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1980s in music

Music-related events during the 1980's

Top 10 1980s in music related articles

For music from a year in the 1980s, go to 80 | 81 | 82 | 83 | 84 | 85 | 86 | 87 | 88 | 89.

This article includes an overview of the major events and trends in popular music in the 1980s.

The 1980s saw the emergence of dance music and new wave. As disco fell out of fashion in the decade's early years,[1] genres such as post-disco, Italo disco, Euro disco and dance-pop became more popular. Rock music continued to enjoy a wide audience.[2] Soft rock,[3] glam metal, thrash metal, shred guitar characterized by heavy distortion, pinch harmonics and whammy bar abuse became very popular.[4] Adult contemporary,[5] quiet storm,[6] and smooth jazz gained popularity. In the late 1980s, glam metal became the largest, most commercially successful brand of music in the United States and worldwide.[7]

The 1980s are commonly remembered for an increase in the use of digital recording, associated with the usage of synthesizers, with synth-pop music and other electronic genres featuring non-traditional instruments increasing in popularity. Also during this decade, several major electronic genres were developed, including electro, techno, house, freestyle and Eurodance, rising in prominence during the 1990s and beyond. Throughout the decade, R&B, hip hop and urban genres were becoming commonplace, particularly in the inner-city areas of large, metropolitan cities; rap was especially successful in the latter part of the decade,[8] with the advent of the golden age of hip hop. These urban genres—particularly rap and hip hop—would continue their rise in popularity through the 1990s and 2000s.

A 2010 survey conducted by the digital broadcaster Music Choice, which polled over 11,000 European participants, revealed that the 1980s is the most favored tune decade of the last 50 years.[9]

Notable artists include Michael Jackson, Madonna, George Michael (as well as Wham!) and Prince.

1980s in music Intro articles: 27

Economics

Reflecting on changes in the music industry during the 1980s, Robert Christgau later wrote in Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s (1990):

The '80s were above all a time of international corporatization, as one major after another gave it up to media moguls in Europe and Japan. By 1990, only two of the six dominant American record companies were headquartered in the U.S. Bizzers acted locally while thinking globally in re audiences/markets (will it sell in Germany? Australia? Venezuela? Indonesia now that we've sunk the pirates? the U.S.S.R.?) and artists/suppliers (world music was a concept whose geoeconomic time had come). After a feisty start, independent labels accepted farm-team status that could lead to killings with the bigs. Cross-promotional hoohah became the rule—the soundtrack album, the sponsored tour, the golden-oldie commercial, the T-shirt franchise, the video as song ad and pay-for-play programming and commodity fetish. Record executives became less impresarios than arbitragers, speculating in abstract bundles of rights whose physical characteristics meant little or nothing to them. Rock was mere music no longer. It was reconceived as intellectual property, as a form of capital itself.[10]

Commercial stardom, as measured by music recording sales certifications, replaced artistry as an indication of a musician's significance, according to Christgau. "When art is intellectual property, image and aura subsume aesthetic substance, whatever exactly that is", he explained. "When art is capital, sales interface with aesthetic quality—Thriller's numbers are part of its experience."[10]

1980s in music Economics articles: 18

North America

Pop

Madonna's[1] music videos were a permanent fixture on MTV in the 1980s, and she have since became one of the most successful female singers of all time.

The 1980s saw the reinvention of Michael Jackson, the worldwide superstardom of Prince, and the national emergence of Madonna and Whitney Houston, who were all among the most successful musicians during this time.

Michael Jackson was the most successful pop and R&B artist in history.

