Top 5 Albums Of The 1980’s

This little “test” of mine just keeps getting harder and harder. Each decade gets me closer to my formative teen years when music had a real impact. Like it or not I grew into a man (child?) in the 80’s and early 90’s and have a permanent connection with the tunes of the day. I can agree that the 80’s had their share of terrible music, terrible production and, perhaps most importantly, terrible fashion mistakes. However I am also a huge advocate of the 80’s underground and believe that the period from 1980-1984 was one of the most fertile and creative in the history of rock and roll. You’ll never convince me otherwise, so don’t even bother. You’ll notice that all my Top 5 selections come from that time frame, as do most of the runners-up. The “movement”, thanks to overplay on MTV and many other factors, became corrupt and as plain and tasteless as a slice of processed cheese. Suddenly the airwaves and the record stores were filled with plastic stars such as Haircut 100, Flock Of Seagulls and Duran Duran, who were more concerned with how to part their hair than creating good music that pushed the envelope. Some bands survived (the Cure, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Beastie Boys), and others simply went away (the Smiths). But the good stuff…and there was plenty of good stuff…will survive and continue to inspire.

English Beat, I Just Can’t Stop It: The Specials had more street cred, but the Beat had the songs. I remember getting the cassette of this for Christmas, along with my shiny new Sony Walkman, and generally just playing the crap out of it. I didn’t know who Margaret Thatcher (a frequent lyrical target of The Beat and many of the other Ska and punk bands of the era) was at the time, I didn’t care. All I knew that the music sounded exotic and fun. I took my walkman out to the snow, put on my new cross country skis, and went on a 4 hour journey listening over, and over, and over and over…

Rush, Moving Pictures: RUSH haters beware! In the immortal words of Sam Jackson “I will strike down upon you with great vengeance and furious anger” should you dare to cast aspersions upon this sacred Canadian trio. And especially this album, which contains the immortal Tom Sawyer and the epic Camera Eye. So just don’t.

New Order, Power, Corruption and Lies: New Order, along with the Psychedelic Furs to some degree, were able to defy the odds of appearing in a John Hughes movie and not having their integrity smashed to smithereens., and the brilliance of this album had a lot to do with that. Released around the same time as the mighty Blue Monday, PC and Lies sounded like alien technology, but with enough warmth (Age Of Consent) and melody (bassist Peter Hook’s surname is an apt one, indeed) to make it approachable.

Orchestral Maneuvres In The Dark, Dazzle Ships: “Most American music fans don’t seem to know it, but Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark were around long before Andie and Ducky worked up the self-esteem to show up stag to the prom.”

Slaughtered by the critics when it came out, I must admit I didn’t really get what OMD were trying to accomplish with Dazzle Ships. I loved this band until, once again, John Hughes added a song of theirs to one of his movies and overexposed them to such a degree that I abandoned them. It wasn’t until the reissues started coming out that I re-familiarized myself with their back catalogue. They were huge Kraftwerk fans, and if you listen to Dazzle Ships and that former band’s Trans Europe Express there can be no argument that both share a love for machine music with heart. They have a new album coming out September 7th called History Of Modern, and I’m hoping for a comeback to the days of this album. But I doubt it.

Jazz Butcher, A Scandal In Bohemia: David J. from Bauhaus/Love and Rockets fame came on board just in time to contribute (heavily) to the Butcher’s pinnacle piece. One in a long line of brilliant British singer/songwriter eccentrics, Pat Fish (“Do you know what happens when you leave a Fish too long in an elevator? It stinks!”), along with the afore mentioned David J and sidekick Max Eider, created one of the most enduring musical artifacts of the decade with Scandal, and unlike some of the other synthesiser and drum machine based music that came to define an era this guitar/drums/bass album stands the test of time and hasn’t aged a day.

 Runners Up: The Pogues, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash; Fuzztones, Lysergic Emanations; Dead Kennedys, Plastic Surgery Disasters; Joe Jackson, Night And Day; KLF, The White Room; ABC, The Lexicon Of Love; Icicle Works, Icicle Works; Specials, More Specials; China Crisis, Working With Fire And Steel; Orange Juice, Rip It Up; Pet Shop Boys, Introspective; The Smiths, The Smiths; Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique; ABC, Lexicon Of Love; Gary Numan, The Pleasure Principal; Rush, Moving Pictures; The The, Soul Mining; Robyn Hitchcock, I Often Dream Of Trains; The Clash, Sandinista!; Simple Minds, New Gold Dream.

*A Special mention to Prefab Sprout’s Steve McQueen: Although Prefab Sprout never made much of a splash stateside, it’s 1985 album “Steve McQueen” remains a landmark of 80’s songwriting and production prowess.
The lush production is courtesy of one Thomas Dolby who adds space and air (and humanity) to songwriter Paddy McAloon’s dense, sometimes obtuse pretensions.
The first 6 songs are absolute classics, and although the techniques Dolby uses are utterly of their time the songs themselves remain oddly timeless. ‘Faron’ is a rockabilly shuffler and a great way to start the album but is not quite representative of the remaining tracks which have a connection through the lyrics primarily that deal with the human conditions of loss, regret and redemption. This album has spawned numerous fan sites and inspire a fanatical following worldwide. I myself have owned this album in it’s vinyl form, on cassette, cd (two copies!) and in MP3 format.