Music Artist Rankings: 1980s

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)

2. Pixies
Indie icons who influenced countless artists by welding classic pop influences and jagged, roaring guitars to Black Francis’ fragmented songwriting.
Essential Album: Doolittle (1989)

3. U2
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)

6. Metallica
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)

9. R.E.M.
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)

15. AC/DC
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)

20. Rush
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)