8 of the Best Rock Bands of the 80s

Defining what is distinctly 80s rock can be a bit tricky. With the bleeding of the 70s and a booming music scene that encouraged innovation and excess, the genre took off in many directions with a number of different rock flavors battling the charts.

Nevertheless, there are a handful of artists who present themselves as paradigms of the time. Whether they lean towards debauched glam metal or arena rock, here are 8 bands that unequivocally are the 1980s and maintain lasting impacts today.

1. Guns N’ Roses

Despite appearing mid-decade, Guns N’ Roses seismically upended the rock n’ roll tides when they first appeared. appetite for destruction brought something entirely new to the rock sphere while their grungy looks were quickly adopted by their predecessors and descendants.

2. Travel

Arena rock was certainly alive and well (and probably the best it’s ever been) in the 80s. At the top of this pack is Journey. They kicked off the decade with Departuree, which featured “Any Way You Want It,” before following it up with Escape, which spawned a number of hits – “Don’t Stop Believin'”, “Who’s Crying Now” and “Open Arms” to name a few. The rest of the decade was equally rich for the band as they toured their platinum albums to major venues around the world.

3. Van Halen

Perhaps the most consistently successful band on this entire list, Van Halen had six different albums that went multi-platinum in the ’80s — talk about a great run. Additionally, they defied the odds to change lead singers, maintaining their success while undergoing line-up changes. Their sound is distinctly 80s with a penchant for synthetic keyboards and Eddie Van Halen’s piercing guitar lines.

4. REM

To be one of the most popular rock bands of the time, REM built their fame slowly, song by song and album by album. Despite releasing a number of records since the start of the decade, they only received their commercial breakthrough in 1987 with Document. Their alternative approach to rock became deeply influential in the 90s and still persists today.

5. Bon Jovi

When you think of the great rock albums of the 80s, Slippery when wet comes almost immediately to mind. The 1986 LP led Bon Jovi to worldwide fame, which they continued for the rest of the decade. There are few songs as enjoyable to sing as “Livin’ On A Prayer” or “You Give Love A Bad Name.” Although they would begin to suffer from burnout by the end of the decade, Bon Jovi certainly dominated the 80s.

6. Motley Crue

As the world began to weigh as much on a band’s image as it did on its sound, we needed a band that wasn’t afraid to resort to full-fledged debauchery to keep our attention – meet Mötley Crüe . Love them or hate them, no one can deny that they are endlessly entertaining. No band has quite committed to rockstarring quite the same way. Their heavy metal theatrics also gave them a firm position on the charts, making them one of the most prolific rockers of the era.

7. KISS

Although KISS had a hesitant start in the 1980s, creatures of the night (1982) revitalized the glam rockers’ career and propelled it to new heights. Their follow-up effort, lick it was also well-received despite taking a huge leap of faith shedding their ubiquitous makeup. Although the ’70s were undoubtedly their peak, KISS proved they could roll with the punches the MTV generation dealt.

8. Aerosmith

In the same vein as KISS, Aerosmith entered the 80s with a whimper that was largely drowned out by the ferocious belt they delivered the previous decade. In 1985, however, the band collectively started towards sobriety and welcomed new voices into the writer’s room. The result was stellar Permanent vacation, which brought the group back to superstar status. Their follow-up effort, Pumpwas similarly hailed, cementing his place among the best rockers of the decade.

Photo by Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Virginia F. Goins