Did you know there was a “golden age” of boy bands? This ran from the late 1980s to the early 2010s, but had its beginnings even earlier. Boy bands are officially defined as male pop or rock groups mainly consisting of young members. These top boy bands of the 1980s were some of the most iconic players of the early golden age.
1. A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest was a hugely influential hip hop group formed in 1985. Throughout the latter half of the decade, they played a major role in the development of East Coast hip hop, particularly alternative hip hop, which combined elements of rap and R&B. The group consisted of four rappers: Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Jarobi White, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
2. Pet Shop Boys
Pet Shop Boys formed in 1981 and have broken records as one of the most influential and important UK bands of the era. They are technically a duo, as the group consists of two members, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Throughout their star-studded career, Pet Shop Boys have had dozens of Top 30 singles and received six Grammy Award nominations.
3. Adam & The Ants
Adam & The Ants was a UK rock band formed in the late 1970s. They became widely known throughout the following decade, as the era of MTV made British bands hugely popular in the US. Though they weren’t popular in their native Britain, the band made it big elsewhere with hits such as Friend Or Foe and Stand And Deliver.
4. Green Day
Green Day was formed in 1987 and became one of the leading voices in the developing genre of emo rock and punk rock throughout the following decade. Music historians have said that Green Day’s influence helped bring punk rock into mainstream music, particularly with their major hits Boulevard Of Broken Dreams and Wake Me Up When September Ends.
Run-D.M.C. was formed in 1983 and became one of the most influential hip hop groups of the decade. They became widely successful in 1985 after the release of their first album. The group remained active until 2002 when one of its members, Jason Mizell, was murdered. Though they disbanded after Mizell’s death, their legacy remained, and Run-D.M.C. was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.
6. Tears For Fears
British pop-rock band Tears For Fears formed in 1981 and was a big part of the rising popularity of UK rock bands throughout the 1980s. The band was founded by teen friends Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith before bringing on two more members, Ian Stanley and Manny Elias. They became widely known in 1983 when they released their song Mad World, which remains one of their biggest hits. They are also known for singles such as Everybody Wants To Rule The World and Shout.
7. The Boys
The Boys, a punk rock band formed in 1976, was largely associated with the late 1970s. However, although the group broke up in 1982, its influence through the early 80s was extensive enough to earn a place on this list. Though The Boys was not widely commercially successful, they strongly affected the development of punk rock throughout the 1980s and laid the groundwork for other boy bands.
Kajagoogoo isn’t widely remembered, which seems strange considering they had a name you can’t forget. The British band formed under the name Art Nouveau in 1978 before restyling themselves as Kajagoogoo in 1981. The group, which considered of five male instrumentalists and singers, took its name from typical sounds of a baby babbling. They became widely known through the mid-1980s for their hit singles Too Shy, Ooh to Be Ah, and Big Apple.
9. Wang Chung
Wang Chung came together in 1980 in the UK. The group, consisting of just three members, took its name from a Mandarin musical meaning “yellow bell.” They were popular on the new wave scene throughout the 1980s and 1990s, both in their native UK and in the US. In the US, Wang Chung had five Top 40 singles released in the mid-1980s. They are best remembered for hits such as Everybody Have Fun Tonight and Let’s Go!
10. The Osmonds
Most people don’t associate the brother band The Osmonds with the 1980s, as they actually formed much earlier in the late 1950s and reached the height of their success in the 70s. But the group restructured in the 80s and continued to have success as a family country group. The four brother singers were successful throughout the decade as a pop-country group; their work during this time was a departure from the intensely family-friendly image they struck in earlier decades.
N.W.A. was one of the single most prominent hip hop groups of all time. They rose to fame in 1988 and were trailblazers in the gangsta rap subgenre, which would define rap throughout the following decade; it was characterized by harsh, often violent language, outspokenness against authority, and descriptions of gang life. NWA was notably a career starter for some of the most successful hip-hop artists of all time, including Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and MC Ren.
12. Duran Duran
Duran Duran first formed in 1978 in Birmingham, UK. Officially classified as a rock band, they became one of the leaders of the New Romantic movement, a music revival that took place in London underground clubs throughout the 1980s. They were also one of the biggest parts of the “Second British Invasion,” which took place in the age of MTV. The band is best remembered for their hits Girls On Film, A View To Kill, Ordinary World, and Come Undone.
13. The Temptations
It seems strange to list The Temptations as one of the major boy bands of the 1980s, as they are most often associated with the music of much earlier eras. In fact, the group first formed in 1960 and became famous for hits such as My Girl. They continued to have success throughout the 1980s, most notably Treat Her Like a Lady and Do You Really Love Your Baby.
14. Dire Straits
Dire Straits formed in the UK in 1977 and released their debut album the following year. They continued to be successful until their official breakup in 1988, both in their home country and internationally. Dire Straits broke records for the number of albums sold and the number of weeks on the UK charts. Having won two Grammy Awards and been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Dire Straits is considered one of the most important British rock bands of the 1980s.
