Okay, apart from Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, The Police, U2, Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson (yes, admit it), Prince, and a few other HUGE bands, which ones were the real essential, non-obvious bands and/or artists?
Styx. Tons of hit songs came out of this powerhouse, which was plagued by the (apparently common) problem of a frontman with a distinctive talent and sound along with a HUGE ego that eventually made it impossible for the band to stay together. Still, they had a ton of hits (spanning both the 70s and 80s) and their music is still great. Favorites: Lady, Come Sail Away, Babe, The Best of Times, Don't Let It End, Foolin' Yourself.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Another band that spanned the 70s and 80s (and 90s!), and another one that churned out hit after hit. While none of their 14 albums had more than two or three hits, the collective result is fodder for box sets and fun greatest hits discs. Favorites: Breakdown, American Girl, Refugee, Here Comes My Girl, Stop Draggin' My Heart Around, You Got Lucky, Don't Come Around Here No More, Jammin' Me, Runnin' Down a Dream, Free Fallin', You Don't Know How It Feels.
Men at Work. This band was so quirky, but wow, did they have a great sound-- sort of aussie-rock with a hint of reggae thrown in. The lead singer, Colin Hay, has a great voice (and crazy eyes), and a great sense of self-effacing humor. Favorites: Be Good Johnny, Down Under, Who Can It Be Now? Overkill, It's A Mistake.
The Bangles. While they weren't the first all-girl band of the 80s to hit it big (The Go-Gos beat them to it by a year), They had a longer and more successful career, and I think were a tighter band. Favorites: Manic Monday, If She Knew What She Wants, Walk Like an Egyptian, Hazy Shade of Winter.
Journey. It's difficult to overestimate the powerhouse that Journey was in the 80s, for me at least. With a career that started in the mid-70s, they had this arena-rock sound that persevered well into the 80s (and is still solid today). Though they seemed to do the unthinkable in replacing Steve Perry as lead singer (see above reference to distinctive and difficult frontmen), the word is that the guy who replaced him (also named Steve) both looks and sounds like him. Freaky. Favorites: Wheel in the Sky, Lights, Feeling That Way/Anytime, Any Way You Want It, Who's Crying Now, Don't Stop Believin', Faithfully, Send Her My Love, Be Good to Yourself, Girl Can't Help It, I'll Be Alright Without You, Only the Young.
Genesis/Phil Collins. These two seem to run together-- I have difficulty keeping straight which songs Collins released as solo work and which were done with the band. But it seems like every year or so, there was a hit song from either Genesis or a solo tune from Collins. Favorites: Invisible Touch, Sussudio, Against All Odds, One More Night, That's All, Turn It On Again, Throwing It All Away.
The Cars. Another band that got its start in the 70s (noticing a theme?), these guys had sort of a funk/new wave sound to some of their stuff that played well as 80s pop. They were also quick to embrace creativity with music videos in the 80s, which lent them more success. Favorites: Just What I Needed, My Best Friend's Girl, Let's Go, Shake It Up, You Might Think, Magic, Hello Again.
Bryan Adams. Fresh from Canada, this guy was another who had a bunch of records with a couple of real hits from each. He had a clean-cut look and a good voice, which lent to his success. Favorites: Cuts Like a Knife, Run to You, Summer of '69, It's Only Love, Please Forgive Me.
Hall & Oates. What a great combination of 70s funk/R&B with early 80s pop-rock! These guys churned out the hits too-- every few months there was a new one on the radio. Favorites: She's Gone, Sara Smile, Rich Girl, You Make My Dreams Come True, Kiss on My List, Private Eyes, Family Man, Maneater, I Can't Go for That (No Can Do), Out of Touch.
John Cougar Mellencamp. Maybe the worst stage name ever for a rock musician, John "Cougar" broke into stardom with American Fool, which made honorable mention in my list on Tuesday. He has a rootsy, almost country sound (indeed, he sounds more country than a lot of country musicians today), reflecting his Indiana upbringing. Favorites: Jack and Diane, Crumblin' Down, Pink Houses, Authority Song, Lonely Ol' Night, Small Town, Rain on the Scarecrow, Rumbleseat, Paper in Fire, Check It Out, Wild Night, Our Country.