40. RUN-DMC- RAISING HELL (1986)
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I had a tough time deciding on which Run-DMC album I like better- their groundbreaking debut or 1986’s “Raising Hell”? Though the albums are close to equal in quality I chose “Hell” by a nose. Along with “License to Ill” by the Beastie Boys, brought rap music to the suburban mainstream and therefore greater cultural prominence and commercial success. The most celebrated track on “Raising Hell” is “Walk This Way”, DMC’s collaboration with Aerosmith, but that track to me is nothing much more than a cover of the classic Aerosmith version on 1975’s “Toys on the Attic”. The video, played incessantly on MTV, was pretty cool and showed a breaking down of the musical color barriers, but beyond that Run-DMC had already done rap-rock better before this with “Rock Box” and “King of Rock”. The title track to “Raising Hell” does as well- so much that I think it’s probably my favorite Run-DMC track of them all. The other singles on “Raising Hell” to me offer much more musically thanb “Walk This Way” as well. “My Adidas” saw the group laying down its mantra, “It’s Tricky” is a classic party jam and maybe their most fun jam, “Peter Piper” exemplifies the skills of their great turntabilist Jam Master Jay and and gross out track “You Be Illin’” is flat out hilarious. The filler tracks are also of higher quality than on the debut- particularly “Proud to be Black. All of this amounts to one of the best rap albums ever made and along with “License to Ill”, “Raising Hell” offered in an era of great rap albums. Though Run-DMC’s only had one more quality album in them before they began to taper off, with “Raising Hell” they had already done more than enough to ensure their legacy in the annals of hip hop.
Buy Raising Hell – Raising Hell
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Buy It’s Tricky – Raising Hell
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39. TOM WAITS- RAIN DOGS (1985)
Buy Rain Dogs – Tom Waits
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“Rain Dogs” was Tom Waits’s follow up the eccentric “Swordfishtrombones” which took his career in a sharp left turn. Though “Dogs” is in the same vein as its predecessor it actually improves on it. Both albums are played in the same style- Waits brings his carnival barker growl and unusual instruments are found throughout the album. It’s as far away from a traditional singer songwriter album as you can get. Waits also bring expert guitarist Marc Ribot into the mix as well for the first time- he still plays with Waits to this day.. The songs on “Rain Dogs” stand above the tracks on “Swordfishtrombones” to me as well- particularly Waits classics like “Downtown Train”, “Time”, “Jockey Full of Bourbon” and “Clap Hands”. If you are new to Waits on want to give him a listen, outside of a career spanning anthology, I think “Rain Dogs” is the best place to start.
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Buy Jockey Full of Bourbon – Rain Dogs
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38. PRINCE- 1999 (1982)
Buy 1999 – Prince
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Though Prince already had a critical smash under his belt with his 1980 album “Dirty Mind”, and his commercial stature a grown even further (at least in the R&B world) with 1981’s “Controversy”, “1999” was his first true crossover album. Everyone in suburbia now knew Prince’s name after the title track, “Little Red Corvette”, and “Delirious” became huge radio hits and the former two videos were played all over MTV- along with Michael Jackson Prince was integral in breaking down the video channel’s color barrier. Those three tracks are indelible classics- “Corvette” is probably my all time favorite Prince song, but the album didn’t stop at the singles. Whereas “Dirty Mind” was an airtight thirty minute album, “1999” was long, loose and sprawling, a bold move by Prince. There are only 11 tracks but 7 of them are above the six minute mark. “1999” (the album) was nothing less than taking the Parliament/Funkadelic sound and updating it for the 80’s “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”, and “D.M.S.R. (Dance Music Sex Romance)” are two favorite album cuts along with the ballad “Free”- one of Prince’s very best ballads. It is hard to believe but Prince was operating at such a high level that he would top “1999” not once but TWICE! later in the decade.
Buy Little Red Corvette – 1999 Buy Little Red CorvetteAmazon
Buy 1999 – 1999
37. THE POLICE- ZENYATTA MONDATTA (1980)
Buy Zenyatta Mondatta (Remastered) – The Police
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All five of the Police studio albums are pretty great but pound for pound “Zenyatta Mondatta” is my favorite. Though it is more experimental than their two punk-reggae albums before it, it is also leaner and less prone to missteps than their earlier albums. The two big hits are “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “De Doo Doo Doo De Da Da Da”, which helped take the band, already on the rise, into the stratosphere. “Driven to Tears”, “Main in a Suitcase”, and “When the World Is Running Down…” are great album tracks and the album flows well from start to finish- you don’t need to skip a track. While most of the tracks are upbeat in tempo, singer/lyricist Sting does deal with political issues for the first time on several tracks paving the way for heavier themes and on “Ghost in the Machine” and “Synchronicity”. Sting is on record saying the album was a bit slapdash as the band was forced to deliver it to the label in time for their world tour. It makes me wonder how good the finished product could have been if they had more time to work on it- it certainly is a pretty damn great listen as is.