15. The Pogues
There were many British boy bands in the 1980s, but Irish Celtic rock bands, not so much. The Pogues formed in London in the early 1980s but included both English and Irish members. Their musical styling was Celtic rock, which was stylistically rock and roll, though played on traditional Irish instruments. For their first four years, they could not technically be called a boy band, as their lineup included Cait O’Riordan. However, O’Riordan left the group in 1986.
16. Dead Or Alive
English pop band Dead Or Alive formed in 1980, but it wasn’t until almost five years later that they found widespread success. Once they did, they became one of the biggest UK bands of the decade, releasing seven Top 40 singles on the UK charts before the end of the 1980s. They are best remembered for the 1985 hit You Spin Me Round (Like a Record).
17. Musical Youth
The band Musical Youth was one of the most popular reggae bands of the 1980s. Formed in 1979, they became widely known after releasing their 1982 hit Pass The Dutchie, which remains one of their most iconic tracks. The song topped the charts around the world and helped Musical Youth become the first all-black band to have a music video air on MTV.
18. Soft Cell
Soft Cell was an English synth-pop duo consisting of Marc Almond and David Ball. They formed in 1977 but didn’t achieve significant success until 1981, when they released their single Tainted Love. Throughout the rest of the decade, the duo continued to release successful songs; 12 of their singles made the UK Top 40 before they disbanded in 1984. They are best known for tracks such as Torch and Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.
Hip hop was coming into its heyday in the late 1980s, and Guy was one of the major players on the scene. Formed in 1987, the group consisted of three childhood friends who began making music together while they were still teens. They became popular for their unique take on hip-hop, which pioneered the new jack-swing genre. Their first major hits from their 1988 debut album included I Like and Spend The Night.
20. New Kids On The Block
The pop group New Kids On The Block have been called the grandfather of modern boy bands. Formed in 1984, the ensemble group led to the rise of other boy bands such as Take That, NSYNC, and The Backstreet Boys. New Kids On The Block was successful throughout the late 1980s and 1990s and was notable for launching the careers of several successful actors and singers, including Mark Wahlberg.
21. New Edition
Like New Kids On The Block, New Edition is considered one of the first modern boy bands; their work paved the way for the “golden age” of boy bands in the 1990s and 2000s. Formed in 1978, New Edition was intended to be a modern remake of The Jacksons. They came into their own style in the 1980s with a unique fusion of R&B and new jack swing.
Irish band U2 formed in 1976 and became known throughout the following decade for their post-punk style and introspective lyrics, which often focused on social issues. During their formation, the members were still teenagers, having met at school. They achieved their first major success in 1983 with the singles Pride (In The Name Of Love) and Sunday Bloody Sunday. They are also known for their tracks With Or Without You and I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.
23. The Smiths
The Smiths were an English band that formed in the early 1980s. Comprised of four young men from Manchester, the group was highly influential on the developing genre of indie rock. They are considered one of the most important British rock bands since The Beatles. Though they parted ways in 1987, The Smiths remain one of the most important voices of British music of the 1980s.
Australian rock band AC/DC formed in 1973 and was active throughout the 70s. But it wasn’t until 1980 that they achieved widespread success. A year later, their album Back In Black made them international superstars. The band is considered one of the best rock/heavy metal bands of all time and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
R.E.M. began playing as a group in 1980 and became moderately successful in their local community before self-releasing their first single. Despite its humble beginnings, the song, Radio Free Europe, was a success, launching the band to an official record label. Their following albums were major successes, putting them at the top of the charts and bringing them to mainstream media attention within three years.
The 1980s weren’t all about rock and pop, as proven by the British ska band Madness. The group, which formed in 1976, rose to prominence in 1980 and continued to see success in the UK for most of the decade. Their rise to international fame came in 1983 with the release of the single Our House, which remains one of their best known hits.
27. Men At Work
Australian rock band Men At Work began in 1978 and rose to prominence in the early 1980s after the release of several successful singles. In 1983, the band was awarded a Grammy For Best New Artist after releasing two popular albums, one of which included their iconic song Down Under. This remains their best remembered track, along with Who Can It Be Now? and Overkill.
28. Mr. Mister
Rock band Mr. Mister formed in 1982 and became well-known for their pop rock fusion, which was popular until their breakup in 1990. They didn’t see widespread success until the release of their 1985 album, which featured two of their most popular singles, Kyrie and Broken Wings. These singles, along with heavy rotation on MTV, made Mr. Mister an iconic boy band of the decade.
The British rock band Bros earned its name honestly, as the original lineup consisted of twin brothers and a friend. Formed in 1986, the teenage band was a quick success among their young fanbase; in 1988, they released two hit singles, I Owe You Nothing and When Will I Be Famous? Bros disbanded in 1992.
