Top 100 Albums of the 80’s: 41-50


*Not available via iTunes

Buy Zen Arcade Amazon

Along with the previously mentioned “Double Nickels On A Dime” by the Minutemen, “Zen Arcade” was the most ambitious album ever attempted by a band in the 80’s indie-rock underground scene. On their first few albums, Minneapolis’s Husker Du played blistering, rapid-fire hardcore punk- mostly tuneless stuff with one song blending into the next. “Zen Arcade” was an incredible leap forward for the band- not only was it more tuneful and song-oriented but it was also more experimental. In between future indie-punk anthems like “Pink Turns to Blue”, “Something I Learned Today”, and “What’s Going On”, are acoustic ballads, tape loop experiments, noisy thrash & psychedelia. The album is not a barrel of laughs- it is filled with political diatribes, and laments to pain, anguish & lovesickness. Husker Du had re-written the rules for what an indie band in the eighties could do. They would go on to have a huge influence on bands like Nirvana- noisy as hell bands that always hid a great melody underneath all of the racket.

*Tracks not available via iTunes

Buy What’s Going OnAmazon

Buy Pink Turns To BlueAmazon

49. VAN HALEN- 1984 (1984)

Buy 1984 – Van Halen

Buy 1984Amazon

“1984” is often unfairly maligned by old school metalheads as the band’s first sell-out album due to the big pop crossover hits “Jump” and “Hot for Teacher”.  It certainly is the last great Van Halen album before they descended  into the awfulness of the Sammy Hagar years. But more than that “1984”  was a hell of an album- is at least the 2nd best album release of the band’s career, deferring to their self-titled debut. It took the band to much greater commercial heights due mostly to the aforementioned “Jump and “Hot for Teacher” singles and iconic videos  as well as the hard rockin’ “Panama”  and icy ballad “I’ll Wait” which all charted. Though the band had used synths before, they were never as obvious as on “Jump”. But let’s face it- “Jump” and the rest of the above singles are damn good songs and the much of the forgotten “filler” on “1984” is even better. “Drop Dead Legs” has as mighty a guitar riff as any song in the Van Halen canon. “Top Jimmy” is good fun and “House of Pain” and “Girl Gone Bad” are monsters- they are two of the band’s heaviest songs.  There is not a single filler track in the bunch- “1984” deserved its commercial success but also deserves a critical re-evaluation.

Buy Panama – 1984

Buy Panama Amazon

Buy Girl Gone Bad – 1984

Buy Girl Gone Bad Amazon


Buy Madonna – Madonna

Buy Madonna (Bonus Tracks)Amazon

This is the one and only album that Madonna made before she was a star.  She hit the ground running with her debut album and never looked back.  “Madonna” grew her profile considerably setting the change for the world domination she achieved her her next album “Like A Virgin”.  As opposed to the more pop driven “Virgin”, “Madonna” was very indebted to the New York City dance scene that helped form her musically and image-wise in the earliest eighties. Madonna delivered three huge pop hits- her first top 40 pop hit, the enduring “Holiday”, “Lucky Star”-her first memorable video, and my favorite “Borderline”.  But after that are dance club only “hits” like the awesome “Everybody” and the white rock dance-rock track “Burnin’ Up”. Five out of eight songs on the album are classics with the very good “Physical Attraction” just away from classic status. Despite some more minor league filler, Madonna’s first album is still my favorite. She has made many great songs since and a few near-great to great albums but I don’t think she ever bettered her debut.

Buy Borderline – Madonna

Buy Borderline Amazon

Buy Burning Up – Madonna

Buy Burning UpAmazon

Buy Paid In Full (Expanded) – Eric B. & Rakim

Buy Paid In Full – Platinum Edition Amazon

Despite never coming close to having a crossover hit, Eric B & Rakim were known as the best DJ/MC team by Hip Hop heads during the golden age of rap. Before Eric B came on the scene the dominant sounds in rap were either spare drumbeats ala Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC and Cut Creator of LL Cool J or the electro sounds of groups like Newcleus and Mantronix. While keeping the music minimal, Eric B took rap in a much funkier direction, musically mining much of the catalog of the godfather of funk, James Brown. And Rakim’s flow was without peer. It wasn’t what he said but how he says it (or as Rakim says “It’s not where ya from it’s where ya at”). His deadpan cadence sounds positively menacing without him uttering so much as a cuss word. After the duo launched their career with the 1986 single “Eric B. Is President”/“My Melody” (both included on this album), they followed with their debut full length- ‘87’s “Paid in Full”. While “Paid” does contain some instrumental tracks to highlight Eric B’s turntable skills which sound a bit dated, they do fit in sonically quite well with the rest of the album so they don’t bog the album down too much. And each of the true lyric songs is an absolute hip hop classic- “Move the Crowd”, “I Know You Got Soul”, the title cut and “I Ain’t No Joke”. These tracks, along with the aforementioned debut two-sided single would really help launch the modern rap sound.

