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For music from a year in the 1980s, go to 80 | 81 | 82 | 83 | 84 | 85 | 86 | 87 | 88 | 89.

This article includes an overview of the major events and trends in popular music in the 1980s.

The 1980s saw the emergence of dance music and new wave. As disco fell out of fashion in the decade's early years,[1] genres such as post-disco, Italo disco, Euro disco and dance-pop became more popular. Rock music continued to enjoy a wide audience.[2] Soft rock,[3] glam metal, thrash metal, shred guitar characterized by heavy distortion, pinch harmonics and whammy bar abuse became very popular.[4] Adult contemporary,[5] quiet storm,[6] and smooth jazz gained popularity. In the late 1980s, glam metal became the largest, most commercially successful brand of music in the United States and worldwide.[7]

The 1980s are commonly remembered for an increase in the use of digital recording, associated with the usage of synthesisers, with synth-pop music and other electronic genres featuring non-traditional instruments increasing in popularity. Also during this decade, several major electronic genres were developed, including electro, techno, house, freestyle and Eurodance, rising in prominence during the 1990s and beyond. Throughout the decade, R&B, hip hop and urban genres were becoming commonplace, particularly in the inner-city areas of large, metropolitan cities; rap was especially successful in the latter part of the decade,[8] with the advent of the golden age of hip hop. These urban genres—particularly rap and hip hop—would continue their rise in popularity through the 1990s and 2000s.

A 2010 survey conducted by the digital broadcaster Music Choice, which polled over 11,000 European participants, revealed that the 1980s is the most favored tune decade of the last 50 years.[9]

North America


Michael Jackson was the most successful Pop and R&B artist in history.
Cyndi Lauper was the "Voice of the MTV Generation"
Madonna's music videos were a permanent fixture on MTV in the 1980s, and she has become the most successful female singer of all time.

The 1980s saw the reinvention of Michael Jackson, the superstardom of Prince, and the emergence of Madonna and Whitney Houston, —who were all the among most successful musicians during this time.

Michael Jackson was the first African American artist to have his music videos placed in heavy rotation on MTV. His videos for the songs “Beat It,” and “Billie Jean” were the first two, conversely Donna Summer had the first two videos by African American female artist "She Works Hard for the Money" and "Unconditional Love", all in 1983. Michael Jackson's Thriller album from 1982 is the best-selling album of all time; sold 25 million copies during the decade. His other album, 1987’s Bad, has the honor of being the first album in history to have 5 number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Its accompanying world tour also made history by being the highest-grossing tour by a solo artist in the 1980s, as well as the highest-grossing tour at the time. In addition to being the biggest selling artist of the decade, Jackson had nine number-one singles, more that any other act during the decade, and spent the longest time at number one (27 weeks), throughout the 1980s. He also won numerous awards, in retrospect such as “Artist of the Decade” and “Artist of the Century.” he was arguably the biggest star of the 1980s.[10]

Madonna was the most successful female artist of the decade. Her third studio album, True Blue, became the best-selling female album of the 1980s.[11] Other Madonna albums from the decade include Like a Virgin, which became one of the best selling albums of all-time, and Like a Prayer, which was called "as close to art as pop music gets" by Rolling Stone. Madonna made music videos a marketing tool and was among the first to make them an art form. Many of her songs topped the Charts around the world, such as: "Like a Virgin", "Papa Don't Preach", "La Isla Bonita" and "Like a Prayer". After her Like a Prayer album release in 1989, Madonna was named artist of the decade by a number of magazines and awards.[12]

Whitney Houston was one of the best selling female artists of the decade in the US, behind Madonna and Barbra Streisand. Her eponymous debut studio album became the best-selling debut album by a female artist at the time, and her sophomore album, Whitney, became the first by a female debut at No. 1 in the history of the Billboard 200. She also became the first and only artist to chart seven consecutive number-one songs on the Billboard Hot 100.

Paula Abdul hit it big in 1988, with her debut album Forever Your Girl, she was the first female to have four number one singles from a debut album, and only the second artist ever; The Jackson 5 previously had done the same with their debut album. She had five top ten hits from the album.

By 1980, the prominent disco genre, largely dependent on orchestras, had become heavily unfavoured, replaced by a lighter synthpop production, which subsequently fuelled dance music. In the latter half of the 1980s, teen pop experienced its first wave, with bands and artists including Exposé, Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, New Edition, Stacey Q, The Bangles, New Kids on the Block, Madonna, George Michael, Laura Branigan, Boy George and others becoming teen idols.

Prominent American urban pop acts of the 1980s include Tina Turner, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Whitney Houston and Diana Ross. African American artists like Lionel Richie and Prince went on to become some of the decade's biggest pop stars. Their commercial albums included 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign "O" the Times by Prince and Lionel Richie, Can't Slow Down, and Dancing on the Ceiling by Richie.

Prince was the decade's most prolific artist, not just by virtue of being the top charting artist in the US and worldwide. He was responsible for artists such as Vanity 6, for whom he wrote the dance chart topping "Nasty Girl"; Morris Day and the Time, for whom he wrote the top 20 "Jungle Love"; Sheila E., for whom he wrote the top ten song "The Glamorous Life" and number 11 "A Love Bizarre"; and Wendy & Lisa and Apollonia 6. He wrote "I Feel for You" for Chaka Khan, which won him a Grammy for best R&B song; "Sugar Walls" for Sheena Easton; and as well as doing a duet with The Look, he wrote "Manic Monday", a number two pop hit for the Bangles. Artists that covered his music included Tom Jones, who brought his version of the song "Kiss" into the top 40 for the second time in the decade. Melissa Morgan brought her cover of "Do Me, Baby" to the top of the R&B charts in 1986. Other notable artists that covered Prince during the 1980s were The Pointer Sisters and Cyndi Lauper.[13] He also won an Academy Award for the song "Purple Rain". In 1989, Irish singer Sinead O'Connor would record a cover of his song "Nothing Compares 2 U", which would become the biggest song of the year worldwide in the new decade to follow. Prince had four number one singles and 14 top ten hits on the Hot 100 Chart.

