The Top 150 Albums of the 1980s

Ah, the 1980s. So maligned. But not by me. It is, of course, a truism that we’re never as connected to any music as the music that gets to us in our 20s, and so it is here: I spent the bulk of my 20s in the 80s, and while the decade itself almost killed me, it was the music here that totally saved me.

It’s no use trying to write a big long essay defending the 80s, except to say that after punk rock came along and blew everything up, one of the biggest questions was “OK, now what?” These records are what I consider to be the answer to that question.

So if you ever heard my radio show back in the day, you aren’t going to surprised by the albums listed here, even two decades down the road: I love what I love, you know? And this music was the soundtrack of my life like no other music from any other decade will ever be. It was all around all of the time: during loving and hating and playing and working and laughing and crying. It was everything all of the time. This music was part of me in a way that I’ll never even be able to fully explain.

Over the past few weeks, I went back and listened to the top 20 albums here, just to make sure, you know? And they reminded me of so many stories that happened, jokes that were made, fights that were had and things that nobody can ever discuss. And quite possibly, they reminded me of you.

That said, I’m hoping that the albums I loved, and the songs that I’m recommending and (especially) the essays I’ve written about these albums at least partially explains why I think the 80s were perpetually underrated, even at the time.

A note about the annotation. I’ve written a lot about some of these albums over the years: formal reviews, blog posts, forum comments, etc. but I tried to say something new from my 2010 perspective. And in keeping in that spirit, you’ll notice a number in brackets for many of the entries. That number is my original ranking of that album from back in December, 1989, when I did my very first “Best of the 1980s” list.

(Unlike the other decades, any similarities between the albums listed here and the actual greatest albums of the 1980s is purely intentional.)

THE TOP 150 ALBUMS OF THE 1980s

  1. [2] The Replacements – Let it Be (1984)
    The reason that this album is my favorite album by anybody ever isn’t because it’s a perfectly crafted record. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s loud, sloppy and imperfect. Just like you and me. I always got the impression that Westerberg could have done an album full of major songs like “Androgynous” and “Sixteen Blue,” but it would have revealing too much, so he compensated by including throwaways like “Gary’s Got a Boner” and “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out.” Didn’t matter, because even seeming throwaways like “We’re Coming Out” or “See Your Video” took on more more authority when surrounded by the best songs of the 1980s, including “I Will Dare” “Unsatisfied,” and my favorite song by anybody ever: “Answering Machine.”

    Songs to die for: “Answering Machine,” “Unsatisfied,” “I Will Dare,” “Androgynous”

  2. [1] R.E.M. – Murmur (1983)
    Probably the record that I listened to more than any other record I’ve ever owned, Murmur not just galvanized an entire music scene, it also is one of those rare albums that gets deeper and more mysterious with repeated listenings. Not just at first, but across time and space, so a record which seemed anomalous at the time is still utterly unique. Yes, other bands — and R.E.M. themselves — juxtaposed ringing guitars, dream-like words and lush, mysterious vocals and still never came close to this. R.E.M. named a later, lesser album Out of Time, but as it turns out, Murmur is the album that will forever be timeless.

    Songs to die for: “Pilgrimage,” “Talk About The Passion,” “9-9,” “Sitting Still”

  3. [4] The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy (1985)
    Before it was released, the question was whether or not the shock value of the Beach Boys pop vs. Metal Machine noise of their initial singles would wear thin over an entire album. Not a problem: the Reid brothers unleashed a torrent of beautiful feedbacky songs like “Never Understand” and “My Little Underground” balanced perfectly by dreamy almost-ballads like “Just Like Honey” and “Sowing Seeds.” And at the end, they cap it off with “Something’s Wrong,” so sonically deep that noone’s ever been able to reach the bottom.

    Songs to die for: “Something’s Wrong,” “My Little Underground,” “Never Understand,” “Just Like Honey

  4. [5] The Dream Syndicate – The Days of Wine and Roses (1982)
    While everybody pointed to the Velvet Underground as their great influence — true dat — it says here that there were equal parts Bob Dylan in the mix, as indicated by “pre-motorcycle accident” being etched on the run-out groove. Oh, and the title track, which flat-out stole the chorus of “Tombstone Blues.” None of that even mattered, though, as guitarist Karl Precoda gave a master class on how to sculpt beauty from distortion. When combined with Wynn’s Reedy Dylanisms (or Dylanesque Reeditude), songs like “Tell Me When It’s Over,” “Halloween” & the aforementioned title track rock like nothing else in the decade. And between Wynn’s psychotic voice and Precoda’s torrential outpouring of guitar, the last half of “Then She Remembers” might just be the best thing anybody recorded in the entire decade.

    Songs to die for: Then She Remembers,” “The Days of Wine and Roses,” “Tell Me When it’s Over,” “Halloween.”

