Rocks Off are having a look at some of the biggest and most iconic musicians of the 80s. The decade saw the dawning of dance music and new wave. Rock music continued to enjoy a wide audience, but the 80s are more popularly remembered for the development of digital recording combined with synthesizers. Synth-pop and other electronic genres experienced an upsurge in followers.
Top 25 Best Musicians of the 80s
1. Whitney Houston
With over 200 million albums and singles sold worldwide during her career, Whitney Houston has established a standard for success. Born into a musical family on August 9, 1963, her implausible accomplishments include the following.
The only artist to chart seven consecutive No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hits, the first female artist to enter the Billboard 200 album chart at No. 1, and the only artist with eight consecutive multi-platinum albums.
2. Bruce Springsteen
Also known as “The Boss,” Bruce Springsteen began his career performing in bars in New Jersey while putting together his famous E Street Band. Born on September 23, 1949, he first fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll when he saw Elvis Presley perform on The Ed Sullivan Show.
During a career that has spanned five decades, he has earned countless awards including twenty Grammys and more than 135 million albums sold worldwide. He was inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.
The 1980s saw his album Born in the U.S.A smash the charts and produce seven Top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100.
3. Phil Collins
From an early age, Phil Collins showed interest in the stage and music. His love for the drums began at the age of five when he was given a toy drum kit. At thirteen, he was offered the opportunity to play the role of the Artful Dodger in the London production of Oliver! Collins became one of the most successful musicians of the 80s after replacing Peter Gabriel as the lead of the band Genesis.
4. Lionel Richie
Lionel Brockman Richie, Jr. was born on June 20, 1949. He penned and produced country-pop singer Kenny Rogers’ number one hit “Lady,” and his duet with Diana Ross, “Endless Love”, became the most acknowledged single in Motown history.
In 1985, with the help of pop greats such as Michael Jackson, he raised millions of dollars with the single “We Are the World” to fight famine in Africa. He became one of the most successful male solo 80s artists, surpassed only by Michael Jackson and Prince. Richie ruled the pop charts during that period with an unbelievable run of thirteen consecutive Top 10 hits, five of them number ones.
5. Elton John
Sir Elton John has sold more than 300 million records worldwide, making him one of the most highly-acclaimed artists of all time. He holds the record for the biggest selling single of all time, “Candle in the Wind,” selling over 33 million copies.
Since his first tour in 1970, Elton has over 4,000 performances under his belt in more than 80 countries. Some of his most notable accolades include 26 gold records, 38 platinum or multi-platinum records, 1 diamond record, and more than fifty Top 40 hits. In 1994, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
6. Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson was a multi-talented performer who relished a chart-topping career both with the Jackson 5 and as a solo artist. Known as the “King of Pop,” he released one of the best-selling albums in history, Thriller, in 1982.
Born on August 29, 1958, he became the lead singer of his family’s popular Motown group The Jackson 5 at the age of five. He went on to lead an amazing solo career, aside from his work with the Jackson 5, delivering No. 1 hits from his albums Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad.
Referred to as the “Most Successful Entertainer of All Time,” he died in 2009 at age fifty of an accidental drug overdose a few weeks before embarking on a comeback tour.
7. Billy Joel
With more than 150 million records sold, Billy Joel is one of the most popular recording artists in the world. He has released thirty-three Top 40 hits and received twenty-three Grammy nominations since becoming a solo act in 1972.
He was presented with a Grammy Legend Award, inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, and was presented the Recording Industry Association of America Diamond Award for selling over 10 million albums.
Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was born on August 16, 1958. A pop music singer and actress, she went solo in 1981 and became a superstar in what was a male-dominated 80s music scene.
She released the full-length album, Madonna, in 1983, which included the hit singles “Borderline,” “Lucky Star,” and “Holiday.” Soon, girls were imitating Madonna’s unique sense of fashion of fishnet stockings, lace lingerie, fingerless gloves, and large crucifix necklaces.
Marred with failed relationships and a controversial MTV Video Music Awards performance of her hit single “Like a Virgin,” she has countless hits and is one of the most prolific female musicians of the 80s.
