Grab a look at #100-#91 here.
#90. David Bowie | Let’s Dance
Released: 4/14/83 | RIAA certification: Platinum
Fun Fact: According to producer Nile Rodgers, Let’s Dance was recorded and mixed in seventeen days.
#89. Husker Du | Candy Apple Grey
Released: March 1986 | RIAA certification: none
Fun Fact: Candy Apple Grey was the first Husker Du album to chart on the Billboard 200.
Candy Apple Grey was the major label debut for legendary Minneapolis post-punk trio Husker Du, and it was also the beginning of the end for the band. The album saw the Huskers moving away from the hardcore that dominated their early releases and toward a more melodic sound; albeit one that still rocked harder than most so-called college rock of the time. Two recent books (a band bio by Andrew Earles and Mould’s autobiography) reveal serious tension between songwriters Bob Mould and Grant Hart during this time, but it didn’t affect the quality of their work: Hart’s “Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely” and “Sorry Somehow” and Mould’s “Hardly Getting Over It” rank among the best songs the band ever recorded. On “Hardly Getting Over It” and “Too Far Down,” Mould also introduced the acoustic guitars that would show up in his future solo work and with Sugar, while “No Promise Have I Made” features Hart on solo piano; it’s hard to imagine that these are the same guys who made the blistering hardcore document Land Speed Record just a few years earlier. The big label push from Warner Bros. could only get the album to #140 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, but Candy Apple Grey is the final chapter in a terrific run of albums in three-year period from Husker Du: Zen Arcade in ’84, New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig in ’85 and Candy Apple Grey in ’86. The band’s final release, Warehouse: Songs and Stories, was a double album (on vinyl) and didn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessors, coming at a time when Mould and Hart pretty much couldn’t stand each other. But Candy Apple Grey still featured the band at its peak and certainly paved the way for countless guitar-heavy alt-rock acts to follow. (Jay)
#88. Black Flag | Damaged
Released: 12/5/81 | RIAA certification: none
Fun Fact: Henry Rollins joined Black Flag only days before the sessions that resulted in this album began.
Ah, shit. Listening to this album is like bashing your head into a cement wall until it’s nothing but splinters and mush, then grabbing a vinyl copy of Raw Power, opening the sleeve and stretching it over your pussing scalp, then leaping into a bathtub filled with gasoline, setting yourself on fire and jumping out the nearest window, then running into oncoming traffic screaming, “Look at me!!! I’m a sizzler crab!!! Ca-Caw!!! Ca-Caw!!!” at every passing motorist until you lose consciousness, get by a car or dissolve into cinders. That’s Damaged in a nutshell. (Greg)
#87. Diana Ross | diana
Released: 5/22/80 | RIAA certification: Platinum
Fun Fact: NYC disc jockey (and future host of Friday Night Videos) Frankie Crocker warned Diana that her collaboration with Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards would end her career.
Disco didn’t die at the dawn of the ’80s-it just mutated. It’s quite telling that two of the genre’s biggest acts-The Bee Gees & Chic-would find their careers as artists in freefall during the decade, but became even bigger successes as songwriters and producers during the same period. One of Nile and ‘Nard’s first high-profile production gigs was this effort from Diana Ross, which found her entering the Eighties and exiting Motown Records in grand style.
Although Diana was unhappy enough with the album to remix it without the Chic members’ approval, the fingerprints of Edwards and Rodgers are all over this album. Musicianship is at an all-time high. The groove on “Upside Down” is so good that you almost forget that the song is essentially a nursery rhyme set to music. “Have Fun (Again)” and “My Old Piano” find Diana singing with an unbridled joy that listeners hadn’t heard since the Supremes days, while “I’m Coming Out” is a mission statement that resonates just as strongly three decades later. My personal favorite track is the reggae-ish “Now That You’re Gone,” a moody, midtempo masterpiece. Diana was mostly a singles artist before and since, and diana is one of very few complete album statements she’s made. It sounds less dated than anything she recorded for the rest of the decade. (Big Money)
#86. Rick James | Street Songs
Released: 4/7/81 | RIAA certification: Platinum
Fun Fact: Street Songs is practically a Motown all-star album. Teena Marie, Stevie Wonder and Melvin Franklin of The Temptations all make appearances, as does Ja’net (Willona Woods) Dubois.
