade's most heartrending premature deaths of pop music artists.
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At least musically, 1984 was far from an Orwellian year of doom. Instead, it was the year major stars came out to shine, just in time to join the video revolution. At the same time, new wave and synth pop styles continued to evolve even as new paths began to emerge.
There is certainly no shortage of hard rock frontmen from the '80s that were significant, memorable and highly visible during the era. The most prominent of these tended to operate out of the pop metal subgenre, but other styles also have plenty of representatives. Here's a look at some of the most popular, flamboyant and even sometimes talented lead singers of '80s hard rock. Just for fun, let's start with the blond ones, both natural and peroxide-assisted. It is called hair metal, after all.
Despite an unfortunately brief three-year run on the pop music landscape, the Australian former bar band Men at Work made an indelible mark on '80s music. And unlike many of its contemporaries, the group did so by focusing squarely on making great, eclectic rock music like these fine tunes.
Melodic hard rock outfit Night Ranger produced some of the most memorable melodies found in '80s hard rock, even if the group failed to gain much critical respect from rock audiences. Here's a look at some of the band's finest, most well-crafted songs from its seminal period.
Though the original '70s incarnation of the band reached heights almost no group since has even dreamed of equaling, KISS survived surprisingly well into the '80s through membership changes and stylistic uncertainty. Here's a look at my chronological take on the best songs from this legendary band's less-heralded but second most successful decade.
Few bands have displayed a capacity for reinvention as dramatic or successful as Genesis, a band that embraced weirdness under the direction of Peter Gabriel but pure pop melodicism when drummer Phil Collins took the helm. Here's a look at some of that band's finest tunes in the latter category, pop confections that house far more musical substance than they're ever given credit for.
Removing the Cars' excellent first two albums from consideration would seem like a pretty devastating handicap, but the band's consistency during its career of just under a decade ensures plenty of great '80s tunes to choose from for a best-of list.
It may be customary to exaggerate the achievements of musicians after they die young, but the fact remains that singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg will probably always remain a bit underrated. Even so, he was a major pop star through the '70s and '80s, presenting some of the latter decade's most melodic music that did not have any use for trends. Here's a look at some of the singer's finest as well as most popular songs, musical gifts that keep on giving.
Here's a look at some of the finest rock music of the '80s, and probably also some of the best of the last half-century of rock and roll. Emerging as a seminal L.A. punk band, X used eclectic influences and accomplished musicianship to help create the earliest form of alternative rock and guide it into its '90s explosion of popularity.
As one of pop metal's most successful acts of the '80s, Motley Crue thrived in the MTV generation as a photogenic glam metal quartet that was unique in its snarl and dark edge. But the band demonstrated an impressive consistency and genuine independence in musical direction throughout the decade through a number of solid compositions (mostly penned by bassist Nikki Sixx) executed with flair and nerve. Here's my list of the band's finest '80s tunes.
U2 evolved from a jangly post-punk guitar outfit to expansive arena rock demigods before finishing out the '80s delving into roots rock. Along the way, the band produced some of the highest-quality, most intriguing music of the rock era, not to mention the decade. Here's a look at 10 of the best '80s songs from one of rock's greatest bands.
Here's my take on the best tracks from the most commercially successful years of the classic funk/soul band Kool & the Gang.
Though active throughout the '80s as a musical entity, Britain's ABC presented most of its lasting work on its wonderful 1982 debut, 'The Lexicon of Love.' A brilliant combination of elegant synth pop, R&B and funk allowed the band to distinguish itself from more morose contemporaries, and the precise songwriting and arrangements of leader Martin Fry were responsible for some memorable '80s music moments.
This quintet from Sheffield, England took early glam rock and British heavy metal leanings and transformed them into a hitmaking juggernaut in the '80s. And the result of that metamorphosis was, naturally, a bevy of good songs, high on hooks but still possessing a genuine hard rock drive. Here's a look at Def Leppard's best musical offerings of the decade that seamlessly conveyed its mostly organic, nearly always winning formula.