  5. [10] X – Wild Gift (1981)
    Punk rockers because noone else would have them, the truth is that the combination of John Doe’s classic American tunes, Exene’s arty poetic words, Billy Zoom’s punkabilly guitar and D.J. Bonebrake’s super-syncopated drumslams made X sound like no other band before or since. The second in a four-album run that dominated the first third of the decade, Wild Gift was the very pinnacle of X’s power. In a little more than a half-hour, John & Exene sang — his sweet voice constantly battling her rough voice — tale after tale of lust, anger, desperateness and occasional redemption in their very Californian boho underground. And they all contributed: Billy’s quoting of “Peter Gunn” theme at the fade of “Universal Corner;” Exene’s voice in “We’re Desperate;” John’s bass on “In This House That I Call Home;”” D.J.’s amazing drum roll hooks in “White Girl.” This was how a band interacted. Had they been able to contain their ambition — or channel it into music that continued to be this powerful while also somehow commercial, they might have ended up as the greatest group my home state has ever produced. For that matter, they still might be.

    Songs to die for: “Universal Corner,” “White Girl,” “We’re Desperate,” “Some Other Time.”

  6. [12] The Psychedelic Furs – Talk Talk Talk (1981)
    Two things separated the Furs from their early 80’s peers: Mr. Richard Butler’s post-Lydon bleat and Duncan Kilburn’s punk saxophone. The former serviced words that were as smart, sexy and snarky as the voice that sang them, while the latter added riffs, solos and hooks that outshone the rest of the crew. The result was a glorious stew of disparate elements that shouldn’t have worked, but with Steve Lillywhite adding the seasoning, turned into one of the signature records of the entire post-punk era.

    Songs to die for: “Dumb Waiters,” “Into You Like a Train,” “So Run Down,” “She is Mine”

  7. [6] Hüsker Dü – Warehouse: Songs and Stories (1987)
    I totally realize that Warehouse is noone’s favorite album by the Hüskers but mine. And I think it’s because it a) came at the end of an amazing run where they’d kicked out 7 albums worth of material in 2 1/2 years and b) dismisses with the experimentation that had simultaneously marred and enhanced their previous records. So what we were left with was four sides of perfectly realized kick-ass melodic punk rock, with Mould and Hart content to spew out one great song after another. Ironically, out of all of the great bands of the time, it was the Hüskers I thought would never end. Finally, somebody — Rhino??? — PLEASE put out remastered versions of their albums, cos it’s impossible to convince anybody how great they were with the crap that passes for their current CDs.

    Songs to die for: “No Reservations,” “Ice Cold Ice,” “She’s a Woman (And Now He is a Man),” “It’s Not Peculiar

  8. [9] Robyn Hitchcock – I Often Dream of Trains (1984)
    The Nebraska of alt-rock. By which I mean, an artist who had previously been indentified with his own idiosyncratic brand of rock music puts out an all acoustic (or drumless, anyways), and that album somehow becomes a major signpost in his career, and a well he continues to visit to this day. I Often Dream of Trains sounds like it was recorded in the first week of January, when all of the holidays have passed, the sun is still ineffective, and the “new” in “Happy Year” seems like a cheat.

    Songs to die for: “Autumn is Your Last Chance,” “Uncorrected Personality Traits,” “Sounds Great When You’re Dead,” “I Often Dream of Trains,”

  9. [16] The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986)
    The moment where Morrissey’s wit forever conquered his whinging is when he’s facing off against his nemesis — the Queen of England — and after she off-handedly disses him, he tops her. Queen: “Er, I know you, and you cannot sing.” Morrissey: “That’s nothing, you should hear me play pianner.” After that, it’s all fun and games: the normal gloomy stuff is more than alleviated by partying in cemeteries, martyrs with hearing aids, and dying in a car crash with the one you love. None of which would even matter if Johnny Marr wasn’t also fashioning a Britpop primer for the ages. Every time Morrissey got off a great line; Marr would follow it with an even greater hook or riff, making each song a mind/body battle. The winner, of course, was the audience. This is another record — band — really, which could benefit from a decent reissue program. Get to it, Rough Trade / Sire!! (Or whomever owns the rights now.)

    Songs to die for: “There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” “The Queen is Dead,” “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others”

  10. [7] Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes (1983)
    The music surrounding Gordon Gano’s desperate horniness sounded like nothing else anybody had ever heard, but his everyman voice made it universal. Violent Femmes was a near-instant alt-rock party record and has been passed down as secret knowledge ever since, only becoming well-known as the kids who first loved it started stuffing it into films and TV shows. Which is why it only even got to #171 on the Billboard charts, went gold four years later, platinum four years after that, but will never ever go away.

    Songs to die for: “Promise,” “Add it Up” “Prove My Love,” “Kiss Off”

  11. [14] R.E.M. – Reckoning (1984)
    For the all-important follow-up, R.E.M. sidestep the sophomore jinx by upping the tempos, electrifying all of the guitars and leaving the studio murk on the cutting room floor. In the end, Reckoning will stand as their most consistent album, the one that let everybody know that their all-time debut was hardly a fluke, and the album that defines what many of us hear in our heads about when we think about R.E.M.

    Songs to die for: “Time After Time (Annelise),” “Letter Never Sent,” “Harborcoat,” “Little America”

  12. [13] U2 – Boy (1980)
    Not so much post-punk but post-adolescent, Boy exploded with the youthful enthusiasm of a band who were sure that they were going to conquer the world, if they only got a chance. Of course, they didn’t, and Boy remains a treasured cult item for the very few of us who actually heard it. For me, all of those songs about boys becoming men, love feeling out of control, and even the landslide in Bono’s ego struck exactly the right chord, as did all of those guitar overdubs.