By the dawn of the ’80s, Rick James was an official star. Three successive successful albums had made him one to watch in the soul field, and he’d completed a successful arena tour with a young buck named Prince as his opening act. His 1980 album Garden Of Love represented a bit of a left turn. The ballad-heavy set confused his fans and wound up being the worst-selling album of his career thus far. Knowing he had a bit of ground to cover, Rick returned to his native Buffalo to record Street Songs, a collection of punk-funk that wound up becoming his most popular work.
With a voice that practically dripped sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, Rick stormed the charts with hits like “Give It To Me Baby” and the immortal “Super Freak.” The autobiographical album referenced a friend lost to police brutality (on the reggae-flavored “Mr. Policeman”,) growing up in Buffalo’s mean streets (“Ghetto Life” was gangsta rap before gangsta rap) and provided one of R&B’s all-time classic duets with the soap-opera drama of “Fire & Desire,” a song that remains one of Rick’s most beloved even though it was never released as a single.
As full-band funk was replaced by the synthesizer, Rick nevertheless stood strong-Masai braids, leather and all-with Street Songs, a landmark album in black music history. (Big Money)
#85. Kraftwerk | Computer World
Released: May 1981 | RIAA certification: none
Fun Fact: Computer World‘s title track was used by the BBC for the title of a computer literacy series.
A complete album about computers seems rather quaint now. But this was 1981. Computers were still by and large the stuff of government, science-heavy research institutes, and futuristic sci-fi. It would be one more year until the introduction of the Commodore 64, two more years until the Apple IIe, and three more until the Macintosh. Although computers were slowly permeating businesses, schools, and to a lesser extent, homes, they remained rather enigmatic devices as the 1980s began. In the context of 1981 then, Kraftwerk devoted an entire album to what was still a rather mythic technology for most of us. That made it all the more interesting as an album. Although computers have certainly come a long way in the last 31 years, Computer World doesn’t sound like a snapshot of cyber culture circa 1981 (there were thankfully, no shoutouts to Spinnaker or The Oregon Trail). In fact, the haunting melodies of “Computer World” and “Computer Love” evoke a simultaneous embrace and uneasiness with computers. The title track can even be read as expressing a fear of the dangers that computers bring. At a time when we continue to fret over identity theft and cybersecurity, perhaps the more things change, the more they stay the same. At any rate, Computer World is one of Kraftwerk’s best; a band known for their embrace of new technologies creates an opus about technology that only sounds dated in the limitations that 1981 tech placed upon the band’s creativity. (Dr. Gonzo)
#84. Joe Jackson | Night And Day
Released: June 1982 | RIAA certification: Gold
Fun Fact: Take a listen as Joe parodies the intro to Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” on the album.
After three albums of guitar/bass/drums/keyboard based “New Wave” rock, British rocker Joe Jackson threw his fans for a huge loop when his fourth full-length release (1981’s Jumpin’ Jive) turned out to be an album of covers of classic swing and big band jazz songs. In retrospect, it was a smart move because when Jackson returned to making original music on 1982’s Night and Day, it was with a completely new sound. Gone were the 3 minute post-punk standalone guitar rave-ups like “One More Time” or “I’m the Man” in favor of more fully arranged, keyboard driven songs that flowed one into the next. Indeed, there isn’t a guitar credit given on the album’s liner notes. On this album, drums are joined by a wide variety of percussion instruments which give many of the album’s tracks a decidedly Latin feeling. Jackson himself plays a variety of keyboards and turns in his finest recorded piano solo on “Cancer”.
The new sound fits with the record with its nods to New York (complete with Hirschfeld- inspired cover art) and Cole Porter. Jackson announces his new direction right away on the album’s first track “Another World” with its propulsive percussion opening and Jackson entering a world of thousands of faces. Jackson’s lyrics are more nuanced more no less biting with his observations of skid row in Lower Manhattan (“Chinatown”), growing media obsession (“TV Age”) and gay life in the early 80’s (“Real Men”).
The album contained Jackson’s biggest US hit, the gorgeous, Grammy nominated “Steppin’ Out” with its layered keyboards, that closed the “Night Side” This tale of anticipation of a couple heading out for a night in New York, is juxtaposed with the opener of the “Day Side”, “Breaking Us In Two” where now the couple is about at the end of their relationship. The album ends with Jackson railing against being brutalized by bass and being at the mercy of club DJ’s. He just wants an old, classic slow song.
Jackson would continue to record and release records with various musical styles (his upcoming release this year covers Duke Ellington), but he would never achieve the commercial success of Night and Day. (Dennis)
#83. Talking Heads | Stop Making Sense
Released: 10/1/84 | RIAA certification: 2X Platinum
Fun Fact: Stop Making Sense spent over two years on the Billboard 200 chart.
