Basic Yearly '80s Music Timeline

Signature Events From Each Year of the Decade

John Lennon and his wife, artist, and musician Yoko Ono (extreme left) as they attend an unspecified rally in Hyde Park, London, England, 1975.
Portrait of John Lennon and his wife, artist, and musician Yoko Ono (extreme left) as they attend an unspecified rally in Hyde Park, London, England, 1975. Rowland Scherman/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Travel through the musical history of the '80s with this quick timeline of the decade's greatest events.


John Lennon dies after crazed fan Mark David Chapman guns him down outside the ex-Beatle's apartment building in New York City on December 8. Just a few weeks earlier, Lennon had released his first studio album in five years, which featured a collaboration between Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono. Despite the dilution caused by her musical presence, impressive new songs like "Watching the Wheels" and "(Just Like) Starting Over" make the legend's untimely passing seem even more tragic.


In March, upstart cable network MTV (Music Television) ushers music into a brave new video age, helping to launch and nurture the careers of greater and lesser '80s stars-to-be. In its early days, the network suffers from a lack of video material and, therefore, plays many of its clips over and over, serving as powerful promotion for artists smart enough to board the video train early on. Oh, for the days when MTV (or sister station VH-1, for that matter) actually played videos.


Novelty song "Pac-Man Fever" amazingly reaches No. 9 on Billboard's pop charts, successfully combining the rising video game craze of the early 1980s with an increasingly fickle pop music landscape.


After the departure of original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, KISS masterminds Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons feel the need for something drastic to stem the band's early-'80s decline. So on September 18, the band pays a visit to MTV's studios, during which members make their first public appearances without their trademark makeup. The stunt doesn't disguise the group's desperation, and KISS will never recapture its '70s glory.


While riding an unprecedented wave of popularity following the release of his mega-hit album, Michael Jackson gets a little burned by his massive success. Literally. While filming a commercial for Pepsi, a pyrotechnic incident results in severe burns to the singer's scalp. It is an auspicious if unintentional start to Jackson's love affair with plastic surgery.


A conglomeration of '80s music stars known as USA for Africa releases the ensemble single "We Are the World" to great fanfare. Proceeds are said to support famine relief on the titular continent, though some question whether or not the money ever gets to the needy. Even so, the song rockets to massive popularity on the backs of stars like Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Bruce Springsteen.


In January, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame holds its first induction ceremony. While Elvis Presley is an obvious and appropriate inaugural choice, somehow the Beatles don't seem quite significant or popular enough to be included. If that isn't enough of a bad omen, organizers announce in May that the state-of-the-art facility will be built in Cleveland, of all places.


Millions of patient boyfriends endure multiple viewings of Dirty Dancing, the modest independent film that becomes quite a phenomenon during this year. On top of the clunky dialogue and tired coming-of-age plot, the film somehow manages to weave a tapestry of oldies alongside several contemporary tunes that become painfully ubiquitous, including "(I've Had) the Time of My Life" and "Hungry Eyes".


Abrasive comedian Sam Kinison releases a novelty version of The Troggs' "Wild Thing," to which he skillfully applies his trademark screams. The video accompanying the song features a number of disparate music stars but is most remembered for a wrestling match between Kinison and Jessica Hahn, the central figure in a sex scandal involving televangelist Jim Bakker. Those '80s. Weren't they something?


Not that anyone really thinks the Grammys have ever meant anything anyway, but one of rock's most embarrassing moments comes this year when Jethro Tull is selected over favorite Metallica for Best Hard Rock Performance. Sometimes legendary nights really come out of nowhere.