Michael Jackson, along with Prince, was the first African American artist to have his music videos in heavy rotation on MTV, with “Beat It,” and “Billie Jean”. (Donna Summer placed the first two videos by an African American female artist, with "She Works Hard for the Money" and "Unconditional Love", both in 1983.) Jackson's Thriller (1982) is the best-selling album of all time, selling 25 million copies during the decade. His other album, 1987’s Bad, has the honour of being the first album in history to have five number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Its accompanying world tour also made history by being the highest-grossing tour by a solo artist in the 1980s, as well as the highest-grossing at the time. In addition to being the biggest selling artist of the decade, Jackson had nine number-one singles – more that any other act during the decade – and spent the longest time at number one (27 weeks) in the 1980s. He won numerous awards, including “Artist of the Decade” and “Artist of the Century”, and was arguably the biggest star of the 1980s.[11]

Madonna was the most successful female artist of the decade. Her third studio release, True Blue, became the best-selling female album of the 1980s. Other Madonna albums from the decade include Like a Virgin, one of the best selling albums of all-time, and Like a Prayer ("As close to art as pop music gets," said Rolling Stone). Madonna made music videos a marketing tool and was among the first to make them an artform. Many of her songs topped charts around the world, such as: "Like a Virgin", "Papa Don't Preach", "La Isla Bonita" and "Like a Prayer". After the Like a Prayer album in 1989, Madonna was named artist of the decade by a number of magazines and awards. "I thought the eighties was fabulous," she said, "and I'm sure Boy George would agree with me."[12]

Whitney Houston was one of the best selling female artists of the decade in the US, behind Madonna and Barbra Streisand. Her eponymous debut studio album was the best-selling debut album by a female artist at the time, and her sophomore album, Whitney, the first by a female to debut at No. 1 in the Billboard 200. She also became the first and only artist to earn seven consecutive number-one songs on the Billboard Hot 100.

Paula Abdul hit it big in 1988. With her debut album Forever Your Girl, she was the first female to have four number one singles from a debut album (only The Jackson 5 had done the same with their debut). She had five top ten hits from the album.

By 1980, the disco genre, largely dependent on orchestras, was replaced by a lighter synthpop production, which subsequently fuelled dance music.

In the latter half of the 1980s, teen pop experienced its first wave, with bands and artists including Exposé, Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, New Edition, Stacey Q, The Bangles, New Kids on the Block, Madonna, George Michael, Laura Branigan, Boy George and others becoming teen idols.

Prominent American urban pop acts of the 1980s include Tina Turner, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Whitney Houston and Diana Ross. African American artists like Lionel Richie and Prince became some of the decade's biggest stars. Their hit albums included 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign "O" the Times by Prince and Lionel Richie, Can't Slow Down, and Dancing on the Ceiling by Richie.

Prince was the decade's most prolific artist, not just by virtue of being the top charting artist in the US and worldwide. He was responsible for artists such as Vanity 6, for whom he wrote the dance chart topping "Nasty Girl"; Morris Day and the Time, for whom he wrote the top 20 "Jungle Love"; Sheila E., for whom he wrote the top ten song "The Glamorous Life" and number 11 "A Love Bizarre"; and Wendy & Lisa and Apollonia 6. He wrote "I Feel for You" for Chaka Khan, which won him a Grammy for best R&B song; "Sugar Walls" for Sheena Easton; and as well as doing a duet with "U Got The Look", he wrote "Manic Monday", a number two pop hit for the Bangles. Artists that covered his music included Tom Jones, who brought his version of the song "Kiss" into the top 40 for the second time in the decade. Melissa Morgan brought her cover of "Do Me, Baby" to the top of the R&B charts in 1986. Other notable artists that covered Prince during the 1980s were The Pointer Sisters and Cyndi Lauper.[13] He also won an Academy Award for the song "Purple Rain". In 1989, Irish singer Sinead O'Connor would record a cover of his song "Nothing Compares 2 U", which would become the biggest song of the year worldwide in the new decade to follow. Prince had four number one singles and 14 top ten hits on the Hot 100 Chart.

Lionel Richie teamed with Diana Ross to record one of the decade's biggest hits Endless Love, which top the Billboard charts for nine weeks. Other songs by Richie, such as All Night Long and Hello also top the charts, he would have a total of five number one hits, and 13 top ten singles. Diana Ross brought Upside Down to the top spot in 1980, she would have two number one singles, and eight top ten hits in the decade. Tina Turner would top the charts with "What's Love Got to Do With It", she scored a total of six top ten singles. Donna Summer's She Works Hard for the Money was a continuation of the feminist movement started in the 70s, and a rally cry for those who worked hard and wanted to be treated fairly. She would have five top ten singles in the decade.

