The 80 Best Albums of the 1980s

Music Lists 1980s
The 80 Best Albums of the 1980s

The 1980s might conjure up images of leg warmers, parachute pants, moonwalking, Flock of Seagulls haircuts and any number of John Hughes movies. But looking back at the decade’s best albums, those years were extremely diverse. They saw the last vestiges of a vibrant punk scene and the beginnings of post-punk and New Wave; the rise of hip-hop and an explosion of great college radio; the brief ascension of rootsy singer/songwriters to mainstream country stardom; and the establishment of some almost-universally beloved pop stars. Today we celebrate our favorite albums that arose from the ’80s. There’s a little bit of rap, folk, country, jazz, pop and a lot of rock ’n’ roll in its various incarnations. Here are the 80 best albums of the 1980s.

Note: We included a maximum of two albums per artist so this didn’t just become a list of great R.E.M., Smiths and Springsteen albums.

X-Los-Angeles-cover.jpg80. X – Los Angeles (1980)
X’s debut Los Angeles set the template for The John Doe and Exene Cervenka Show, the great punk soap opera of the 1980s. Falling in and out of love and hate over every album, they gave us every detail of every booze-fueled breakdown, and always left room for bitchy asides about the rest of the poseurs and degenerates trying to make the scene in the shadow of Hollywood. Billy Zoom’s maximum surf and rockabilly riffs always helped made sure the desperation never felt like a drag. —Michael Tedder

leonard_man.jpg79. Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man (1988)
Before the release of I’m Your Man, Leonard Cohen was beginning to be discussed in the past tense, something he acknowledges in “Tower of Song.” “I ache in the places where I used to play.” The album’s synth lines and slick chick harmonies, however, gave the revered songwriter a current relevancy. “First We Take Manhattan” and its anti-authority refrain resonates just as firmly today with the Occupy protests in America and Europe. Cohen’s inventive lyrics continue to prove timeless, even as he adds to his legacy with the release this week of his first studio album in eight years. —Tim Basham

78.Eric-B-&Rakim.jpg78. Eric B. & Rakim – Paid in Full (1987)
We all know that Paid in Full was influential, that Rakim impacted everyone from Wu-Tang to Jay-Z, but listening to it again, I’m reminded that it’s also just damn good straight through. The album laid a foundation for lyrical innovation for everything that followed. —Jeff Gonick

77.Lou-Reed.jpg77. Lou Reed – The Blue Mask (1982)
Common threads aren’t easy to find in Lou Reed’s career—this is a point of pride for the man who hired Metallica to stinkbomb 2011 after a seven-year studio sabbatical. But humility underscores the lifelong egotist’s most beloved work, and The Blue Mask focuses on confessions and bareness, not to mention loveliness, which he certainly can’t take full credit for—Robert Quine’s skyscraping guitar and Fernando Saunders’ romantically deployed bass help conjure all the right moods, from languidly rhapsodizing about “Women” (“I think they’re great/ They’re a solace to a world in a terrible state”) to Oedipal raging in the grinding title tune (“I’ve made love to my mother/ Killed my father and my brother/ What am I to do?”). “Average Guy” is played for jest. —Dan Weiss

75.Black-Flag.jpg76. Black Flag – Damaged (1981)
In the ’80s, Black Flag’s cathartic, throat-shredding take on punk rock was unrivaled on the touring circuit. Fronted by the restless newcomer Henry Rollins—the band’s third frontman—the 1981 LP debut laid the ground rules for hardcore punk for decades to come. Bandleader Greg Ginn’s impossibly distorted and speedy guitar work is at its best on “Rise Above” and “Life of Pain.” The album also includes essential tracks like “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie” and “TV Party. ”—Tyler Kane

74.My-Bloody-Valentine.jpg75. My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything (1988)
On its first truly full-length album, shoegaze progenitor My Bloody Valentine set the stage for its 1991 masterpiece Loveless, with its harsh, swirling guitar tones and beautifully dissonant distortion. More importantly, it’s here that Kevin Shields first fine-tunes his experimental pop—creating a distinct style and aesthetic unlike anything else that came beforehand. Shoegaze eventually grew into its own genre thanks to the seed MBV planted on Isn’t Anything. —Max Blau

73.Depeche-Mode.jpg74. Depeche Mode – Music for the Masses (1987)
By 1987, the popularity of synthizer-based pop music was waning. What was not waning was the widely held belief that keyboard-based music wasn’t as real as rock ’n’ roll, man. In response, Depeche Mode released Music For The Masses, a collection of songs that were, if anything, far more epic in scope that any American arena band at the time; “Never Let Me Down Again” alone had a towering low-end that could shame anything on Headbanger’s Ball. Though written off as fey-novelty when they debuted with “Just Can’t Get Enough” in 1981, the band kept working. Masses was their sixth album and proof that they had perfected a mix of sulk-worthy, no-one-understands lyrics and sensual groove. The title proved accurate, as Masses was Depeche Mode’s biggest worldwide hit yet; they even shocked their detractors by selling out Los Angeles’s gigantic Pasadena Rose Bowl, a feat very few “real” rock bands were capable of. —Michael Tedder

72.Soft-Boys.jpg73. Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight (1980)
Today it’s hard to understand how the lightly psychedelic pop-rock of the Soft Boys was ever considered anything close to punk. Frontman Robyn Hitchcock is basically just Elvis Costello without the need to appear at every all-star jam. Underwater Moonlight sounds like the best bar band in the world playing hits from a world that’s better than our own. “I Wanna Destroy You” and “Queen of Eyes,” especially, should be radio staples. —Garrett Martin

71.The-Blasters.jpg72. The Blasters – Hard Line (1985)
It’s a measure of how highly regarded this L.A. quintet was in the mid ’80s that three of the top roots-rockers of the time contributed to this, the final studio album featuring both Dave and Phil Alvin. John Mellencamp wrote “Colored Lights” for Phil’s voice; X’s John Doe co-wrote two songs with Dave, and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo played mandolin on “Little Honey.” While the Blasters’ debut album, American Music, contained more crowd-pleasers, this one contained Dave’s darkest, richest songwriting. He wrote about false populists, interracial love, young boys looking for trouble and rock ’n’ rollers still stuck in day jobs. Drawing on their longtime affection for American roots music and their union father’s populist vision of America, the two brothers created a masterful combination of tradition and restless impatience. —Geoffrey Himes

70.Dinosaur-Jr.jpg71. Dinosaur Jr. – You’re Living All Over Me (1987)
Yes, You’re Living All Over Me was final, definitive proof that it was okay for punk or noise bands to dig classic rock. But there’s more to Dinosaur’s second album than the awesome riffs of “The Lung” and the ripping solo of “In A Jar.” In a medium built on the backs of confused teenage boys, few people had spoken to that audience as directly, intimately and monosyllabically as J. Mascis. It’s like he was one of them. Twenty-five years later it’s still the best album Mascis or Lou Barlow ever played on. —Garrett Martin

