When you want to have an 80s night, you are faced with so many great options that it can be overwhelming. Your best bet is to focus on the top artists instead of the popular songs. That way, you can get straight to the cream of the crop.
We’ve pulled up the 33 best 80s musicians for you to enjoy right here. From the rockers to the party girls, from the dance machines to the soul sounds, Generation X’s music had a lot to offer its fans. Get ready. Your playlist is about to get a lot more fun.
Arguably the most influential singer and fashion model of the 80s, Madonna prompted fans to don blue eyeshadow and wear black plastic pants. She was unstoppable as a girl power figure in the 80s, at a time when girls needed a counterculture role model.
Her dance songs have endured throughout the decades, too. She’s a staple at any 80s party, and DJs sample her songs on the regular. In short, there’s a reason she was known as the Queen of Pop. From “Like A Virgin” to “Material Girl,” her songs changed the course of pop music for years to come.
2. Michael Jackson
The epitome of a child star, Michael Jackson was born in 1958 and grew up to become the King of Pop and rocketed to international stardom. First, he shared the limelight with his brothers in the Jackson Five, but when the 80s hit, he was ready to take the stage on his own. The world would never be the same.
His unique voice and killer dance moves made him riveting to watch, and his songs were hits after top hits. Music video directors loved to create cinematic events out of his videos, and MTV was flooded with requests to play Jackson over and over again. Thriller went 30+ Platinum after it flew off the shelves in 1982. Songs from that album alone include “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” and, “Thriller.”
3. Cyndi Lauper
Cyndi Lauper burst onto the scene as an icon of pop with a Madonna aesthetic but less edgy lyrics. She may have looked counterculture, but she expressed a kindness that gave her an interesting look and a softer edge. Her rainbow hair and off-the-wall fashion were part of what set her apart.
But it was her library of songs that brought her straight to the hearts of fans worldwide. This is the artist who brought us “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” the anthem of every girls’ night out. She was also the one to thank for “Time After Time,” a heartfelt ballad that showed off the power in her pipes.
4. Kenny Loggins
It’s the film Footloose that many people remember Kenny Loggins for. This is a movie that’s firmly rooted in the 80s, with all the hair, fashion, and music of the era you could possibly need.
He also got nominated for an Academy Award for his title song here in 1985. It has become a Gen X symbol of the resistance to the Boomer generation that defined the 80s. The next year, Loggins landed another song for another major 80s film, Top Gun. His rendition of “Danger Zone” is still a favorite today.
5. Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston is the Diva Queen of the 80s, as any true 80s fan can attest. She released her debut album How Will I Know? and became a legend on the spot. From there, she went on to become one of the most popular artists ever to step on stage, and her career continued well beyond the 80s. This amazing woman became a singer, an actress, and an international star, all in the span of a few years. We were lucky to have her.
6. Sinead O’Connor
This is an amazing artist from Ireland who grew up with a unique sound in the 80s. She went on from there to establish a career that spanned several decades. Often the subject of political debate, Sinead O’Connor seemed to relish using her platform to explore her own ideas in her art and to speak out.
She became an inspiration to young people around the world who wanted to get more involved in their own communities and understand global conflicts. This was an important part of the 80s music scene, as well. Fans wanted to express themselves in many different ways, and O’Connor’s style allowed another path to get that message across.
7. Tone Loc
Tone Loc had fun party songs on lock. The song “Funky Cold Medina” is a hilarious story that clubgoers loved to sing along to. Is there really such a drink? Probably not. It just describes a drink that’s so off-the-wall packed with liquor—and maybe something else?—that the drinker ends up getting into all sorts of unfortunate and strange situations. This was an ode to the party culture of the 80s that was a very real thing.
8. Gloria Estefan
Hot off their success in the 70s, Miami Sound Machine and Gloria Estefan dominated the radio waves for much of the 80s. Their massive hit “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” is considered one of the top 80s dance songs, with its Latin vibe straight from South Beach. This was a band that produced infinitely dance-able songs, and Estefan’s epic appeal kept fans coming back for more.
9. Janet Jackson
Michael Jackson wasn’t the only talented person in his family by a long shot. His sister Janet Jackson also had a successful solo career in the 80s, sometimes teaming up with her brother for songs and shows, but usually serving as a pop R&B icon in her own right.
