The 1980s were a time of excess in America. President Reagan’s budget-friendly policies, termed “Reaganomics,” encouraged businesses to increase their profits by cutting costs and streamlining production processes. This trickle down approach led to a flood of money within the business world, fueling an increase in conspicuous consumption among all classes. The decade saw a return to more luxurious, old-fashioned values with the prominence of traditional family structures and tastes in music, fashion, art, and other cultural touchstones. The 1980s also ushered in a new wave of American bands that would come to define the decade through their music.
Featuring the signature sound of a snarly guitar solo by Edward Van Halen, Van Halen dominated the rock scene in the 80s with a string of hit singles. While their songs were undeniably heavy, they also had a certain “pop” quality to them that made them accessible to a much wider audience. The band’s lead singer and songwriter, David Lee Roth, had been a rising star since the late 70s, but it wasn’t until he joined up with Van Halen in 1978 that his career took off. After their first album came out in 1978, the band quickly rose to stardom. Their first big hit was the song “Jump,” released in 1979. The song was a catchy mix of rock, reggae, and pop, and it quickly became one of the most-played songs on the radio for the year. Van Halen would go on to release 7 albums throughout the 80s, including the bands’ self-titled album which was released in 1978 and sold 14 million copies, making it the 10th best-selling album of all time.
One of the biggest British bands of all time, Def Leppard took their 80s sound to new heights. Playing a mix of pop and rock with a heavy dose of synthesizers, Def Leppard won over audiences with their catchy songs and high-energy live shows. While they did have some moderate success in the 70s, it wasn’t until the band formed their own record company, Bludgeon Riffola, in 1983 that they really took off. After signing with the newly formed label, the band came out with the albums “Pyromania” and “Hysteria,” which both sold over 10 million copies each. Def Leppard is a band that lives on the road, having performed more than 2,000 concerts since their inception.
The hottest hip hop group of the 80s, Run D.M.C. was more than just a music group; they were also pioneers in the world of hip hop fashion. The group was made up of 3 long-time friends who grew up in New York City: Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, and Jason “Jam-Master Jay” Mizell. Run D.M.C. took the world of music by storm with their self-titled album in 1984, which included the hit singles “Walk This Way” (a collaboration with Aerosmith), “My Adidas,” and “Peter Piper.” The group made a name for themselves with their unique hip hop fashion, which included Adidas sneakers, black clothing, and baseball caps worn backward.
Guns N' Roses
Guns N' Roses is one of the most successful rock and roll bands of all time. With more than 100 million records sold, the band is responsible for bringing 80s glam metal to new heights. Guns N' Roses broke into the music scene in 1987 with their debut album, “Appetite for Destruction,” which was released on the independent label, “Geffen Records.” Guns N' Roses immediately drew the attention of record executives who were curious about this new rock band. After Geffen bought out the band's contract, the album went on to sell over 30 million copies, making it one of the biggest selling albums of all time. Guns N' Roses continued to release hit albums through the 90s, and they became known for their elaborate live shows, which included pyrotechnics, elaborate costumes, and even a piano being dropped from the ceiling onto the lead singer.
One of the most iconic 80s rock bands, Mötley Crüe is responsible for bringing the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” lifestyle to new heights. All four band members had colorful histories of substance abuse, run-ins with the law, and controversy. Even their lead singer, Tommy Lee, fathered a child with the then-wife of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mötley Crüe was formed in Los Angeles in the late 70s, and they came out with their first hit album in 1981. Throughout the 80s, the band released several more albums, including their breakthrough album, “Shout at the Devil,” which sold over 2 million copies. Mötley Crüe continued to release albums throughout the 90s and 2000s, but they eventually went into retirement in 2015.
The heaviest of the heavy metal bands from the 80s, Metallica rose to fame with their self-titled album in 1983. The band was made up of childhood friends who grew up poor in California, and their love for hard rock music was apparent early on. Metallica’s rise to fame was slower than most other bands, but this also means that they have withstood the test of time. While many other bands have come and gone, Metallica is still going strong, even after the death of one of the band’s members in 2018.