As in perhaps every art form, there is always a teeming subculture just beneath the mainstream, usually populated by unruly mavericks unconcerned about the typical trappings of success. This was most certainly the case with underground music of the '80s, a sweeping, varied category that stretched across punk, pop and early hip-hop styles and everywhere in between. Here's a look at 10 of the most notable of these artists, though it's inevitably merely a scrape from a colorful surface.
Many people may not be aware that Canadian mainstream rocker Bryan Adams enjoyed his greatest success in the '90s as a balladeer and movie theme crooner. Nonetheless, his chart success in the '80s was nothing to scoff at, not to mention the fact that his music during that period was much more interesting. Here's a look at some of the singer's finest '80s performances.
1983 may have been the year of Michael Jackson, but it was also a year that embraced an array of pop music perhaps like never before.
Here's a look at 10 of the most memorable pop tunes from 1986, a diverse bunch of songs made up of familiar classics and tracks that were emblematic of the year.
Though the concept of going solo was not an invention of the '80s, artists during that decade seemed to perfect the art of shedding past band memberships for the bliss of an independent path. Some artists had better luck making the transition than others; here's a look at the ones who definitely made the right decision.
By 1981, remnants of the '70s began to fall away from the new decade's musical offerings, especially with the advent of MTV late in the year.
Led by the songwriting of founding member John Crawford and the lead vocals of sexy frontwoman Terri Nunn, American synth pop band Berlin became one of the more engaging acts of the first half of the '80s. Eventually the lure of stardom pushed the band away from its initially unique sound and hurried its dissolution. Nevertheless, the band built a fairly impressive catalogue of energetic synth-based songs. Here's a look at the group's best tracks.
Los Angeles hard rock legends Van Halen made a sparkling late-'70s debut but did not become full-tilt superstars until the '80s, just in time for personnel changes that would have sunk most other bands. But the flashy mainstream rock sound of Van Halen not only survived the frontman shift from David Lee Roth to Sammy Hagar but thrived during the MTV era. Here's a look at the best songs from two distinct eras of one of America's most beloved rock bands.
Operatic '70s hard rock superstars Queen ultimately generated nearly as much success during the band's '80s run as it did in its earliest phase, and that's no accident. The venerable British quartet released five full length albums during the latter decade, featuring eclectic music that spanned genres as disparate as funky dance-pop, roots rock, and, of course, arena rock power ballads. Here's a chronological look at Queen's finest tracks of the '80s, with emphasis on the band's amazing depth.
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 indeed.
Aside from being right in the middle of the '80s chronologically, 1985 was undoubtedly a central year of the decade's musical offerings. Many of the most popular and highest-quality tunes this year stood as big, sweeping statements of both style and substance. More than anything else, the top songs of 1985 continue to generate large waves of nostalgia and good memories whenever they're heard still today.
When people consider the variety of music genres that peaked during the '80s, new wave often comes up as one of the first topics of discussion. Once a term used somewhat interchangeably with punk rock, new wave eventually expanded to include almost any quirky yet still mainstream pop/rock form of the first half of the decade.
One way to experience '80s music on an entirely different level was through the visual medium of film, and often a tie-in to a hit film could give a single a boost like no other. While some '80s films were focused on retro music, especially if they were period pieces, the most indelible soundtrack offerings celebrated the '80s right along with the movies they accompanied.
From indie rock to pop and dance music, here are the eight essential artists that defined the eighties’ music scene.
The work of mellow '70s rock band Jefferson Starship transformed into guitar-heavy arena rock before giving way to a lite rock approach as just Starship.
Although always a vehicle for charismatic frontwoman Chrissie Hynde's songwriting, the Pretenders initially emerged as a highly eclectic, talented quartet of musicians capable of producing various rock and pop styles. The best of the band's '80s tunes employ a fierce, ragged rock and roll approach but benefit also from a tuneful pop sensibility fueled by Hynde's unique vocal style. The tragic deaths of two original members may have slowed but never stopped Hynde's pursuit of pop/rock perfection.