    Songs to die for: “The Electric Co.,” “An Cat Dubh/Into The Heart,” “Twilight,” “I Will Follow”

  13. [74] Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
    Ten years after punk, it was almost axiomatic that music couldn’t be dangerous anymore: except for college, radio was a joke; the major label consolidation had already begun and the fragmentation of the music scene had already begun. Then P.E. came along and scared the shit out all the right people. When they preached revolution, it felt real. Of course, it wasn’t my revolution, except for the part where they figured out how to combine rap and rock so that it wasn’t rap with rock sample or rock with rap rhythms, but a hybrid that was two places at once. It also didn’t hurt that Chuck D stacked his words at a dizzying pace and spit them the the virtuosity of a Jimmy Page guitar solo. Or that whenever it threatened to get too threatening, along came future reality TV star Flavor Flav with a “yeah boyeee!!” to remind us that dangerous or not, it was still some awesomely fun music.

    Songs to die for: “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” “Bring The Noise,” “Don’t Believe The Hype,” “Louder Than a Bomb”

  14. [15] The English Beat – I Just Can’t Stop it (1980)
    The embodiment of Pete Townshend’s maxim that rock and roll won’t solve your problems, but will let you dance all over them, The Beat wore their deception on their sleeves. The music was the joyful joyful joyful sound they alluded to on the album closer, but the words were full of defeat, self-loathing and righteous political anger. Which was how they could take one of the all-time greatest songs by anybody ever, the universally personal “Tears of a Clown,” and make it their own. Afterwards, the melancholy in their words would overtake their music, but their debut stands as a perfect fusion of punk and reggae; partying and introspection.

    Songs to die for: “Best Friend,” “Tears of a Clown,” “Two Swords,” “Mirror in the Bathroom”

  15. [22] The Replacements – Pleased to Meet Me (1987)
    With Bob Stinson permanently sidelined, the ‘mats recorded a record that was free of the bad Aerosmith rips (had they been good Aerosmith rips, no problem!) and worse production that dropped Tim from an A+ to simply an A. It also meant that Paul was free to add horns and strings to his unbelievably great songs about skyways, suicides, booze, babes and what the fuck his crazy-ass band was gonna do next. Or not, if he just wanted to show off his own not inconsiderable guitar skills. Which is why he was riffing like Pete Townshend at the start of “Valentine” and soloing like Mick Jones at the end of “The Ledge.” The whole goddamn thing felt like yet another casual miracle: incontrovertible proof that The Replacements were not just the great straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll band of the decade, but could have ended up being the greatest ever. After three straight albums of life-saving kickassery, it really and truly felt like that: The Replacements could do anything, and best of all, they were ours.

    Songs to die for: “Valentine,” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Alex Chilton,” “Skyway”

  16. [25] U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987)
    I think that my favorite year for music in the 80s was 1987, and U2 owned 1987. For whatever reason, The Joshua Tree was probably the last time that U2 could be on the cover of Time magazine and yet still have mad respect from what passed for the indie rock scene. After that, they got too big and too divisive. At the time, though, the gigantic soundscapes that The Edge created combined with Bono’s words and voice seemed as new and original to us as they seemed commercial and comforting to the masses. Or maybe because 1987 was the first year that the lives of everybody in my little tribe seemed to be accelerating beyond comprehension, we also needed the comfort that they represented. Also helping: the best stadium show I’ve ever seen as the capstone of a wild, wild 25th birthday weekend where I saw U2, Pretenders, R.E.M and the dBs all in the space of two days.

    Songs to die for: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Running To Stand Still,” “With or Without You,” “Where The Streets Have No Name”

  17. [–] The Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight (1980)
    In a weird way, this is the post-punk Forever Changes: an album that was not only the sound of a band figuring it out, a record that was utterly out of step with the times. It was also first great flowering of Robyn Hitchcock’s genius, no doubt stemming from the realization that it wasn’t just Syd Barrett who wrote the psychedelic songs that he loved, but John Lennon, too. Because once he figured out that he could add melody to all of his crazy guitar and crazier words, he had his style, his niche and his purpose in life. In that, he differs from Arthur Lee, and don’t you think he doesn’t know that. Also figuring it out: Kimberly Rew, who matches Robyn lick for lick throughout.

    Songs to die for: “Underwater Moonlight,” “Queen of Eyes,” “I Wanna Destroy You,” “Kingdom of Love”

  18. [19] XTC – English Settlement (1982)
    It’s not very often a transition album ends up being a band’s best, but on English Settlement, you can hear ultra-quirky “new wave” XTC gentrifying into slightly-less-quirky “pastoral” XTC. It was as if they were already anticipating the fact that they were going to be a studio-only band from here on out. Certainly Andy Partridge’s stage fright was a chronic condition that worsened, so when he finally broke down for good touring this record, nobody was particularly surprised. In any event, the guitars got quieter and fuzzier, the beats got less important, and the overall vibe got more insular.

    Songs to die for: “Senses Working Overtime,” “Runaways,” “Ball and Chain” “Knuckle Down”

  19. [63] Pretenders – Pretenders (1980)
    The first side, where Chrissie Hynde leads her crack band through a set of incendiary fucksongs was mind-blowing and dick-hardening to my 17-year-old self. That’s what a woman sounds like, I thought, and I’ve never much liked girly-sounding girl singers since. The second side, which was slower and poppier with reggae and soul before it climaxed with a climax, was much more problematic. Took me years to figure out how great it was, as well.