Lionel Richie teamed with Diana Ross to record one of the decade's biggest hits Endless Love, which top the Billboard charts for nine weeks. Other songs by Richie, such as All Night Long and Hello also top the charts, he would have a total of five number one hits, and 13 top ten singles. Diana Ross brought Upside Down to the top spot in 1980, she would have two number one singles, and eight top ten hits in the decade. Tina Turner would top the charts with "What's Love Got to Do With It", she scored a total of six top ten singles. Donna Summer's She Works Hard for the Money was a continuation of the feminist movement started in the 70s, and a rally cry for those who worked hard and wanted to be treated fairly. She would have five top ten singles in the decade.

Bruce Springsteen's Born In the USA, AC/DC's Back in Black, Def Leppard's Hysteria, and Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet were some of the decade's biggest-selling albums on the Billboard Top 200 chart.

During the mid-1980s American pop singer Cyndi Lauper was considered[by whom?] the "Voice of the MTV Generation of '80s" and so different visual style that made the world for teens. Her first two albums She's So Unusual (1984) and True Colors (1986) were critically and commercially successful, spawning the hits, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun", "Time After Time", "She Bop", "All Through the Night", "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough", "True Colors" and "Change of Heart".

Several British artists made the successful transition to pop during the 1980s and saw great commercial success, such as David Bowie, Phil Collins, John Lennon, Billy Ocean, Sheena Easton and Paul McCartney. Many British pop bands also dominated the American charts in the early 1980s. Many of them became popular due to their constant exposure on MTV, these bands included The Human League, Culture Club, Duran Duran, and Wham!. Between the four, they have had 9 U.S. number ones with hits like "Don't You Want Me Baby", "Karma Chameleon", "The Reflex" and "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" In the later part of the decade Rick Astley, George Michael as a solo artist, Terence Trent D'Arby, and Fine Young Cannibals all found chart success.

At the beginning of the 1980s Australian artist like Olivia Newton-John, Men at Work, Air Supply and AC/DC all had chart success, later in the decade INXS scored hits. Olivia Newton-John's hit Physical would top the Hot 100 for 10 weeks and be the decade's biggest hit in the US, she would have six top ten singles during the 80s.

American artists such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Kool & the Gang, The Pointer Sisters, Billy Joel, Hall & Oates, Prince, Kenny Rogers and John Mellencamp, then known as John Cougar, ruled the charts throughout the decade in the US.[14] Prince, Madonna, Jackson, Joel and Springsteen along with U2, Dire Straits, Phil Collins, The Police, Queen, The Rolling Stones and Eurythmics achieved tremendous success worldwide.[15]


In the 1980s, rock music was more precisely defined and split up into multiple subgenres.

Hard rock and heavy/glam metal

Metallica in concert, 2003

Beginning in 1983 and peaking in success in 1986-1991, the decade saw the resurgence of hard rock music and the emergence of its glam metal subgenre. Bands such as AC/DC, Queen, Def Leppard, Kiss, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Quiet Riot, Scorpions, Europe, Ratt, Twisted Sister, Poison, Dokken, Whitesnake, and Cinderella were among the most popular acts of the decade. The 1980s saw the emergence of wildly popular hard rock band Guns N' Roses and the successful comebacks of Aerosmith and Alice Cooper in the late 1980s. The success of hard rock act Van Halen spanned throughout the entire decade, first with singer David Lee Roth and later with Sammy Hagar. Queen, which had expanded its music to experimental and crossover genres in the early 1980s, returned to guitar-driven hard rock with The Miracle in 1989. Additionally, a few women managed to achieve stardom in the 1980s hard rock scene: Pat Benatar and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, who had been around since the mid 1970s, are prime examples of female success in hard rock, and so are both ex-Runaways Joan Jett and Lita Ford.

The Arena rock trend of the 1970s continued in the 1980s with bands like Styx, Rush, Journey, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, ZZ Top, and Aerosmith.

Traditionally associated (and often confused) with hard rock, heavy metal was also extremely popular throughout the decade, with Ozzy Osbourne achieving success during his solo career; bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Dio were also widely popular British acts. Speed metal pioneer Motörhead maintained its popularity through the releases of several albums. Underground scenes produced an array of more extreme, aggressive Metal subgenres: thrash metal broke into the mainstream with bands such as Metallica, Slayer, Exodus, Anthrax, and Megadeth. By the late 1980s, Metallica would achieve mainstream success and would become one of the best selling music artists of all time. Other styles like death metal and black metal would remained a subcultural phenomena.

The decade also saw the emergence of a string of guitar virtuosi: Eddie Van Halen, George Lynch, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Randy Rhoads, Jason Becker and Yngwie Malmsteen achieved international recognition for their skills. While considerably less numerous, bass guitar virtuosi also gained momentum in the 1980s: Billy Sheehan (of David Lee Roth and Mr. Big fame), Cliff Burton (of Metallica) and alternative/funk metal bassist Les Claypool (of Primus fame) became famous during that period. Iron Maiden founder and bassist Steve Harris has also been praised numerous times for his galloping style of bass playing.