Prince was hands down one of the greatest 80s musicians. He started showing interest in music at a young age, teaching himself how to play the piano, guitar, and drums. Born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, he landed international success with the release of his 1982 album, 1999, which included the Top 10 hits “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious.”
He would later be known for songs that had deep spirituality messages, with a desire for greatness and awe. He died on April 21, 2016, from an accidental drug overdose.
10. Tina Turner
Tina Turner began performing in the 1950s with Ike Turner. She gained popularity for their performances and recordings such as the hit “Proud Mary.” Turner achieved huge success with the release of her 1984 chart-topper solo album, Private Dancer.
11. Billy Idol
Born on November 30, 1955, William Michael Albert Broad, popularly known as Billy Idol, is a multitalented English musician, singer, songwriter, and actor. His first brush with fame came in the 1970s as a member of the punk rock group Generation X.
The name “Billy Idol” was influenced by a schoolteacher’s description of him as “idle.” His debut album, Billy Idol (1982), was a success. Music videos for singles “Dancing with Myself” and “White Wedding” acted as flag-bearers of then-newly established MTV. Idol was one of the first musicians of the 80s to really take advantage of music videos and MTV to expand his audience globally.
12. Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel rose to popularity as the frontman of the band Genesis. Born on February 13, 1950, his 1986 album, So, became his best-selling release. It earned triple platinum in the UK and five times platinum in the US.
His most successful single, “Sledgehammer,” won a record nine MTV Awards at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards. It is MTV’s most played music video of all time. An activist in nature, he has participated in several human rights benefit concerts, including Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now!
Some more of this iconic 80s artist’s accolades include Best British Male in 1987, six Grammy Awards, thirteen MTV Video Music Awards, the Man of Peace Award from the Nobel Peace Prize laureates in 2006, and Time magazine named him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2008.
13. David Bowie
Not many people recognize Bowie as a musician of the 80s, however, it was in this decade that he went mainstream. Born David Robert Jones on January 8, 1947, his first hit was the song “Space Oddity” in 1969. Bowie transformed into a bizarre character for his Ziggy Stardust album. He co-wrote “Fame” with Carlos Alomar and John Lennon, which became his first American No. 1 single in 1975.
But it was his 1983 album, Let’s Dance, that became Bowie’s best-selling album of all time. He sadly died from cancer on January 10, 2016, not long after releasing his final album.
14. Pat Benatar
Hits like “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “Love Is A Battlefield” made her one of the first MTV musicians of the 80s. Her 1979 debut album In the Heat of the Night was a huge success and included two monster hit singles, “Heartbreaker” and “I Need a Lover.”
She cemented her status as rock’s leading female vocalist in 1980 with her second album, Crimes of Passion. Headed by three big singles, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Treat Me Right,” and “You Better Run,” the record went platinum instantly.
15. Rod Stewart
Known for his signature hoarse singing voice, Rod Stewart was born on January 10, 1945. His first hit single as a solo performer was “Maggie May.” Moving to the US in 1975, he earned American accolades for “Tonight’s the Night” and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
Although he wasn’t the most prolific of all 80s musicians, his 1981 album Tonight I’m Yours was a return of the old Rod. Hit singles on the album, “Young Turks,” “How Long?” and the title track, give Rod Stewart a much-deserved spot on our list of the best musicians of the 80s.
16. Stevie Wonder
Born six weeks early with retinopathy of prematurity and made worse when he received too much oxygen in an incubator, Stevie Wonder became blind shortly after birth. But it didn’t stop him from making his mark in the music world.
He has sold over 100 million records worldwide, won 25 Grammy Awards, been inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame, Rock and Rock Hall of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is one of the most decorated artists of all time.
Chart-topping singles “I Just Called to Say I Love You” and “Part-Time Lover” from the Motown and R&B legend prove he was still one of the most relevant 80s musicians.