69.The-Replacements.jpg70. The Replacements – Pleased to Meet Me (1987)
A lot of people prefer The Replacements’ early albums for Twin Tone—which are admittedly impressive—but their mid-career, late-’80s trilogy for Sire holds up a lot better. Best of all is this one, which contains so many of the band’s greatest moments—“Alex Chilton,” “Never Mind,” “Skyway” and “Can’t Hardly Wait”—that it could easily be confused for a best-of compilation. Having fired unreliable guitarist Bob Stinson, singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg, drummer Chris Mars and bassist Tommy Stinson followed the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to Memphis to record with the legendary Jim Dickinson. Dickinson didn’t try to curb Westerberg’s uninhibited yowl or the band’s careening attack; he merely insisted that they keep time and play in tune, and that made all the difference. There are guest spots by Chilton himself and a teenaged Luther Dickinson, but this is Westerberg’s breakthrough moment, as he stops undermining his striking melodies, galvanizing riffs and mind-twisting aphorisms and lets them cast their spell. —Geoffrey Himes

feelies.jpg69. The Feelies – Crazy Rhythms (1980)
If I had a musical time machine, one of my first stops would be to visit the post-punk scene of New York right around 1980. I’d go see The Feelies at CBGB right after their debut album Crazy Rhythms and watch the crowd of other young musicians react to the melding of driving bass and drums with experimental guitar, a sound that would help inspire some of the best New Wave, gothic rock and jangly college rock. —Josh Jackson

67.The-Waterboys.jpg68. The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues (1988)
While folk-rock thrived in the U.S. during the 1970s, The Waterboys’ blending of ’80s rock and the Celtic roots of the Irish, Scottish and English members was refreshing. When Fisherman’s Blues came out in 1988, Mike Scott and his very large band had almost completely shed their arena-rock leanings for a more traditional tour de force that name-checked Hank Williams and quoted William Butler Yeats. —Josh Jackson

66.Indigo-Girls.gif67. Indigo Girls – Indigo Girls (1989)
A folk duo from Atlanta was an unlikely radio success story, but Emily Saliers and Amy Ray’s major-label debut went platinum thanks to hits like “Closer to Fine” and “Kid Fears.” With guest appearances from their R.E.M. neighbors up the road in Athens, it recalled times when folk songs from Greenwich Village became anthems across the country. Every kid with an acoustic guitar quickly learned how to play half the album. —Josh Jackson

65.Run-DMC.jpg66. Run-D.M.C. – Raising Hell (1986)
It’s hard to believe there was a time in music where hip-hop wasn’t taken seriously. Now over two decades after the release of Raising Hell, hip-hop is the predominant music of the generation, thanks in no small part to the path laid out by Run-D.M.C. Raising Hell proved that hip-hop was more than a fad, as it became the first hip-hop album to go platinum and made Run-D.M.C. the first rap group on MTV, the cover of Rolling Stone and to make it to the Grammys. Raising Hell influenced everything in hip-hop, from the call-and-response style used in “It’s Tricky” that would also be used by the Beastie Boys, the idea of fashion in hip-hop, with “My Adidas,” to even the unfortunate creation of rap rock after teaming up with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way.” Even though they say it’s “tricky to rap a rhyme, to rap a rhyme that’s right on time, it’s tricky,” on Raising Hell, Run-D.M.C. make it seem effortless. —Ross Bonaime

64.Nirvana.jpg65. Nirvana – Bleach (1989)
Nirvana’s 1989 debut only reached No. 89 on the Billboard 200 chart, and even then, it wasn’t after its 1992 re-release—and the 1991 success of Nevermind. But charts and popularity be damned. Bleach is grunge personified: a smart, bleak, troubled album from an equally smart, bleak and troubled young man. —Ani Vrabel

2x4.jpg64. Guadalcanal Diary – 2×4 (1987)
While they never got the attention of fellow Georgians R.E.M., Atlanta’s Guadalcanal Diary quietly had a masterpiece of its own with 2×4, produced by Don Dixon (R.E.M.’s Murmur). Rockabilly guitarist Jeff Walls and the more pop-minded frontman Murray Attaway combined for powerful Southern jangle, dishing one great song after another. —Josh Jackson

62.Bruce-Cockburn.jpg63. Bruce Cockburn – Humans (1980)
Few songwriters are as keen observers of humanity as Canada’s Bruce Cockburn, and he’s never been better than he is here, in the wake of a failed marriage and a move to inner-city Toronto. Here his writing began to get more political and outward-looking without losing the spiritual underpinnings and openness that made him unique. —Josh Jackson

61.The-Pretenders.jpg62. The Pretenders – The Pretenders (1980)
Coming from a place that was traditionally the territory of male rock stars, Chrissie
Hynde was sexy, sultry and totally in control when The Pretenders spat onto the
New Wave melee of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Her libidinous lyrics were the fuel for the band’s driving engine of guitars. “Brass in Pocket” remains an infectious classic. —Tim Basham

Talk Talk Spirit of Eden.jpg61. Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden (1988)
Call it post-rock, call it psych-jazz, call it experimental mumbo-jumbo. Whatever your preferred tag, one thing is clear: In the 20-plus years since its 1988 release, there’s never been another album quite like Talk Talk’s infamous masterpiece, Spirit of Eden. Mark Hollis sings enough just to barely sing, quivering out artful melodic squiggles with his radiant chest-cold tone, slinging spiritual poetry drenched in fog. Beneath is a utopian cavern of sonic heaven—double-bass moans, flickers of muted trumpet, sizzling cymbals, violent clashes of electric guitar. —Ryan Reed

Camper Van Beethoven Key Lime Pie.jpg60. Camper Van Beethoven – Key Lime Pie (1989)
Cracker was a bright spot on the modern-rock-radio landscape in the early ’90s, but even better was David Lowery’s earlier band, Camper Van Beethoven. The self-described “surrealist absurdist folk” group incorporated world music, psychedelia and Americana into a sound that was completely unique, driven by violins, Greg Lisher’s electric guitar and Lowery’s caustic humor. —Josh Jackson