Bruce Springsteen's Born In the USA, AC/DC's Back in Black, Def Leppard's Hysteria, and Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet were some of the decade's biggest-selling albums on the Billboard Top 200 chart.

During the mid-1980s American pop singer Cyndi Lauper was considered the "Voice of the MTV Generation of '80s" and so different visual style that made the world for teens. Her first two albums She's So Unusual (1984) and True Colors (1986) were critically and commercially successful, spawning the hits, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun", "Time After Time", "She Bop", "All Through the Night", "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough", "True Colors" and "Change of Heart".

Several British artists made the successful transition to pop during the 1980s and saw great commercial success, such as David Bowie, Phil Collins, John Lennon, Billy Ocean, Sheena Easton and Paul McCartney. Many British pop bands also dominated the American charts in the early 1980s. Many of them became popular due to their constant exposure on MTV, these bands included The Human League, Culture Club, Duran Duran, and Wham!. Between the four, they have had 9 U.S. number ones with hits like "Don't You Want Me", "Karma Chameleon", "The Reflex" and "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" In the later part of the decade Rick Astley, George Michael as a solo artist, Terence Trent D'Arby, and Fine Young Cannibals all found chart success.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Australian artists like Olivia Newton-John, Men at Work, Air Supply and AC/DC all had chart success, later in the decade INXS scored hits. Olivia Newton-John's hit Physical would top the Hot 100 for 10 weeks and be the decade's biggest hit in the US; she would have six top ten singles during the 80s.

American artists such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Kool & the Gang, The Pointer Sisters, Billy Joel, Hall & Oates, Prince, Kenny Rogers and John Mellencamp, then known as John Cougar, ruled the charts throughout the decade in the US.[14] Prince, Madonna, Jackson, Joel and Springsteen along with U2, Dire Straits, Phil Collins, The Police, Queen, The Rolling Stones and Eurythmics achieved tremendous success worldwide.[15]

Rock

In the 1980s, rock music was more precisely defined and split up into multiple subgenres.

Hard rock and heavy/glam metal

Metallica in concert, 2003

Beginning in 1983 and peaking in success in 1986-1990, the decade saw the resurgence of hard rock music and the emergence of its glam metal subgenre. Bands such as AC/DC, Queen, Def Leppard, Kiss, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Quiet Riot, Scorpions, Europe, Ratt, Twisted Sister, Poison, Dokken, Whitesnake, and Cinderella were among the most popular acts of the decade. The 1980s saw the emergence of wildly popular hard rock band Guns N' Roses and the successful comebacks of Aerosmith and Alice Cooper in the late 1980s. The success of hard rock act Van Halen spanned throughout the entire decade, first with singer David Lee Roth and later with Sammy Hagar. Queen, which had expanded its music to experimental and crossover genres in the early 1980s, returned to guitar-driven hard rock with The Miracle in 1989. Additionally, a few women managed to achieve stardom in the 1980s hard rock scene: Pat Benatar and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, who had been around since the mid 1970s, are prime examples of female success in hard rock, and so are both ex-Runaways Joan Jett and Lita Ford.

The arena rock trend of the 1970s continued in the 1980s with bands like Styx, Rush, Journey, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, ZZ Top, and Aerosmith.

Traditionally associated (and often confused) with hard rock, heavy metal was also extremely popular throughout the decade, with Ozzy Osbourne achieving success during his solo career; bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Dio were also widely popular British acts. Speed metal pioneer Motörhead maintained its popularity through the releases of several albums. Underground scenes produced an array of more extreme, aggressive Metal subgenres: thrash metal broke his arm into the mainstream with bands such as Metallica, Slayer, Exodus, Anthrax, and Megadeth. By the late 1980s, Metallica would achieve mainstream success and would become one of the best selling music artists of all time. Other styles like death metal and black metal would remain a subcultural phenomena.

