My favorite television, 2018: Cobra Kai

There’s a scene in episode six of the YouTube series Cobra Kai in which Johnny Lawrence sits on the curb outside his strip mall dojo and explains his backstory to one of his students. “Then Daniel LaRusso came to town,” he says. In this version, Daniel is the new kid in school who steals Johnny’s girlfriend, sucker-punches him at the beach and beats him in the All Valley Under-18 Karate Championships with an illegal kick.

Johnny is the Karate Kid. He is the protagonist. Everyone is the star of their own movie or television series, and everyone else is just a supporting player. A wingman, love interest, antagonist or sensei. Only the truly selfless — Mr. Miyagi or Mister Rogers — are immune from this self-satisfying worldview.

It is an ingenious premise: The Karate Kid — 34 years later, from Johnny’s point of view. Johnny is working class. He lives in a one-bedroom apartment. He becomes the sensei of the new kid in town. Daniel owns a chain of successful car dealerships. Beautiful wife, two kids, stunning home. Well-executed 1980s nostalgia in reverse would be good enough, but this series is so much more.

Cobra Kai is my favorite television series of 2018, because it’s about everything: life, redemption, estrangement, bullying and the inability of these two men to leave their high school rivalry behind. The first episode positions Johnny as the face and Daniel as the heel, and the second is Daniel’s story. From there, as Johnny’s rebooted Cobra Kai dojo gains momentum, there are so many twists — particularly with the high school kids — that there is no right or wrong. Just point of view. The morality in The Karate Kid was black and white. Cobra Kai unfolds in the gray areas.

Ralph Macchio, 57, and William Zabka, 53, are back as Daniel and Johnny, and it really helps that they are in fighting shape and look about 10 years younger than they are. Xolo Mariduena (Miguel), Mary Mouser (Daniel’s daughter) and Robby Keene (Johnny’s estranged son) lead a talented group of young actors. Jacob Bertrand’s transformation is noteworthy.

There’s a scene in episode nine where Johnny and Daniel have a few drinks at a bar in the middle of the day. They reminisce about the girl who got away and their seneis, you know, life. It’s their Pacino-De Niro coffee shop scene in Heat, their Chevy Chase-Bill Murray moment in Caddyshack. Just two regular guys trying to walk a mile in another man’s karate gi. But ultimately, each of them will always try to beat the other.

Zabka has put together a real layered performance. He plays Johnny with a sort of spiky charm like late era Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino) or Dennis Franz on NYPD Blue, with a banquet bottle of Coors in one hand and an outdated flip phone in the other. During their first lesson, he tells Miguel to “leave your asthma and your peanut allergies and all that other made-up bullshit outside.” For Johnny, there is honor in that, living life on his own terms, living in the past, because things were better then.

Cobra Kai is about the redemption of Johnny Lawrence. He is empowering a bunch of “wang-less dorks” to stand up for themselves, even if that means turning the bullied into bullies. He isn’t necessarily a good guy, but he is trying. Zabka, on the other hand, has fully evolved ideas about bullying.

The series is created and produced by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (the Harold & Kumar movies) and Josh Heald (Hot Tub Time Machine), and they hold the Karate Kid callbacks mostly in check, but there is some waxing on and off and a trip to Golf N’ Stuff — enough to satisfy hardcore fans. In an era of prestige dramas full of anti-heroes and dark lighting, the Cobra producers have made something more authentic, aiming middle-high, closer to a mid-90s broadcast drama than an HBO series. They are not filmmakers, but they are storytellers.

There’s a scene in the final episode of Cobra Kai — and this is a spoiler alert — when Johnny sits at the desk in his dojo, washing down regret with Jim Beam after the latest All Valley Karate Championships. He has exorcised the ghosts of his past, but also invited them back into his life.
— Kevin Brewer


After exploring the cold war of marriage and the nuclear threat of raising children for six seasons, The Americans delivered one of the best finales of all time. No series mixed music and images better, especially U2’s “With or Without You” and that final train sequence.


There was a sadness in the moral devolution of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), but plenty of glee in Jimmy and Kim’s elaborate con that freed Huell. Funny, heartbreaking, better than Breaking Bad. Oh, and those montages.

4. ONE DAY AT A TIME (Netflix)

The best live audience sitcom since, I don’t know, sometime in the 90s. It’s also one of Norman Lear’s best, but Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce run this timely reboot. Justin Machado’s performance honors mothers, veterans and all those who suffer from depression.

5. GLOW (Netflix)

Written by Nick Jones and Rachel Shukert and directed by Meera Menon, “The Good Twin” was my favorite episode of any series this year — an episode of the fictional G.L.O.W. wrapped inside an episode of GLOW that serviced the entire cast. WTF, Marc Maron is good.


Bill Hader replaced Louis C.K. as comedy’s preeminent polymath — writing, directing, producing and starring as a recovering hitman / wannabe actor and deftly walking the comedy-drama tightrope. Best moment: Henry Winkler finally got that Emmy.

7. BLACK MIRROR (Netflix)

The fourth season was released in the last few days of 2017. At its best, this sci-fi anthology set in the near-future is as good as The Twilight Zone. Its warnings against the dangers of technology feel both timely and eerily prescient. “USS Callister” was the highlight.

8. Pop culture documentaries

The year’s best documentaries focused on some of my favorite subjects: Garry Shandling (directed by Judd Apatow), Robin Williams, Andre the Giant, Johnny Cash (vs. Richard Nixon), Freaks and Geeks and Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain. Hidden gem: “Mork & Mindy” outtakes.

9. Don Giller’s YouTube channel (YouTube)

An archive of Late Night with David Letterman (1982-93) full of essentials, deep cuts and exhaustive collections. From Phil Hartman to “The Chris Elliott Jr. Show” to every time Dave called his mom, Giller’s digitized library kept me from my original programming to-do list.

One note | Atlanta was probably the best reviewed series of the year. It didn’t make my list, because I didn’t see it. Maybe next year.

My 2018 television diary …

January 1

Dave Chappelle: Equanimity

January 2

Todd Barry: Spicy Honey

January 3

Black Mirror [4.1]

Black Mirror [4.2]

January 4

Black Mirror [2.1]

Black Mirror [2.2]

Black Mirror [4.6]

January 5

Black Mirror [3.1]

Black Mirror [3.2]

Black Mirror [3.3]

Black Mirror [2014 special]

January 6


January 11

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman [1.1] Barack Obama

January 12

Late Night with David Letterman [Jan. 5, 1993] Art Donovan, Al Franken, Carolyn Jabs

January 13

Saturday Night Live [43.10] Sam Rockwell

January 14

I, TONYA [2018]

January 15

Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story [2018]

January 18

Crashing [2.1]

January 19


Real Time with Bill Maher [16.1]

January 20

Later with Bob Costas [April 4, 1989] Kevin Bacon

Later with Bob Costas [Feb. 5-6, 1992] Oliver Stone

Johnny Carson [Jan. 17, 1974] Robyn Hilton, Fernando Llamas, Richard Pryor, William Peter Blatty

January 21

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Norm Macdonald]

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Michael Richards]

January 25

Later with Bob Costas [May 24-25, 1989] Tom Snyder

Later with Bob Costas [Feb. 21, 1994] Tom Snyder

January 26

One Day at a Time [2.1]

