40 Best 80s Musicians (Most Iconic Artists of the 80s)

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Written By Will Fenton

Founder of MidderMusic. From numerous bands to stints working in music shops, read more about me on the 'Here's My Story' page!

The 1980s are remembered for being one of the most transformative and experimental music periods of all time. 

It saw the emergence of electronic dance music and new wave rock music. 

The decade is remembered for its increase in the use of digital recording, often featuring synthesizers.

Artists like Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Madonna rose to prominence during this time period. 

We hope you enjoy this collection of some of the best 80s musicians that truly defined the decade!

1. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson was an American singer, songwriter, dancer and philanthropist. 

He is regarded as one of the most influential music artists of all time. 

He was known for his dancing as well as his music, and was remembered for his creation of iconic dance moves like the moonwalk. 

He is the most awarded musician in history.

He rose to fame as part of the Jackson 5 alongside his older brothers. 

He became a solo star with his 1971 debut album Off The Wall

2. Madonna

Madonna Louise Ciccone, known mononymously as Madonna, is an American singer, songwriter and actress.

She is often referred to as the “Queen of Pop”.

She is known for her reinvention, versatility and discussion of sexual and social politics through her music. 

She began her career when she moved to New York City in 1978 to pursue a career in modern dance. 

She then released her self-titled solo album Madonna in 1983. 

She has sold over 300 million records, making her the best-selling female recording artist of all time. 

3. The Police

The Police were an English rock band, formed in London in 1977.

For most of their time, the group was made up of Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland.

They gained popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as part of the New Wave movement. 

They were considered to be one of the first British New Wave acts to break through in America on a large scale. 

They have sold over 75 million records. 

4. Duran Duran

Duran Duran are an English band formed in Birmingham in 1978. 

At its creation, the group was made up of Stephen Duffy, Nick Rhodes and John Taylor, and drummer Roger Taylor was added the following year.

They were considered part of the New Romantic scene. 

Like The Police, they were considered a key band in what came to be known as the “Second British Invasion of the US”, referring to various British bands that made it big in the states.

Their first major hit was “Girls on Film” from their self-titled debut. 

They have sold over 100 million records, making them one of the world’s best-selling artists. 

5. George Michael

George Michael was an English singer, songwriter and record producer.

He was born in East Finchley, North London, and rose to fame as a member of music duo Wham!

His first solo single, “Careless Whisper” reached number one in over 20 countries. 

He is considered a hugely significant cultural icon and was one of the best-selling musicians of all time, having sold over 120 million records worldwide. 

He achieved seven number-one songs in the UK Singles Chart and eight number one songs on the US Billboard Hot 100.

6. Queen

Queen are a British rock band that formed in London in 1970.

The band was made up of Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon. 

The group formed in 1970 and released their debut album in 1973.

They are best known for their song “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which was released in 1975 and stayed at number one in the UK for nine weeks. 

Songs like “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” have become anthems at sporting events.

Mercury died in 1991 of bronchopneumonia, a complication of AIDS. 

7. U2

U2 are an Irish rock band from Dublin. 

The group consists of Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Junior.

The group formed when the then-14-year-old Larry Mullen Jr posted a note on the school’s notice board, looking for musicians for a new band. 

They initially named themself “Feedback”, before later changing it to “The Hype” and then finally settling on “U2”.

Their music often focuses on personal and sociopolitical themes.

They are best known for songs like “With or Without You” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday”.

8. The Cure

The Cure are an English rock band, formed in Crawley, West Sussex in 1978.

They released their debut album Three Imaginary Boys in 1979.

The group experimented with different music styles, releasing music that was post-punk and new wave, before developing into a more gothic rock style. 

They found international success when they tried out a pop sound. 

9. Talking Heads

Talking Heads were an American rock band formed in 1975 in New York City. 

They released their debut studio album Talking Heads: 77 in 1977. 

The went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the 1980s

They were influential in the New Wave movement, incorporating elements of punk, funk and art rock into their music. 

They reached their commercial peak in 1983 with their song “Burning Down the House”. 

10. Bon Jovi

Bon Jovi is an American rock band formed in 1983 in New Jersey.

The group consists of Jon Bon Jovi, David Bryan, Tico Torres, Phil X and Hugh McDonald.

Original bassist Alec John Such quit the band in 1994 and guitarist Richie Sambora quit in 2013.

The band achieved widespread popularity with their third album, Slippery When Wet, which included singles like “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Livin’ On A Prayer”.