    Songs to die for: “Mystery Achievement,” “The Wait,” “Up The Neck,” “Precious”

  20. [–] Talking Heads – The Name of This Band is Talking Heads (1982)
    Blows Stop Making Sense out of the water. First disc displays classic Talking Heads weirdness, second disc showcases classic Talking Heads funk. Both discs display David Byrne’s way with words and his band’s way with a groove. Oh, and his amazing repetoire of animal noises, which even Van Morrison can’t touch.
    Songs to die for: “Love -> Building on Fire,” “Houses in Motion,” “The Great Curve,” “Air”
  21. [21] The dB’s – The Sound of Music (1987)
    With Stamey long gone, and Holsapple not trying to replace him, this record defined late-80s power pop by placing the emphasis on the power.
    Songs to die for: Think Too Hard,” “There Must Be a Better Place,” “Looked at The Sun Too Long,” “Change With The Changing Times
  22. [–] The Jam – Snap! (1983)
    There was no such thing as a bad Jam album, but because Weller, Foxton & Buckler were a singles band to the very end this is the place to start! And because they were a singles band, this collected a bunch of great songs that weren’t on any of their commercial albums. One of the greatest singles collections ever released.

    Songs to die for: “Going Underground,” “Funeral Pyre,” “Beat Surrender” “The Eton Rifles”

  23. [17] Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Mainstream (1988)
    Draggy beats and druggy words, both defined and redeemed by Neil Clark’s lead guitar. Even then, Lloyd Cole was living that life so that the rest of us didn’t have to. Even though we still were, too.
    Songs to die for: “Mr. Malcontent,” “Hey Rusty,” “From The Hip” “My Bag
  24. [79] The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989)
    I often wondered what their second album would have sounded like had it been done a couple of years later instead after years and years of record company squabbling. Would it had been less indulgent and more hooky? Or did they shoot their wad with this gorgeous, perfect, and utterly arrogant debut? I’d like to think the latter, but I’m kinda guessing the former. Either way, we still have this, don’t we?

    Songs to die for: “Waterfall,” “She Bangs the Drums,” “I Want to Be Adored,” “I Am The Resurrection”

  25. [27] The Jam – The Gift (1982)
    Songs to die for: “The Gift,” “A Town Called Malice,” “Ghosts,” “Happy Together”
  26. [8] U2 – War (1983)

    Songs to die for: “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Surrender,” “The Refugee,” “Like a Song”

  27. [24] R.E.M. – Fables of the Reconstruction of the Fables (1985)
    Songs to die for: “Life and How to Live It,” “Driver 8,” “Good Advices,” “Kahoutek”
  28. [36] The Miss Alans – Bus (1987)
    Songs to die for: “Pagan Home,” “Glamorous,” “Dying Solace,” “We Don’t Know Yet.”
  29. [34] U2 – The Unforgettable Fire (1984) —
    Songs to die for: “Bad,” “The Unforgettable Fire,” “A Sort of Homecoming,” “Pride (in the Name of Love.”
  30. [32] Hüsker Dü – Flip Your Wig (1985)
    Songs to die for: “Keep Hanging On,” “Makes No Sense At All,” “Green Eyes,” “Divide and Conquer
  31. [26] The Replacements – Tim (1985)
    Songs to die for: “Hold My Life,” “Left of the Dial,” “Here Comes a Regular,” “Kiss Me on The Bus”
  32. [23] Hüsker Dü – Candy Apple Grey (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Hardly Getting Over It,” “Dead Set on Destruction,” “Sorry Somehow,” “All This I’ve Done For You”
  33. [38] R.E.M. – Chronic Town (1982)
    Songs to die for: “Wolves, Lower,” “Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars),” “Gardening At Night,” “1,000,000″
  34. [33] Hüsker Dü – New Day Rising (1985)
    Songs to die for: “Celebrated Summer,” “New Day Rising,” “I Apologize,” “Books About UFOs
  35. [31] Pete Townshend – Empty Glass (1980)
    Songs to die for: “Rough Boys,” “Empty Glass,” “Let My Love Open The Door,” “Gonna Get Ya”
  36. [–] N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton (1988)
    Songs to die for: “Straight Outta Compton,” “Gangsta Gangsta,” “Express Yourself,” “Fuck Tha Police”
  37. [44] R.E.M. – Document (1987)
    Songs to die for: “It’s The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” “The One I Love,” “Disturbance at the Heron House,” “Finest Worksong”
  38. [37] The Smiths – The Smiths (1984)
    Songs to die for: “Still Ill,” “Hand In Glove,” “You’ve Got Everything Now,” “This Charming Man”
  39. [ ] Joy Division – Permanent
    Songs to die for: “Dead Souls,” “Twenty-Four Hours,” “Transmission,” “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
  40. [–] Pretenders – Extended Play (1980)
    Songs to die for: “Talk of the Town,” “Porcelain,” “Cuban Slide,” “Message of Love”
  41. [11] Bob Dylan – Biograph (1985)
    Songs to die for: “Up to Me,” “I Don’t Believe You,” “Isis,” “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar”
  42. [18] The Church – Seance (1983)
    Songs to die for: “Dropping Names,” “One Day,” “It’s No Reason,” “Electric Lash”
  43. [48] The Cat Heads – Hubba! (1987)
    Songs to die for: “Victim,” “Final Letter,” “Need to Know,” “Hanging Around”
  44. [20] Neil Young – Freedom (1989)
    Songs to die for: “Rockin in the Free World,” “No More,” “Ways of Love,” “Someday”
  45. [29] X – More Fun in the New World (1983)
    Songs to die for: “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts,” “I See Red,” “Poor Girl,” “The New World”
  46. [–] Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation (1988)
    Songs to die for: “Teenage Riot,” “The Sprawl,” “Kissability,” “Silver Rocket”
  47. [30] Danny and Dusty – The Lost Weekend (1985)
    Songs to die for: “King of the Losers,” “Song For the Dreamers,” “The Word is Out,” “Baby We All Gotta Go Down”
  48. [52] Tom Verlaine – Dreamtime (1981)
    Songs to die for: “There a Reason,” “A Future in Noise,” “Always,” “Fragile”
  49. [42] Lloyd Cole and The Commotions – Rattlesnakes (1985)
    Songs to die for: “Perfect Skin,” “Rattlesnakes,” “Four Flights Up,” “Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken
  50. [72] Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love (1987)
    Songs to die for: “One Step Up,” “Brilliant Disguise,” “Tunnel of Love,” “Valentines Day”
  51. [–] Mekons – Mekons Rock ‘N’ Roll (1989)
    Songs to die for: “Memphis, Egypt,” “Cocaine Lil,” “Club Mekon,” “Empire of the Senseless”
  52. [87] The Clash – Sandinista! (1980)
    Songs to die for: “Somebody Got Murdered,” “Police on My Back,” “One More Time,” “The Street Parade
  53. [89] The Bangles – All Over the Place (1984)
    Songs to die for: “Hero Takes a Fall,” “Going Down to Liverpool,” “Dover Beach,” “Tell Me”
  54. [49] 28th Day – 28th Day (1985)
    Songs to die for: “25 Pills,” “Pages Turn,” “Burnsite”
  55. [53] Robyn Hitchcock and The Egyptians – Gotta Let this Hen Out!! (1985)
    Songs to die for: “Listening to the Higsons,” “Heaven,” “Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl,” “Acid Bird”
  56. [41] X – Under the Big Black Sun (1982)
    Songs to die for: “The Hungry Wolf,” “The Have Nots,” “Blue Spark,” “Under The Big Black Sun.”
  57. [–] Various Artists – The Indestructable Beat of Soweto