One Day at a Time [2.2]

One Day at a Time [2.3]

One Day at a Time [2.4]

January 27

One Day at a Time [2.5]

One Day at a Time [2.6]

One Day at a Time [2.7]

One Day at a Time [2.8]

January 28

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.2]

Crashing [2.2]

One Day at a Time [2.9]

One Day at a Time [2.10]

One Day at a Time [2.11]

Crashing [2.3]

January 31

One Day at a Time [2.12]

One Day at a Time [2.13]

Doogie Howser, M.D. [3.24]

February 1

Barney Miller [2.11]

February 2

Johnny Carson [Feb. 1, 1989] Martin Short, Isabella Rosselini, Gene Fleming

February 3

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.3]


February 4

Crashing [2.4]

February 5

Nightline Up Close [July 2002] David Letterman

February 9

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman [1.2] George Clooney

February 11

Crashing [2.4]

February 17


February 18

Later with Bob Costas [March 21, 1991] Howard Stern / guest host: Tom Snyder

February 20

Crashing [2.5]

February 24

Later with Bob Costas [July 10, 1990] Don Hewitt, Part 2

Everything Sucks [1.1]

Everything Sucks [1.2]

Dinner for Five [4.1] David Milch, Jay Mohr, Timothy Olyphant, Michael Rapaport

Dinner for Five [2.12] Judd Apatow, Peter Berg, Famke Janessen, Paul Rudd

Dinner for Five [3.10] Danny Aiello, Delroy Lindo, Colin Quinn, John Waters

Dinner for Five [1.7] Saffron Burrows, Faizon Love, Michael Rapaport, Sarah Silverman

Dinner for Five [3.9] Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Charles Durning, Charles Nelson Reilly

Dinner for Five [3.6] Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Laura Dern, Ernie Hudson

February 25

Hiking with Kevin [2017] Bella Thorne

Cheers [1.5]

The Bob Newhart Show [2.7]

The Mary Tyler Moore Show [1.5]

Taxi [1.7]

February 27

Dinner for Five [3.14] Neve Campbell, Henry Winkler, Dave Foley, Jeff Garlin

Dinner for Five [4.10] Christina Ricci, Steven Drozd, Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi

February 28

Dinner for Five [3.11] Alan Cumming, Amy Irving, Faizon Love, Isaac Mizrahi

Dinner for Five [3.12] David Cross, Philip Baker Hall, George Hickenlooper, Molly Shannon

Dinner for Five [3.13] Richard Donner, Ron Eldard, Michael Madsen, Ray Romano

Dinner for Five [2.7] Vince Vaughn, Rory Cochrane, Brian Cox, Cole Hauser

March 1

Dinner for Five [1.6] Sean Astin, Bonnie Hunt, Kevin James, Ray Romano

Dinner for Five [1.9] David Cross, Famke Janssen, Denis Leary, Martha Plimpton

March 2

Later with Bob Costas [xx] Glen Charles, Les Charles and James Burrows, Part 1

Later with Bob Costas [xx] Glen Charles, Les Charles and James Burrows, Part 2

March 3

Wrestlemania X [March 20, 1994]

March 10

Late Late Show with Tom Snyder [Feb. 28, 1996] Garry Shandling

March 18

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon [2015]

The Monday Night War: WWE vs. WCW [1.19] The Fall of WCW

March 19

The Monday Night War: WWE vs. WCW [1.6] The Hart of War

March 22

Ricky Gervais meets … Garry Shandling [2006]

March 25

Barry [1.1]

Silicon Valley [5.1]

March 27

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, Part 1 [2018]

March 28

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, Part 1 [2018]

March 29

The Americans [6.1]

April 1

Roseanne [10.2]

NYPD Blue [1.1]

NYPD Blue [1.2]

Silicon Valley [5.2]

Later with Bob Costas [Dec. 12, 1989] Steven Bochco

Later with Greg Kinnear [1996] Steven Bochco

April 2

Barry [1.2]

April 5

The Americans [6.2]

April 6

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman [1.4] Jay-Z

April 7

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.10] Geraldo Rivera, Louie Anderson

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Seth Meyers]

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks]

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Julia Louis-Dreyfus]

April 8


April 9

Silicon Valley [5.3]

Barry [1.3]

April 10

Andre the Giant [HBO, 2018]

April 12

The Americans [6.3]

April 13

Conan [April 11, 2014] Conan in Italy with Jordan Schlansky

BORG vs. McENROE [2018]

April 14

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.11] Andy Cohen

April 15

Silicon Valley [5.4]

Barry [1.4]

April 17

Harry Anderson collection on Late Night, 1982-87

April 18

The Americans [6.4]

April 19

Cheers [11.19] Guest star | Harry Anderson

April 21

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.12]

NYPD Blue [1.22]

NYPD Blue [6.6]

NYPD Blue [6.7]

April 22

NYPD Blue [6.8]

Silicon Valley [5.5]

Barry [1.5]

NYPD Blue [1.5]

NYPD Blue [1.8]

April 23

Sports Century: Jimmy Connors

April 24

Larry King Now [2015] Andy Richter

April 25

The Americans [6.5]

April 26

Larry King Now [2015] Mark Harmon

April 27

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.13]

April 28


April 28

Silicon Valley [5.6]

Barry [1.6]

May 2

The Americans [6.6]

Cobra Kai [1.1]

Cobra Kai [1.2]

Cobra Kai [1.3]

Cobra Kai [1.4]

Cobra Kai [1.5]

May 3

Cobra Kai [1.6]

Cobra Kai [1.7]

Cobra Kai [1.8]

Cobra Kai [1.9]

Cobra Kai [1.10]

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman [1.5] Tina Fey

May 5

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.14]

May 6

Silicon Valley [5.7]

Barry [1.7]

May 8

Cobra Kai [1.1]

Cobra Kai [1.2]

Larry King Now [2014] Cast of Silicon Valley

May 9

Cobra Kai [1.3]

Cobra Kai [1.4]

The Americans [6.7]

May 10

Cobra Kai [1.5]

May 12

Cobra Kai [1.6]

May 13

Silicon Valley [5.8]

Barry [1.8]

May 16

Cobra Kai [1.7]

May 17

The Americans [6.8]

HOT FUZZ [2007]

May 19


MACHETE [2010]

May 21

Cobra Kai [1.9]

Cobra Kai [1.10]

May 24

The Americans [6.9]

May 28

DEADPOOL 2 [2018]

May 29

Sports Century: Jimmy Connors

May 30

The Americans [6.10]

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman [1.6] Howard Stern

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman [Bonus] Jerry Seinfeld

June 6

The Toys That Made Us [2.1] Star Trek

June 9


June 12

The Toys That Made Us [2.3] LEGO

The Toys That Made Us [2.4] Hello Kitty

June 15

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.19]

June 22

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.20]

June 23


June 29

GLOW [2.1]

GLOW [2.2]

GLOW [2.3]

GLOW [2.4]

GLOW [2.5]

GLOW [2.6]

GLOW [2.7]

June 30

GLOW [2.8]

GLOW [2.9]

GLOW [2.10]

July 1

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.21]

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Jim Gaffigan]

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Fred Armisen]

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Garry Shandling]

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Cedric the Entertainer]