In 1987, her song “Nasty” won Favorite Soul/R&B Single at the American Music Awards. That was her third album, and she was just getting started. She went on to deliver many hit MTV videos and win awards for her excellent songs, many of which are considered 80s icons.
Wham! had more hits than we can count, and it was in large part thanks to frontman George Michael, who went on to have a successful solo career after his work in the band. If you’re looking for an epic playlist, you can grab Wham! and then anything from Michael’s solo albums, including hits like “Faith,” “Monkey,” and more. This was undeniably a major sound of the 80s.
Prince is regarded as one of the greatest musicians of the past several generations. His androgynous style and falsetto tones were iconic, and he instantly became an inspiration to fans everywhere who loved his vibe. Don’t be confused: “1999” came out in the 80s. He was truly a man ahead of his time. He embraced pop, funk, rock, and every style of music that interested him. Nothing was out of reach for Prince.
12. Billy Joel
This is a name that had already been established before the 80s got started, but Billy Joel made significant contributions to the sound of the decade. In fact, many of his top singles came out in the 80s, as his style really hit a great stride, and his piano music became a top seller. From “Piano Man” to “The Longest Time,” Joel provided a wide variety of sounds to show 80s fans the breadth of his talent.
Speaking of acts that were already household names when the 80s came along, Queen also showed up for some major accomplishments in this era. In 1985, their performance at Live Aid is considered one of the best live performances that have ever taken place in the history of rock and roll. That’s pretty powerful, but we’d expect nothing less from the absolute best. The performance itself was only about twenty minutes long, and yet fans who were lucky enough to be there still talk about it as one of the defining moments in all of rock.
14. The Bangles
The Bangles have a long history filled with loads of interesting songs and stories. For example, one of their occasional band members is now an anthropologist. These ladies made major waves in the 80s with several hit songs that the radios couldn’t stop playing. Though their “Walk Like An Egyptian” release wasn’t the band’s favorite of their own work, it was an instant favorite among fans.
15. Peter Gabriel
Getting his start in Genesis in the 70s, Peter Gabriel went solo in 1986 and set the world on fire—figuratively speaking. His song “Sledgehammer” won no less than nine MTV Music Awards, in part thanks to the bizarre and exciting new look he used in his music video. This is a voice you want on your playlist if you’re a fan of the 80s.
Aerosmith exploded back on the scene after almost dissolving into obscurity when they collaborated with Run-D.M.C. on “Walk This Way.” After that, it was all great for Aerosmith, as they went on to slam out hit after hit and win a Grammy for “Janie’s Got A Gun.” This was a rock style that embraced the glam of the 80s without giving up the edge of the 70s.
17. Soft Cell
This British band recorded a cover of a 60s song, added their own synthpop flair, and ended up defining a whole subgenre of 80s music. This bold move became a movement of its own, as fans flocked to Soft Cell albums to get more of their vibe.
18. Boy George
When Boy George walked on stage in full makeup and fabulous clothes, he stood out as something different in the 80s. Fans were ready for it. He had been influenced by David Bowie and other glam rockers from the 70s and early 80s, but Boy George managed to make his aesthetic purely his own. When he released “Karma Chameleon,” there was no going back. He had officially made 80s history.
19. The Police
When you think of The Police, you think of Sting. Both an actor and musician, he wrote songs, played bass, and sang for his band through the 70s and 80s. By the time they released “Every Breath You Take,” he had officially arrived in the hearts of fans around the world. This set the stage for him to take off on his solo career starting in 1985. If you’re looking for songs to add to your 80s playlist, you need The Police and Sting.
20. Toni Basil
Toni Basil was a choreographer for the hit band The Monkees before she came out with her quintessentially 80s hit bop. Critics went nuts, complaining that the lyrics were obscene, which Basil argued was nonsense. Whatever the truth is, the song remains locked in the hearts of 80s fans forever.
Phil Collins took over as the frontman for Genesis, and they bubbled over with hits for the rest of the 80s. Particularly important to note is the album Invisible Touch, which was at the top of the charts for three weeks. Radio stations reported having to play the songs back-to-back because fans wouldn’t request anything else.
22. Kate Bush
She’s become popular again with her songs featuring prominently in the hit show Stranger Things, but Kate Bush was very much a voice of the 80s during that era. Her hit song, “Running Up That Hill” was the perfect choice to represent a counterculture kid’s musical obsession in the 80s. That’s exactly the kind of person her music spoke to.
