Over the past 100 years, the usage of guitar as an instrument has morphed dramatically. From it's pre-20th century use as a standalone instrument for classical and Spanish music to modern progressive metal the guitar has shown incredible flexibility and staying power.
But of all the decades there was one particular standout that really marked a turning point in the use of the guitar, the 80's.
Now, you can track the evolution that lead to 80's rock, blues, hair metal, and a bunch of other sub genres way back to the origins of blues in the 1910's and 20's. But the 80's were the climax at which you can really see a marked difference in how the guitar was utilized in music.
For those who may argue the point that 70's musicians and bands like Yes, Kiss, and Led Zeppelin were the ones who set the tone and much of the style for the 80's I 100% agree. However, the following decade is when rock especially separated itself from previous music like blues and jazz in a more marked way.
So, let's take a look at some of the top songs from the 80's that every guitarist should know!
Back in Black - AC/DC
This song from the Australian rock band was one of the first anthems to really get me interested in rock music. From the Tube-Screamer Gibson SG sound to the raspy vocals of Brian Johnson, like it or not, it was a critical turning point in rock n' roll. The prevalence of typical blues licks and riffs were still very marked at this point, but the sheer power of the song and overall aggressiveness can surely be connected to what would become the foundation for future metal music.
As a bonus, this is a relatively easy song to learn! So pick up your guitar, turn up the gain, and give it a shot!
Round and Round - RATT
Amidst the period-correct leather pants and mullets Ratt became an 80's metal icon. Their sound along with a couple of other bands in this lineup really spoke to a new generation of guitar players that wanted it LOUD.
The soaring guitar solo and heavy main riff of this song had much in common with many other songs to come later in the decade and was foundational in the use of 5th and 6th string riffs that are so commonplace in rock today.
Sweet Child 'O Mine
Obviously, no list of songs from the 80's would be complete without this one. While many guitarists whine about how overused the opening lick for this song is, it is still an excellent study of the Mixolydian mode and was a hallmark of this decade's music.
Panama - Van Halen
Honestly, I could write an entire article (or series of articles - in fact, I might!). The musicianship and showmanship of this band has been a key catalyst for the continuation of guitar as a popular instrument today.
So many groundbreaking techniques were developed by this band. From the insanity of the vocalists (1975-1985 David Lee Roth, 1985-1996 Sammy Hagar) to the excellent skills of Alex and Eddie Van Halen, this band was one of the most pivotal of the decade.
Master of Puppets - Metallica
No band better encapsulates 80's metal than the band who literally has "metal" in their name. Metallica is one of the biggest bands of all times and they are still actively releasing new albums to this day (see "Hardwired... To Self Destruct").
Metallica was originally formed in 1981 and by the end of the decade they had created an entire new style of music, thrash metal. Through their energetic, head-banging music they clinched the title for the most pivotal metal band of the 80's.
Along with "Master of Puppets" they also showed their large flexibility with songs like "Nothing Else Matters", and "The Unforgiven".
These are just a few of the great bands who continue to inspire guitarists today who really hit their stride in the 80's.
Slip on your leather pants, listen to the videos and enjoy! If you want some help learning to play these songs and learning to play guitar in general, consider signing up for some private lessons with me.
Until the next post, rock on!
Have a good one,