July 6

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.10] Kate McKinnon

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.6] Dana Carvey

July 7

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.1] Zach Galifianakis

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.2] Dave Chappelle

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.3] Ellen DeGeneres

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.4] Tracy Morgan

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.5] Brian Regan

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.7] Hasan Minhaj

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.8] Neal Brennan

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.9] John Mulaney

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.11] Alec Baldwin

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.12] Jerry Lewis

July 8

Tom Snyder [Dec. 1, 1994] Bob Newhart, Calvert DeForest

July 10

Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal [2003]

July 14


July 15


July 16

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind [2018]

Cultureshock: Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary [July 16, 2018]

August 4

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.22]

August 7

Better Call Saul [4.1]

August 10

Barney Miller [5.10] The Radical

August 11

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.23]

August 12


Barney Miller [6.9]

August 13


August 14


Better Call Saul [4.2]

August 18

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.24]

August 25


August 26

Remote Control [Dec. 10, 1987] LL Cool J, Weird Al Yankovic, Julie Brown

Remote Control [Dec. 14, 1987] Danny Bonaduce, Butch Patrick, Brandon Cruz

Remote Control [1988] Bob Eubanks

Remote Control [Sept. 23, 1989] Barry Williams, Susan Olsen, Eve Plumb

August 27

Better Call Saul [4.3]

August 28

Better Call Saul [4.4]

August 30

Don Rickles: One Night Only [2014]

September 1

DIE HARD [1988]

September 2

The Brady Bunch 35th Anniversary Reunion Special: Still Brady After All These Years [2004]

Brady: An American Chronicle [1995]

September 3

Ozark [2.1]

Ozark [2.2]

Ozark [2.3]

Ozark [2.4]

Ozark [2.5]

September 4

Better Call Saul [4.5]

Ozark [2.6]

Ozark [2.7]

Ozark [2.8]

Ozark [2.9]

Ozark [2.10]

September 8


Johnny Carson [Oct. 2, 1973] Dean Martin, Buddy Hackett, Burt Reynolds, Don Rickles, Carol Wayne

Dinner for Five [3.9] Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Charles Durning, Charles Nelson Reilly

September 9

Smokey and the Bandit [1977]

September 10

Better Call Saul [4.6]

September 15

Norm Macdonald Has a Show [1.1] David Chase

Norm Macdonald Has a Show [1.3] Judge Judy

Norm Macdonald Has a Show [1.4] David Letterman

Norm Macdonald Has a Show [1.6] Chevy Chase

Norm Macdonald Has a Show [1.8] Michael Keaton

Norm Macdonald Has a Show [1.10] Lorne Michaels

September 16

Norm Macdonald Has a Show [1.2] Drew Barrymore

September 17

Better Call Saul [4.7]

September 18

Public Enemy: Prophets of Rage [2011]

September 19

House of Strombo [Sept. 16, 2018] Beastie Boys

September 20

Johnny Cash vs. Music Row [Sept. 1, 2004]

September 22

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.28] Michael Moore

September 25

Better Call Saul [4.8]

September 27

Johnny Cash: American Rebel [2015]

September 29

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.29]

Tough Crowd [April 10, 2003] Jon Stewart, Nick DiPaolo, Jim Norton, Ellen Cleghorn


October 2

Better Call Saul [4.9]

October 6

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.30] Jeff Bridges

The Nineties [1.1] The One About TV: Part 1

The Nineties [1.2] The One About TV: Part 1

The Nineties [1.3] Isn’t It Ironic?

October 7

The Nineties [1.4] The Comeback Kid

October 9

Better Call Saul [4.10]

October 13

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.31]

October 14

The Seventies [1.8] What’s Going On

October 19

Real Time with Bill Maher: Anniversary Special

October 27

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.32]

October 30


November 1


November 2

Hip-Hop Evolution [1.3] The New Guard

Hip-Hop Evolution [1.4] The Birth of Gangsta Rap

November 3

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.33]

Barney Miller [6.17]

November 9

ReMastered Track 2: Tricky Dick and the Man in Black [2018]

November 10

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.34]

November 11

Later with Bob Costas [Dec. 23, 1991] Chris Elliott

November 14

Larry King Now [Feb. 15, 2018] Stan Lee

November 17

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.35]

November 18

Hiking with Kevin [2018] Kate Beckinsale

November 23

Growing Pains [5.13]

November 24

Hiking with Kevin [2018] David Spade

Hiking with Kevin [2018] Kumail Nanjiani

December 2

Bumping Mics [1.1]

December 6

Cultureshock: Chris Rock’s “Bring the Pain” [Oct. 15, 2018]

December 7

Hiking with Kevin [2018] “Weird Al” Yankovic

My favorite albums (1980s), vol. 3

Why am I writing this? I mean, Best 80s Albums. Who cares? Hell, it’s my list and even I don’t care.

The better question is why are you reading this? I mean, I don’t know if you know this, but there’s a whole lot of stuff on the internet. You could be looking at Impeachment Porn. I do that a lot. Or Food Porn. Or Regular Porn. Or Irregular Porn. How’s this for a new category: “Irregular Food Impeachment Porn.” Makes a list of Best 80s Albums seem pretty palatable, doesn’t it?

So, naturally, before coming up with my own list, I looked at a few lists that already exist. There must be 80 thousand lists of Best 80s Albums. And, needless to say, they all suck. Who would go to all the trouble of listening to every album made in the 1980s, then put them in the wrong order? But, as my list is about to prove, they all did.

Actually, one of the people responsible for all this Listomania. (Wait, wasn’t that a Roger Daltrey album? No, I looked it up. It was a movie. And it’s Lisztomania. It wasn’t going to be on my list anyway.) That’s something you couldn’t do in the 80s, look something up on Google. You wanted to find out of if Listomania was an album or a movie and whether it had a Z in the middle, it might take you an hour. And once you finally found it, the pressure on your steam-powered computer had gone down, so you had to shovel in more coal, wash your hands. I’m telling you, it was a miracle anything ever got written.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, Listomania. One of the guys responsible for all this was legendary LA Times rock critic Robert Hilburn. He had a list for everything. I remember he once wrote this gigantic piece about how he decided to move Born in the U.S.A. to No.1 on his list for Best Albums of 1984 over Purple Rain. Wow. And it’s not impossible that I ran it The News & Observer. Seems dumb now, but as we used to say in the 80s, “It was the 80s.”

So, a friend of mine actually met Robert Hilburn. It was July, and Hilburn asked him what his top 10 albums of the year were so far. My friend explained that he usually waits till all the summer releases come out before painstakingly compiling such a list. Hilburn seemed to buy it. The details may be sketchy, but I’m not making that up.

So, what the hell. Here’s my list. And I’m not going to apologize for not putting Grandmaster Flash on it, I don’t care how furious all five of them get.
— Bob Langford

10. A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS (1982) A Flock of Seagulls

In addition to representing all the ridiculousness of the 80s, they’re on the list for a couple reasons. First, “I Ran” is a great song with a so-bad-it’s-great video that everyone in America saw 3 million times. And “Space Age Love Song” and “Telecommunication” are still fun to hear.

Oh, and Jules doesn’t mention The Cure in Pulp Fiction. What does he call that guy on the couch right before he blows his head off? That’s right, Flock of Seagulls.

