If you grew up in this decade, you know what a glorious time it was to be alive.
If you’re from a younger generation, you might be curious about it.
The 1980s were a time of great pop culture including some of the best movies, music, TV shows, and toys of all time.
It is the decade most often associated with nostalgia and the style, and memories of the decade, continue to live on.
So let’s look at the 8 things that made the 80s the greatest decade.
1. The Movies
Was the 80s the golden age of movies? It might be hard to argue with that. It gave us some of the biggest movies and trilogies of all time and gave rise to the blockbuster.
Star Wars would get the ball rolling when it was released in 1977, but the momentum and the fandom really took shape in the 80s with the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
We could also call this the “Spielberg era” as you've got the classics like ET (which was actually the highest moneymaker of the 80s) The Goonies, and the monumental Indiana Jones movies.
You also have my favorite of all time; Back to the Future and the epic sequel that combined all the best elements of time travel.
We can go on and on about all these glorious movies, but some other notables that round out the decade are
- Beverly Hills Cop
- Top Gun
- Crocodile Dundee
- 3 Men And A Baby
- Batman (people think of it in the 90s, but it makes the cut)
2. The Music
The 80s brought us so much new variety when it came to music along with some brand new genres.
Until then, everything had been pretty much rock-based.
Heavy metal was becoming more prominent in the 70s, and pop music has always been in the mix, but the 80s brought us some new categories and variations we hadn’t heard before.
It’s impossible to cover this gigantic topic in a few paragraphs, but when you think of the 80s, you think of Michael Jackson who ruled over it all.
You think of Madonna and U2, and it was the era where we were introduced to an unknown art form called Hip-Hop — which I’ll cover more in a second.
It gave us New Wave music and Devo; we started seeing more house music and the growth of punk rock. Death Metal and Metallica also emerged in the 80s.
Disco was thankfully long dead, but we were hearing more synthesizer-based music and more electronic production.
The 80s still featured some classic bands like the Rolling Stones and Queen who found a whole new generation of fans.
MTV would launch in 1981 and would forever change the way we consumed music. Bands and artists had to learn this new way to present themselves in this new visual medium.
Unlike today, album sales meant everything and it’s where the real money was made.
Here were the top-selling albums by year:
- 1980- Pink Floyd “The Wall”
- 1981- REO Speedwagon “Hi Infidelity”
- 1982- Asia “Asia”
- 1983- Michael Jackson “Thriller”
- 1984- Thriller again
- 1985- Bruce Springsteen “Born In The USA”
- 1986- Whitney Houston “Whitney Houston
- 1987- Bon Jovi “Slippery When Wet”
- 1988- George Michael “Faith”
- 1989- Bobby Brown “Don’t Be Cruel”
Also, here were the year-end Billboard # 1 songs of the 80s:
- 1980: “Call Me” — Blondie
- 1981: “Bette Davis Eyes” — Kim Carnes
- 1982: “Physical” — Olivia Newton-John
- 1983: “Every Breath You Take” — The Police
- 1984: “When Doves Cry” — Prince
- 1985: “Careless Whisper” — Wham!
- 1986: “That’s What Friends Are For” — Dionne & Friends
- 1987: “Walk Like An Egyptian” — The Bangles
- 1988: “Faith” — George Michael
- 1989: “Look Away” — Chicago
The 80s is also the decade where you would sit with your tape deck listening to the radio, ready to jump on the song you were waiting to record.
Which leads us to…
3. The Mix Tape
If you want to put the 80s in a nutshell — it may be the mixtape. There was no such thing as MP3, Apple Music, or Spotify.
If you wanted to capture music, you would have to sit diligently by your tape deck just waiting for whatever song you wanted to hear.
You would call up radio stations to request it and just hope you had a good trigger finger.
This was also the era of the dual cassette tape deck, which meant you could copy tapes and put together your own mixes.
If someone you knew had a tape you wanted, you could copy it over onto a blank one and it was magically yours!
Now with your collection of cassettes, you could make your own compilations, and the mixtape was born.
This was the 80s version of a love letter, as you could put together all the meaningful songs to give to the person you liked.
Spotify has allowed us to do that today, but that’s just a matter of a few quick taps. The mix tap took WORK and commitment.
That was half of what made a mixtape so special — the effort.
So now you’ve got a killer mixtape that you painstakingly put together, what were you going to listen to it on?
4. The Walkman
The Walkman changed the way we consumed music. It allowed us to take it on the go, and it was also a style statement.
Portable music and transistor radios have existed for years, but you were forced to listen to whatever the radio station was playing.
With the Walkman, you now had something that was catered to you.
Every tape you put in was your choice, and it revolved around your lifestyle. Sony invented the Walkman in 1980, and it was almost called the “Sound-About.”
It was created because the owner of Sony wanted to listen to his music while traveling.
They had portable tape players, but they were too big and bulky and not convenient at all.