The band toured extensively throughout the 1980s, before Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora released solo albums. 

11. The Smiths

The Smiths were an English rock band formed in Manchester in 1982.

The group was made up of Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce.

They are regarded as one of the most influential bands of the 1980s.

The Smiths signed to Rough Trade Records in 1983 and released their self-titled debut album in 1984.

They incorporated elements of 1960s rock and post-punk, rejecting the synth-pop that was becoming popular at the time. 

The band broke up in 1987, a consequence of internal tensions that was followed by lawsuits over royalties. 

12. Elton John

Sir Elton John is a British singer, pianist and composer.

He is often nicknamed “Rocket Man”, after his 1972 hit of the same name. 

He has released a total of 31 albums in his career.

He released his debut album in 1969 and saw success throughout the 1970s.

He continued this success throughout the 1980s, releasing songs like “I’m Still Standing” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”.

Outside of his music, John is an active HIV/AIDS charity fundraiser.

13. Tears for Fears

Tears for Fears are an English pop rock band that formed in Bath, England in 1981.

They were associated with the New Wave synthesizer sound. 

Their debut album The Hurting, released in 1983, reached the top of the UK Albums Chart. 

One of the key bands in the MTV-driven Second British Invasion of the US, their second album reached number one on the US Billboard 200.

After releasing their third album, the band split in 1991, eventually coming back together in 2000 and releasing a new album in 2004. 

14. R.E.M.

R.E.M. was an American rock band from Georgia, formed in 1980.

The group was made up of Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe, who were all students at the University of Georgia.

They were pioneers of the alternative rock genre, alongside acts like Nirvana and Pavement. 

R.E.M. released their first single “Radio Free Europe” in 1981 and their first album Murmur in 1983.

“Losing My Religion” was R.E.M.’s highest charting song. 

15. Aerosmith

Aerosmith is an American rock band from Boston, formed in 1970.

The group consists of Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, Joey Kramer and Brad Whitford. 

Their style is rooted in blues-based hard rock, with elements of pop rock, heavy metal and glam metal.

They are often thought of as one of the greatest rock and roll bands to come from America.

They achieved their first number one with “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from the Armageddon soundtrack.

They remain the best-selling American hard rock band of all time, having sold more than 150 million records. 

16. New Order

New Order are an English rock band formed in 1980.

The group is made up of Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris. 

The group was formed from previous members of Joy Division, after Ian Curtis lost his life to suicide.

Their integration of post-punk with electronic and dance music made them a hugely influential group in the industry.

They were the flagship band for Manchester-based independent record label Factory Records. 

17. Genesis

Genesis are an English rock band, formed at Charterhouse School in Surrey in 1967.

The group was made up of Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins, as well as Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett.

They released their debut album From Genesis to Revelation in 1968. 

In 1980, Genesis bought Fisher Lane Farm, a farmhouse in Surrey, to use as their new rehearsal space and recording facility. 

Their album Abacab (1981) reached number one in the UK. 

They have sold between 100 million and 150 million albums sold worldwide.

18. David Bowie

David Bowie was an English singer-songwriter and actor.

He is regarded as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

He found uneven commercial success throughout the late 1970s, he had three number-one hits: “Ashes to Ashes” (1980), Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980), and “Under Pressure” (1981).

In 2013, he died from liver cancer at his home in New York City. 

He sold around 100 million records throughout his career, making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time. 

18. Kate Bush

Kate Bush is an English singer, songwriter, record producer and dancer.

She released one of her signature songs “Wuthering Heights” in 1978, aged just nineteen.

She was signed to EMI Records after Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour helped her to produce her first demo tape. 

Her album Hounds of Love, released in 1985, earned her nominations for Best Female Solo Artist, Best Album, Best Single and Best Producer at the 1986 Brit Awards.

She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British EMpire (CBE) in 2013. 

In 2022, her song “Running Up That Hill” received renewed attention after it appeared in the TV series Stranger Things, and became Bush’s second UK number one. 

19. Def Leppard

Def Leppard are an English rock band formed in 1976 in Sheffield.

They were at the height of their success between the early 1980s and early 1990s.

They were considered pivotal in the new wave of British heavy metal in the early 1980s. 

Their third album Pyromania reached number 2 on the US album chart and was certified Diamond in the US.

They have sold more than 100 million records worldwide. 

20. AC/DC

AC/DC are an Australian rock band formed in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia in 1973.

The group was formed by brothers Malcolm and Angus Young. 

Their music is a blend of hard rock, blues rock and heavy metal.

