The 1980s will always be known as one of the most iconic eras for music, with the likes of Madonna and Michael Jackson dominating the charts. New genres emerged in the 80s: new wave, synth-pop, and hard rock were just a few. Some of the most popular songs of the decade truly made their creators famous. The decade was a diverse and memorable time for music. Even now, parties wouldn't quite be the same without these favorites.
Introducing the "hair metal" genre, "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns N' Roses was released in 1988, with Slash as the lead guitarist and Axl Rose on vocals. Their powerful vocals and guitar riffs quickly cemented the song's—and the band's—position in music history. "Sweet Child O' Mine" was actually the band's third single, but it left a lasting impression. After its release, Guns N' Roses shot to fame internationally and ultimately became one of the biggest bands of the decade.
Michael Jackson's music and dance moves are instantly recognizable, but his song "Billie Jean" helped cement his fame. Starting as part of the Jackson 5, Michael then went solo and released this catchy song as the second single on the iconic "Thriller" album. "Billie Jean" became his fastest song to reach Number One since Jackson 5 topped the charts in the 70s. It was one of the biggest hits of the 80s and led to Michael Jackson becoming one of the most renowned pop stars of all time.
"Every Breath You Take" was written by Sting himself and totally transformed The Police's popularity. It was the biggest hit of the year in the U.S. and Canada, and it reached the Top 10 across the globe. The melancholy lyrics and haunting melody helped to establish the new wave era and have gone down in history as truly iconic. The famous tune won Song of the Year at the Grammy Awards, and Sting won several awards for writing the classic. As recently as 2019, it was recognized as the most-played song in radio history.
If there's one artist that comes to mind when thinking about the 80s, it's Madonna. "Like a Virgin" is one of the most defining songs of the era, with Madonna becoming one of the most influential artists of the decade. As part of her second album with the same name, the provocative song is the epitome of 80s pop and was Madonna's first Billboard Number One. The song has since been covered or parodied by Glee, Weird Al Yankovich, and even Elton John. It's also featured in films like "Moulin Rouge."
"Livin' on a Prayer" helped Bon Jovi claim world fame. It hit the top position on charts across the world thanks to its powerful guitar riffs and memorable chorus. The song is a classic of the hard rock genre and is still adored around the world as the perfect song for parties and weddings.
Pet Shop Boys was the iconic synth-pop duo behind the groundbreaking hit "West End Girls." The catchy song established the duo's fame as leaders of the new wave genre. They were even featured in the 1999 edition of "The Guinness Book of World Records" as the most successful UK music duo in history. After reaching Number One around the world, the Pet Shop Boys' instantly recognizable style has gone on to influence contemporary pop music for decades.
Soft Cell's rendition of "Tainted Love" established the band's place in history, despite the original song by Ed Cobb being released in 1964. The duo was part of the new wave synth pop genre and enjoyed a platinum-selling debut album. After a short breakup, the band reformed and released an album in 2001 before hosting a reunion concert in 2018.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood's provocative hit "Relax" is another defining song of the 80s that helped the creators become famous. The single became the seventh best-selling single in the UK of all time, and the band's debut album reached Number One in 1984. They followed up the instant hit with classics such as "The Power of Love."
While some might enjoy Glee's rendition of this classic, it was Journey that originally shot to fame with "Don't Stop Believin'." The upbeat tempo and easy-to-remember chorus made the song an instant hit, and it's still a feel-good song played at the end of club nights and during karaoke sessions across the world.
Written for the classic movie "Back to the Future," "The Power of Love" quickly became one of the era's biggest hits. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and it's still very popular for film soundtracks, karaoke, and weddings. Huey Lewis and the News have a sound that's influenced by pop, rhythm and blues, and doo-wop.