The forefather of the Walkman was called the “Pressman” and was a mono cassette recorder. The owner of Sony wanted this but shrunken down and to use it just for playback.
When the Walkman was released Sony was hoping they could sell 5,000 units a month. In the first 2 months, they sold 50,000.
It became a bit of a statement wearing that yellow case and earphones. This became like an accessory, the same way the white earbuds would be when the iPod was first introduced.
So now you had your own personal listening device that you could listen to your favorite type of music. And for many people in the 80s, that would be….
Hip Hop has its roots in the Bronx. DJ Kool Herc was credited as the godfather of hip-hop, and it came together quite naturally.
At house parties, Herc wanted to always keep the people dancing. The funky records he would play, like James Brown, contained “breaks” where there wouldn’t be any lyrics and you would mainly hear drums and a beat.
People loved dancing to these “breakbeats” and he found that if he had two of the same record, he could play the breakbeat back to back for an extended period of time.
This leads to more dancing and also “break dancers”.
So whenever there would be a party or event, the DJ would have a master of ceremonies, or M.C., who would make announcements.
They would keep the music going but use the break portion of the records so the M.C.’s announcements wouldn’t get mixed up with the song lyrics.
Over time, the M.C. would use this time to announce when the next gig or party would be, and since they were in the spotlight, they would embellish things a bit.
This turned into bragging, then boasting, then rhyming to not only inform but entertain.
The M.C.’s would then start to showcase their skills against other M.C.’s and that lead to battling and full rhymes they would put together.
People wanted to hear more, and they would start recording these rhymes they performed over some funky beats.
This is the birth of hip-hop and it would explode during the 1980s.
6. The Clothes
Is there any other decade that gets as mocked as much as the 80s do for the fashion?
When you think of the 80s, it may conjure up images of a lot of fluorescent pinks and greens — like that image above…
There were a lot of velvet scrunchies and crimped hair that was being held by them as well.
Converse high tops were still big, but so were any white high top basketball sneakers. You had the epic acid wash jeans movement, and it seems like everyone was wearing a belt pack of some sort.
You had leg warmers, bike shorts, and just a lot of spandex. Baggy clothes were still popular and groups like RUN DMC would popularize big gold chains and white Adidas shoes.
The punk style led by people like Cyndi Lauper would be popular, and it seemed like everyone was wearing blazers and blouses with giant shoulder pads in them.
Some of this might make a comeback, but it’s still hard to look back on your old school pictures…
7. The TV Shows
A bunch of classic sitcoms came our way in the 80s and would eventually lead to “Must See TV.”
Certain nights like Thursday and Friday would become must-watch nights where they would stack a bunch of top shows together.
You did not want to miss these nights if you wanted to know what the hell everyone was talking about.
Some notable shows in the 80s were Growing Pains, Who’s The Boss, Family Ties, Webster, Full House, Cheers, ALF, The Wonder Years, The A-Team, The Dukes Of Hazzard, Knight Rider, honestly, there are so many beauties from this time period.
The number one show actually from 1985 to 1990 — every single year — was the Cosby Show.
Here’s a sample of the top ten highest-rated shows from right in the middle of the decade and the ratings they got:
- The Cosby Show — 33.7
- Family Ties — 30.0
- Murder, She Wrote — 25.3
- 60 Minutes — 23.9
- Cheers — 23.7
- Dallas — 21.9
- Dynasty — 21.8
- The Golden Girls — 21.8
- Miami Vice — 21.3
- Who’s The Boss — 21.1
The very highest-rated sitcoms today will do, at their very best, 15–18 million viewers — which wouldn’t even put them in the top 30 in the 80s.
8. The Video Games
In case you’re not aware of this, there was a time in the early 80s where video games died and no one wanted to be involved in their production ever again.
Atari ruled the roost going into the early 80s, but that leads to the great video game crash of 1983.
Atari had no control over the video games that were being released, and this resulted in a ton of garbage that flooded the market.
These awful games turned off kids from playing them and they were becoming more interested in the new home computer hitting the market such as the Commodore 64.
So, within a few short years, the video game industry went from making around 2 billion dollars down to only 100 million. This caused the crash and companies distanced themselves from anything video game-related.
Until an upstart company from Japan called Nintendo came on the scene.
Nintendo had started as a trading card company in 1889 and had moved into electronics and then into video games.
They released the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1986 and it would become the best-selling console of its time and changed the industry forever.
We would also get the Sega and Sega Genesis and some amazing games. Here’s a list of the top 10 selling video games of the 1980s.
- Super Mario Bros: 1985–40.24 million units
- Tetris: 84–89–30.26
- Duck Hunt: 1984–28.31
- Super Mario Land: 1989–18.14
- Super Mario Bros 3: 1988–17.28
- Super Mario Bros 2: 1988–7.46
- Pac-Man: 1982–7.00
- The Legend of Zelda: 1986–6.51
- Zelda II: The Adventure of Link: 1987–4.38
- Excitebike and Pitfall: 1984/1982–4.16