    (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Awungilobolele,” “Sobabamba,” “Holotelani,” “Ngicabange Ngaqeda”

  58. [–] Warren Zevon – Stand in the Fire (1980)
    Songs to die for: “Mohammed’s Radio,” “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Werewolves of London,” “Stand in the Fire”
  59. [75] Lou Reed – The Blue Mask (1982)
    Songs to die for: “The Blue Mask,” “Underneath the Bottle,” “The Gun,” “Waves of Fear”
  60. [46] The Primitives – Lovely (1988)
    Songs to die for: “Crash,” “Ocean Blue,” “Way Behind Me,” “Stop Killing Me”
  61. [10] X – Los Angeles (1980)
    Songs to die for: “The World’s a Mess, It’s in My Kiss,” “Los Angeles,” “The Unheard Music,” “Your Phone’s Off The Hook, But You’re Not”
  62. [100] Rank and File – Sundown (1982)
    Songs to die for: “Coyote,” “The Conductor Wore Black,” “Amanda Ruth,” “Lucky Day”
  63. [50] Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Easy Pieces (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Rich,” “Grace,” “Pretty Gone,” “Lost Weekend,”
  64. [56] The Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands (1987)
    Songs to die for: “On The Wall,” “Happy When It Rains,” “April Skies,” “Darklands”
  65. [88] R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Fall on Me,” “Superman,” “I Believe,” “Just a Touch”
  66. [51] Buzzcocks – A Different Kind of Tension (1980)
    Songs to die for: “I Believe,” “You Know You Can’t Help It,” “You Say You Don’t Love Me,” “Sitting Round at Home”
  67. [62] Translator – Heartbeats and Triggers (1982)
    Songs to die for: “Nothing is Saving Me,” “Everywhere That I’m Not,” “Sleeping Snakes,” “Favorite Drug”
  68. [64] Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade (1984)
    Songs to die for: “Pink Turns to Blue,” “Turn on the News,” “Newest Industry,” “Whatever”
  69. [58] Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Get Happy!! (1980)
    Songs to die for: “Riot Act,” “New Amsterdam,” “Opportunity,” “High Fidelity”
  70. [66] The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You (1981)
    Songs to die for: “Start Me Up,” “Little T & A,” “Waiting on a Friend,” “Hang Fire”
  71. [28] Midnight Oil – Diesel and Dust (1988)
    Songs to die for: “The Dead Heart,” “Dream World,” “Sometimes,” “Beds are Burning”
  72. [55] Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A (1984)
    Songs to die for: “Born in the U.S.A,” “Glory Days,” “No Surrender,” “I’m On Fire”
  73. [60] XTC – Black Sea (1980)
    Songs to die for: “Towers of London,” “Generals and Majors,” “Respectable Street,” “Love at First Sight”
  74. [90] Easterhouse – Contenders (1986)
    Songs to die for: “To Live Like This,” “Ninteen Sixty-Nine,” “Whistling in the Dark,” “Out on Your Own”
  75. [94] The Brains – The Brains (1980)
    Songs to die for: “Money Changes Everything,” “See Me,” “Treason,” “Gold Dust Kids”
  76. [97] The Jam – Sound Affects (1981)
    Songs to die for: “Start!,” “That’s Entertainment,” “But I’m Different Now,” “Dream Time,”
  77. [–] The Dream Syndicate – It’s Too Late to Stop Now (Bootleg) (1989)
    Songs to die for: “Slide Away,” “Closer,” “If You Should Ever Need a Fool,” “John Coltrane Stereo Blues”
  78. [82] Translator – No Time Like Now (1983)
    Songs to die for: “Un-Alone,” “Circumstance Laughing,” “No Time Like Now”
  79. [45] Peter Case – Peter Case (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Steel Strings,” “Icewater,” “Satellite Wars,” “Walk in the Woods”
  80. [57] Hoodoo Gurus – Stoneage Romeos (1984)
    Songs to die for: “I Want You Back,” “(Let’s All) Turn On,” “My Girl,” “Arthur”
  81. [39] Lou Reed – New York (1989)
    Songs to die for: “Strawman,” “Dirty Blvd,” “Dime Store Mystery,” “Romeo Had Juliette
  82. [92] The Psychedelic Furs – The Psychedelic Furs (1980)
    Songs to die for: “We Love You,” “Flowers,” “India,” “Imitation of Christ”
  83. [59] The Smiths – Meat Is Murder (1985)
    Songs to die for: “How Soon is Now?,” “The Headmaster Ritual,” “What She Said,” “I Want The One I Can’t Have”
  84. [–] Pixies – Doolittle (1989)
    Songs to die for: “Debaser,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Wave of Mutilation,” “Gouge Away”
  85. [93] The Feelies – The Good Earth (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Slipping (Into Something),” “The High Road,” “When Company Comes,” “On The Roof,”
  86. [54] The Replacements – Hootenanny! (1983)<
    Songs to die for: “Within Your Reach,” “Hayday,” “Color Me Impressed,” “Treatment Bound”/li>
  87. [80] Hoodoo Gurus – Blow Your Cool! (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Out That Door,” “Party Machine,” “What’s My Scene?” “The Middle of The Land”
  88. [61] The Dream Syndicate – Ghost Stories (1988)
    Songs to die for: “Black,” “I Have Faith,” “The Side I’ll Never Show,” “Whatever You Please”