The '80s were heavily populated with over-the-top love songs, so a list of the most notable ones holds that much more significance for the selectivity involved. These songs allow the listener to wallow so completely in self-involved sorrow that the world outside ceases to exist. They're not necessarily the best love songs '80s pop music had to offer, but they certainly rank well among the decade's most overwrought musical explorations of heartache.
Here's a look at the singer-songwriter and pop superstar Billy Joel's best tunes from the eighties, a decade of great variety for him as an artist.
The '80s rebirth of Ozzy Osbourne after his 1979 firing from heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath was the first of several occasions in which the singer endured and overcame hardships to continue his success. Beginning the decade with a couple of groundbreaking albums featuring guitar virtuoso Randy Rhoads, Osbourne weathered the loss of his friend and collaborator to become one of the biggest hard rock stars of the decade. These songs provide a strong overview of what made Osbourne so successful.
For every '80s listener that enjoyed the increasing influence of disco and dance music on Rod Stewart's sound, there have always been several more long-time fans deflated by his departures from rock and folk leanings. That's probably one reason why this list of '80s songs is shorter than one might expect given Stewart's considerable chart action during the period. Still, Stewart has always been at his best when exploring his own substantial eclecticism, as these tunes demonstrate.
Contrary to popular belief, the prominent '80s genre labeled hair metal, pop metal or glam metal (depending on who is doing the classifying) contained far more than merely power ballads. Mid-tempo rock songs may have been plentiful during the decade, but the strain of music that blended pop so skillfully with at least elements of heavy metal produced the most notable music of its kind. Here's a look at some of the best songs of hair metal and pop metal, if not necessarily the biggest hits.
Despite the prevailing attitude about much '80s hard rock, I truly believe that the four-studio-album catalogue of L.A. hard rock mainstays Dokken is substantially deep in quality. And though I've thankfully outgrown most of my less worthy '80s metal favorites by now, I still think this band made too much great melodic and crunching rock and roll to be tossed dismissively among other '80s musical relics. Here are some reasons why.
Here's a look at 10 of the most striking, singular tunes from 1988, a year dominated by some pretty lame pop hits and hair metal posturing but somehow still rich with delightful musical surprises.
An overview on some of the band's best performances, if not its biggest hits, all songs that emphasize the group's strengths and self-produced synergy.
Here's a look at some of the finest singles from Scottish singer Sheena Easton during her consistent '80s run.
Here's a look at some of the lamest No. 1 pop tunes of the '80s, the ones I believe are particularly unworthy of such a distinction. There have always been questionable pop hits, but the '80s had an abundance from which a master list is difficult to distill. Nonetheless, it's always worth trying.
Here's a capsule view of some of the most important and prominent genres of '80s music, an era full of surprises, twists and turns.
I've never really questioned the artistic merit of Peter Gabriel as a performer, singer, songwriter and all-around musical genius. However, I have always felt somewhat distanced from his work, perhaps because his precision can create the illusion of coldness. Having revisited his rich '80s catalogue, I can say I'm over that impression now. Here's a chronological look at what I feel are Gabriel's finest solo offerings, a list whose process was both illuminating and challenging.
Based on bright, memorable melodies as well as minimal menace, arena rock has never been accused of being edgy or critically beloved. Where it has found great success, however, is in selling lots and lots of records. Here's a list of the genre's most essential artists.
One of commercial country music's few hugely successful bands of the past three decades, Alabama maintained stable membership as a quartet and perfected an easy-going sound during the '80s that appealed almost equally to fans of country, soft rock, pop and adult contemporary styles. The band enjoyed a handful of Top 40 pop hits during the early '80s and amassed an impressive string of 22 consecutive No. 1 country hits and a total of 27 throughout the decade. Here's a look at the best of these country pop smashes.
One of the most iconic and beloved pop music figures of both the '70s and '80s, Stevie Nicks became a full-fledged superstar during the latter decade.
Although singer-songwriter and initial new wave marvel Joe Jackson quickly became a journeyman stylistically, ranging from pop to jazz to classical explorations, the first decade or so of his career displays a sort of cohesion in terms of musical quality and consistent output. Here's a look at the finest songs from Jackson's most commercially and critically successful period, spent completely within the pop music universe.
