The Best Albums of the 1980s

The Best Albums of the 1980s March 16, 2016

I am a child of the 80s. I entered high school in 1981, and for some reason I got to thinking recently about the music I loved then and love now. So I thought I’d throw this out there and ask what you all think are the greatest albums of that decade. I’ll list some of my own, in no particular order.

U2 – The Joshua Tree

You could pick a couple different U2 albums from the 80s. Boy, October and War were all classics. But I’m going with The Joshua Tree because it’s their most thematically complete album, even with the jarring Bullet the Blue Sky dropped in the middle of otherwise contemplative tracks. It’s just a brilliant album from start to finish.

The Police – Synchronicity

It was their last studio album and also their best. It was a fitting way to end their run as one of the world’s great bands. Aside from the vastly overplayed and overvalued Every Breath You Take, a song about stalking that, for some reason, almost everything thinks is a love song, every other song on the album is a gem.

Peter Gabriel – So

If I had to pick the single greatest album of the 80s, this might well be it. Forget the overplayed Sledgehammer, inventive as the video was at the time, nearly every other song is perfect. In Your Eyes remains one of my favorite songs of all time. I still listen to this album often and continually find no things to like about it.

Living Colour – Vivid

This album hit like a 2×4 to the side of the head. The opening of Cult of Personality is a sonic blast of rationality aimed at hero worship and groupthink. Besides the hits, songs like Open Letter (To a Landlord) and Memories Can’t Wait are brilliant bits of social commentary wrapped up in irresistible hard rock riffs.

Guns n Roses – Appetite for Destruction

The album that brought hair metal to its knees. Between Slash’s unrefined, crunchy, deep-toned guitar sounds to Axl’s wailing, this was the album that the music world badly needed after years of carbon copy, spandex-clad mediocrities dominating MTv. After a hundred terrible “power ballads” like Every Rose Has Its Thorns, the world needed Sweet Child of Mine. An album full of iconic riffs.

Prince – Purple Rain

Better than the much higher selling Thriller by every measure. The terrible movie they made based on it notwithstanding, this is Prince’s greatest achievement (though Sign o’ the Times deserves honorable mention as well). Prince has deservedly taken his place alongside James Brown as one of the iconic figures of funk.

Yes – 90125

My last two years of high school, this was THE album for me and my friends. And I know, it’s not so much a Yes album as it is a Trevor Rabin album, but I cannot leave it off my list because of how important it was to me at the time.

Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

This is an example of an album I didn’t pay attention to at the time but now recognize as brilliant and extremely influential. I was well into adulthood before I began to appreciate rap, mostly spurred by Spike Lee’s classic Do the Right Thing, a movie that would have had far less impact without the song Fight the Power.

Eric Clapton — August and Journeyman

I’m including both albums here, two of Clapton’s most underrated efforts. There are just so many great songs on those albums — Run, Behind the Mask, Miss You, Tearing Us Apart, Hung Up On Your Love, Bad Influence, It’s In the Way That You Use It, Old Love, Pretending, Bad Love, Hard Times, Running on Faith.

Stevie Ray Vaughan — Couldn’t Stand the Weather

This was the album that really announced his presence to the world. His blistering version of Hendrix’ Voodoo Chile remains his tour de force, while Cold Shot, Tin Pan Alley and Couldn’t Stand the Weather also stand out.

I don’t know that I should count live albums, but let me mention two of them:

Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense

Perhaps the greatest concert movie ever shot. This is the Talking Heads at their most glorious and quirky. Songs like Psycho Killer, Burning Down the House, Life During Wartime and Once in a Lifetime, combined with a brilliant remake of Al Green’s Take Me to the River add up to an instant classic.

Genesis – Three Sides Live

A lot of people disagree with me, but this was my favorite period for Genesis, after Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett left and Phil Collins took over the vocals. And Then There Were Three, Duke and Abacab provided much of the material for this live double album and it remains a staple for me to this day.

Okay, your turn.

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