The Best Electronic Songs Of The 1980s

From the 1980s on, artists found access to an entirely new world of sound. Synthesizers became affordable – costing less than half as much as second-hand cars – and could be purchased by anyone with access to a bedroom studio.

Eerie futurist synths accompanied Trevor Herion’s sad laments on She Blinded Me With Science from The Fallout Club; its three inspired singles earned them cult status and established Thomas Dolby as a future pop star.


Ultravox was an influential band that inspired artists such as Gary Numan and The Human League, both being huge fans. Formed initially under John Foxx as Tiger Lily but dropped by Island Records after three albums due to issues related to vocalist Midge Ure, Warren Cann was then added on drums and electronic percussion with Warren Cann taking lead vocal duties and switching out for bass player Warren Cann. Under Midge Ure’s direction Ultravox released Vienna; which featured Astradyne as well as Billie Currie’s synth and viola work – it quickly became an instant classic!

Produced by Conny Plank (former member of Kraftwerk), who had worked with The Rolling Stones, U2 and The The, their first album featured minimalist sound reminiscent of their punk and glam roots while with European electronic influences. Key tracks included ROckWrok; Fear In The Western World with haunting choral parts; Hiroshima Mon Amour was sparse electro and hinted where their future lay; singles from this period included Sleepwalk as an acoustic track and Moon Madness which demonstrated their diversity as artists.


When one thinks of Belgium and electronic music, certain names come to mind: novelty punk band Plastic Bertrand with their 1980 hit ‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’; hardcore techno pioneer Front 242 later adopted by DJs worldwide; the spiky synthpop trio Telex who performed at Eurovision; as well as Telex’s Eurovision song Euro-Vision which had long since been forgotten until legendary independent label Mute Records issued this compilation This Is Telex.

This collection highlights Telex’s diverse musical capabilities, from moody post-punk atmospherics of their debut album ‘Looking for Saint Tropez’ to nightclub floor fillers such as ‘Moskow Diskow’ and robotic mechanizing fluid funk in ‘Dance To The Music’. While Kraftwerk had studied German irony, Telex combines electronic pop with joie de vivre for an inimitable electronic music sound that transcends genre.

In 1978, Belgian synthpop trio Telex came together with the intention of creating something European without guitars – hence its name! Their combination of disco, punk and experimental electronic music proved ahead of its time.

The Human League

The Human League are one of the most iconic bands to emerge from Sheffield’s electronic scene during the 80s. Their influence can be found all throughout modern music; just listen to any synth pop act now and you are likely to hear some riffs, vocal samples or sound effects from them!

Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh founded the band in Sheffield in 1977, mixing elements of punk rock with electronic instruments. One of the earliest bands to incorporate synthesizers as central features into its songs, becoming pioneers of electronica.

Phil Oakey signed to Virgin Records in 1979, releasing their debut album ‘Reproduction’ but were unable to break into the charts and their tour was eventually cut short in favour of more commercial acts. Their final release was contractual single ‘Boys and Girls’ which marked his departure and move onto Heaven 17; now an influential DJ and theatre practitioner.

Gary Numan

Gary Numan is a British singer known for launching commercial electronic music during the ’80s. His signature sound featured heavy synthesizer hooks fed through guitar effects pedals, creating his iconic androgynous android persona. Best-known for chart-topping hits “Are Friends Electric?” and “Cars”, Numan became one of the leading figures of synthpop; alongside moodier New Romantics like Spandau Ballet.

Numan found his inspiration in science-fiction entertainment of his youth such as Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Star Trek and Lost in Space. With Jonzun Crew as his funk band he even donned costumes that combined campy science fiction entertainment with deep pulse of funk music.

Hungry Like the Wolf was one of Numan’s first hits to showcase modern production technology such as the Jupiter-8 keyboard and 808 drum machines, as well as his use of lyrics that captured wartime alienation and depersonalization; its influence can also be found in Nine Inch Nails post-punk electro music.


Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark was one of Liverpool’s most celebrated groups during the 1980s, best known for combining Kraftwerk-ian influences and musique concrete techniques with working class everyman sensibilities to produce chart-topping hits that became some of the finest synthpop of their era. Both their self-titled debut and its follow up, Organisation albums quickly established them as mainstays on UK charts.

Architecture & Morality and Dazzle Ships were OMD’s follow-up albums, which exhibited avant-garde sounds and political themes, while still remaining immensely popular with fans. Although OMD was met with some criticism (particularly by critics who labeled them as being “uncool”), its ability to constantly alter its sound while remaining popular set them apart from its contemporaries.

Andy McCluskey credits OMD as having inspired Depeche Mode’s Vince Clarke to start getting into electronic music; consequently, many bands such as Yazoo, Pretty in Pink and Erasure all owe a debt of gratitude to this pioneering synthpop act. Though OMD disbanded in 1989, McCluskey continued recording solo material under this moniker until his passing in 2002.

She Blinded Me With Science

She Blinded Me With Science was an immensely popular hit when Thomas Dolby first released it as a single in 1982, when he was still beginning his musical career. It marked a dramatic departure from his earlier rock-and-roll influences and helped launch him onto famed status.

Dolby first created and storyboarded a music video before writing the song itself. She used Magnus Pyke as “The Home for Deranged Scientists” doctor as an inspiration and MTV favorite; ultimately leading to its success and driving its popularity with fans.

Dolby had such an immense effect on American culture that Weird Al Yankovic recorded his version of “Slime Creatures From Outer Space”. Dolby continued releasing hits and albums throughout the 80s as well as working as composer for movies and TV shows. Today he is teaching film and music students at Johns Hopkins University while also founding a company that creates software enabling cellphones to produce musical ringtones.

The Cure

“The Funeral Party,” released by The Cure in 1981, sets the moody and indulgent tone for their subsequent work. With its droning synth intro and chiming guitar chords that build towards Smith’s mournful vocals, “The Funeral Party” captures both catharsis and death simultaneously – two themes common across their music. Additionally, this track marks co-founder Lol Tolhurst’s transition from percussion to keyboards; furthermore it established what would become their classic lineup which saw performances at London’s Apollo as well as New Orleans Voodoo festival performances.

The Cure began life in 1976 as the Easy Cure, an anarchistic punk band which broke away from its black-and-white aesthetic with more experimental, darker music. Even after multiple lineup changes and numerous B-side releases (some collected on 1984 mini-compilation Japanese Whispers), their sound never became any less experimental; from electronic dance tracks such as “The Walk” to demented cartoon jazz in 1983’s “Love Cats,” The Cure had an extensive library of sounds they could draw on to create its signature sound.

David Sylvian

David Sylvian’s transition from 1980s glam rock band Japan to ambient music was quite an abrupt turn; with two critically-acclaimed LPs like Gone To Earth and Dead Bees On A Cake he seemed less focused on outpacing Duran Duran for charts positions and audiences, instead seeking new paths of expression.

These albums provide an engaging listening experience, with long synth notes pulsing in and out of stereo space, underscoring sparse vocal overdubs. Their dark lyrics often reflect upon failed relationships or seem autobiographical: for instance “The Greatest Living Englishman” explores disenchantment with marriage while “Random Acts Of Senseless Violence” takes an eyeful at fear-driven violence that may eventually turn to terrorism.

After these experimental LPs, Sylvian, along with drummer Steve Jansen and Burnt Friedman, formed the Nine Horses band to explore more conventionally structured songs. 2005’s Snow Borne Sorrow is an atmospheric release which marries the flowing nature of Blemish with lush ambient pop textures, as well as Sylvian’s jazzy phrasing.