Rock n’ Roll really seemed to come into its own in the 1980s. There were plenty of good bands producing good music. But which bands were producing the best music. These are some of the best rock bands from the 80s, and it’s time to see which of them were truly the legends people make them out to be.
Heart not only created several big hits, but managed to sustain a high-level of quality music for decades. And that was despite the members constantly being switched and changed over time. There have been 38 different musicians associated with the band since it was started in 1967. None of the original members are even still involved. Yet, they’ve made several hits, such as “What About Love”, “Never”, and “Crazy On You”.
Poison had a style that blended traditional rock with the cheesy feel of the 80s. Bret Michaels, the front of the band, has also continued to be a fixture in pop culture. He’s been in a lot reality TV over the years. But since the band blew up in the 80s, they were able to invade the public consciousness. They even had three consecutive multi-platinum albums, including Look What the Cat Dragged In.
The 80s was a volatile and complicated decade for Aerosmith. No one’s doubting their longevity and overall fame, but as far as the top bands in the 80s, Aerosmith wasn’t exactly at its peak. Two members of the band had even left and returned during this time. The 80s weren’t the best decade for Aerosmith, but no one can deny their overall appeal.
“Here I Go Again” is probably one of the most iconic songs, let alone rock songs, to have come out in the 80s. Although, Whitesnake isn’t known for just one piece. They played with a few different instrumentals over time, as well as evolving their look. The group doesn’t have the same longevity or success as other groups after the 80s, but they certainly burned bright during that decade.
Let’s look at our first female-led band on this list. This group was incredibly popular for the first half of the decade, creating several songs that resonated with crowds. Their pop-filled take on rock seemed to almost epitomize what the 80s music scene was all about. And they had three successful albums (Beauty and the Beast, Vacation, and Talk Show) to boot. While they didn’t last forever, Belinda Carlisle, the group’s front man, had a very successful solo career after its dissolution.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Tom Petty’s more well-known as a solo act nowadays, but let’s not forgot how great his band was back in the day. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were one of the most prolific groups in the 80s. They came out strong with “Refugee” and just kept producing hits. They weren’t a hard rock group, nor did they lean on a glam rock appearance. They had a more folksy feel that seemed to attract a different demographic.
Pantera may be a bit more of an acquired taste. But once you get into it, you’re into it forever. Pantera’s music was a bit more esoteric in nature, playing heavy metal rock. People thought it wouldn’t appeal much to general audiences, but Pantera proved them all wrong. They combined elite instrumentals with an amalgamation of different rock genres. The band even got four Grammy nominations.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Red Hot Chili Peppers started out with just a couple of friends from high school looking to play some music. Now they’re an international sensation. Rock’s the integral theme of RHCP, but there are also elements of funk, pop, and rap. Their music is really unique and they even won six Grammies. They’ve earned a great deal of critical and commercial success.
The Bangles had a 10-year hiatus after the 80s ended, but that decade was it for the group. It might not sound that familiar to younger audiences, but they’ve made some big hits that they may even be familiar with. Songs like “Walk Like an Egyptian”, “Manic Monday”, and “In Your Room”.
Led by Debby Harry, the titular “Blondie”, this group managed to gain massive appeal thanks to her vocals. Of course, the band also had a unique sound that made people want to listen to more. They had a pop feel that blended in elements of disco and punk. That was their interpretation of what rock was.
Hall & Oates
It’s hard to think of a musical duo more popular than Hall & Oates. They certainly set the standard when it came to those duos in quality. Of their more than 30 singles, 29 of them were featured on Billboard’s Hot 100. And of those 29, five of them were number one on the chart. They just complimented each other so well, an angelic voice with top grade guitar playing.
The B-52’s were around starting in the mid-70s, but it wasn’t until the 80s that they hit their stride. They’d become an unstoppable juggernaut of a band. They were an atypical group, with a lot of members and instruments arranged in a unique way. They really established themselves in the niche genre of dance rock, having heavy pop influences. No one else was doing what they were doing during this time.
R.E.M. gets points for being the precursor to the 90s boom of alternative rock. The slower tones and vibrations of the guitars, Michael Stope’s vocals, and lyrics up for interpretation as they were delivering more ambiguously. They started as an indie group, but soon found themselves with a plethora of fans and albums throughout the 80s. If you’re not certain who they are, let’s just say the name of their most famous song, “Losing my Religion”.
Iron Maiden looks and sounds like the idea rock band, and they’re highly prolific as well. Even people that don’t listen to their music know who they are. And over their career, the band’s produced 41 albums. Of course, that quantity still has quality, having been nominated for five Grammy Awards, even winning in 2011 for Best Metal Performance.
Steve Perry is truly an icon. It’s no wonder that Journey was able to become so prolific in the genre with him as their lead singer. “Don’t Stop Believin'” is one of the most famous songs ever. It’d be more surprising if you had never heard it before. Of course, this isn’t their only hit. The versatility and ever-changing dynamic of the band makes them all the more impressive. They’re still producing new music to this day.
As the 70s came to an end, a new era of music needed to begin. And that’s what allowed for the British talent of Def Leppard to take center stage. Heartier and more violent, their music epitomized the balance between grit and glamor. After a successful appearance on MTV, it didn’t take long for them to take the whole world by storm.
The Motley Crue really took the idea of being a glam rock band to heart. The look, the sound, their on-stage personas, and a charisma that every listener would immediately gravitate towards. Tommy Lee, himself, is still a pop culture icon thanks to his time with the Crue. And their live performances were absolutely legendary.
Some people may not consider Queen true “rock”, but it’d also be foolish to put such an iconic group into that kind of genre box to begin with. The influences their music takes are incredibly varied and the sound they would produce was always electrifying. And no matter what generation you’re from, you’ve definitely heard and loved a Queen song at one point in your life. Rest in peace Freddie Mercury.
ZZ Top certainly had a recognizable look with their big beard and fedoras. They stayed true to their souther roots, adding elements of bluegrass and blues to their music. But certainly don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re folksy. When you mix together the guitar, sytnths, and drums, you get a music that anyone can enjoy.
Bon Jovi dominated the domestic scene with their music. Even so, their music made them of the most easily recognizable and popular bands on Earth at the time. “Living’ on a Prayer” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” are certainly two of their most well-known pieces. If they hadn’t done any other songs their entire career, they’d still be famous.
It’s very difficult to not think about Van Halen when thinking of the rock genre. The band would change over the years, being split between the Roth and Hagar eras throughout the 80s. However, their electrifying presence onstage and production of six different albums that decade solidified the group as rock legends.
AC/DC took the roots of the Young brothers, Malcolm and Angus, and mashed together their feelings of living in both Scotland and Australia. What was produced was perhaps one of the greatest rock bands of all time. The energy they had onstage was palpable, what some might say is what true rock n’ roll feels like. They’d always leave their audiences wanting more, no matter how many encores they gave.
Metallica is still a commercial hit. Your endorphins always go wild listening to their music. And James Hetfield is a double-threat, playing the guitar and doing the vocals. Of course, the band also has the legendary drummer Lars Ulrich. Their album, Master of Puppets, should definitely be on your list of music to listen to if you haven’t already.
Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses has everything you’re looking for in a rock band. They’ve got a killer logo, the band name is memorable and rolls off the tongue, and of course the music is off the hook. Each one of the performers in the band are masters of their craft. They’re still performing to this day as well. Some of the songs that they’ve been putting out are just mindbogglingly awesome.