MTV’s Favorite Bands And Artists Of The 1980s

MTV's Favorite Bands

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MTV’s favorite bands of the 1980’s article looks back at the role MTV played in breaking bands and artists big time by placing their videos in heavy rotation in the 1980s. However, MTV also very eagerly promoted long established bands if they liked the bands videos or thought showcasing those bands would increase viewership. In the end , MTV as any other network’s goals was to keep their viewers from changing the channel. So, they played the videos they thought were the most entertaining and liked by their audience. Additionally, there were not a lot of videos to choose from, so videos from bands like Tommy Tutone were often placed in heavy rotation at the start.

MTV hit the airwaves on August 1, 1981. Rock fans were shocked to discover a cable channel that broadcast music videos 24 hours a day seven days a week. There had never been anything like that before. MTV originally received a lot of criticism for the channel’s lack of diversity during its first couple of years airing music videos. MTV argued that their format was focused on rock music which lacked bands of color. Regardless of their argument, the popularity of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album would force MTV to begin playing Michael Jackson videos. Prince would become another artist that did not fit MTV’s original rock format, yet would prove too powerful to ignore.

MTV in 1984 was a far different channel than it was in 1981. Every couple of years, new artists would emerge that would become MTV favorites and change the feel of the channel. Eventually, MTV would start to initiate original programing outside of music that would lead to the channels change in direction from the mid 1990s through the 2000s when MTV would pretty much stop playing music videos and focus completely on original programming.

This is not a history of MTV article, despite the background info we have already supplied. The focus of this MTV’s Favorite Bands And Artists Of The 1980s article is just that. A look back at the bands that MTV promoted heavily during the decade of the 1980s. If not for nothing, it should still be fun to look back at some of theses classic videos we watched over and over again in the 1980s.

The one constant among all the bands and artists whose videos were promoted heavily on MTV was beauty. All the lead singers and artists with few exceptions were usually extremely good looking and had incredible charisma in front of the camera that for the most part, viewers never got tired of watching.

# 15 – Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart did not need MTV, no, MTV needed Rod Stewart and they jumped at the chance of playing Rod Stewart instantly. In fact, Rod Stewart’s video for “She Won’t Dance With Me,” was the third video ever played on MTV. Rod Stewart would become an early MTV favorite. One of the most played videos on MTV in 1981 was the video for the song “Young Turks.” It was placed in very heavy rotation. It starred E.G Daily who would go on to become a recording artist herself. She also played Pee Wee Herman’s love interest in Pee Wee Herman’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.

Throughout the 1980s, MTV always played Rod Stewart videos. Rod Stewart loved the camera and MTV loved Rod Stewart. The 1980s may not have been Rod Stewart’s best decade of music, but at least he was still writing and performing rock and pop music before he turned to all those albums of standards later on in his career.

# 14 – The Pretenders

How many times did you watch the “Brass In Pocket,” video? While Rod Stewart had already been around since the mid 1960s, The Pretenders had released their debut album only a year before the launch of MTV. While they did receive considerable airplay and were immediately loved by critics and fans, the heavy rotation placed by MTV on the song “Brass In Pocket,” clearly helped sales of the bands albums and increased their popularity. Other Pretenders’ videos such as “Talk Of The Town,” “Back On The Chain Gang,” and many more were also often played on MTV throughout the 80s.

# 13 – Pat Benatar

Pat Benatar’s video for “You Better Run,” was the second video ever played on MTV. Everyone knows that the first video played on MTV was The Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Ask any old MTV fans which was the second and many will just scratch their heads. Placing Pat Benatar’s video second was an early sign by MTV that Pat Benatar would become one of MTV’s darlings. Pat Benatar videos were constantly played on MTV all through the 80s. Many of them were placed in heavy rotation including the videos for “Shadows of the Night,” “We Belong,” and the extremely popular video for “Love Is A Battlefield.”

# 12 – Stevie Nicks

At the dawn of the 1980s, Stevie Nicks popularity in Fleetwood Mac would eventually lead to the start of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame solo career. Her first solo album entitled Bella Donna was released in 1980s. MTV heavily promoted multiple videos from that album including the duet with Tom Petty along with videos for “Stand Back, Edge Of Seventeen, I will Run To You, Talk To Me , I Can’t Wait,” and many more.

# 11 – Hall & Oates

Hall & Oates were made for MTV and they used the channel to heavily promote their extremely successful run of early 1980’s albums. The duo were already extremely successful and would not have needed MTV to continue that success. However, Hall & Oates videos definitely increased their worldwide exposures and were constantly in rotation on MTV.

# 10 – Duran Duran

Duran Duran was definitely a band that would not have been as successful as they were without the help of MTV. This was a band that MTV used to increase female viewership. MTV and the band were also very much aware of not alienating the male audience. So many of Duran Duran’s videos included some of the most beautiful women on the planet. Her name is Rio……….

# 9 – Dire Straits

We included Dire Straits on this list because of the incredibly innovative video entitled “Money For Nothing,” that became almost a promotional tool for MTV. It would become one of the most played videos on the channel in the history of MTV. The channel would also play many of Dire Straits other videos through the 1980s. One of the great bands to come out of the 1970s was a well deserved addition to heavy rotation on MTV.

