20+ Best Rock Bands Of The ’80s

The 1980s were a defining decade for rock music, with a diverse range of rock bands making their mark on the music scene. This era saw the rise of various subgenres within rock, including glam metal, alternative rock, and new wave, leading to a rich and varied musical landscape.

Iconic bands like Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, U2, and The Police achieved enormous success, while underground movements like punk and post-punk continued to influence the industry. The ’80s were marked by a blend of powerful guitar riffs, catchy melodies, and larger-than-life personalities, making it a memorable period in the history of rock music.

Rock Bands Of The ’80s

The 1980s were a seminal decade in the history of rock music, characterized by an explosion of creativity and diversity within the genre. This era witnessed the emergence of iconic rock bands that left an indelible mark on the musical landscape.

From the glamorous excess of glam metal to the introspective introspections of alternative rock, the ’80s offered a spectrum of sounds and styles that resonated with a broad audience.

At the forefront of this era, we found legendary bands like Guns N’ Roses, known for their rebellious attitude and fiery guitar solos, and Bon Jovi, whose anthemic, arena-filling rock anthems defined the decade. U2, with their socially conscious lyrics and anthemic sound, became global superstars, while The Police’s reggae-infused rock brought a unique flavor to the scene.

1. Queen

Queen undoubtedly stands as one of the greatest bands in the annals of music history. Although their zenith is often associated with the 1970s, it’s undeniable that their prolific output during the 1980s warrants their inclusion on this list. It’s Queen we’re talking about, and they undeniably left an indelible mark on the rock scene during this era.

The 1980s marked a period of unassailable rock dominance, characterized by the emergence of hair metal, glam rock, and new wave. This decade not only introduced new talents to the stage but also revitalized older acts with fresh inspiration. Many consider it a pinnacle in the history of music, producing some of the most iconic albums and artists in the genre.

Technological advancements also played a pivotal role in shaping the rock sound of the 1980s. The experimentation with electronic keyboards, which had its roots in the 1970s, reached new heights as other instruments gained popularity. Guitar-driven artists sought to incorporate these innovations into their musical repertoire. Let’s delve into the rock bands of the ’80s that reigned supreme during this unforgettable era.

2. Heart

Heart experienced a relatively sluggish start in the early 1980s, releasing their first three albums of the decade: ‘Bebe le Strange’ (1980), ‘Private Audition’ (1982), and ‘Passionworks’ (1983). Unfortunately, these albums didn’t fare well in terms of sales, leading to the band being dropped by their label. However, this setback proved to be a turning point as they were subsequently signed by Capitol Records.

This strategic move bore fruit, giving rise to some of Heart’s most commercially successful songs. Among these hits, “Alone” stands out as a fan favorite. What began as a decade marked by declining fortunes ultimately transformed into one of Heart’s most defining periods.

3. ‘Til Tuesday

‘Til Tuesday achieved widespread recognition, not only due to their talented frontwoman but also because of their 1985 hit song “Voices Carry,” which seemed omnipresent on radio stations and MTV, making it nearly impossible to escape.

The band, hailing from Boston, was firmly rooted in the new wave genre. Comprising Aimee Mann, Robert Holmes, Joey Pesce, and Michael Hausman, ‘Til Tuesday was active from 1982 to 1989.

4. Kiss

Kiss faced a somewhat lackluster start to the 1980s, with their first two albums of the decade teetering on the edge of artistic stagnation. However, the turning point came with the release of “Creatures of the Night” in 1982 and the audacious move they made the following year. This daring move involved shedding their iconic makeup and streamlining their sound to adapt to the burgeoning hair metal era. With the release of “Lick It Up,” Kiss experienced a creative renaissance.

This reinvention catapulted them back into the spotlight as stadium superstars, with chart-topping singles such as “Heaven’s On Fire,” “Tears Are Falling,” and “Forever” ensuring their continued presence on MTV’s radar. Kiss had not only embraced a new musical direction but also solidified their position as influential figures in the evolving landscape of rock and pop culture.

5. Huey Lewis And The News

Huey Lewis and The News were known for their clean and polished sound, making them exceptionally radio-friendly. This quality played a significant role in establishing them as a household name during the 1980s. With an abundance of radio-friendly singles throughout the decade, it’s challenging to exclude them from any list celebrating ’80s music.

