Top 10 Lists: The 1980’s

The 1980’s have been described as the decade of the yuppie, the decade of Reagan, the decade of technology.  It was all those things.  I took a straw poll of my friends from high school and college, asking what one event from the 1980’s defined the decade.

Top 10 Most Influential Why It Defines the 80’s
10 Cell phones From bricks to can’t live without device
9 MRIs Non-invasive look into the body
8 Challenger Explosion Space isn’t so safe, and we were watching it at school live
7 MTV turns on Music videos brought a non-stop concert and fashion parade
6 AIDS Free love was replaced by painful death and phobia
5 Pac Man and Game Boy Video arcades flourished, then went portable
4 CNN starts reporting No waiting for news, brought global events to our attention
3 Reaganomics Lower corporate and personal income taxes, hoping to “trickle down”
2 Apple Mac computer The 1983 Super Bowl ad says it all, and we loved it
1 Berlin Wall falls / communism ends Our enemy pulls back the curtain, nothing to fear

Marketing gurus will tell you that a person’s spending and saving habits, and cultural attitudes are greatly influenced by the world around us during an impressionable age.  One theory says this window of influence is between 10 and 12 years of age.  Others say it’s 14 to 18 years old (high school).  I think it’s more accurately about a 10 year window of time, between 10 and 20 years of age and during that time something BIG happens that opens your eyes and turns you head and changes your outlook forever.  It defines the generation.

GenX is comprised of people born between 1961 and 1981, a generation is usually about a 20 year period.  Others defines Gen X as  1965 to 1976.  For those born at the beginning of the generation (1961-1971) and the “influence window” is the time they were 10-20 years old (roughly the 1970’s and 1980’s).  Those born at the end of the generation (1972-1981) had an influence window during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  For Generation X, the central point is the 1980’s.

These lists focus on the 1980’s because it lies at the heart of the generation.  Everyone in GenX has photos and video with 1980 dates stamped on them.

We were raised on David Letterman (not Johnny Carson or Conan O’Brien).  So in keeping with familiar style, I’ll use top 10 lists to describe the 80’s.  I don’t want to get hung up on the difference between what is ranked 4 or 2.  The importance is that one or more of these things made GenX different than Boomers or GenY.

Here’s my top ten list of historical events in the 1980’s:

Top 10 Historical Events Commentary Date
10 George Bush elected president, invades Panama Deposes Manuel Noriega after he sells US secrets to Cuba. 1988-1992; Panama Dec. 20, 1989
9 Egyptian President Anwar Sadat assassinated Peace talks between Egypt and Isreal suffer a large setback. Oct. 6, 1981
8 Homeless Crisis Multiple factors, such as loss of affordable housing, rise of working poor class, and cuts to government safety net put millons on the streets.  The decade ended without a solution. 1980-present
7 Salmon Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” book Book critical of Islam causes fatwa and uproar in Middle East and UK. 1988
6 Stock Market Crash Market drops 500 points. Tax cuts and defense spending fuel deficits, then inflation, and finally panic. Oct. 19, 1987
5 Ecology Disasters Union Carbide insecticide plant explosion in India; Chernobyl, Ukraine nuclear power plant meltdown; Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Dec. 3, 1984; Apr. 26, 1986; Mar. 24, 1989
4 Iran Contra Scandal Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North takes the fall for a secret scheme.  The US sold missles to Iran in exchange for US hostages.  Profits from the sale are given to Contra guerillas in Nicaragua to overthrow their government. Nov. 1986-Dec. 1992
3 Rep. Charlie Wilson and Afghanistan US financial and military backing of local Afghans against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. 1980-1996
2 Cold War Soviet Union and US have peace agreement and begin withdrawing weapons from Eastern Europe.  Berlin Wall is torn down. Glasnost begins 1985; Berlin Wall Nov. 8, 1989; Soviet Union dissolved Dec. 1991
1 Ronald Reagan elected president Teflon presidency lasts 8 years.  Brings back national pride and implements Reagonomics. 1980-1988

My list of top 10 technology inventions of the 1980’s:

Top 10 Technology Commentary Date
10 MRI Particularly helpful in diagnosing heart disease, spinal disorders and brain tumors 1980
9 Hepatitis B vaccine Protection from the most common cause of liver cancer 1980
8 Prozac A change in the way depression is treated 1988
7 Scanning tunnelling microscope Machine can see the atom, the birth of nanotechnology 1981
6 Space shuttle How all those satellites got up there 1981
5 DNA fingerprinting Advances in disease treatment and police work 1984
4 Cell phone Cut the cord and let us get out of the house and office 1988
3 CDs and CD players Awesome music quality 1980
2 Microsoft DOS and Windows software Became the work standard with Excel and Word DOS 1981; Windows 1985
1 Personal computer (PC) Originally came into the house for gaming, soon was relevant for word processing and spreadsheets IBM PC 1981; Apple IIe 1983;
Apple Mac 1984

These top 10 lists are my opinion, and intended to be informational and fun.  Dates were compiled from a variety of online and print sources.


The 1980’s was a great decade for movies, TV and especially music.  Here’s the top 10 lists for movies, including favorite quotes and TV shows including commentary.