Formed in 1982, Norwegian synth-pop group A-ha can’t technically be called a one-hit wonder band. But they are best remembered for their 1985 hit Take On Me; this song, as well as The Sun Always Shines On T.V., became international chart-toppers and led to a Grammy nomination. A-ha continued to be successful throughout the 1980s before going on hiatus in 1994.
31. Tony! Toni! Toné!
Tony! Toni! Toné! consisted of two brothers and a cousin, who formed the R&B group in 1986. They were well-known through the end of their decade as well as during the 1990s. After achieving success with their debut album in 1988, the band’s popularity continued to climb until they split up in 1996.
The English pop duo Wham!, which began in 1981, is best known for launching the career of pop icon George Michael. Michael met Andrew Ridgeley in school and, having formed the band, styled a public image as angsty teenagers. This proved popular with a teenage fanbase, and the duo found widespread success with singles such as Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Careless Whisper.
33. Kool & The Gang
Boy band Kool & The Gang originally formed as a family group in the mid 1960s and released their debut album in 1969. But they are widely associated with the 1980s due to the new success they achieved during the decade. After a slump during the late 70s, they returned strong with several top singles in 1980. They are best remembered for their No. 1 hit Celebration, which remains a party standard to this day.
34. Beastie Boys
Rap rock group Beastie Boys started their career in 1978 before coming to prominence in 1982. It wasn’t until 1984 that they moved away from punk to rap. Their 1986 album Licensed To Kill was record-breaking on the charts and became one of the most popular rap albums of the decade. They achieved widespread success with singles such as (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!) and No Sleep Till Brooklyn.
Menudo was a Puerto Rican boy band that began in 1977, consisting of two sets of brothers. It has been called one of the most successful boy bands of all time and particularly influential in leading to the rise of other popular Latino singers such as Ricky Martin. The group performed both English and Spanish language music.
36. Culture Club
Pop band Culture Club first formed in 1981 and were key figures in the New Romantic music genre that thrived in the UK throughout the decade. They caught attention in both the US and the UK for their distinct clothing styles as well as their music. Culture Club had many top hits throughout the 1980s, most notably Karma Chameleon. Their other big songs included Time (Clock Of The Heart) and If You Really Wanna Hurt Me.
37. Naked Eyes
Naked Eyes was a synth-pop band that began in the UK in the early 1980s. They were popular in their home country but also released four singles that became major hits in the US. They are best remembered for the tracks Always Something There To Remind Me and Promises, Promises.
38. Frankie Goes To Hollywood
English band Frankie Goes To Hollywood formed in 1980. They were one of the most popular synth-pop bands of the decade, despite their earliest hit, Relax, being banned under BBC regulations. The band was extremely successful throughout the 1980s, receiving a Grammy nomination and breaking records on the UK charts.
R&B band Maze became widely known after touring with Marvin Gaye through the mid-1970s. They signed their first record contract in 1977, but didn’t hit mainstream success until the early 1980s. They became best known for their 1985 hits Back In Stride and Too Many Games. Between the late 70s and early 90s, Maze had nine albums certified gold.
40. Boyz II Men
R&B group Boyz II Men was one of the most famous boy bands of the 1990s, but they first became successful in the mid-1980s. As a group, they have won four Grammy Awards and are considered one of the leading bands of the “golden boy band era”. Their musical style involved layered harmonies and romantic ballads, most evident in later hits such as I’ll Make Love To You.
41. The Waterboys
The 1980s led to the rise of many genres, including folk rock. Scottish band The Waterboys was a leading contributor to this genre. Having formed in 1983, the group became well-known for incorporating modern rock and roll with glam rock, post-punk, folk, and traditional Celtic music. The Waterboys disbanded in 1991.
Funk band Cameo formed in its earliest iteration in 1974. They went through many member and style changes throughout the 1970s before finding commercial success in 1979. Their breakthrough came with two subsequent singles that topped the R&B charts, I Just Want To Be and Sparkle. They continued to chart successfully throughout the 1980s.
43. The Dazz Band
The Dazz Band was an R&B and funk fusion band that arose out of a conglomeration of musical genres in the mid 1970s. They made their major breakthrough in 1982 with the release of the single Let It Whip, which won the group its first and only Grammy Award. The Dazz Band continued as a fusion band into the 1990s, when they began incorporating hip-hop into their music as well.
44. Fine Young Cannibals
Pop rock band Fine Young Cannibals came onto the UK music scene in 1984. They were an instant hit with their debut single Johnny Come Home. Their music throughout the remainder of the 1980s was consistently popular on both sides of the Atlantic, particularly the singles She Drives Me Crazy and Good Thing.
45. Hall & Oates
It seems strange to call Hall & Oates a boy band, yet the pop rock duo is consistently mentioned among the best male groups of the 1980s. Formed in 1970, the duo was successful throughout the decade before finding new life in the 80s. Hall & Oates has been added to both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.