Let’s forget, for a moment, that live platters aren’t usually admissible when it comes to lists like this; let’s also set aside the fact that Stop Making Sense is a blisteringly effective live set from a strictly musical standpoint, although we should probably come back to that. What really makes Stop Making Sense special is the way it’s constructed; the accompanying film, directed by Jonathan Demme, structures the performance slowly, building from solo David Byrne, adding a new band member for each track up until a frenzied, scintillating “Burning Down the House” showcases the entire ensemble, and all this is evident on the record, too. After that moment, it kind of plays as a greatest-hits compilation – “Life During Wartime”, “Once in a Lifetime”, even side project Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” all have their moments in the sun – but it’s a greatest-hits comp that combines the thrill of live performance with a band at their peak firing on all cylinders. And any version of any song featured could easily supplant the original, losing nothing in translation, imbued with frenetic, twitchy energy; above it all is Byrne, a consummate nerd, a vocal dynamo, and a ringer of a ringleader. (Drew)
#82. Beastie Boys | Licensed To Ill
Released: 10/31/86 | RIAA certification: 9X Platinum
Fun (and Offensive) Fact: The original title of Licensed To Ill was Don’t Be A Faggot.
My 10-year old mind was thinking some variation of that when the Beastie Boys rose to success at the beginning of 1987. I had no idea what a militant was, but my hip-hop snobbishness reared it’s ugly head early. I was living in suburban Detroit at the time, but I was born in New York City, spent the first 8 years of my life there, and Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D. were an affront to my sensibilities. They were white! White dudes can’t rap!
They were white, and I was wrong. It took the better part of a decade to listen to Licensed To Ill without thinking of those three miserable years I spent in the Midwest and appreciate it for what it was. Of course, The Beasties had helped their own cause by subsequently making three fantastic albums that were eclectic and accomplished beyond the scope of what even the most steadfast of Licensed fans would have imagined. A quarter-century later, I find myself going crazy whenever “Paul Revere” and “Brass Monkey” come on, and even though I still think “Girls” and “Fight For Your Right” are immature and silly, they’re hella fun to rap along with while drunk. When MCA passed last month, I found myself at McGreevy’s pub here in Boston with my friends Jon, Allie and Rich-the four of us screaming along to “Fight…” and mentally revisiting those junior high years with a smile.
And hell, the Beasties would probably agree with me. They were fucking punks. (Big Money)
#81. Joy Division | Closer
Released: 7/18/80 | RIAA certification: none
Fun Fact: The photograph on the cover is of the Appiani family tomb in the Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno in Italy.
Perhaps Ian Curtis thought he knew. Perhaps he saw the unknowing faces of his bandmates, perhaps he saw the angry face of an estranged wife, perhaps he saw the clueless faces of a small but devoted audience. Perhaps he thought that suicide was the only way for others to know the pain he felt.
He was an epileptic who wrote a song with lyrics like “for entertainment they watch his body twist.” He was a man who wrote such depressive lyrics as “Each ritual showed up the door for our wanderings / Open then shut, then slammed in our face.” And nobody had any clue. Granted, lots of people write sad songs, and very few of those people kill themselves.
Obviously, Curtis was different.
The circumstances of Closer tell us as much, and it’s difficult to gauge whether it would be regarded as a classic album without the tragedy of context, because the album and its context are so inextricable from each other. Curtis was dead a day before the first show of his band’s first U.S. tour, months before the release of the album itself. As such, we hear the voice of a ghost, offering up his own torment for public consumption. Curtis wasn’t the strongest vocalist, nor did the backing band that would become New Order particularly separate themselves from a strong pack of turn-of-the-decade goth bands, but in hindsight, it was Curtis’s honesty that would make his band’s music so affecting, so memorable.
Closer is perhaps the most concise and unflinching portrait of a man in truly, honestly unbearable pain that has ever been written and released. From the opening statement of his life on stage to a middle glimpse of life at home to a last act that examines a legacy or lack thereof, Closer is both beautiful and almost unbearably painful. It is proof that great art can come of such pain.
Do not be confused — Closer is no replacement for human life; a world with Curtis and without Closer would certainly have been better than a world without him and with it. We can’t get him back, though, so we’re stuck with his music to remember him by.
And oh, what a legacy it is. (Mike Schiller)