Best Rock Bands Of The 1980s: Top 7 Era-Defining Bands Most Recommended By Fans

While there is a lot to be nostalgic for when it comes to the decade of the ’80s, one thing that still remains a constant in most people’s ears is music, specifically the hair metal bands of the 1980s. From the moment the guitar riffs hit your ears, you can’t help but feel an adrenaline rush. The soaring vocals and catchy choruses transport you to a world of rock and roll music different from anything else. The over-the-top stage performances and fashion of these bands further added to the allure of the era. The music was a form of escapism, allowing people to forget their troubles and immerse themselves in a world of pure energy and excitement. It was a time when music was not just heard but felt, and the legacy of the best rock bands of the 1980s continues to live on, reminding us of a time when rock and roll ruled the airwaves and filled our hearts with pure joy.

The ’80s have specifically received a resurgence in the media in recent years thanks to shows like “Stranger Things” and apps like TikTok, allowing a new generation to experience pop culture icons from that era. Almost half of music fans in the U.S. have recently discovered a song that was released over a decade ago. A recent survey shows that about one in four attribute the discovery of a classic hit to a viral trend on social media. One of these unearthed hits include the ’80s classic “Purple Rain” by Prince. 

Nostalgia isn’t the only quality rock music from the 1980s holds, however. A new survey finds “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor and Guns n’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” top the charts as the best workout songs of all time! Those classics definitely can get your blood pumping.

Ready for musical trip into the past? As always, we at StudyFinds have researched across multiple expert sources to bring you today’s ranking of the best rock bands of the 1980s. Don’t agree with our ranking, or we missed your favorite? That’s understandable. We would love to hear your recommendations in the comments down below. Now, tease that hair and get rockin’ and rollin’. 

Def Leppard bassist Rick Savage performing in 2002
Def Leppard bassist Rick Savage performing in 2002 (Photo by TDC Photography on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Rock Bands of the 1980s, Per Experts

1. Metallica

The number one spot on our list goes to Metallica. Icons of their generation, “Metallica sold more than 125 million records worldwide. And yes, they’re a metal band. The guys that most casual listeners associate with the metal genre, Metallica, have been through it all since 1981 – they were a cult act, they sold out stadiums, they broke into the mainstream, they lost some of their core fans, and they continued pushing the envelope,” says Musician Wave.

“Metal can be an impenetrable genre sometimes, a labyrinthine scene of peculiarly hardline subgenre wrangling, a particularly boring brand of alpha male, and a lot of frankly shoddy work. But, as all true believers know, at its best, it can be a primal, transformative source of pure energy. And that’s where Metallica comes in,” notes LedgerNote.

“Formed in 1981, Metallica spent the decade leapfrogging from one milestone designation to another at a breakneck pace – best new metal band, coolest metal band, most important metal band. After topping themselves creatively and commercially with each of their first three albums, the band endured a terrible tragedy in 1986 with the tour bus crash death of bassist Cliff Burton. They not only soldiered on but opened themselves up to mass audiences in a big way with their first-ever music video for 1988’s ‘One.’ The group ended the decade as the undisputed kings of metal, and amazingly, the title of world’s biggest rock band would soon be theirs as well,” explains UCR.

2. Van Halen

The second spot on our ranking is dedicated to none other than Van Halen. “Lead singer David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen, bassist Michael Anthony, and drummer Alex Van Halen are the founding members of the American hard rock band Van Halen. Van Halen had the most constant commercial success of any 1980s rock band, with six multi-platinum albums released between 1980 and 1988,” states Music Grotto.

Innovative guitar techniques and explosive stage presence are hallmarks of this groundbreaking group that revolutionized hard rock music. Their virtuosic musicianship and penchant for experimentation pushed musical boundaries while still delivering unforgettable hits that resonated with fans across generations. The band’s impact on popular culture is undeniable, as they’ve inspired countless musicians to pick up guitars and chase dreams of rock stardom,” writes Ranker.

