Doug's note - This is a repost of a piece I did 2 years ago. Content has not changed, but I wanted to give it a home on this blog as well
Top 10 Albums of the 1980s
The 80s, visions of big hair, acid wash jeans and bad fake metal bands. The time for me, when my musical tastes were starting to round into form. And while there were plenty of Poisons and Slaughters and (OMG) Wingers that littered the landscape, the 1980’s also had its fair share of tremendous music. The following list was easy to assemble in theory, but very hard to whittle down and rank. All lists are subjective, as our personal tastes and likes infiltrate what we deem “the best”, so I am sure there will be raised eyebrows and shaking of heads when you realize that “X” did not make the cut. Without further adieu, the top 10 albums of the 80’s. (LIVE and Best Of discs do not qualify)
Just Missed the Cut:
Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen
Purple Rain - Prince
War – U2
Document - REM
Dream of the Blue Turtles - Sting
Scarecrow – John Melencamp
Here is where the subjective starts right away. I can HEAR you screaming at the screen, “How the HELL does Purple Rain not make the list??” Some of you may have already stopped reading. But here is the thing: I recognize the genius that is Prince, I understand that I MAY go to hell for not including him on the list….but I am just not a fan. I like some of the songs on the disc, don’t get me wrong, but front to back, TO ME, I just can’t displace anyone in the Top 10
10) Thriller – Michael Jackson
I am certainly not going out on a limb when I tell you that this is an amazing album. What Michael delivered with his debut, Off The Wall, he multiplied 10 fold for this classic. Who can forget the first time you heard Beat It and said “Oh my god, that is Eddie Van Halen playing the solo….Michael is COOL!”? Who can forget the iconic image of the lighted walkway of the Billie Jean video? (and subsequent debut of the moonwalk at the Motown Show) Who can get Vincent Price and Thriller out of their head on Halloween? The man was pure genius, and this was his masterpiece.
Key Tracks: Billie Jean, Beat It
9) Reckoning – REM
When REM took the college radio scene over in the mid-80s with the disc Murmur, everyone was waiting with baited breath for the follow up. A curious and shy front man in Stipe, jangley guitars from Buck, great harmonies from Mills and a thump from Berry, REM was about to embark on a 30 year musical journey starting in a little Georgia town. Reckoning delivered on so many levels, from the “mainstream” sound of So. Central Rain, to the cult classics Time After Time and 7 Chinese Brothers. I had a hard time choosing between this and Document (see above) but in the end, songs like Don’t Go Back To Rockville ring more true.
Key Tracks: Time after Time, Pretty Persuasion, Harbor Coat
8) Back in Black – ACDC
What do you do when your lead singer dies unexpectedly? Do you call it a day and take a job at the mill? Or do you find a new singer, press on, and write and record a classic tribute to the fallen hero? Luckily for us, the Young brothers chose the latter. While ACDC had modest success prior, Back in Black solidified them at the top of the hard rock heap. You probably don’t realize it, but you can put it on today, and you STILL know all the words, and you STILL will break out the air guitar. The title track is simplistic in it’s writing, but powerful in its delivery. Hells Bells, with its ominous beginning followed by a killer riff, is pure angst and grit. The band would follow up with a few more platinum releases, but not a one that could compare to their masterpiece.
Key Tracks: Back in Black, Shake a Leg, Shook Me All Night Long
7) Vivid – Living Colour
Produced by Mick Jagger (who also played harp on the album) Vivid was the auspicious debut for four black men breaking into the “white” world that was hard rock. They set out to forge a path to break stereotypes, and succeeded on so many levels. Vernon Reid and Corey Glover formed a 1-2 punch that is needed to make a good band great: a mastery and innovation in guitar work, and a voice that can not only carry the melody, but make it “sing”. Rounded out by the thumping bass of Muzz Skillings, and the fabulous drumming of Wil Calhoun, Living Colour gave birth to a debut that had an anthem (Cult of Personality) as well as thought provoking and enjoyable songs. On a personal note, this was the first CD I ever “wore out” from repeated playings, and is one of the soundtracks of my High School years. I saw them two years ago, and STILL had the same heart stopping reaction to the opening riff of Middle Man, that I did when it first rung in my ears.
Key Tracks: Middle Man, Cult Of Personality, Open Letter To A Landlord
6) Appetite For Destruction – Guns and RosesWhile only 6th on my list, this is probably the most IMPORTANT disc of the 80s. Hard rock, at the time, had turned into “who could wear the most make-up” and “we know FOUR CHORDS! Beat THAT!” And then along came a band that pushed the envelope and said to hell with the established. When Appetite first dropped, a collective “oh no” was heard through out the Hair Metal fraternity. Guns and Roses had taken it to the next level, and never looked back. Put this disc on today, and I would wager songs will take you to very specific memories of that time. And who amongst us has not tried the Axl Rose “dance” moves when Sweet Child o’ Mine hits the speakers? Who hasn’t uttered the phrase “you’re in the JUNGLE BABY” in a brief moment of angst? While they may have sputtered out quickly (after the Illusion discs) and remain a true enigma, this disc re-defined hard rock in the 80s, and their recent Rock and Roll HOF selection is well deserved.