Both Hard rock and Heavy metal were extremely popular live genres and bands toured extensively around the globe.

Alternative rock

One of the first alternative rock bands, R.E.M. relied on college radio airplay, constant touring, and a grassroots fanbase to break into the musical mainstream.

By 1984, a majority of groups signed to independent record labels were mining from a variety of rock and particularly 1960s rock influences. This represented a sharp break from the futuristic, hyper rational post-punk years.[16]

Throughout the 1980s, alternative rock was mainly an underground phenomena. While on occasion a song would become a commercial hit or albums would receive critical praise in mainstream publications like Rolling Stone, alternative rock in the 1980s was primarily relegated to independent record labels, fanzines and college radio stations. Alternative bands built underground followings by touring constantly and regularly releasing low-budget albums. In the case of the United States, new bands would form in the wake of previous bands, which created an extensive underground circuit in America, filled with different scenes in various parts of the country.[17] Although American alternative artists of the 1980s never generated spectacular album sales, they exerted a considerable influence on later alternative musicians and laid the groundwork for their success.[18]

Early American alternative bands such as R.E.M., The Hits, The Feelies, and Violent Femmes combined punk influences with folk music and mainstream music influences. R.E.M. was the most immediately successful; its debut album, Murmur (1983), entered the Top 40 and spawned a number of jangle pop followers.[17] Alternative and indie pop movements sprang up in other parts of the world, from the Paisley Underground of Los Angeles (The Bangles, Rain Parade) to Scotland (Aztec Camera, Orange Juice), Australia (The Church, The Triffids), and New Zealand's Dunedin sound (The Clean, The Chills).

American indie record labels SST Records, Twin/Tone Records, Touch and Go Records, and Dischord Records presided over the shift from the hardcore punk that then dominated the American underground scene to the more diverse styles of alternative rock that were emerging.[19] Minnesota bands Hüsker Dü and The Replacements were indicative of this shift. Both started out as punk rock bands, but soon diversified their sounds and became more melodic.[17]

By the late 1980s, the American alternative scene was dominated by styles ranging from quirky alternative pop (They Might Be Giants and Camper Van Beethoven), to noise rock (Big Black, Swans) to industrial rock (Ministry, Nine Inch Nails) and to early Grunge (Mudhoney, Nirvana). These sounds were in turn followed by the advent of Boston's the Pixies and Los Angeles' Jane's Addiction.[17]

American Alternative Rock bands of 1980s included Hüsker Dü, The Replacements, Minutemen, R.E.M., Dinosaur Jr., Pixies, and Sonic Youth which were popular long before the Grunge movement of the early 1990s.

New singers and songwriters included Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Mark Heard, Lucinda Williams, Patti Smith, Rickie Lee Jones, Terence Trent D'Arby, Stevie Nicks, Suzanne Vega, Cheryl Wheeler and Warren Zevon. Rock and even punk rock artists such as Peter Case, Phil Collins and Paul Westerberg transitioned to careers as solo singers.

In the late 1980s, the term was applied to a group of predominantly female U.S. artists, beginning with Suzanne Vega whose first album sold unexpectedly well, followed by the likes of Tracy Chapman, Nanci Griffith, k.d. lang and Tori Amos, who found success first in the United Kingdom, then in her home market.

Other trends

Various older rock bands made a comeback. Bands originating from the early to mid-1960s such as The Beach Boys and The Kinks had hits with "Kokomo", "Come Dancing" and "Do It Again". Bands with popularity in the mid-1970s such as the Steve Miller Band and Steely Dan also had hits with "Abracadabra" and "Hey Nineteen". Singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen released his blockbuster album Born In The USA, which produced a record-tying 7 hit singles. Stevie Ray Vaughan and George Thorogood sparked a revival of Atomic blues and Blues rock. Massively successful hard rock band Led Zeppelin disbanded after drummer John Bonham's 1980 death, while contemporaries AC/DC continued to have success after the death of former frontman Bon Scott. Country rock saw a decline after Lynyrd Skynyrd's 1977 plane crash and the 1980 disbanding of the genre's most successful band, the Eagles. The Grateful Dead had their biggest hit in band history with "Touch of Grey". The Who managed to provide the hit songs "You Better You Bet" and "Eminence Front" before burning out after the death of their drummer Keith Moon.

Hardcore punk flourished throughout the early to mid-1980s, with bands leading the genre such as Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Suicidal Tendencies, D.O.A., and Dead Kennedys amongst others. It began to wane in the latter half of the decade, with the New York hardcore scene dominating the genre. However, it experience a jumpstart in the late 1980s with emerging bands such as Operation Ivy and Green Day that would define not just the so-called "East Bay" sound, but impact the next decade's punk and alternative sound. Some of which is still around today.

The 1980s proved a difficult time for many 1960s-70s veterans, many of them unable or unwilling to adapt to current trends. Music icons such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and The Rolling Stones released albums that were often poor quality and critically panned as they attempted to grapple with the changing times. MTV in particular was a problem for many artists, as it put a premium on youthfulness, good looks, and showmanship. Artists who became strongly associated with disco music also fell from grace and were often banned from radio play.

