The eighties is undoubtedly one of the best eras of music out there. A decade that transformed the way we listen to and create music, it’s easily recognised from the frequent uses of synth, drum machines, electronica and the occasional heavy rock. Here, our writers celebrate their favourite icons of the eighties.
Elton John is undoubtedly one of Britain’s beloved performers and with a career that spans over 4 decades, it’s not hard to see why. The 80s in particular were an incredible decade for him. It saw hits such as ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’, the re-release of ‘Candle in the Wind’ and the re-release of ‘Your Song’ come to life, yet it is the anthemic ‘I’m Still Standing’ that really showed people what he was made of. With his amazing skills, John was able to make this single go platinum in the UK and gold in the US!
As a lively performer, John pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time. From flashy costumes to being an icon for the LGBT+ community, he was never afraid to be himself. He was comfortable talking about his sexuality to the media and advocating for LGBT+ people in a society that was overtly homophobic. When the AIDs pandemic came around in the 80s, John was at the forefront. He wore his red ribbon with pride and refused to back down as he stood with his fellow LGBT+ members – loud and proud!
Joan Jett is one of the greatest icons of the 1980s. The main reason she’s so important to music history is the pioneering role she had in bringing women to the male-dominated world of rock music. As a big fan of female rock bands, I’m extremely thankful for Joan Jett encouraging others to follow suit. Of course, it has to be added that the fact Lita Ford quit The Runaways was due to the other’s, “always giggling about other girls” and never discussing boys – what could be more rock n roll? Finally, her song titles have to be given a spotlight, as she deserves an award for her creativity with these. Some of her iconic ‘80s titles include ‘If Ya Want My Luv’, ‘Tossin & Turnin’, ‘Coney Island Whitefish’, and one of the best, ‘Oh Woe is Me’. If you aren’t familiar with her music already, be sure to give Joan Jett a listen, it’ll change your life.
The icon, the legend, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. There is no way to describe the impact Prince’s work had on the world of music; his music was futuristic, experimental, and pure genius, making him arguably one of the most successful artists to emerge in the eighties. Prince has a unique power of telling a story just through the power of music alone; this is evident in the final 5 minutes of ‘Purple Rain’ which barely have any lyrics but is arguably the most powerful and poetic aspect of the track.
It wasn’t just the eccentric guitar and masterful combinations of funk, soul, and jazz throughout his music, but his own vast vocal range and flamboyant personality which made Prince not only an iconic musician of the eighties but one of the greatest musicians of all time.
Guns N’ Roses
American hard-rockers Guns N’ Roses embody the rock and roll vibe of the 1980s music scene, rightly holding their place as one of the music icons of the era.
After forming in Los Angeles in 1985, the band soon rose to fame after their debut studio album Appetite for Destruction (1987) reached number one in the charts just a year after its release. It boasted tracks such as the heavy ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and the fast-paced, catchy ‘Paradise City’, amongst many more.
Although Guns N’ Roses reached notability on a global scale due to their musical influence upon the world of rock, inspiring modern bands from the likes of Fall Out Boy to Nickelback, they only gained one number-one single; the ever-so-popular track ‘Sweet Child ‘O Mine’. ‘It’s a classic, one that everyone knows and (basically) everyone loves.
Whilst the band have gone through their fair share of drama and controversy, Guns N’ Roses have recently been touring again, appearing at the likes of festivals such as the UK’s Reading & Leeds Festival in 2010 and Download Festival in 2018, reminding us of their impact in the music world some 40 years after first hitting the scene.
Robert Smith and The Cure
The Cure is one of the defining goth-rock bands of the eighties, and obviously the whole group is massively talented, but a lot of their legendary longevity and iconic status has come from the goth God himself, Robert Smith. Known for his distinguishable voice, melancholy guitar style and goth look, he’s easily one of the biggest 80s icons not just of the alternative scene, but of the decade of music as a whole.
Always sporting his trademark pale skin, smeared red lipstick, heavy eyeliner and birds nest black hair, Robert Smith became THE face of the goth subculture in the early eighties. Not only was he the lead singer for legendary rock band The Cure (a personal favourite), but he was also the lead guitarist for equally iconic alternative band Siouxsie and the Banshees for a couple years. You could pretty much say Smith had a part in nearly every iconic goth-rock moment of the eighties, and his style, musicianship and stage persona are still influencing big bands today.
The Cure became one of the first alternative bands to get successful airplay in the eighties, at a time when alt-rock was still struggling to break into the mainstream. They helped redefine what we think of as popular rock, with their existential despairing lyrics, heady bass lines and guitar, and of course Smith’s signature soft vocal style with the occasional wail thrown in for good measure. Not to mention, The Cure are still rocking today just as good as they were 40 years ago, and are constantly shifting, evolving and growing as a band without disregarding their goth roots. Their impact is still keenly felt, and with the help of Robert Smith’s mythic stage persona they’re easily one of the most iconic acts of the eighties, and Smith himself one of the most iconic faces of the era.
Check out our playlist celebrating our favourite 80s icons down below!