  89. [95] Robyn Hitchcock and The Egyptians – Element of Light (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Airscape,” “Tell Me About Your Drugs,” “If You Were a Priest,” “Lady Waters and the Hooded One.”
  90. [–] Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989)
    Songs to die for: “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun,” “High Plains Drifter,” “Shadrach,” “The Sounds of Science”
  91. [–] The B-52s – Wild Planet (1980)
    Songs to die for: “Dirty Back Road,” “My Own Private Idaho,” “Give Me Back My Man” “Party out of Bounds”
  92. [95] Robyn Hitchcock – Black Snake Diamond Röle (1981)
    Songs to die for: “The Man Who Invented Himself,” “Meat,” “I Watch The Cars” “Out of the Picture”
  93. [96] Echo and the Bunnymen – Ocean Rain (1984)
    Songs to die for: “My Kingdom,” “The Killing Moon,” “Silver,” “Seven Seas”
  94. [98] The Pogues – If I Should Fall from the Grace of God (1988)
    Songs to die for: “If I Should Fall From The Grace of God,” “Fairytale of New York,” “Fiesta,” “Thousands are Sailing”
  95. [–] Sidewinders – Witchdoctor (1989) “Witch Doctor,” “What She Said,” “Bad, Crazy Sun,” “What Am I Supposed to Do?”
  96. [–] Elvis Costello – King of America (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Suit of Lights,” “Brilliant Mistake,” “American Without Tears,” “I’ll Wear it Proudly”
  97. [68] Close Lobsters – Foxheads Stalk this Land (1987)
    Songs to die for: “In Spite of These Times,” “Just Too Bloody Stupid,” “A Prophecy,” “Pathetique”
  98. [–] Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Rhymin’ & Stealin,’” “Slow and Low,” “Fight For Your Right to Party,” “She’s Crafty”
  99. [–] The Connells – Boylan Heights (1987)
    Songs to die for: “I Suppose,” “Over There,” “Choose a Side,” “If It Crumbles”
  100. [65] Echo and the Bunnymen – Porcupine (1983)
    Songs to die for: “The Back of Love,” “Heads Will Roll,” “The Cutter,” “Gods Will Be Gods
  101. [78] The Cat Heads – Submarine (1988)
    Songs to die for: “Apologize,” “Alice on the Radio,” “Upside Down,” “Grass”
  102. [43] The Pogues – Peace and Love (1989)
    Songs to die for: “Down All The Days,” “Lorelei,” “Cotton Fields,” “White City”
  103. [–] The Smiths – Louder than Bombs (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Asleep,” “Rubber Ring,” “Sweet and Tender Hooligan,” “Panic”
  104. [40] U2 – October (1981)
    Songs to die for: “Is That All?” “Rejoice,” “Tomorrow,” “With a Shout”
  105. [–] Bruce Springsteen – The River (1980)
    Songs to die for: “Out in the Street,” “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” “Hungry Heart,” “The Price You Pay”
  106. [72] The Alarm – Declaration (1984)
    Songs to die for: “Marching On,” “Howling Wind,” “Blaze of Glory,” “We Are the Light”
  107. [81] Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hard Promises (1981)
    Songs to die for: “The Waiting,” “A Thing About You,” “You Can Still Change Your Mind,” “Kings Road”
  108. [83] Close Lobsters – Headache Rhetoric (1989)
    Songs to die for: “Knee Trembler,” “Nature Thing,” “Skyscrapers,” “Gulp”
  109. [–] Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Blood and Chocolate (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Next Time Round,” “Tokyo Storm Warning,” “I Want You,” “Uncomplicated”
  110. [–] Van Halen – Women and Children First (1980)
    Songs to die for: “Everybody Wants Some!,” “In a Simple Rhyme,” “And The Cradle Will Rock,” “Romeo Delight”
  111. [–] Prince – Sign O The Times (1987)
    Songs to die for: “The Cross,” “I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man,” “Sign O The Times,” “Play in the Sunshine”
  112. [–] The Jayhawks – The Jayhawks (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Six Pack on the Dashboard,” “People in This Place on Every Side,” “The Liquor Store Came First,” “Falling Star”
  113. [–] The Waterboys – This Is the Sea (1985)
    Songs to die for: “This is the Sea,” “Spirit,” “Old England,” “Medicine Bow”
  114. [–] Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Live 1975/1985 (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” “Seeds,” “Candy’s Room,” “Johnny 99″
  115. [–] Tom Petty – Full Moon Fever (1989)
    Songs to die for: “Free Falling,” “Running Down a Dream,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Yer So Bad.”
  116. [–] Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Trust (1981)
    Songs to die for: “Strict Time,” “Clubland,” “From a Whisper to a Scream” “New Lace Sleeves”
  117. [–] Sonic Youth – Sister (1987)
    Songs to die for: “Schizophrenia,” “Tuff Gnarl,” “(I Got a) Catholic Block,” “Kotton Krown”
  118. [–] Prince – Parade (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Kiss,” “Mountains,” “Girls and Boys” “New Position”
  119. [–] The Jazz Butcher – The Gift of Music (1985)
    Songs to die for: “Rain,” “Southern Mark Smith,” “Water,” “Drink”
  120. [–] The Clash – Black Market Clash (1980)
    Songs to die for: “The City of The Dead,” “Armagideon Time,” “Pressure Drop,” “Bankrobber”
