15 Of The Greatest And Most Famous British Singers Of The 1980s

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

When reliving the ’80s, you can’t ignore the decade’s extreme fashion and music. It’s an era best known for music encompassing creativity, liveliness, and nostalgia. And when it comes to British ’80s singers, a few things come to mind: their long hair, tights, shoulder pads, synthesizers, and huge hits.

But with so many British singers of the decade, you might wonder who were the most renowned.

Whether you’re interested in rock, pop, soul, or jazz singers, this post has got you covered. Here are 15 of the greatest and most famous British singers of the 1980s.

1. George Michael

The best person to start is with George Michael, who was one of the greatest English pop stars and songwriters of the ’80s.

Michael was born and resided in East Finchley until his early teens when the family relocated to Radlett. After moving to Radlett, he joined Bushey Meads School, where he met Andrew Ridgeley, his future band partner.

In 1981, the two partnered and formed a music duo, Wham! Michael rose to fame thanks to their first two albums, Fantastic and Make It Big. The band’s huge hit singles included “Last Christmas” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”

Michael later embarked as a solo singer, releasing his first solo single, “Careless Whisper,” and solo album, Faith. The latter topped the UK Albums Chart and Billboard 200 in 1987. Michael sold over 120 million records across the world.

2. Shakin’ Stevens

One of the UK’s top-selling rock-and-roll singers in the 1980s was Shakin’ Stevens. He was born in Ely, Cardiff, Wales, and started his music career in the 1960s. Stevens started a band and performed gigs in Cardiff and South Wales with a group of school friends. 

In 1979, Stevens signed his most lucrative management deal with Freya Miller. Miller advised him to start a solo career, and in 1981, Stevens recorded his first UK chart-topper, “This Ole House.”

Stevens later released ten more songs, including “Oh Julie,” “Merry Christmas Everyone,” and “Green Door,” which were his three #1 hits. His album, Shaky, reached #1, and his songs dominated the 1980s.

He was very, very successful, and over his career, Stevens sold more records than any other artist of the ’80s.

3. Rick Astley

Pop singer and songwriter Rick Astley has had multiple hits in the 1980s to help him gain worldwide fame. He grew up in Lancashire and started playing the drums during his school days. After completing school, he became a drummer for the soul band FBI.

Astley’s association with Stock Aitken Waterman, a production trio, made him famous after releasing the album Whenever You Need Somebody. He released his debut single, “Never Gonna Give You Up,” followed by “Together Forever,” which became top hits in different countries.

He later released other hits between 1987 and 1989 that brought him success, and over his career, Astley has sold approximately 40 million records worldwide.

4. Kim Wilde

Born in 1960, Kim Wilde is an English female pop star who rose to fame in 1981 after releasing her debut single “Kids In America.”

Wilde was born in Chiswick, West London, but the family later moved to Hertfordshire. After studying at St Albans College of Art & Design, Mickie Most signed her to RAK Records.

Her father, Marty, and brother, Ricky, wrote all her songs in the early 1980s. After her debut single, Wilde released her debut album, Kim Wilde (1981), which had popular hits such as “Chequered Love” and “Water On Glass.”

She released other albums, including Select (1982), Catch As Catch Can (1983), and her biggest-selling album, Close (1988), which stayed in UK charts for eight weeks.

Over her career, Wilde sold over 20 million singles and 10 million albums worldwide.

5. Kate Bush

Next up is Kate Bush, a British pop/rock singer and songwriter. She grew up in Bexleyheath, Kent, England, in a family of artists.

Bush began writing her musical composition at 11 years before winning a contract with EMI Records at 16. She spent the next several years in London taking vocal lessons and studying dance and mime while preparing her first recording.

Her first single, “Wuthering Heights” (1978) became a #1 hit in the UK and internationally. In 1982, Bush released the album Never For Ever, which contained another hit song, “Babooshka.”

She later released other albums such as The Dreaming (1982) and Hounds of Love (1985). The latter topped UK charts.

Bush sold over seven million records across the world and won the Brit Award Best British Female Solo Artist in 1987.

6. Gordon Sumner (Sting)

Better known by his stage name Sting, Gordon Sumner is a British singer and songwriter whose musical style intermingled jazz, pop, and world music, among other genres.

From 1977 to 1984, Sting was the frontman and songwriter of the rock band The Police. He ventured into a solo career in 1985 with his debut album, The Dream Of The Blue Turtles (1985). The album had hit singles such as “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” and “Fortress Around Your Heart.”

Later that decade, he released another hit album, … Nothing Like The Sun, which reached double Platinum.

Sting has sold about 100 million albums worldwide, gaining him the reputation as one of the the world’s best-selling music artists. Being one of the greatest that he is, he has also won numerous awards, including 17 Grammys.

7. David Bowie

Next we have David Bowie (1947–2016). This English rock and pop singer-songwriter and actor started gaining popularity in the early ’70s, but he has had a number of hits during the ’80s.

In 1980, Bowie released “Ashes To Ashes,” which landed #1 in UK charts. “Under Pressure”—a collaboration with Queen the following year—was another #1. In 1983, he hit commercial success with his album Let’s Dance, which received Platinum in the UK and US.

Bowie had sold over 100 million records worldwide during his lifetime. In 1996, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and after his passing in 2016, Rolling Stone dubbed him “greatest rock star ever.”

8. Elton John

We can’t have a 1980s list without Elton John, world renowned British rock singer, songwriter, and pianist. Like David Bowie, the Rocket Man—which John has been dubbed—rose to fame in the early ’70s but has had some great hits in the 1980s that landed him on our list.