Exploring the back catalogue of a band like the Violent Femmes, one of rock music's all-time cult favorites, is a rewarding enterprise just on its own merit. But when placed against the backdrop of the '80s music landscape, it's a particularly eye-opening experience. The Violent Femmes' top songs reflect an always palpable distress about being human and also a restless musical desire for trailblazing and ignoring generic boundaries.
Here's a chronological look at the best Cinderella songs from the band's peak period during the second half of the '80s.
Kindly peruse my list of the top songs from 1987, in no particular order and certainly with no claim toward a collection that cannot be challenged. Here is simply a notable sampling of some of the year's most memorable songs.
1. "The Path of Least Resistance" David Ramos/Getty Images Of the tracks on the band's late-1979 debut
Billy Idol has remained one of the most recognized '80s icons. This is a list of his best music - punk-inspired melodic hard rock masked as dance pop.
This hard rock subgenre originated during the '80s and became emblematic of the decade, presenting itself mostly as a hedonistic celebration of party-time USA. Though the music started in the underground, it quickly embraced the mainstream, buffing the grit of heavy metal to a slick arena rock sheen.
When it comes to pop music and the British Isles, the English have always enjoyed a dense concentration of talent and therefore the lion's share of attention. But during the '80s as well as before and after, many Irish, Scottish and Welsh artists made their names with memorable and important musical contributions of their own. Here's a look at the cream of this crop, the top 10 non-English British Isles artists of the '80s.
Here's a look at my painstakingly and painfully derived list of the finest '80s Talking Heads songs. After all, in terms of lively eclecticism and independent pop music spirit, perhaps no other American band active during the '80s comes close to matching New York's original punk/new wave pioneers. A sense of exploration, discovery and yearning consistently defines the group's output from its mid-'70s inception throughout its critically acclaimed and commercially potent '80s career.
English rock band The Fixx was one of the most consistent and prolific artists of the '80s, posting several hit singles and releasing five full-length albums. However, the high quality of the band's catalogue extends far beyond its most familiar tracks. For this reason, distilling the best songs from The Fixx during the group's peak era requires due consideration and some tough choices. Here's a look at my personal list, presented in chronological order, of The Fixx's top songs of the '80s.
Germany's Scorpions are one of the longest-lived and consistently productive hard rock bands on the planet, having forged well beyond a 40-year career as major representatives of that genre. The group traversed most of the '70s in understated but workmanlike fashion, emerging ultimately in the '80s as pop/rock superstars as well as fine purveyors of heavy metal. Here's a look at the group's finest songs of that decade, a list rich in well-known tracks as well as underrated album cuts.
Following a notable run as the creative linchpin of the Runaways, pop music's prototypical all-female rock band of the late '70s, Joan Jett embarked on a successful if never fully realized solo career that helped secure her legendary status. Here I stroll down some relatively untraveled paths to deliver for you the best compositions and performances of Jett's most visible era.
Here's a musical look at the last calendar year of the '80s, a time during which much pop music was already in the process of saying goodbye to the previous decade.
The '80s films of John Hughes each rely significantly on pop music to help tell stories that blend comedy and drama arguably as well as Hollywood cinema has ever done. But Hughes was also no one-trick pony, employing music in often disparate ways to help make every cinematic experience feel rather new. Here's a chronological look at some of the songs that have helped make so many of these films unforgettable.
Bruce Springsteen was an important and consistent hitmaker of the '80s, especially upon the release of his intensely popular classic album from 1984, 'Born in the USA.' Here's a look at the singer-songwriter's best tunes that made a mark on the '80s pop charts.
As MTV continued to extend its influence, artists began to emerge and thrive almost on image alone. Even so, much quality music was released in 1982, ranging from straight-ahead rock to synth pop to guitar-based new wave.
The soft rock and adult contemporary genres had plenty of room to accommodate '80s stars, many of whom saw an opportunity to maximize commercial appeal by trying many different styles. Here's a look at some of the decade's artists most able to string together hits that ranged from guitar rock all the way to orchestrated ballads. Most sustained long careers that previously found success in far different genres, but they found the bridge between soft rock and adult contemporary quite comfortable.
