The best 80s rock bands were known for their wild hair, loud concerts, and hit songs we love singing while driving or at karaoke nights.
The bands that made our list hail from America, England, Ireland, and even Australia, and each made a significant impact on the music industry.
Whether you grew up wearing the era’s parachute pants and puffy hairdos, or are merely curious, join us as we look at the best rock bands of the 80s.
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The 10 Best Rock Bands of The ’80s
To create our list, we calculated album sales from the 80s and limited ourselves to rock bands and artists from other genres.
While some of our bands’ released albums in the 70s and later decades, we ignored such results and focused on their 80s hits.
Without further ado, here’s our list of the 10 best 80s rock bands:
10. Mötley Crüe
Record sales: $19,000,000
Mötley Crüe was formed in the Los Angeles area in 1981 and consisted of bassist Nikki Sixx, guitarist Mick Mars, drummer Tommy Lee, and lead vocalist Vince Neil.
While considered a heavy metal band, they are also a hard rock band whose stage theatrics include flame thrower guitars and roller coaster drum kits.
Later in the 8os, Mötley Crüe adapted to the changing music scene and became more of a glam metal band.
They road this wave of success until the best rock bands of the 90s ushered in the grunge scene and alternative music that ended the careers of heavy metal bands.
One of their musical influences, who happens to be one of the best musicians of all time, is David Bowie, whom they combined with the hard rock sounds of Black Sabbath.
The combination of musical styles helped the band to write hits like “Kickstart My Heart,” “Live Wire,” “Dr. Feelgood,” and “Home Sweet Home.”
Mötley Crüe was nominated for three Grammy Awards, an MTV Video Music Award, and inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Combining these attributes with their commercial success makes Mötley Crüe one of the best rock bands of the 80s.
Record sales: $28,000,000
This Boston-based rock band came together in 1970, wrote blues rock music, and experimented with heavy metal and glam rock.
Aerosmith’s self-titled first album came out in 1973, and the hit “Dream On” introduced the world to this American rock band.
The band toured nonstop in the 70s and had a Top 40 hit with “Sweet Emotion, ” one of the first rock songs with rap-like vocals. Aerosmith faltered near the end of the decade due to drug addiction, internal conflict, and lackluster sales.
In 1986, Aerosmith got a second chance at their music career when they reunited and collaborated with rap artists Run-D.M.C. on re-releasing their earlier hit, “Walk This Way.”
Their hits piled up during the 80s and helped the band become even more popular than in the 70s. Some standout songs are “Dude (Looks Like A Lady),” “Angel,” and “Love In An Elevator,” which all featured stunning videos showcased on MTV.
Aerosmith is a Grammy Award-winning band that wrote hits that topped the Billboard charts, produced award-winning videos, and performed energetic concerts, making them one of the best 80s rock bands.
8. Van Halen
Record sales: $30,000,000
Van Halen is an American hard rock band from California that exploded onto the music scene in the 80s with powerful pop hits and unforgettable concerts.
Guitarist Eddie Van Halen, considered one of the best guitarists of all time, is also an accomplished keyboardist and took classical lessons as a child.
Eddie was accompanied by bassist Michael Anthony, vocalist David Lee Roth, and drummer Alex Van Halen, Eddie’s older brother.
Van Halen started in 1972 and is considered one of the best rock bands of the 70s with their self-titled first album.
In 1996, RIAA awarded Van Halen with a platinum album pushed to the top of the charts with hit songs like “Runin’ With the Devil.”
David Lee Roth left the band in the mid-80s and was replaced by Sammy Hagar, the lead singer from the rock band Montrose.
Die-hard Van Halen fans dismissed the band in this phase because their songs weren’t as hard rock, and they had more commercial success.
No matter which version of the band you think was the best, the new lineup released the studio album 5150, which became the band’s first number-one album on Billboard.
With pop rock hits like “Why Can’t This Be Love?” and “Dreams,” it’s easy to see why Van Halen is one of the best rock bands of the 80s.
7. Guns N’ Roses
Record sales: $36,000,000
This LA-based rock band formed in 1985, and when they signed with Geffen Records in 86, they were on their way to making rock history.
Guns N’ Roses’ hit song, “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” contains one of the most forbidden riffs of all time yet is one of their most commercially successful songs.
Because the band started in the late 80s, many hits came in the 90s, like “Knockin’ On Heavens Door.”
Another hit with one of the best music videos of all time is “November Rain,” one of the most expensive videos ever produced.
While band members have changed over the years, frontman Axl Rose continues to tour and write rock music, proving that Guns N’ Roses remains one of the best rock bands of the 80s.
6. Bon Jovi
Record sales: $37,000,000
Jon Bon Jovi put his band together in New Jersey in 1983, and they would go 0n to write hit songs that found commercial success.
Bon Jovi was considered a glam rock band but fell into the mainstream rock music category.
Bon Jovi wrote one of the best songs of all time, “Livin’ On A Prayer,” that came out in 1986 on their third album, Slippery When Wet.
