My favorite albums (1980s)
My first two albums — I’m talking about vinyl here — were Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Culture Club’s Colour by Numbers, but they aren’t special to me now. Really liked them then, but I haven’t listened to them in decades.
Tapes were next. Van Halen’s 1984 holds up, except for the synthesized No. 1 hit “Jump.” Sports by Huey Lewis and the News not as much.
Then there is true regret. Failed relationships. Just-missed jump shots. Roads not taken and roadblocks. But nothing comes close to the soul-sucking shame I feel for enjoying the music of Billy Joel. An Innocent Man, The Bridge and Greatest Hits — Volume I & II were not-so-innocent indiscretions.
I wasn’t the only one who was duped.
Those three albums sold more than 20 million copies.
The Grammys nominated An Innocent Man as Album of the Year.
Ray Charles and Steve Winwood guested on The Bridge.
Christie Brinkley married him. His “Uptown Girl.”
Regret is a waste of spirit. Storm Front was a waste of money.
He played the Soviet Union. The Russians sent him back.
Billy Joel didn’t start the fire. He poured top 40 gasoline on it.
But tastes change. I picked myself up off the floor. Cleansed my pallet with some Pretenders. Moved on. When I dubbed Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back from a friend, it affirmed my growing view that the world is largely an angry, unfair place.
My favorite albums of the 1980s …
— Kevin Brewer
1. IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLIONS TO HOLD US BACK (1988) Public Enemy
CHUCK D | I wanted to try to make a hip-hop version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. Something that was there, something that was a staple, something that no matter how many times you played it, you had to go back to it again and again.
RUSSELL SIMMONS (co-founder, Def Jam Recordings) | Public Enemy changed everything about black America. Everything. They made Farrakhan popular. They helped make the Million Man March. They put red, black and green shit around … necks instead of chains. They did everything. They were amazing.
RICK RUBIN (co-founder, Def Jam Recordings) | This is counter-culture. For me, it was like a black version of punk rock. It was bringing music back to the street.
Producers | Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad  Label | Def Jam  Released | June 28, 1988
2. PURPLE RAIN (1984) Prince
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called “life”
Electric word, life
It means forever, and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night
So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one, Dr. Everything’ll-be-alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the after world
In this life
You’re on your own
And if the De-elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy … punch a higher floor.
Producer | Prince  Label | Warner Bros.  Released | June 25, 1984
3. ROCK N’ SOUL, PART 1 (1983) Hall & Oates
12 songs, 11 top 10 hits, five No. 1s, every one of them perfect.
My Beatles. My Motown. My — that’s right — Righteous Brothers.
Producers | Darryl Hall, John Oates, Neil Kernon  Label | RCA  Released | October 18, 1983
4. LONDON CALLING (1980) The Clash
Even better than an angry, tightly wound British punk album.
It’s an angry, tightly wound British punk double album.
Producers | Guy Stevens, Mick Jones Label | Epic Released | January 1980 (United States)
5. LICENSED TO ILL (1986) Beastie Boys
An immature work. Hilarious. Brilliant.
Producers | Rick Rubin, Beastie Boys  Label | Def Jam  Released | November 15, 1986
6. PAUL’S BOUTIQUE (1989) Beastie Boys
A mature work. Hilarious. Brilliant.
Producers | Dust Brothers, Beastie Boys  Label | Capitol  Released | July 25, 1989
7. THE JOSHUA TREE (1987) U2
Secular gospel music + a personal spiritual journey made universal.
Producer | Daniel Lanois, Brian Enoe  Label | Island  Released | March 9, 1987
8. RATTLE AND HUM (1988) U2
It’s what you do after you’re the biggest band in the world that counts: a self-indulgent tour movie (and album), featuring Bob Dylan, B.B. King and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with the New Voices of Freedom.
Producer | Jimmy Iovine  Label | Island  Released | October 10, 1988
9. BACK IN BLACK (1980) AC/DC
CHRISTIAN HOARD (Rolling Stone) Literally thousands of bands have talked about making an album like Back in Black — a singular blast of red-blooded, riff-driven rock & roll — but only AC/DC have succeeded so wildly. … Back in Black might be the leanest and meanest record of all time — balls-out arena rock that punks could love.
Producer | Mutt Lange  Label | Atlantic  Released | July 25, 1980
10. VIOLENT FEMMES (1983) Violent Femmes
Coming of age alt-punk rock about love, sex and masturbation.
Producer | Mark Van Hecke  Label | Slash  Released | April 13, 1983
AGONIZINGLY AMONG THE MISSING
Straight Outta Compton (1988), N.W.A.’s prescient treatise against police brutality in South Central Los Angeles. “Fuck tha Police,” indeed.
Appetite for Destruction (1987), Straight Outta the worst parts of Hollywood came the biggest-selling debut of all time. “Welcome to the Jungle,” indeed.
Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby (1987), the most important album since Sgt. Pepper, according to Terence Trent D’Arby
Less Than Zero (1988), Produced by Rick Rubin, with LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali,” the Bangles, Public Enemy, Slayer, Danzig and others.