And the Flock’s drummer, Ali Score, lives in the Triangle. Wake Forest, I think. He even has a LinkedIn page. The first listing is “Original Drummer, Flock of Seagulls,” and the next one is “Production Manager, Microtouch Systems.” This album ought to be on this list just because Alister (that’s his real name, I looked it up) Score convinced a hiring manager that being the drummer in Flock of Seagulls was perfect experience to be the production manager at some company.

There’s another reason. When I was just a young cable journalist, the Seagulls showed up in Chapel Hill. And my last question to Mike Score, the one with the hair, was about four guys from Liverpool and comparisons to … and before I could finish the question, he stopped me. Here’s what he said: “We’re not the Beatles. We’re just a Flock of Seagulls.”

I have gathered quotes in 38 states and 17 countries (you can look it up on LinkedIn) and that may have been the best quote I’ve ever gotten. Yup, Flock of Seagulls is on the list.

Producers | Mike Howlett, Bill Nelson  Label | Jive  Released | April 30, 1982

9. COSMIC THING (1989) B-52’s

So, the B-52’s were playing in Carmichael Auditorium, which, for the record, was one horrible place to see a concert. It had all the lousy acoustics of Dorton Arena, with none of the architectural significance. (That’s one reason it was an absolutely spectacular place to see a basketball game.)

So, it made sense to go over there with a camera and see if we could shoot the setup. You know, weird-looking B-52 fans streaming in (think opening scene of Spinal Tap but with bigger hair) maybe catch a bit of the sound check, start talking with Kate Pierson and then one thing would lead to another and I could quit my crappy cable news job and run off with the B-52’s.

I went there with my regular shooter, a guy called Beve, and we were approached by an official-looking dude with a clipboard. If we were carrying a bazooka that fired anthrax pellets he couldn’t have freaked out any worse. The conversation went something like this:

Clipboard Guy: “Hey motherbleepers, where the bleepingbleep do you think you’re going with that bleeping thing.”

Me: “Umm, hi, we’re from the local cable channel and we just thought.”

Clipboard Guy: “You just bleeping thought you’d shoot a bleeping video and show it on bleeped-up MTV. Get the bleep out of here. Bleepholes.”

And that’s the cleaned-up version.

Now, Beve was as good shooter, but the idea that the two of us were gonna crank out a music video that would get international play from a soundcheck shot in the place with the worst acoustics in the world is ridiculous. Besides, if he had just waited a couple weeks it wouldn’t have mattered. MTV was gonna stop showing music videos anyway.

Also, even though it isn’t on Cosmic Thing, Kate Pierson’s ending trill on “Rock Lobster” is about the greatest 20 seconds of non-word vocals ever recorded (Clare Torry on “Great Gig in the Sky” notwithstanding).

Producers | Nile Rodgers, Don Was  Label | Reprise  Released | June 27, 1989

8. AFOOT (1983) Let’s Active

OK, it’s only an EP, but any list of 80s albums should include an EP. First, it makes the person writing it seems so clever and insidey. “You want me to write about obscure albums from 35 years ago? That’s way too on-the-nose. I’m gonna write about things that weren’t even albums.” And EPs just seem so dumb. Come on, you couldn’t muster up a 9-minute cover of “Louie, Louie” to round things out?

And because of, shall we say, current events, there is this Let’s Active line that gets more airplay in my head than anything else. It’s this one from “Every Word Means No”:

It used to be no words could come between us
Any time was right for secret meetings

First, rhyming “between us” with “meetings” is either an inspired use of assonance, or the laziest lyric writing ever. No matter. It works great. Cut to 2018, and I can’t watch 10 minutes of Impeachment Porn without someone mentioning … wait for it … a secret meeting between a Trump stooge and some nefarious dude. If no one is around, I’ll just yell out: “Any time was right for secret meetings.” (And if someone is next to me, I’ll just yell it in my head.)

So, thanks, Mitch Easter. Your words give us hope in these difficult times.

Producer | Mitch Easter  Label | I.R.S. Records  Released | 1983


During my early days at the newspaper, it wasn’t very often that an album fell so far down the food chain that it landed on my desk. Somehow this one did.

So, our society writer (yes, we had one of those back then) walks by my desk and says real loud: “Ohhhhh, The Unforgettable Fiiiiiiiire.” And she said it in this snarky, rock-and-roll will be over in another two years and we can go back to listening to Perry Como, sort of way. Kind of like Bruno Kirby’s limo driver in Spinal Tap. That made me like this album more than I should have. Felt I owed it to U2. Besides, it was good then and it still is.

“A Sort of Homecoming” kicks it off with that great Adam Clayton bassline, and “Bad” at Live Aid is what turned U2 into U2.

Watch the clip. Bono still had eyeballs. Edge still had hair. Music still had the power to unite. And that little Stones/Lou Reed homage at the end was perfect for that day, and forever. Eat it, society columnist. We still have music, at least kind of, but we no longer have you.

So yes, “Ohhhhhh, The Unforgettable Fiiiiiiiire.”

Producers | Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois  Label | Island  Released | October 1, 1984

6. MAKING MOVIES (1980) Dire Straits

I wish I had a great, or an even decent story about Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits. I don’t. All I know is, this was the best Dire Straits album and it’s loaded with so many great songs that you can’t remember them all.

At a time when songs clocked in at a cool 2:25, this was loaded with epics. “Skateaway,” “Tunnel of Love,” “Romeo and Juliet.” Three great songs, one great first side. The entire first side.

And the best song on the album might be “Expresso Love.” If some coffee company were clever, they’d buy the rights, change it to “Espresso Love” and we could all complain about it but secretly think it’s cool and buy their espresso.

And it has some of the greatest keyboard work you’ll hear, because Roy Bittan stopped by from the E Street Band to balance out the great guitar and the, well, understated vocals. And I always liked that Dire Straits had a drummer named Pick.

I also still had that crappy job, and putting this album on the turntable (no, that’s really how we heard music back then) helped me through it.

And while we’re on the subject, one of the reasons Local Hero is one of the best movies of the 80s, is Mark Knopler’s music. Really, it’s wonderful. If you’ve seen the movie, it’ll make you weep. If you haven’t seen Local Hero, you should weep about your wasted life.

Producers | Jimmy Iovine, Mark Knopfler  Label | Warner Bros.  Released | October 17, 1980

5. PURPLE RAIN (1984) Prince

Ladies and gentlemen, The Revolution.

So, as I mentioned, I was looking at lists of 80s albums before compiling my own. And one guy had Purple Rain at No. 76. Seventy-freaking-six. Really? Prince couldn’t crack the top 75 for this guy?

Spin did a whole oral history for the 25th anniversary of Purple Rain, and it’s a great read.

This piece would have been done last week if I hadn’t wasted all that time reading it. (But it wasn’t a complete waste of time. I learned that Prince’s favorite thing to eat was spaghetti with orange juice.)

You don’t need me, or anyone else to list why Purple Rain is one of the best albums of any decade. Dig, if you will, the fifth-best album of the 80s.

Producer | Prince  Label | Warner Bros.  Released | June 25, 1984

4. BORN IN THE U.S.A. (1984) Bruce Springsteen

It has to be one better than Purple Rain. The guy who invented Listomania has so declareth.

