I'd say I'm somewhere in that second end of the spectrum; I like to think I have at least an appreciation for all genres (even though, for instance, my affinity for country music almost starts and ends with Johnny Cash and Ray Stevens).
For those of us who have at least a moderate affection for the art form that is Popular Music - maybe you owned a few cassettes or CDs in your time; you've downloaded illegally or otherwise a healthy collection of mp3s; you've got mixed CDs made for you by friends and ex-lovers - we know that our tastes in music usually don't start getting shaped until around high school. Some later still, but there are precious few I know of who start getting their dicks wet in elementary school.
I'm one of those early bloomers, so I think it's safe to say I have a leg up over my contemporaries. I started my cassette collection in 1988 with the first Guns N' Roses album and haven't looked back since. I was 7 years old at the time and yes, Axl DID say 'fuck' on that song.
I remember those last glorious years where MTV was all Vee-Jays and Kurt Loder was a wide-eyed hipster yet to uncover his first wrinkle or gray hair. BUT, I'm sorry to say, the state of music wasn't what it was in the 60s and 70s, and it sure as shit wasn't what it is today. I was too young for Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix; The Mars Volta and Radiohead weren't even twinkles in their papas' eyes.
I like to think, however, that we made due as best we could. And, in fact, there are a lot of underrated bands who made a huge splash in the years of 1984 through 1989 that get lost in the oceanic muck of Quiet Riot and the Thompson Twins and Cindi Lauper and the like. This is an article about the few, the proud, the elite of the 80s.
We're actually going to start with one band in 1983 (who, I'll argue, was still relevant the very next year) who released a studio and a live album of epic proportions. I can only be talking about U2. Now, I don't remember seeing many, if any, videos from their greatest album 'War', but I got a healthy dose of songs FROM that album, as featured on their album, 'Live: Under A Blood Red Sky'. I don't think I really need to get into the importance of U2, but rest assured, four years later they'd release their most critically acclaimed album and follow that up in 1988 with an odds & sods album that kept the momentum going on into the 90s. Before they were over-the-top, U2 was at the top, and that's a solid base for any decade, even the middling 80s.
Going forward, there was Madonna, the Queen of the 80s. I'm sorry, but unless you were the most badass 3rd grader ever made, you had to like Madonna's music in the 80s. It's just a rule. She's who every little girl wanted to be (and even some little boys), and she's who the rest of the little boys wanted to do. I argue that she was the root cause for 95% of all elementary school erections in the United States of America. With videos from 84's 'Like A Virgin', 86's 'True Blue', and 89's 'Like A Prayer', there was enough cleavage to fill a young boy's spank bank for decades.
Then, of course, there was Prince and Michael Jackson, two black pop stars who ruled MTV and the radio waves on the male side of things. These guys were all kinds of badass, the most recognizable celebrities in the world, AND still at points in their careers where they weren't yet crazy from all the fame beating down on them like unprotected UV rays. 'Purple Rain' and the fall out from 83's '1999'; 'Thriller' and 'Bad', you were bound in any given 2-hour period to see a video from at least two of these albums between 1986 and 1988.
Moving right along, on the insufferable hair metal end of things, you had 1984's Van Halen lineup with David Lee Roth still kicking major ass through the end of the decade (even though Sammy Hagar joined up with them in '85). Motley Crue started making a name for themselves in 1985 and peaked with 89's 'Dr. Feelgood'. Def Leppard had two diamond albums between 83's 'Pyromania' and 87's 'Hysteria'. Bon Jovi's 'Slippery When Wet' - released in '86 - continually outperformed their follow up, 88's 'New Jersey'.
Then, there was the metal that was actually destigmatized. I didn't start getting into Metallica until 1991 (so they don't really count, as far as what I enjoyed IN the 80s), but they had the bulk of their success between '83 and '88. Guns N' Roses, as I mentioned before, had arguably the best album of the 80s with 'Appetite For Destruction' (as well as a capable follow-up with 'Lies'). Aerosmith and Alice Cooper made their glorious return to the spotlight in 1987 with 'Permanent Vacation' and 'Trash' respectively. Aerosmith even went on to release THEIR greatest album, 'Pump', in 1989. Then, there was Skid Row, who I'll argue didn't get as much credit as they deserved, since they came on the coattails of better bands (GNR, Motley Crue) and worse bands (Warrant, Great White, Whitesnake). Still, their debut album in 1989 is worth a listen if you're into classic 80s metal. AC/DC pretty much rode the wave of their early 80s hits from 'Back In Black' all the way into the 90s without much of a dent in between; nevertheless, that first album with Brian Johnson at the helm didn't need any assistance from quality follow-ups. Finally, closing things out, 1989 also saw me getting into Faith No More and Mike Patton's shenanigans.
Taking a step back, there were some quality pop-rock bands making huge strides. INXS, people now know them for the lead singer who killed himself and that stupid fucking reality show; but in 1987 they had the biggest album on the planet with 6 of the 12 songs getting heavy radio/MTV play. R.E.M. started out as a quirky college band in the early 80s, but started getting things done in 1987 with 'Document' and '88 with 'Green'. Six singles between the two albums really put them on the map. Likewise, Red Hot Chili Peppers had been around since 1984, but didn't start honing their sound until 89's 'Mother's Milk'. They'd go on to be insanely huge at the turn of the century, but people forget they had a blossoming career in the genre of funk-rock. And finally, delving back into that questionable side of new wave 80s rock, I'll touch on Tears For Fears. Say what you want, but they had three or four songs in there that are on just about every big 80s compilation boxed set.
Finally, I wasn't really a big hip hop fan in the 80s, but I could still appreciate the ones with talent. I liked Run DMC's cover of Aerosmith's 'Walk This Way' even though now I think it gets WAY more credit than it deserves in melding rock and rap. I don't think anybody was listening to that thinking that, ten years later, there'd be a rap-rock revival. I think Rap-Rock was a coincidence and people like to point to Run DMC's cover as the instigator just to sound smarter than they are. I also really dug DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, but come on, who didn't in the 80s? And, of course, the Beastie Boys. What can I say that hasn't already been said?
So, there you have it. The 80s weren't as worthless as I like to say they are. In the time and place, with music the way it was with your Stings and your Huey Lewises and the like, you make due and move on. Just like in 1998 when it was wall-to-wall vagina music; I adapted and now I'm better for it.