“Van Halen enjoyed the most consistent commercial dominance of any ’80s rock band, releasing no less than six different multi-platinum albums between 1980 and 1988. Even more impressively, they did it with two very different lead singers, barely missing a beat after replacing David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar in 1985. Already the leader of a new generation of guitar wizards, Eddie Van Halen also managed to almost single-handedly introduce keyboards into hard rock courtesy of the band’s first and only No. 1 hit, ‘Jump,'” describes UCR.

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3. Guns N’ Roses

Our next pick is ready to go down to the “Paradise City.” That’s right; it’s the Axl Rose-fronted band Guns N’ Roses. “The band with the big, brash, wild sound formed in 1985, right in the middle of the decade, and gave fans two albums that decade, ‘Appetite for Destruction’ in 1987 and ‘GN’R Lies’ in 1988. The band was so huge that frontman Axl Rose’s voice reminds many of the decade—with all of its shrill aerobics,” comments American Songwriter.

“You can’t talk about rock bands in the ’80s without mentioning Guns N’ Roses. This band was a vision of the future of rock and roll. Gritty, grimy, and full of life, GNR was a glimpse into rock’s next phase: grunge. Led by the unique vocal talents of singer Axl Rose, the band was formed in Los Angeles in 1985, with a record deal from Geffen Records coming a year later,” reports Hello Music Theory.

“With a raw edge and unapologetic attitude, this group burst onto the scene and quickly became synonymous with the rebellious spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. Their distinct sound combined elements of hard rock, punk, and blues, creating a musical cocktail that captivated audiences worldwide. Despite numerous lineup changes throughout the years, the band’s legacy remains untarnished, as they continue to influence new generations of musicians,” raves Ranker.

4. Mötley Crüe

Next up is Mötley Crüe, and a motley crew they are indeed. This band will be sure to “kickstart your heart” with their music. “Los Angeles ’80s band Mötley Crüe have sold over 100 million albums during their tenure. Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, and Vince Neil proved that shamelessly campy hair metal was the symbol of the eighties. Melodrama and hair-raising vocals will get you everywhere – songs like ‘Home Sweet Home’ prove it. When it comes to hair metal, they might just be the most popular band of the ‘80s,” claims Midder Music.

“If there was ever a band that defined the 1980s, Mötley Crüe is the poster child. Billing themselves as the ‘World’s Most Notorious Rock Band,’ the Crüe formed in 1981 in Los Angeles. The group quickly made a name for themselves in the LA metal club scene, which led to a record deal with Elektra Records in 1982. The Crüe’s success managed to line up with the growing popularity of MTV, where many of their songs received regular rotation on the music channel,” says Hello Music Theory.

“Mötley Crüe was perhaps the ultimate band that best-embodied ’80s rock. After honing their craft on the famed Sunset Strip, the band released their debut album, ‘Too Fast For Love,’ in 1981. ‘Shout at the Devil’ would confirm their spot as one of rock’s most thrilling acts. Mötley Crüe’s albums have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. Conservative groups condemned the band’s wicked methods, but spectators lauded their great concerts. With hit after hit, the band would rule the decade,” adds Music Grotto.

5. R.E.M.

Our number five pick will have you “losing your religion” as you listen to the sweet, melodic voice of Michael Stipes. It’s R.E.M. “Formed in 1980, this band from Georgia is often considered one of the ancestors of the alternative rock genre. Their debut album, ‘Murmur,’ instantly received acclaim and made a name for themselves. Because of Michael Stipe’s hard-to-decipher singing and Peter Buck’s distinctive guitar style, critics praised them from the beginning,” writes Rocks Off.

“‘Out of Time’ and ‘Automatic for the People‘ were R.E.M’s most successful and popular albums. The Athens, Ga.-based band progressively built their fan base over the decade, combining the Byrds’ folky Rickenbacker jangle with post-punk fury and Michael Stipe’s dense, sometimes indecipherable lyrics,” explains Music Grotto.