The Fall Hex.jpg59. The Fall – Hex Enduction Hour (1982)
In my alternate universe, The Fall would have the top 12 or so slots on this list. If I could only pick one, though, and if that one can’t be an EP (sorry, Slates!), then Hex Enduction Hour would get the nomination after an unusually rancorous brokered convention. Basically it’s classic second-wave Fall at the peak of the twin-drummer/pre-Brix era, a lumbering rock ’n’ roll juggernaut built on plodding repetition and Mark E. Smith’s caustically hilarious lyrics. In classic Fall fashion, both band and record are entirely indifferent to whatever an audience could theoretically want. —Garrett Martin

midnight oil diesel and dust.jpg58. Midnight Oil – Diesel and Dust (1987)
Peter Garrett had joined the Oils more than a decade before Diesel and Dust made the Australian band a U.S. success, and that decade of playing together paid off in concert. Diesel and Dust showcased a band at its peak, full of righteous fury—packaged in four-minute modern-rock gems. There wasn’t much subtlety in Garrett’s screed, but the vitriol at the way his country—like so many others—had treated its indigenous population was well placed. And no artist arguably had a bigger impact on his government as he later joined it, fighting for native rights and environmental protections. —Josh Jackson

fugazi 13 songs.png57. Fugazi – 13 Songs (1989)
Fugazi stirred up a movement with the strong-handed sense of integrity with which they toured, recorded and released music throughout their career. But it’s not the group’s ethics that should have been getting them press all the time—it was their gymnasium-filling, intelligent brand of punk rock. Released in 1989, Fugazi’s 13 Songs had a title that would only be self-applied by a group of honest musicians that wanted their tracks taken at face value. The album was a compilation of their first EPs, 1988’s Fugazi and 1989’s Margin Walker. —Tyler Kane

janesaddictionnothingsshocking.jpg56. Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking (1988)
Jane’s Addiction’s major-label debut, 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking, helped inspire the alternative rock movement that would put an end to nearly a decade of cheese-metal. The album introduced the world to frontman Perry Farrell’s quirky squawk, Dave Navarro’s hero-level guitar solos, bassist Eric Avery’s raw compositions and drummer Stephen Perkins’ hammering rhythms. Inspiring the likes of Billy Corgan and Trent Reznor, who would blow up in the next decade, the album fused the best parts of punk, funk and metal with with pin-drop-quiet verses and thundering choruses that showed listeners how dynamically volume could be used. It included the super-popular acoustic bit “Jane Says,” but the album’s real shining moment is the epic Ted Bundy-inspired, seven-minute “Ted, Just Admit It. ”—Tyler Kane

David_Bowie_ScaryMonsters.jpg55. David Bowie – Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980)
“There’s a brand new talk,” David Bowie sings on Scary Monsters’s “Fashion,” “but I don’t know its name.” That sense of being slightly disconnected from the punk crowd of the late ’70s and the nascent New Wave scene echoes throughout the album. It’s Bowie trying to figure out exactly where he fits in at that moment in time, and for that reason it’s one of his most underrated albums. While it didn’t produce any massive hits, it did see the return of his Major Tom character on “Ashes to Ashes,” and Bowie manages to work in a dig at the new kids on “Teenage Wildlife”: “A broken-nosed mogul are you/One of the new wave boys/Same old thing in brand new drag.” In short, it’s a legacy artist reminding us that while fads come and go, he’ll always remain relevant, and in that sense, it’s a roaring success. —Bonnie Stiernberg

Steve_Earle_Guitar_Town.jpg54. Steve Earle – Guitar Town (1986)
If Bruce Springsteen had grown up in Texas, listening to Lefty Frizzell on the radio in a beat-up pick-up truck, he might have sounded a lot like Steve Earle. Earle has the Boss’s ability to tell blue-collar stories with just the right details and just the right guitar licks, but Earle sets his tales in small Texas towns and gives his riffs a tell-tale twang. Earle, who once played bass for Guy Clark, cut some singles for Epic that went nowhere, but 1986’s Guitar Town was his debut album, and he never topped this country-rock evocation of the forgotten kids too small for a football scholarship, too restless to stay home and too tough to give up. Co-producers Emory Gordy and Tony Brown turned four of them (“Hillbilly Highway,” “Guitar Town,” “Someday,” and “Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left”) into Top 40 country hits. —Geoffrey Himes

Los Lobos By The Light.jpg53. Los Lobos – By the Light of the Moon (1987)
In 1987, Los Lobos released not only the finest album of their career but also their sole top-20 single, the #1 “La Bamba.” The single came from a totally unrelated project, the soundtrack for the Ritchie Valens biopic, and had the unfortunate side effect of eclipsing By the Light of the Moon, the ’80s equivalent of The Band. Here was an album that asked the big questions about the American dream and answered them not with grand slogans but with tightly drawn vignettes about gun-filled streets, unemployed veterans, disappointed immigrants and single mothers, all translated by lovely, stoic singing and impeccable picking. These songs were framed by an old Mexican folk song that echoed the past and a rollicking rock ’n’ roll number, “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes,” that imagined a better future. —Geoffrey Himes

Squeeze East Side Story.jpg52. Squeeze – East Side Story (1981)
By 1981, Squeeze had three progressively better-selling albums under their belt, and songwriting partners Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook were building a budding career as New Wave tunesmiths with hits like “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” and “Another Nail in My Heart”—but they chucked all that for their fourth release, adding keyboardist/blue-eyed soul singer Paul Carrack to the lineup and working with Elvis Costello and pub rockers Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe on the sessions for “East Side Story.” The result was one of their most consistent albums—smoothly polished, but not lacking for sonic warmth, and boasting arguably the band’s definitive hit, the Carrack-sung “Tempted.” Unfortunately, “Story” wasn’t quite the gateway to greater success that it sounded like at the time—in fact, it presaged a period of massive turnover and generally declining commercial success—but for fans of Difford and Tilbrook’s indelible melodies and rueful, acerbic humor, it remains a high point. —Jeff Giles

John Hiatt Bring the Family.jpg51. John Hiatt – Bring the Family (1987)
By 1987, John Hiatt had been on the verge of Next Big Thingdom for over a decade, with seven commercially disappointing albums and a pair of ex-labels to show for it. Without a U.S. deal and on the verge of walking away from the record business, Hiatt took a small advance from his UK label, holed up in the studio for four days with McCabe’s booker John Chelew, and emerged with the album that saved his career: Bring the Family. Recorded with a crack band that included Jim Keltner on drums, Nick Lowe on bass, and Ry Cooder on guitar, Family is a 10-song suite of songs borne of disappointment, loss, and a nagging, persistent belief in a better tomorrow. For anyone who’s ever closed a dark chapter in their past, taken a deep breath and tried to start again, Bring the Family bears the sting of familiar, hard-fought truth—and although he’d go on to record better-selling albums, none of them sound quite as real, raw, or earned as this. —Jeff Giles

Crowded_House_self.jpg50. Crowded House – Crowded House (1986)
As members of Split Enz, singer/songwriter Neil Finn and drummer Paul Hester enjoyed a commanding presence on the Australian and New Zealand charts, but found lasting American success elusive; it wasn’t until the band broke up—and they hooked up with bassist Nick Seymour, christening themselves Crowded House—that they broke the platinum barrier in the U.S. You no doubt remember the melodies of this album’s two Top 10 hits, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong,” but what you may not have heard is the bittersweet melancholy that pervades Finn’s lyrics, serving as a poignant counterpart to the songs’ barbed hooks and sunny ’80s production. It was music for grown-ups that feckless kids could easily hum along to—and although it proved Crowded House’s commercial high point, it also kicked off a string of critically revered albums that continues through 2010’s Intriguer. —Jeff Giles