Key Tracks: Welcome To The Jungle, Mr. Brownstone, Sweet Child o’ Mine, Paradise City
5) White City (A Novel) – Pete Townshend
I have eluded to it already, but will reiterate here: This is a list that is PURELY subjective, and “mine”. Look no further than this selection as proof of that….and I am ok with that. I scoured a few different “Top 100” of the 80s, and this disc doesn’t even sniff a single one. I don’t care. Back when CDs were cassettes, I would argue with anyone I knew, that White City “Side 1” (kids, ask your folks) was maybe this single greatest side of a tape…..ever. While my stance has probably softened a bit, I could probably still make the argument. The BRILLIANCE in this disc can be described in this way: Pete Townshend, maybe one of the top 10 guitarists of his generation, did not pick up a single Stratocaster in the recording of White City. Instead, he felt “ashamed” and “in awe” of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, who delivered the crushing riffs that powers it. Give Blood is the anthem’s ANTHEM. From the freight train guitar hook, to the unbelievably spot on drumming of Simon Philips (seriously, top 10 drum songs of all time….oh wait, there is another list….) to Pete’s wailing vocals, the song is 6+ minutes of pure ecstasy. Sure, some find “Face to Face” and anemic single, I would argue the counterpoint that it gave the disc a bit of “light” and also a top 40 hit. If you have never listened to it front to back, I implore you to do so. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Key Tracks: Give Blood, Secondhand Love, Face the Face
4) Synchronicity – The Police
Another one that I wrestled with quite a bit, as I am one of the few who prefer Sting’s early solo work over his “late Police” work…but there is no denying the greatness of this album. It spawned hits (Every Breath You Take, King of Pain) as well as providing the band to show what it had done for years prior: make music that will move the masses. Both Synchronicity 1 and 2 are steeped in the back beat of Stewart Copeland, but also ride the majestically fluid guitar sounds of Andy Summers. Sting never sounded better, belting out every note as if it was the last he would sing. It is a shame that the band “had enough” of each other following this tour, as it would have been interesting to see what the next chapter would be. (although, again, none the worse for me, as I thought Sting’s Dream of the Blue Turtles was the “side step” of all side steps)
Key Tracks: Wrapped Around Your Finger, King Of Pain, Synchronicity 1
3) Joshua Tree – U2
U2 was the closest of any band to place two in my top 10, as War is just as an iconic piece to me as this one. This disc showcased Bono and company at the start of their meteoric rise to the stratosphere as the best band in the world, a mantle they truly deserved. The Edge had mastered his sound, and Clayton and Mullins formed the best rhythm section this side of Buddy Rich and….well, just about any bass player. And at the helm? Bono. The man who had so much ego, you looked at him and said: “Wow, I can’t believe his lack of ego”. Yes, he is that good. I can be nitpicky and say the BEST song from the Joshua Tree sessions didn’t make it to the disc, (Sweetest Thing was relegated to b-side status) but the tunes speak for themselves. The opening build of Streets Have No Name (and subsequent Edge classic riff) still give me chills. One Tree Hill MAY be the most underrated “back end of the disc” song of all time. (You will read about my FAVORITE one in the “Discs of 2000”) And the “hits” were just that…hits. As well rounded an album to come out in 40 years, and one truly deserving of the legendary status it has achieved.
Key Tracks: Where The Streets Have No Name, With Or Without You, One Tree Hill
2) Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
Like Vivid defined my high school years, so did John Squire and company for the college years that followed. If someone asked me “What is the greatest debut album of all time?” (oh hell, another list) I would have to think long and hard between this and Boston’s. I can remember distinctly where I was the first time I heard Waterfall, and was amazed and the brilliance in the simplicity of Squire’s guitar work. I overlooked the “weak link” of Ian Brown’s vocals, and instead, let the MUSIC wash over me. I was hooked. From there, it became a weekly case of “no, THIS is my favorite song on the disc”, and what I have learned over 30 + years of listening to music, is that it is VERY rare that every song on the disc held that “spot” with me. Front to back, starting with the rumblings of I Wanna Be Adored all the way to the classic I Am The Resurrection, it is the near perfect album. (even the backwards looping of Waterfall which became Don’t Stop)
Key Tracks: Waterfall, I Am The Resurrection, This Is The One, I Wanna Be Adored
1) So – Peter Gabriel
I fancy myself a writer, and after typing the name and artist, I stared at a blank screen for over 10 minutes, not knowing how to start. How DO you define the album of the 80s? Do I start by talking about the iconic video that it spawned? (Sledgehammer is THE video of the 80, please don’t even argue) Do I start by talking about the iconic MOVIE IMAGE it birthed? (Sure, right now, close your eyes…..think In Your Eyes…..you see Lloyd Dobler and his boom box, don’t you?) Do I start by mentioning one of the best closing scene songs in THE show that defined the 80s? (We Do What Were Told in Miami Vice….gripping) Or, do I just give in and say that I haven’t even mentioned what I consider the greatest “guest vocal” on a single song? (Kate Bush on Don’t Give Up) In a word…..YES. I could start with any and all of them. I still haven’t mentioned Red Rain, or Big Time. The beauty of the 6 songs I just mentioned….not one sounds like the other. Peter has a voice that is understated and powerful, and every song on the disc, while showcasing amazing musical talent, allows him to shine. Have I mentioned that I haven’t mentioned Mercy Street or Hear That Voice Again?
Key Tracks: (Really?) ALL OF THEM