17. Bob Seger
A rocker with a classic raspy voice, Bob Seger wrote and recorded songs that dealt with love, women, and blue-collar themes. A stretching six decades has sold him more than 75 million records worldwide, thus, he is recognized as one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time.
His 1980 album, Against the Wind, was an instant commercial success. It was his only number one album to date and spent six weeks at the top of the Billboard Top LPs chart. It removed Pink Floyd’s The Wall from the top spot.
18. Paul McCartney
Sir Paul McCartney, a British vocalist, and musician helped transform popular music into a highly commercial art form with his early work with the Beatles. He is one of the most popular solo performers of all time in terms of sales and concert attendance.
Paul had a series of hits throughout the 80s, most notably “Ebony and Ivory” with Stevie Wonder and “No More Lonely Nights” featuring a brilliant David Gilmour guitar solo.
19. Don Henley
A drummer and co-lead vocalist for the popular band the Eagles from 1971 until the band broke up in 1980. He pursued a solo career and in 1982 released his debut album, I Can’t Stand Still. Henley has proven his worth as a solo musician of the 80s. His hit song “The Boys of Summer” become one of the best coming-of-age songs of all time.
He has sold over 10 million albums worldwide, had eight Top 40 singles, and won two Grammys and five MTV Video Music Awards.
20. Paul Simon
Paul Simon began his fabled music career as half of the duo Simon & Garfunkel just to find himself become more popular with the release of his 1986 solo album Graceland, which won the 1987 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
He has collaborated with musicians all over the world, released dozens of hits, and continues to deliver new music to critical acclaim. He was selected as one of the “100 People Who Shaped the World” by Time magazine in 2006.
21. Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman began writing music and performing in Boston. She was discovered when a friend’s father introduced her to a manager at Elektra Records. She soon recorded her debut album, Tracy Chapman, in 1988.
“Fast Car,” the album’s lead single debuted at No. 4 on the UK charts and No. 6 on the US charts. Rolling Stone ranked the song No. 167 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the highest-ranking song both written and performed by a female artist on the list.
22. Cyndi Lauper
Her 1983 debut album, She’s So Unusual, was the first by a female artist to achieve four Top 5 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. It earned her the Best New Artist award at the 27th Grammy Awards in 1985. She has released eleven studio albums since 1983 and has currently been very productive in stage plays.
Lauper has sold over 50 million records worldwide, has won awards at the Grammys, Emmys, Tonys, the New York’s Outer Critics Circle, MTV Video Music Awards, Billboard Awards, and American Music Awards. She won the first-ever Best Female Video trophy at the 1984 VMAs for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
Cyndi Lauper, known for her unique image, featuring a diversity of hair colors and eccentric clothing, and her singing range make her one of the most successful and iconic musicians of the 80s.
Blondie is an American rock band founded by singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein. The band was the innovator of early American new wave and punk scenes of the mid-late 1970s. Blondie went their separate ways after the release of its sixth studio album, The Hunter, in 1982. They re-formed in 1997, obtaining revived success and a number one single in the UK.
Their 1980 album Autoamerican featured two hit singles, “The Tide Is High” and “Rapture.” The latter becoming the first-ever rap song to reach number one on the singles chart in the US.
24. Stevie Nicks
Born on May 26, 1948, she joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975 and skyrocketed to stardom instantly. After years of battling addiction, she was able to regain her wits and reunited with Fleetwood Mac in 1997.
But Nicks was one of the most successful female musicians of the 80s. Her 1981 debut solo album Bella Donna went to number one on the US Billboard 200. The album produced four big hit singles, the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers written “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” the Don Henley duet “Leather and Lace,” her signature song “Edge of Seventeen,” and the country-pop track “After The Glitter Fades.”
25. Joan Jett
Entering the music scene at just fifteen, Joan Jett started her career in the punk-pop band The Runaways. Her 1981 debut solo album features hit single “Bad Reputation,” one of the best hard rock tracks of all time.
Arguably one of the most influential women in rock, she came up with hits like “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” She pioneered Blackheart Records and produced Riot Grrrl acts Bikini Kill and L7.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of the 25 best musicians of the 80s.