190 acts who set the style for the new music of the 1980s

➤ These key acts charted
during the first five formative
years of the decade

As the Eighties dawned, 92 image-conscious bands and acts charted after emerging from the UK’s clubland explosion during the first five years of the new decade, plus 98 others in the nightlife slipstream. Almost all of them were new and home-grown (with two honorable exceptions).

That’s a remarkable total of new bands for any nation to have produced and the main trigger was the DIY impulse to create work for ourselves in the economic recession, and from early 1979 Tuesday night’s elektro-diskow at the Blitz Club proved to be the crucible for stylish invention. Its own house band Spandau Ballet played only seven live dates to secure a recording contract and arrive in the charts in autumn 1980. As we see below, it took two years to grow the so-called New Romantics movement which itself triggered new waves of bands and weekly club-nights across Britain.

The acts are listed here in chronological order of their first appearance in the UK chart (sourced from the Guinness book of British Hit Singles). In terms of a British musical renaissance, for every one of these bands there were probably ten more beyond the main chart, carrying the torch and nibbling at the Independent charts, though it would be impossible to identify them all.

Visage in 1979, soundtrack to the Blitz Club: Rusty Egan, John McGeoch, Barry Adamson, Dave Formula, Billy Currie, Steve Strange, Midge Ure. Photographed © by Sheila Rock

THE FIRST WAVE 1980-1981

Acts are listed in chronological order of their first chart appearance

1980: John Foxx, Ultravox, Linx, Spandau Ballet, Visage,
1981: Landscape, Depeche Mode, Kid Creole, Soft Cell, Funkapolitan, Haircut100, Blue Rondo a la Turk.

1980: Shalamar, Light of the World, OMD, The Human League, Freeez, Level42, Japan, Shakatak, Gidea Park,
1981: Beggar & Co, Duran Duran, Heaven 17, Altered Images, Imagination, Eurythmics, Paul Gardiner, Thomas Dolby, ABC.

1980: UB40, M, The Damned, Simple Minds, Gary Numan, The Specials, Joe Jackson, Madness, Tourists, The Buggles, Selecter, The Beat, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Bad Manners, Bodysnatchers, Cure, Girl, Echo and the Bunnymen, Karel Fialka, Joy Division, Adam Ant, Girlschool, Hazel O’Connor, XTC, Teardrop Explodes, Professionals,
1981: Susan Fassbender, Central Line, Toyah, Kim Wilde, Classix Nouveaux, The Polecats, New Order, Bauhaus, Psychedelic Furs, Killing Joke, Kirsty MacColl, Tight Fit, Aneka, Modern Romance, The Creatures, This Year’s Blonde, Fun Boy Three, Orange Juice, Pigbag, Scritti Politti.

Animal Nightlife play Flick’s, Dartford: 1982 line-up with Leah Seresin, Andy Polaris and Chrysta Jones, just after releasing the single Love Is Just The Great Pretender. Photo © Shapersofthe80s


1982: Mobiles, Techno Twins, The Mood, Fashion, Ph.D., Bananarama, Blancmange, Yazoo, Junior, Talk Talk, The Belle Stars, Blue Zoo, Haysi Fantayzee, Second Image, CaVa CaVa, Culture Club, Wham!, Thompson Twins, Malcolm McLaren,
1983: Kajagoogoo, Jo Boxers, Aztec Camera, Kissing the Pink, Roman Holliday, Farmers Boys, Freur, Phil Fearon & Galaxy, David Grant, Matt Fretton, Funk Masters, Bloomsbury Set, Jimmy the Hoover, Lotus Eaters, Carmel, Animal Nightlife, Howard Jones, Tik and Tok, Limahl, Marilyn, Care, Frankie Goes to Hollywood,
1984: Matt Bianco, Colour Field, Fiat Lux, Swans Way, Hazell Dean, Loose Ends, Sade, Dead or Alive, Everything but the Girl, Helen Terry, Marc Almond, Bronski Beat, David Sylvian, Working Week, Alison Moyet, Shriekback, George Michael, Vicious Pink, Dali’s Car, Art of Noise, Smiley Culture.

