20. THE CURE- DISINTEGRATION (1989)
“Disintegration”- Matt Stone & Trey Parker’s (the creators of “South Park”) favorite album of all time! Though I wouldn’t go that far, I do agree that it’s The Cure’s best studio album release and the best mope rock album outside of Joy Division of the eighties. Though if you’re a Cure newby you should start at the picture perfect “Staring at the Sea: The Singles” before delving into “Disintegration”. “Disintegration” is long, musically dense & often depressing- a description that the Cure often gets tagged with mostly unfairly. While they certainly have their gloomy songs and albums (see 1982’s “Pornography”), they have normally balanced their goth side with plenty of catchy singles and thankfully “Disintegration” is no exception. “Love Song” is downright romantic and one of the biggest hits that they ever had. “Fascination Street” rocks it out even if the vibe of the song is dark. “Pictures of You” one of their very best, and signature songs, is a heartbreaking epic ballad but it has an instantly memorable hook. Though the Cure scored a few bigger pop hits after this album, like “Friday I’m in Love”, “Disintegration” was the peak of their popularity- the very best album by one of the best bands of the eighties.
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19. THE STONE ROSES- THE STONE ROSES (1989)
Buy The Stone Roses (20th Anniversary Edition) [Remastered] – The Stone Roses
The Stone Roses- both band and debut album, were a genuine phenomenon in the U.K., while not much more than a cultural blip in America- popular on college campuses and among hipsters but that’s about it. In the U.K. the album was central to the Madchester rave scene, which combined British guitar pop (ala The Smiths) with electronic dance music and drug addled rave culture. I find the music more guitar based than dance driven but there certainly is an dance element to it as well unseen in American guitar rock at the time. The music on the album is fantastic regardless of its category. “She Bangs the Drums”, “Elephant Stone”, “Made of Stone” & “Waterfall” are all great singles and considered classics of the era, but the 8+ minute “I Am the Resurrection”, the almost 10 minute “Fool’s Gold” and the out of this world “I Wanna Be Adored” (one of my favorite eighties tracks) are what push the album to true legendary status. Singer Ian Brown’s self glorification and matter-of-fact detachment were a huge influence on Oasis and most of the brit pop movement several years later. The Stone Roses only made one more album, the far lesser “Second Coming”, before fizzling out, but their debut stands the test of time as a true classic and period defining piece of music.
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18. THE REPLACEMENTS- TIM (1985)
Buy Tim (Expanded Edition) – The Replacements
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Before 1984’s “Let It Be”, Minneapolis’s the Replacements were just a bunch of scraggly punks- virtually unknown outside of the twin cities and the insular American hardcore punk scene. “Let It Be” was so widely regarded and increased the band’s stature so dramatically that they were snatched up by Warner Bros Records to record their follow up, 1985’s “Tim”. Any wariness or doubt from the band’s longtime that the band would sell out was put to rest after the Mats delivered an album nearly the equal in quality to “Let It Be”. Paul Westerberg continued to deliver excellent ballads like “Swingin’ Party” and especially the harrowing “Here Comes a Regular”- a knowing and empathetic takedown of a loser townie, going nowhere alcoholics. The big difference on “Tim” is the band’s ability to deliver epic rockers- case in point “Bastards of Young” has to go down as one of the band’s best songs ever- years later it still sounds generation defining and it’s a punch right in the gut. “Left of the Dial”, and “Little Mascara” are two of the band’s other best rockers. Some of the band’s flailing hardcore is still left over from their early days like “Dose of Thunder” and “Lay it Down Clown”. Compared to the band’s best songs these tracks are filler but their sloppiness add to the album’s character and charm more than takes away from its quality.
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17. R.E.M.- RECKONING (1984)
Buy Reckoning (Deluxe Edition) – R.E.M.
“Reckoning” is the brilliant follow-up to the even more brilliant debut “Murmur”, furthering entrenching R.E.M.’s status as one of the best and most important bands of the eighties. “Reckoning” is a return to the jangle pop of the “Chronic Town” EP and away from the stranger, more experimental “Murmur”. Though “Reckoning” was still very much an underground record with relatively lo-fi production, it was their catchiest and most accessible music they had made to date furthering their already good standing with college radio. “So. Central Rain”, “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” and “Pretty Persuasion” were all big college radio “hits”. Great album tracks like the opener “Harborcoat”, “7 Chinese Brothers” and “Second Guessing” round out the album perfectly. As soon as the album is over you’ll want to press play again..