Contemporary R&B

Contemporary R&B originated in the 1980s, when musicians started adding disco-like beats, high-tech production, and elements of hip hop, soul and funk to rhythm and blues, making it more danceable and modern.[20] The top mainstream R&B artists of 1980s included Michael Jackson, Prince, Jermaine Jackson, James Ingram, The S.O.S. Band, Stevie Wonder, Kool & the Gang, Jeffrey Osborne, Smokey Robinson, Rick James, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Earth, Wind & Fire, New Edition, Evelyn King, Marvin Gaye, The Jets, DeBarge, Midnight Star, Club Nouveau, Stephanie Mills, Jody Watley, Rockwell, Rene and Angela, and Freddie Jackson.[21]

In the mid-1980s, many of the recordings by artists Luther Vandross, Freddie Jackson, Sade, Anita Baker, Teddy Pendergrass, Peabo Bryson and others became known as quiet storm.[21] The term had originated with Smokey Robinson's 1975 album A Quiet Storm. Quiet storm has been described as "R&B's answer to soft rock and adult contemporary—while it was primarily intended for black audiences, quiet storm had the same understated dynamics, relaxed tempos and rhythms, and romantic sentiment."[22]

Tina Turner made a huge comeback during the mid 1980s, while Donna Summer, Diana Ross, The Pointer Sisters and Irene Cara had success on the pop charts first half of the decade. Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Jody Watley had it in the second half of the decade. Irene Cara's Flashdance... What a Feeling was the number one song worldwide in 1983, and for the decade of the 80s.[23] Richard J. Ripani wrote that Janet Jackson's third studio album Control (1986) was "important to the development of R&B for a number of reasons", as she and her producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, "crafted a new sound that fuses the rhythmic elements of funk and disco, along with heavy doses of synthesizers, percussion, sound effects, and a rap music sensibility."[21] Ripani wrote that "the success of Control led to the incorporation of stylistic traits of rap over the next few years, and Janet Jackson was to continue to be one of the leaders in that development."[21] That same year, Teddy Riley began producing R&B recordings that included hip hop influences. This combination of R&B style and hip hop rhythms was termed new jack swing, and was applied to artists such as Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, MC Hammer, Boyz ll Men, Guy, Jodeci, and Bell Biv DeVoe.

Michael Jackson remained a prominent figure in the genre in the late 1980s, following the release of his album Bad (1987) which sold 6 million copies in the US in the 80s, and went on to sell more than 30 million copies worldwide.[24] Janet Jackson's 1989 album Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 continued the development of contemporary R&B into the 1990s, as the album's title track "Rhythm Nation" made "use of elements from across the R&B spectrum, including use of a sample loop, triplet swing, rapped vocal parts and blues notes."[21] The release of Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 became the only album in history to produce number one hits on the Billboard Charts Hot 100 in three separate calendar years—"Miss You Much" in 1989, "Escapade" and "Black Cat" in 1990, and "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" in 1991—and the only album in the history of the Hot 100 to have seven top 5 hit singles.

Hip hop

Beastie Boys in concert, 1992

Encompassing graffiti art, break dancing, rap music, and fashion, hip-hop became the dominant cultural movement of the African American communities in the 1980s. The Hip hop musical genre had a strong influence on pop music in the late 1980s which still continues to the present day.

During the 1980s, the hip hop genre started embracing the creation of rhythm by using the human body, via the vocal percussion technique of beatboxing. Pioneers such as Africa Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Whodini, Sugarhill Gang, Doug E. Fresh,[25] Biz Markie and Buffy from the Fat Boys made beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using their mouth, lips, tongue, voice, and other body parts. "Human Beatbox" artists would also sing or imitate turntablism scratching or other instrument sounds.

The 1980s also saw many artists make social statements through hip hop. In 1982, Melle Mel and Duke Bootee recorded "The Message" (officially credited to Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five),[26] a song that foreshadowed the socially conscious statements of Run-DMC's "It's like That" and Public Enemy's "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos".[27]

Popular hip hop artists of the 1980s include Kurtis Blow, Run D.M.C., Beastie Boys, NWA, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Boogie Down Productions, Kid N Play, MC Lyte, EPMD, Salt N Pepa, and Ice-T, Schooly D, Slick Rick, Kool Moe Dee, Whodini, MC Hammer, among others.

Electronic music

In the 1980s, dance music records made using only electronic instruments became increasingly popular, largely influenced from the Electronic music of Kraftwerk and 1970s disco music. Such music was originally born of and popularized via regional nightclub scenes in the 1980s, and became the predominant type of music played in discothèques as well as the rave scene.

House music is a style of electronic dance music which originated in Chicago, Illinois, USA in the early 1980s.[28] House music was strongly influenced by elements of soul- and funk-infused varieties of disco. Club play from pioneering DJs like Ron Hardy and Lil Louis, local dance music record shops, and the popular Hot Mix 5 shows on radio station WBMX-FM helped popularize house music in Chicago and among visiting DJs & producers from Detroit. Trax Records and DJ International Records, local labels with wider distribution, helped popularize house music outside of Chicago. It eventually reached Europe before becoming infused in mainstream pop & dance music worldwide during the 1990s.

It has been widely cited that the initial blueprint for Techno was developed during the mid-1980s in Detroit, Michigan, by Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May (the so-called "Belleville Three"), and Eddie Fowlkes, all of whom attended school together at Belleville High, near Detroit.[29][30][31][32] Though initially conceived as party music that was played on daily mixed radio programs and played at parties given by cliquish, Detroit high school clubs, it has grown to be a global phenomenon.

Country music

As the 1980s dawned, pop-influenced country music was the dominant style, through such acts as Kenny Rogers, Ronnie Milsap, T.G. Sheppard, Eddie Rabbitt, Crystal Gayle, Anne Murray and Dolly Parton. The 1980 movie Urban Cowboy, a romantic comedy starring John Travolta and Debra Winger, spawned a successful soundtrack album featuring pop-styled country songs, including "Lookin' for Love" by Johnny Lee, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band, "Could I Have This Dance" by Murray and "Love the World Away" by Rogers. The songs, and the movie itself, resulted in an early 1980s boom in pop-styled country music, and the era is sometimes known as the "Urban Cowboy Movement".

