10 albums… tough. Maybe I don’t think the 80’s were any worse than any other decades as far as quality rock goes- I mean, yea, there’s some crap in there, but for every Flock of Seagulls or Dexy’s Midnight Runners there’s a Vanilla Ice or Bay City Rollers from decades that bookend the 80’s. I will admit though, save for a few gems, literally none of the big hitters from the late 60’s or 70’s put out much of anything good in the 80’s. I guess they were all in rehab.
That said, I had a hard time whittling it down to just 10. Several of these albums I didn’t come to appreciate until well after the close of the decade (I’m not sure what the average age of the recipient list is but I graduated in 93.)
So, here’s my take in no particular order:
· The Smiths- Meat is Murder I got this on cassette from my sister’s boyfriend for Christmas in 87 or 88. I credit this album and the next one on the list for steering me down the alternative music road.
· The Cure – Head on the Door I had a tough time deciding between this and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss, Me. I think the diversity and song-craft on Head is superior though. They really cover all the bases on this album: flamenco-ish guitar, screaming rock anthem… and a song in 6/8 time? C’mon! The Cure is one of the most underrated bands ever.
· Depeche Mode—Music for the Masses So I realize I’m on the mid-late 80’s Brit-Alt music tear here, but this album and Black Celebration were by far DM’s most mature and well-written to date. They left a lot of the cheesy synth-pop behind for more meaningful lyrics and a darker sound.
· Van Halen—1984 There’s just too much good stuff on this album. I always thought David Lee Roth was a clown but I’ve come to appreciate his shtick for what it is— good, fun, 80’s rock.
· AC/DC—Back in Black I remember figuring out what Givin’ the Dog a Bone was about. Cue Beavis and Butthead laugh… This album is not only top 10 for the 80’s, it is top 10 of all time on my list.
· Minor Threat—Out of Step This album is the epitome of punk rock alienation. Ian Macaye is pissed off at the world, and this album, the first of the “straight-edge” hardcore genre represents everything good about punk rock. The songs are simple yet well-crafted. The studio production is sparse but clean. Too much of the California and D.C. punk rock sounds like shit; Minor Threat kept it real but also made it sound good.
· Jane’s Addiction—Nothing’s Shocking I wanted to cheat and use Ritual, but Nothing’s Shocking is an epic album all its own, and at the time, Jane’s represented a genre all their own. No one else sounded like them, and to think they were playing the same clubs in L.A. around the same time as other L.A. bands like… Poison… shudder.
· Soundgarden—Louder than Love All things considered I think Soundgarden was the best of the Seattle scene bands, Alice in Chains a close 2nd. Louder than Love was much, well, grungier than their subsequent releases. It had a garage band-quality to it that personified grunge before it was, well, grunge.
· Metallica—…And Justice for All The song One is the Stairway to Heaven of metal. I hear a lot of critique that the production quality of this album is lacking and that it is thin in places. Maybe, but Justice is a pinnacle album for Metallica. They were maturing and getting away from some of the trite lyrical content of previous releases, but were not mega-stars yet, staying true to their roots as such that even the hardcore metalheads could forgive and even appreciate the first few minutes of One.
· Grateful Dead—In the Dark I couldn’t not put this album on my top 10 list. Sure, the Grateful Dead were never known for great studio releases. That is not to say they didn’t record good albums. There were a handful of Dead albums in the 70’s that are as good as anything CSN&Y or The Eagles put out, they just never had a reputation for being a studio band (duh.) In the Dark contains the band’s only top 10 hit (Touch of Grey) and is overall, a well written and produced album which caused their popularity to skyrocket in the late 80’s. Yes, my name is Jeff, and I’m a Deadhead.