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16. DE LA SOUL- 3 FEET HIGH & RISING (1989)
*Not available via iTunes or Amazon
It’s maddening to think how creative and far reaching rap music could have become if the sample laws weren’t changed after 1989. One prominent sample on a record can now cost a fortune making albums like “Paul’s Boutique” and De La Soul’s “3 Feet High and Rising”, which contain hundreds of samples, nearly financially impossible to produce. But at least these amazing albums were able to be made before the new laws went into effect. “3 Feet High” was the debut album of the Long Island rap trio and a vehicle for producer Prince Paul- one of the most unique and amazing producers in rap at the time- or ever really. The album changed the course of rap and hip hop forever, proving that rappers didn’t have to be street tough to succeed. Rather than relying on the drumbeats or James Brown horn and guitar samples in vogue at the time, Prince Paul was apt to sample pop groups like Hall & Oates, classic rock like Steely Dan, and country music like Johnny Cash- no sound or record was off the table. It’s no wonder that this music brought a whole new group of white suburbanites into the fold and made many of them fans of rap for life. Though De La had a longer career than most and had an excellent if not quite as good follow-up with 1991’s “De La Soul Is Dead”, they were never able to touch the quality of the debut. It is so out of leftfield, the lyrics, samples and even the skits are hilarious and one of a kind and the album boasted classic tracks in abundance- “Jenifa Taught Me”, “The Magic Number”, video hit “Me, Myself & I”, “Tread Water”, “Potholes In My Lawn”, “Buddy” and “Say No Go” are all here. It’s simply one of the best rap albums ever made.
Tread Water *Not available via iTunes or Amazon
Say No Go *Not available via iTunes or Amazon
15. THE TALKING HEADS- REMAIN IN LIGHT (1980)
Buy Remain In Light (Remastered) – Talking Heads
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“Remain in Light” was the Talking Heads’s fourth album, their third with Brian Eno as producer, and their least song-oriented album to date. Taking the track “I Zimbra” from the previous year’s “Fear of Music” album as a template, Eno & the Heads delved much further into African music- combining African polyrhythms with the sound of punk & new wave to create a sound totally new- but that would become massively influential in the decades to come- see Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and anything by Vampire Weekend as the two of the more obvious examples. “Remain in Light” is by far the Heads most danceable album, setting the tone for 1981’s spinoff “The Tom Tom Club” which went to full-on club music. Though the Talking Heads had already had a few successful singles under their belt by 1980, nothing on “Remain in Light” stuck- at least at first. Lead single “Once in a Lifetime” completely tanked commercially out of the gate but has since become quite possibly their signature song (and my personal fave!), alongside “Burning Down the House” Other great album tracks include “Cross-Eyed and Painless”, “The Great Curve” and “Born Under Punches (the Heat Goes On)”. Sometimes great albums just take the general public awhile to fully catch on and “Remain in Light” is a prime example. It remains the signature album statement by one of the best and most important bands of the late 70’s/early 80’s new wave movement.
14. THE VIOLENT FEMMES- THE VIOLENT FEMMES (1983)
Buy Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
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The Violent Femmes are the quintessential 80’s cult band. Their debut album technically came out in 1983, but the date hardly seemed to matter. They received hardly any airplay at first- not even on college radio. Yet cassette tapes of their debut were passed around by college kids and onto to the younger brothers and sisters in high school and a cultof fans grew organically around the band. Their album became a right of passage for anyone interested in music made left of the dial. The band’s sound is folk- punk played loosely and aggressively with no production budget. The singing by lead vocalist Gordon Gano is bratty and nasal and the bass lines drive most of the songs- the Femmes play aggressive but not loudly. Most of their songs are about teenage alienation but nearly all are filled with humor, no matter how bitter. They are a band that wouldn’t be in existence is not for the Velvet Underground of the sixties and the Modern Lovers of the 70’s, yet they wound both unique and unmistakable. I’m not familiar with most of their material aside from the first album but the debut is pretty much flawless. “Kiss Off”, “Blister in the Sun”, “Gone Daddy Gone”, and “Add It Up” have all become alt rock classics and the rest of the album is nearly as good- particularly “Prove My Love” and “Promise”.