By the mid-1980s, country music audiences were beginning to tire of country pop. Although some pop-country artists continued to record and release successful songs and albums, the genre in general was beginning to suffer. By 1985, a New York Times article declared country music "dead". However, by this time, several newcomers were working behind the scenes to reverse this perception.

The year 1986 brought forth several new artists who performed in traditional country styles, such as honky-tonk. This sparked the "new traditionalist" movement, or return to traditional country music. The most successful of these artists included Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Ricky Van Shelton and Holly Dunn. Also, artists like Kathy Mattea and Keith Whitley, both of whom had been performing for a few years prior, had their first major hits during 1986; Mattea was more folk-styled, while Whitley was pure honky-tonk. But the new traditionalist movement had already taken hold as early as 1981, when newcomers such as Ricky Skaggs and George Strait had their first big hits. Reba McEntire had her first big hit in 1980 followed by 15 other number one hit singles during the decade. In addition, songwriter–guitarist and Chet Atkins prodigy Steve Wariner also emerged as a popular act starting in the early 1980s. Another boom period for newcomers with new traditionalist styles was 1989, when artists such as Clint Black, Garth Brooks, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lorrie Morgan and Travis Tritt had their first big hits. It was Whitley who was seen as being one of the torchbearers of the new traditionalist movement, thanks to his pure honky-tonk style in the vein of Lefty Frizzell and others, and his star power was set to rise into the 1990s; however, Whitley was a known heavy drinker, and it was alcohol poisoning that ended his life in May 1989, just weeks after a song about triumph over personal demons -- "I'm No Stranger to the Rain"—became a huge country hit. In keeping with the neotraditonalist movement, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris teamed up to release 1987's Platinum selling Trio album. Composed mostly of traditional songs set to acoustic arrangements, the album won a Grammy in 1988 for best country collaboration.

Vocal duos were also popular because of their harmonies, most notably The Bellamy Brothers and The Judds. Several of the Bellamy Brothers' songs included double-entendre' laden hooks, on songs such as "Do You Love as Good As You Look". The Judds, a mother-and-daughter duo, combined elements of contemporary pop and traditional country music on songs such as "Why Not Me" and "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Ol' Days)".

Country music groups and bands continued to rise in popularity during the 1980s. The most successful of the lot was Alabama, a Fort Payne-based band that blended traditional and pop country sounds with southern rock. Their concerts regularly sold out, while their single releases regularly reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. In 1989, Alabama was named the Artist of the Decade by the Academy of Country Music. By the end of the 1980s, the group had sold more than 24 million albums in the United States.

Ranking just behind Alabama in popularity, as far as groups were concerned, were The Oak Ridge Boys and The Statler Brothers, both four-part harmony groups with gospel and country-pop stylings. The popularity of those three groups sparked a boom in new groups and bands, and by the end of the 1980s, fans were listening to such acts as Restless Heart and Exile, the latter which previously enjoyed success with the pop hit "Kiss You All Over".

Despite the prevailing pop country sound, enduring acts from the 1970s and earlier continued to enjoy great success with fans. George Jones, one of the longest-running acts of the time, recorded several successful singles, including the critically acclaimed "He Stopped Loving Her Today". Conway Twitty continued to have a series of No. 1 hits, with 1986's "Desperado Love" becoming his 40th chart-topper on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, a record that stood for nearly 20 years. The movie Coal Miner's Daughter profiled the life of Loretta Lynn (with Sissy Spacek in the lead role), while Willie Nelson also had a series of acting credits. Dolly Parton had much success in the 1980s, with several leading movie roles, two No. 1 albums and 13 number one hits, and having many successful tours; she also teamed up with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt in 1987 for the multi-plaitnum Trio album. Others who had been around for a while and continued to have great success were Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, Hank Williams Jr. and Tammy Wynette.

In addition to newcomer Whitley, top classic country and influential performers who died during the decade included Red Sovine, Whitey Ford, Marty Robbins, Merle Travis, Ernest Tubb Wynn Stewart and Tex Williams. Although not directly associated with country music, Roy Orbison, a favorite of many country music fans and whose styles wound up being influential with many newcomers, died in 1988.



Post punk

The Smiths, 1985

Some of the most successful post-punk bands at the beginning of the decade, such as Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Psychedelic Furs, also continued their success during the 1980s. Members of Bauhaus and Joy Division explored new stylistic territory as Love and Rockets and New Order respectively.[33]

The second generation of British post-punk bands that broke through in the early 1980s, including The Smiths, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cure, The Fall, The Pop Group, The Mekons, Echo and the Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes, tended to move away from dark sonic landscapes.[33]

Even though The Police's first hit song "Roxanne" was written by Sting in 1978 (reaching number 12 in the UK Charts that year), the song continued to grow in popularity in the 1980s along with the band, and it helped define the sound and repertoire of The Police, one of the biggest bands of the 1980s globally. Even though The Police had their roots in post punk, their eventual success and mega-stardom came from being able to pack the biggest stadium rock venues such as Wembley, the Oakland Coliseum and the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro. Aside from U2, they are the only other band with post punk origins to go on and achieve the kind of global success they did, with their music transforming along the way into their own brand and style of music - Sting's songwriting and voice becoming legendary, along with drummer Stewart Copeland and his widely respected, complex drumming skills and Andy Summer's masterful guitar interspersing with Sting and Stewart - helping them gain an informal but widely accepted recognition as the "Biggest Band in The World" during their 1983-1984 Synchronicity Tour, garnering them a nomination for 5 Grammy Awards and taking 3 at the 1984 Grammy Awards.