I have to admit that the buffed-up, headband wearing Bruce was my least favorite. Too on-the-nose. That doesn’t mean the album isn’t great, even if it’s Bruce’s, maybe, fifth-best album. And, probably more importantly, this was the beginning of what we know as Bruce Springsteen. It all started when Bruce told Ronald Regan that he couldn’t steal his song.

And while the line from “Glory Days” “he could throw that speedball by ya” still sounds kind of clunky, it does have a great video. This was the 80s — the video was more important than the music. This was billed as Bruce’s first non-concert video, even though it’s mostly a concert video.

It opens with The Boss being an employee sitting in the cab of a bulldozer. Then, after work, he heads to the park, plops down a bucket of balls and starts pitching to this piece of wood with a strike zone painted on it. (Unfortunately, and there’s no good way to say this, Bruce went to the Tim Robbins School of Pitching. No wonder he wound up working construction.)

His kid asks him how he pitched, and Bruce says: “Nettles got me … bottom of the ninth.” And his first wife, Julianne Phillips (again, I had to look it up), pulls up in her beat-up station wagon and waves for him to come home. As we’ve all gotten older, we’ve had to own up to the fact that we’re not gonna pitch in the bigs. Just like Bruce.

Producers | Jon Landau, Chuck Plotkin, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt  Label | Columbia  Released | June 4, 1984

3. PAUL WELLER, Different Incarnations

Don’t bother looking this up. There is no Paul Weller album called “Different Incarnation” (although that is a great name for an album, especially a Paul Weller album).

I almost put The Cure here. And then I was gonna put R.E.M. in the three-spot, but I didn’t want to type those stupid periods every time. Besides, Automatic for the People is their best album and it technically doesn’t qualify for Best Albums of the 80s. And The English Beat was here for a while because they represented all the ska bands like The Specials and The Selecter. And I was all set to include London Calling and tell my cool story of making a pilgrimage to Mick Jones’s London office, but it came out in 1979.

Then it hit me. There’s no Paul Weller on this list. What? How can you have a list of Best 80s Albums and leave off Paul Weller?

First there’s the Jam — kind of invented angry British youth music, dinnit? Listen to Sound Affects and you want to become a soccer hooligan, at least for 35 minutes. Then, Weller makes this 180 and forms The Style Council, a sort of dancy, bouncy, horn and keyboard band. Bruce Jenner didn’t make a bigger transition.

And I understand that hardcore Jam fans don’t care for the change (probably the same people who are still mad Dylan went electric) but I thought Café Bleu was great fun then and still do now.

“My Ever Changing Moods” is an all-time fave, and the slow, piano version that’s actually on the album might be even better. And find me a cooler opening lick than “You’re the Best Thing.” And if you watch the video, you’ll see Paul Weller pick this little piece of lint off his sweater around 50 seconds. So Modfather. And I still get chills at the end.

And since then he’s been cranking out interesting stuff, doing smaller tours and living the life that every musician from the 80s should be: Paying homage to the past but still looking forward.

Poor man’s Bowie? Maybe. But still pretty rich.

2. THE SMITHS, Strangely, Meat is Dead

The four real Smiths albums really are one giant an album. They all worked the same way: Johnny Marr would whip out a handful of super-cool, melodic licks a day, Morrissey would listen to them, explain how he used to be miserable, is miserable now, and probably will be miserable later. Throw in a George Eliot reference or two and there’s your album.

The beauty of the Smiths is how a song like “Girlfriend in a Coma” has the prettiest melody you’ve ever heard, the lyrics are about as distasteful a subject as you can think of, yet you can’t imagine changing anything. The sweet-and-sour pork of 80s music.

Besides, I came to the Smiths late. I dunno, I had a job. And kids. But once I figured out what I’d been missing, I was all in for all their stuff. So if it came from Meat is Murder or The Queen is Dead or some obscure EP, I didn’t care. I was ready to make a pilgrimage to the Salford Lads Club. (Yes, that’s Ryan Adams, who did just that.)

And a couple of Christmases ago, I got my wonderful daughter-in-law A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smiths. Yes, if all your daughter-in-law wants for Christmas is a book about the Smiths that’s so big you can’t carry it with one hand, she automatically qualifies as wonderful. Just like the Smiths.

1. THE JOSHUA TREE (1987) U2

Remember when U2 was on the cover of Time after Joshua Tree came out? And there was this picture of The Edge with an ace of spades tucked into his hat band.

I remember my ex-father-in-law laughing about that. He was a funny guy, my ex-father-in-law. See, he went to State, but lived in Durham so he was always surrounded by Duke guys. And he used to tell this joke.

“I got tickets to the Duke football game, but they didn’t have the starting time on them. So I called the Duke football office and said, ‘what time is kickoff on Saturday?’ And the person on the phone didn’t say anything for a second. Umm, when does the game start on Saturday? Finally, she said, well, ‘what time can you be here’?”

The chance to tell that joke is not the only reason Joshua Tree is on the list. It’s also really great. And, most importantly, it got me through an ice storm where I had no power for three days. Somehow, I had this battery-powered CD player and must have listened to Joshua Tree 50 times. It was a semi-religious experience, just listening to that album over and over again in the cold and the dark and eating everything I had that didn’t need to be cooked.

Believe me, I knew what looking for: a forth pair of socks. Now, every time I hear something from Joshua Tree, the toes in my left foot go kind of numb.

And with any really good album — or movie or team, now that I think about it — it’s about the supporting cast. “Red Hill Mining Town,” “Trip Through Your Wires,” “One Tree Hill.” They’re just great. And that’s why it’s the Best Album of the 80s. At least it is right now. If I have to write this again in 10 years, it might not be.

That’s the beauty of writing about something from 35 years ago. I believe it was Faulkner, or maybe it was Michael Stipe who said: “The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past. But it does tend to get a little blurry.”

Producer | Daniel Lanois, Brian Enoe  Label | Island  Released | March 9, 1987

Among Bob’s incarnations, he was entertainment editor, then TV critic at The Raleigh News & Observer and features reporter at WRAL-TV. He was also advisor to N.C. State’s student newspaper, where he first encountered the ne’er-do-well associated with this web site.

My favorite albums (1980s), vol. 2

Let me go ahead and admit something up front: This is about as white of a list as you will get. I fully recognize that. The “ask” was for my 10 favorite albums of the 1980s. As a suburban white kid growing up in the South with (at the time) minimal exposure to genres outside of college rock, alternative and a little metal, this is what you get. It is what it is and all that. I make no apologies. I loved these albums then, and I love them perhaps even more now. Let’s go on a journey while I explain why, shall we?
— Matt Lail

1. BOYLAN HEIGHTS (1987) The Connells

I know, I know. Can this album — named for a neighborhood in Raleigh, N.C. — really be at the top of someone’s list of favorite albums of the 1980s? Ahead of such giants as … oh, crap. Probably shouldn’t give anything away just yet. But Boylan Heights is a ridiculously complete album. From the Celtic-tinged opening of “Scotty’s Lament,” to the pace of “Try” and the horn fills in “Over There,” it holds up so incredibly well 30 years later. The fact that it was created by five guys from Raleigh doesn’t hurt. They were normal dudes like me! And only one of them (occasionally) even had long hair! If R.E.M. (more on them shortly) proved that you didn’t have to leave the South to be a successful rock band, The Connells took that sentiment to an even more micro level. But even beyond regionalism, there is a reason why The Connells were often spoken in the same sentence as R.E.M. and U2. This album shows why.

