When naming female music artists from the 1980s, most will name Madonna, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, or Cyndi Lauper. Hard Rock fans will mention Lita Ford, Pat Benatar, or Joan Jett. There are some artists who had just as many hits, and were just as talented. My list of underrated female artists is just that; talented females who had several hits on the U.S. Charts but seem to be forgotten, either by music radio or by critics in general. In no particular order, here are some of the underrated (and sometimes forgotten) talents from the era.
- Sheena Easton. It’s hard to believe that she is not given more credit as a top artist in the 1980s- she was everywhere in the decade. She was the first artist to have a top 5 hit on 5 different charts (Pop, Country, Dance, R&B, and Adult Contemporary). She was an actress on Miami Vice (THE show of the decade), had a James Bond hit, “For Your Eyes Only” (#4 Hit) worked with Prince on the songs “Sugar Walls” (which made Tipper Gore’s Filthy 15 list) and “U Got the Look.” She also had a #1 hit with “Morning Train (9 to 5)” Not only did she have the looks to attract the male audience, she had a great voice, from ballads to Pop songs. Her vocal range on the song “You Could Have Been with Me” is one example. Easton did it all in the era, and according to her official website she still tours.
- Belinda Carlisle. She had hits with her all girl band The Go Gos (who sold over 7 million albums in a short time) and went solo in 1986 with songs like “Mad about You“ (#3 Hit), “Heaven On Earth” (#1) , and “I Get Weak” (#2). She also had a hit with “Circle in the Sand” (#7). The song “Mad about You” also had a guitar solo from Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor. Carlisle proved she could hit gold as a band member or solo act, which is rare for any artist male or female.
- Debbie Gibson. When she first came onto the scene in 1987, I admit I was not a huge fan of hers; however, I did like her ballad “Foolish Beat.” Throughout the years I have gained more respect for her as an artist than when I first encountered her music. Between 1987-1988, she had 4 Top 5 hits on the charts, and was one of the youngest females to write, produce, and perform on a number one single. Since then she has been in movies for the Syfy Network and has performed on Broadway. In the era where the artists were controlled by the management and record companies, which seems more the case today than back then, Gibson had control over her music and what was put out with her name on it.
- The Jets. This family act from Minneapolis is one of the most underrated acts of the 1980s. With hits like 1986’s “Crush On You” (#3), “You Got It All” (#3), 1987’s “Cross My Broken Heart” (#7) and “I Do You” (#20), and 1988’s “Rocket 2 U” (#6) and “Make It Real” (#4), the Jets were all over the airways. “You Got It All” was written by Rupert Holmes of “Escape (The Pina Colada Song” fame. Vocalist Elizabeth Wolfgramm sang lead on my two favorite songs of theirs, “Make It Real” and “Got It All.” Her soulful voice added to the great Pop ballads that the band released, which were staples at my school dances. She left the band in 1990, but they fused Dance, Pop, Latin, and R&B into their songs. The band was underrated for its time for mixing many genres.
- Olivia Newton John. How can Sandy from Grease be on my list? Because most people forget how great of a singer she was in the 1980s. Her 1970s songs like “I Honestly Love You,” “A Little More Love,”and the songs from the movie Grease were well known, but some think of her as a One Hit Wonder in the 1980s with “Physical” in 1981, when in fact she had hits like 1980’s “I Can’t Help It” with Andy Gibb (#12 Pop, and #8 AC Charts), 1982’s “Make A Move on Me” (#5) and “Heart Attack” (#3), and 1980’s “Magic” (#1). She also had two soundtrack hits with 1980’s “Xanadu” (#8) and 1981’s “Twist of Fate” (#5), from the movie “Two of a Kind,” which she was cast with Grease co-star John Travolta. Even though the movie was a failure, the soundtrack had hits with John and with Journey. She also starred in Xanadu, which is considered a horrible movie, but has gained a cult following (the film actually broke even at the Box Office). Much like Sheena Easton, Olivia Netwon John was able to record and act in the era, and had one of the purest voices.
- Susanna Hoffs. After the success of The Go Gos, another all girl group came onto the scene in 1986, although they formed in 1980. It took a Prince Song in 1986 called “Manic Monday” (#2) for the world to embrace The Bangles, made up of Susanna Hoffs, Vicki and Debbie Peterson. Like The Go Gos, they played their own instruments, which was rare for the time. The other hits by the band included 1986’s “If She Knew What She Wants” (#29), 1986’s “Walk Like An Egyptian” (#1) and “Walking Down Your Street” (#11), 1987’s remake of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” (#2), 1988’s “In Your Room”( #5), and their 1989 #1 Hit “Eternal Flame.” Hoff’s also tried her luck in acting in the 1987 film “The Allnighter,” a disaster at the Box Office even with the success of Hoffs as a sex symbol. The band was even voted into the Vocal Hall of Fame in 2000. I was never a fan of “Egyptian,” preferring the more rocker songs like “In Your Room,” and “Walking Down Your Street,” however Hoffs had a unique voice and was a very good front woman for the band, which she doesn’t get as much credit for.
Hoffs went solo and had a hit with “My Side of the Bed” (#30) and still tours solo and with The Bangles. She also works with Matthew Sweet releasing cover albums. I have recently started listening to her solo stuff and they are really good, including 2012’s “Someday.” I also watched the Vh1 “Behind the Music” documentary recently which shows a unique insight to the band that I found entertaining. I recently saw a concert of the Bangles online and they, along with Hoffs, still have the great musicianship that many bands have lost throughout the years. Definitely check out Hoff’s solo work.
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