Ireland's U2 incorporated elements of religious imagery together with political commentary into their often anthemic music, and by the late 1980s had become one of the biggest bands in the world.[34]

Although many post-punk bands continued to record and perform, it declined as a movement in the mid-1980s as acts disbanded or moved off to explore other musical areas, but it has continued to influence the development of rock music and has been seen as a major element in the creation of the alternative rock movement.[35]

New wave music

Dire Straits on stage, 1985

The arrival of MTV in 1981 would usher in new wave's most successful era. British artists, unlike many of their American counterparts, had learned how to use the music video early on.[36][37] Several British acts signed to independent labels were able to outmarket and outsell American artists that were signed with major labels. Journalists labelled this phenomenon a "Second British Invasion".[37][38]

In the fall of 1982, "I Ran (So Far Away)" by A Flock of Seagulls entered the Billboard Top Ten, arguably the first successful song that owed almost everything to video.[37] They would be followed by bands like Duran Duran whose glossy videos would come to symbolize the power of MTV.[37] Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" gently poked fun at MTV which had helped make them international rock stars.[39] In 1983, 30% of the record sales were from British acts. 18 of the top 40 and 6 of the top 10 singles on July 18 were by British artists. Overall record sales would rise by 10% from 1982.[37][40] Newsweek magazine featured Annie Lennox and Boy George on the cover of one of its issues while Rolling Stone Magazine would release an England Swings issue.[37] In April 1984 40 of the top 100 singles were from British acts while 8 of the top 10 singles in a May 1985 survey were of British origin.[41] Veteran music journalist Simon Reynolds theorized that similar to the first British Invasion the use of black American influences by the British acts helped to spur success.[37] Commentators in the mainstream media credited MTV and the British acts with bringing colour and energy to back to pop music while rock journalists were generally hostile to the phenomenon because they felt it represented image over content.[37] MTV continued its heavy rotation of videos by new wave-oriented acts until 1987, when it changed to a heavy metal and rock dominated format.[42]

New Romantics
Duran Duran on stage, 2005

New Romanticism emerged as part of the new wave music movement in London's nightclub including Billy's and The Blitz Club towards the end of the 1970s. Influenced by David Bowie and Roxy Music, it developed glam rock fashions, gaining its name from the frilly fop shirts of early Romanticism. New Romantic music often made extensive use of synthesisers. Pioneers included Visage and Ultravox and among the commercially most successful acts associated with the movement were Adam and the Ants, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran.[43] By about 1983 the original movement had dissolved, with surviving acts dropping most of the fashion elements to pursue mainstream careers. Other new romantic artists included Classix Nouveaux, A Flock of Seagulls, Gary Numan, Japan, Landscape, Thompson Twins, Soft Cell, ABC, The Teardrop Explodes, Yazoo and Talk Talk.

Gothic Rock

The Cure on stage, 2008

Gothic rock music developed out of the post punk scene in the later 1970s. Notable early gothic rock bands include Bauhaus (whose "Bela Lugosi's Dead" is often cited as the first goth record), Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, and Fields of the Nephilim.[44] Gothic rock gave rise to a broader goth subculture that included clubs, various fashion trends and numerous publications that grew in popularity in the 1980s, gaining notoriety by being associated by several moral panics over suicide and Satanism.[45]

Heavy metal

In the early 1980s, the new wave of British heavy metal broke into the mainstream, as albums by Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Saxon and Motörhead, reached the British top 10. In 1981, Motörhead became the first of this new breed of metal bands to top the UK charts with No Sleep 'til Hammersmith. After a string of UK top 10 albums, Whitesnake's 1987 self-titled album was their most commercially successful, with hits, "Here I Go Again" and "Is This Love", earning them a nomination for the Brit Award for Best British Group.[46] Many metal artists, including Def Leppard, benefited from the exposure they received on ATV and became the inspiration for American glam metal.[47] However, as the subgenre fragmented, much of the creative impetus shifted towards America and continental Europe (particularly Germany and Scandinavia), which produced most of the major new subgenres of metal, which were then taken up by British acts. These included thrash metal and death metal, both developed in the UK; black metal and power metal, both developed in continental Europe, but influenced by the British band Venom; and doom, which was developed in the US, but which soon were adopted by a number of bands from England, including Pagan Altar and Witchfinder General.[48]

Notable bands from the hard rock and metal scene of the 1980s included Bon Jovi, Guns N' Roses, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Poison, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Twisted Sister and others.


Controversial dance pop band Frankie Goes to Hollywood in London, 1985
David Bowie saw commercial success during the early 1980s

Phil Collins had three UK number one singles in the 80s, seven US number one singles, another with Genesis, and when his work with Genesis, his work with other artists, as well as his solo career is totalled, Collins had more top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the 1980s than any other artist.[49] His former Genesis colleague, Peter Gabriel, also had a very successful solo career, which included a US number one single and three top ten UK hits (including a duet with Kate Bush). Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford also enjoyed several UK and US hits with his project Mike + The Mechanics, which included a US number one single. David Bowie saw much greater commercial success in the 1980s than he had in the previous decade, scoring four UK number one singles, including "Let's Dance" which proved to be his biggest ever hit. He had a total of ten UK top ten hits during the decade, two in collaboration with other artists.

