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Rock bands that made their mark on music of the 1980s and 1990's

Updated on May 14, 2013
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How do you react when Michelle is a professional freelance writer who loves music, poetry, pets, and the arts. She is a techno-geek as well.


Rock music. Many of us cannot do without hearing our favorite bands or deny that we have been touched by them in some way. A popular musical genre, it started as rock and roll in the 1950‘s and 60‘s, branching into the more specific areas of jazz, rhythm and blues, rap and hip hop.

Rock music is ever evolving, with artistes and bands constantly coming into the scene and fading into the background with the passing of time. Evergreen or not, though, many of these bands, popular during the 1980’s and 90’s, certainly shaped the music scene of the decade. They would have had tremendous influence on our personal musical tastes too.

Here is a compilation of some favorite bands that have shaped our lives over these two awesome decades. This list is definitely not exhaustive, because there are certainly so many bands that have touched our lives with their music.


Sweet Child of Mine

Guns and Roses

“Oh..Oh..Oh sweet child of mine...’ the slightly nasal voice of Axl Rose with his evergreen hard rock hit will never fail to get anyone moving. Formed in 1985, lead singer Axl, together with famed rock electric guitarist Slash, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradin and drummer Steven Adler, signed with Gelfen Records in 1986. They released six studio albums and accumulated sales of over100 million albums worldwide. Appetie for Destruction in itself has sold in excess of 28 million copies.

Their heady influence comes in the artful way they infuse eclectic and powerful sounds into their music that I daresay are unforgettable to many a rock fan. Their heavy duty drum beats, blues styled metal guitar, the punk influenced bass guitar and of course, Axl’s talented falsetto won them the nickname of “most dangerous band in the world. They were recently inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame this year.

For myself, their music brings many fond memories to mind as a music teacher. I remember jamming and performing Sweet Child of Mine in several concerts, serving as the keyboardist/vocalist with another adept male teacher doing Slash justice on the electric guitar. I had fun trying to emulate Axl’s vocals. It was certainly a way for me to connect with teens!

Extreme's vocalist, Gary Cherone.
Extreme's vocalist, Gary Cherone. | Source

Extreme More Than Words


Extreme is certainly a rock band that had a definite hold over the music industry in the late eighties and early 1990’s. Helmed by frontmen Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt. Cherone, however, joined Van Halen in 1996.

They recorded their self titled debut album and released it in 1989, with their first single, Kid Ego, gaining mention. Sales were enough to support a second release, and the band came up with Extreme II in 1990.

Though the album showcased Bettencourt’s mixture of punk, pop and glam metal guitar playing, it was the acoustic love ballad More Than Words that became one of the band’s greatest hits, unsurprising because of its beautifully weaved harmonies.

They made waves the world over with their Funky Metal brand of rock, blending classical rock influences with post grunge and alternative forms. They certainly made romantic waves as well with More Than Words, which is still one of the most popular wedding songs to date.


Nirvana Oh Me


Nirvana came into the Grunge music scene with the release of its first album Bleach under the independent record label sub pop in 1989. They found unexpected success with Smells Like Teen Spirit, a single from their second album, Nevermind in 1991, after signing on with major record label DGC records. Their music was outstanding because of dynamic contrasts. Loud choruses are often contrasted with quiet verses, giving their music that attractive, unpredictable nature.

Their success was important to the music industry as it raised the popularity of alternative rock. In fact, they are widely considered to be the flagship band of Generation X. Their run was brief, with the unfortunate death of Cobain in 1994, but with post humous releases overseen by Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love and other members of the band, they have sold 75 million copies of their albums worldwide.

Pearl Jam in concert
Pearl Jam in concert | Source

Pearl Jam Yellow Ledbetter

Pearl Jam

One of the flagship bands of the grunge movement of the early 1990’s, Pearl Jam was formed in Seattle, Washington in 1990. The band included members like Eddie Vedder on the vocals, Stone Gossard on the guitar, Jeff Ament on the bass and Mike McCready on the guitar. Matt Cameron is their current drummer.

