The Main Styles of Music From the 1980s


After a disco-dominated decade in the 1970s, the 1980s presented new sub-genres of music with the advent of synthesizer instruments. These instruments utilized elements from soul and funk music; thus, it was heavily influential in '80s dance-oriented genres, such as house and electronic music. In the world of heavy metal, the '80s saw the emergence of sub-genres that included flamboyant stage costumes and higher-tempo percussion.


  • Also referred to as "metal music," heavy metal has roots in traditional rock 'n' roll music, but distinguishes itself from other forms of rock music with its higher degree of amplification, guitar solos and increased volume levels. While the genesis of heavy metal was back in the 1970s, the 1980s produced two new sub-genres of heavy metal music, glam metal and thrash metal. The characteristics of glam metal bands were colorful, flamboyant attire and a more pop sound, giving it the nickname "hair metal"; glam metal bands include Poison and Motley Crue. Thrash metal is a more aggressive subgenre of music, consisting of low-register guitar riffs and rapid drum sounds; thrash metal bands include Metallica and Megadeth. Both of these styles of metal originated from the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.


  • House music's roots can be traced back to Chicago in the 1980s. This style of music is electronic dance music influenced by funk, soul and disco music. The difference in house from other styles of dance music is the consistent use of a bass drum, electronic effects and drums, synthesizer bass line and samples from funk or soul songs. The term "house" derives from a Chicago nightclub, The Warehouse, which was a popular dance club among Latinos and African-Americans during the 1980s. Known house musicians include Marshall Jefferson and Frankie Knuckles. This style of music served as the influence for Detroit techno and became popular in the United Kingdom and Europe in the '90s.

Contemporary R&B

  • Contemporary R&B, also referred to a urban contemporary, is a genre of music usually sung by African-American artists. This style of R&B, which originated from music venues New York City and Los Angeles, differs from traditional rhythm and blues -- what R&B stands for -- with the use of drum-machine beats and jazz instruments, such as saxophones, synthesizers and clarinets. Contemporary R&B artists are also known for using melisma, a technique of singing multiple notes on a single-syllable lyric. Notable R&B artists during the 1980s include Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross and Stephanie Mills. The late '80s saw the emergence of "New Jack Swing," a sub-genre of contemporary R&B that employed hip hop tracks and beats.

New Wave

  • New Wave music is a sub-genre of rock music that utilizes electronic instruments, such as synthesizers and drum machines. This style of music originated alongside punk rock in the late 1970s; according to All Music, the term "new wave" was applied to music with a much broader appeal to audiences, since it did not have the aggressive sound of punk rock. New Wave music has a heavier sound than pop music, though, and was the forerunner to the alternative rock music movement in the '90s. The New Wave movement began in the United Kingdom, such as Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello, and New York City, including Blondie and the Talking Heads. During the '80s, popular New Wave bands included Flock of Seagulls, Depeche Mode, New Order, Devo, the Cure and the B-52s.

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