Pop music has been great for many years, but there’s something extra special about the pop scene in the 1980s. So in this article, we’re going to share our picks for the best male pop singers of the 80s. Without further ado, let’s just right to it!
Best Male Pop Singers of the 80s
Let’s begin with our first male pop singer—Michael Bolton.
1) Michael Bolton
His raspy, boisterous voice seemed suited for rock, and for a while, Michael Bolotin (his given name) did try everything from glam to metal. He finally struck gold or, rather, double platinum, in 1987 with the pop rock album The Hunger. “That’s What Love Is All About” shot to the top of the charts, making “Bolton” a household name.
- My Favorite Michael Bolton Song: “How Can We Be Lovers” from Soul Provider (1989). I love how the guitar solo foreshadows the key change, and what a key change it is! The a cappella line “we can work it out” over the shortened bar, really adds momentum as the song takes flight an entire key up.
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2) Al Jarreau
Al Jarreau achieved almost instant success as a jazz vocalist in the mid-70s. But his stardom reached new heights when he switched to pop and R&B in the 80s. His 1981 album Breakin’ Away, which featured the hit single “We’re in This Love Together,” introduced Jarreau’s patented acrobatic scatting to new audiences, remained on the Billboard charts for two years, and, according to AllMusic “became the standard bearer of the L.A. pop and R&B sound”.
- My Favorite Al Jarreau Song: “Alonzo” from This Time (1980). I imagine observing earth and sky from the comfort of a cloud would sound like this. The chord changes are heavenly, and Jarreau’s improvisation in the final chorus is divinely inspired.
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3) Boy George (Culture Club)
With a supple, soulful voice as smooth as a butter knife, Boy George sang Culture Club into the history books. The group’s 1983 Colour by Numbers spawned the yet omnipresent “Karma Chameleon” and cemented its mega-pop status. George’s conspicuous androgynous style followed in the fashion of performers like David Bowie, Grace Jones and Sylvester, and helped bring a sense of otherness to the mainstream.
- My Favorite Boy George (Culture Club) Song: “Black Money” from Colour by Numbers (1983). This song has a sultry, R&B vibe and a great melody. I love how George pleads with the listener to heed his advice, and Helen Terry’s response as the choir to whom George is preaching is the icing on the cake.
4) Paul Carrack
There’s a widespread belief that if Michael McDonald sings on your track, it’s bound to be a hit. The same can be said of Paul Carrack. Dubbed The Man with the Golden Voice by the BBC, in 1975 Carrack’s crooning would become an indelible sound of the 80s. In addition to performances on Squeeze’s “Tempted,” and Mike + The Mechanics’ “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)” and “The Living Years,” Carrack had solo success with “Don’t Shed a Tear”.
- My Favorite Paul Carrack Song: “Battlefield” from Groove Approved (1989). In this, one of the best energetic, Motown-inspired pop songs that were popular in the late 80s, Carrack’s vocals lead with the decisiveness of a general galvanizing soldiers to war.
5) Luther Vandross
Luther Vandross, who got his start in the 70s as a backup singer, never quit his day job. Even after becoming a megastar, Vandross continued to work for acts like Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder and Carly Simon. It’s easy to see why he was so in demand: Vandross’s velvety tenor, exquisite phrasing and 110% performances caused a sensation every time he graced a microphone. When Vandross sings the last word of a song, you can hear his charming smile and the twinkle in his eye. It’s as if he knows he just made you fall in love with him.
- My Favorite Luther Vandross Song: “Stop to Love” from Give Me the Reason (1986). This production is a perfect marriage between the precision of the L.A. pop and R&B sound and the grandiosity of 80s soundtracks. I love how the music cuts out during the final “say you’re coming home,” leaving us with echoes of a cappella Vandross.
6) Andy Bell (Erasure)
Speaking of matches made in heaven, producer Vince Clarke and singer Andy Bell changed history when they formed Erasure in 1985. The pair produced hits like “Chains of Love” and “A Little Respect”. Bell’s voice has an electric swagger in lower registers, and can soar to falsetto at will. The assortment of characters he assumes to provide his own backing vocals makes Erasure sound a bit like a two-man Abba.
- My Favorite Andy Bell (Erasure) Song: “You Surround Me” from Wild! (1989). This fabulous dance ballad captures Bell’s impressive vocal range, and the unexpected C# he hits on “world” in the bridge makes me feel as if I’m in on some very complex inside joke.
7) El DeBarge (DeBarge)
El DeBarge’s signature, sleek falsetto helped his family band reach international success in the 80s. From 1981 to 1983, DeBarge rose to fame with hits like, “I Like It” and “All This Love”. And in 1985, the lively, Diane Warren-penned “Rhythm of the Night” quickly became a dance floor staple, making DeBarge a household name.
- My Favorite El Debarge Song: “Who’s Johnny” from El DeBarge (1986). Number 5 is indeed alive, if this pop delight with all the energy of a Scritti Politti arrangement is any indication. Have a blast singing along but watch out for that epic key change – it is not a malfunction!
Audiences had been enjoying Sting’s ambitious and wily vocals with The Police for eight years before he released his debut solo album The Dream of the Blue Turtles in 1985. While at times wrought with erratic and strained singing (“Shadows in the Rain,” “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,”), the album’s incorporation of jazz, folk, rock and pop elements foreshadowed the sound he would refine by 1987’s …Nothing Like the Sun. Sting’s voice is like a light guiding you to the end of a tunnel: shouting out warnings of pitfalls and nurturing you when you get lost along the way.
- My Favorite Sting Song: “Fortress Around Your Heart” from The Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985). The simplicity of the arrangement contrasts impeccably with one of the most intricate melodies in pop music. Sting’s delivery during the verses is subdued, making the climax into the choruses that much more fulfilling.