Producer | Mitch Easter  Label | TVT  Released | 1987

2a. THE JOSHUA TREE (1987) U2

Not many albums are good enough to warrant a tour three decades after its release, but The Joshua Tree is not just any album. Even people who aren’t U2 fans immediately recognize the first half of this album. This is a milestone record not just for a band but for an era. This was the album that served notice that U2 was the “biggest band in the world,” landing them on the cover of Time — and immediately turning them into everyone’s favorite band to make fun of. You can argue that this is a front-loaded album, thanks to “Where The Streets Have No Name,” “With Or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and even “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “Running To Stand Still,” but there are some definite gems in the latter half, notably “In God’s Country,” “One Tree Hill” and “Mothers of the Disappeared.” This is U2 at their peak — a loft that very few can touch even now.

Producer | Daniel Lanois, Brian Enoe  Label | Island  Released | March 9, 1987

2b. DOCUMENT (1987) R.E.M.

Damn, 1987 was a good year for music. But I digress. I must take a moment to thank my good friend, Chase Ferrell, for introducing me to this album. He gave me a double-cassette. One side was the Joshua Tree, while Document was on the flip side. Those two albums (and bands) have been intricately linked for me ever since. Quite honestly, aside from Boylan Heights, I could probably make an argument for the best albums of the ‘80s to ONLY come from U2 and R.E.M. Admittedly, it took more time to warm up to Document vs. Joshua Tree. Even the two “hits” from Document are not your typical mainstream radio singles. “The One I Love” is a minor-key ode diss track (before that was really a thing) — and a song that essentially repeats the same verse over and over AND has a one-word chorus. What “The One I Love” lacks in verbiage, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” makes up for it — in buckets. It’s almost a novelty song — but it is damn catchy. The rest of the album is kinda weird, but in true R.E.M. fashion, it gives us a world of oddfellows, laborers and Southern misfits. (Random note: I once realized that — save for the last track, “King of Birds” — every song on Document starts with percussion. Nice going, Bill Berry!)

Producer | Scott Litt, R.E.M.  Label | I.R.S.  Released | September 1, 1987

4. WAR (1983) U2

Before U2 could become the heavyweights, they had to be the young upstarts. War is the band shooting across the bow. Before the four boys from Ireland embraced America, they first had to educate Americans on all the crap that was going on in their homeland. Thanks to War, we paid attention — and still do. This album is the logical step up from the teenage anxiety and spiritual examinations of “Boy” and the Cold War gloom of “October.” There are few better album openers than “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” “New Year’s Day” was a radio and MTV staple, and “40” — based on a Bible verse — was the band’s standard concert closer for years. War made it to No. 12 in the States but knocked Michael Jackson’s Thriller off the top of the charts in the UK.

Producer | Steve Lillywhite  Label | Island  Released | February 28, 1983

5. STRANGEWAYS, HERE WE COME (1987) The Smiths

When my sister, who is eight years older than me, came home from college one weekend in 1987, she brought me two cassettes that she had been exposed to and wanted to share with me. One was Poison’s Look What the Cat Dragged In. The other was the Smiths’ Strangeways, Here We Come. I was flummoxed at first. The music was captivating; the singer’s voice was … odd, as if someone was doing a mock Broadway voice. I wasn’t sure how to take it. But man, oh, man for a teenager (already) frustrated about love and loss (“Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” was essentially my teenage torch song) and worried about “fitting in,” this album was a godsend. I remember thinking, “I can’t wait to see these guys in concert!” Sadly, this was the Smiths’ last album. The Queen is Dead is usually noted as their best album, but this one holds a special place in my heart, and I think it’s a more cohesive, complete album. There is not a single bad song on this album. It is darkly funny, introspective and cutting. It’s hard to get more vile than “Unhappy Birthday.” Check out these lyrics; what 13-year-old boy wouldn’t love this?

I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday
I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday
’Cause you’re evil
And you lie
And if you should die
I may feel slightly sad
(But I won’t cry)

Or take “Girlfriend in a Coma”:

Girlfriend in a coma, I know
I know, it’s serious
Girlfriend in a coma, I know
I know, it’s really serious
There were times when I could
Have murdered her
But you know, I would hate
Anything to happen to her

Lovely, isn’t it? And even the homage to (or warning of?) repackaging and reissuing music after the death of an artist was an ironic signal from a band about to breakup:

At the record company meeting
On their hands — a dead star
And oh, the plans they weave
And oh, the sickening greed …

Best of! Most of!
Satiate the need
Slip them into different sleeves!
Buy both, and feel deceived

Good times. Not surprising, the Smiths have not gone overboard with “greatest hits” or “best of …” compilations since they broke up. Nor have they succumbed to the pressures of reunion shows/tours. Which is too bad. I’d still like to see them in concert.

Producer | Johnny Marr, Morrissey, Stephen Street  Label | Sire  Released | September 28, 1987

6. … AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (1988) Metallica

What R.E.M. did for college radio, Metallica did for heavy metal. … And Justice for All exposed so many boys to thrash metal. (Let’s be honest: very few girls were into metal.) My friends and I would watch, rewind and re-watch the “One” video over and over and over. The song was epic. I also still remember spending hours trying to learn how to play it on guitar. That was a badge of honor. This album has been criticized in recent years because there is virtually no bass on it — for whatever nefarious reason, Jason Newsted’s bass work was mixed out and replaced by layer upon layer of guitars. No matter. It’s phenomenal. The only reason it’s probably not higher on this list is because of the length of some songs, namely the title track. But thanks to Metallica and to this album, I learned to appreciate bands like Anthrax, Megadeth, Testament and Pantera. Oh, and to this day I am still bummed that I didn’t get to go to the Cumberland County Civic Center to see Metallica on the “Damaged Justice” tour. I had to hear about it at school the next day or so from all my friends. Jerks.

Producer | James Hetfield, Flemming Rasmussen, Lars Ulrich  Label | Elektra  Released | August 25, 1988

7. GREEN (1988) R.E.M.

Released (purposely) on Election Day 1988, Green was R.E.M.’s “sellout” album after signing a gargantuan contract with Warner Bros. Well, it was supposed to be their sellout album. Yes, it was a big commercial success thanks to the single “Stand,” and there was even the aptly-named “Pop Song ’89.” But it showed them continuing to stretch themselves musically. It’s almost like they said, “Everybody is expecting this to be a disaster. Let’s include lots of mandolin on some songs! And why not a song about a lonely, house-bound child?” This album mesmerized me to the point where, on a Peach Bowl trip from Dunn, N.C., to Atlanta, I listened to nothing but Green. (That was also when I noticed that, if you looked at the cassette cover just so, you could make out a “4” hidden behind the “Rs” in “GREEN” and “R.E.M.” WHAT DID THAT MEAN!???) A few months later, I went all DIY and wrote the lyrics to “World Leader Pretend” on a T-shirt. That seemed very Michael Stipe-ish to me. (I don’t think I ever wore the shirt — which is NOT very Michael Stipe-ish.) Brian Raynor and I had the pleasure of seeing the “Green” tour in Greensboro (later made into an album). My parents were nice enough to take us. My folks snuck in to the Greensboro Coliseum during the (second?) encore, just in time to see Stipe shirtless. “He should really have had a shirt on,” my mom said on the ride home.