The Pogues Run.jpg49. The Pogues – Rum, Sodomy and the Lash (1985)
Thirty years on, most albums from the ’80s are starting to sound pretty dated, and not just the flash-in-the-pan stuff. One album that has evaded the death rattle of nostalgia is The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, and it seems to have done so by starting with a frame of reference too far back to be tied to a modern era. Rum is The Pogues’ way of paying homage to the sleazebags, scallywags and sods that came before them, an album full of resurrected folk ballads and sea shanties coupled with nearly indistinguishable new ones. On top of it all sits Elvis Costello’s production, which shines through the grime of each track and infuses the album with a heady angst. Whether it’s 1985 or 2012, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash still manages to sound far, far ahead of its time by planting itself firmly in the past. —Jody Amable

Dire Straits Brothers in Arms.jpg48. Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms (1985)
There’s a reason Dire Straits sold 30 million copies of this record. It’s damn near perfect. Douglas Adams said it best in his completely unrelated sci-fi book, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish: “Mark Knopfler has an extraordinary ability to make a Schecter Custom Stratocaster hoot and sing like angels on a Saturday night, exhausted from being good all week and needing a stiff drink.” The hits you know, particularly “Money For Nothing” and “Walk of Life” are all happiness and light, but it’s the quieter tracks like “So Far Away,” “Why Worry” and the title track that seem to have every subtle guitar note in the right place. Its mood indeed is perfectly suited for a love scene in one of the funniest sci-fi books of all time in which the couple floats about the ground. And well, why wouldn’t that be good enough for 30 million people? —Josh Jackson

Tears for Fears Songs from the Big Chair.jpg47. Tears For Fears – Songs From the Big Chair (1985)
Time hasn’t been kind to the earnest pop of the mid ’80s. As synthetic sounds came to dominate the airwaves, producers all toyed with the same tricks, giving songs a shorter shelf life. But get past the pink Polos, pained expressions and punchy drum sounds of Tears For Fears’ Songs From the Big Chair and you’ll find an epic album that replaced the band’s synth-pop with some jangly guitars and a more mature sound. Packed with hits like “Everybody Wants To Rule the World,” “Shout,” “Mothers Talk” and “Head Over Heels,” it’s 1985 in a nutshell. —Josh Jackson

The Clash Sandinista.jpg46. The Clash – Sandinista (1980)
White people were still trying to figure out exactly what hip-hop was in December of 1980, and here was The Clash, leading off the feverishly anticipated follow-up to instant classic London Calling with “The Magnificent Seven,” one of the first rap songs many rock fans ever heard. And if Joe Strummer wasn’t exactly Big Daddy Kane rhymewise, the gesture showed that The Only Band That Matters were still as curious about the outside world as ever, whether that meant exploring New York street art or South American political movements. Sandanista! doubled-down on the genre exploration of Calling, investigating dub, blues and folk music to see what they could say to punk rock. A triple album, Sandanista! overflowed with musical ideas and outspoken lyrics, finding beauty in information overload. —Michael Tedder

dbs.jpg45. The dB’s – Stands For Decibels (1981)
Two years before R.E.M. released Murmur and three years after Big Star’s Third/Sister Lover, Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey continued the tradition of Southern jangly guitar rock with their Winston/Salem, N.C. outfit The dB’s. Stamey had played bass with Alex Chilton, but the combination of Stamey and Holsapple produced something equally Byrds-influenced with lovely harmonies, tight rhythm and power-pop melodies. —Josh Jackson

The Smiths self titled.png44. The Smiths – The Smiths (1984)
While some debuts from decade-defining acts are previews for later greatness, The Smiths already mastered their form on their 1984 self-titled album. The signature interplay between Johnny Marr’s sharp Telecaster and Morrissey’s even sharper wit propelled classics like “Hand In Glove” and “This Charming Man,” two of the many tracks that benefited from the naïve energy that would be missed in the band’s later catalog. Twenty-eight years on, The Smiths doesn’t exactly sound fresh, but the dated recording quality gives a nostalgic romance to Morrissey’s old-soul crooning. If The Smiths weren’t the best band of the 1980s, they certainly peaked the earliest. —Ryan Wasoba

Minutemen.jpg43. Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)
The sheer size of Double Nickels can be daunting, with more than 40 short funk-punk yawps spread across its four sides, but time flies unusually fast while listening to this double album. Its message is clear: Rock ’n’ roll doesn’t have to be a fantasyland. It can be about real people living normal lives, from landladies to blue-collar philosophers to three corndogs from San Pedro who dig Blue Oyster Cult and The Clash. It’s egalitarian rock and one of the warmest and most human records you’ll ever hear. —Garrett Martin

marshall_crenshaw.jpg42. Marshall Crenshaw – Marshall Crenshaw (1982)
Rock during the early ’80s was all about what was new—new sounds, new fashions, New Wave. But for a moment in the summer of ’82, Marshall Crenshaw proved you could still make magic happen with three guys and a dozen great songs—including the lilting “Someday, Someway,” which grazed the Top 40 and sounded like the opening salvo in what should have been a long list of hits. Alas, Crenshaw’s commercial ship sailed quickly, but his debut still sounds just as fresh as it did 30 years ago. —Jeff Giles

40_ornette.jpg41. Ornette Coleman – In All Languages (1987)
The title Ornette Coleman chose for his 1987 album, In All Languages, was no less boastful—and no less justified—than the title for his 1959 record, The Shape of Jazz To Come. By recording with both an acoustic quartet and an electric septet, even performing seven of the 16 new compositions with both bands, the saxophonist seemed to declare that he could express himself in all styles, in all languages. He declared that his quest for the emotionally vivid moment would not be limited by instrumentation or jazz factionalism any more than it would be by conventional notions of harmony and swing. —Geoffrey Himes

39_beastiesILL.jpg40. Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill (1986)
If there were ever questions of whether hip-hop could be a perfect storm of wit and fun; whether Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin was a star producer; and whether classic-rock riffs could meld with rap’s rhythm and bombast, it was put to rest in 1986. That year, Licensed to Ill became the first hip-hop album to hit No. 1 on the charts, pushing the genre into the mainstream and setting the bar for modern legends such as Tupac Shakur, Eminem, Jay-Z, and Kanye West. And, most importantly, introducing 13 tracks worth repeating for more than 25 years. —Ani Vrabel