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Buy Kiss Off Amazon
13. U2- BOY (1980)
Buy Boy (Deluxe Edition) [Remastered] – U2
Buy Boy (Deluxe Edition)Amazon
There are a few U2 albums that really are criminally underrated- “October” is one and “The Unforgettable Fire” is slightly underrated as well. 1988’s “Rattle and Hum” is not as bad as it’s made out to be, but the most overlooked album in U2’s discography is their debut album “Boy”. It’s not despised or even disliked- it’s just not given credit for being the tour de force that it is. The running narrative is that “War” was U2’s great leap forward and that “The Joshua Tree” was their first full blown masterpiece, but honestly if U2 had never made another album after “Boy” they would still be talked about- and “Boy” would likely be more well renowned than it is today. Sure “Boy” is much more simplistic sounding and less multi-layered than many of their subsequent albums but damn what a sound. The Edge already had established his trademark ringing echo guitar sound and every song on the album sounds huge, stadium ready and sung with Bono’s punk rock earnestness. If you played “Boy” for anyone who had never heard their early stuff they would be able to tell it was U2 within five seconds of the first song. The only well-known U2 song on the album is opener “I Will Follow” but there are a handful of should-be classics- “Twilight”, “Into the Heart”, “Stories for Boys”, “A Day Without Me”, “Electric Co” & “Out of Control” still sound just as exciting over thirty years on. “Boy” was step 1 in U2’s plot to take over the world by a band that came fully formed right out of the starting gate.
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12. GUNS N’ ROSES- APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION (1987)
Buy Appetite for Destruction – Guns N’ Roses
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“Appetite for Destruction” was one of the two albums (the other being “Nevermind”) in my music listening lifetime that I knew would be a musical and cultural phenomenon the first time I heard it. In the summer of 1987 I saw the video for “Welcome to the Jungle” on MTV’s “Headbanger’s Ball”. The track stuck out immediately amidst the the lame hair metal bands becoming increasingly prominent in the mid eighties- it was loud, sleezy, edgy, weird & fun. It grabbed its influences from both seventies hard rock and arena bands as well as punk rock. There was a danger to this band that was missing in most of the other bands around at the time. I immediately began raving about the band to anyone who would listen and was mostly ignored or even mocked by my friends for it. But months later I got the last laugh with the release of power ballad “Sweet Child O Mine” and the band became a phenomenon. The band re-released “Jungle” the following winter and THEN everyone loved it. As likely anyone reading this list knows “Appetite” has since gone down in the annals of history as one of the all-time classic heavy rock albums of all time. The band’s lyrics and personality, particular leader Axl Rose, are often tough to defend, especially the raunchiest and most mysogynistic songs like “It’s So Easy”, but every track on the album is an ass kicker. The album’s third single “Paradise City” has also become an all-time eighties classic alongside “Sweet Child” and “Jungle” but some of the album tracks, particularly “Rocket Queen” and “Mr. Brownstone” are as good or even better than the three singles. The band would become even bigger, though more precious and bloated, with their double album “Use Your Illusion” 1991 releases but those albums were the beginning of the end for the band. Guns was blown apart by drugs, inter-band feuds and Axl’s bizarre personality. But to this day the legacy of the band is insured due to the perfection of “Appetite”.
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11. JOY DIVISION- CLOSER (1980)
Buy Closer (Collector’s Edition) – Joy Division
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The late, great Joy Division consists of a few underground 12” singles, two perfect full length albums and an odds and sods compilation containing their biggest (by far) single- “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, released posthumously after lead singer Ian Curtis’s 1980 suicide. After Curtis’s death the rest of the band formed the influential and amazing synth pop/pre techno group New Order. So we’re dealing with some serious talent here. Joy Division is probably the definitive post-punk band. Though their earliest singles were released in 1977- during the height of punk’s heyday, and the band resides in the U.K., the mecca of punk rock, they were musically and stylistically far different than bands like the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Buzzcocks and the rest of that ilk. Though Joy Divisions music was stripped down and simple like punk, it lacked punk’s aggression- it was slowed down, very dark and gloomy and much more atmospheric- relying on synthesizers as one of the main components of the sound. It was the biggest influence on and a forerunner of goth music. When 1980’s “Closer” came out it was just thought of as the next album after their amazing debut in 1979 “Unknown Pleasures”. But in retrospect the extreme desperation of the lyrics makes it Curtis’s death seem almost inevitable and the feeling of the album depressingly is the perfect swan song of a band gone long before its should have been. None of the band’s best singles like save for “Isolation” are on “Closer” but the album is practically note perfect from beginning to end and is meant to be played as a whole. It’s sound has yet to be truly replicated.