The decade also saw the emergence of a string of guitar virtuosi: Eddie Van Halen, George Lynch, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Randy Rhoads, Jason Becker and Yngwie Malmsteen achieved international recognition for their skills. While considerably less numerous, bass guitar virtuosi also gained momentum in the 1980s: Geddy Lee (of Rush Billy Sheehan (of David Lee Roth and Mr. Big fame), Cliff Burton (of Metallica) and alternative/funk metal bassist Les Claypool (of Primus fame) became famous during that period. Iron Maiden founder and bassist Steve Harris has also been praised numerous times for his galloping style of bass playing.

Both hard rock and heavy metal were extremely popular live genres and bands toured extensively around the globe.

Alternative rock

One of the first alternative rock bands, R.E.M. relied on college radio airplay, constant touring, and a grassroots fanbase to break into the musical mainstream.

By 1984, a majority of groups signed to independent record labels were mining from a variety of rock and particularly 1960s rock influences. This represented a sharp break from the futuristic, hyper rational post-punk years.[16]

Throughout the 1980s, alternative rock was mainly an underground phenomena. While on occasion a song would become a commercial hit or albums would receive critical praise in mainstream publications like Rolling Stone, alternative rock in the 1980s was primarily relegated to independent record labels, fanzines and college radio stations. Alternative bands built underground followings by touring constantly and regularly releasing low-budget albums. In the case of the United States, new bands would form in the wake of previous bands, which created an extensive underground circuit in America, filled with different scenes in various parts of the country.[17] Although American alternative artists of the 1980s never generated spectacular album sales, they exerted a considerable influence on later alternative musicians and laid the groundwork for their success.[18]

The Bangles performing at The House of Blues in Cleveland.

Early American alternative bands such as R.E.M., The Hits, The Feelies, and Violent Femmes combined punk influences with folk music and mainstream music influences. R.E.M. was the most immediately successful; its debut album, Murmur (1983), entered the Top 40 and spawned a number of jangle pop followers.[17] Alternative and indie pop movements sprang up in other parts of the world, from the Paisley Underground of Los Angeles (The Bangles, Rain Parade) to Scotland (Aztec Camera, Orange Juice), Australia (The Church, The Triffids), and New Zealand's Dunedin sound (The Clean, The Chills).

American indie record labels SST Records, Twin/Tone Records, Touch and Go Records, and Dischord Records presided over the shift from the hardcore punk that then dominated the American underground scene to the more diverse styles of alternative rock that were emerging.[19] Minnesota bands Hüsker Dü and The Replacements were indicative of this shift. Both started out as punk rock bands, but soon diversified their sounds and became more melodic.[17]

Nine Inch Nails in tour.

By the late 1980s, the American alternative scene was dominated by styles ranging from quirky alternative pop (They Might Be Giants and Camper Van Beethoven), to noise rock (Big Black, Swans) to industrial rock (Ministry, Nine Inch Nails) and to early Grunge (Mudhoney, Nirvana). These sounds were in turn followed by the advent of Boston's the Pixies and Los Angeles' Jane's Addiction.[17]

American alternative rock bands of the 1980s included Hüsker Dü, The Replacements, Minutemen, R.E.M., Dinosaur Jr., Pixies, and Sonic Youth which were popular long before the Grunge movement of the early 1990s.

New singers and songwriters included Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Mark Heard, Lucinda Williams, Patti Smith, Rickie Lee Jones, Terence Trent D'Arby, Stevie Nicks, Suzanne Vega, Cheryl Wheeler and Warren Zevon. Rock and even punk rock artists such as Peter Case, Phil Collins and Paul Westerberg transitioned to careers as solo singers.

In the late 1980s, the term was applied to a group of predominantly female U.S. artists, beginning with Suzanne Vega whose first album sold unexpectedly well, followed by the likes of Tracy Chapman, Nanci Griffith, k.d. lang and Tori Amos, who found success first in the United Kingdom, then in her home market.

Other trends

George Thorogood and Jim Suhler performing.