38_nin.jpg39. Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
The debut album from former Cleveland studio assistant Trent Reznor was released in October 1989. It didn’t have much impact upon release, but its slow burn success helped shape 1990s alternative music culture. Pretty Hate Machine helped get rock fans to accept that samples and keyboard could thrash like guitars, helped make anguished confessionals the default lyrical outlet for bands and proved that independent labels could compete with the majors, even if Reznor and TVT’s relationship was troubled and short-lived. The video for “Head Like A Hole” juxtaposed images of performance and tribal dance; from punk to goth, raver to metalhead, few albums helped unite the myriad tribes of alternative rock like Pretty Hate Machine. —Michael Tedder

37_u2.jpg38. U2 – The Unforgettable Fire (1984)
As preposterous an idea as U2 arriving at the climax of their rock career in 1983 sounds, after releasing the lean single-heavy record War it’s easy to see how some critics and fans may have been let down when they first heard “A Sort of Homecoming,” the first track off the 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire. Featuring Brian Eno’s atmospheric soundscapes and an explorative song structure, the song and the album marked a big departure from U2’s hard-hitting post-punk roots. In this new era of MTV and New Wave pop rock, The Unforgettable Fire’s art-rock sensibility and lack of conventional singles sounded like a misguided disaster. Rolling Stone writer Kurt Loder even infamously accused the album of being diluted by a “misconceived production strategy and occasional interludes of soggy, songless self-indulgence.” Now commonly seen as the major turning point for the band, The Unforgettable Fire remains a daring piece of atmospheric rock music—an album whose adventurous production and songwriting would not only completely redefine U2 as a band, but also reshape the direction of rock music in the ’80s. —Luke Larson

36_vanhalen.jpg37. Van Halen – 1984 (1984)
In 1984, Van Halen didn’t necessarily turn away from party-rock, they just changed the way it was done with the synth-heavy 1984. It was the band’s last album before the whole “Van Hagar” thing, and included some of their most recognized songs. The synth-rocker “Jump” was the album’s biggest single, but it was the single “Hot For Teacher” that had legions of aspiring guitar players locking their bedrooms for hours to try to learn the solo. —Tyler Kane

Jesus and Mary Chain.jpg36. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy (1985)
What rock ’n’ roll means now is much more complicated, but there was indeed a time where it signified both “electronic noise” (to cite one epithet that amused John Lennon) and catchy songs. Predating Sleigh Bells or Times New Viking or the catchall-turned-festival-name “noise pop” was this journey to the logical extreme. Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut sounded like the 1910 Fruitgum Company and Joy Division arm-wrestling in a sheet metal factory, with slabs of white noise guarding candy-toy melodies the Reid Brothers didn’t want you to get sick of too quickly, a trick that Psychocandy mastered. It’s as difficult to memorize as it is to resisting singing along with when it’s on, as if every listen is your first. —Dan Weiss

35_echobunny.jpg35. Echo & The Bunnymen – Ocean Rain (1984)
The introduction of a 35-piece orchestra fortified a new sound for the post-punk Brits on their fourth studio album. Ocean Rain’s expansive string arrangements allowed vocalist Ian McCulloch to sooth his metaphysical melodies into a portrait of lush eroticism. The nine tracks convey a conceptual scale—the initial dark, battering rain morphs into an effervescent sky with sympathetic ease. The result of the ’84 release is a voyage in sonic proportions. Cleverly chaotic, the album capitalizes on the rolling blankets of warmth that soon follow an ocean rain. —Kristen Blanton

34_huskerdu.jpg34. Hüsker Dü – New Day Rising (1985)
Hüsker Dü are like the Beatles: they have three or four best albums. It doesn’t have the reputation of Zen Arcade, and Bob Mould shits all over the production in his autobiography, but New Day Rising is Hüsker Dü’s best collection of songs, and the most consistent example of the band’s trademark combination of hardcore virility and classic pop hooks. —Garrett Martin

33_xtc.jpg33. XTC – Skylarking (1986)
With Skylarking, XTC succeeded in creating an album that sounds squarely out of time. Lush and pastoral, it’s a fully realized psych-pop masterpiece, an oddity among an era of all things synths and synthetics. Thematically the band tackles major life issues like love, marriage and even religion with melodic and lyrical acuity. And between all the sounds of summer splendor and rainy day ballets, they even managed to spawn a surprise hit with atheist anthem “Dear God” in the process. —Jessica Gentile

32_stoneroses.jpg32. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989)
There was a time when every single day after school I raced upstairs, turned on my boom-box to either the local alt.rock station or the local college station, and popped in a blank tape to wait patiently for songs I liked to come on so I could record them. The first time I heard “Fools Gold” by The Stone Roses was years after it had come out, but it floored me immediately. I had no idea if the radio DJ would ever play it again. When he finally did, late at night on an empty Friday, my last blank Maxwell had clicked full halfway through a Spacehog song an hour ago. The next day I gathered up my Sam Goody gift certificates, got a ride to the mall and bought my very own copy of their self-titled, seminal work, with no idea that I wasn’t buying that one song I loved but an album I pretty much always will. —Jeff Gonick

31_joydivision.jpg31. Joy Division – Closer (1980)
The second—and sadly, final—effort by these post-punk legends is shrouded in gloom; part of its inherent melancholy stems from the fact that lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide only two months before its release, ending his life just as Joy Division was climbing towards what may have been the group’s creative peak. However, remove Curtis’ death from the equation and you’re still left with a record full of bass-heavy pathos that’s positively haunting and oddly comforting at the same time. —Bonnie Stiernberg

30_rem.jpg30. R.E.M. – Murmur (1983)
You know about the mumbling, the muttering, the indie success story, the simultaneous conquest of college radio and Rolling Stone—and subsequently, the world. But maybe you don’t know how punk never quite married Rickenbacker arpeggios until “Radio Free Europe” and “Sitting Still” made it safe for bands like the dB’s. Maybe in retrospect it’s amazing how “Talk About the Passion” and “Perfect Circle” were such power ballads. And maybe you don’t have to understand a word of “Moral Kiosk,” “Catapult” or “We Walk” to hear how every odd harmony, surf lick and overdubbed billiard ball made perfect sense. — Dan Weiss

29_theboss.jpg29. Bruce Springsteen – The River (1980)
Bruce Springsteen’s The River falls right in the middle of one of the greatest decade-long runs by any artist, coming after Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town and just before Nebraska and Born in the U.S.A. While arguments can be made for any of the five albums recorded from 1975-1984, The River remains my favorite given its ambitious and cohesive message. It was a working-class record made in the height of a recession, chronicling the ups and downs of living in harsh economic conditions. The Boss has been both more triumphant and darker in singular moments, but it’s throughout this sprawling double album that he makes his most honest statements. As we find ourselves in the midst another recession, Springsteen’s message throughout The River no longer simply echoes sentiments of a singular experience but has emerged as a timeless sentiment speaking to the American workingman’s struggle. —Max Blau