Buy Don’t Stand So Close to Me – Zenyatta Mondatta (Remastered)
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Buy Man In a Suitcase – Zenyatta Mondatta (Remastered)
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36. BLACK FLAG- DAMAGED (1981)
Buy Damaged – Black Flag
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Washington D.C. had Minor Threat and Bad Brains but L.A.’s Black Flag was the best hardcore band on thew west coast and 1981’s “Damaged” is their definitive album. Flag had been playing and recording since 1978 but “Damaged” was the first album they recorded with new singer and future punk icon Henry Rollins. Rollins vocals were ferocious and at times downright scary- his guttural screams left little in doubt that he “meant it” man! The song subjects tackle the feelings of teenage boredom and alienation and most notably attacked the hypocrisy of everything that was wrong about the adult world. The songs range from the humorous- “TV Party”, and “Six Pack”- the former a knock on the mindlessness of television and the latter a takedown of fraternity and bro culture, to the dead serious- “Depression”, “Damaged”, “Damaged II”, “Life of Pain”. Guitarist Gregg Ginn’s monster riffs make Flag hardcore’s answer to Black Sabbath. Black Flag are definitely not for every one but anyone who likes pissed off and/or heavy music should give “Damaged” a listen- it will likely be an underground classic for angry teenagers for many years to come.
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Buy Damaged Ii [Explicit]Amazon
35. THE GO-GO’S- BEAUTY AND THE BEAT (1981)
Buy Beauty and the Beat – The Go-Go’s
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The Go-Go’s were the first commercially successful, all girl group who played their own instruments and who weren’t controlled by a male svengali. They were rooted in the late 70’s L.A. punk scene but by the time of the release of “Beauty and the Beat”, their debut album, they were given a commercial sheen so that they could appeal to the masses. Their sound combines girl group harmonies, surf rock guitar, peppy New Wave keyboards and production & just the right amount of punk attitude. They found the perfect mix on their debut and the result was one of the biggest albums of the whole eighties New Wave era. “Beauty and the Beat” is a delight to listen to from start to finish. “We Got the Beat” (so good that plays over the opening scene in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”!) and “Our Lips are Sealed” were huge hits that still receive airplay today but the whole album is made up of should have been singles. “Fading Fast”, “Skidmarks On My Heart”, “Lust to Love” and “This Town” are just four of my favorites. The Go-Go’s still had some great songs in them after this album but they were never able to duplicate its success- neither commercially nor critically. “Beauty and the Beat” though stands on its own as one of the great debut albums in rock- by a female band or any band period.
Buy Our Lips Are Sealed – Beauty and the Beat
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Buy We Got the Beat – Beauty and the Beat
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34. R.E.M.- DOCUMENT (1987)
Buy Document – R.E.M.
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“Document” was the first R.E.M. album to contain a true top forty hit and it led the way for future R.E.M. commercial juggernauts like “Green”, “Out of Time”, and “Automatic People” and the ascendancy toward becoming one of the biggest bands in rock music. “Document” ‘s pop hit is “The One I Love”. Though I like it a bit more now, in 1987 I couldn’t stand it. Despite my somewhat negative feelings about “The One I Love”, the rest of the album more than makes up for it. The one-two-three punch of “Finest Worksong”, “Welcome to the Occupation”, and “Exhuming McCarthy” are almost a match for “Life’s Rich Pageant” ‘s opening trio of songs. The huge college radio hit “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” is one of the band’s most enduring songs. It’s so well known today that people could be forgiven for thinking that it was the big hit on “Document”. The album contains less filler than “Pageant” as well- where “Pageants” is eclectic and a bit messy at times, “Document” hangs together well. It’s an angry record that rails against the political conservatism of the mid-eighties. If you love Ronald Reagan this album may get under your skin. For those people who consider Stipe and R.E.M. annoyingly self-righteousness, “Document” is really where that starts.
