Top Ten - 80's Hard Rock Bands (2023)

80’s hard rock; it’s one of the more overlooked forms of heavy music. Which is interesting considering the density of material that the 80’s hard rock bands produced. The genre is doing better than it has been in previous years. But it’s still picking up the pieces that were left behind by grunge, heavier forms of metal and of course, 90’s over produced pop. But the music is still there, many of the bands still exist. One of them just added yet another leg on what is now the highest grossing tour of all time. But most of the 80’s hard rock bands haven’t fared so well. Either through prolonged lifestyle habits (Vince Neal), or just the fate of the cruel hand of the record industry (Winger). Either way the era produced some of the baddest riffs, phattest drum grooves and simply some of the most talented musicians to ever grace the record industry. Here’s a look at the top ten greatest 80’s hard rock bands.


Can’t be rockin’ without Dokken! While that statement may not hold any literal truth, it does have a glimpse of truth. Dokken are one of the innovators and creators of 80’s hard rock. And the guitar heroics of George Lynch are nearly unmatched. Particularly on the live document ‘Unleashed in the East’. So why are they at number ten? Basically it’s because they never achieved the headlining megastardom level that many of their peers did. And I think there’s a reason for that. While their songs are really really good, they’re just shy of great. And when their songs were getting great they broke up. Also, not having remastered versions of their 80’s material has not done well for them. However, they did produce some very very strong material post 80’s. Which many of their peers did not. 1995’s ‘Dysfunctional’ and 1999’s ‘Erase the Slate’ are two of the best albums from anyone from the genre. It’s too bad they didn’t hit that peak of songwriting in the 80’s because I believe they would have been the biggest band in the world. Either way, they certainly deserve a top ten spot. Keep rockin’ Dokken.


Alright, yes, their success is legendary. And the live show they cultivated was really hard to match in it’s heyday. Guitarist C.C. DeVille is among the most overlooked players out there. Just look a the nine minute plus guitar solo from 1991’s ‘Swallow This Live’. Of course, the other members collaborate to make a solid band. Rikki Rockett is a solid drummer. Always keeping time while providing a healthy amount of showmanship. Bobby Dall always lays down the bass consistently. And front man Brett Michaels, while not the greatest singer of all time, is one of the greatest to front a band. His energy is infectious and he holds the crowd in the palm of his hand as if he arena were his living room. The reason the band isn’t higher is because of their lack of out put over the past 25 years. And while there are some amazingly unexpected deep cuts from their first four albums, the hits are lacking. With the exception of a few songs. Plus, when you bring in a replacement member who outplays everyone in the band in his sleep (Richie Kotzen), it doesn’t fare well for the group as a whole. But C.C. holds his ground and then some with the solo on the track below.


Alright, personally, I wanted to put Winger higher on the list. But there has to be a little objectification here. However, Winger just might be the most talented group on this list. These guys can play circles around just about anybody. They aren’t just an 80’s hard rock band. They also have very progressive tendencies. Think Motley Crue but with Rush leanings and Fates Warning levels of technicality. Unfortunately this band really gets thrown under the bus. I think it’s because Kip Winger is just a really handsome dude. So they automatically get lumped in with bands that were about image and no discernible talent. But their work speaks for itself. 1988’s self titled is only a warm up to the riffs of 1990’s ‘In the Heart of the Young’ and 1993’s ultimate bad ass ‘Pull’. Plus, they’re one of the only bands from the era that’s still together, releasing excellent new material that sounds fresh. 2014’s ‘Better Days Comin” says it all. Also, 2009’s ‘Karma’ is quite excellent.