28_cowboyjunkies.jpg28. Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Sessions (1988)
Twenty-four years ago, the Cowboy Junkies and a few friends went into the Church of the Holy Trinity in downtown Toronto and in one cold November night recorded The Trinity Sessions, one of the most seminal and ethereal albums of the “alternative” generation. It was, in many ways, the original D.I.Y. album. As Michael Timmons once described, “The entire costs to record were a hundred buck donation for the church and 22 dollars for couple of pizzas. Oh, I forgot, we also gave five bucks to the janitor for him to go away and be quiet for an extra half hour until we finished the recording, so add that to the tally as well.” How long did it take to record? “Seven hours trying to find the sweet spot for the omni-directional mic and five hours of playing.” Those five hours gave the music world some of the most solemnly hypnotic and beguiling beers-and-tears tunes ever captured on tape, and their iconic cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” launched the Cowboy Junkies’ career. —Jay Sweet

27_pgabriel.jpg27. Peter Gabriel – So (1986)
Few 1980s artists managed to successfully balance art-rock indulgence and unmistakable pop appeal. Even fewer were able to do so on a single album. So, Peter Gabriel’s 1986 masterstroke, made it look easy. Besides including some of the most perfectly written songs of the decade (the gushingly romantic, African-chant-filled “In Your Eyes,” the bass-propelled Kate Bush duet “Don’t Give Up,” the downright funky “Sledgehammer”), So endures because of that difficult marriage of the strange and the sublime, the complex and the catchy, the ethereal and the immediate. —Ryan Reed

26_prince.jpg26. Prince – Sign o’ the Times (1987)
After the relative commercial disappointment of Parade (and the outright embarrassment of its accompanying film, Under the Cherry Moon), Prince lost a bit of the creative carte blanche he’d earned at Warner Bros. with Purple Rain and Around the World in a Day. Of course, Prince being Prince, all this really meant was that Sign o’ the Times ended up being a sprawling, robustly eclectic double-disc package instead of the whopping triple album he’d originally planned. Hats off to label interference, at least in this case: While it obviously isn’t Prince’s leanest record, Times boasts 16 prime cuts of his ?ness at his sharpest and most adventurous, from the playful “Starfish and Coffee” to the churnin’ urn of burnin’ Minneapolis funk that is “Housequake. ”—Jeff Giles

ectrust.jpg25. Elvis Costello – Trust (1981)
It wasn’t quite a massive success like This Year’s Model or My Aim is True, but Trust is Elvis Costello at his most biting and cynical, rattling off social commentary like “the teacher never told you anything but white lies” on “New Lace Sleeves” and demonstrating his trademarked wit with lines like “the long arm of the law slides up the outskirts of town” on “Clubland.” Sonically, it’s all over the place in a good way, as Costello makes his first real attempts to hop from genre to genre, something that would come to be expected from him later in his career. —Bonnie Stiernberg

24_richardlinda.jpg24. Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot Out the Lights (1982)
If the best folk-rock music marries the patience and lessons of the past to the technologies and crises of the present, this is one of the greatest folk-rock albums of all time. Written, recorded and toured as the marriage between the two singers was crumbling, the album seems to teeter on the edge of reconciliation and rupture. In songs like “Walking on a Wire,” “Just the Motion” and “Don’t Renege on Our Love,” relationships are a tightrope high above the crowd, a small boat amid big waves and a faltering promise. On the title track, Richard seems ready to aim his rifle at the overhead lamps rather than confront the problems, but on the majestic “Wall of Death,” he’s willing to climb aboard the most dangerous ride at the carnival if that’s what it takes to stay alive. Richard has always written lovely melodies, but it’s seldom as obvious as it is here when Linda’s gorgeous voice handles the three ballads. —Geoffrey Himes

23_gnr.jpg23. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction (1987)
Guns N’ Roses embodied that coveted spot between the words “hair” (they certainly had that) and “metal” (they rocked) that comprise the now-infamous ’80s genre. Their debut album, Appetite for Destruction, succeeded because Axl, Slash, Izzy, Duff and Steven played as furiously as they chugged Jack Daniels and scarfed drugs, placing anthems like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” between songs like the law-evading “Out Ta Get Me” and heroin-addled “Mr. Brownstone.” But Appetite For Destruction remained rootsy even in its heaviness, giving the album an air of musical authenticity unmatched by the band’s contemporaries. —Hilary Saunders

22_thepolice.jpeg22. The Police – Synchronicity (1983)
Most of us who love rhythm and propulsion and striking musical ideas moved on from Sting after his communion with Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland imploded, which makes it easy to forget that Synchronicity was a hell of a way to go. Their disparate sonics coalesced like few other ensembles in 1983, short of non-Western masters like King Sunny Adé’s African Beats, who wasn’t lost on them—“Walking in Your Footsteps” reins in Nigerian polyrhythms just after the opener reestablishes their New Wave bona fides. And just when you can’t take another experiment like Summers’ Freudian horror-laughfest “Mother” or the jazz-a-nova “Miss Gradenko,” they intuitively snap back into 1983’s best pop that wasn’t made by a Jackson: “Synchronicity II,” “Every Breath You Take” and the astronomically delicate “King of Pain.” All one after another. —Dan Weiss

21_neworder.jpg21. New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)
When Joy Division fell apart with the death of Ian Curtis, the remaining members formed the band New Order and with their second album Power, Corruption and Lies, created a synth-pop album that evolved beyond Joy Division while still being heavily influenced by that band’s trademark sound. Immediately Peter Hook’s bass on album opener “Age of Consent” sounds like JD’s “Transmission,” yet it hides its melancholy deeper down, under the sound of keyboards and bouncy guitars. Power, Corruption and Lies is filled with themes of loneliness, anger and loves lost; it’s easy to see how New Order has influenced everyone from The Smiths to M83. Curtis would have been proud. — Ross Bonaime

20_80sAlbums_BackinBlack.jpg20. AC/DC – Back in Black
AC/DC almost never recorded Back in Black. It ultimately became a tribute album to their former lead singer, Bon Scott, after he died unexpectedly. From the all-black cover to the title song, Back in Black is non-stop hard rock without the glam. It’s the highest selling album in the ’80s from a band and continues to expose new generations to the harder classic rock music that has since gone by the wayside. —Adam Vitcavage

19_80sAlbums_SurferRosa.jpeg19. The Pixies – Surfer Rosa (1988)
Because I was seven and not nearly cool enough a seven-year-old to be aware of it when it came out, I backed into the Pixies’ debut after an obsessively on-repeat month of listening to Doolittle. When I finally decided to expand my experience of the Pixies I figured their first album was as good a place as any to start my planned completion of the oeuvre. On Surfer Rosa producer Steve Albini captures a blend of exuberant rock and noisy pop that is true to everything The Pixies are when they are at their best. “Where is My Mind?” may be the only song non-fans know because of its association in the collective consciousness of my generation with a scene from Fight Club, but it’s the kind of song anyone who hears it can’t help but dig. —Jeff Gonick