Their album “Sports,” released in 1983, was a pivotal moment in their career, propelling them to great heights in the ’80s. Their self-titled debut album may not have received much attention, but “Sports” firmly placed them among the era’s greats. This success continued with their next LP, “Fore!” in 1986.

While their commercial fortunes may have waned towards the end of the decade, there’s no denying that they shone brightly throughout the mid-1980s. As such, they unquestionably deserve a spot on any list honoring the influential bands of the ’80s.

6. Winger

Winger is an American heavy metal band hailing from New York City, and they soared to fame in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Their achievements in the music industry were underscored by an American Music Award nomination in 1990, particularly in the category of “Best New Heavy Metal Band.” This nomination highlighted their notable impact and recognition within the heavy metal scene during that period.

7. The Pretenders

The band’s eponymous debut album was released in January 1980 and enjoyed immediate success, both commercially and critically. While some might quibble about classifying them as an American band due to their English origins, it’s worth noting that Ohio-born frontwoman Chrissie Hynde has remained the sole constant member of The Pretenders.

Although only one single from the debut album, “Brass in Pocket,” managed to crack the top 20, the album resonated strongly with fans and has since been lauded as one of the finest debut records in rock history. However, their follow-up album, ‘Pretenders II,’ struggled to sustain the momentum established by its predecessor. Despite the band’s ever-changing lineup, they continued to produce hit songs.

In 1989, the band decided to go on hiatus, marking the end of a period characterized by both triumph and upheaval. Nevertheless, the success achieved during this era remains a testament to their enduring impact on the world of rock music.

8. Warrant

Warrant, an American rock group formed in 1984 in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, experienced a period of international success spanning from 1988 to 1996. During this time, they released five albums that collectively sold over 10 million copies worldwide.

Warrant is widely regarded as one of the most iconic bands of the 1980s, primarily due to their chart-topping hits like “Cherry Pie,” which continue to resonate with audiences and define the era.

9. Madness

This British ska-punk band faced a more arduous path to success in the United States compared to their native United Kingdom, particularly during their prime in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

It wasn’t until the release of “Our House” in 1983 that they made a significant breakthrough in the American market, thanks in large part to MTV’s extensive music video broadcasts, which helped propel the song into the top 10 charts.

10. Aerosmith

Aerosmith embarked on the journey into the 1980s with a moderate pace, facing the departure of guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford before the completion of the band’s debut album of the decade, ‘Rock in a Hard Place,’ in 1982. The original quintet reunited for a tour a few years later, and the somewhat overlooked ‘Done With Mirrors’ was released in 1985.

It was not until 1987’s ‘Permanent Vacation,’ when the band embraced sobriety and collaborated with external songwriters, that they experienced a resurgence into superstardom.

This outstanding album, along with their even more impressive 1989 follow-up, ‘Pump,’ produced a continuous stream of radio hits and MTV singles, securing Aerosmith the title of the “comeback of the decade.”

11. Poison

Poison is actually an American rock band, known for their glam metal and hard rock sound, that originated in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1983. The group experienced commercial success from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, selling over 15 million copies in the United States and exceeding 50 million album sales globally.

While Bret Michaels, the lead vocalist, remains relevant for reasons beyond his music, it’s important to acknowledge the significant impact that Poison had as a band overall, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of rock music.

12. Skid Row

Skid Row is an American rock band that was established in 1986 in Toms River, New Jersey. The group attained widespread recognition in the late 1980s and early 1990s, propelled by the success of their first two albums, “Skid Row” (1989) and “Slave to the Grind” (1991), both of which achieved multi-platinum certification.

13. Devo

During the 1980s, Devo hit their stride, with their album “Freedom of Choice” marking a significant milestone in their career in terms of commercial success. Released in 1980, the album sold over a million copies and featured some of their most memorable tracks, such as “Whip It,” “Girl U Want,” and the titular track “Freedom of Choice.”