The album would be their best-seller and launch Bon Jovi into international stardom.
Another hit from this record is “You Give Love A Bad Name, ” which reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1986.
Bon Jovi was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2020, and with their impressive catalog of hits, tours, and longevity, it’s easy to see why they’re one of the most successful bands of the 80s.
Record sales: $43,000,000
Queen is a British powerhouse band whose lead singer, Freddie Mercury, is one of the best singers of all time and is surrounded by equally superb musicians.
Lead guitarist Brian May was influenced by Jimi Hendrix, who was part of one of the best rock bands of the 60s, while other Queen band members list The Beatles as one of their favorites.
While Queen had significant chart success in the 70s with hits like “Keep Yourself Alive,” one of the best songs of all time is their noteworthy hit “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
In the 80s, Queen continued releasing pop hits like “Another One Bites the Dust” and touring worldwide, riding their wave of success from earlier years.
Although Freddie Mercury passed away in 1986, the band continues to tour with new members, proving that they’re one of the greatest bands of the 80s.
4. Def Leppard
Record sales: $46,000,000
Def Leppard is an English rock band that pioneered glam rock and helped launch MTV with the success of some of its music videos.
The band formed in 1976 and worked with the biggest record labels in the world, like Mercury, Universal, and PolyGram, to list a few.
Def Leppard has released twelve studio albums over the years, but earlier records in the 80s launched their career.
The 1981 release High ‘n’ Dry was produced by John “Mutt” Lange, who produced AC/DC, and with his help, Def Leppard would have chart success with “Bringing On The Heartache.”
Lange, known in the music industry for being meticulous and detail-oriented in the studio, helped the band to “find” their sound.
Lange also produced their next record, Pyromania, with the hit “Photograph” and whose music video beat out Michale Jackson’s “Beat It” on MTV. Follow-up singles like “Rock of Ages” and “Foolin'” made Def Leppard a household name.
Def Leppard has undergone many personnel changes but will always be one of the most popular hard rock 80s bands.
Record sales: $52,000,000
Journey is an American rock band that started in 1973 in San Francisco playing jazz-fusion but switched to rock, one of the most popular music genres, in the 80s and found international success.
It would take years before their most famous lineup would gel, which featured Steve Perry on vocals, Steve Smith on drums, Neal Schon on guitar, Jonathan Cain on keyboards, and Ross Valory on bass.
It would take Journey’s seventh album, Escape, to skyrocket them to superstar status and put them on the map of music history.
The album featured songs like “Who’s Crying Now,” “Open Arms,” and the mega-hit played at weddings, sporting events, and graduations: “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Steve Perry succeeded in 1984 as a solo artist, and Neal Schon toured with his band as well.
While the band still tours today, the only original member is Neal Schon, but enduring fans have embraced the new ensemble, proving that Journey is around for the long haul.
Record sales: $53,000,000
U2 is an Irish rock band considered by fans and critics to be one of the best bands of all time, and with their catalog of hits and sold-out stadium tours, we have to agree.
They started in 1973 in Dublin, Ireland, and played post-punk music initially, but as the band evolved musically, they broke out into other musical styles.
Early 80s hits by U2 were written as protest songs against the violence in Northern Ireland, like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day.”
Their fifth album, Joshua Tree, was influenced by blues rock, gospel music, and folk songs and became one of the band’s best studio albums.
Joshua Tree had hits like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Streets With No Names,” and “With or Without You.”
The record would go on to win a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, and U2 received several other Grammy nominations in 1988.
U2 continues to write heartfelt songs, explore various music genres, and occasionally tour, making them one of the best 80s rock bands.
Record sales: $65,000,000
AC/DC is from Australia and was formed in 1973 by the Scottish brothers Angus and Malcolm Young.
The band was influenced by blues music, which molded their hard rock sound, while others connected their music to heavy metal.
The heavy metal band Metallica, one of the best 90s rock bands, cites AC/DC as a significant influence, as do many of today’s rock bands.
One of the best-selling albums of all time is AC/DC’s Back in Black, which was released in 1980 and launched the band to stardom.
The band dedicated the record to their first lead singer, Bon Scott, who passed away from alcohol poisoning the previous year.
During their long career, AC/DC released 18 albums and wrote some classic rock hits, like “For Those About To Rock,” “Back in Black,” and “You Shook Me All Night Long.”
The band began to dissolve in 2017 when Malcolm Young passed away from dementia, and other members had to deal with personal issues.
Despite these setbacks, AC/DC has left its mark on rock history with massive album sales, making them our choice for the best 80s rock band.
We hope you enjoyed our list of the 10 best 80s rock bands.
They came from all over the world, filled arenas, made award-winning music videos, and wrote classic hit songs.
These juggernauts are the best of their era and continue to influence musicians and fans worldwide.
What’s the best rock band of the 80s, in your opinion? Leave a comment below.
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