1. The Smiths
One of the great bands of the ’80s, driven equally by Johnny Marr’s dexterous guitar riffs and Morrissey’s fiercely witty wordplay.
Essential Album: The Queen Is Dead (1986)
Indie icons who influenced countless artists by welding classic pop influences and jagged, roaring guitars to Black Francis’ fragmented songwriting.
Essential Album: Doolittle (1989)
Trafficking in big ideas and big sounds, a band that operated on a grander scale than any other from the ’80s and attracted legions of devoted fans.
Essential Album: The Joshua Tree (1987)
4. The Cure
The flagship for Great Britain’s post-punk gloom-rock trend of the late ’70s, with a ghoulish image that masked the diversity of their music.
Essential Album: Disintegration (1989)
5. The Stone Roses
Manchester baggies whose classic 1989 debut made them indie legends and a highly influential name for countless alternative bands to follow.
Essential Album: The Stone Roses (1989)
The most consistently innovative metal band of the 1980s and ’90s, reinvigorating the music with a fast, fierce, and surprisingly melodic sound.
Essential Album: Master Of Puppets (1986)
7. Sonic Youth
Pioneers in noise rock who continued creating sophisticated, visceral music long after they became an alt-rock institution.
Essential Album: Daydream Nation (1988)
8. Talking Heads
One of the most acclaimed bands of the post-punk era, a vision of innovative art-pop featuring David Byrne’s manic yelp over tight R&B grooves.
Essential Album: Remain In Light (1980)
Fronted by the charismatic Michael Stipe, one of the first alt-rock bands to make it big, maintaining their integrity and a sense of adventure over three decades.
Essential Album: Murmur (1983)
10. Michael Jackson
The biggest pop star of the ’80s, and one of the most popular artists of all time, with a brilliant, soulful voice and breathtaking dance moves.
Essential Album: Thriller (1982)
11. Guns N’ Roses
Best and most influential hard rockers of the 1980s and ’90s, a straight-ahead guitar boogie band that often displayed a surprising musical diversity.
Essential Album: Appetite For Destruction (1987)
12. Joy Division
The definitive post-punk group, whose vocalist Ian Curtis sang of despair and self-loathing until his tragic suicide in 1980.
Essential Album: Closer (1980)
13. Tom Waits
A neo-beatnik songwriter who grew weirder and wilder in the ’80s, earning a cult following that only grew larger as the years passed.
Essential Album: Rain Dogs (1985)
14. Bruce Springsteen
A passionate showman who gained worldwide acclaim by marrying literate songwriting with bar-band rock & roll plus a flair for the dramatic.
Essential Album: Born In The U.S.A. (1984)
One of the defining acts of ’70s hard rock, driven by the bazooka roar of the Young brothers’ twin guitars and Bon Scott’s snarling vocals.
Essential Album: Back In Black (1980)
16. Kate Bush
Haunting second-wave art rocker who was critically deified in the 1980s thanks to her tasteful, intelligent, and stimulating songwriting.
Essential Album: Hounds Of Love (1985)
17. Iron Maiden
At the forefront of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and a major metal contender from the late ’70s into the 21st century.
Essential Album: The Number Of The Beast (1982)
18. Prince & The Revolution
One of the most singular talents in music, a multi-talented pop/funk/rock performer who showed remarkable stylistic growth and musical diversity.
Essential Album: Purple Rain (1984)
19. Beastie Boys
A trio of punks turned sophomoric rappers, who then traded superstar status for increasingly adventurous and acclaimed hip-hop.
Essential Album: Paul’s Boutique (1989)
Beloved by millions and scorned by critics, one of the great prog-rock bands, possessing an instrumental acumen rivaled by few other groups.
Essential Album: Moving Pictures (1981)