Various older rock bands made a comeback. Bands originating from the early to mid-1960s such as The Beach Boys and The Kinks had hits with "Kokomo", "Come Dancing" and "Do It Again". Bands with popularity in the mid-1970s such as the Steve Miller Band and Steely Dan also had hits with "Abracadabra" and "Hey Nineteen". Singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen released his blockbuster album Born In The USA, which produced a record-tying 7 hit singles. Stevie Ray Vaughan and George Thorogood sparked a revival of Atomic blues and Blues rock. Massively successful hard rock band Led Zeppelin disbanded after drummer John Bonham's 1980 death, while contemporaries AC/DC continued to have success after the death of former frontman Bon Scott. Country rock saw a decline after Lynyrd Skynyrd's 1977 plane crash and the 1980 disbanding of the genre's most successful band, the Eagles. The Grateful Dead had their biggest hit in band history with "Touch of Grey". The Who managed to provide the hit songs "You Better You Bet" and "Eminence Front" before burning out after the death of their drummer Keith Moon.

Hardcore punk flourished throughout the early to mid-1980s, with bands leading the genre such as Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Suicidal Tendencies, D.O.A., and Dead Kennedys amongst others. It began to wane in the latter half of the decade, with the New York hardcore scene dominating the genre. However, it experience a jumpstart in the late 1980s with emerging bands such as Operation Ivy and Green Day that would define not just the so-called "East Bay" sound, but impact the next decade's punk and alternative sound. Some of which is still around today.

The 1980s proved a difficult time for many 1960s-70s veterans, many of them unable or unwilling to adapt to current trends. Music icons such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and The Rolling Stones released albums that were often poor quality and critically panned as they attempted to grapple with the changing times. MTV in particular was a problem for many artists, as it put a premium on youthfulness, good looks, and showmanship. Artists who became strongly associated with disco music also fell from grace and were often banned from radio play.

Contemporary R&B

Contemporary R&B originated in the 1980s, when musicians started adding disco-like beats, high-tech production, and elements of hip hop, soul and funk to rhythm and blues, making it more danceable and modern.[20] The top mainstream R&B artists of 1980s included Michael Jackson, Prince, Jermaine Jackson, James Ingram, The S.O.S. Band, Stevie Wonder, Kool & the Gang, Jeffrey Osborne, Smokey Robinson, Rick James, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Earth, Wind & Fire, New Edition, Evelyn King, Marvin Gaye, The Jets, DeBarge, Midnight Star, Club Nouveau, Stephanie Mills, Jody Watley, Rockwell, Rene and Angela, and Freddie Jackson.[21]

In the mid-1980s, many of the recordings by artists Luther Vandross, Freddie Jackson, Sade, Anita Baker, Teddy Pendergrass, Peabo Bryson and others became widely heard on the new quiet storm radio format.[21] The term had originated with Smokey Robinson's 1975 album A Quiet Storm. Quiet storm has been described as "R&B's answer to soft rock and adult contemporary—while it was primarily intended for black audiences, quiet storm had the same understated dynamics, relaxed tempos and rhythms, and romantic sentiment."[22]

Tina Turner made a huge comeback during the mid 1980s, while Donna Summer, Diana Ross, The Pointer Sisters and Irene Cara had success on the pop charts first half of the decade. Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Jody Watley had it in the second half of the decade. Irene Cara's Flashdance... What a Feeling was the number one song worldwide in 1983, and for the decade of the 80s.[23] Richard J. Ripani wrote that Janet Jackson's third studio album Control (1986) was "important to the development of R&B for a number of reasons", as she and her producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, "crafted a new sound that fuses the rhythmic elements of funk and disco, along with heavy doses of synthesizers, percussion, sound effects, and a rap music sensibility."[21] Ripani wrote that "the success of Control led to the incorporation of stylistic traits of rap over the next few years, and Janet Jackson was to continue to be one of the leaders in that development."[21] That same year, Teddy Riley began producing R&B recordings that included hip hop influences. This combination of R&B style and hip hop rhythms was termed new jack swing, and was applied to artists such as Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, MC Hammer, Boyz ll Men, Guy, Jodeci, and Bell Biv DeVoe.