# 8 – Heart

The beauty of the Wilson sisters proved to hard to resist for MTV. Early on, MTV played the videos for “Cities Burning,” and “How Can I Refuse.” However, when the band signed with Capitol Records in the mid 1980s and turned to those big hair styles and lavish videos, Heart became one of MTV most played bands.

# 7 – Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel was one of the most creative and original live performers in classic rock history when he was with Genesis. He continued showcasing his brilliance with a series of fantastic solo albums that often spawned award winning videos. Supposably, Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” is the most played video of all time on MTV.

# 6 – Phil Collins

In the 1980s, Phil Collins became one of the most familiar faces on MTV. Combined with his videos from Genesis and his solo career, not much time would pass before one would hear a Phil Collins vocal on MTV. For a time, he was one of the biggest rock stars in the world. A point well made when he became the only artists to appear on both the U.K. and U.S. stages of Live Aid in 1985.

# 5 – Aerosmith

Another brilliant 1970s singer made for MTV was Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. In fact, if there was ever one band whose career was resurrected by MTV it was Aerosmith, with a hell of a lot of help from Run DMC.  When the 80s rap group recorded “Walk This Way,” with Aerosmith, the song went viral on the channel and resurrected Steven Tyler and the boys who were actually playing clubs  in the early 1980s. MTV would heavily promote Aerosmith videos from that point on.

# 4 – ZZ Top

The success of the band ZZ Top on MTV is one of the most interesting stories. Who would have ever thought that a band that looked like ZZ Top would celebrate a long run of heavily played music videos on the channel. It all came down to a very cool car and three beautiful women, and of course, great songs. Put it all together and you have some of the most memorable videos of the 1980s.

# 3 – Prince

Prince was one of the rare black artists to be played on MTV early on. Videos for Little Red Corvette and 1999 were placed in semi heavy rotation in the early days. However, the success of the film Purple Rain in 1984 placed the videos for “When Doves Cry,” “Purple Rain” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” in heavy, heavy rotation. Prince would become one of the most played artists on MTV through the 80s.

# 2 – Michael Jackson

Do you want to see something scary? Well the answer is we all pretty much did. Michael Jackson’s Thriller album was one of the most successful albums of all time. In fact while it may no longer be the biggest selling album of all time in the U.S. thanks to to The Eagles Greatest Hits, Thriller is still by far the biggest selling album of all time on a worldwide basis. Released in 1982, MTV jumped all over the album placing the videos for “Beat It” and “Billie Jean,” in heavy rotation. For those who watched the channel back in 1982, fans will remember the huge promotions of the the Thriller video premiere.

The “Thriller,” video broke ground with the addition of a non musical intro to the video that set up the song’s performance.  It also extended the video to over thirteen minutes long. Videos from the Thriller album and his follow up album entitled Bad would dominated the channel in the mid 1980s fueling the popularity of Michael Jackson to sadly an almost inhuman figure. Later on, stories of supposed serious child abuse initiated by Michael Jackson on children would destroy Michael Jackson’s reputation forever as it very well should have.

# 1 – Madonna

If there ever was an artist that owes their success to MTV, it would be Madonna. And of course, if there ever was an artist who used the channel to promote their own career in the most brilliant fashion it was Madonna. Madonna and MTV was a marriage in which both parties benefited greatly. Millions of music fans would tune into MTV just for Madonna. She pushed the boundaries of videos further that any other artist was ever allowed too by MTV. While everyone loved the videos for “Borderline,” “Like A Virgin” and “Material Girl,” that were all about sex, it was the videos for songs like “Papa Don’t Preach,” and “Like A Prayer,” that caused controversy. MTV stood behind Madonna throughout that controversy proving just how important she was to the channel in the mid to late 1980s. From 1984 until the end of the decade, Madonna easily stood as MTV’s favorite artist.

More Bands and artists that received significant spins on MTV during the 1980s…..  load times just dont allow to add videos for all these other heavily played bands…

Van Halen

David Lee Roth

The Police

The Cars


Talking Heads


The Bangles

Joan Jett

REO Speedwagon

Fleetwood Mac

38. Special

David Bowie

The Tubes

George Thorogood

Robert Plant

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Billy Idol

Melissa Etheridge

Bruce Springsteen

Billy Joel

J Geils Band

Jefferson Starship

Judas Priest

Cyndi Lauper


George Michael

Bryan Adams

Tina Turner

Paul McCartney

The Rolling Stones

John Mellencamp

Eddie Money




Patty Smyth and Scandal

Bon Jovi

Culture Club

Elton John


One or two Hit Artists who were played on MTV in heavy rotation. Many of these artists had many more hits and or great albums but only received airplay on one or two of their songs on MTV. But they were big ones.

The Waitresses – (I Know What Boys Like)

John Waite  – (Missing You, Change)

Twisted Sister – (We’re Not Gonna Take It,  I Wanna Rock )

Tommy Tutone – ( Jenny Jenny 867-5309)

Quarterflash – (Harden My Heart)

The Buggles – (Video Killed The Video Star)

Red Ryder – (Lunatic Fringe)

The Motels (Only The Lonely , Suddenly Last Summer)

The Fixx – One Thing Leads To Another

Katrina and the Waves  (Walking On Sunshine)

Steve Perry – (Oh Sherrie)

a-ha -(Take On Me)

Kim Wilde – (Kids In America)

Murray Head – (One Night In Bankok)

Kate Bush – (Running Up That Hill)


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