Best selling artists of the 80s

Best selling artists of the 80s

Having looked at the best selling bands of the 80s as well as the biggest selling 80s albums, the next question that comes to mind is – what about the solo artists? Who were the best selling artists of the 80s?

We are talking solo artists here, not bands. So forgive me if I ignore Fleetwood Mac, Queen or Bon Jovi. This post is all about the best singers of the decade.

Who were the best selling artists of the 80s in the UK?

Well – as with many topics – the answer depends on how that success is measured. Looking at the best selling albums of the decade helps, if you simply separate the solo artists from the bands. The number one album of the 80s was Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, but the number two and three spots were taken by an American male solo artist. Michael Jackson, with Thriller and Bad. Using that measure, then, he would be the UK’s best selling artist of the 80s.

80s album sales

The other contenders – according to album sales – for the title of biggest selling artist of the 80s include three female solo artists and one more British male. None of the females is from the UK, though the male is our very own Phil Collins. Kylie, Madonna and Whitney Houston are the ladies with the honours.

There are other indicators we could use, too. How about the number of weeks each solo artist’s singles spent in the chart? That would certainly give us some idea of who the biggest selling artists of the 80s were. We can also check out the list of the decade’s best selling singles, to see which solo artists sold the most of any one song. How many times a million did they achieve?

Another measure is to see how many weeks each artist spent in the charts. Using this as a yardstick certainly led to an answer I didn’t expect. I guarantee you’ll be surprised…

80s singles sales

Of the top ten singles of the 80s, only three were recorded by solo artists. Band Aid are, perhaps not surprisingly, in pole position. The number two spot is secured by Frankie Goes to Hollywood with Relax. At three, though we have an American male solo artist – and it’s not Michael Jackson. Stevie Wonder enjoyed phenomenal sales of I Just Called To Say I Love You.

The other two solo artists who sang two of the 80s’ best selling singles were our own George Michael, with Careless Whisper at number 8, and Jennifer Rush immediately behind him with The Power Of Love. Otherwise the top slots were taken by bands, including The Human League, Culture Club, Dexy’s Midnight Runners – and Wham. The latter surely giving George Michael a serious advantage – although he did not feature in the top 80s albums list, in either of his 1980s guises.

80s singles chart time

So what of the time spent in the charts? Using that measure gives us different results again. David Bowie didn’t quite make it – he’s listed at number 11 with 181 weeks in the singles chart. Madonna and Michael Jackson make the list, at positions 2 and 3 respectively.

The mighty Americans are joined in the top ten by three British males. And Phil Collins isn’t one of them. Not a shock to anyone, surely, to learn that Elton John is in there at number 8. But Cliff Richard, at 5, and Shakin’ Stevens at number 1 – yes, numero uno – were both something of a surprise to me. Neither of whom would occur to me when thinking of the top selling artists of the 80s.

The missing ones

There are some serious solo artists missing in these lists – singers that anyone would associate with huge success during the decade, that would certainly be highly placed in any top 100. How about Prince, for example? Bruce Springsteen or Kenny Rogers? Diana Ross? Billy Joel or Lionel Richie? Former Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney?

All of the above had great sales of their singles or albums. They just didn’t quite make it into the decade’s top ten albums or singles. Nor did they spend as much time in the charts as others.

The most influential solo artists of the 80s

So back to the original question – but it requires an amendment. Answering the question about the best selling artists of the 1980s depends on whether you measure singles sales, album sales or time spent in the charts.

Thinking about this make me decide to look at it from a slightly different angle. Specifically – who were the most influential artists of the 80s?

It was difficult to narrow the list down to just ten, but here they are. In choosing, I’ve selected those who had a lasting impact on music history – for one reason or another. I’ve also tried to pick solo artists who, as a whole, represent the decade best. As I’m looking at it this way, I’m placing them in random order, rather than counting down from 10 to 1.

Michael Jackson

We’ll start with an artist whose presence in this list is hardly a surprise. The King of Pop, or ‘Wacko Jacko’ as the press often dubbed him back then – ruled the 80s. His albums took positions two and three in the album chart for the entire decade. Thriller‘s ground-breaking extended video, The Jackson Five and his moonwalking all helped, of course.