In 1983, he released Too Low For Zero, which earned 5x Platinum. The following year, another Platinum album was released, Breaking Hearts.

In 1985, John collaborated with Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, and Gladys Knight for “That’s What Friends Are For,” which peaked in international charts. “Nikita” of the same year from his album Ice On Fire also reached #1 in charts.

In his music career, John has sold 300 million-plus records and garnered numerous awards—5 Grammys and 5 Brit Awards to name a few.

9. Sheena Easton

Scottish pop/R&B singer and actress Sheena Easton had her big break as a musician in the early ’80s in one of the episodes of British reality show The Big Time.

In 1980, her first single, “Modern Girl,” rose to the top ten, while her second single, “9 To 5,” rose to number three on the UK Singles Chart.

Easton released the James Bond theme “For Your Eyes Only” in 1981, which reached #4 in the Billboard Hot 100. Her first three US albums—You Could Have Been With Me (1981), Sheena Easton (1981), and Madness, Money & Music (1982)—were all well-received.

In 1983, Easton collaborated with Kenny Rogers on a Bob Seger song, “We’ve Got Tonight,” a top 10 hit in the US.

Throughout her career, Easton has sold more than 30 million records worldwide.

Related: Read about more singers from Scotland here.

10. Bonnie Tyler

Welsh pop, rock, country singer, and songwriter Bonnie Tyler is known for her distinctive raspy voice. She grew up in Skewen, Wales, and started singing as a child. She later pursued a career in singing in 1969, although her first singles and album didn’t gain immediate impact.

In the late 1970s, Tyler found fame with her hits such as “Lost in France,” “More Than A Lover,” and “It’s A Heartache.” Her biggest career hit, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” (1983), topped the UK Singles Charts and sold over six million units.

She went on to release several more successful albums in the ’80s, including Faster Than the Speed of Night (1983) and Secret Dreams And Forbidden Fire (1986), and sold more than 20 million records worldwide throughout her career.

11. Phil Collins

One of the most successful musician in the 1980s is Phil Collins, an English singer-songwriter, drummer, and actor.

He grew up in West London and started playing the drums at five before pursuing a music career in 1970. He is popularly known as a drummer and lead singer of Genesis, a rock band formed in 1967.

Collins’s success in music came in the 1980s with the release of his solo albums Face Value (UK #1), Hello, I Must Be Going (UK #2), No Jacket Required (#1 internationally), and …But Seriously (UK #1 for 15 weeks).

Collins has sold an estimated 150 million records worldwide. His fame is also evident in the awards he has received. To name some, he has garnered 8 Grammys, 6 Brit Awards—including Best British Male Artist, three times!—2 Golden Globes, and an Academy Award.

12. Alison Moyet

British pop singer and songwriter Alison Moyet is best known for her rich bluesy voice. She grew up in Basildon, Essex, England, and after school, she trained as a piano tuner.

Moyet’s career in the late ’70s and early ’80s introduced her to various bands. Thanks to the duo Yazoo in 1982, she rose to fame, releasing several hits and two albums. Moyet left Yazoo in 1983 and formed two other teams.

In 1984, she began her solo career and released Alf, her debut solo album. The album had three successful songs, “All Cried Out,” “Love Resurrection,” and “Invisible.” She continued releasing other big UK hits that made her popular in the 1980s.

Over her career, Moyet has sold over 23 million albums and two million singles worldwide.

13. Samantha Fox

Next we have Samantha Fox, British pop singer famous in the 1980s and early ’90s. She grew up in Mile End, East London, and took an interest in music at three years old.

Fox formed her first pop band at 14 years, and at 16, she released her first single in 1983 after signing a record deal with Lamborghini Records.

Her 1986 single, “Touch Me (I Want Your Body),” reached #1 in different countries and had a spot in the Top 10 singles on the UK Singles Chart. Later that year, she released her debut album Touch Me, which reached #4 on the US Billboard Hot 100, followed by Samantha Fox (1987) and I Wanna Have Some Fun (1988).

14. Brian May

Penultimate on our list is Brian May, a British rock singer and songwriter who rose to fame due to his association with the rock band Queen.

May grew up in Middlesex, and at 11 years, he formed his first band in 1984. He joined Queen in 1970 as a lead guitarist and as the band’s songwriter. Some of the best hits May wrote for Queen include “I Want It All,” “We Will Rock You,” “Flash,” and “The Show Must Go On.”

May later ventured as a solo artist, releasing different singles and albums. He has sold about 100 million copies worldwide, and with Queen, they have sold over 200 million records.

15. Sade Adu

Finally, we have Sade Adu, popularly known as Sade. She is a Nigerian-born British singer and songwriter best known for her blend of soul, jazz, and funk. She was born in Nigeria and brought up in Essex, England, where she joined the band Pride and released the album Diamond Life in 1984.

The band released other albums, including Promise (1985), with singles such as “The Sweetest Taboo” and “Never As Good As The First Time,” the former staying on the US Hot 100 for six months.

Adu’s third album in 1988, Stronger Than Pride, became a success with its best single “Paradise,” which peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.

Sade’s band has sold over 75 million records worldwide. Sade herself won 4 Grammys.

Summing Up Our List Of British 1980s Singers

There are many British singers in the 1980s, but these 15 landed on our list for their great contribution to the industry.

Without these iconic singers, music fans wouldn’t enjoy reliving the past with nostalgia. Their songs will forever keep the ‘80s decade alive.

Who else do you think should have been on this list? Let us know, and we’ll add them.

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Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.