10 Underrated ’80s Bands You Need to Hear Now
When you think of ’80s music, you probably think of, at most, three things. Hair metal (Poison, Mötley Crüe, et al.), the big pop stars of the day (Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Bowie) or the dance-y, new wave stuff that’s soundtracked every wedding and retro ’80s night you’ve ever attended (Duran Duran, The Cure, Depeche Mode).
All of which is great. But the ’80s, the greatest decade in pop music history (don't argue, it's a non-alternative fact) was so much more than that. And as much as its music still gets constant play on radio, at clubs and in movie and TV soundtracks, many of the decade’s best bands and greatest songs have been virtually forgotten.
Most of you probably will recognize about half the bands on this list, but only from a song or two. The rest you’ve likely either never heard of or haven’t thought about since the last time you shopped for a prom dress. Does that make them underrated? Listen and judge for yourself.
This Norwegian trio deserves to be remembered for more than just soundtracking what was arguably the entire decade’s greatest music video, the animated "Take on Me." As great as that track is, it's not necessarily representative of the rest of their catalog, which tended to mix the synths and drum programming of ’80s pop with lavishly arranged live orchestrations, swooning vocals and an old-fashioned knack for massive, melodramatic choruses. Barbra Streisand could do a whole album of A-ha covers and her fans would probably lap it up. (The less said about their addition to the James Bond theme song canon, however, the better.)
The Boomtown Rats
These days, Bob Geldof is more remembered as the ambitious humanitarian behind the 1985 Live Aid famine relief concerts and the charity single "Do They Know It’s Christmas?" (both of which he put together with Midge Ure of Ultravox — another underrated ’80s band). But before all that, his group Boomtown Rats produced a string of hits that combined punk-rock attitude with herky-jerky new wave rhythms and whip-smart lyrics, all held together by Geldof's theatrical yet oddly vulnerable vocals. If the band is remembered at all today, it's for the melodramatic piano ballad "I Don’t Like Mondays," but check the off-kilter reggae goof "Banana Republic" and the crunchy power-pop of "She’s So Modern" to see just how versatile Geldof and his bandmates could be.
Fine Young Cannibals
For about five minutes in 1989, Roland Gift was the most exciting new singer in pop music, thanks to the back-to-back hits "She Drives Me Crazy" and "Good Thing" off his band’s second and final album, The Raw & the Cooked. Gift’s elastic, quavering vocals (and good looks) were obviously FYC’s main attraction but, despite being almost totally forgotten, the rest of their catalog holds up as well as their best-known hits, and even sounds pretty forward-thinking in hindsight — check out the Moby-like mix of organ and breakbeats on "I’m Not the Man I Used to Be."
Fun Boy Three
The Specials were an immensely successful two-tone ska band when members Terry Hall, Neville Staple and Lynval Golding split off to form the Fun Boy Three, an altogether weirder and harder-to-categorize project with a sound largely built around sparsely arranged group vocals, horns and percussion. After just two albums — a 1982 self-titled debut and 1983’s Waiting — they called it quits, but their legacy has lived on in a number of ways. Hall has collaborated with everyone from Tricky to Gorillaz (whose sound owes a huge debt to Fun Boy Three), and Neville’s short-lived collaboration with The English Beat's Ranking Roger, Special Beat, helped spur the ska revival in the United States that launched the careers of No Doubt and Rancid. Bonus fun fact: Fun Boy Three’s biggest U.K. hit, "It Ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)," featured a then-unknown female trio called Bananarama, who would go on to have much bigger international hits with "Cruel Summer" and "Venus."
Haircut One Hundred
This London new wave group’s jazzy, hyper-polished sound took a magpie-like approach to early-’80s British pop music, borrowing the slinky horns and Roxy Music vibes of new romantic bands such as Spandau Ballet, the jangly guitars of Orange Juice, even some touches of ska on their biggest hit, the irrepressible "Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)." Frontman and main creative force Nick Heyward quit the band after just one album, 1982’s outstanding Pelican West; though he went on to a successful solo career, his former band lapsed into obscurity, especially in the United States, where only the bouncy, xylophone-laced "Love Plus One" cracked the charts.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Los Angeles, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.