After nearly 35 years in the music business, singer-songwriter Tom Petty continues to thrive as a solo artist and as the leader of one of rock's greatest bands, the Heartbreakers. Not many musicians could even dream of making this claim, and even fewer still have produced as much quality music on a consistent basis. Petty's work in the '80s alone would have comprised a legendary career and casts him as one of that decade's most significant artists.
Though known mostly for its peak late '70s period of stardom, romantic drama between bandmates and its members' various solo endeavors, legendary rock band Fleetwood Mac also made several major contributions to the '80s music landscape. Over the course of just three top-selling, well-spaced albums released (or at least in heavy rotation) during the latter decade, the group enjoyed a string of hits but also continued its trend of producing highly polished and carefully crafted pop/rock songs that appealed to a tremendously wide audience. Here's a look at the best of Fleetwood Mac's sporadic but appealing '80s output.
Poison may have represented some of the worst excesses of the '80s, but there's no denying the quintessential L.A.-based pop metal band was one of the era's most important and popular artists. Despite a relatively brief shelf life cut short probably by the early-'90s onset of grunge, the band sold a lot of records and undoubtedly defined '80s hard rock.
Everybody knows '80s music had its share of embarrassing hairstyles, fashion disasters and generally cheesy behavior. However, the decade also put its distinctive stamp on the long-running annals of band names, introducing more than a few puzzling, silly and clunky ones. Here's a look at the bottom of the barrel.
Fan respect and appreciation for Michael Jackson's greatest legacy - his music - has convinced me that admirers aren't clinging to the ongoing story of his recent tragic death at all, choosing instead to embrace the life that produced such timeless American music. So I'm signing on for an extra top songs list in honor of an exceptional artist: here's a chronological look at more standouts from Jackson's '80s catalog.
At first glance, it might not seem that Chicago-based arena rock band Styx released enough records to fill a lengthy '80s best-of songs list. However, the band's deep catalogue is probably underrated in terms of consistent quality, as not enough credit goes to the band's arsenal of three distinctive and collaborative songwriters. As a result, the band produced a wide array of rockers and ballads that holds up quite well three decades later.
Foreigner earned its place during the late '70s as a major stadium rock draw but also endured the label of a hopelessly bland, faceless rock band. Nonetheless, the group found an even greater level of success when it transformed during the early '80s into a power ballad specialist more likely to feature layers of keyboards than leader Mick Jones' prominent guitars. Here's a chronological look at some choice cuts from Foreigner's '80s run.
During the mid-'70s, English singer-songwriter Elton John was one of the biggest superstars in the world of mainstream rock music. Despite some personal and professional struggles during the latter part of that decade, John managed to emerge in the '80s as a still viable artist, even if his rock edge had evaporated. Even so, here's a chronological look at the strongest Elton John songs of the '80s, some quality tunes that stand up quite well to his efforts from his peak '70s years.
One of the most instantly recognizable visual icons of the '80s, pop music parodist Weird Al Yankovic
No matter how hard we try, decades don't have clean cut-off points between them that usher certain styles into one era or the other. Therefore, much of the music made in the '70s, '60s and even the '50s found itself still kicking in some form or another as the '80s began. Nonetheless, new wave's blend of punk, power pop, mainstream rock, roots rock and disco constituted the first fresh genre to emerge in the Reagan Era. Skinny ties and all, this form announced the beginning of something new.
Having released just 10 singles and a total of 22 tracks from two albums' worth of material during the '80s, American mainstream rock singer-songwriter Richard Marx didn't have a tremendous amount of time or space to make his mark on the decade. However, the artist certainly made the most of his hard-earned opportunity, notching seven Top 5 U.S. pop singles and easily going multi-platinum with those first two releases. Here's a look at the best Richard Marx songs culled from that relatively small body of '80s work.
Here's a look at consummate R&B/pop artist Stevie Wonder's finest songs from the '80s, an era that saw him embrace synthesizers and drum machines but never obscured the organic brilliance of his best work.