Top 10 Movies Best Quote
10 Wall Street “The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”
9 Sixteen Candles  “Relax will you? We have seventy dollars and a pair of girls underpants.  We’re safe as kittens.”
8 Purple Rain “Nobdoy digs your music but yourself.”
7 Footloose “He’s from out of town and don’t tell me that doesn’t curl your toes because I know it does.”
6 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
5 Back to the Future “Roads?  Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
4 When Harry Met Sally “There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.  You’re the worst kind, you’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.”
3 Top Gun  “I feel the need… the need for speed!”
2 The Empire Strikes Back “Luke, I am your father!”
1 Breakfast Club “You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.  But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a crimminal.  Does that answer your question?”
Top 10 TV Shows Why We Watched Week After Week
10 Dallas Mean rich people
9 Square Pegs Totally undercover cam at an average high school
8 Roseanne Blue collar humor
7 LA Law Power suits and passion
6  Cheers So cozy, like a treehouse club
5 The Cosby Show Intelligent humor
4 Magnum PI It was Hawaii Five-0 with a cool car
3 Miami Vice Cigarette boats, cool clothes and cool music
2 Thirtysomething Morbid fascination with what it would be like to be “old”
1 Family Ties Lovable republican yuppie

For music, my list was way too long so I used a bit of a math model to create two lists.  The first list is musicians who had their first album released in the 1980’s and also had a Billboard #1 hit during the decade.  The 2nd list includes musicians important to the 1980’s that also had hits in the decade before or after.  Asterisks note those who rose to fame in the 1970s.

Top 10 Musicians Who Rocked the 80’s…  Favorite Song (often a Billboard #1) First Album
10 Lionel Richie Say You, Say Me (1985) 1982
9 Def Leopard Love Bites (1988) 1980
8 Bananarama I Heard  Rumor (1987) 1983
7 Cyndi Lauper She Bop (1984) 1983
6 Wham! / George Michael Faith (1987) 1983
5 Guns N Roses Sweet Child O Mine (1988) 1987
4 Beastie Boys Fight for Your Right (1987) 1986
3 Pet Shop Boys West End Girls (1984) 1986
2 Huey Lewis & The News The Power of Love (1985) 1980
1 Duran Duran The Reflex (1984) 1981
Top 10 Musicians Who Rocked the 80’s… and kept on rockin’ Favorite Song First Album
10 REM The End of the World As We Know It (1987) 1983
9 Billy Joel* Allentown (1982) 1973
8 Bon Jovi Living on a Prayer (1987) 1984
7 The Police* Every Breath You Take (1983) 1978
6 Whitney Houston I Wanna Dance With Somebody (1987) 1985
5 Prince & The Revolution* Purple Rain (1984) 1978
4 Genesis / Phil Collins / Peter Gabriel* Invisible Touch (1986) 1973
3 U2 I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (1987) 1980
2 Michael Jackson* Beat It (1983) 1972 (Off the Wall 1979, Thriller 1982)
1 Madonna Like A Prayer (1989) 1983

Final set of lists:  Athletes at the top of their game in the 1980’s and memorable milestones for women.  These were fun lists to put together.

Top 10 Athletes Commentary
10 Eric Heiden 5 gold medals in speed skating, 1980 Olympics
9 Cal Ripken Jr. More than 2,600 consecutive baseball games for the Orioles, the Iron Man was a hitter
8 Martina Navratilova Won 59 Grand Slam singles/doubles titles
7 Greg Louganis Gold medals on both platform and springboard in 1984 and 1988
6 Larry Bird 3 NBA Championships and MVP awards with Boston Celtics
5 Wayne Gretzky 4 Stanley Cups, most goals, most assists, The Great One owns all the records
4 Carl Lewis 1984 Olympics gold medals in 100 meter, 200 meter, long jump.  So classy.
3 Nolan Ryan With Astros and Rangers, holds records for most strike outs and most no hitters
2 Walter Payton “Sweetness” holds NFL rushing record and 2 NFL MVP awards
1 US Hockey Team 1980 Olympics Miracle on Ice led by Jim Craig on ice and Coach Herb Brooks
Top 10 Women Commentary
10 Geraldine Ferraro First woman nominated for VP by a major US political party
9 Cher Moonstruck Oscar, the woman is timeless
8 Margaret Thatcher First woman Prime Minister of the UK, served 3 terms
7 Sally K. Ride First woman in space, Challenger Shuttle 1983
6 Florence Griffith-Joyner Track records still stand as fastest woman.  So pretty too
5 Mary Lou Retton 4 gold medals at 1984 Olympics.  Oh my gosh adorable
4 Madonna Set fashion trends, music trends and shocked our parents
3 Sandra Day O’Connor First woman on US Supreme Court 1981
2 HRH Princess Diana Storybook wedding in 1981.  Everyone loved Diana except Charles
1 Oprah Classed up talk shows and motivated people to read and give

One response to “Top 10 Lists: The 1980’s

  1. Melissa Morrow

    Hard for me to believe that YOU put Billy Joel at #9. . . I guess you were being unbiased. 🙂

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