Popular music has had several “invasions” of British bands over the decades. One of the most popular eras was the first British invasion, featuring rock with a heavy blues influence.
The 1980s were also a prime era for English bands, forging a sound that would become a decade staple. Here are some of the best British bands of the 80s whose music still holds up quite well today.
Table of Contents
Robert Fripp’s King Crimson was actually founded in the late 60s, featuring a semi-psychedelic tinged brand of progressive rock. That lineup iteration would begin to explore improvised landscapes until the band went on hiatus.
When King Crimson returned, they had a slightly different lineup, featuring guitarist, Adrian Belew. With this lineup, King Crimson would break new musical ground with complex music coupled with pointed lyricism and vocal delivery.
They released 3 albums in the early 80s that would prove to be incredibly influential for the upcoming musical generations. Where other bands relied on computerized studio tricks for complexity, King Crimson created lush technical tapestries using sheer musical skill.
When people think of King Crimson, they either think of their genesis or this particular period. Many modern bands are unable to craft the sonic layers that King Crimson produced in the 80s.
When thinking of British music, there are certain bands that are included with the world’s perception of the country’s identity. The band Queen is by far one of the best English bands of the 80s.
Queen actually got its start in the early 1970s and really came into the world’s eye during that decade. The 1980s saw the band capitalizing on their success with hits like the song, Another One Bites The Dust.
This band had a very unique blend of rock mixed with operatic elements. Every song seems to have its own inherent drama, no doubt fueled by Freddie Mercury’s vocal prowess.
Brian May continues to be one of the most well-known guitarists of the last 50 years. He’s had a hand in writing what are undeniably some of the biggest musical hits to ever be recorded.
Queen is special, not only because of the music but because their existence became larger than themselves. The band was actually quite noble and aimed it towards good causes rather than becoming ego-inflated.
Another one of the most enduring bands (in terms of continual awareness) is The Police. This English rock band formed toward the end of the 70s, providing a unique fusion of different music genre elements.
For being primarily a trio, The Police have a massive sound, which is a testament to each musician’s skill.
The Police had a short-lived group career, releasing 5 albums in total, with 3 of them in the 1980s. Their last album, Synchronicity, remains their most popular album, and for good reason.
Upon its release, Synchronicity topped the charts in both the US and the UK. Many people rank this album high amongst other albums considered the greatest of all time.
By far one of the most influential groups in underground music genres is The Cure. This band would help to create a musical aesthetic that incorporates gothic elements.
It could be said that we might not have had the emo music scene if it wasn’t for The Cure. Many bands incorporated aesthetic fashion into their performance, but few did it like The Cure.
The biggest difference between The Cure and other bands was that other bands had more of a homogenous image. With The Cure, you had something different, with a huge platform that reached massive audiences.
You’ll still find many fans of The Cure listening to their discography today. For that reason, The Cure is one of the best English bands of the 80s.
Speaking of imagery, Iron Maiden was one of the first metal bands to have a mascot. The entire world is familiar with the undead corpse, Eddie, even if they haven’t listened to Iron Maiden.
With that being said, Iron Maiden was quite influential in elevating metal music into the mainstream. The band quickly found success in the early 80s, forging a legacy that would span into the present day.
Iron Maiden’s music continually finds its way into popular culture, hooking in new listeners of younger generations. One of the most notable instances is their inclusion in the Guitar Hero video game series.
You don’t name an album British Steel without becoming one of the best British bands of the 80s. This album gave the world some of the band’s biggest hits, many of which have enjoyed success worldwide.
If you’ve ever watched Beavis And Butt-Head, you’ve heard Beavis sing the chorus to Breaking The Law. For video game players, you’ve heard Living After Midnight on Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
Many critics have claimed that British Steel is the epitome of the English metal sound. That sort of distinction is what makes Judas Priest one of the best that Britain has ever produced.
As far as British music outside of metal goes, The Smiths are by far one of the most influential ever. This group had a sound that combined 80s pop aesthetic with the jangly guitars of 60s pop rock.
In a way, many people credit The Smiths with being one of the major predecessors to the indie rock sound. You can hear their influence on many of the bands emerging from the midwest US in the later 80s.
The Smiths are a group that has members that are still quite well-known, even outside of the band’s existence. Morrissey, their singer, remains a pop culture icon, even if people may be offended by or dislike his personal opinions.
The new wave genre was truly the defining sound of the 1980s. It seems as if every genre at the time incorporated the lush new wave sound and aesthetics to some degree.
