Top Irish, Scottish & Welsh Artists of the '80s

While the British Isles have always produced a bevy of musical artists since the advent of modern pop and rock music, most of the time the world audience has focused quite heavily on England, sometimes completely ignoring all the great rock and pop music that has come out of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I seek to remedy any such past omissions here, as I attempt to spotlight the top 10 '80s artists from these three countries. Although most of these artists operated within the cutting edge early alternative genres of the era, there's plenty of variety and quality to go around when it comes to this topic.

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U2 spent the first half of the '80s as a post-punk and college rock outfit, but the group completed the decade as one of the biggest rock bands of all time.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Island

Well, we have to start here, don't we? Besides being the most famous and influential Irish rock band in history, it's arguable that this quartet from Dublin could also hold that title in a more broad, completist sense. Starting off in the wake of punk rock, U2 became a fixture on the post-punk and college rock scenes both in the British Isles and across the Pond. Its jangly, energized and politicized rock made an immediate impact, but the band evolved by 1987 into a world-class pop/rock band. More »

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Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics

Annie Lennox
Album Cover Image Courtesy of RCA Records

Before stepping out into a successful solo career, Scottish chanteuse Annie Lennox found massive success in the Eurythmics, the synth pop group she formed with Dave Stewart in 1980. Using Lennox's powerful, commanding vocals as a foundation and her notably androgynous image as a quirky path to distinction, the group forged major hits on both sides of the Atlantic with such '80s staples as "Here Comes the Rain Again" and "Would I Lie to You?". As always, Lennox was front and center.

Best known as leader of the eclectic British roots rock band Dire Straits, which itself is probably most remembered for its MTV-friendly music video and song "Money for Nothing," Scotsman Mark Knopfler worked during the '80s and throughout his career quite often as a solo artist as well. And while the band's commercial peak pretty much began and ended with the aforementioned single and the top-selling album on which it was featured, , Knopfler himself was always busy with film soundtracks or side projects.

These college rock darlings, like Knopfler, hailed from Glasgow, but those Scottish roots are about the only thing the two artists share. The band, led by brothers Jim and William Reid, helped lay a solid foundation for the explosion of modern/alternative rock in the late '80s and into the '90s. Musically, the group indulged quite an experimental side, showing a penchant for thrusting together melodic pop and wall-of-noise aggression to see what results. The combination was often enlightening, especially on standout tracks "Just Like Honey" and "April Skies."

I don't want the Welsh to develop a complex or anything, so it's a good time to give due time for this raspy-voiced songstress responsible for one of the foremost '80s epic power ballads in "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Tyler found a great match for her big vocal sound when she paired up with former Meat Loaf collaborator Jim Steinman, and although this song undoubtedly stands as her crowning achievement, "Holding Out for a Hero" remains a worthy nugget of '80s bombast as well.

It may be frustrating at times for lead singer Jim Kerr and the rest of this still-active Scottish band that they are remembered almost exclusively in the States for "Don't You (Forget About Me)," the tuneful, bombastic theme from the classic American teen film . Or maybe not, as that one great tune has certainly brought positive things for the band. Still, it's a shame that not as many people know about the band's punk origins and continuing exploration of eclectic pop.

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Sheena Easton

Sheena Easton
Album Cover Image Courtesy of EMI

I waited as long as I could, but you couldn't doubt Sheena Easton would make this list. After all, my philosophy is to maximize opportunities for Sheena content. The photogenic Scottish singer and actress made frequent appearances onscreen during the '80s, for obvious physical reasons. Even so, she revealed a versatility that took her from country-tinged pop on "Morning Train (Nine to Five)" to sultry dance-pop on "Sugar Walls." Through it all, she remains an undeniable icon of sexiness.

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The Alarm

The Alarm
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol Records

Although sometimes unfairly characterized as U2 clones, Mike Peters and the Alarm actually churned out a form of anthemic rock that is underrated both in terms of its originality and its forceful impact. While 1987's soaring, driving "Rain in the Summertime" was emblematic of the Welsh band's sound, it's not accurate to say that the group followed a too-strict formula of passionate, guitar-driven performances. In fact, it seems the band has always been unfairly penalized for being melodically accessible.

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Boomtown Rats

Boomtown Rats
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Island Mercury

This Irish band emerged from the post-punk new wave and distinguished itself with the popular and controversial single, "I Don't Like Mondays," which chronicles one of the earliest publicized schoolyard rampages, which took place in San Diego in 1979. The title reflects Brenda Spencer's explanation for the shootings, a concept that frontman Bob Geldof used to attempt and succeed at providing biting social commentary. Still, as an '80s icon, Geldof is better known for organizing Ethiopian famine relief efforts Band Aid and Live Aid.

Another native of Glasgow, Scotland, Roddy Frame formed Aztec Camera and has comprised the core of the group ever since, churning out a charismatic, alluring sort of gentle pop that has always had its share of admirers if not chart success. Frame operated within a somewhat familiar new wave guitar pop structure on the band's first release, 1983's High Land, Hard Rain, but his distinctive brand of aching romantic crooning helped set Aztec Camera apart from almost all of its contemporaries.

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Your Citation
Peake, Steve. "Top Irish, Scottish & Welsh Artists of the '80s." ThoughtCo, Feb. 28, 2017, Peake, Steve. (2017, February 28). Top Irish, Scottish & Welsh Artists of the '80s. Retrieved from Peake, Steve. "Top Irish, Scottish & Welsh Artists of the '80s." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 26, 2018).