1. The Clash, “London Calling” (1980)
2. Guns N’ Roses, “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (1988)
3. Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean” (1983)
4. Guns N’ Roses, “Welcome to the Jungle” (1987)
5. Public Enemy, “Fight the Power” (1989)
6. AC/DC, “You Shook Me All Night Long (1980)
7. Prince, “When Doves Cry” (1984)
8. Def Leppard, “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (1987)
9. Van Halen, “Jump” (1984)
10. Duran Duran, “Hungry Like The Wolf” (1982)
11. Queen and David Bowie, “Under Pressure” (1981)
12. U2, “With or Without You” (1987)
13. Bruce Springsteen, “The River” (1981)
14. Bon Jovi , “Livin’ on a Prayer” (1986)
15. New Order, “Blue Monday” (1983)
16. Prince, “1999” (1982)
17. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, “I Love Rock ’n Roll” (1981)
18. U2, “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (1984)
19. Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime” (1981)
20. Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (1980)
21. The Police, “Every Breath You Take” (1983)
22. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, “The Message” (1982)
23. Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House” (1983)
24. The Rolling Stones, “Start Me Up” (1981)
25. Van Halen, “Hot for Teacher” (1984)
26. Squeeze, “Tempted” (1981)
27. Run-D.M.C., “Walk This Way” (1986)
28. Dire Straits, “Money for Nothing” (1984)
29. The Smiths, “How Soon is Now?” (1985)
30. Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin’” (1981)
31. R.E.M., “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (1987)
32. U2, “Where the Streets Have No Name” (1987)
33. Motörhead, “Ace of Spades” (1980)
34. R.E.M., “Radio Free Europe (1981)
35. Ozzy Osbourne, “Crazy Train” (1980)
36. Whitesnake, “Here I Go Again” (1987)
37. Madonna, “Like a Prayer” (1989)
38. Mötley Crüe, “Dr. Feelgood” (1989)
39. Beastie Boys, “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” (1987)
40. Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “Come on Eileen” (1982)
41. Michael Jackson, “Beat It” (1983)
42. Devo, “Whip It” (1980)
43. Guns N’ Roses, “Paradise City” (1988)
44. Big Country, “In a Big Country” (1983)
45. Phil Collins, “In the Air Tonight” (1981)
46. AC/DC, “Back in Black” (1981)
47. Madonna, “Like a Virgin” (1984)
48. The Bangles, “Walk Like an Egyptian” (1986)
49. Sonic Youth, “Teen Age Riot” (1988)
50. The B-52’s, “Love Shack” (1989)
The fan choices are less diverse demographically than the critic choices. The fans picked overwhelmingly male groups (Pixies and Talking Heads had one woman each). The critics choices had two Madonna songs, a Bangles, and a Joan Jett, plus gender mixed groups Sonic Youth, B-52s, and Talking Heads.
Racially, the fans put Michael Jackson's Billie Jean at #15 (kind of a hard song to avoid for a 1980s list), but no Prince or any rappers. Fan favorites Guns n Roses have a half-black guitarist in Slash and the Van Halen brothers are a little Indonesian. Fine Young Cannibals was a mixed race offshoot of the mixed race band the English Beat.
The critics were somewhat more open to black artists, putting not just "Billie Jean" but also "Beat It" (with Eddie Van Halen's guitar solo) on their Top 50. They also chose two Prince songs, and three rap songs by blacks. Not surprisingly, they are exactly the three you'd expect white critics to come up with: Grandmaster Flash's "The Message," Run-D.M.C.'s remake with the two guys from Aerosmith of "Walk this Way" (which helped relaunch Aerosmith, who had seemed washed up, but they turned out to be so much better than the fat black guys on that track), and Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" from Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing." (And Journey had Randy from American Idol as their bass player.)
It seems like music culture got more racially segregated over time. If you were conducting a poll not in 2011 but in 1981 of fans and critics interested in guitars of the best recordings of the 1950s, certainly Chuck Berry would have been heavily represented, plus Muddy Waters and some other blues musicians.
Offhand, I don't notice any Asians or Hispanics on the list, although Los Lobos's 1987 remake of Richie Valens "La Bamba" might have featured some of the more thrillingly precise guitar playing of the decade.
Most of these artists had short careers at the top, with obvious exceptions such as U2, Springsteen, Madonna, AC/DC, Ossy Osbourne, and REM. I don't know why 1980s artists tended to have short careers relative to 1960s-70s artists. Worse drugs? More competition?
I suspect fewer careers started quite as young as previously. The British Invasion bands were very young when they made a splash in 1964-65, but they were kicking in an open door. There was nobody ahead of them with a similar sound, so they could become stars when they were musically immature and then dazzle everybody by maturing into their peaks in their late 20s. With the Beatles, say, "Hey Jude" was a whole lot better than "Love Me Do." They got a lot of credit not just for being as great as they were on "Hey Jude" but also for not being as bad anymore as they had been on "Love Me Do."
In contrast, by the 1980s, outside of rap most of the obvious niches were already occupied. Artists were expected to be pretty mature musically by the time a lot of money was invested in a music video for them. By the 1980s, nobody was going to notice a "Love Me Do." You needed to be up to at least a "Daytripper" level to get noticed. So, that left less time at the top.
Let me try a baseball analogy. It's easier to get to 300 wins or 3000 hits if you can start in the majors at age 19 or 20. But if the competition gets tougher and the learning demands get higher so now you are expected to do, say, 3 years in college and 2 years in the minors so you don't get to start until, say, 23, it's just harder to pile up huge career numbers.
Can't tell you how many of these musicians were gay. Freddie Mercury and one of the guys in the B-52s died of AIDS. Morrisey of The Smiths and Michael Stipe of REM are, presumably, gay. Joan Jett is, presumably, a lesbian. Michael Jackson was weird.
Lots of guys who seemed kind of gay turned out not to be: Bowie, Jagger, Prince. Elegant Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music has four kids. In general, guitar rock is pretty straight.
Combining the the readers and critics lists:
If you add together the 50 songs on the critics list and the 25 songs on the readers list, you get 46 from 1980-1984 and 29 from 1985-1989, which accords with my general perception that rock was losing momentum in the 1980s. Of course, I was losing momentum as I was getting older, too, but now I have statistical proof that my late 1980s complaint ("Rock music just isn't as awesome anymore as it was in December 1979, and get off my lawn!") was right.