Boy George and his band Culture Club had great success in both the UK and US charts with major hits like "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me", "Time (Clock of the Heart)" and "Karma Chameleon". As well as Boy George having his own UK number one with his cover of Breads "Everything I Own", he is considered a major icon of this era. Liverpool band Frankie Goes to Hollywood's initially controversial dance-pop gave them three consecutive UK number ones in 1984, until they faded away in the mid-1980s.[50] Dead or Alive, also from Liverpool, was another popular dance pop band in the mid-1980s. It was fronted by lead singer Pete Burns. Probably the most successful British pop band of the era were the duo Wham! with an unusual mix of disco, soul, ballads and even rap, who had eleven top ten hits in the UK, six of them number ones, between 1982 and 1986.[50] George Michael released his debut solo album, Faith in 1987, and would go on to have seven UK number one singles. The 1985 concert Live Aid held at Wembley Stadium would see some of the biggest British artists of the era perform, with Queen stealing the show.[51][52]

Bonnie Tyler had major hits with "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "Holding Out for a Hero", while Robert Palmer's had two iconic music videos for "Addicted to Love" and "Simply Irresistible". The Bee Gees 1987 single "You Win Again" reached number one, making them first group to score a UK #1 hit in each of three decades: the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.[53] Other British artists who achieved success in the pop charts in the 80s included Paul McCartney, Elton John, Culture Club, The Fixx, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Kate Bush, Billy Idol, Paul Young, Elvis Costello, Simple Minds, Billy Ocean, Tears for Fears, UB40, Madness and Sade.

In 1988 Irish singer Enya achieved a breakthrough in her career with the album Watermark which sold over eleven million copies worldwide and helped launch Enya's successful career as a leading new-age, Celtic, World singer. Dutch band Tambourine received some notoriety in The Netherlands and Belgium toward the end of the decade.

Synth pop

A-ha in concert, 2005

Synthpop emerged from new wave, producing a form of pop music that followed electronic rock pioneers in the 1970s like Kraftwerk, Jean Michel Jarre, and Tangerine Dream, in which the synthesizer is the dominant musical instrument. The sounds of synthesizers came to dominate the pop music of the early 1980s as well as replacing disco in dance clubs in Europe.

Other successful synthpop artists of this era included Pet Shop Boys, Alphaville, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, New Order, Gary Numan, The Human League, Thomas Dolby, Yazoo, Art of Noise, Heaven 17, A Flock of Seagulls, OMD, Japan, Thompson Twins, Visage, Ultravox, Kajagoogoo, Eurythmics, a-ha, Telex, Real Life, Erasure, Camouflage, London Boys, Modern Talking, Bananarama, Yellow Magic Orchestra, among others.

Latin America


The 1980s gives to the rise of teenage groups such as Menudo, Timbiriche, and Los Chicos, as well as emerging teenage stars such as Luis Miguel and Alejandra Ávalos.[54] By 1988, however, the aforementioned Luis Miguel would transform into an adult superstar at age 18 with the hit La Incondicional (1989). Not too far behind was former Los Chicos' member Chayanne as he became a leading pop star by the end of the decade, with his 1987 hit Fiesta en America. As young stars begin to rise in Latin music, veterans such as Julio Iglesias, José José, Juan Gabriel, and José Luis Rodríguez El Puma continue their dominance in Latin music. In 1985 became the worldwide breakthrough success of "Conga" by Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine . Argentine-Venezuelan singer Ricardo Montaner joins those veterans with his 1988 hit Tan Enamorado. After the slow decline of Fania All-Stars, the new romantic genre of salsa romantica would rise beginning in 1984. Younger salseros such as Frankie Ruiz, Luis Enrique, and Eddie Santiago would take advantage of this new genre rising salsa to new heights. Tejano Music starts to give little rise after Mazz crosses over to Mexico after their albums Una Noche Juntos and No Te Olvidare win Grammys.

In 1989, Juan Luis Guerra scores a major Merengue hit with Ojala que llueva cafe.


The Rock en Español movement began around the 1980s. Until the mid-80s the rock scene of most Spanish American countries were not connected, and it was rare for a rock band to gain acclaim and popularity outside its home country.

Argentina, which had the largest national rock scene and music industry, became the birthplace of several influential rock acts. Soda Stereo from Buenos Aires is often acclaimed as the most influential rock band of the 80s alongside the solo careers of Charly García, Luis Alberto Spinetta and the new star Fito Páez from Rosario. Soda Stereo was among the first bands to successfully tour across most of Latin America. Argentina developed also during the 80s a ska rock and punk rock scene. The punk movement, that was pioneered by Los Violadores, led to the rise of the Buenos Aires Hardcore around 1990.

In Chile, that was ruled by a military dictatorship all over the 80s, Nueva canción protest songs from the 60s and 70s maintained their popularity despite severe censorship. The progressive/folk rock band Los Jaivas made a Latin American trademark album with Alturas de Macchu Picchu [sic] based on Pablo Neruda's homonymous poem. The rock band Los Prisioneros were successful in combining the protest song atmosphere of the 80s with newer trends in rock including punk, ska, new wave and techno. In late 1980s new bands such as Los Tres and La Ley would start to set the trends for the next decade.

