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Best 80s Female Singers: 10 Icons That Defined The Decade
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List & Guides

Best 80s Female Singers: 10 Icons That Defined The Decade

Whether we’re talking the queens of pop, funk or rock’n’roll, the best 80s female singers still take the crown for inspiration.

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The 80s was a big decade for music. Bob Geldof rallied the troops for a once-in-a-lifetime live music extravaganza, MTV landed on TV screens for the first time, and Michael Jackson’s signature moonwalk was being imitated on dancefloors everywhere. Even today, the era holds a firm spot in the hearts and minds of many – and thanks in no small part to these ten best 80s female singers, all of whom helped define the decade as much as anyone else.

Listen to the best of the 80s here, and check out our best 80s female singers, below.

10: The Bangles

Though not the longest-standing artists on this list of the best 80s female singers, The Bangles’ chart-friendly sound ensures their continued placement on playlists today. The US pop-rockers emerged in the early half of the decade, enjoying moderate success until scoring a support slot on Cyndi Lauper’s Fun tour across 1983 and 1984. Their second album, 1985’s Different Light, was defined by some of the group’s most impressive vocal work, with Susanna Hoffs (guitars and vocals), Vicki Peterson (guitars and vocals) and Debbie Peterson (drums and vocals) deftly handing both instrumental and singing duties as they departed from their earlier rock’n’roll sound and moved towards the poppier end of the spectrum. The album’s second single, Manic Monday, was penned by Prince, and sat at No.2 in the US, beneath its writer’s own hit Kiss, while Walk Like An Egyptian took the group to the top of the charts for the first time, earworming its way into the minds of listeners the world over.

Must hear: Manic Monday

9: Alison Moyet

Alison Moyet first found fame as one half of the British synth-pop duo Yazoo, but after splitting almost as soon as they’d formed (leaving hits such as Only You in their wake), Moyet embarked on a far longer-running solo career. Her 1984 debut album, Alf, set the pace by going to No.1 in the UK on the back of singles such as Love Resurrection, All Cried Out and the ever-anthemic Invisible. It’s follow-up, Raindancing, boasted writing credits from Moyet and Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart – the latter working under the pseudonym Jean Guiot. Whether as a solo artist or as part of the band she made her name with, Alison Moyet’s output perfectly summarises the music of the decade: big ballads with synths working overtime.

Must hear: Only You

8: Pat Benatar

Doubtless one of the greatest female rockers of the decade, Pat Benatar’s legacy can still be traced in the countless underground rock artists that emerge every year, while her songwriting talents are apparent throughout her entire catalogue. Love Is A Battlefield, from her 1983 album, Live From Earth, remains one of her best-known songs, but edgier earlier works such as Hit Me With Your Best Shot can satisfy any rocker’s cravings.

7: Chaka Khan

Following the success of her debut solo album, 1978’s Chaka – which boasted one of the all-time best LGBTQ+ Pride songs in the shape of the disco floor-filler I’m Every Woman – the woman born Yvette Marie Stevens more than earned her title of “Queen Of Funk”. With a naturally soulful voice that’s as comfortable with R&B as it is jazz and pop, Khan released eight studio albums throughout the decade. Cementing her place as one of the best 80s female singers, she reached the top of the US R&B charts on a number of occasions, not least with the era-defining Ain’t Nobody (recorded with her first band, Rufus) and an equally memorable cover of Prince’s I Feel For You.

Must hear: I Feel For You

6: Dolly Parton

From the banks of Little Pigeon River to the bright lights of Nashville, Tennessee, Dolly Parton has transcended music to become an entrepreneur, author and ambassador for everything from literacy to bald-eagle conservation. While she found initial success in the 60s as Porter Wagoner’s writing and singing partner, Parton scaled the charts as a solo artist in the latter half of the 70s and throughout much of the 80s. Her greatest hit, 9 To 5, scored Grammys for Best Country Song and Best Country Vocal Performance (Female), and helped bring country music into the mainstream by the shovel-load.

Must hear: 9 To 5

5: Annie Lennox

With New Romantics leading the synth-pop revolution in the 80s, the Annie Lennox-fronted Eurythmics made their mark with 1983’s club-ready anthem Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). Vocally and visually, Lennox cut an androgynous figure whose range and delivery was a perfect match for Dave Stewart’s electronic-pop productions, and subsequent singles such as There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart) and the Aretha Franklin collaboration Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves forever ensured Lennox’s place as one of the best 80s female singers.

Must hear: Sweet Dreams (Are made Of This)

4: Whitney Houston

Though Houston remained a force well into the golden age of 90s R&B, her 80s output set a standard any artist would be envious of. Harbouring hits such as the floor-filling How Will I Know and soundtrack-worthy Greatest Love Of All, Houston’s US chart-topping self-titled debut album saw the singer start as she meant to go on, paving the way for the global smash of I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), which racked up platinum sales around the world. As comfortable delivering anthemic disco hits as well as delicate ballads, Houston remains one of the greatest, most versatile vocalists of all time.

Must hear: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)

3: Madonna

Not just one of the best 80s female singers, Madonna is one of the most significant figures in pop-culture history. Scoring hit after hit throughout the decade – and creating some equally iconic music videos to match – her “Queen Of Pop” title is much-deserved, and remained in place as she continued to shape pop music throughout the 90s (the Ray Of Light album) and 2000s (Confessions On A Dance Floor). The best Madonna songs found her smashing boundaries – and records – at every turn, while her Blonde Ambition tour forced the music industry to rethink the very notion of what live shows could be. It’s 80s albums such as True Blue and the game-changing Like A Prayer, however, which first saw her usurp all pretenders. She still wears the crown today.

Must hear: Like A Prayer

2: Kate Bush

Following the smash success of Wuthering Heights – and its parent album, The Kick Inside – in 1978, a teenaged Kate Bush entered the 80s as one of the most talked-about young artists in years. Testing the boundaries of both technology and songwriting, the best Kate Bush songs remain timeless works that continue to enthral new generations of fans. If the Hounds Of Love album offered some of her most critically acclaimed music, 2011’s Director’s Cut showed that Bush herself could revisit her old material and still find new things to say with it.

Must hear: Running Up That Hill

1: Tina Turner

Topping our list of the best 80s female singers, Tina Turner delivered some of the decade’s biggest hits while also becoming one of the most-revered live performers on the planet. Having risen to prominence as part of the Ike And Tina Turner Revue in the 60s and 70s, she broke away from her abusive husband to forge an unstoppable career of her own. Kickstarting it with her sultry take on Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together in 1983, Turner went on to wear the crown as “Queen Of Rock’n’Roll”, thanks to iconic albums such as Private Dancer and Foreign Affair, and hits such as the anthemic What’s Love Got To Do With It and The Best. With her musical DNA evident in everyone from Beyoncé to Norwegian DJ Kygo, Turner’s legacy is as insurmountable as it is influential.

Must hear: The Best

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