9) Michael Sembello
Gifted guitarist and composer Michael Sembello’s breakthrough as a vocalist came with the inclusion of “Maniac” on the Flashdance soundtrack. The song featured Sembello’s impressive composing, performing and producing talent. Driven by his rich, soulful voice and impressive range, “Maniac” helped earn the Flashdance soundtrack a Grammy.
- My Favorite Michael Sembello Song: “Angelina” from Without Walls (1986). This song has a fantastic melody which Sembello controls with confidence. The flamenco riffs highlight Sembello’s guitar proficiency.
10) Richard Marx
If his first single, “Don’t Mean Nothing” was biographical, then Richard Marx entered the music industry with a singular focus. Not even being usurped by a Velveeta commercial could deter the singer, whose self-titled debut went platinum three times. This feat would be topped by his second album, Repeat Offender (1989), which went platinum four times. With an earnest voice that is at once confident and tender, it’s no wonder Marx sailed through the end of the 80s racking up one accolade after another.
- My Favorite Richard Marx Song: “Don’t Mean Nothing” from Richard Marx (1987). I remember being confused the first time I saw this music video. The mullet, the Prince-like confidence – was it rock? Country? Loggins? By the end of the video I didn’t care. I was tapping my foot and straining to reach Marx’s high notes.
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11) Kenny Loggins
Kenny Loggins had formidable success in the 70s but it was his cinematic songwriting on 80s songs like “Footloose,” “Meet Me Half Way” and “Danger Zone” that earned him a statue in the pantheon of the greats. With the welcoming nature of country, the grit of soul, and the power of rock, Loggins’s voice is enhanced only by his phenomenal and ambitious songwriting. The “King of the Movie Soundtrack” has given us musical jewels to treasure for a lifetime.
- My Favorite Kenny Loggins Song: “Heart to Heart” from High Adventure (1982). The chord changes in this soul party are to die for, and drummer Tris Imboden’s cymbal work is particularly tasty. The way Loggins floats from falsetto to full-voice provides a splendid emotional backdrop to the line, “This is our last chance to touch each other’s heart”.
12) Phil Collins
From 1980 to 1989, Phil Collins released an astonishing eight albums (four solo, four with Genesis), and each of them produced chart-topping singles that helped shape the sound of the decade. Songs like “No Reply at All” and “I Don’t Care Anymore” showcased Collins’s dynamic range, while “In Too Deep” and “One More Night” brought out the poignant sincerity in his voice. From “Squonk” to Brother Bear, Collins’s legendary talent has delighted generations of audiences.
- My Favorite Phil Collins Song: “You Know What I Mean” from Face Value (1981). The tender tragedy with which Collins sings lines like “leave me alone with my dreams, you’ve taken everything else” prompted me to wear out more than one cassette through incessant rewinding.
13) Mick Hucknall (Simply Red)
Classic soul-influenced Simply Red released their iconic debut album, Picture Book in 1985. The group’s first number one-hit, the pervasive “Holding Back the Years,” unearthed the power of vocalist Mick Hucknall’s dulcet pipes, and won the ASCAP Pop Music Most Performed Song Award two years in a row. To this day, dilettantes in karaoke bars around the world strain in vain to replicate Hucknall’s delivery on the final “holding” in the song.
- My Favorite Mick Hucknall (Simply Red) Song: “Heaven” from Picture Book (1985). The stripped-down production complements the message of the song, which is much more powerful for Hucknall’s restrained performance. If The Dells had ever covered Talking Heads it would sound like this.
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14) Billy Ocean
Billy Ocean attained international superstar. status with 1984’s “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)”. With a soothing voice that envelops the listener in a vocal duvet, it’s no wonder Ocean continues to sell out concerts worldwide. At the end of a stressful day, Ocean can make you feel that everything is going to be all right.
- My Favorite Billy Ocean Song:“Suddenly” from Suddenly (1984). This is one of the finest representations of falling in love, and the way Ocean sings the word “everlasting” at the end of the first verse makes me catch my breath.
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15) George Michael (Wham!)
After Andrew Ridgeley abdicated as co-songwriter for the duo, his Wham! consort sat down to write and produce “a really energetic pop record”. The result was “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” an infectious, dance ditty with thrusting vocals that became their first number-one hit. George Michael’s flawless timing and elegant, sensual tone continued to excite in hits like “Edge of Heaven” and “Everything She Wants”. By the time the duo disbanded in 1986, the world had begun to grasp just what an immaculate and incomparable voice George Michael possessed.
- My Favorite George Michael (Wham!) Song: “Freedom” from Make It Big (1984). From the drum pickup to the fade out, “Freedom”–with its funky bass breaks, pulsing guitar, angelic harmonies, regal horns and all-encompassing melody–is like listening to Smokey Robinson on Jolt!
16) Michael Jackson
One of the world’s biggest icons, and one who certainly transcended music, Michael Jackson is one of the few stars who was monumentally huge across many, many decades. Michael had a sneaky impressive voice too, as he could hold a note very well due to having great control over his vocal instrument.
Michael Jackson is of course well known for being an all around excellent entertainer, but if you ever heard him sing from his days of being the frontman of The Jackson 5, then you know MJ was a talented vocalist since he was 10 years old.
- My Favorite Michael Jackson Song: I’ve always loved “Smooth Criminal.” It has such an infectious beat and chorus, and the song (and no doubt the music video) tells a very vivid story.
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By the 1990s, pop music trended towards simpler productions, and the Age of the Belter was coming to an end. Still, hopefully this walk back down memory lane to revisit the best male pop singers of the 80s brought you some comfort and enjoyment.
This article was written by Amelia, with one addition by Michael (Michael Jackson).