Yes, it’s true that Whitesnake started in the 70’s as a bluesy hard rock band. But their commercial peak didn’t hit it’s stride until David Coverdale decided to become more of an 80’s hard rock act. When the transition was made they were hard to beat live. Nikki Sixx even has writings in ‘The Heroin Diaries’ of how envious he was of Coverdale’s team. And I gotta say, I’ve seen them live a few times with the Dough Aldrich and Reb Beach line up. And my God they were incredible. David Coverdale has always attracted the best talent. Just check out John Sykes’ guitar work on the 1987 self titled album. Or Steve Vai’s guitar heroics from 1989’s ‘Slip of the Tongue’ and the recently released ‘Live at Donnington 1990’. Whitesnake is also a band from the era that has released a good amount of post 80’s work. 2008’s ‘Good To Be Bad’ and 2011’s ‘Forevermore’ are truly excellent and rank among the best Whitesnake albums. The band is slowing down however as Coverdale is reaching 70 years of age.

Guns N’ Roses

Yes, they were a little grittier. And ‘Appetite For Destruction’ is a very consistent album with many strong riffs. But at the end of the day it’s no more special than any of the other great albums from the era. The special albums to me are the ‘Use Your Illusion’ records. And those albums have quite a 90’s feel to them. Although they do retain many of the 80’s hard rock qualities. But Guns N Roses is probably the most successful band on this list. Even though they only have seven records. One’ s an Ep and one’s a cover album. So really, it’s five albums. And no other band from the era has proven to have their staying power. Sure, Poison rides the wave. But they could never do two nights at Dodger Stadium. As evidenced by the ongoing ‘Not in This Lifetime’ tour. And tour which has outsold any other in history. And they just added another leg. The reason GNR isn’t higher on the list is because A) I think Axl Rose is probably the most overrated singer of all time and B) while Slash gets way more recognition than his peers, he’s not in the same league as Beach or Lynch. That’s not to say he isn’t a great player though. And while some of his peers have diminished over the years, he’s only gotten better and better.

Def Leppard

One of the originals and innovators of the 80’s hard rock sound. In fact, Def Leppard kind of invented the 80’s. They can claim to have written the first power ballad ‘Bringing on the Heartbreak’. And their breakout mega album ‘Pyromania’ was one of the first to use all the 80’s bells and whistles. Before anyone even really knew who Motley Crue was, these guys were triple platinum and selling out arenas. And they come from a different world than their contemporaries. They come out of the British New Wave of Heavy Metal. Then Mutt Lange got his hands on the band and his influence is instant. The early work is essentially a heavier, more glam version of AC/DC. Which is what a lot of 80’s hard is. But nothing compares to their 1987 masterpiece ‘Hysteria’. And album that’s definitely top five definitive albums from the time. In hard rock or any other genre for that matter. It’s a double diamond album at this point and is one of four legendary records from the band. They’re also one of the greatest live acts out there. Nailing every song with passion and energy. And they’re also one of the first bands to do stadium shows in the round.


Sometimes a band is successful simply because they write great songs and people have to tell their friends about how good said band is. This is the case with Sacramento’s Tesla. These hippie farm boys from Northern California can throw down riffs and strong songs like no other. Frankie Hannon and Tommy Skeotch are the most underrated guitar duet in hard rock and metal. Hannon can outplay just about anyone in his sleep. Jeff Keith has a particularly raspy voice. And like their Southern California brethren Guns N Roses they had a grit that fared well for the band. Separating them from their peers at the time. And it translated well into the 90’s. It’s their lack of image that helped their fourth album ‘Bust a Nut’ go platinum in 1994. Something none of their contemporaries accomplished. It’s their first four studio albums that puts this band at number 4. ’87’s ‘Mechanical Resonance’, 89’s ‘The Great Radio Controversy’, 91’s ‘Psychotic Supper’ and 94’s ‘Bust a Nut’. Those are four amazing albums right in a row. Consistent, strong and of course, excellent live. Check out 2000’s ‘Replugged Live’ for proof.