They released their first album High Voltage in 1975. 

In 1980, a few months after they released their breakthrough album Highway to Hell, band member Bon Scott passed away from alcohol poisoning. 

The remaining band members later released the album Back in Black, which was dedicated to Scott’s memory.

21. Journey

Journey is an American rock band formed in San Francisco in 1973.

The group was made up of Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, Jason Derlatka, Deen Castronovo, Todd Jenson and Arnel Pineda. 

The band was most successful between 1978 and 1987.

Some of their most successful songs include “Don’t Stop Believin’”, “Open Arms” and “Anyway You Want It”.

They have twenty-five gold and platinum albums and nineteen Top 40 singles in the US. 

They have sold 48 million albums in the US. 

22. INXS

INXS were an Australian rock band formed in 1977 in Sydney, New South Wales.

The band was made up of Garry Gary Beers, Andrew Farriss, Jon Farriss, Michael Hutchence and Kirk Pengilly.

They were known for their New Wave style, incorporating pop and harder rock elements. 

The group had their first number one in Australia with “Original Sin”.

They are best known internationally for songs like “What You Need”, “Never Tear Us Apart” and “Devil Inside”.

23. Blondie

Blondie is an American rock band co-founded by singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein.

They were considered very influential in the American new wave scene. 

They are best known for songs like “Heart of Glass” and “Call Me”.

In 1981, the band were commissioned to write and record a song called “For Your Eyes Only” for the James Bond film of the same name, but it was rejected by the film’s producers. 

24. The Bangles

The Bangles are an American pop rock band, formed in Los Angeles, California, in 1981. 

They are best known for songs like “Manic Monday”, “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Eternal Flame”.

The group was made up of Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson, Debbi Peterson, Michael Steele and Annette Zilinskas, at various points. 

The band formed when Hoffs placed an advert in the weekly Recycler paper and only Zilinskas responded. 

Another advert was placed by Lynn Elkind, the Petersons’ housemate and when Hoffs called in response to the ad, Peterson answered the phone and they found that they had many common interests. 

25. Foreigner

Foreigner is a British-American rock band, formed in New York City in 1976. 

The group was originally formed by Mick Jones and Ian McDonald (both Brits), along with American Lou Gramm. 

The name came from the idea that there were a few Brits and a few Americans in the band. 

In 1977, the band released its self-titled debut album and it went on to be certified platinum. 

They are best known for songs like “I Want to Know What Love Is”, “Feels Like The First Time”, and “Cold As Ice”.

26. Prince

Prince Rogers Nelson, known mononymously as Prince, was an American singer-songwriter, musician and record producer. 

He signed a record deal with Warner Brothers Records when he was just nineteen years old. 

He is regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 1980s. 

He was known for his flamboyant and androgynous persona, including a wide vocal range and use of falsetto.

He incorporated elements of funk, R&B, jazz and hip hop into his music. 

27. The Human League

The Human League are an English synth-pop band from Sheffield in 1977.

The group signed to Virgin Records in 1979, gaining commercial success with their third album Dare in 1981.

They are known for songs like “Don’t You Want Me”, “Mirror Man” and “The Lebanon”, released throughout the 80s. 

The only constant member since its conception is Philip Oakley.

They have released a total of nine studio albums. 

They are considered one of the leading groups in the 1980s Second British Invasion of the US. 

28. Fleetwood Mac 

Fleetwood Mac are a British-American rock band, formed in London in 1967.

The group was made up of Mick Fleetwood, Chrstine and John McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.

They gained commercial success throughout the 1970s, releasing three more studio albums in the 1980s before disintegrating in the late 1980s. 

They have sold more than 120 million records, making them one of the world’s best-selling bands. 

29. Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston was an American singer and actress, known for incredible vocal ability. 

She was nicknamed “The Voice” and is one of the best-selling music artists of all time. 

She has sold over 200 million records worldwide.

She has received two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, 16 Billboard Music Awards and 28 Guinness World Records. 

Her first two albums, Whitney Houston (1985) and Whitney (1987) both peaked at number one on the Billboard 200. 

30. Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen, born 1949, is an American singer and songwriter. 

He was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, to parents of Dutch, Irish and Italian descent. 

He is known for singing about the experiences of working class America.

He gained recognition throughout the 1970s, releasing his most commercially successful album Born in the U.S.A. in 1984. 

He has sold more than 140 million records worldwide.

31. The Pointer Sisters

The Pointer Sisters are an American pop and R&B singing group from Oakland, California. 

