Iconic Performers from the Eighties



Queen is unarguably one of the most successful and most iconic bands of all time. We do not only associate them with hordes of chart-topping hits and the unparalleled uniqueness of frontman Freddie Mercury, but they are identified with their outstanding live performances, and nowhere is this more evident than when looking back at the band’s career-defining performance at Live Aid in July of 1985, which is now widely considered to be one of the best live performances of all time. With every strut, every pose, and every fist pump, Freddie Mercury embodied the ultimate stage persona, captivating the audience and the moment with greater ease than any other frontman in history. Whilst boasting what is undoubtedly the greatest rock voice of all time, Freddie and co stole the show for themselves, eclipsing the efforts of legendary artists such as David Bowie, Elton John and Paul McCartney. In a mere twenty minutes through pure vigour, passion and bravado, Freddie enraptured not only a sold-out Wembley Stadium, but also a TV audience of over 1.9 billion, revitalising the band and cementing them firmly in the history books. From ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ to ‘We Are the Champions’ each rendition topped the last as the four-piece took the concept of live performances to a height the world had yet to experience.

words by Harry Fortuna

Michael Jackson

When you think of eighties musical icons, the first thing that will pop into many people’s minds is Michael Jackson: the ‘King of Pop’ and one of the greatest entertainers of all time. Jackson released two albums during the eighties: the biggest selling album of all time, Thriller in 1982 and his record-breaking follow up Bad in 1987. These albums propelled him to superstardom and thrust Jackson to the forefront of the musical world.

Yet, Jackson was not only a superstar in the studio; he also became renowned for his thrilling and exhilarating live performances. Even today, Jackson’s dance moves remain incomparable and it was on the stage where he was in his element. The unveiling of his signature moonwalk in 1983 during the Motown 25th Anniversary telecast, in a breath-taking performance of ‘Billie Jean’ was merely a sign of things to come. Later on, Jackson’s breath-taking ‘Smooth Criminal’ routine, featuring the gravity-defying 45-degree angle lean, would wow crowds across the globe. Jackson was, by any measure, an incredible dancer and during his live performances, he would flaunt his full array of moves, whipping out gyrations, spins, silky footwork and much, much more.

Jackson became renowned for the spectacle of his live performances with his choreography, costuming and set design marking him out as a pioneer in his field. Think of Michael Jackson and you see the black sequined jacket, the solitary silver sequined glove, the white fedora from ‘Smooth Criminal’ and the red and black leather jacket from ‘Thriller’. To Jackson performing wasn’t just about the music but about everything else which came with it and it was this attention to detail which marked him out from the crowd.

words by Tom Hills

David Bowie

The ’80s were a curious time for David Bowie. Never had he sold more records, had bigger hits, his influence was everywhere. The result, the pioneering video for the single ‘Ashes to Ashes’, saw Bowie reinvent himself for the MTV generation. It also heralded a decade of mixed fortunes. The 1980 album it came from, Scary Monsters, was a critical and commercial hit and spawned another of his greatest anthems, ‘Fashion’.

A year later he duetted with Queen on the equally commercial chart-topping single, ‘Under Pressure’. But the former glam rocker hadn’t just changed the direction of his music. In 1980 he also divorced his wife of ten years, Angie Bowie, and threw himself into acting. In 1983 he made an erotic horror movie, The Hunger, and started a three-year relationship with 36-year-old co-star Susan Sarandon who he called “pure dynamite”. Last year she reminisced about her time with Bowie and said: “He’s worth idolising”.

In the same year, he created hit album and single, Let’s Dance, which, selling seven million was his best-selling album, and started the Serious Moonlight Tour, which saw him perform to 2.6 million people in 15 countries over six months. In 1984 he released Tonight, an album made up, largely, of cover versions. Though it also included self-penned classics like ‘Loving the Alien’ and ‘Blue Jean’, it was panned by many critics.

But a career-high came in 1985 when charity duet with Mick Jagger, ‘Dancing in the Street’, went straight to number one and he performed as part of the global famine-relief fundraiser, Live Aid. When he took to the stage at Wembley Stadium, the world marvelled at a living legend. Yet the notoriously humble Bowie didn’t change.

words by Sophie Browne

Duran Duran

Contemporary live experiences of the eighties tend towards a tiresome domain, with stages trodden either by imposters in misplaced homage or the apparent desperation of the era’s fading vestiges themselves. Fortunately, when the time came for Duran Duran to close Southampton’s Common People festival in 2016, a tenacious turn gave everyone from rabid nostalgists to even the most previously indifferent youth a commanding, career-spanning glance at how new wave flair should be.

With 13 album releases to catch up on since their only previous shows in the city – a brace at the Gaumont (now Mayflower) in 1981 to support their self-titled debut – new material was kept to a mid-set minimum after delivering Paper Gods’ sprawling seven-minute title track with near-disturbing precision to open. With pouts clearly as sharp as ever, their setup dwarfed anything else the Common had seen in a while, with psychedelic visuals, tiered staging, and the night sky making way for flames and confetti respectively through Nile Rodgers collaborations old (‘The Wild Boys,’ 1984) and new (‘Pressure Off,’ 2015). Before leathered frontman Simon Le Bon’s voice could give way to an inspired crowd, the ’80s delight was completed with a tear, paying tribute to David Bowie and Prince into a fitting beach finale in ‘Rio.’

words by Xavier Voigt-Hill


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The Edge's resident grumpy old man, a final year Web Scientist with a name even his parents couldn’t spell properly. Ask him any question and you’ll probably get the answer of “Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2015 album E•MO•TION,” which might explain why we still can't get rid of him.

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