18_80sAlbums_3Feet.jpeg18. De La Soul – Three Feet High and Rising (1989)
Here’s high praise for De La Soul’s 1989 debut: It’s one of the only hip-hop albums in history whose skits are as good as the music. Even 23 years later, who skips over those head-scratching interstitials about rudimentary French, unintelligible game shows, Ludens cough drops, and the silliest orgy ever committed to tape? Singles like “Me Myself & I” and “Potholes in My Lawn” were groundbreaking on MTV and radio, but Three Feet High and Rising works best as an whole album, one that samples liberally (Johnny Cash, Hall & Oates, Steely Dan) and explores every corner of the Long Island trio’s D.A.I.S.Y. Age philosophy. There’s something fearless in the way De La rethink rap radicalism as hippie nirvana: playful, lackadaisical, wryly digressive and deeply hilarious. —Stephen M. Deusner

17_80sAlbums_ViolentFemmes.jpeg17. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes (1983)
Quite simply ,the Violent Femmes’ self-titled album was the quintessential hymnal for the disaffected youth of America in the ’80s. With its jangly folk-punk frustration and venom-spitting lyrics, the debut featured “Blister in The Sun,” “Kiss Off” and “Add it Up,” arguably the three best Anthems of the proudly maladjusted ever penned. Nothing sounded like it before and nothing has since captured the sublime and perverse joy of teenage angst and adolescent anarchy like the Violent Femmes. In fact, just listening to “Add it Up” has been known to cause acne, awkward haircuts and ripped jeans. —Jay Sweet

16_80sAlbums_Disintegration.jpeg16. The Cure – Disintegration (1989)
Disintegration is a return to goth glory after The Cure’s foray into pop with 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. It’s lush, mournful and gorgeous—in other words, it’s Robert Smith and company at their very best. From the first notes of “Plainsong” to the somber romance of “Lovesong” and the sweeping “Fascination Street,” the album is emotional but never overwrought. Smith surpasses hokey teen angst, instead creating a lasting work that’s entirely relatable. —Bonnie Stiernberg

15_80sAlbums_RainDogs.jpeg15. Tom Waits – Rain Dogs (1985)
Jettisoning his old label, his old manager and his old methods of recording, Tom Waits reinvented himself in the early 1980s, morphing from a singer/songwriter with a romantic view of L.A.’s underbelly to the gruff rabble-rouser we know and love today. swordfishtrombones may have introduced Tom Waits 2.0, but his follow-up, Rain Dogs, is arguably the better album, drawing out the weirdness of his lyrics and the clatter of his music. The music rambles and the lyrics paint dark portraits of Gun St. girls and one-eyed dwarves, but Waits never lets the sound eclipse the actual songs. In fact, Rain Dogs is packed with some of his finest tunes, from the conspiratorial “Clap Hands” to the heartbreaker “Downtown Train,” which was strong enough to survive Rod Stewart’s manhandling. —Stephen M. Deusner

replacements-let-it-be-cover.jpg14. The Replacements – Let It Be (1984)
The Replacements gained attention for their snotty, don’t-give-a-shit attitude: playing shows blind drunk, writing songs called “Fuck School,” stealing titles of hallowed classic rock albums. But on Let It Be the Minneapolis punks made an album that could shoot down any outrage from incredulous Beatles fans. The 11 songs here proved that Paul Westerberg and company weren’t just drunk screw-ups. They were drunk screw-ups with soul. Let It Be has plenty of steal-your-sixpack swagger (“We’re Coming Out,”) but it also showed that Westerberg had developed into a devastatingly acute songwriter. “Answering Machine” and “Unsatisfied,” are two of the finest odes to youthful alienation ever penned. Any Liverpool group would have been proud to call them their own. —Michael Tedder

beastie-boys-pauls-boutique-cover.jpg13. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989)
Paul’s Boutique changed the game of rap music forever. The trio’s heavy use of sampling and name-dropping soon became industry standard. The Beasties’ lyrics are witty, explosive and explored an array of topics few rappers had touched before them and even fewer since. While many of the samples are from popular artists like The Beatles and The Ramones, there are hundreds of lesser-known riffs that helped make the producers (L.A.-based Dust Brothers) sampling superstars. The album’s sonic backbone alters drastically from beginning to end, proving the range of this enduring trio of rappers. —Adam Vitcavage

12_80sAlbums_ItTakesaNation.jpeg12. Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
With its 1988 sophomore album, Public Enemy rethought hip-hop from the bass up, conceiving it not only as an extension of the black power movement but, more crucially, as the logical conclusion of every popular music form that came before. The group’s legendary production team, fittingly called the Bomb Squad, plumbed rock and funk history for useful loops and fragments to soundtrack their movement, twisting hits by James Brown, Rufus Thomas and even Queen into radical anthems about race, politics, the media and anything else in Chuck D’s crosshairs. On Nation of Millions, he steps up as rap’s most authoritative voice, delivering stinging lyrics with newfound confidence. Likewise, Flavor Flav steps up as rap’s greatest rodeo clown, striking a potent balance between humor and outrage. The album has only gained more power since its release, both as a document of its time and as a reminder of hip-hop’s limitless possibilities. —Stephen M. Deusner

11_80sAlbums_Daydream.jpeg11. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation (1988)
When Nancy Reagan was urging kids to just say no, Sonic Youth promoted just the opposite: “Your life is such a mess,” says Thurston Moore. “Forget the past and just say yes.” On the band’s best album, that actually sounds like good advice, if only because detuned guitars and sprawling noise jams make for a better platform than abstinence and trickle-down economics. Opener “Teenage Riot” installs J Mascis in the Oval Office, and “The Sprawl” cops lyrics from crack addicts out-populating rats in Manhattan. It’s the culmination of the city’s noise scene and of the band’s flirtations with pop, but damned if Daydream Nation doesn’t predict the rise of Guiliani and grunge both—a cleaner city and a dirtier rock. —Stephen M. Deusner

10_80sAlbums_PurpleRain.jpeg10. Prince – Purple Rain (1984)
For many artists, musical vision and rock-star glory happen at different moments within a career. With Purple Rain, Prince’s most brilliant songs came together in grandiose fashion just as he ascended into stardom. Released as the soundtrack for his 1984 film, Prince ran the gamut stylistically from metal-funk-rock (“Let’s Go Crazy”) to synth-soul-pop (“I Would Die 4 U”). Closing with his epic title track, Prince defies description with his near-nine-minute statement, which unquestionably stands as one of the all-time greats. Above all, Purple Rain showcases his ability to seemingly combine any type of music and truly make it his own. It’s an amalgam for a career whereby he’s created a style uniquely “Prince”—one that no one has since managed to replicate, let alone surpass. —Max Blau