As a bonus check out the Coldcut remix of the title track called 7 Minutes of Madness included on the reissue of the cd- it’s not to be missed.

Buy I Know You Got Soul – Paid In Full (Expanded)

Buy I Know You Got SoulAmazon

Buy Paid In Full – Paid In Full (Expanded)

Buy Paid In FullAmazon

Buy Pretty Hate Machine (2010 Remaster) – Nine Inch Nails

Buy Pretty Hate Machine [2010 Remaster]Amazon

Along with Ministry’s “The Mind is A Terrible Thing to Taste”, Trent Reznor’s debut “Pretty Hate Machine” was the first industrial album I ever heard or that ever received any commercial traction. Though “Hate” sounds rather tame now compared to Ministry or Nine Inch Nails later output, I still remember how fresh lead single “Head Like A Hole” sounded in 1990. Along with other bands like Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails was very responsible for helping to bring outsider music to the masses in the pre-Nirvana mania era. Where “Head Like A Hole” is driven by loud guitars, sounding angry and massive, the majority of “Pretty Hate Machine” is more techno driven- taking its cues from Joy Division and the more somber parts of New Order. Some of the beats are dance-worthy but these are anything but carefree and happy songs. Reznor sounds let down in every song- whether by family, society, love or God. Nearly every song is a winner- the great follow up singles “Terrible Lie” and “Kinda I Want To”, the sexually deviant “Sin” and the minimalistic ballad “Something I Could Never Have”- which is so depressing it comes dangerously close to parody. Many nineties bands would take what Reznor did on this album as a template and would flat out ruin the sound but “Pretty Hate Machine” still stands out as a great album and my favorite Nine Inch Nails release.

Buy Head Like a Hole – Pretty Hate Machine (2010 Remaster)

Buy Head Like a HoleAmazon

Buy Something I Can Never Have – Pretty Hate Machine (2010 Remaster)

Buy Something I Can Never HaveAmazon

45. RUN-DMC- RUN-DMC (1984)
Buy Run-DMC – Run-DMC

Buy Run DMCAmazon

Run-DMC  debut was as important to rap as the first Beatles album was to Rock music. It may not even be the group’s best album, but it broke more ground than any other rap album before or since. It is indeed, the first great rap full-length album. Before it rap music was primarily found solely on 7” or 12” singles.  Even the few full albums were slapdash affairs equivalent to many of the rock n’ roll records in the mid 50’s- a few killer and lots of filler.  “Run-DMC” also tread a completely new path for rap both sonically and stylistically. DMC dressed as urban street kids- leather jackets, black hats & Adidas with no laces- the antithesis of the glittery showman outfits worn by most of rap’s earliest stars. DMC’s sound, created by brilliant DJ Jam Master Jay was spare and menacing- with minimal drumbeats and scratching leading the way- again taking them in a totally different direction than the rap that preceded them which was mostly caught up in a post-disco haze, mirroring the sound of the early 80’s funk tracks popular at the time. The album contains the group’s groundbreaking 1983 two-sided single “It’s Like That/Sucker Mc’s” as well as the brilliant “Hard Times”- again aside from “The Message” by Grandmaster FLash & the Furious Five most rap songs were silly, party anthems, but DMC was dead serious. “Rock Box” was the first rap/rock record- incorporating elements of heavy metal guitar beating the Beastie Boys at that game by more than a year. “Jam Master Jay” showcases their DJ to nice effect. A few lesser tracks drag the album down slightly but there is more than enough here to justify this album’s classic status.

Buy Rock Box – Run-DMC

Buy Rock BoxAmazon

Buy Sucker M.C.’s (Krush-Groove 1) – Run-DMC

Buy Sucker M.C.’s (Krush-Groove 1) Amazon

*Not available via iTunes

Buy New Day Rising Amazon

After the epic double LP tour de force, “Zen Arcade” what would the Huskers do for a follow up? Well they would release two more (this time separate) albums just a year later – “New Day Rising” (the better of the two) and the also great “Flip Your Lid”. With “New Day Rising” further refined their sound by eliminating most of the experimentation and any of the excess of the previous album and delivered an album filled with short and concise noise-pop songs. The sound of the album was a mixture of late 70’s punk and early 80’s hardcore with sixties psychedelia and jangle pop ala the Nuggets bands and the Byrds thrown in the mix. Behind all of the thin production and white noise is an album filled with catchy hooks & melodies- sometimes it takes a bit of digging to find them but they are there. “New Day Rising” would be an inspiration on all lo-fi power pop bands to follow and to me is the group’s definitive statement.