Devo’s brilliantly eccentric style of new-wave music resonated with audiences worldwide. Enthusiastic fans sported vibrant jumpsuits and donned headgear reminiscent of Lego-style “energy domes,” emulating the band’s distinctive aesthetic. Throughout the decade, the band released five studio albums, including “Oh, No! It’s Devo” (1982), “Shout” (1984), and “Total Devo” (1988), in addition to the previously mentioned works.

While other artists may have outsold them or played to larger crowds, Devo’s impact on the era remains unparalleled. Their unique blend of music, style, and cultural commentary left an enduring imprint on the fabric of the 1980s.

14. The Go-Go’s

The Go-Go’s burst onto the scene at the beginning of the 1980s like a shooting star, quickly capturing attention before fading away. Despite their relatively short career, they undeniably earned their place among the giants of the ’80s on this list.

Their journey commenced with the release of their debut album, ‘Beauty and the Beat,’ in 1981. This groundbreaking new wave record dominated the ‘Billboard’ album chart for six weeks, shattering barriers for female groups in the industry.

However, with the release of ‘Talk Show’ in 1984, the band experienced a significant decline in sales. Behind the scenes, tensions simmered, exacerbated by creative differences and struggles with drug addiction. These internal conflicts ultimately led to the Go-Go’s disbanding in May 1985, effectively marking the end of their journey as a band for the remainder of the decade.

15. Whitesnake

Whitesnake truly embodies the quintessential 80s sound, and every time their iconic track “Here I Go Again” graces our ears, it elicits a wave of nostalgia. Their overall style, sound, and the resounding success marked by record-breaking hits like “Is This Love” and “Still Of The Night” firmly secures Whitesnake’s position as a legendary band of the 80s.

16. Blondie

Blondie’s prominence in the 1980s was primarily concentrated within the initial years of the decade, and what a remarkable run it was. Spanning from 1980 to 1981, the band delivered three of their four No. 1 singles, with “Heart of Glass” (1979) being the only exception.

“Call Me,” a compelling, infectious ode to hedonism, was not only performed but also co-written by Blondie. The track seamlessly matched the tone of the film it was featured in, effectively encapsulating the decadence of the early 1980s.

“Call Me” swiftly became an international sensation, emerging as the best-selling single in the United States in 1980. Although Blondie’s trajectory eventually faced decline, culminating in the critically panned ‘Hunter’ album in 1982 and the band’s eventual disbandment later that year, their significant contributions to the overall sound of the 1980s remain indisputable.

17. Ratt

Ratt, the San Diego-based glam metal band, gained widespread recognition throughout the 1980s, with their albums earning gold, platinum, and multi-platinum certifications from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

The iconic lineup of Ratt comprised Stephen Pearcy, Robbin Crosby, Warren DeMartini, Juan Croucier, and Bobby Blotzer, contributing to the band’s enduring legacy within the realm of glam metal.

18. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

With the release of ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ just months before the 1970s came to a close, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers emerged as a rising star as the 1980s dawned. Setting himself apart from many of his peers still tethered to 1960s sensibilities, Petty recognized the significance of music videos as both an artistic expression and a potent marketing tool. His distinctive videos for tracks such as “You Got Lucky” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” propelled these songs into the Top 20.

In the latter half of the decade, Petty’s career encountered significant challenges, but he made a triumphant return in 1989 with the release of the quintuple-platinum ‘Full Moon Fever.’ Although billed as a solo album, it notably featured significant contributions from Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, along with two other members of the band’s backup ensemble.

19. The Bangles

The Bangles, originating from Los Angeles, emerged as a prominent pop-rock band in 1981, enchanting audiences with timeless hits such as “Manic Monday,” “Walk Like an Egyptian,” “Hazy Shade of Winter,” “In Your Room,” and “Eternal Flame.” These tracks solidified their place among the best that the 1980s had to offer.

Comprising Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson, Debbi Peterson, and Michael Steele, the band’s classic lineup epitomized their era, contributing to their status as one of the greatest rock bands of the 1980s, and their enduring appeal remains indisputable.

20. Journey

Journey’s enduring legacy rests significantly on the contributions of Neal Schon, the sole member to appear on all of the band’s albums. Alongside other founding members including Greg Rolie, Ross Valory, George Tickner, and Prairie Prince, Journey had solidified its position as a platinum-selling band at the onset of the 1980s.