Here's a look at a number of '80s bands that offered vibrant touches through their music as well as the splashes of color in their names.
Since at least the '60s, rock music has often shone its spotlight on lead singers, frontmen and frontwomen who drew primary attention from audiences through their charisma or image as much as their singing ability. While this has produced some interesting musical moments, I've always preferred lead singers who also stake a strong claim to being actual musicians. And luckily the '80s had its share of memorable lead singers who also demonstrated talent on a musical instrument. Imagine that.
Without arena rock, '80s music would have been a far different creature, and despite common attitudes to the contrary, probably not for the better. Despite its commercial nature, the '80s blend of progressive rock, radio-friendly pop/rock with huge hooks, and hard rock became a deserved staple of the decade's musical menu.
English guitar rock band The Outfield always exhibited what seemed like a far more American sensibility than a British one, favoring big hooks and arena rock guitars in its late-'80s output. For that reason among others, the trio enjoyed much success in the U.S. but never broke through in its homeland. Even so, The Outfield managed to record several mainstream rock classics and a handful of worthy album tracks - more than enough to keep the band memorable. Here's a look at the best '80s songs from The Outfield.
Initially, Husker Du's songs were short blasts of aggressive guitar, shouted vocals and breakneck tempos. However, as the trio grew and expanded its sound, a greater emphasis on melody and genre exploration began to define each subsequent Husker Du track. Along the way, the band was highly responsible for forging the emerging styles of modern rock, alternative rock and even '90s grunge. Here's a look at the most memorable and influential Husker Du songs of the mid-'80s, a period when the band produced plenty of extensive, influential guitar rock.
R.E.M. has always been known as a strong album band and, thanks to their firm entrenchment in the underground during the early '80s, the band never really had much of an outlet for singles. Even so, the increasing exposure of R.E.M. in the late '80s ultimately made their music quite popular and even ubiquitous. This all makes selecting the band's top 10 songs of the '80s an even more complex and rewarding process. Makes it hard to
Following the break-up of The Eagles, one of '70s rock's most popular and critically revered bands, the group's members had talent to burn outside the confines of a band structure. All in all, six of the band's total of seven members released at least two records during the '80s as solo artists. While only a small proportion of these artists enjoyed major pop hits for their efforts, all produced a considerable array of mainstream pop/rock. Here's a chronological look at the best songs culled from several ex-Eagle solo careers.
I know I'm taking a huge risk by even attempting a list like this, but sometimes an '80s music guide has to do what an '80s music guide should have done months before. After all, it's safe to say that fans of the Smiths, Britain's premier indie rock band of the decade and one of alternative music's most influential acts, are about as rabid as they come when it comes to the group's sanctity.
MTV, one of the most singular, well-known phenomena of the '80s, served as a backdrop and venue for much of the pop music of the decade. By popularizing the music video format for the masses, the cable network allowed audiences a visual intimacy with their pop music idols never possible previously.
Those of us blessed with personalities that tend to get mired in melancholy know a thing or two about getting so caught up in our own internal struggles that we hardly notice the outside world. Luckily, pop and rock music has always had a keen eye toward this kind of self-centeredness, yielding a rich and constantly growing supply of tunes that celebrate and illuminate the wallowing impulse in us all. Here's a list of 10 of the best the '80s had to offer of this ilk.
Never one of rock music's most critically acclaimed bands, Toto nonetheless achieved impressive levels of success during its heyday from the very late '70s through the mid '80s. And although the group's best music doesn't extend far beyond its biggest hits and most familiar tracks, that handful of eclectic pop songs continues to stand as some of the finest mainstream music of the early MTV era.
The golden age of soft rock certainly came during the mid to late '70s, when the singer-songwriter movement and the propensity of country-rock and folk-rock blends combined to forge a gentle pop/rock sound popular among mainstream music fans. However, this trend also extended successfully into the first few years of the '80s, in a period just before the lighter side of rock became dominated by a more modern, smooth adult contemporary sound and the power ballads of arena rock and pop metal.
