Treble’s Best Albums of the ’80s : Part One

Treble staff
Best of the 80s - part 1

Out of all the ‘best of’ lists dealing with albums from decades past, I most looked forward to working on the ’80s. As far as coming of age, being exposed to some of the best music, and starting a lifetime love with literally hundreds of bands, the ’80s were my proving ground. Some of the first cassettes I ever owned were bought in the early part of the decade, while the latter years found my obsession with music only growing, never realizing that CDs (as opposed to the cassettes that began the decade) would take over entire rooms of my house.

When last we left our decade retrospectives, the ’70s had come to a close with the eventual fade of prog, the fiery death of disco and the brash gobsmack in the face that was punk. In a way, just like Paul Thomas Anderson portrayed in Boogie Nights when William H. Macy’s character committed suicide at the New Year’s Eve party, the ’80s brought on a loss of innocence. The ’80s began on a dark turn with the suicide of Ian Curtis and ended with the explosion of gangsta rap and baggy Britpop. In between was a wealth of different styles and genres and the rise of some of the biggest artists in rock history including U2, the Pixies, Depeche Mode, New Order, Michael Jackson and the Smiths.

Punk continued its onslaught in the beginning of the decade by penetrating the west coast with the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag while post-punk rose from its non-existent ashes in Gang of Four and Echo & the Bunnymen. 1982 brought on some of the biggest albums of the decade with the aforementioned Thriller, a stellar dark album from the Boss and watershed albums from Duran Duran, the Clash and Prince. The middle of the decade revived the idea of the independent label as college radio rose in popularity thanks to R.E.M., Hüsker Dü, and the Replacements.

Last year, the Clash’s London Calling ended up as the largest single vote receiver in the entire decade of the 70’s, just barely making the cut with its mid-December release in the UK in 1979. The biggest vote-getter in the ’80s turned up in mid June of 1986, a powerhouse of an album by a couple of kids known by some as Morrissey and Marr. Following close behind in the overall totals were albums by the Pixies and Joy Division. And while most everyone could agree on the overall merits of those particular albums, others sadly didn’t make the cut. Some of those might still be included in this ’80s retrospective as “Personal Bests,” albums which meant a great deal to a particular Treble writer, yet didn’t rate in the final tally.

Albums by the Television Personalities, the Comsat Angels, the Fall, Roxy Music, the Stray Cats, Bauhaus, Devo, Split Enz, the Durutti Column, the Birthday Party, PIL, Mission of Burma and yes, even Journey, were unfortunately left behind. Yet their omission proves the strength of the final list as each album had to be incredibly strong to end up passing muster. So break out the jelly bracelets, the Members Only jackets, Rubik’s Cubes, Pac-Man video games and Cabbage Patch Dolls, it’s time for a fun-filled flux capacitor fueled trip to the ‘me’ decade. 1.21 gigawatts!!!!

1980

ACDC - Back in Black 10. AC/DC — Back in Black
(Atco)

When Bon Scott died in 1980 after suffocating on his own vomit from a night of excessive drinking and falling asleep in his car with his head tilted back against the head rest, the remaining members were pressed to find a new lead singer. Through the grapevine of the music business, the members of AC/DC heard about a brute singer from Newcastle, England whose scraping vocal purveyance was similar to Scott. Enter Brian Johnson. – Susan Frances

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Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit 9. Dead Kennedys — Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
(Alternative Tentacles)

Not only was it the best selling and most touted record of the Dead Kennedys’ career, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables is also one of Steve Buscemi’s all time favorite records. That factoid alone should be enough to wrap up this review and make you go get it ASAP, pending you don’t have a copy. Led by the craggy voiced Jello Biafra and the wrangling riffs of guitarist East Bay Ray (who also produced) with a full throttle punk assault, Biafra’s lyrics were very satirical, yet still managed to convey and come across better than the raw truth. – Chris Pacifico

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The Clash - Sandinista 8. The Clash — Sandinista
(Epic)

Sure, making a breakout, landmark, iconic, legendary, and universally praised album is a great thrill but the tricky part comes with following it up. Case in point would have to be the Clash’s 1979 groundbreaking London Calling. It was the first time that a punk band with their sway opened the door experimentation, peeking their heads into a slew of sounds. In 1980 they walked right in with Sandinista! a triple record assortment of reggae, rockabilly, twang, pop, go-go and a whole plethora of others. And how cool were the Clash? They made sure that the label sold it at the price of a single LP agreeing to pay the difference out of their own royalties. – Chris Pacifico

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Echo and The Bunnymen - Crocodiles 7. Echo & The Bunnymen — Crocodiles
(Korova – Sire)

Crocodiles at its best is a showcase for Ian McCulloch’s snappy rhythm guitar lines (which he claims he nicked from VU), his singular lyrics and dramatic voice. At its worst, Crocodiles is the first bold step in a long series of bold steps for a band just finding its footing. Rather than stumble, however, Echo plant their feet firmly, finding their own sound that’s heavily influenced, yet never derivative. Over the next few years, Ian’s voice will only become more seasoned, and the band as one will explore new territories of pop and post-punk. But for that raw psychedelic sound, you simply can’t beat Crocodiles, a stellar debut by any measurement. – Terrance Terich

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The Jam - Sound Affects 6. The Jam — Sound Affects
(Polydor)

Clever guy, that Paul Weller. Along with the rest of The Jam, he created sound effects that have lasted 20 years after the fact. Look at the bands spiraling out of the pop machine today, derived from their nifty mod look and pumping out angular rhythms that punk fans in the ’80s seem to recall well. On a related note, Weller had quite a lot to do with bringing “post-punk” to our lips, a term music journalists now keep sacks of next to their desks, tossing them into their writing like cheap seasoning. But Sound Affects, the Jam’s 1980 release, trumps those achievements in its ambition. Many a hippie music teacher has rambled about uniting the world through song, and in choosing the title he did, Weller, in his own misanthropic way, was praising music’s ability to make an emotional connection with its listeners. It’s well-referenced that Revolver was a major inspiration for this record, with Weller even going so far as nicking the bass line from “Taxman” for “Start!” Though they reach for homage, the music is clearly their own. – Andrew Good

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David Bowie - Scary Monsters 5. David Bowie — Scary Monsters
(RCA)

Gone was the Nietzschean, space-wunderkind of youth, the strutting, multicolored peacock of pop artists. He’d gone weird for a time, visiting Berlin, making strange sounds and dreaming about ‘heroes.’ But even spacemen grow up, and when Bowie returned from his voyage into ambient and experimental realms, he brought a certain world-weariness with him to the recording studio. Scary Monsters, almost perfunctorily labeled his last great album, echoes with howls from a man against a wall. Alienation from the world, his fans, his fans-turned-artists, and, of course, himself, makes this certainly one of Bowie’s most angry releases. But as with earlier incarnations, Bowie the artist and Bowie the pop musician have equal authority over his work, crafting some of his most popular songs in an altogether distinctive album. – Andrew Good

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Elvis Costello and the Attractions - Get Happy 4. Elvis Costello and the Attractions — Get Happy
(Columbia)

While Get Happy!! marked the beginning of a new decade for the world, Costello was still churning out the type of mirthful and defamatory pop goodness that had come to define him. It’s not so much that his style was “new” as it is was “smart;” expanding on old romantic conventions with tortured wisdom and caustic grins. “Love For Tender” kicks off the album with these precise elements, a twist inducing organ touch coupled with the second to none rhythm section of the Attractions’ Thomas brothers, the play-on-words title alone suggests the unctuous charisma and de-beautification of romance the lyrics come to reveal: “So in love, I’m so sincere/Just like a well-known financier/You know I’ve never been corrupt/I’ll pay you a compliment/And you’ll think I am innocent/You can total up the balance sheet/And never know if I’m a counterfeit/You won’t take my love for tender…” – Kevin Falahee

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X - Los Angeles 3. X — Los Angeles
(Slash)

Forever associated with Brett Easton Ellis novels in my mind, X really beat my prejudice with the whirring stick. Los Angeles provides fairly simplistic music–rather obviously punk and unconcerned with much. But, it’s really, really, good. Somewhere between a West Coast Raw Power and an American Never Mind the Bollocks, few albums sound this seamlessly ramshackle. Doe’s bass, Zoom’s guitar, Cervenka’s yelp—it could all have been picked from a bargain bin at Amoeba. Suitable sounds when the greatest sin is apathy. – Thomas Lee

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Talking Heads - Remain in Light 2. Talking Heads — Remain in Light
(Sire)

Taken as a whole piece from its relentlessly paced beginnings to its eventual slowing into a defeated crawl, Remain in Light depicts a a series of narrators trying to come to grips with various existential crises and the onset of middle age. These narrators are navigating through their problems in a world that has become overloaded with useless information. As these narrators finally succumb to the yoke, the darker message underlying Remain in Light steps forward, a decrepit Atlas hunched over like a question mark. The future is defined not by the occasional glimmer of bright lights but the melancholy and the mystery of an unfamiliar road. – Hubert Vigilla

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Joy Division - Closer 1. Joy Division — Closer
(Factory)

Joy Division didn’t last long; only two studio albums under their belt, and things were brought to an abrupt halt in 1980 when frontman Ian Curtis hanged himself in his flat. Though the remaining three members would soldier on as the decidedly more upbeat New Order, leaving behind an exponentially larger discography and still performing today. But even with only two albums in tow, Joy Division made their moments count. Closer, which was, in effect, a career “closer,” ended things at the band’s peak. It’s a dark and dingy record; it’s a disturbing and uneasy museum of horrors and curiosities. And in many of it’s finest moments, it absolutely rocks. It’s no wonder so many bands attempt to steal from Closer, hardly anything else sounds this masterful and overwhelming. – Jeff Terich

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Personal Best

Bauhaus - In the Flat Field Bauhaus – In The Flat Field
(4AD)

This might have been the true beginning of a genre we would all soon mock and ridicule. Though The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees technically came before, Bauhaus were the true superstars of goth. Peter Murphy was the requisite theatrical frontman, which was one reason why they were initially panned by critics. But theatricality was the point. Rock `n’ roll is meant to be a show, a spectacle, an experience. And In the Flat Field was one damn impressive one. — Jeff Terich

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Prince - Dirty Mind Prince – Dirty Mind
(Warner Bros.)

Prince was somewhat of an anomaly in the music business. He started in the same city as Bob Dylan, yet his music crossed more genres that Dylan ever could have, and that’s really saying something. With two albums under his belt in the late ’70s and a few minor hits, Prince solidified his status as master songwriter, composer and sex god in 1980 with the masterful Dirty Mind. In fact, Dirty Mind began one of the best successive album runs in pop history, lasting until late in the decade. It was Prince’s time, and although rivaled commercially by Michael Jackson, far outshone the self-proclaimed ‘king of pop’ in sheer scope of work. – Terrance Terich

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Teardrop Explodes - Kilimanjaro Teardrop Explodes – Kilimanjaro
(Fontana)

Call it a punk rock Romulus and Remus story; in Liverpool in the late ’70s, there existed two post-punk siblings, Echo and the Bunnymen and Teadrop Explodes. While they were both spawned from the same family (Wah!) they each took decidedly different paths. Echo would last for the better part of a decade, split and reform with varying degrees of success, but Teardrop Explodes, essentially, exploded, leaving behind the ashes of two great albums, their peak being the awe-inspiring Kilimanjaro. Psychedelic, intense and altogether unique, it was the mark of a highly volatile, exciting, but ultimately short-lived band. Though Wilder followed shortly, nothing would match the power and weirdness of this awesome debut. – Jeff Terich

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U2 - Boy U2 – Boy
(Island)

Every story has to start somewhere and U2’s starts with Boy. Looking back on it now, who would have ever thought that the little Irish band who won a contest sponsored by Guinness would be selling out every show they play, no matter what the size of the venue. Boy wasn’t a huge splash, merely a ripple, but those ripples cascaded into tidal waves, affecting everything in its path. – Terrance Terich

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