100. THE MEAT PUPPETS- UP ON THE SUN (1985)
Buy Up On the Sun – Meat Puppets
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The Meat Puppets are the strangest & least popular of the triumvirate of 80’s indie-rock bands on the SST label, also consisting of the Minutemen and Husker Du. The Puppets, whose two core members are Phoenix, Arizona bred brothers Chris & Kurt Kirkwood, deliver a sound that is part punk, part psychedelic & part whacked-out country. They can be credited for being progenitors of the alt-country movement but often aren’t because their sound is so singular. Their music gives me images of these guys playing their songs in the middle of the desert while buggin’ out on ‘shrooms at sunset. Though “Meat Puppets II” is their most well-known album, mostly due to the trio of songs covered by Nirvana for their MTV Unplugged album, “Up On the Sun” is actually a nose better. The songs and playing on “Sun” are tighter and more consistently focused than on “II”, though both albums should be deemed as essential purchases for any huge fan of indie-rock or alternative country. Or for anyone who just appreciates great, weird music.
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99. THE DESCENDENTS- MILO GOES TO COLLEGE (1982)
Buy Milo Goes to College – Descendents
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A bratty group of L.A. punks, who created perhaps the best full-length album release not by Black Flag of the L.A. hardcore scene with “Milo Goes to College”. In a scene not known for many decent full lengths outside of maybe “The Record” by Fear and “GI” by The Germs and the aforementioned Flag, “Milo” stands out for its sharp, furious playing and melodic sensibility- you can think of the album as a bridge between The Buzzcocks “Singles Going Steady” and Green Day’s “Dookie”. It’s as hooky as hardcore gets and much tighter and less sloppy than most of its competition. Their bratty songs and lyrics spout vitriol at nearly everything under the sun but through the lens of a teenager, therefore neglecting most of the bigger political issues of the time. The Descendents’ lyrics are blunt and hilarious for the most part, though there is some unfortunate childish homophobic ranting proving tough to listen to in our thankfully more open-minded modern time.
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98. VAN HALEN- FAIR WARNING (1981)
Buy Fair Warning – Van Halen
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“Fair Warning” is Van Halen’s 4th album as well as the most overlooked of the original David Lee Roth helmed incarnation of the band. I don’t have the numbers to prove it but I believe FW sold less than the other five albums of the band’s first phase as well. The music on “Fair Warning” is comparatively darker and heavier than the usual fun-loving jams of the legendary party band- making the album a fan favorite among true believers. Though it contains no radio hits or even songs played today on classic rock radio (outside of maybe the awesome “Unchained” which has had some limited airplay) the band and in particular Eddie absolutely shreds all over the album- particularly on the unstoppable A side. Though this album is not recommended as a first buy for a new listener, it’s a must buy for any true fan of hard rock or Van Halen.
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97. STEVE EARLE- GUITAR TOWN (1986)
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The debut album from this sometimes troubled, always fascinating, true blue descendent of outlaw country, is perhaps still his single best album release. From the get go Earle refused to march in lockstep with the traditional, conservative Nashville music industry. Though Earle is a full-blown country artist, he brings a rock n’ roll spirit & swagger to his music. His hard edge and way left of center politics make him a nearly impossible sell to country radio. The fact that he sticks out like a sore thumb and had limited airplay but was able to interest both country and rock audiences is a great testament to his talent and originality. “Guitar Town” was his first step in a long & illustrious if sometimes spotty career. He’s a true music lifer and an amazing wordsmith- it doesn’t get much better than, “Well I got to get out while I still can, Got a two pack habit and a motel tan”. What a start to a great album.
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96. THE CURE- HEAD ON THE DOOR (1985)
Buy The Head On the Door (Remastered) [Bonus Version] – The Cure
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Ever since The Cure’s first singles “Killing An Arab” and “Boys Don’t Cry”- both released in the late 70’s, they had been operating almost as two separate bands. There was the singles band releasing poppier bouncier tracks like “Let’s Go to Bed” and “Lovecats”, and the album band which made gloomy dirges like “Pornography” and “The Top” which stuck them with the “Goth band” label. “Head On the Door” was the first Cure album to combine those two qualities. As a result they became much more of a household name, particularly in America where they had still been very underground before 1985. Both “Close to Me” and “In Between Days” are on “Head On the Door”- two of The Cure’s best singles to date, but other tracks on the album such as “Six Different Ways” and “A Night Like This” were nearly as good. “Head On the Door” paved the way for even further artistic and commercial success later in the decade.