They have incorporated elements of pop, jazz, electronic, blues, funk and country into their music.

They have won three Grammy Awards.

The sisters signed to Blue Thumb Records in 1972, and released their debut album The Pointer Sisters the following year. 

The group found the most commercial success in the 1980s as a trio, consisting of June, Ruth and Anita. 

32. Survivor

Survivor is an American rock band formed in Chicago in 1978 by Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan.

They were most successful throughout the 1980s and are best known for their 1982 hit “Eye of the Tiger”.

The song was the theme song for the 1982 film Rocky III

The band attempted to replicate the success of their Eye of the Tiger album, but suffered setbacks when their next album was a commercial disappointment and their lead singer began suffering vocal problems. 

33. Billy Joel

Billy Joel is an American singer, pianist and songwriter. 

He was born in The Bronx in 1949 and grew up on Long Island. 

He released 12 albums from 1971 to 1993, as well as a studio album of classical compositions in 2001. 

He is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with over 160 million records sold worldwide.

He is known for songs like “She’s Always a Woman”, “Uptown Girl” and “Vienna”.

34. Lionel Richie

Lionel Richie is an American singer, songwriter, record producer and television personality. 

He rose to fame in the 1970s as part of the funk band The Commodores, with hit singles like “Easy”, “Sail On”, “Three Times a Lady” and “Still”.

In the 1980s, he embarked on his solo career.

His second album Can’t Slow Down, released in 1983, reached number one on the Billboard 200 chart.

It became one of the best-selling albums of all time, including singles like “All Night Long (All Night)” and “Hello”.

35. Run-DMC

Run-DMC was an American hip hop group from Queens, New York.

It was made up of Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels and Jason Mizell.

They are considered one of the most popular and influential hip hop groups of all time.

Alongside their contemporaries Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Public Enemy, they were part of the new school hip hop wave of music and were pivotal in making hip hop mainstream. 

The group was formed in 1983 and released their self-titled debut album in 1984. 

36. Spandau Ballet

Spandau Ballet were an English new wave band formed in Islington in London, 1979.

They formed during an era of new-wave post-punk music that was taking over London. 

They were part of the Second British Invasion, the wave of British music that took over the US charts.

They have had eight UK top 10 albums.

The group was made up of Tony Hadley, John Keeble, Gary Kemp, Martin Kemp, Steve Norman and Ross William Wild. 

37. Tina Turner

Tina Turner is an American-born Swiss singer and actress, born in Tennessee in 1939.

She began her career as part of a duo with her husband Ike Turner. 

She debuted as a solo artist in 1960, with the release of “A Fool in Love”. 

She is known for songs like “Proud Mary”, “Golden Eye” and “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”.

She has sold over 100 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling artists of all time. 

She has received 12 Grammy Awards throughout her career.

38. Chaka Khan

Yvetter Marie Stevens, better known by her stage name Chaka Khan, is an American singer.

She was born in 1953 in Chicago, Illinois. 

She began her career in the 1970s as the lead singer of funk bad Rufus.

She released her debut solo album, Chaka, in 1978 with Warner Bros Records. 

She has been nicknamed the “Queen of Funk”.

She was the first R&B artist to have a crossover hit with a rapper, with “I Feel For You” in 1984.

39. ABBA

ABBA are a Swedish group formed in Stockholm in 1972.

The group’s name is made up of the first letters of the members’ names: Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad.

They became one of the best-selling music acts in pop music. 

They rose to fame when they won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974. 

The group separated in 1982.

In 1999, their music was adapted into Mamma Mia!, a stage musical that toured worldwide. 

40. Diana Ross

Diana Ross is an American singer and actress, born in Michigan in 1944. 

She rose to fame as the lead singer of the Supremes, the most successful Motown act of the 1960s.

The group remains the best-charting female group in history.

In 1970, Ross embarked on her solo career in music, film, television and stage.

She released top-ten hits throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s.

She was named the “Female Entertainer of the Century” by Billboard in 1976. 

Best 80s Musicians – Final Thoughts

Many of the artists that made it big in the 1980s have had long-lasting impacts, remaining some of the biggest artists of all time and serving as inspirations for those that followed.

The music industry had a huge impact on society as a whole, with artists like Madonna starting conversations about sexual politics and gender. 

Many British artists found US success in this period, in a phenomenon often referred to as the “Second Invasion of the US”.

The 1980s and the artists it produced will have a lasting impact on the music industry as a whole.

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