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
7. THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE (1984) U2
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.
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
OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES
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 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.