Michael Jackson remained a prominent figure in the genre in the late 1980s, following the release of his album Bad (1987) which sold 6 million copies in the US in the 80s, and went on to sell more than 30 million copies worldwide.[24] Janet Jackson's 1989 album Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 continued the development of contemporary R&B into the 1990s, as the album's title track "Rhythm Nation" made "use of elements from across the R&B spectrum, including use of a sample loop, triplet swing, rapped vocal parts and blues notes."[21] The release of Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 became the only album in history to produce number one hits on the Billboard Charts Hot 100 in three separate calendar years—"Miss You Much" in 1989, "Escapade" and "Black Cat" in 1990, and "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" in 1991—and the only album in the history of the Hot 100 to have seven top 5 hit singles.

Hip hop

Beastie Boys in concert, 1992

Encompassing graffiti art, break dancing, rap music, and fashion, hip-hop became the dominant cultural movement of the African American communities in the 1980s. The Hip hop musical genre had a strong influence on pop music in the late 1980s which still continues to the present day.

During the 1980s, the hip hop genre started embracing the creation of rhythm by using the human body, via the vocal percussion technique of beatboxing. Pioneers such as Africa Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Whodini, Sugarhill Gang, Doug E. Fresh,[25] Biz Markie and Buffy from the Fat Boys made beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using their mouth, lips, tongue, voice, and other body parts. "Human Beatbox" artists would also sing or imitate turntablism scratching or other instrument sounds.

The 1980s also saw many artists make social statements through hip hop. In 1982, Melle Mel and Duke Bootee recorded "The Message" (officially credited to Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five),[26] a song that foreshadowed the socially conscious statements of Run-DMC's "It's Like That" and Public Enemy's "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos".[27]

Popular hip hop artists of the 1980s include Kurtis Blow, Run D.M.C., Beastie Boys, NWA, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Boogie Down Productions, Kid N Play, MC Lyte, EPMD, Salt N Pepa, and Ice-T, Schooly D, Slick Rick, Kool Moe Dee, Whodini, MC Hammer, among others.

Electronic music

In the 1980s, dance music records made using only electronic instruments became increasingly popular, largely influenced from the electronic music of Kraftwerk and 1970s disco music. Such music was originally born of and popularized via regional nightclub scenes in the 1980s, and became the predominant type of music played in discothèques as well as the rave scene.

House music is a style of electronic dance music which originated in Chicago, Illinois, USA in the early 1980s.[28] House music was strongly influenced by elements of soul- and funk-infused varieties of disco. Club play from pioneering DJs like Ron Hardy and Lil Louis, local dance music record shops, and the popular Hot Mix 5 shows on radio station WBMX-FM helped popularize house music in Chicago and among visiting DJs & producers from Detroit. Trax Records and DJ International Records, local labels with wider distribution, helped popularize house music outside of Chicago. It eventually reached Europe before becoming infused in mainstream pop & dance music worldwide during the 1990s.

It has been widely cited that the initial blueprint for techno was developed during the mid-1980s in Detroit, Michigan, by Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May (the so-called "Belleville Three"), and Eddie Fowlkes, all of whom attended school together at Belleville High, near Detroit.[29][30][31][32] Though initially conceived as party music that was played on daily mixed radio programs and played at parties given by cliquish, Detroit high school clubs, it has grown to be a global phenomenon.

Country music

As the 1980s dawned, pop-influenced country music was the dominant style, through such acts as Kenny Rogers, Ronnie Milsap, T.G. Sheppard, Eddie Rabbitt, Crystal Gayle, Anne Murray and Dolly Parton. The 1980 movie Urban Cowboy, a romantic comedy starring John Travolta and Debra Winger, spawned a successful soundtrack album featuring pop-styled country songs, including "Lookin' for Love" by Johnny Lee, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band, "Could I Have This Dance" by Murray and "Love the World Away" by Rogers. The songs, and the movie itself, resulted in an early 1980s boom in pop-styled country music, and the era is sometimes known as the "Urban Cowboy Movement".