See Michael Jackson: Number Ones here

David Bowie

I couldn’t possibly miss out Mr Bowie. A legend, indeed. His contribution to 80s music was as much about image as anything, though in saying that I don’t intend to play down the importance of the great man’s tunes and lyrics. The title of his greatest hit album is spot-on – what a legacy that man left when he left us in early 2016.

View David Bowie: Legacy here

Whitney Houston

Massive voice and the most beautiful face. Whitney seemed like an angel back in the 80s, and her passing was absolutely tragic. Not least because of the way one of the 80s’ biggest female artists met her end. Whitney personified the phenomenon of the 80s ballad, as well as some far more upbeat pop songs. One of my 80s favourites for sure – I owned her two big hitting albums on vinyl. That voice will never, ever date or fade.

Discover Whitney Houston: The Ultimate Collection here

Bruce Springsteen

This man was The Boss. Stateside, in particular, but his presence was certainly felt over here in Blighty too. He was a solo artist with more edge, wielding his guitar with intent while belting out tunes in that gravelly voice. While wearing the requisite leather jacket and jeans, of course. Think of an 80s rock star solo artist and surely Bruce springs (pun intended) to mind.

See Bruce Springsteen: Greatest Hits here


The purple one certainly made a name for himself during the 80s – on a far reaching, global scale. Paisley Park’s finest made a contribution to music that is still, I think, unparalleled. Because there was just something different about Prince’s version of pop that in a way transcended genres. As well as time. Another of 2016’s sad losses.

View The Very Best of Prince here

Kylie Minogue

I love all things Australian. Kylie included. (But Cherry Ripe bars the most.) Even though I’m insanely jealous of her steamy fling with Michael Hutchence of INXS (aka my beloved), there’s just something adorable about the Princess of Pop. She’s still a mega star, and despite other females named Kylie finding fame since, she will always THE Kylie to me.

From shameless, sugary Stock, Aitken and Waterman tracks to funkier, more soulful music, this is an artist who’s not afraid to try something new. (I bet she tried lots of new things with Mr Hutchence, the minx.)

View Ultimate Kylie here

George Michael

There’s no way in the world I could leave George Michael out of this list. When Wham disbanded it seemed like the end of the world, but this Greek God was destined for the stratosphere. Careless Whisper kicked it all off, of course. George’s voice was as well suited to upbeat pop songs and ballads – hence the division of his greatest hits album into ‘For the heart’ and ‘For the feet’. When he died – also in 2016 – something in the music world was gone forever. RIP Yog.

Discover Ladies and Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael here

Elton John

Ah, Reggie Dwight with his round glasses. Would he have found fame under that name? Moniker aside, his songwriting, singing and piano-playing skills are second to none. He was a strong presence during the whole decade, finding the spotlight once more in a big way when Diana, Princess of Wales left us in the 1990s. Apparently he was pally with she and Fergie, back in the day. He also duetted with George Michael in the early 90s.

See Elton John: Greatest Hits 1970 – 2002 here


Like Kylie, Madonna was known by one name only. Still is. If Kylie was the Princess of Pop, then surely Madge was the Queen. True Blue was number 10 in the top selling LPs of the 80s. The Immaculate Collection followed it in the 90s, at number 7, containing many tracks from the previous decade. Image was as big a thing for Madonna as it was for Bowie, and she certainly wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries.

View Madonna: The Immaculate Collection here

Stevie Wonder

A skilled pianist like Elton John, Stevie Wonder also uses a stage name. Stevland Hardaway Morris was one of the most successful musicians of the 80s. I Just Called To Say I Love You was number three in the top sellers of the whole decade, behind Band Aid and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Wonder brought Motown into the eighties, and his cracking tunes will certainly never sound tired.

See Stevie Wonder: The Definitive Collection here

Who are your best solo artists of the 80s?

There you go, ladies and gentlemen. My definitive, ultimate list of the 80s’ greatest solo artists. The best of the decade. What a legacy; how many number ones they scored between them. Immaculate music that lives on, long after the decade – and some of its top solo artists – are long gone.

Marcy x

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