Buy It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) – Document
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Buy Exhuming McCarthy – Document
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33. U2- THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE (1984)
Buy The Unforgettable Fire (Remastered) [Deluxe Version] – U2
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U2 had developed a signature sound already over the course of their first three albums- “Boy”, “October”, and “War”. All three can be considered post punk and carry The Edge’s distinctively chiming guitar licks and Bono’s earnest and soulful if unsubtle vocals- each album was progressively more anthemic and bombastic than the last. With their fourth album, U2 did an about face and began working with producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno to produce a much more subtle, layered album that they had ever attempted before. The albums still have anthems- this is U2 after all- but even the anthems are much more textured than tracks like “I Will Follow” ands “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. “Pride (In the Name of Love)” was U2’s first top 40 hit and the six minute “Bad”, about a heroin addict, is possibly the band’s best ever song. Opening track “A Sort of Homecoming”, the bracing “Wire” and the beautiful title track are all amazing songs as well and some of the best ones in the entire U2 canon. The album does contain a few missteps, namely “Elvis Presley and America” and to a lesser extent “MLK”. Even those tracks were quite ambitious even in their failure and signaled that Bono & co. would not be content to rest on their laurels. Though both “War” and “Joshua Tree” get most of the credit for being the best of 80’s U2, “The Unforgettable Fire”, is nearly as good as either and deserves to stand among U2’s best albums.
Buy Bad – The Unforgettable Fire (Remastered) [Deluxe Version]
Buy The Unforgettable Fire – The Unforgettable Fire (Remastered)
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32. PRINCE- SIGN O THE TIMES (1987)
Buy Sign ‘O’ the Times – Prince
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“Sign O the Times” was Prince’s second double album of the decade and after the brilliance of “Dirty Mind”, “1999” and “Purple Rain”, “Sign” gives him the authority to commission his likeness to be carved out on the Mt. Rushmore of music. “Sign O’ the Times” was both longer and more ambitious then “1999”. While “1999” focused mostly on lengthy funk jams, “Sign O’ the Times” was his most eclectic album, hitting on hard rock, folk, blues, gospel, smoothed-out soul and of course funk. The album was filled with both party jams like “Housequake”, “Hot Thing” and the single “U Got the Look” (with Sheena Easton) and serious tracks touching on the issues of the day- nuclear war, AIDS, drug addiction, abortion. The title track alone practically covered every one of those issues. “If I Was Your Girlfriend” is in its own way as freaky as any track on “Dirty Mind” and “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” may be the best of the whole lot. “Sign O’ the Times” is an album you can go back to and continue to learn from which each listen- your favorite track on it is likely to change each year.
Buy I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man – Sign ‘O’ the Times
Buy I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man [Explicit]
Buy Sign ‘O’ the Times – Sign ‘O’ the Times
Buy Sign ‘O’ the Times – Sign ‘O’ the Times Buy Amazon
31. THE JAM- SOUND AFFECTS (1980)
Buy Sound Affects (Remastered) – The Jam
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My wife (girlfriend at the time) turned me on to the Jam in ’96- prior to that I had never even heard them. She is quite a big fan of the Jam and music in general and loves the hits. But rather than starting me off with a great Jam compilation (and these do exist!) she played me was 1980’s “Sound Affects”, the bands fifth full-length album. It’s so tight that it does the band justice better than any single comp does. The Jam had begun their career in 1977 as a punk band heavily indebted to The Kinks and The Who, but “Sound Affects”, was both a more mature and a more pop oriented album that they had ever attempted previously. The band is still criminally underrated and unheard in the States but they were one of the biggest bands in their native England at the time of the album’s release. If you know one Jam song, single “That’s Entertainment” is likely that song. And it is their definitive song- catchy, cleverly worded and beautifully played and sung- it is a must-have in anyone’s record collection. But that song only scratched the surface of the greatness of the album. “Start!” outright steals the bass line from the Beatles “Taxman” but somehow still manages to be great in its own right, making it one of the most successful Beatles rips I’ve ever heard. Album opener “Pretty Green” and follow-up “Monday” are two of my Jam favorites and “Man in a Corner Shop” and “Set the House Ablaze” are standouts as well. Though this album is well thought of by many rock critics, it should be even more highly rated, appreciated and especially heard- it could very well be the most underrated album on this list. The Jam would release only one more studio album before calling it quits. Lead singer Paul Weller would go on to a very successful solo career in the U.K. and would remain, you guessed it, relatively unknown in the U.S.
Buy That’s Entertainment – Sound Affects (Remastered)
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Buy Pretty Green – Sound Affects (Remastered)
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Loving the list of 80s albums, B Dog (with a few exceptions). Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs was one of the first albums where I really understood why people loved him, and I quickly became a fan. Keep up the good work, but check out some Big Country before finishing your list. I know that’s a long shot, but I’ll keep trying.
thanks Rich!! The list has been finished for while so no time to change but I do need to check out Big Country more. Another great U.K. band that the U.S. forgot I guess… I think “Rain Dogs” is Waits’ best record as well though I there is much to like in his entire discography.
I have to know your exceptions. I’m guessing many of them are on the rap end of things?