Ah, the 80s – whatever you thought of the fashion, 80s music was absolutely splendid.
Indeed, some say that American music today owes everything not to The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, but to the sparks of the late 1970s that took full flight in the ‘80s. The 1970s created a minor schism between the rock and the disco crowds. But it was the 1980s that truly set off an explosion of genres and subgenres. As Billy Joel sang with some exasperation at the dawn of the decade: “Next phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways — it’s still rock and roll to me.” From techno, to house music, to disco, to dancehall and hip hop, the 80s had it all.
It was hip hop’s first real decade in the sun — the era when everything started to blow up. Hip hop popularity grew as it influenced music, crazy vocalizations, dance and even fashion. Rapping and beatboxing went mainstream, as did break dancing and parachute pants.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, country music started making major crossover inroads in the 80s. Spurred on by the popularity of movies like Urban Cowboy, Coal Miner’s Daughter and Honeysuckle Rose, even the haters were eager to ride mechanical bulls, go line-dancing, and listen to some honky-tonk.
When you think of 80s pop, you have to think color — colorful wardrobes, colorful hair — and colorful personalities like Boy George to Cyndi Lauper. Their dance pop beats were infectious, their videos lively, and their personas memorable. Also on the pop scene, a new “British Invasion” crept into the pop charts , courtesy of New Romantics like Duran Duran and The Human League. These groups boasted insanely danceable tracks and witty music videos.
More than anything, though, 80s pop was the age of the superstar. Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and Whitney Houston all charted hit after hit. Most of these songs were uptempo, and aimed at the emerging MTV generation.
Those who preferred head banging to moonwalking were also in luck during the 1980s. Hard rock and heavy metal also exploded in the 80s. Guitarists became rock gods, with long hair, leather pants and devil’s horns. Glam metal bands like Kiss, Van Halen and Twisted Sister played to huge stadiums, while hard-charging thrash metal groups such as Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer also took off.
Speaking of stadiums, another rock subgenre was increasingly mentioned in the 1980s — arena rock. Power ballads and blue collar rock were the stock-in-trade for arena bands like Bon Jovi, Journey, Rush and Foreigner, along with Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen.
The 1980s also set the stage for the big story of the 90s: alternative rock. The future icons of the coffeehouse scene soon were just emerging in the 80s. REM, Sonic Youth and Nirvana kicked off their careers in the last few years of the decade.
So how well do you remember your 80s music? Take our challenge and see where you rank today!