Duran Duran is one of the bands that were at the forefront of bringing this sound into the worldwide mainstream. Their debut album was a smashing success, which produced songs that are still heard quite frequently today.
With the controversy surrounding their music video, Girls On Film, their popularity only grew exponentially. This would only build hype for the band’s next release, Rio, which is one of their most successful.
Duran Duran might not be as popular as they once were. However, they are one of the greatest, with a Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction to prove it.
Some British bands have had incredibly expansive careers spanning multiple decades, with Genesis being a major example. This group actually formed in the late 1960s, and their sound certainly evolved over that time.
Their earlier material was more influenced and defined by avant-garde and progressive rock elements. If you’re only familiar with Genesis from the 80s, you’d be taken for a ride with the Peter Gabriel lineup.
For the most part, however, the 1980s version of Genesis remains one of the most iconic lineups of all time. This is the era that the world saw Phil Collins become a frontman, proving anyone can play drums and sing.
Few bands have had as much of an impact on music as Genesis during the course of their history. They will forever remain as one of the best British bands of the 80s.
When speaking of long-standing British bands with an evolving sound, the band Yes must be mentioned. This is another group that surprised their audiences with a very modern sound in the 1980s.
The band would prove to be relevant for mainstream radio with their song, Owner Of A Lonely Heart. This track would top the charts worldwide upon release, particularly in the US.
In the decade prior, Yes pushed the envelope of musical possibilities with their brand of progressive rock. This era was defined by a distinct influence of classical music elements that seem to be missing in the 80s.
Nevertheless, the band’s catalog truly does have something for listeners of all types of music. Their influence on other bands is completely undeniable.
Love them or hate them, you have to admit Def Leppard is one of the biggest bands of all time. Many bands were reaching worldwide success in the 80s, but Def Leppard was a bit of a cultural phenomenon.
Their albums Pyromania, and Hysteria, remain some of the most important albums of the decade. These were extremely successful on a commercial level and influential on a musical level.
It could be said that the success of their sound opened the door for many other bands with similar sounds. Many imitated, but few could touch the magic of the original sound Def Leppard produced.
Motörhead may not have had the wide mainstream success that other 80s bands achieved at the time. However, any avid music fan can tell you that Motörhead is one of the best English bands of the 80s.
In fact, they kicked off the decade with their mammoth hit album, Ace Of Spades. The title track from this album is one of the most famous rock songs to ever be recorded.
Motörhead had a fast and punishing brand of rock and roll that wasn’t glamorized like metal music at the time. Their music just kicks hard, which sets it apart from other music of its time.
Tears For Fears
If you were asked to choose a song that defined the 1980s, what would you choose? For many, it would have to be the song, Everybody Wants To Rule The World.
Even if you don’t like 80s music, you probably have a soft spot for this song. This is one of those tracks that is too good to be a guilty pleasure.
In fact, the song is so culturally relevant that it continues to be covered by popular musicians today. Guitarist, Mark Lettieri is just one of the many musicians who regularly perform the track during concerts.
New wave music saturated with synthesizer sounds is really the direction 80s music went. The band Depeche Mode is one of the most well-known British bands incorporating electronic elements into their sound.
Depeche Mode was quite active throughout the 1980s, which helped them gain a massive following. This following grew exponentially with their 1990 release, Violator, which has some of the band’s best-known tracks.
Many bands in the following generations were heavily influenced by Depeche Mode’s brand of electronic new wave. Nine Inch Nails, Arcade Fire, and Chvrches are just a few groups directly influenced by the band’s work.
There likely isn’t a soul on Earth who hasn’t heard the song, Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This). This electronic pop track is imbued with a sense of mystery and proved to be quite an addicting song.
It was this track that propelled the musical duo of Eurythmics into the mainstream spotlight. Over 4 months, the song became cemented in history, working its way to the top of the charts.
Top British Bands Of The 80s, Final Thoughts
English musicians have been incredibly instrumental in shaping the sonic ecosystem of music throughout the decades. As each era comes and goes, British music remains some of the most iconic and memorable.
In some ways, British contributions have completely revolutionized the status quo of music during specific time periods. The 1980s truly is a fine example of this as much of the music is still enjoyed today.
As the world waits for another British invasion, It’s probably a safe bet that history will continue to repeat itself.
Side note, do you want to learn to play guitar songs the easy way? Learn how here – results are guaranteed!