The 411 Music Top Five 07.17.12: The Top Five Acts of the 1980s
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 07.17.2012
From Michael Jackson and Queen to Guns N' Roses, Bon Jovi, Madonna and more, the 411 staff breaks down their top 5 acts of the 1980s!
THE TOP 5 ARTISTS OF THE 1980s
Right, before I start, let's get one thing clear. The Top 3 acts of the 80's are, in order.
3. Michael Jackson
All you Jacko lovers out there who are currently crying foul, I'm right, you're wrong. Deal with it. As such, I'm not going to write about those 3, not because I don't feel I can't or shouldn't but because I don't want to. You don't need me to explain to you why there are the top 3 and if you do, well, you might not be in the right place. On to MY 5, or places 8-4 if you like.
Already a fairly big deal after the 70's, Queen owned the latter half of the 80's after storming performances at Wembley Stadium for both Live Aid and their own concerts. While the focus was rightly on Freddie as a showman, there was so much more to him and the band than just his proficiency as a frontman. They produced some stunningly good tracks, both in an upbeat sing-along-a style and heartfelt, poignant and moving songs as well. They were the ultimate stadium rock band but it wasn't just Freddie that commanded the arenas, it was the songs too. It's all well and good having the best frontman in the world as long as you've got the songs to back them up, Queen did.
4. New Order
Born out of tragedy, New Order went on to become one of the biggest and most influential dance acts of the 80's. They were pioneers of the ‘Manchester' sound and unwittingly setters of a benchmark that all new bands from the area must meet. They helped revolutionize the UK dance scene and paved the way for a whole host of new acts to step up, even today their influence is still being felt and illustrated in new acts such as Delphic and Egyptian Hip Hop. Along with another of my choices, they helped bring synthesizers to the fore in UK pop music and did so by creating some of the all time greatest dance music. Just listen to "True Faith" and "Blue Monday" now, they still sound current. Go on, look, I've even got "True Faith" here for you now.
Yeah I know, Bono is a huge cock with a planet-sized ego. Despite this though, U2 made some pretty awesome music in the 80's and, after plundering the best of American blues, rock and pop, soon blew up to be the global uber-band we all know and love/hate today. Back then the songs depth and meaning wasn't colored by the audiences' potentially cynical view of Bono and his self-image which allowed us to enjoy not only fantastic pop-rock tracks but feel touched by them. I wish I could feel about them now as I did back then but alas, the constant posturing of the lead singer has made it all but impossible for this writer.
2. Bon Jovi
"Woah-oh, we're half way there. Woah-ohhhhhhh, Livin' on a prayer!" Simple but effective, and so it was, a legend was born. Full of big songs with big choruses, big riffs and even bigger hair, Bon Jovi's stadium pop-rock blasted them into the stratosphere and global superstardom in the 80's. The combination of both working-class and party-rock was irresistible and tracks like "You Give Love A Bad Name", "Wild In The Streets", "Wanted Dead Or Alive" and, of course "Livin' On A Prayer" are still awesome party-tracks that you can't help but sing (shout?) along to.
1. Pet Shop Boys
I totally loved the Pet Shop Boys as a kid. The much lampooned-but-actually-very-cool image they portrayed with Neil upfront and a solemn Chris hanging back, the outrageous theatre-style live shows and of course, the catchy as hell synth-pop that I still love to this day. After a slow burn (it took "West End Girls" 4 months to rise to the top of the UK charts) they were one of the dominant forces across Europe and the States in the second half of the decade and certainly one of my favorites, probably of all time. The music they produced not only sounded fresh and new when it was released but has proven to be timeless, still sounding as good and relevant today as it did 25 years ago.
5. Van Halen
When I was 15, there were a lot of rumors swirling around that David Lee Roth was leaving Van Halen. The band was still on top of the world, with "Jump" and "Panama" still at the top of the charts. They had survived the transition from the 70s to the 80s and were hugely popular. Then, Roth quit and the guy who couldn't drive 55 took over. We called the band Van Halen and Van Hagar at the time. However, something happened and Van Halen was just as awesome with Sammy Hager as they were with David Lee Roth. It was amazing to see a band continue to be hugely popular after switching lead singers. That was how great they were n the ‘80s.