Oh hell yeah! In their heyday, Ratt was the freakin’ best. Just an extremely fun band. They had it all: The talent, the songs, the riffs, the looks, the success, the women, the drugs. Basically everything a young rocker could want. And for five consistent albums they kept it up. Their excellent debut ‘Out of the Cellar’ is one of the definitive albums of the genre. And it’s not even their best album. 85’s ‘Invasion of Your Privacy’ was also a huge success. But the band really hit their stride with 86’s ‘Dancin’ Undercover’. Which contains riff after riff after riff. So groovy, so tasty, so much fun. 88’s ‘Reach for The Sky’ is their weakest album, but still incredibly strong. And 90’s ‘Detonator’ ranks among the most underrated albums of 80’s hard rock. Song’s like ‘Hard Times’, ‘All or Nothin’ and ‘Lovin’ You’s a Dirty Job’ pocket so hard. It’s the kind of rock that makes you go ‘What happened to this? This is so good and fun.’ And their ’97 self titled is one of the best post prime albums from any band of the genre. Unfortunatly Ratt can’t keep their shit together and since Robin Crozby’s death it’s been a never ending drama story of who owns what. The members can’t seem to stay in one band together. There’s two versions of the band. Drummer Bobby Blotzer has his tribute version and Warren DeMartini (one of greatest to ever pick up the guitar) just left the other version. So there’s basically no Ratt. Which sucks because they’re a great group when they work together.

Van Halen

Of the true inventors of the 80’s hard rock sound. Yeah, technically they’re from the 70’s. But their eponymous debut was released in ’78. And it laid out the ground work for the next thirteen years of rock. But that’s just the beginning. Their success built and built. And for good reason. They write great songs. And when Sammy Hagar came on board in 1986 they got even better. ‘5150’ is hands down one of the greatest rock albums ever. Song’s like ‘Summer Nights’ and the title track lay down mega catchy grooves. And songs like ‘Why Can’t this Be Love?’ and ‘Love Walks In’ are among the greatest in all of pop. And there’s six albums before that one. 1981’s ‘Fair Warning’ contains some of the sickest riffs and grooves of all the 80’s. And it came out before the 80’s hard rock trend really got going. But, it’s the songs from the Hagar era that put Van Halen in at number two. 91’s ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ is so consistent you can’t even tell when the record’s about to end. It so enjoyable you wonder where the hour went. And the chemistry between the four members during these years is unmatched. Yes, even during the Roth years. Unfortunatly they wouldn’t get along for the long run and they broke up after the ‘Balance’ tour finished. Since then it’s been a cluster fuck of lows and highs. Never really capturing the true spirit of the band that ruled from ’78 to ’96.

Motley Crue

The number one band of the 80’s hard rock genre is without question Motley Crue. They are absolutely the perfect embodiment of the what the decade was about. Excess, drugs, partying 24/7 and never thinking of the consequences. It’s that reckless energy that fuels the band through five hugely successful albums and the decades that were to come. And they had the talent to back it up. In their prime they were the bands band. Tommy Lee was certainly the best drummer out of L.A. at the time. Vince Neal had an amazing voice and presence. Mick Mars is the most underrated guitarist from the era. And while Nikki Sixx is far from a great technical bass player, he is certainly a great songwriter. And what’s cool about them is they never completely repeated themselves. But always stayed within the realm of who they are. ’83’s ‘Shout at the Devil’ is similar to ’85’s ‘Theater of Pain’. But the angle and imagery are different enough to keep the albums fresh. They never repeated a look or a specific logo for the band’s name. But again, like most of their peers, it’s the consistency of excellent song writing that puts them at the top. Even their ’94 self titled album without Vince Neal singing in incredible. But to truly capture what the energy of the band was about you have to look at the ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ tour. That was basically what every band wanted to be. Bombastic and decadent, but also being a tight knit unit of quality sound. Sometimes I wonder how they did it. Unfortnatly the band wouldn’t keep up their quality. Actually it’s just Vince Neal that let himself go. The rest of the band stayed tight and disciplined. But Vince let himself go big time. Gaining what is now an insane amount of weight and completely losing his voice. I saw them at the Hollywood Bowl on their farewell tour and kept thinking ‘I’m glad they’re hanging it up.’ But their legacy is legendary and they will forever be remembered in annals of rock and metal.

So there you have it folks. My greatest 80’s hard rock bands. What do you think? Leave anyone out that you favor over another band on the list? Sound off in the comments section.

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