Producer | Scott Litt, R.E.M.  Label | Warner Bros.  Released | November 7, 1988

8. MURMUR (1983) R.E.M.

Despite how HUGE Michael Jackson’s Thriller was in 1983, it was Murmur that earned Rolling Stone’s nod as Album of the Year. It’s really an unconventional album to earn such acclaim. The album cover is of kudzu, you can’t understand a single thing the singer says, the members of the band weren’t exactly the best-looking dudes in the world, and the song titles left you wondering what the songs were about. (All of these characteristics lent an air of mystery to the band, which did nothing but help increase interest in R.E.M.) But the songs. My God, the songs. “Radio Free Europe” had already been released as a single (though a different version), but every song is what R.E.M. super fan Adam Scott would call a “stone cold classic.” In the original album format, the first side closed with “Perfect Circle.” It was that song that Stipe later said made him realize that they were on to something. Beating Michael Jackson, U2 and the Police for album of the year would seem to support that.

Producer | Don Dixon, Mitch Easter  Label | I.R.S.  Released | April 12, 1983

9. MOVING PICTURES (1981) Rush

The oldest album on this list. And probably the one 1980s album on this list that I never listened to in the 80s. Like many people, I was introduced to Rush via “Tom Sawyer,” but it didn’t really affect me when I first heard it. I believe it took a youth group ski trip for me to finally be forced to listen to Moving Pictures. That was when I began to appreciate Rush and their strange concepts, odd timings, the high-pitched voice of Geddy Lee and more. In typical Rush fashion, Moving Pictures has just seven songs but still clocks in at 40 minutes. (Of course, one-fourth of the time is “The Camera Eye.”) There are no less than four classic Rush songs on the album: “Tom Sawyer,” “Red Barchetta,” “YYZ” and “Limelight.” That’s side one. Side two features the aforementioned “The Camera Eye,” along with the highly underrated “Witch Hunt” and “Vital Signs.” 2112 is regarded as their masterpiece, but Moving Pictures is the only other album that fans clamored for to be played in its entirety live.

Producer | Rush, Terry Brown  Label | Anthem  Released | February 12, 1981

10. APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION (1987) Guns n’ Roses

Another nod to my friend Chase. He played “Welcome to the Jungle” for me on a Walkman not long after this album came out, and at that time it was the heaviest, most raw thing I had ever heard. And it was glorious. Again, as a teenager, it didn’t hurt that there more than a hint of rebellion with G’nR. Even the artwork on the inside of the album made you want to hide it from your parents. Appetite is a rare combination of gritty and polished. These guys were pros, at least musically. Unfortunately, the antics of Axl Rose would eventually be their demise. But for the remainder of the 1980s and the early 90s, there was no one better. They should have been the next Led Zeppelin.

Producer | Mike Clink  Label | Geffen  Released | July 21, 1987


Diesel and Dust (1987) Midnight Oil

The Unforgettable Fire (1984) U2

Fun & Games (1989) The Connells

Master of Puppets (1986) Metallica

Rattle and Hum (1988) U2

The Queen is Dead (1986) The Smiths

Matt Lail writes and produces the Raleigh Philosophical Society and Dare Society blogs.

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


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

Dearly beloved
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
The afterworld

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


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


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.

The Burt Reynolds box set

These are the best / most essential Burt Reynolds films, according the lists of six film and culture critics:

Deliverance (1972)

The Longest Yard (1974)

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Boogie Nights (1997)

Semi-Tough (1977)

Starting Over (1979)

Those first four films received five votes, while Semi-Tough picked up four votes and Starting Over three.

Hustle (1975), Sharky’s Machine (1981) and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) each received two votes, while White Lightning (1973), Silent Movie (1976), Striptease (1996) and The Last Movie Star (2017) were mentioned once.

My picks?

Deliverance, The Longest Yard, Smokey and the Bandit and Starting Over are the true essentials.

Boogie Nights and Reynolds’ performance as Jack Horner — his only Academy Award nomination — are deservedly praised, but it’s not a Burt Reynolds movie. Semi-Tough is another football picture, covering some of the same ground as The Longest Yard.

I would add:

Hustle and Sharky’s Machine

Breaking In (1989)

Hustle is a tough film noir, while Sharky’s Machine proves his directing prowess. He plays a cop falling for a call girl in both. Breaking In (1989) is a hidden gem, where he plays a professional thief with a new protégé.

Here is the complete critics list:

WESLEY MORRIS, The New York Times

1. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

2. Semi-Tough (1977)

3. Starting Over (1979)

4. Sharky’s Machine (1981)

5. Silent Movie (1976)


1. The Longest Yard (1974)

2. Boogie Nights (1997)

3. Starting Over (1979)

4. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

5. Deliverance (1972)


1. Deliverance (1972)

2. Boogie Nights (1997)

3. Semi-Tough (1977)

4. Striptease (1996)

5. The Longest Yard (1974)


Deliverance (1972)

The Longest Yard (1974)

Hustle (1975)

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Semi-Tough (1977)

Sharky’s Machine (1981)

Boogie Nights (1997)


Deliverance (1972)

White Lightning (1973)

The Longest Yard (1974)

Hustle (1975)

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Semi-Tough (1977)

Starting Over (1979)

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)

Boogie Nights (1997)

The Last Movie Star (2017)


Deliverance (1972)

The Longest Yard (1974)

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)

Boogie Nights (1997)

Moving forwards: 2018 player rankings

The NBA free agency season, which begins tonight at midnight, is essentially about the fate of three All-NBA small forwards.

LeBron James, 34 years old in December, (maybe) the greatest player of all time, has opted out of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He will enter the fourth act of his career with the Cavaliers or some other team.

Paul George, 28, will sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder or some other team, his third in three seasons.

Kawhi Leonard, who turned 27 on Friday, is not a free agent, but he has requested a trade from the San Antonio Spurs — a dynamic that could affect or be affected by James and George.

The Los Angeles Lakers might be the favorite to acquire each of them — but not all three of them together. If that makes sense. Or maybe they could.

James was the second-best player in the league last season behind James Harden and just head of Anthony Davis. George was somewhere in the top 20, partly because playing with Russell Westbrook stunted his excellence. Leonard (nine games last season) is still recovering from a mysterious quad injury. Presumably.

Which brings us to my annual player rankings — the top 40 players in the league sorted by age — based only on last season, including the playoffs.

A player’s age is his age on Feb. 1, 2018, per Basketball-Reference.

Free agents are highlighted.

Age 19 | 1. Jayson Tatum, Celtics.

Among the 10 best 19-year-olds in history, along with teammate Kyrie Irving.

Age 20 | none

Age 21 | 1. Ben Simmons, 76ers.  2. Donovan Mitchell, Jazz.

Mitchell is the better scorer. Simmons is the better everything else.

Age 22 | 1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves.  2. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets.

Towns was on my All-NBA second team, Jokic on my third. The Nuggets center will be the better player over the next five seasons.

Age 23 | 1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks.  2. Clint Capela, Rockets.  3. Joel Embiid, 76ers.

Embiid is the wunderkind, Capela the hard-working role player. I’ll take Capela, who was in the lineup more and better in the playoffs.

