Top 10 Alternative Bands of the 1980s

The 1980s saw bands come out of the underground, add electronic elements to their sound and pave the way for the alternative rock explosion of the 1990s. For this list, we’ve chosen influential artists who helped define the alternative sound and genre in the 1980s, who were commercially successful and whose music stood the test of time. This is part of a series of videos spanning the decades of alternative rock music from the 1970s to the 2000s, and includes our lists of the Top 10 Alternative Bands of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s as well as the Top 10 Punk Bands and Top 10 Grunge Bands. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 alternative bands of the 1980s. Special thanks to our users akt, scsvlogs and ninjakittycat1423 for submitting the idea on our Suggest Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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This decade saw bands come out of the underground, add electronic elements to their sound and pave the way for the alternative rock explosion of the 1990s. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 alternative bands of the 1980s.

For this list, we’ve chosen influential artists who helped define the alternative sound and genre in the 1980s, who were commercially successful and whose music stood the test of time. This is part of a series of videos spanning the decades of alternative rock music from the 1970s to the 2000s, and includes our lists of the Top 10 Alternative Bands of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s as well as the Top 10 Punk Bands and Top 10 Grunge Bands.

#10: Simple Minds

Thanks to their blend of new wave, pop rock and post-punk, these Scots made sure we couldn’t “forget about them.” After cementing their spot in the New Romantic movement in the UK, Simple Minds conquered the American market with their recording for “The Breakfast Club” movie soundtrack. The band has continued to make their name in the alternative rock scene, and despite lineup changes, they’re still “alive and kicking” today.

#9: Pixies

Without this Boston band, grunge as we know it may never have existed: Kurt Cobain himself admitted that he was attempting to imitate the Pixies’ musical style of radical dynamics with Nirvana. In fact, this contrast between quiet and loud soon became one of alternative rock’s most recognizable features. By combining angry vocals with their indie, punk and surf rock-influenced sound, the Pixies left such a mark on music they were prompted to reunite eleven years after their 1993 breakup.

#8: Eurythmics

Though the Grammy-award winning duo didn’t make a splash with their debut album, things turned around with their sophomore effort. Its title track, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” topped multiple charts around the world while Annie Lennox captured critics and fans’ attention with her strong vocals and bold look. Adopting a synth-based sound, but also experimenting with styles and instruments, the Eurythmics stormed the charts and helped herald the Second British Invasion.

#7: New Order

New Order didn’t let Ian Curtis’ suicide stop them from becoming one of the most important acts of the decade. After the Joy Division frontman took his own life, the band’s remaining members regrouped and transformed their sound – adding dance and electronic music to their mix of post-punk, new wave and alternative rock. While critics adored them and fans couldn’t get enough; they also made history after “Blue Monday” became the best-selling 12-inch single ever.

#6: Talking Heads

One of the things that made Talking Heads so great is that they were able to hit the mainstream while maintaining their street cred with critics. Their brand of new wave incorporated elements of punk, funk, and world music, but still had enough pop sensibility to earn them top 10 singles, including “Road to Nowhere” in the UK and “Burning Down the House” in the U.S. Many subsequent alternative rock acts consider the band a major influence.

#5: The Smiths

When you’re talking alt rock and the British indie scene, chances are good this band will come up. The Smiths moved out from the underground with their guitar-driven sound and gave music-lovers something different than the synth-heavy style dominating the airwaves during the 1980s. With Morrissey and Johnny Marr at the core of the band’s songwriting, The Smiths achieved cult status through their use of indie pop flavors, some retro rock and post-punk, and also by nabbing four UK top 5 albums while on an indie label.

#4: Tears for Fears

Since the two founding members of Tears for Fears trace their musical roots to the new wave/mod revival group Graduate, the new band was assumed to be following in the former’s footsteps. But it was by adopting a more pop rock sound that Tears for Fears really hit it big and topped the UK and U.S. charts. With their number-one sophomore effort and two Billboard Hot 100 number ones, they also quickly took their place as part of the Second British Invasion.

#3: R.E.M.

Formed in 1980, these guys from Georgia are considered one of the progenitors of the genre, having made a name for themselves with their very first album. With the help of Michael Stipe’s hard-to-decipher singing and Peter Buck’s distinctive guitar style, R.E.M. had critics raving early on. College radio also had their backs and they supported their releases with lots of shows until finally breaking through to the masses with a top 10 hit in 1987. Though they broke up in 2011, R.E.M.’s alt rock legacy lives on.

#2: Depeche Mode

Spearheading the electronic side of alternative rock, Depeche Mode broke onto the music scene in 1981 with Speak & Spell. Despite the departure of Vince Clarke, the group bounced back with a darker sound that captivated teens everywhere and helped the band infiltrate the mainstream. They’ve since sold over 100 million albums, won multiple Grammys and are still going strong; with multiple artists citing them as influences.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- INXS
- Hüsker Dü
- Cutting Crew
- The Replacements
- The Go-Go’s

#1: The Cure

The early ‘90s wouldn’t be the same without The Cure – and that wouldn’t be the case if not for the Brits’ incomparable musical output during the previous decade. Though their early ‘80s work was often categorized as gothic rock, The Cure soon found a home in alternative by giving their sound a bit of a lighter, more radio-friendly spin. This paved the way for multiple entries on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and for The Cure to become one of the biggest bands in alt rock.

Do you agree with our list? What is your favorite alternative rock act of the 1980s? For more entertaining top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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