#Throwback Thursday: Top 1980s Female Lead Singers


Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. Photo: Harmony Gerber


Me in the 80s with my Chrissie Hynde haircut:



1. Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders: If you’ve read Come Dancing, you know that Chrissie was one of my favorite singers. She is a rock/punk genius. If you doubt me, just listen to “Brass in Pocket” or “Message of Love”. (If you’re a mom, listen to “Kid” for a tug on your heartstrings—click on the link below for a video.) And her hair and clothes were THE coolest. Sadly, two of her original band members died of drug overdoses, but she continues to perform. In fact, she has just put out her first solo album with an amazing single, “You or No One”. Chrissie had a relationship with Ray Davies of the Kinks in the early 80s. She’s a mom, and is also a prominent animal activist.




Photo: Lucas Jork

2. Cyndi Lauper/Blue Angel: The first time I heard Cyndi Lauper was in 1981. I was at the Palladium on East 14th Street with some friends to hear a new group called “Blue Angel” that was playing around clubs downtown (on certain nights, the Palladium had rock performances before the dancing started). This tiny woman was lying on top of a piano, kicking up one leg in time to the beat, belting her heart out. Her voice was incredible … and that was Cyndi Lauper. Two years later, she had a huge hit with “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.


Photo: Marsmetten Tallahasse

4. Deborah Harry/Blondie:  This group started out playing in clubs like CBGBs. In 1980, “Heart of Glass” was a worldwide hit. Deborah Harry was on the cover of Rolling Stone the previous summer, and “One Way or Another” was playing in all the clubs—a great tune to pogo to.


Photo: Olavtenbroek

4. Madonna: Along with everyone else, I absolutely loved Madonna all through the Eighties. One of her earliest songs, “Everybody”, was first played by a DJ at the NYC club Danceteria. I have great memories of dancing to “Holiday” at the Pyramid Club. The Pyramid was the most amazing place; I went there just about every weekend with one of my best friends. It was on Avenue A between 6th and 7th Streets. Alphabet City was really dangerous then—crack central. We would cross over on East 13th Street because Hell’s Angels had their headquarters there, and we’d heard you wouldn’t get mugged if you walked on that street. Then we’d run (literally!) down the six blocks of Avenue A. It was always a relief to make it there safe. We’d arrive at 10 pm (there was no cover charge before 11), have a beer, and watch the “ladies” dancing on the bar until the club opened.

(Next Thursday I’m going to blog about the two times I ran into Madonna in the early 80s.)


Photo: Braunov

5. Siouxsie and the Banshees: This group started as fans of the Sex Pistols, and then formed their own band. After a couple of members quit after an argument, the group hired a drummer from The Slits and a guitarist from The Cure. Their album Juju came out in 1981; I think it’s their best one.



Photo: Helga Overas

6. Annie Lennox/The Eurythmics: I know, I know, you’ve heard “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” so many times you could hurl—but in 1983, the song, and Annie, were incredibly cutting-edge and avant-garde.  Her androgynous look was much admired and imitated. She remains fab to this day.


Photo: Eddie Malin

7. Joan Armatrading: I’ll never forget the first time I was turned on to Joan’s music. I had stayed overnight at a girlfriend’s place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, after a late night out on the town. We were having coffee to soothe our aching heads, and she put on “Rosie”. Then she played “Heaven”—which after hearing it, I was in.


Photo: Beni Kohler, Finland

8. Patti Smith: “Dancing Barefoot” was still being played on the radio in 1980 (it came out one year earlier), so I’m gonna include Patti in this list. Also because she wrote an amazing memoir called Just Kids, in which she writes so movingly about her affair with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and also about the incredible NYC punk rock scene and goings-on at the infamous Chelsea Hotel. Anyone curious about NYC in the 70s-80s, or the punk rock movement, should read it.


Public Domain photo

9. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts: “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” debuted in early 1982; radio stations still play it. It’s kind of a theme song for rockers. Joan also did a great version of Tommy James’ “Crimson and Clover”. The band lived in Long Beach, NY in the early 80s and had a huge following in NYC, where they played in a lot of clubs.


Photo: Heide Escobar

10. Pat Benatar: Pat grew up in Brooklyn, eventually got married and moved with her husband to Richmond, Va. (near my hometown), where she was a bank teller. Within a few years she moved back to NYC and started performing in clubs. After attending a Halloween party at Café Figaro in the West Village, she went to Catch a Rising Star, still in costume, where she received a standing ovation. Her big song, “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”, came out in 1980.

Want to add your own faves to this list? Please comment!

Leslie Wells has edited forty-nine New York Times bestsellers in her thirty-year publishing career. She is the author of Come Dancing, a contemporary romance set in New York City in the 1980s. Visit her at www.lesliewellsbooks.com


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *