Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Top 40 Albums of the 1980s (#10-#1)

Top 40 Albums of the 1980s (#40-#31)
Top 40 Albums of the 1980s (#30-#21)
Top 40 Albums of the 1980s (#20-#11)
Top 40 Albums of the 1980s (Postscript)

10. 'Doolittle'

The Pixies

The Pixies sure have milked this classic. They have been on a 20th anniversary tour of 'Doolittle' for more than two years now, but I can't really blame them... especially since I was one of the sheep that showed up for the nostalgia trip. When I saw them, at one point Kim Deal laughingly told the crowd it was time to go deep into the album. I hate to disagree with her, but there is no filler here. 'Doolittle' was truly a beacon during a dark time in the industry.

9. 'London 0 Hull 4'

The Housemartins
The Housemartins - Happy Hour (mp3)

Housemartins, we hardly knew ye. This is one of my favorite jangle-pop albums of all time. As I gave in to technology, it was also the first compact disc I ever bought. The band had only one other full-length album after this, and some of the members went on to form the wildly successful (at least in the UK) Beautiful South, but no other piece of music matched this one from the self-proclaimed "fourth-best band from Hull."

8. 'The Gift'

The Jam

This may not seem like an inspired choice. Most die-hard fans would name earlier, edgier and less commercial work. I can respect that, but the bottom line is my three favorite Jam songs are on this record ("Carnation," "Running on the Spot" and "Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero?"), and I completely fell for the R&B, soul and funk influences. The trio disbanded at their peak, and "The Gift" was a great transition into Paul Weller's next band, the Style Council.

7. 'The Pretenders'


I was too young to buy this one when it came out, but I imagine those who did must have thought, "whoa, who is this chick?" Chrissie Hynde's first album is best known for the ballad "Brass in Pocket," but believe me, most of the rest of the album is raw, raucous and pretty damn punk rock. Skeptical? Just give "The Wait" or "Tattooed Love Boys" a listen. For obvious reasons, the band had a big drop off after this record, but I'm happy Hynde was able to regroup with the satisfying 'Learning to Crawl' four years later.

6. 'High Land, Hard Rain'

Aztec Camera
Aztec Camera - Lost Outside the Tunnel (mp3)

I have a real soft spot for Scottish bands, and this album is my favorite from a nation filled with memorable records. I still can't get over that frontman Roddy Frame made this record as a teenager. "Oblivious" is the song everyone remembers, and rightly so, but "We Could Send Letters," "Pillar to Post" and "Walk Out to Winter" remind us this is a perfectly crafted piece of pop. That this one peaked at No. 154 here in America is an absolute embarrassment.

5. 'Field Day'

Marshall Crenshaw
Marshall Crenshaw - One Day With You (mp3)

Marshall Crenshaw will always be remembered for his 1982 debut album, but I liked this follow-up even better. Some believe the sub-par production of Steve Lillywhite is what separates 'Field Day' from its predecessor, but I'm not in that camp. (Although I have to admit the U.S. Remix of "For Her Love", sans Lillywhite, sounds cleaner and crisper than the album version.) I think this is another example of me loving an album because this is the place where (and time when) I discovered an artist that went on to become one of my all-time favorites. In other words, if you like his debut better, I won't argue. Both are great albums.

4. 'The Queen is Dead'

The Smiths

Most of the kids I knew growing up in the '80s felt U2 was the voice of our generation, but I think it was the Smiths. Every album from the Smiths is a must have, but this is the best of the bunch. It brought the 'Meat is Murder' haters back into the fold, satisfied those that stuck with them from the beginning and, most importantly, brought many new fans to the altar. This is another example of an album that meant so much to me that I know exactly where I was when I got my first listen back in '86. Incidentally, it was the same time I got my first listen to Big Country's 'The Seer...' big day! I will put up "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" against just about any song in this decade. It was an anthem for the ages.

3. 'London Calling'

The Clash

First, let's set the record straight. 'London Calling' was released in December 1979 in the UK, but it didn't make it to these shores until January 1980. So, in my world, this classic double album qualifies for the list. The Clash were already a big deal in the UK before 'London Calling,' but this, their third album, made them a global force. By now the band was wearing all of their influences on their sleeves. The cover was very punk rock, but the wax illustrated a myriad of genres, including ska and jazz. The Clash always seemed political, but their messages on issues like nuclear power, unemployment and war were on the front lines here. 'London Calling' has received about as many accolades (then and now) as an album can get. I'll get in the back of the line.

2. 'Murmur'


The band just broke up after 31 years together. For me, they might as well have disbanded a quarter century ago. I gave up on them long before their move to arena rock and a major label. Sounds like the remark of someone who hates R.E.M., but nothing could be further from the truth. I really love their first four albums and, in 1983 and 1984, R.E.M. was one of my favorite bands. As I have written on this blog many times, R.E.M's first two albums are just about perfect. If you only know R.E.M. from their big hits of the late '80s and early '90s, I implore you to give this a listen. Back then the band was not about hit singles and filler. Every note is a pure jangly delight.

1. 'Get Happy!!'

Elvis Costello and the Attractions

I discovered Elvis Costello at the age of 13. I saw the video for his latest single, "Everyday I Write the Book." I liked it a lot and started saving paper-route pennies for 'Punch the Clock.' In the meantime, one Saturday night I saw the video for 'Oliver's Army' on the TBS show 'Night Tracks.' I'll never forget it. Days later I bought my first Costello record. 'Punch the Clock' would have to wait. I got a cassette copy of 'Armed Forces' instead. Thus began a love affair with Costello that lives on to this day. 'Get Happy!!' came into my life about a year later. It's not only my favorite Costello album from the '80s, it's my favorite album from his entire discography. The record is 20 short songs of snappy pop, R&B and soul right out of the vaults of Stax and Motown. This is the first Costello album where you realize he's not just an angry young man. Much like Joe Jackson, he's a renaissance man capable of any musical genre. Within two years he would tackle country ('Almost Blue') and chamber pop ('Imperial Bedroom'). Either one of these records (as well as a couple of others) could and should be on this list, but I didn't want this to become the Costello Show.

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