9_80sAlbums_JoshuaTree.jpeg9. U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987)
Before Bono became the rock icon he is today, he was just a lost twenty-something in a new country, confused and searching. We see this in The Joshua Tree, arguably U2’s greatest and most important album. U2 were heavily influenced after a trip to the United States, and The Joshua Tree feels like a band motivated by “The American Dream” while still having deep appreciation for their roots. Bono is at his most earnest here, especially in the band’s hit songs “Where The Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With Or Without You,” which after 25 years and constant airplay, still haven’t lost their power and impact. The Joshua Tree shows one of the world’s most famous bands at their infancy, struggling to find their place in the world, yet unaware of the greatness that lies in front of them. — Ross Bonaime

8_80sAlbums_RemaininLight.jpeg8. Talking Heads – Remain in Light (1980)
For their fourth and finest record, the Talking Heads (along with producer/collaborator/all-around musical badass Brian Eno) trotted out their African influences in full force. Polyrhythmic, lyrically cryptic and featuring one of the most awesomely weird guitar solos of all time (Adrien Belew’s blippy genius on “Born Under Punches”), Remain in Light stands as David Byrne and company’s masterpiece. It’s rooted in tradition, yet it sounds delightfully futuristic—even three decades after its initial release. —Bonnie Stiernberg

7_80sAlbums_Graceland.jpeg7. Paul Simon – Graceland (1986)
Over the past 25 years, no American album has changed the world-music landscape more than Paul Simon’s Graceland. Initially lauded as the folk singer’s comeback record, it made a cultural impact far greater than anyone could’ve possibly guessed. The album integrated American pop, rock and folk songwriting with traditional South African musical styles. By no means was this the first time that Simon or other Western and non-Western cultures intersected, but Graceland marked a watershed moment where world music began to emerge from being a series of isolated musical pockets to an institutionalized transnational music scene. —Max Blau

6_80sAlbums_LifesRich.jpeg6. R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)
Despite just two radio singles—“Fall On Me” and a cover of The Cliques’ “Superman” sung by Mike Mills—Lifes Rich Pageant took the Athens band beyond the confines of its college audience. Gone was most of Michael Stipe’s mumbling and the stark Southern gothic of Fables of the Reconstruction. In its place was a return to happy, jangly guitars, but a more fully developed and unique sound. Songs like “Begin the Begin,” “These Days” and “Cuyahoga” would become staples of the live show and a performance of “Swan Swan H” would be immortalized in the documentary Athens, GA: Inside/Out. It was also the most political album the band had recorded, addressing ecological issues and the disappearances of dissidents in Guatemala, though both are addressed in subtle ways. The album would be certified Gold within a year, a remarkable feat for the uncompromising band, and would do as much to influence the next decade’s best music as anything else on this list. —Josh Jackson

5_80sAlbums_LondonCalling.jpeg5. The Clash – London Calling (1980)
The first great album of the ’80s was essentially a ’70s record. Indeed, when it was released in the U.S. in January 1980, it had already been out for a few weeks in the UK. But in many ways, The Clash’s eclectic 19-song effort marks the end of punk’s golden years, infusing a brash mix of rock, ska, R&B and reggae throughout its 65-minute run time. It’s a double-record that not only spans a broad array of styles, but ratchets up the political intensity with songs like “Guns of Brixton” and “Spanish Bombs,” demanding listeners to heed its anti-establishment calls, even as it became a commercial success. “Brand New Cadillac” impeccably reworks Vince Taylor’s classic, while the band tackled a meaningless existence within a commercialized world on “Lost In The Supermarket.” On London Calling, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon made quintessential political-minded punk at its finest. —Max Blau

4_80sAlbums_BorninUSA.jpeg4. Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A. (1984)
This is Springsteen’s finest moment. Here are his strongest pop hooks, his most mature lyrics, his most complete vision. At long last, he reconciled the romanticism of his 1973-77 work with the darkness of his 1978-82 work. At long last, he mastered the recording studio to make it an aid to his vision rather than an obstacle, allowing him to finally be as powerful in the studio as he always had been on stage. At long last, he recognized that comedy could be as revealing of human nature as drama, and he allowed his funny songs to stand side by side with his serious ones. At long last, he resolved his ambivalence about pop stardom and went for it with the catchiest choruses, biggest guitar riffs and most evangelical vocals he could muster. —Geoffrey Himes

3_80sAlbums_Thriller.jpeg3. Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)
Every now and then, an album comes along that we can all agree upon. It’s impossible to talk about the music of the ’80s without mentioning this watershed record by the King of Pop. The Quincy Jones-produced 1982 classic was able to transcend genre and appeal to fans of all demographics, and it’s not surprising that it remains the best-selling record of all time, with 110 million copies sold. Since its release, countless others have tried to replicate its pop perfection, but no one can touch the killer bassline on “Billie Jean,” Jackson’s impassioned snarl on “Beat It,” the danceability of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” or, yes, even Vincent Price’s campy spoken-word part on the omnipresent title track. It produced a whopping seven Top 10 hits for Jackson, and while that’s obviously not a measure of artistic merit (we’re looking at you, Katy Perry), it’s safe to say that Michael Jackson was pop music in the ’80s and that the legacy of Thriller is one that cannot be ignored. —Bonnie Stiernberg

2_80sAlbums_QueenisDead.jpeg2. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986)
If “How Soon Is Now” off The Smiths’ previous album was the starting-pistol shot announcing their intentions to delve into darker territories, then the title track off The Queen Is Dead was rhythmic strafing to the same effect. But the devastating melancholia quickly morphs into the sardonic lyrical meglomania that made vocalist Morrissey the legendary apathetic mope in “Frankly Mr. Shankly,” a terse and not-so-veiled reference to The Smiths’ growing distaste for the music industry in general. But what truly makes this definitive album a benchmark is it marks the fall of the insufferable decade of synth music that preceded it and the second coming of the British Invasion with guitarist Johnny Marr’s penchant for high-timbre guitar riffs and sonic urgency such as in “Big Mouth Strikes Again” and “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others.” The two tracks that elevate The Queen Is Dead into the pantheon of truly classic albums are the literary homage “Cemetary Gates” and the ironic swoon of “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” Both tracks harness the glorious friction between Morrissey’s incredibly brilliant-but-biting wit and Marr’s desire to simply rock ’n’ roll; a match made in flop-haired heaven. —Jay Sweet

1_80sAlbums_Doolittle.jpeg1. The Pixies – Doolittle (1989)
At the tail end of the ’80s, an album came out that would continue to influence rock for a couple more decades and counting. The Pixies followed Surfer Rosa with the band’s magnum opus that—although it only reached #98 on the Billboard chart—would eventually get certified Gold in 1995. Doolittle turns on a dime from quiet beautiful melodies to balls-to-the-wall rock with Black Francis screaming his heart out, often within the same song. Gigantic pop hooks delivered with muscular rock chops set the template for the grunge movement that would follow and ensured that Doolittle would sound every bit as good in 2012 as it did in 1989. —Josh Jackson

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