4. Bon Jovi
I was a junior in high school in 1986 and there was no one bigger at the time in rock and roll than Bon Jovi. When they came to town, there weren't many people at school who didn't want to hit that concert. From "Wanted Dead or Alive" to "You Give Love a Bad Name" to our senior song "Never Say Goodbye," Bon Jovi was releasing one hit after the other. The fact is, like it or not, Bon Jovi is still one of the best selling concert bands working today. There is a reason for that.
There were a lot of pretenders in the eighties like Tiffany, Debbie Gibson and the Go Go's. However, if you wanted to find the real thing, look no further than Madonna. She hit it big with her debut album and then had her first No. 1 with Like A Virgin in 1984, her third Top 10 hit of the year. Also, understand, there would be no Lady Gaga without Madonna blazing the trail before her.
2. Michael Jackson
Yeah, he became a freak over time but in the eighties, when Michael Jackson still looked normal, there was no one better than him. The video for Thriller, directed by American Werewolf in London helmer John Landis is still one of the best videos of all time. Take that one album, look at all the hits on it and realize that no one could really touch Michael in the eighties.
1. Guns ‘N Roses
While their best work came in the early nineties, Guns ‘N Roses released Appetite for Destruction in the eighties and proved to be the best hard rock band of their era. They took everything that was great about hair metal, added what made heavy metal so good and ended up with one of the most unique sounds in metal of the era. Guns ‘N Roses, before Axl Rose became a prima donna, was the best hard rock band going. Period.
Honorable Mention: The Cure, Journey, Prince, Run-D.M.C.
5. Bruce Springsteen
Few people exemplified 1980s rock like Bruce Springsteen did. Of course everyone thinks about "Born in the USA" and the album of the same name, but let's not forget about epic albums like Nebraska and Tunnel of Love. Springsteen was far more than a one-hit wonder and while he had mainstream success (which somehow tends to be a negative sometimes in terms of an act's regard from the masses), he never sacrificed the quality of his music for it.
Bitch about them these days I suppose, but I don't know a single person who didn't love The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum in the late 1980s. Even people who hated rock music for a variety of reasons enjoyed the music off those albums, if sometimes only begrudgingly. And those were just the band's breakout albums; it completely ignores how great War, October and even The Unforgettable Fire were. U2 were a band that became a success by writing deep, original rock music that appeal to a broad audience, even people who didn't necessarily agree with their politics. They made stylistic errors in the 1990s but have always gone back to what makes them great; either way, that doesn't take away how amazing they were back in the 80s.
Metallica wouldn't become the most famous metal band in the world until the black album hit 1991, but they were well on their way throughout the 1980s and there's no denying that they did their best work during this time. And besides, they were certainly on the verge of superstardom with 1988's ...And Justice For All, which made it into the top 10 of the Billboard charts and gave us their first bona fide hit in "One." They started to lose a little bit of critical and fan respect as they became more and more mainstream metal, which I don't think is fair, but as I said I their best work is on such albums as Justice and Ride the Lightning, and that places them firmly with the top ranks of the '80s.
There are two artists you absolutely have to acknowledge as among the absolute best in the 1980s, and we all have. Madonna is one of those. She became one of the most talked-about people of the decade, both for the quality of her music and her controversial style. She made pop music that, unlike that of the current era, never sacrificed depth and quality for the sake of radio-friendliness. She didn't have to, and that's why everyone else is just a "Madonna pretender" these days. She's the original, and you can't top an original.
1. Michael Jackson
I've said before that I have no problem separating an artist from their music. So for those of you who hate Jackson because of the criminal allegations in his personal life (never proven), that doesn't factor into how I feel about his music. Jackson was the epitome of the 1980s in music. He was a perfect fit for the music video age, but let's even set that aside. Just listen to the music without the videos and it still stands out as some of the best pop music of all-time. And definitely of the 1980s.
The Final Word
As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We're merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here's what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week's topic on the comment section using the following format:
5. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
4. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
3. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
2. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
1. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it