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100 Rock and metal songs that defined the 1980s

1985

Anthrax - Madhouse
The arrival of new singer Joey Belladonna kickstarted Anthrax’s imperial phase, and Madhouse’s lunatic cackling and adamantium-edged riffs showcased everything they had to offer. The thrash metal race was on.

Celtic Frost - Circle Of The Tyrants
Celtic Frost hit their stride with this track from their debut full-length, To Mega Therion. With its skin-flaying guitars and grunted ‘Oohs’, this was the moment where extreme metal took a turn for the avant-garde.

Dio - Rock 'n' Roll Children
For all the dragons and rainbows, RJD’s greatest skill was finding the romance amid the fantasy – never more evident than on this anthemic tale of two doomed runaways, a song that marked the classic Dio line-up’s last hurrah.

Exodus - Bonded By Blood
While the rest of thrash metal’s original Class Of ’83 were growing up and going overground, the Bay Area ’bangers stayed resolutely nasty and below the radar. The title track of their belated debut album remains a classic of moshpit mayhem.

Faith No More - We Care A Lot
Proto funk-metal and sneering sarcasm set to a tribal beat courtesy of five scraggy misfits from San Francisco. FNM would go onto bigger things at the end of the decade, but this was the foundation on which it was all built.

Megadeath - Mechanix
Kicked out of Metallica after one too many drug-fuelled bust-ups, Mustaine poured all his venomous frustration into this song. Metallica recorded it as The Four Horsemen, but Mustaine had righteous vengeance on his side.

Pentagram - Sign Of The Wolf (Pentagram)
Formed in the 70s, Pentagram had been plagued by financial and narcotic fuck-ups, but the bog-blasted doom-blues of Sign… showed why they were dubbed ‘the American Black Sabbath’. 

Possessed - Death Metal
Teenage malcontents from San Francisco, Possessed buried thrash metal alive then exhumed it a few days later. Growling and snarling, Death Metal, from their Seven Churches album, was the sound of a genre coming to (un)life.

S.O.D. - Sargent D and the S.O.D. 
Jackbooted hardcore/thrash mash-up from the button-pushing Anthrax side-project who spearheaded the short-lived ‘crossover’ movement. Loudmouth frontman Billy Milano was proudly the most controversial figure of the period.

1986

Bon Jovi - Livin' On A Prayer
Every metal fan’s not-so-guilty pleasure. Bon Jovi hoovered up all the ‘whooah-ohs’ and dished them out in the shape of this stratosphere-scraping stadium rock anthem. 490 million Spotify streams surely can’t be wrong.

Candlemass - Solitude
The Yanks didn’t have the monopoly on 80s doom. With Solitude, Sweden’s Candlemass took the Sabbath template and blew it up to an operatic scale. The title of the album it came from said it all: Epicus Doomicus Metallicus.

Europe - The Final Countdown
Bon Jovi didn’t have the whole pop-rock field to themselves. A bunch of bubble-permed, keyboard-parping Swedes hit No.1 with this joyous ode to manned space missions to Venus. You know you love it… admit it.

Kreator - Flag Of Hate
European thrash never had its own version of the US Big 4, but if it did then Kreator would be charter members. Flag Of Hate, from the EP of the same name, was sharper than a scythe and as vicious as a rabid Rottweiler.

Megadeth - Peace Sells
Dave Mustaine took his foot off the gas on Megadeth’s second album and served up this anti-authoritarian classic. ‘What do you mean I don’t believe in God? I talk to him every day’ he sneered. It sounds less sarcastic today than it did then.

Metallica - Master Of Puppets
Eight-and-half minutes long but not a single second wasted: the ambitious title track of their third album was the point where Metallica, and thrash metal, reached their artistic pinnacle. ‘Obey your master! Master!’

Repulsion - The Stench Of Burning Death
Michigan gore-hounds Repulsion have a legit claim to being the godfathers of grindcore. Recorded in ’86 and released in ’89, this feverish nightmare of decomposing noise is noxious proof.