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95. DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS- SEARCHING FOR THE YOUNG SOUL REBELS (1980)
Buy Searching for the Young Soul Rebels – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
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Most in America know Dexys as that one hit wonder band who had that awesome song “Come On Eileen”. As awesome is that song is- and it IS awesome…I never get sick of it!- Dexys already had a thriving career in the U.K. prior to “Come On Eileen’s” release in 1982. “Searching”, the Birmingham, England band’s 1980 debut album, is a combination of Northern Soul, New Wave & and traditional Scottish Music sung with a punk rock attitude. To this day the album really stands alone- I’ve never heard anything like it before or since. Many of the tracks are political in nature, though most concern local issues that are likely impenetrable to the modern American ear. Lead singer, Kevin Rowland sings in a frantic, strangled yelp alongside soulful bass lines and vibrant horns- a tribute to American Soul music with a Celtic influence in a D.I.Y. punk fashion. One of a kind.
94. KRAFTWERK- COMPUTER WORLD (1981)
Buy Computer World – Kraftwerk
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Kraftwerk can be called the first techno group. The groundbreaking German group’s first album of the 80’s came at a time when the zeitgeist of the time had finally caught up to their influence. Though the group delivered worldwide hit single “Autobahn” in 1974, it was thought of as a novelty song at the time, but Kraftwerk was anything but a one hit wonder. By the early 80’s the burgeoning synth-pop movement recognized them as their godfathers and by the mid 80’s they were sampled by electro hip-hop groups like Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force. “Computer World” was their last truly great album release, but their fifth essential album in a row- it plays like a much deserved victory lap. Ironically one of the first bands to play all of their music on machines, “Computer World’s” examination of modern technology devices and their ramifications are a perfect fit- feel free to comment on what you know best!
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93. R.E.M.- GREEN (1988)
Buy Green – R.E.M.
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After flirting with the top 40 mainstream with “The One I Love” off of the previous year’s “Document”, R.E.M. plunged into the pop world headfirst with “Green”, much to the dismay of many of the band’s longtime fans. The Athens, Ga. quartet’s career trajectory practically mirrors that of indie-rock in general and it’s no surprise that the band’s ever growing cult of fans would be overprotective of their commercial success. It’s hard to argue that “Green” was a fairly drastic change in sound. Singles “Stand” and “Orange Crush” and uhhh “Pop Song ‘89” were more pop than anything they had previously released. Though there is a debate to be had about the merit of those songs, even if you hate all three of them there is still much to love about “Green”. “Hairshirt” and “You Are Everything” are two of the band’s loveliest songs. “World Leader Pretend” is a thought provoking masterpiece and one of the few tracks that included the lyrics on their packaging. “Turn You Inside Out” and “Get Up” rock as well. “Green” is another excellent release from probably my favorite overall band of the 80’s.
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92. ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS- BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE (1986)
Buy Blood and Chocolate – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
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Elvis’s second stellar release of 1986- the first being the roots-rock affair “King of America”- credited to Elvis’s given name Declan MacManus. “Blood & Chocolate” was a return to heavier, more punk rock approach of his late 70’s albums after his forays into soul, country & sophisticated pop music genres of his first three 80’s albums and the lower quality of his previous two- particularly 1984’s “Goodbye Cruel World”. “King of America” was a true Costello solo album, but the Attractions, one of the best bands in music, were back and in full force for “Blood & Chocolate”. Elvis & the Attractions may not quite have reached the peaks of “This Year’s Model” or “Armed Forces”, but those are two of the great albums ever, and “Blood and Chocolate” is good enough to stand with both. Costello’s writing is in top form as always and fans of the bitter, spiteful, vengeful Elvis will be happy here. He must have had one bad break-up prior to it. “I Hope You’re Happy Now” and “Tokyo Storm Warning” seethe with vitriol and “I Want You” is a better and scarier ode to obsessive love than “Every Breath You Take”. Though Costello has made many good albums since ’86, he has yet to top “Blood and Chocolate” since.
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91. THE FEELIES- CRAZY RHYTHMS (1980)
Buy Crazy Rhythms – The Feelies
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The Feelies were a spazzy, nerdcore band from suburban New Jersey, who had a polyrhythmic sound that was a mixture of African music and New Wave- not unlike David Byrne and the Talking Heads. Hard to believe but the Feelies sound was even more nervous and jumpier. The guitars are played quickly using only one or two chords, the vocals are tense and the drums take the lead and do most of the work. This is punk rock but done in a very different way than had ever been done prior to it- nervousness over anger. Though “Crazy Rhythms” had very little actual commercial success it would prove an indie-rock touchstone and would influence many other bands in the future- both sound & image- check out the cover of Weezer’s first album for instance. You’ll notice more than a slight resemblance.
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