If you have to pick one decade from the last fifty or so that has generated the most energy and diversity on the music scene, it would have to be the 80s. Rising out of the ashes of a disco dominated 70s era the 1980s gave birth and new life to so many different genres that it would take a book to do it justice.
However, within this condensed overview let’s take a look at some of the more notable trends and musical styles of the 80s. The biggest surges in musical development and popularity were chiefly coming from North America and Europe, most significantly Britain. As with the initial wave of innovation in the 60s, known as the British invasion, bands from Britain in the 80s were taking the music scene in Europe and specifically America by storm. In America Michael Jackson was evolving to emerge as a super pop star achieving the highest selling album of all time with Thriller in 1982. Prince was similarly successful whilst female artists like Whitney Houston and particularly Madonna became the faces of the 80s. Along with Cindi Lauper they became staples of the MTV generation where video was fast becoming the medium to embrace for maximum exposure. It was this very fact that helped to cement the second invasion of bands in the 80s. Those artists who were able to maximize the potential that video afforded succeeded in reaching a huge audience and gained recognition and celebrity at an often alarming rate. Such new wave music featured bands like A Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran, Eurhythmics and Culture Club to name but a few. New Wave bands and New Romantics took a firm grip in the early 80s and alongside the catchy music came a whole sense of fashion that the video scene only helped to legitimize, such as embodied by the likes of Madonna, Boy George and Adam Ant.
Whilst other acts such as David Bowie, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel reinvented themselves to emerge as strong solo artists, the early 80s saw the emergence of more mainstream heavy-metal with the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest from Britain. Some soft rock emerged, especially in America, that gave rise to more commercially successful bands like R.E.M, The Bangles and Aztec Camera. Across the pond again, the influence of post punk was a strong voice of the early 80s, featuring artists like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division and the Psychedelic Furs. Some of these bands went on to reach superstardom and the likes of The Police and The Smith’s went on to become stadium performers. Interesting too that these bands have given rise to iconic musicians in their own right who have become more successful since, namely Sting from The Police, Morrissey of The Smiths and Paul Weller of The Jam. Undoubtedly the rise of the Irish band U2 cannot go unnoticed. They too got their start in the early post punk era and by the late 80s had risen to stardom and now constitute rock elite.
Of all the major influences to emerge from the 80s perhaps it is the electronic or synth pop styles that feel most innovative. Without a doubt the pioneering work of the German group Kraftwerk, in the 70s, paved the way for synthesizer driven music as mastered by the likes of Pet Shop Boys, Soft Cell, Human league, Erasure and OMD. This sound, as pioneered and developed by a plethora of bands and artists, drove the dance scene particularly in Britain and Europe and really put the final nail in the coffin for disco.
So much diversity and talent rose out of this decade that it is undoubtedly one of, if not the most influential eras in music history. Much of what was started then has continued to shape the sounds of today and for that we can be thankful.