“The ’80s were barely four months old when the unnamed quartet that would become R.E.M. played their first show at a friend’s birthday party. The decade saw the Athens, Ga.-based group slowly build their fanbase gig-by-gig, album-by-album, but the switch to John Mellencamp producer Don Gehman for 1986’s ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ helped open up their sound and, after their commercial breakthrough with 1987’s ‘Document,’ they had enough clout to demand creative control from a major label. R.E.M. left indie IRS Records to sign with Warner Bros. and closed out the ’80s with ‘Green.’ Along the way, they paved the way for the alternative revolution of the ’90s by serving as the template for bands to become popular while maintaining their artistic integrity,” describes UCR.

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6. Bon Jovi

“Woah, we’re halfway there.” Actually, we are almost done, as our number six pick is Bon Jovi. “Bon Jovi is a band formed by a couple of New Jersey natives who managed to see arena rock success after their formation in 1983. Featuring Jon Bon Jovi, David Bryan, Tico Torres, Phil X, and Hugh McDonald, they released their first two albums in 1984 and 1985, but their third album, ‘Slippery When Wet,’ catapulted the band into superstardom,” explains Hello Music Theory.

“Bon Jovi shot to fame after ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’ and ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ took ‘Slippery When Wet’ to number one. Then, New Jersey’s multiple top tens cemented them as one of the ’80s most famous and successful hard rock bands. With sold-out tours, media appearances galore, and sales of 130 million albums under their belts, Bon Jovi continues to stay true to their original sound decades later,” notes Watch Mojo.

“Bon Jovi is more than just wild hair and wild attitudes; they are true blue American rockers that doled out hit after hit. Jon Bon Jovi never shied away from sentimentality or emotional expression, and their best songs reflect their unrestrained style. Who can go to a karaoke bar these days without hearing ‘Living on a Prayer’ or ‘Bad Medicine‘? When it comes to the greatest ‘80s bands? Think Bon Jovi,” withstands Midder Music.

7. Def Leppard

Last but certainly not least, as the list of the great ’80s bands is endless, goes to Def Leppard. “Def Leppard played a major role in putting that quintessentially eighties genre, hair metal, on the map. When people think of 1980s rock bands, they think of Def Leppard. The British rockers paraded around with an intoxicating stagemanship, outrageous vocals, and high-impact riffs,” comments Midder Music.

“This group’s polished sound and catchy melodies helped usher in a new era for hard rock music. They skillfully combined heavy guitar riffs with infectious pop sensibilities, captivating audiences worldwide and catapulting them to superstardom. Despite facing numerous setbacks throughout their career, their resilience and dedication to their craft have cemented their place as icons within the genre,” adds Ranker.

“After spearheading the New Wave of British Metal in the late 1970s alongside Iron Maiden, Def Leppard set the blueprint for ’80s hard rock bands with 1983’s ‘Pyromania.’ Vocal harmonies set among a blend of hard rock, glam metal, arena rock, and pop helped them solidify their place as one of the decade’s greatest and most successful bands with 1987’s ‘Hysteria,’ and today they’re one of the best-selling acts of all time,” concludes Watch Mojo.

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

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About the Author

Jilly Hite

Janelle is a freelance writer from New York. Her writing focuses on parenting, tech, business, interior design, education, and telling people’s inspiring stories. Janelle has written for Mustela and Newton Baby and has bylines in Pregnant Chicken, Syracuse Woman Magazine, the Baldwinsville Messenger, and Family Times Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in literacy from the State University of New York at Oswego.

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Comments

    1. I agree. Back in Black is THE greatest rock album of all time to come out of the 80’s, and it skyrocketed an already legendary band to Icon status. For them to not be on this list is absolutely disgusting.

  1. If “The Joshua Tree” was the only 80’s album released by U2, they would be on this list. The 5 additional platinum albums U2 released during this decade puts them at the top.

  2. KISS RULED IN THE 80S SO DID A COOPER. REM??? BON JOVI??? THEY ARENT HARD ROCK THEY ARE GIRLIE BANDS PLAYING DISCO.

  3. Metallica would not even be in the top 20! Utter rubbish. Motley Crue, Poison, Skid Row, Bon Jovi, Warrant, Aerosmith, Guns n Roses.

  4. I agree. Back in Black is THE greatest rock album of all time to come out of the 80’s, and it skyrocketed an already legendary band to Icon status. For them to not be on this list is absolutely disgusting.

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