1980 was a fantastic year for heavy music. Between the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and good old hard rock, there were a ton of classic albums released that year. Instead of trying to determine what’s metal and what’s not metal, we’re listing the best of all heavy genres.
Following the exit of frontman Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath didn’t lose a step. They added one of metal’s all-time great vocalists, Ronnie James Dio. While giving the band a slightly different vibe, the core lineup of Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward provided continuity.
Sabbath’s ninth studio album includes some memorable songs such as “Neon Knights” and the title track. While any of several albums could easily have topped the list, we chose Heaven And Hell as 1980’s best album.
AC/DC also had a vocalist change in 1980, but under much more tragic circumstances than Sabbath. Bon Scott passed away, and was replaced by Brian Johnson. The album’s all black cover was a sign of mourning for Scott.
Back In Black has become the second best-selling album of all time, powered by some of hard rock’s best known songs like “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Hells Bells” and the title track. Between the memorable songs, flawless production from Mutt Lange and great performances from the entire band, this is an album that will live on forever.
Tracks like “Breaking The Law” and “Living After Midnight” remain live staples to this day, with every song on the album being of top quality. New drummer Dave Holland fit in well, with another standout performance by the Metal God Rob Halford and great guitar work from K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton.
Like AC/DC, Motorhead had a simple formula that they always stuck to and it served them very well. Their fourth studio album Ace Of Spades was their first top five in the U.K., but believe it or not, did not even chart in the U.S.
The title track remains their best known song with Lemmy’s trademark vocals, Fast Eddie Clarke’s ripping guitars and Phil Taylor’s thundering drums. Unfortunately Lemmy and Taylor are no longer with us, but thankfully their music will never die.
After leaving Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne landed on his feet with Blizzard Of Ozz, which outperformed Sabbath’s Heaven And Hell in terms of chart positions and sales.
Teaming up with the brilliant guitarist Randy Rhoads was a great move for Ozzy, resulting in unforgettable songs like “Crazy Train,” “Mr. Crowley” and “Goodbye To Romance.” Rhoads’ performance on the album is fantastic, and Blizzard Of Ozz remains Ozzy’s best selling solo album.
Iron Maiden’s self-titled debut would be the first of two albums featuring vocalist Paul Di’Anno and the only one to feature guitarist Dennis Stratton. It was both a critical and commercial success when released, and is considered one of metal’s best debut albums.
Di’Anno’s vocal style, more raw and aggressive than his successor Bruce Dickinson, fit the songs the band was doing at the time. “Running Free,” “Prowler” and of course “Iron Maiden” are all iconic tracks.
Another of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands, Angel Witch released their self-titled debut in 1980. The album was well-received, but the band fell apart shortly thereafter. They would regroup and split numerous times over the years and released two more albums in the ’80s.
Angel Witch was an important album, helping pave the way for more aggressive styles such as thrash that would emerge. It has been re-released numerous times over the years and is well worth picking up.
Diamond Head are more well-known than a lot of the NWOBHM bands thanks to Metallica, who were influenced by them and covered some of their songs, most notably “Am I Evil.”
Lightning To The Nations was Diamond Head’s debut album, propelled by vocalist Sean Harris and guitarist Brian Tatler. Numerous factors led to a lack of commercial success, but their influence is unquestioned. After a lengthy absence, they returned in 2016 with an excellent self-titled album.
After their 1970 self-titled debut, 1980 would see two releases from Saxon. Both did well on the British charts, with Wheels Of Steel hitting the top 5.
It was a creative and prolific period for the band, who set the bar for NWOBHM albums. Biff Byford established himself as one of the genre’s more charismatic frontmen, and Wheels Of Steel includes some notable songs such as “747 (Strangers In The Night” and the title track. With Byford and original guitarist Paul Quinn still remaining, Saxon continue going strong today.
Our list of 1980’s best albums, which interestingly enough does not include any American bands, wraps up with another NWOBHM band, Tygers Of Pan Tang.
While they had plenty of success in their home country, they didn’t have the worldwide accolades of some of their counterparts. Their debut album Wild Cat was raw and energetic with more attitude than musical skill. Subsequent lineup changes would improve their chops, but their debut album is still a worthy release that shows a lot of potential.