Buy Celebrated Summer Amazon

*Not available on iTunes

Buy New Day Rising Amazon

*not available on iTunes


Buy Imperial Bedroom – Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Buy Imperial BedroomAmazon

“Imperial Bedroom” is Costello’s foray into classic tin pan alley pop music, an extension of the jazz & pop flourishes that he had delved into on several tracks on the previous year’s “Trust”, which was his most ambitious & varied album up to that time. “Bedroom” is more of a genre exercise than the eclectic “Trust”, but  it’s also more musically complex and heavily orchestrated than anything he had attempted previously. Though Costello already had several masterpieces under his belt by ’82, but “Imperial Bedroom” cemented his legacy as a “serious musician” both among critics and his peers. Before he was an upstart punk, now he could stand alongside the Paul McCartneys and the Elton Johns of the music world. Only a few tracks on the album are among Costello’s most well known- most notably opening track “Beyond Belief” and “Man Out of Time”, which are both on the short list for his best song ever, but there are other standout tracks on the album like “Shabby Doll”, “Almost Blue”, and “Town Cryer”. “Imperial Bedroom” is a sublime album and of all his post 1980 album it’s my favorite.

Buy Man Out of Time – Imperial Bedroom

Buy Man Out Of TimeAmazon

Buy Beyond Belief – Imperial Bedroom

Buy Beyond Belief Amazon


Buy The Smiths – The Smiths

Buy The SmithsAmazon

Even more than The Cure & New Order the Smiths were the best British band of the eighties. The band’s emergence in 1983 drew a line in the sand between the New Romantics and Synth-Pop bands dominant in the very early eighties and the Brit Pop bands of the early nineties.  The Smiths influenced nearly every British band that came after them. The band was indebted to the jangle pop of R.E.M. & the Byrds but they brought much more to the table than just that- throwing in elements of sixties girl group & pop, 50’s rockabilly and of course 70’s punk. Guitarist Johnny Marr was an expert guitar player, playing understatedly with no solos and not a wasted note but chiming riffs galore. Singer Morrissey was one of the central iconic figures in rock in the U.K. at the time.  Though he was only an underground hero in America at the time his stature has grown tremendously since the 80’s and he’s pretty much a household name in this country now.  He is poetic and morose, misanthropic and constantly challenges societies existing mores- particularly in regards to sexuality and meat-eating- very ahead of his time in both cases as homosexuality and veganism have since gained in public awareness. Their debut album contains both of their first two breakout singles of the prior year- “Hand in Glove” & “This Charming Man”- two of their best songs and indie rock classics. Third single “What Difference Does It Make” is also here in addition to phenomenal album tracks like “Still Ill”, “Pretty Girls Makes Graves” & “Reel Around the Fountain”. To show how amazing and prolific the Smiths were right out of the gate many of their other singles weren’t even included on this set. “Hatful of Hollow” was a collection of singles, b-sides & BBC version of “Smiths” released the same year that is nearly as good as the debut. The only reason it’s not included on this list is because it’s technically a compilation, but check it out- it’s a necessary purchase for any Smiths fan.

Buy This Charming Man – The Smiths

Buy This Charming ManAmazon

Buy Still Ill – The Smiths

Buy Still IllAmazon

41. AC/DC- BACK IN BLACK (1980)

*Not available via iTunes or Amazon

What more is there to say about “Back in Black”? At this point I have every guitar line committed to memory and “Hells Bells”, “Back in Black”, “You Shook Me All Night Long” and to a lesser extent “Shoot to Thrill” have now been played to death by radio. It’s maybe THE definitive hard rock album of all time and one of the top commercial sellers ever as well- an amazing feat considering the band’s fairly narrow appeal- i.e.- most grandmothers aren’t going to like it but it appears that everyone who has ever liked hard rock owns a copy. Ironically “Back in Black” was recorded with the band’s second vocalist Brian Johnson.  Nothing against Johnson- his vocals fir perfectly with this album, but I’m more of a fan of AC/DCD’s original singer Bon Scott.  I think the majority of AC/DC’s best work was done with Scott in the mid to late 70’s before his untimely death of an alcohol overdose in 1980 just prior to the recording of this album. Yet “Back in Black” is without a doubt AC/DC’s best album- it is the culmination of all of the momentum the band had built up through the 70’s. It contains many of their best songs- certainly their most anthemic songs at least, has their best guitar riffs, great production courtesy of super-producer Mutt Lange, and has absolutely no filler. Brian Johnson, while lacking the charisma of Scott, certainly has a similar vocal, a raw, screeching banshee howl that became one of the most recognized voices in heavy rock. The lyrics & songs were also mostly written already- the band tends to focus mostly on sexual metaphors, death & partying all common rock n’ roll subjects for sure. So you won’t necessary learn much from this album but it’s still a blast to listen to 30 years on.

Hells Bells Not available via iTunes or Amazon

Back in Black Not available via iTunes        Buy Back in Black Amazon

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