  121. [–] New Order – Brotherhood (1986)
    Songs to die for: “All Day Long,” “Every Little Counts” “As It Was When It Was,” “Weirdo”
  122. [–] Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction (1987)
    Songs to die for: “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Paradise City,” “Welcome to the Jungle,” “It’s So Easy”
  123. [–] Run-DMC – Together Forever
    Songs to die for: “It’s Tricky,” “King of Rock,” “It’s Like That,” “Walk This Way”
  124. [–] The Jazz Butcher – Big Questions (The Gift of Music, Volume II) (1987)
    Songs to die for: “Hard,” “Rebecca Wants Her Bike Back” “Peter Lorre,” “Grooving in the Bus Lane”
  125. [–] Bobby Sutliffe – Only Ghosts Remain (1987)
    Songs to die for: “Same Way Tomorrow,” “That Stupid Idea,” “Different World,”
  126. [–] The Specials – The Singles Collection
    Songs to die for: “Ghost Town,” “Free Nelson Mandela,” “A Message to You, Rudi,” “Too Much, Too Young”
  127. [76] U2 – Rattle and Hum (1988)
    Songs to die for: “All I Want Is You,” “Angel of Harlem,” “Desire,” “Bullet The Blue Sky (Live)”
  128. [–] Big Country – The Crossing (1983)
    Songs to die for: “Chance,” “Close Action,” “Inwards,” “In A Big Country”
  129. [91] The Church – The Church (U.S.) (1982)
    Songs to die for: “Is This Where You Live?” “The Unguarded Moment,” “Too Fast For You,” “Sisters”
  130. [84] Feelies – Only Life (1988)
    Songs to die for: “It’s Only Life,” “Away,” “What Goes On,” “Too Much”
  131. [–] Paul Kelly and the Messengers – Under The Sun (1988)
    Songs to die for: “To Her Door,” “Under The Sun,” “Desdemona,” “Dumb Things”
  132. [85] XTC – The Big Express (1984)
    Songs to die for: “This World Over,” “Wake Up,” “I Remember The Sun,” “Train Running Low on Soul Coal”
  133. [–] Prince – Purple Rain (1984)
    Songs to die for: “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Purple Rain,” “When Doves Cry,” “Darling Nikki”
  134. [–] Moving Targets – Burning In Water (1986)
    Songs to die for: “The Other Side” “Always Calling,” “Almost Certain/Drone”, “Shape of Somethings”
  135. [–] R.E.M. – Live in Seattle 1989 (Bootleg) (1989
    Songs to die for: “I Believe,” “Crazy,” “Perfect Circle,” “Get Up”
  136. [–] Alter Boys – Soul Desire (1987)
    Songs to die for: “One Step Ahead of The Rain,” “Dry-Out Center,” “Mid-Winter Death Trip”
  137. [99] Nikki Sudden & The Jacobites – The Ragged School (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Big Store,” “Kings and Queens,” “Pin Your Heart to Me,” “It’ll All End Up in Tears”
  138. [35] The Replacements – Don’t Tell a Soul (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Talent Show,” “I’ll Be You,” “Achin’ to Be,” “Darlin One”
  139. [–] Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska(1982)
    Songs to die for: “Open All Night,” “Highway Patrolman,” “State Trooper,” “Atlantic City”
  140. [–] Squeeze – Singles: 45s and Under(1986)
    Songs to die for: “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Black Coffee in Bed,” “Another Nail in My Heart,” “Pulling Mussels From the Shell”
  141. [47] The Primitives – Pure (1989)
    Songs to die for: “All The Way Down,” “Way Behind Me,” “Keep Me in Mind” “Lonely Streets”
  142. [69] The Jazz Butcher – Big Planet, Scarey Planet (1989)
    Songs to die for: “New Invention,” “The Word I Was Looking For,” “Line of Death,” “The Good Ones”
  143. [71] Pete Townshend – All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982)
    Songs to die for: “Slit Skirts,” “Stardom in Acton,” “Stop Hurting People,” “Somebody Saved Me”
  144. [–] De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
    Songs to die for: “Magic Number,” “Eye Know,” “Tread Water,” “Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin’s Revenge)”
  145. [77] The Church – The Blurred Crusade (1982)
    Songs to die for: “Just For You,” “When You Were Mine,” “Almost With You,” “You Took”
  146. [86] R.E.M. – Green (1988)
    Songs to die for: “World Leader Pretend,” “Pop Song 89,” “I Remember California” “—–”
  147. [–] Go-Gos – Beauty and the Beat (1981)
    Songs to die for: “Can’t Stop The World,” “We Got the Beat,” “How Much More” “Our Lips Are Sealed”
  148. [–] Dave Edmunds – DE#7 (1982)
    Songs to die for: “One More Night,” “From Small Things (Big Things Some Day Come),” “Me and The Boys” “Other Guys Girls”
  149. [–] Lyle Lovett – Pontiac (1987)
    Songs to die for: “L.A. County,” “If I Had a Boat,” “She’s No Lady” “She’s Hot to Go”
  150. [–] Black Uhuru – Red (1981)
    Songs to die for: “Youth of Eglington,” “Utterance,” “Puff She Puff,” “Sponji Reggae”
  151. [–] XTC – Skylarking (1986)
    Songs to die for: “Earn Enough For Us,” “Another Satellite,” “Grass” “Dear God”
  152. [–] Minutemen – Double Nickles on the Dime (1984)
    Songs to die for: “History Lesson, Part II,” “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing,” “Corona” “This Ain’t No Picnic”