By the mid-1980s, country music audiences were beginning to tire of country pop. Although some pop-country artists continued to record and release successful songs and albums, the genre in general was beginning to suffer. By 1985, a New York Times article declared country music "dead". However, by this time, several newcomers were working behind the scenes to reverse this perception.

The year 1986 brought forth several new artists who performed in traditional country styles, such as honky-tonk. This sparked the "new traditionalist" movement, or return to traditional country music. The most successful of these artists included Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Ricky Van Shelton and Holly Dunn. Also, artists like Kathy Mattea and Keith Whitley, both of whom had been performing for a few years prior, had their first major hits during 1986; Mattea was more folk-styled, while Whitley was pure honky-tonk. But the new traditionalist movement had already taken hold as early as 1981, when newcomers such as Ricky Skaggs and George Strait had their first big hits. Reba McEntire had her first big hit in 1980 followed by 15 other number one hit singles during the decade. In addition, songwriter–guitarist and Chet Atkins prodigy Steve Wariner also emerged as a popular act starting in the early 1980s. Another boom period for newcomers with new traditionalist styles was 1989, when artists such as Clint Black, Garth Brooks, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lorrie Morgan and Travis Tritt had their first big hits. It was Whitley who was seen as being one of the torchbearers of the new traditionalist movement, thanks to his pure honky-tonk style in the vein of Lefty Frizzell and others, and his star power was set to rise into the 1990s; however, Whitley was a known heavy drinker, and it was alcohol poisoning that ended his life in May 1989, just weeks after a song about triumph over personal demons -- "I'm No Stranger to the Rain"—became a huge country hit. In keeping with the neotraditonalist movement, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris teamed up to release 1987's Platinum selling Trio album. Composed mostly of traditional songs set to acoustic arrangements, the album won a Grammy in 1988 for best country collaboration.

Vocal duos were also popular because of their harmonies, most notably The Bellamy Brothers and The Judds. Several of the Bellamy Brothers' songs included double-entendre' laden hooks, on songs such as "Do You Love as Good As You Look". The Judds, a mother-and-daughter duo, combined elements of contemporary pop and traditional country music on songs such as "Why Not Me" and "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Ol' Days)".

Country music groups and bands continued to rise in popularity during the 1980s. The most successful of the lot was Alabama, a Fort Payne-based band that blended traditional and pop country sounds with southern rock. Their concerts regularly sold out, while their single releases regularly reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. In 1989, Alabama was named the Artist of the Decade by the Academy of Country Music. By the end of the 1980s, the group had sold more than 24 million albums in the United States.

Ranking just behind Alabama in popularity, as far as groups were concerned, were The Oak Ridge Boys and The Statler Brothers, both four-part harmony groups with gospel and country-pop stylings. The popularity of those three groups sparked a boom in new groups and bands, and by the end of the 1980s, fans were listening to such acts as Restless Heart and Exile, the latter which previously enjoyed success with the pop hit "Kiss You All Over".

Despite the prevailing pop country sound, enduring acts from the 1970s and earlier continued to enjoy great success with fans. George Jones, one of the longest-running acts of the time, recorded several successful singles, including the critically acclaimed "He Stopped Loving Her Today". Conway Twitty continued to have a series of No. 1 hits, with 1986's "Desperado Love" becoming his 40th chart-topper on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, a record that stood for nearly 20 years. The movie Coal Miner's Daughter profiled the life of Loretta Lynn (with Sissy Spacek in the lead role), while Willie Nelson also had a series of acting credits. Dolly Parton had much success in the 1980s, with several leading movie roles, two No. 1 albums and 13 number one hits, and having many successful tours; she also teamed up with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt in 1987 for the multi-plaitnum Trio album. Others who had been around for a while and continued to have great success were Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, Hank Williams Jr. and Tammy Wynette.

In addition to newcomer Whitley, top classic country and influential performers who died during the decade included Red Sovine, Whitey Ford, Marty Robbins, Merle Travis, Ernest Tubb, Wynn Stewart and Tex Williams. Although not directly associated with country music, Roy Orbison, a favorite of many country music fans and whose styles wound up being influential with many newcomers, died in 1988.

1980s in music North America articles: 454