Age 24 | 1. Anthony Davis, Pelicans.  2. Otto Porter, Wizards. 
3. Andre Drummond, Pistons.  4. Steven Adams, Thunder. 
5. Bradley Beal, Wizards.  5. Kyle Anderson, Spurs.

Yes, Kyle Anderson.

Age 25 | 1. Victor Oladipo, Pacers.  2. Rudy Gobert, Jazz (56 games).  3. Kyrie Irving, Celtics.  4. Tobias Harris, Clippers.

Gobert is better than Oladipo, but he missed too many games.

Age 26 | 1. Khris Middleton, Bucks.

Kawhi Leonard, please pick up the white courtesy phone.

Age 27 | 1. Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers.  2. Paul George, Thunder.  3. Jrue Holiday, Pelicans.  4. Kemba Walker, Hornets.  5. Robert Covington, 76ers.  6. Draymond Green, Warriors.  7. Klay Thompson, Warriors.

The Warriors duo had a disinterested regular season. DeMarcus Cousins missed 34 games. John Wall missed 41. Gordon Hayward missed the season.

Age 28 | 1. James Harden, Rockets.  2. Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves (59 games).  3. Demar DeRozan, Raptors.  4. Eric Bledsoe, Bucks.

Isaiah Thomas missed 50 games. Might not return to the rankings.

Age 29 | 1. Russell Westbrook, Thunder.  2. Kevin Durant, Warriors.  3. Stephen Curry, Warriors (51 games).  4. DeAndre Jordan, Clippers.

Westbrook averaged a triple-double again, and it was the best-kept secret in the league. Kevin Love missed 23 games.

Age 30 | 1. Joe Ingles, Jazz.  2. Darren Collison, Pacers.

Mike Conley missed 70 games.

Age 31 | 1. Kyle Lowry, Raptors.  2. Al Horford, Celtics.

Maybe the two most underrated players in the league. Every season. Just indispensable.

Age 32 | 1. Chris Paul, Rockets (58 games).  2. LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs.

Paul Millsap missed half the season.

Age 33 | 1. LeBron James, Cavaliers. 

Age 33 All-Star team | James, Michael Jordan (1996-97), Karl Malone (1996-97), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1980-81) and Jerry West (1971-72)

A complete list of the league’s old players:

Age 34 | 1. Andre Iguodala, Warriors.  2. Devin Harris, Mavericks-Nuggets.  3. Jarrett Jack, Knicks.  4. Channing Frye, Cavaliers-Lakers (53 games).

Age 35 | 1. Tyson Chandler, Suns (46 games).  2. Nene, Rockets (52 games).  3. Tony Parker, Spurs (55 games).  4. Jameer Nelson, Pelicans-Pistons (50 games).  5. Emeka Okafor, Pelicans (26 games).

Age 36 | 1. Zach Randolph, Kings (59 games).  2. Kyle Korver, Cavaliers.  3. Dwyane Wade, Cavaliers-Heat.  4. Jose Calderon, Cavaliers (57 games).  5. Joe Johnson, Jazz-Rockets (55 games). 
6. Tony Allen, Pelicans (22 games).

Age 37 | 1. Pau Gasol, Spurs.  2. David West, Warriors.  3. Jamal Crawford, Timberwolves.  4. Richard Jefferson, Nuggets (20 games).  5. Nick Collison, Thunder (15 games).  6. Udonis Haslem, Heat (14 games).

Age 38 | 1. Damien Wilkins, Pacers (19 games).

Age 39 | 1. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks.

Age 40 | 1. Manu Ginobili, Spurs.  2. Jason Terry, Bucks (51 games).

Age 41 | 1. Vince Carter, Grizzles.

When players hit 34, they can either (1) play out the string with assorted injuries (2) become a cap-friendly, useful role player for the Warriors or Spurs (3) an overpaid, less useful role player for the Cavaliers (4) or the bookend European franchise player opposite No. 3 pick Luka Doncic.

Expect LeBron to bust this current mold.
— Kevin Brewer

Cobra Kai 1.2: Strike First

This episode recap contains spoilers.

Written by | Josh Heald & Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg

Directed by | Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg

Summary | Thirty-four years after beating Johnny Lawrence in the All Valley Under-18 Karate Championships, Daniel LaRusso just keeps crane kicking life in the face. A chain of successful car dealerships. Beautiful wife, two kids, stunning home. But Daniel’s son is a chubby gamer, and his daughter hosts a pool party — full of mean girls and bullies — without permission. Even worse: He discovers Cobra Kai is back. Meanwhile, Johnny begins training Miguel, with interruptions from the city health department and the vice principal at his estranged son’s school. Finally, Daniel confronts Johnny at Cobra Kai in a Western-style staredown.

Flashbacks | Three. When Daniel sees that Cobra Kai signage, it feels like Johnny and his Cobra Kai gang beating him up all over again. Later, when Daniel laments his daughter growing up and further away from him, he remembers teaching her karate as Miyagi taught him: “Always remember our first lesson. This is for self-defense only.” As Miguel punches the dummy at Cobra Kai, he pretends that it’s Kyler.

Karate callbacks | Many. Miguel asks Johnny about his karate trophies: “I won a couple All-Valley tournaments. Didn’t lose a single point my junior year.”

Daniel on bullying: “I know a thing or two about cruel. I was pushed off a cliff on my bike.”

Daniel looks at photos of Miyagi and himself: “Wish you were here to give some of that Miyagi wisdom right now.”

As Miguel washes windows at the dojo, he asks Johnny if there any particular way he wants him to do it, Johnny says: “Nah, I don’t give a shit. Whatever’s easiest.”

The redemption of Johnny Lawrence | Johnny is a new business owner, trying to put his life back together.

Soundtrack | 1. “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?” by Dean Martin

Politically Incorrect with Johnny Lawrence | When Miguel says, “I have asthma,” Johnny throws his inhaler against the wall and says, “Not anymore. “We do not allow weakness in this dojo, so you can leave your asthma and your peanut allergies and all that other made-up bullshit outside.”

Also: “If you’re not aggressive, then you’re being a pussy, and you don’t want to be a pussy. You want to have balls.”

And many more: “Stop yapping like a little girl” and “He’s just an illegal I picked up this morning.”

Cobra Kai philosophy | “Lesson 1: Strike first. Never wait for the enemy to attack. We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak. Here, on the street, in competition, a man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.” — Johnny Lawrence

“Cobra Kai isn’t just about karate. It’s about a way of life. Take that first lesson. Striking first is the initial step toward victory.” — Johnny Lawrence

Best line | “Get your house in order, LaRusso.” — Johnny to Daniel in the final scene

Best moment | The episode-ending staredown between Johnny and Daniel. Two men forever connected, their history Shakespearean.

Coors counter | One, in the dojo. That’s an even six-pack for the series. Daniel drinks an “ice, ice cold” dirty martini.

Cobra Kai business score | 2 / 10. Cobra Kai is open, but with just one student and a visit from the health department

Daniel LaRusso threat level | 3 / 10. Daniel confronts Johnny at Cobra Kai: “Stay away from my daughter’s friends.”

Fight scorecard | No fights.

Analysis | This is the (updated) Daniel LaRusso story. He’s a clean-living family man, but by the end of the episode, it’s clear he can’t let go of his high school rivalry with Johnny. He isn’t all good, Johnny isn’t all bad, and their rivalry is renewed.
— Kevin Brewer