1982: Rhoda Dakar with The Special AKA, Theatre of Hate, GBH, The Associates, Loose Ends, A Flock of Seagulls, Monsoon, Brat, China Crisis, King Trigger, Billy Idol, Musical Youth, Tears for Fears, Dramatis, The Pale Fountains, The The, Mighty Wah,
1983: Jo Boxers, Meteors, Bluebells, The Style Council, Tracie Young, Spear of Destiny, Paul Haig, Paul Young, Glove, Danse Society, Black Lace, Time UK, This Mortal Coil, Smiths, Julian Cope, Nik Kershaw, Flying Pickets,
1984: Joe Fagin, Fiction Factory, Comsat Angels, Prefab Sprout, Aswad, Bourgie Bourgie, Cocteau Twins, Kane Gang, Sisters of Mercy, Boothill Foot Tappers, Friends Again, Paul Quinn & Edwyn Collins, John Waite, Jim Diamond, Strawberry Switchblade, Sal Solo.

Contact [a t] shapersofthe80s.com

Spandau Ballet, 1980, Waldorf, Virginia Turbett

Young romantics: trendsetting but as-yet unsigned Spandau Ballet sport a mix of Willy Brown Modern Classics, the odd Simon Withers knee-breeches and crucial Chinese dancing slippers for the Ritz Hotel shoot in August 1980 © Virginia Turbett

Back to the future 80s remixed
by Rusty Egan 2014


❏ As a significant footnote, let’s not overlook the UK Independent Singles Chart, first published in January 1980, when it was topped by punk rockers Spizzenergi’s Where’s Captain Kirk? Other chart toppers in the early Eighties included, for example, Crass, Joy Division, Zounds, Anti-Pasti, Pigbag, Anti-Nowhere League and Renée and Renato.

This so-called Indie Chart provided an important measure of how many creative new bands were signed to labels such as Cherry Red, Rough Trade and Mute, when their distribution service to small record shops was independent from the major commercial companies. An act such as industrial new-waver Fad Gadget, who was an important influence on Depeche Mode, put 11 singles into the Indie Chart between 1980 and 1984, without once appearing in the mainstream chart.


pop music, DCset, Now That’s What I Call Music, Now Yearbook 84, Swinging 80s,

Now That’s What I Call Music’s Now Yearbook ’84 playlist

❏ Update October 2021 – We should be grateful for this four-CD Now Yearbook for 1984 but sadly it proves to be a big missed opportunity. The Now That’s What I Call Music franchise has picked 78 singles from one of the most musically fertile years in the Swinging 80s, yet almost half are dinosaurs from the USA or makeweights such as Murray Head and Peter Schilling (rare exceptions obviously are giants such as Chaka Khan, Tina Turner and Michael Jackson). What Now ’84 could have done was to dedicate all of its 78 tracks to the innovative British bands who changed the course of music history in the UK and across the globe, and it would still have been ignoring the 100 other British acts listed on this page. Wakey-wakey, Now!

➢ Elsewhere at Shapersofthe80s: Crucial leaders who set
the style in music and fashion

TAGS – Pop music, dance music, synth-pop, elektro-diskow, synthesisers, UK, alternative music, indie rock, image, gender-benders, pop chart, Indie Chart, EMD, nightclubbing, New Romantics, Blitz Kids, Rusty Egan, fashion, social trends, youth culture, history, Swinging London, bands, tipping point, Now Yearbook ’84



One response to “190 acts who set the style for the new music of the 1980s

  1. Good Morning – Just found your site on a random search and it’s absolutely brilliant. The content is your first hand experience, understanding of the artform by those who made it and most importantly it’s told in a way that engages the reader.
    I’m in my late 40’s and my favourite period is 66-73 but this era is largely about albums but the charts from the late 70’s to the mid 80’s are about singles as the breadth of talent and styles in the UK charts were staggering. I love the pop culture aspect as the origins of these movements influence so much and as you said about your ES piece, people don’t even realise it.
    Would love to read more, is the OMM article from 2009 still available?
    I’ve pinged your site to a few mates who will appreciate your work.
    Best Regards – Shane

    Shapersofthe80s writes: Thanks for your flattering remarks, Shane. Glad you’re seeing the bigger picture! Here’s a link to the OMM overview of that era https://www.theguardian.com/music/2009/oct/04/spandau-ballet-new-romantics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s