Best-selling bands of the '80s, then and now
Anyone who grew up in the ‘80s remembers seminal events like the debut of the Rubik’s Cube at the International Toy Fair, the murder of John Lennon, the launch of Space Shuttle, the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, the release of “Thriller,” the introduction of the Macintosh computer, and Black Monday. It would only make sense that the music of the decade would mirror the times.
What were people tuning into on their radios and Walkmans? Stacker scoured Billboard charts from the '80s and chose 25 of the top bands to give readers a lens into the soundtrack of the decade. We then researched each of the bands to report on their members and give you a sample of their top hits as well as a window into what they are up to now.
A quick scan of the bands reveals an eclectic collection of artists and music types. Whether you like beards and blues, heavy metal, alternative rock, or hard rock, you will find some inspiration here on our list, which includes legends that have sold millions of albums, garnered numerous awards, and earned their place in music history.
Grab your ear buds and blast your favorite ‘80s band while you click through the slideshow. Whether you fancy the Queen soundtrack, the sounds of Fleetwood Mac, or the siren of The Police, take a few minutes to remember or imagine what it felt like to grow up with the music of the ‘80s.
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The Smiths: Then
In their five-year run that began in 1982 the English rock band The Smiths, comprised of vocalist Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr, bassist Andy Rourke, and drummer Mike Joyce, created four memorable albums and a musical legacy. Hits including “The Queen Is Dead,” “This Charming Man,” “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” and “How Soon Is Now?” rocked the worlds of their cultish fans.
The Smiths: Now
After the band’s unexpected break up in 1987, the foursome never reunited. They recorded a total of 73 songs.
Who knew that when Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell founded Run-D.MC in 1983 that the kings of hip-hop would go on to sell 230 million records? Their debut song was “It’s Like That,” with “Sucker MCs” on the B-side of the cassette. Fans remember hits including a rap version of Aerosmith’s “Walk this Way,” “King of Rock,” and “Christmas in Hollis.”
Run-DMC has had an amazing run. They were the first rap group on MTV, dubbed “The Greatest Hip-Hop Artist of All Time” by VH1, and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The group had planned a Run-DMC pop-up in New York to celebrate 35 years of DMC music in late May.
Van Halen: Then
The American hard rock band Van Halen original members included guitarist Eddie Van Halen, drummer Alex Van Halen, bassist Michael Anthony, and lead singer David Lee Roth. Later members included Sammy Hagar, Gary Cherone, and Wolfgang Van Halen. Their album “1984,” which featured their iconic hit “Jump” and “Panama” sold more than 10 million copies.
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Van Halen: Now
Throughout the years, the band had frequent lineup changes, tours, and albums, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, after which they kicked off their most successful tour ever grossing $93 million. This past Easter Cherone released a cover version of “God Is,” Kayne West’s song from his 2019 album “Jesus Is King.”
[Pictured: David Lee Roth.]
Canadian rock band Rush rose to fame thanks to the talented trio comprised of drummer Neil Peart, guitarist Alex Llifeson, and vocalist Geddy Lee. Famous hits include “Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight,” and “Working Men.”
Rush released their last album, “Clockwork Angels,” in 2012 and completed their final tour in August of 2015. Hall of Fame drummer Neil Peart died of brain cancer in January 2020.
Bon Jovi: Then
It’s hard to single out hits of a group as iconic as the Grammy-winning American rock band Bon Jovi. Their 1984 debut album included “Shot Through the Heart,” which did just that, while hits like “You Give Love a Bad Name” is a timeless anthem. Hits including “Livin' on a Prayer,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” and “Bed of Roses” showcase their signature steely heartland rock.
Bon Jovi: Now
Although the band disbanded in 1989 when lead Jon Bon Jovi went solo, they reunited in 1994, touring and releasing albums included the Grammy-nominated “Crush,” “Bounce,” “Lost Highway,” “What About Now” and “Burning Bridges.” They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.
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