Launching the decade with the release of ‘Departure,’ the album produced the ever-popular track “Any Way You Want It.” Demonstrating no signs of slowing down, the band continued their momentum with ‘Frontiers’ in 1983, achieving multi-platinum sales and further bolstering their success with chart-toppers such as “Separate Ways” and “Faithfully.”

Notably, ‘Journey Escape,’ an Atari 2600 video game, allowed players to guide the band through a maze of groupies, paparazzi, and promoters en route to their next show, adding to the band’s iconic cultural presence.

Among Journey’s countless hits, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Separate Ways,” and “Faithfully” remain some of their most celebrated and enduring tracks.

21. Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth, the American rock band hailing from New York City, made their debut in 1981. The band’s distinct brand of music illuminated the global music scene with innovative and unconventional forms of rock. Original members Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, and Lee Ranaldo were joined by Steve Shelley in 1985, following a series of short-term drummers.

Jim O’Rourke and Mark Ibold were also part of the band from 1999 to 2005. In 2011, the band performed their final show, solidifying their reputation as one of the most influential rock bands of the 1980s.

22. Hall & Oates

Daryl Hall and John Oates, widely regarded as the best-selling duo in music history, dominated the charts with six consecutive #1 hit singles in the mid-1980s, including unforgettable tracks such as “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes,” and “Maneater.”

Transitioning from their early days as a blue-eyed soul ensemble, Hall & Oates evolved into a polished pop duo with soulful undertones, following the decline of their trio of mid-1970s hits from the charts. In 2014, the duo was rightfully inducted into the Hall of Fame, solidifying their enduring impact on the music industry.

Over the following four years, they amassed an impressive twelve Top-10 hits, five of which secured the coveted No. 1 spot, beginning with the 1981 chart-topper “Kiss on My List.” This unparalleled success positioned them as the preeminent duo of the rock era. Their 1988 comeback album, ‘Ooh Yeah!’, yielded yet another hit with “Everything Your Heart Desires,” serving as their final single to grace the charts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who were some of the most popular rock bands in the 1980s?

Some of the most popular rock bands of the 1980s included Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, U2, The Police, and Queen.

What characterized the sound of rock music in the 1980s?

The 1980s were marked by diverse sounds, including the rise of glam metal, new wave, and the integration of electronic elements into rock music.

Which rock bands of the 1980s were known for their unique fashion styles?

Bands like Duran Duran, Devo, and Culture Club were known for their distinctive and trendsetting fashion styles during the 1980s.

How did the emergence of MTV impact the success of rock bands in the 1980s?

The advent of MTV provided a platform for rock bands to showcase their music videos, significantly boosting their visibility and popularity.

What were some of the subgenres that gained prominence within rock music during the 1980s?

Subgenres such as hair metal, post-punk, new wave, and synth-pop gained significant prominence within the rock music scene during the 1980s.

Which rock band from the 1980s had the most significant influence on later generations of musicians?

Bands like U2, The Cure, and Guns N’ Roses have had a lasting influence on subsequent generations of musicians and artists.

What were the major albums released by prominent rock bands in the 1980s?

Iconic albums like “Appetite for Destruction” by Guns N’ Roses, “The Joshua Tree” by U2, and “Hysteria” by Def Leppard were among the major releases of the 1980s.

How did the political and cultural climate of the 1980s influence the music of rock bands?

The socio-political climate of the 1980s, including events like the Cold War and social activism, often found expression in the lyrics and themes of many rock bands during that era.


The 1980s were a transformative period for rock music, witnessing the rise of various subgenres and the emergence of iconic bands that left an indelible mark on the music industry. From the energetic sounds of hair metal and the innovative styles of new wave to the fusion of electronic elements into rock, the 1980s represented a time of experimentation and cultural evolution within the genre.

MTV’s influence on the visibility and success of rock bands cannot be overstated, as the platform provided a gateway for artists to showcase their music through visually striking music videos. Additionally, the socio-political climate of the era often found expression in the lyrics and themes explored by many rock bands, reflecting the cultural pulse of the time.

About the author

Band Xpert is the home to guitar lessons, tutorials, articles on how to improve your guitar playing, rock bands, exercises, chords, tabs, scales, articles on famous musicians, and much more.

Leave a Comment