The 20 Best Rock Bands Of The ’80s

From Queen to Metallica to Bon Jovi, there are powerful bands that defined and shaped rock music in the 1980s. These bands are hugely renowned in the music scene, with their iconic sound, intense vocals, and energetic shows.

The 80s were an unforgettable time, without question. A great deal of that can be attributed to the rock bands of the 1980s that helped shape the sound of the decade. To remember the rock legends, here are the 20 best rock bands of the 80s.

1. Queen

You might be living under a rock if you haven’t heard of Queen. The British rock band is one of the most popular and influential bands of all time. Freddie Mercury’s powerful vocals, Brian May’s solos, John Deacon’s basslines, and Roger Taylor’s drumming made Queen one of the best live bands ever.

Their hits “We Will Rock You,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Another One Bites the Dust” are still popular today. Their live performances, music, and unique style continue to inspire musicians across the globe.

2. Guns N’ Roses

The makers of some of hard rock’s most classic albums, including 1987s “Appetite for Destruction”, Guns N’ Roses is one of the most popular bands of the 80s. Their hit song “Sweet Child O’ Mine” was one of the decade’s defining anthems, having sold 30 million copies worldwide. Their music still holds up today, as evidenced by their successful reunion tour in 2016.

3. Metallica

The teenage angst was real with Metallica. Their most popular album, “Master of Puppets,” was released in 1986 and they became one of the most popular heavy metal bands of all time. Their most famous songs include “Enter Sandman,” “The Unforgiven,” and “One.”

From their merchandise and concerts to their songs and albums, they are a band that has made the 80s a time to remember.

4. The Go-Go’s

Female rock bands do exist, and The Go-Go’s proved it in the early 80s. This all-girl group from Los Angeles became popular for their new wave sound and hits like “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “We Got the Beat” and “Vacation.” They were the face of punk rock with an all-female twist.

Having parted and reunited on several occasions, The Go-Go’s are still active today even though they have only released 4 studio albums.

5. Van Halen

Van Halen is a band that wowed audiences with its incredible talent and skill. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, and Eddie Van Halen is widely considered to be one of the best guitarists ever because of his famous two-handed tapping technique.

They sold 10 million copies of their album “1986” and it certainly shaped the sound of rock music in the 80s.

6. Poison

The glam metal band Poison became one of the most popular bands of the late 80s with their makeup and flashy clothes. Their multi-platinum album, “Look What the Cat Dragged In” contained three singles that topped the charts which are “Talk Dirty to Me”, “I Want Action,” and “I Won’t Forget You”.

7. The Pretenders

Known as one of the eclectic bands on the punk and new wave scene, the Pretenders were fronted by the fierce and talented Chrissie Hynde. The band’s hits include “Brass in Pocket,” “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” and “Back on the Chain Gang.” There were a series of changes of members over the years, but The Pretenders remain active to this day.

8. Def Leppard

A band that rose to prominence in the 1980s, Def Leppard’s music was a mix of pop rock and heavy metal, with catchy hooks and harmonies. They were one of the first bands to achieve mainstream success with this kind of music, contributing to the new wave of heavy metal. One of their most popular songs is “Hysteria,” which topped the charts in several countries.

9. Bon Jovi

Another pioneer in heavy metal and pop, Bon Jovi’s sound was defined by their catchy melodies and anthemic choruses. The band rose to fame with their 1986 album “Slippery When Wet”, which contained the hits “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “You Give Love a Bad Name,”  and “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Bon Jovi continues to enjoy success even today.

10. Blondie

Gracing the New York punk and new wave genres, Blondie became a sensation in the late 70s with its unique brand of music. The band members experimented with different musical styles, which made them stand out from other acts at that time.

Some of their popular songs include “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me,” and “Maria.” Being funky was always their thing, having sold over 40 million records worldwide!

11. ZZ Top

The Texas trio ZZ Top is one of those bands that achieved great commercial success. The band helped to popularize the blues-rock sound with hits like “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Legs,” and “Sharp Dressed Man.” ZZ Top was also known for its humorous lyrics and stage antics, which helped them stand out from other bands in the 80s.

12. Scorpions

Ranging from heavy metal to hard rock, the Scorpions graced the 80s with their hits “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and “No One Like You.” The German band has also released ballads like “Wind of Change,” which became an anthem for freedom and unification.

Being a German band and playing “Wind of Change” during the Moscow Peace Festival made them feel like they needed to unify with the rest of the world through music.

13. Mötley Crüe

If you’re a fan of 80s metal then you know all about Mötley Crüe. With hits like “Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Home Sweet Home,” and “Dr. Feelgood,” the band epitomized the excesses of the decade. They were known for their unique hedonistic fashion and overall dark demeanor. In 2019, Netflix released a biopic about them called “The Dirt”.

14. Aerosmith

The bluesy/raspy voice of Steven Tyler and the guitar skills of Joe Perry made Aerosmith one of the most popular rock bands of the 70s. But it was in the 80s that they reached their commercial peak with a string of hits like “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” “Walk This Way,” and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” Aerosmith has sold over 150 million records worldwide and the band is still popular today.

15. R.E.M.

R.E.M. became popular among college students because they formed the band while they were studying at the University of Georgia in Athens. Their unique music has led them to be the pioneers of alternative rock. Their songs “The One I Love” and “Losing My Religion” became huge hits in the 80s.

16. Skid Row

Skid Row is an American heavy metal band, formed in 1986 in Toms River, New Jersey. The band’s first album, “Skid Row” (1989), was a commercial success, turning 5x platinum on the singles “18 and Life” and “I Remember You.” Skid Row’s guitarist Dave Sabo was a friend of Bon Jovi which helped them get their start.

17. Eagles

The Eagles were one of the most popular American rock bands of the 1980s, having won six Grammys in their career as a group. Throughout the decade, the band produced hit songs including “Hotel California,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” and “Heartache Tonight,” making them one of the finest artists to emerge on the music scene since the 1980s and are still very popular today.

18. Duran Duran

Duran Duran is one of the most popular bands from the 80s, owing it all to their new wave and MTV notoriety. It’s no surprise that Duran Duran is one of the greatest bands of the 80s, given their fashion sense and catchy music. Throughout the decade, they had several top songs including “Save A Prayer,” “Hungry Like The Wolf,” and “Rio,” which are still played today.

19. The Smiths

The Smiths rose to fame in England in the mid-1980s and are considered one of the most influential bands of that decade. With their unique blend of indie rock, post-punk, and jangle pop, the band became one of the most iconic groups of the era. Songs like “The Charming Man” and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” are considered classics.

20. Journey

Journey was one of the most popular rock bands of the 1980s. The band was formed in 1973 and rose to prominence with their hit album, “Infinity”. Journey’s signature sound is a mix of pop, rock, and arena rock that is instantly recognizable. The band had a string of hits in the 80s, including “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Any Way You Want It,” and “Faithfully.”

Conclusion

There’s no denying that the 80s were a decade that was full of exciting music and trends. There’s a band from the 80s for every taste, whether you like heavy metal, pop rock, or new wave. These are the 20 best 80s bands that have shaped the musical landscape as we know it today.

Guns N’Roses Featured Image (Top-Left) by: Raph_PH, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Metallica Featured Image (Bottom-Left) by: Kreepin Deth, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Bon Jovi Featured Image (Top-Right) by: Mark Kent, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Aerosmith Featured Image (Bottom-Right) by: David W. Baker, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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