Run DMC & Aerosmith - Walk This Way
In which the hottest rap group of the year saved a bunch of washed-up 70s rockers by retooling one of their old hits for a new generation, scoring a massive hit and inventing the entire rap-rock genre in the process. 

Saint Vitus - Clear Windowpane
‘I have things living in my hair’: the ultimate bad trip boogie from cultest-of-cult LA doomsters featuring past-and-future The Obsessed legend Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich. Few other songs have come close to its drug-addled desperation.

Slayer - Angel Of Death
The greatest thrash metal song of them all? Could be. Slayer’s chilling, ambiguous ode to notorious Nazi scientist Josef Mengele was certainly the one that raised the bar when it came to controversy and sheer hateful intent.

1987

Anthrax- Indians
Anthrax were the Big 4’s court jesters. But this jagged thrasher, inspired by the US government’s shameful ill-treatment of the Native American population, showed they could play serious when they wanted.

Death - Zombie Ritual
Like a scene from a classic horror movie, this was the point where death metal crawled from the grave and began to infect anyone it sank its teeth into. Early testament to the genius of the late, much lamented Chuck Schuldiner.

Def Leppard - Pour Some Sugar On Me
Pour Some Sugar On Me was the song that soundtracked a million strip clubs in the 80s and beyond: gyratable rhythms, lascivious lyrics and a drum sound that could flatten mountains. Truly, this was Peak Hair Metal.

Guns N' Roses - Welcome To The Jungle
Feral tomcats next to the blow-dried poodles of the Sunset Strip scene, GN’R wore the scent of chaos and destruction like dime-store cologne. This gimlet-eyed hymn to the City Of Angels was their most vicious four minutes. 

Helloween - I'm Alive
Power metal started here: with the duelling guitars and window-cracking vocals that became Helloween’s signature. They could have been the next Iron Maiden. Instead, they had to settle for being the founding fathers of a genre.

King Diamond - Abigail
Like Alice Cooper with a hotline to the other side, the ex-Mercyful Fate screamer ramped up the gothic metal on this Exorcist-like tale of demonic possession. OTT? Yes. Silly? A bit. Brilliant? Undeniably.

Mayhem - Deathcrush
Infernal terror from the depths of torment, courtesy of the band who laid the Norwegian BM scene’s foundation stone. More than 30 years on, Deathcrush, from the EP of the same name, still sounds like a riot in Hades. 

Motley Crue - Girls, Girls, Girls
The Crüe were the undisputed kings of the Sunset Strip while the members of Guns N’ Roses were still trying to work out which leg to put in their leather pants first. This immortal Harleys ’n’ strippers anthem is why.

Napalm Death - Scum
The most influential British metal band since Iron Maiden? No argument. The blastbeats and concrete-mixer growls of Scum trickled down the decades to influence everything from Slipknot to Andrew W.K.

Testament - Over The Wall
The Bay Area bangers’ debut album, The Legacy, was the first great album of thrash’s second wave, as this scalpel-sharp opener proved. Bloody brilliant. If the Big 4 had a subs’ bench, Testament were first in line.

1988

Bathory - A Fine Day To Die
Raise your horns to Odin! Swedish visionary Quorthon took Bathory’s black metal on a wild ride to Valhalla on this eight-minute epic, inventing Viking metal as he did it. Taken from the cheerfully titled Blood Fire Death.

Danzig - Mother
Baleful, PMRC-baiting blues-metal from former Misfits singer Glenn Danzig, here reborn as a be-quiffed, Beelzebubian Evil Elvis. Reissued a few years later, it finally gave him the hit he deserved. All together now: “Motherrrrr…”

Iron Maiden - Can I Play With Madness
Maiden capped their run of classic 80s albums with Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son – arguably their finest record of the decade. This rampaging single showcased both faces of the band – the grandiose and the brilliantly commercial.

Jane's Addiction - Mountain Song
The 90s alt-rock revolution arrived two years early in the shape of this loping, shamanic anthem from drug-sozzled LA radicals Jane’s Addiction. Little did anyone realise just how game-changing they would be.