A note on reissues: Basically, if a reissue covers a specific recording date — or contained within a single decade — , then for the purposes of this project, it will be rated against that date. So Dylan’s “Royal Albert Hall” concert will be part of my 60’s list. However, if a reissue crosses multiple decades, then I rated it for when it came out, so Dylan’s Biograph is part of this list. That said, I made exceptions for some key best-ofs that came out in the 1990s but covered bands that were influential in the 1980s: Joy Division, Run-DMC and The Specials. Arbitrary? You betcha!!

MORE OF THIS CRAZY SHIT

Coming soon (or soon-ish): The top albums of the 1970s

9 Responses to “The Top 150 Albums of the 1980s”

  1. Tom H says:

    Only a half dozen new titles to me. So glad for your list and the challenge of tracking down the highly reccomended new ones.

    Tom —Course I didn’t see Stink! and personally would add all Westerberg related 80’s music

    Tom

  2. Tim Palacios says:

    Ahh, what great memories…though I recognized 95% and am in agreement with 90% of the list you missed some vary important contributions such as:
    Wire Train-In a Chamber, Oingo Boingo-Good For Your Soul, The Babys-Anthonlogy, General Public-All the Rage, Dire Straits- Alchemy, Style Council-Internationalist, Genesis-Three Sides Live…

  3. G E Light says:

    A fine list. I do worry about room for Peace and Love but not Rum, Sodmy & the Lash and 2 Close Lobster discs but nothing from the Wedding Present, a bit odd no. I agree with you on Warehouses not so much Let It Be. Here’s a fun list of some Top 80s songs:

    http://aesthetics101.blogspot.com/2009/05/11-oclock-tick-tock.html

    Look forward to purusing and thinking about some of your other lists.

    Oh Yeah Where were The Young Marble Giants? LOL.

  4. Bird Jones says:

    I read through your list quickly – if my comment is wrong I will eat my words… but from scanning, it seems that you’ve only got four albums by African-American musicians in your top 150 (Public Enemy, RUN-DMC, NWA, De La Soul)… to go with this, you have one Jamaican album and one British ska album. 150 albums.

    Look, I’m not saying you should listen to soul, R&B, Latin, jazz, blues and several other genres that don’t rate even one album in the top 150… I’m saying that you should call your list “Top 150 rock albums” or even “Top 150 Indies” or “Top 150 Alternative” whatever you want…

    But you shouldn’t call it “Top 150 Albums of the 1980s”, and you shouldn’t thrown in a few rap albums just to hedge.

    That’s all.

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