23. Eddie Money
In 1986, Eddie Money sampled a hit from the 60s in “Take Me Home Tonight,” and people went berserk. It was the perfect mashup of sounds, harkening back to an era 20 years in the past while also sounding totally modern. That song ended up reaching fourth on the Billboard chart.
24. The B-52’s
This is 100% an 80s song, but it is as welcome at any party today as if it had just come out this year. If you haven’t screamed “Tin roof, rusted!” with a bunch of people, you haven’t lived the 80s dream.
25. Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder just makes people feel good. His smile and voice are comforting, and they offered an oasis of calm sanity amidst the party chaos of the 80s. That’s probably why he ended up being a fan favorite for multiple decades. It’s his tracks from the 80s, though, that are the most famous worldwide, and in 1985, he won the Academy Award for Best Original Song with “I Just Called To Say I Love You.”
26. Bryan Adams
Rock power ballad love song king Bryan Adams showed up in the 80s to score all the songs and make the ladies swoon. While everyone else was donning makeup and hairspray, he threw on some jeans and sang soft rock to appeal to a wider audience. This decade was a particularly prolific time for him, who released several albums, one after another, in the 80s. Of course, fans weren’t complaining.
27. Rick James
This songwriter literally decided he was going to create a popular dance tune, and the world got “Super Freak” by Rick James. There is no question the plan worked, as the song went on to appear as references and samples in many songs. It had a clear 80s party vibe that fans loved.
28. Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen is a musical force of nature who has owned American rock for several decades. His work has shaped rock history. In 1984, though, he released Born In The U.S.A., and then he performed in East Germany in 1988 and officially became a headliner voice for the 80s. He’s easily one of the most important voices of this era, earning worldwide fame.
29. Billy Idol
Billy Idol was most known for his cover of a 60s hit. His adaptation made use of a thoroughly 80s vibe. Edgy, slightly goth, and all sex appeal, he knew how to turn a Tommy James And The Shondells bop into an alt-rock phenomenon.
30. Violent Femmes
Folk punk also had a place in the hearts of 80s music fans. When Violent Femmes came onto the scene in 1983 with their self-titled album, nearly every track became a radio favorite. From “Kiss Off” to “Blister In The Sun,” the songs of Violent Femmes captured an alt-rock style that many 80s fans appreciated. It discarded the glam style that pop stars already owned, and instead, went for something that felt more indie and organic. They were the local pub sound of the 80s, and that sound shot them up to stardom.
31. Dexys Midnight Runners
Dexys Midnight Runners showed up in 1983 with “Come On Eileen,” and it was the perfect club song. Even today, DJs know that they just have to play the opening notes of this song to get people running to the dance floor. In fact, this hit knocked Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” off the top of the Billboard charts when it came out. Now, that’s some power. This is required listening for all 80s fans.
32. “Weird Al” Yankovic
Don’t forget about Weird Al. This singer may have focused on parody songs throughout the 80s, but they were all proper jams in their own right. His lyrics are comedy gold, and he managed to make a lot of edgier songs “kid friendly” for those who were younger in the 80s. When he released “Eat It,” his take on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” in 1984, the world couldn’t get enough. That’s thanks in part to his music video, which matched Jackson’s by every single shot.
33. Bon Jovi
For the serious rockers, Bon Jovi showed up in 1986 with the Slippery When Wet album, and the smash hit “Livin’ On A Prayer.” It went straight to the number one spot on the Billboard chart, and fans were officially in love with Bon Jovi and his sound.
This wasn’t exactly a glam hair band of the 80s, but that doesn’t mean Bon Jovi had a short military cut. This was still the 80s, after all. Long hair and the general message that we weren’t interested in what our parents had to say were the top messages Generation X put forth, regardless of their musical genre.
If you’re looking for great 80s songs to play at your next party, these are all the artists you need to include. Trust us, you’ll be able to fill several playlists with the amazing hits these artists put out between 1980 and 1989. It was a great time for music, whether you were into rock, pop, funk, R&B, or something that didn’t fit into any genre.
The 1980s was a time of colorful expression, party music, breaking out of cultural norms, and setting up the world for musical success in the decades to come. There’s no doubt this is what makes it an enduring favorite for music fans – even those who were born long after the 80s had ended. If you’ve found yourself wishing you could go back to a time you totally missed, don’t worry. The playlist of the 80s will take you where you need to be.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other 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.