Living Colour - Cult Of Personality
Four African-American musicians mixing funk, R&B and rock was an alien concept in the era of thrash and hair metal, but Cult Of Personalitys relentless groove and pyrotechnic guitars won over the sceptics, changing rock’s DNA forever.

Metallica - Blackened
One of metal’s early eco-anthems, it spits fury at the destruction of our planet. From the prog-metal touches of the parent album to the presence (in body if not sound) of Jason Newsted, this was a new chapter for the metal greats.

Ministry - Stigmata
Three albums in and Ministry nailed it. Stigmata was Uncle Al Jourgensen at his most twisted, spitting hate over mechanised jackhammer rhythms and warped guitars. Hell’s own dancefloor sounds exactly like this. Awesome stuff. 

Queensryche - Eyes Of A Stranger
Prog-tinged metal anthem from pre-grunge Seattle superstars that married brain to brawn. Eyes Of A Stranger’s parent album, Operation Mindcrime, was what ‘state of the art’ sounded like in 1988.

Slayer - South Of Heaven
They could barely have pushed the speed limit any further post-Reign In Blood. Instead, Slayer slowed things down to menacing effect on the follow-up’s demonic title track. What emerged was malevolence incarnate.

Voivod Tribal - Convictions
The sci-fi-fixated Canadians’ transformation from thrash metal snarlers to prog metal overlords was at last complete. Twitchy and alien, Tribal Convictions sounded like a message from another, much stranger universe.

1989

Carcass - Exhume To Consume
Carcass were the mad surgeons of grindcore, and this gleefully visceral necro-cannibalistic classic was one part zombie classic, one part gory medical text, set to a noise like a malfunctioning meat grinder.

Faith No More - From Out Of Nowhere
Faith No More’s great reinvention, swapping the anti-social funk-metal of old for a keyboard-propelled rush of pure euphoria. And in new singer Mike Patton, they unveiled one of modern rock’s greatest frontmen.

Godflesh - Like Rats
There was metal, there was industrial and then there was Godflesh. Like Rats sounded like an entire city lifting itself up and repeatedly slamming itself to the ground. Other bands would take that sound and run with it, but the original is the best.

Morbid Angel - Chapel Of Ghouls
The ultimate racket from the crypt, courtesy of Florida’s Morbid Angel. Their debut album, Altars Of Madness, would position them as one of death metal’s Big 4 alongside Death, Obituary and Cannibal Corpse.

Motley Crue - Dr Feelgood
For the title track of their last album of the 80s, the Crüe offered a gold-plated arena banger that found the cleaned-up bad boys of the Strip offering a not-so-cautionary tale about past acquaintances. Hair metal’s last hurrah.

Nine Inch Nails - Head Like A Hole
Ministry meets Depeche Mode: industrial metal with a pop heart and ton of self-loathing pushing down on it. Trent Reznor still sounds like a man trying – and failing – to escape his own personal hell.

Nirvana - Negative Creep
Forget grungeNegative Creep was sped-up sludge metal with a smirk on its face and self-disgust deep in its heart. Parent album Bleach was a fine debut, but no one could have seen what would come next.

Sepultura - Inner Self
That raw, grinding riff, those unrelenting double-bass beats, the undiluted venom in Max Cavalera’s voice: this was the sound of young, angry Brazil. The Beneath The Remains album was proof that metal really was world music.

Terrorizer - Fear Of Napalm
Featuring future members of Morbid Angel and Napalm Death, Terrorizer were grindcore’s Californian wing. This track from landmark debut album World Downfall was an IED in musical form, its clouds of brutality blotting out the sun.

White Zombie - God Of Thunder
Veterans of New York’s noise rock scene, Rob Zombie and co. edged towards the metal mainstream with this ramshackle but sincere cover of Kiss’s 70s shlock-rock classic. In a few years, they’d be America’s most unlikely superstars.

For more 80s goodness check out the latest issue of Metal Hammer magazine – it's an 80s extravaganza! For more information and to peak inside click here or just go ahead and order your copy over at My Favourite Magazines.

(Image credit: Future)