They broke into the mainstream with their debut album, Ten. The album generated singles like Jeremy, Even Flow and Alive. WIth that release, they became a key band responsible for popularizing the widely growing grunge movement of the time. Early in its career, the band became known for its intense live performances and refusal to make music videos for their songs, even though they knew that this was important for album sales.


Everybody Wants to Rule The World

Tears For Fears

Tears for Fears is an English New wave band that rocked the music scene of the 1980’s. Formed by Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, was associated with the New Wave Synthesizer bands of the 1990s. Their platinum selling album, The Hunting, reached number one on the UK album chart, while their second, spawning hits like “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Shout,” won the award for best British Album. They produced a third platinum selling album, The Seeds of Love, which reaped a hit single of the same title.

They were instrumental in popularizing the new wave movement in the 1980s, together with greats like the Pet Shop Boys, A Ha, and of course, Queen. Their songs are familiar ones used as team cheers.


Queen-Bohemian Rhapsody Live


Queen stormed into the music scene in London in 1971. It originally consisted members Freddie Mercury on the lead vocals and piano, John Deacon on the bass guitar, Brian May supplying the guitar and vocals, and Roger Taylor providing the drums and vocals. They were originally influenced by progressive rock, but later produced radio friendly tunes and brought more diverse styles into their music.

The band released its eponymous debut album in 1973. This, together with the follow up

Queen II, enjoyed success in the UK. The album, A Night at the Opera, produced the hit single Bohemian Rhapsody, which got millions the world over shouting “Galileo let me go..” It became their first hit on the US Billboard Top 100.

Their foot stomping, catchy tunes like We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions became sports anthems all over the world. The songs have been used as a cheer at numerous sporting events.


I still haven't found what I'm Looking For


An Irish Rock Band from Dublin, U2 is helmed by frontman Bono, the musically versatile The Edge on keyboard, guitar and vocals, and Adam Clayton on the Bass Guitar. Originally a post punk band, U2 grew to incorporate many influences from many musical genres.

After the release of their debut album, Boy, they became a top international act. They succeeded more as concert performers than selling records, until their breakthrough album, Joshua Tree was released with hit singles like With or Without You and I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. After some stagnating, the group reinvented themselves with the release of Achtung Baby, integrating dance, industrial and alternative rock influences into their sound.

Their music has contributed to the versatility of rock music with its willingness to experiment and constantly recreate its unique sound. Joshua Tree remains one of the world's best selling albums, winning grammies for Album of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group in 1988.


Bad Medicine

Bon Jovi

An American rock band from New Jersey, Bon Jovi is helmed by lead singer and namesake Jon Bon Jovi. Guitarist RIchie Sambora, keyboardist David Bryan and Drummer Tico Torres form the rest of the band. Hugh McDonald replaced bass player Alec John Such in 1994. between 1986 and 1995. They have been rocking the world of rock from the 1980s to the present day.

Bon Jovi achieved 13 U.S. Top 40 hits between 1986 and 1995, including Wanted Dead or Alive, Bed of Roses, Living on a Prayer, Bad Medicine and I’ll be there for you. More recent hit albums include The Circle and Lost Highway, which reached number one as well.

What makes the band stand out is its versatility with music styles. Lost Highway included country numbers.

They have released eleven studio albums, three compilations and one live album, selling 130 million records world wide. Testimony to their influence was their induction into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2006. They received the Award of Merit at the American Music Awards in 2004. Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora themselves have been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame as songwriters and collaborators.


These bands have all shaped the world of rock music with their contributions to progressive, grunge, dance or alternative, new wave forms. They have been, undoubtedly, leaders in the field of 1980’s and 1990’s rock music, which will stay in our minds and hearts for years to come.

Copyright (C) by Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin


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