In Brazil, even though the 1960s witnessed the phenomenon of Jovem Guarda and the 1970s saw the appearance of many prolific artists, like Raul Seixas, and bands like Os Mutantes, Brazilian rock's explosion began in 1981 with the first expressions of the Brazilian new wave, later renamed the New Jovem Guarda by the media. The alterations of the English new wave movement, with its surprising variety of styles, arrived in Brazil through groups and personalities such as Blitz, Camisa de Vênus, Barão Vermelho, Kid Abelha, Paralamas do Sucesso, Ritchie (pt), Lulu Santos, Rádio Táxi, Marina Lima, Engenheiros do Hawaii, RPM, Graffiti, Ultraje a Rigor, Legião Urbana, Ira!, Titãs, Capital Inicial, Nenhum de Nós, Biquini Cavadão, Lobão & Os Ronaldos, Léo Jaime, and inumerous others. In January 1985, the Rock in Rio festival took place in Rio de Janeiro, which brought together over one million people to the Cidade do Rock during the 10 days of the event, and is to this day the country's biggest and most influential festival.[55] It represents a milestone in freedom of expression, as in that same year the country saw the end of the dictatorship,[56][57] and it is also responsible for establishing Brazil as a venue for international artists - as, so far, foreign attractions had been rarities.[56][58]


The salsa music had developed in the 1960s and '70s by Puerto Rican and Cuban immigrants to the New York City area but did not enter into mainstream popularity in Latin America until the late 1980s. The salsa music became together with cumbia the two most popular dance music but did not penetrate other countries outside the Caribbean as cumbia did.

The 1980s was a time of diversification, as popular salsa evolved into sweet and smooth salsa romantica, with lyrics dwelling on love and romance, and its more explicit cousin, salsa erotica. Salsa romantica can be traced back to Noches Calientes, a 1984 album by singer José Alberto with producer Louie Ramirez. A wave of romantica singers, found wide audience among Latinos in both New York and Puerto Rico.[59] The 1980s also saw salsa expand to Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Europe and Japan, and diversify into many new styles.

In the 1980s some performers experimented with combining elements of salsa with hip hop music, while the producer and pianist Sergio George helped to revive salsa's commercial success. He created a sound based on prominent trombones and rootsy, mambo-inspired style. He worked with the Japanese salsa band Orquesta de la Luz, and developed a studio orchestra that included Tito Nieves, Celia Cruz, José Alberto, La India, Tito Puente and Luis Enrique. The Colombian singer Joe Arroyo first rose to fame in the 1970s, but became a renowned exponent of Colombian salsa in the 1980s. Arroyo worked for many years with the Colombian arranger Fruko and his band Los Tesos.[60]


Merengue music would hit its golden years during the 1980s starting in the late 70s with acts such as Wilfrido Vargas, Johnny Ventura, and Fernando Villalona. Their orchestras would also churn future solo acts such as Eddy Herrera and Rubby Perez. By the end of the decade, La Coco Band would reinvent merengue with a more comedic style.

Australia and New Zealand

Michael Hutchence singing during an INXS concert, early 1980s

Australian rock band INXS achieved international success during the decade with a series of hit recordings, including the albums Listen Like Thieves (1985), Kick (1987), and the singles "Original Sin" (1984), "Need You Tonight" (1987), "Devil Inside" (1988) and "New Sensation" (1987).[61][62][63][64]

Kylie Minogue first single, "Locomotion" became a huge hit in Minogue's native Australia, spending seven weeks at number one on the Australian singles chart. The single eventually became the highest selling Australian single of the decade. Throughout Europe and Asia the song also performed well on the music charts, reaching number one in Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Israel, Japan, and South Africa. The Australian rock band Men at Work achieved success in 1981 with the single "Down Under" topping Australian charts for two consecutive weeks.

In 1980, New Zealand rock band Split Enz released their album True Colours, which became an international success. Their single "I Got You", which was praised for its "Beatle-esque" chorus, reached the top ten in New Zealand, Australia and Canada, reached number twelve in the United Kingdom, and even charted the United States. Split Enz also received significant exposure in the United States upon the release of MTV, which featured several Split Enz videos in the early days of its broadcast. However, after several line-up changes, which included the departure of prominent member Tim Finn, the band broke up in 1984 (another prominent New Zealand/Australian band, Mi-Sex, known for its hit single "Computer Games", disbanded the same year). Neil Finn, the younger brother of Tim Finn who had become Split Enz's de facto front man after his departure in 1983, went on to form Crowded House in Australia in 1985. In 1986 Crowded House released their hugely successful self-titled debut album, which went to number one in Australia and number three in New Zealand, as well as reaching the top ten in Canada and top twenty in the United States. It spawned the song "Don't Dream It's Over", which hit number one in New Zealand and Canada, number two in the United States and number eight in Australia, and has since become a pop/rock anthem in Australasia. Crowded House's follow up album Temple of Low Men, released in 1988, did not achieve the same success as their debut, but was still popular in the band's homelands of Australia and New Zealand...

Back at home, New Zealand continued to have a small and vibrant music scene, and the eighties saw the formation of many new bands, including The Swingers, Coconut Rough, The Crocodiles and Peking Man. Many of these bands were short-lived and did not see much success outside of New Zealand and Australia.


In Japan, bands such as Shonen Knife, Boredoms, The Star Club, X Japan, Dead End and The Stalin began in the Japanese rock bands and Visual kei emerged in the 1980s with bands such as X Japan, Buck Tick and D'erlanger. Japanese noise rock emerged in the 1980s with bands such as Melt-Banana, Zeni Geva and Guitar Wolf in the Japanese's indies scene.

Japanese hardcore emerged with bands such as The Star Club and GISM and Japanese idol group Onyanko Club began as Idol group in the teen fans and youth fans.

In addition, Hong Kong saw a rapid growth in pop music, both in terms of variety and popularity. Big stars such as Leslie Cheung, Anita Mui, Danny Chan, Alan Tam and Beyond were icons of the decade. The 1980s is still regarded as the most successful period in Hong Kong music history.

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