I've mostly steered clear over the years of too much exposure to Paul McCartney's work with his '70s band Wings and his subsequent solo work. Of course, I haven't been able or even wished to avoid the music entirely, but a recent survey of McCartney's '80s solo offerings has left me with a greater appreciation of his talents than I ever thought possible. Here's a chronological look at some of the legendary ex-Beatle's finest tunes of this era, both popular and obscure.
Though valued mainly for his distinctive electric guitar sound as a lead guitarist in several legendary bands as well as his long solo career, British superstar Eric Clapton is also a fine singer-songwriter capable of success in various genres from pure blues to blues rock and classic rock. Here's a chronological look at Clapton's best tunes from his more pop-oriented '80s output, which shine consistently as high-quality mainstream pop/rock.
In his early years as a punk rock-influenced, stylish pop music figure, Adam Ant received critical acclaim and commercial adoration for his special take on new wave and post-punk. And although his career depended heavily on his photogenic appeal and his flamboyant image, Ant fully engaged U.S. and U.K. audiences as an important crossover pop music figure. Even if he turned increasingly to acting work and pursuits beyond music as the '80s wore on, Ant remains an important symbol of the array of singular elements that characterized the '80s music scene, both for better and worse. Here's a chronological look at the best '80s songs from Adam Ant as both a ragged bandleader and glossy pop artist.
While 1984 graced us with some of the strongest, most lasting albums of the '80s, the year was so thick with important pop music that there's plenty of competition for the top 10 albums culled from the rest of the crop.
Most people don't really consider British rockers Dire Straits to be an '80s band. Here are six of the group's finest from the decade.
Classic rock legend and reliable stylistic chameleon David Bowie has enjoyed a consistent and exciting career as a solo artist for more than four decades. The English singer-songwriter has recently released a highly anticipated new album, but his distinctively dance-oriented post-punk output throughout the '80s stands tall as a major period of his musical activity. Here's a look at ten of the best David Bowie solo songs of the '80s, spanning a number of memorable, elegant pop hits as well as an array of rock music experimentation.
Not all '80s artists are even yet eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but there are more than a few that have been active up to three decades without being recognized. Only a handful of these - depending on one's perspective, of course - belong in the category of definitively overlooked. Here's a look at a few artists particularly representative of '80s music that should already be enshrined, in my humble opinion.
Although the golden age of the supergroup most definitely lasted about a decade from the late '60s into the mid '70s, this special rock and roll concept had its moments as well during the '80s. Perhaps that's unsurprising given the decade's unique vision of all things over the top and self-indulgent. Here's a look at a few of the most prominent, important and memorable supergroups from the '80s.
A number of musicians and music lovers agreed that by the mid-'80s, some of rock and roll's roots in country, blues and R&B had been lost amidst the slick, modern sounds of new wave, pop metal and other pop styles that seemed too modern for their own good. Such traditionalists found a distinctive if small niche in roots rock, a genre that embraced the energetic, straightforward sounds of '50s and '60s early rock and injected some organic spirit into a music scene often ignorant of tradition.
Perhaps as much as anyone and certainly as much as any other female solo artist of the time, Madonna ruled the '80s completely - in her case with a lacy, gloved fist. From her bewitching image to her astounding achievements on the pop music charts, Madonna became a larger-than-life figure especially well-suited for the brand new MTV video age. Here's a chronological look at some of her most memorable contributions to not only the music world but also the deeper strands of pop culture.
Cuban-American pop singer Gloria Estefan began her singing career during the late '70s with Miami Sound Machine, an ensemble that was limited in its initial success to Spanish-language markets. However, during the mid-'80s the group enjoyed a stream of mainstream hits showcasing Estefan's lead vocals and her substantial charms as frontwoman. Also the composer of several of her group's hit ballads, Estefan has easily become the most successful Latin music crossover artist of all time. Here's a look at her top '80s songs.
Aside from having a curious and mysterious band name and settling on an ingenious blend of pop and rock impulses, England's Psychedelic Furs simply had no shortage of great songs. That's what transforms the band's '80s consistency into something far better: a legendary legacy.