#70. Elvis Costello & The Attractions | Get Happy!!
Released: 2/15/80 | RIAA certification: none
It’s more than “British white dude totally gets Motown”, and yet, it’s not. Approximating stomping pop-soul chestnuts isn’t necessarily a revolutionary idea, and it’d be easy for a seasoned, versatile rock ensemble like The Attractions to Xerox the sound without necessarily tapping into why we all love those records in the first place. And it’d be pleasant, and perhaps catchy at times, but – as was the norm during his most vital run of records – Costello goes above and beyond with Get Happy!!. It goes beyond aping the sprightly, 4/4-time boogie of the Funk Brothers; on Get Happy!!, Costello backs up each virile, bite-sized jam with killer melodies, and literate, universal lyrics – just like all those classic Motown and Stax tracks the record aspires to. It’s a rewarding, unremittingly fun record, and it goes beyond mere homage, tapping into the pure spirit and ingenuity of those classic pop numbers. “The Imposter”, “Human Touch”, “Love For Tender” – these are propulsive numbers, dripping with real pathos and, yeah, soul. The ballads burn with passion – the lovelorn “New Amsterdam” features some of the cleverest lyrics from a lyricist renowned for his subversive wit, the defiant “Riot Act” runs Costello’s limited vocals raw, “Motel Matches” lays one of pop’s oldest chord progressions end to end and stretches it taut. So Get Happy!! isn’t mere mimicry; it could have played like “white Brit alt-rocker totally gets Motown”, but Elvis C.’s got the chops to prove that he knows what makes it tick, too. (Drew)
#69. Faith No More | The Real Thing
Released: 6/20/89 | RIAA certification: Platinum
It’s not quite metal, yet Jim Martin shreds. It’s not pop, but there are undeniably melodic hooks. It isn’t funk, but Bill Gould sneaks in some funky licks. What the hell is The Real Thing? If it were released three years later, it would no doubt be labeled “alternative.” But the album doesn’t really stick to any one genre. In fact, it’s one of those rare LPs that covers a great deal of generic ground (rock, funk, jazz, metal, pop), but on the whole sounds incredibly consistent. Thanks to vivid video clips for the singles “Epic” and “Falling to Pieces,” the album gave Faith No More some mainstream success. Perhaps more importantly, the album introduced the world to Mr. Bungle frontman Mike Patton, who has spent his post-Faith No More years building one of the most ridiculously impressive resumes in music. The Real Thing bears the marking of a great album in that 23 years later, it’s still a compelling listen. And although the group would go on to create three more excellent albums, The Real Thing remains the definitive document of this inherently interesting band. (Dr. Gonzo)
#68. Madonna | Like a Virgin
Released:11/12/84 | RIAA certification: Diamond
In which a plucky twenty-something street urchin from the Lower East Side by way of Detroit plots a course to world domination, aided by great songs, sympathetic production by Nile Rodgers, and a shit-ton of sass. Madonna’s second album established her as the Queen of Pop, and set the tone for much of what followed. Britney? GaGa? Ke$ha? Katy? All owe at least one royalty statement to Madge.
While I personally feel like her debut is the better album, there’s a lot to love on Like A Virgin, even aside from the hit singles. Because I’m contrary like that, I prefer “Dress You Up”/”Angel” to “Like A Virgin”/”Material Girl” (even though all four are great songs) and “Shoo-Be-Doo” and her cover of Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” both rank in the top five of all-time best Madonna slow jams. Not a vocal powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination, Madonna was then (and is now when she feels like it) a skilled interpreter, which also indicates that she’s a much better actress than she’s shown during her actual movies. (Big Money)
#67. Marshall Crenshaw | Marshall Crenshaw
Released: 4/28/82 | RIAA certification: none
Straight from the cast of Beatlemania, Detroit’s Marshall Crenshaw was no Motor City Madman. In fact he was an anomaly in the nascent video music era. There was absolutely nothing hip or cutting edge about his self-titled debut, and maybe that’s why those “nerdy” rock critics praised it to the rafters. The dozen tunes on this 33-minute platter hearken back to 1958 or 1965, but sound every bit as fresh today as they did in 1982. The loping breakup sing along “There She Goes Again” and the jangly near-hit “Someday, Someway” provide ear candy from the get go and from there the melodies repeatedly burst off the disc. Although he covers the familiar rock ‘n’ roll subject matter – girls (“Maryanne”, “Cynical Girl”, and of course “Girls”) – cruisin’ (“Rockin’ Around in N.Y.C.”), and dancing (“She Can’t Dance”), nothing on Marshall Crenshaw sounds clichéd, simplistic or retro. That’s in major part due to the tight teamwork of Chris Donato (bass), Marshall (guitar) and brother Robert (drums), who ensure that this pop has plenty of power. Plus those songs; so likeable, so earnest, so doggone catchy that he never needed to “play the guitar on the MTV” to win you over. (Dan Paquette)
#66. Stevie Wonder | Hotter Than July
Released: 9/29/80| RIAA certification: Platinum
Hotter Than July was just four years after Songs In The Key Of Life, which was the last of Stevie Wonder’s 1970s albums that owned the decade. He put out five albums that ran roughshod through the 70s much like the Pittsburgh Steelers did in the NFL. He released the oddly-appreciated soundtrack to the Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants in 1979 and then in 1980, his true follow up to his 70s dominance, Hotter Than July. The album isn’t remembered as fondly as the previous albums, but it’s still very good. Wonder continued to reach people and make them think with his social themes in songs like “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It” and “Happy Birthday,” which was successful in its goal of helping make Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday a national holiday.
Other memorable songs included the Bob Marley shout-out “Master Blaster (Jammin’)”, “Rocket Love”, and the Michael Jackson assisted “All I Do”. Jackson can be heard in the background. “Lately” was the third single released from the album and was memorably remade by Jodeci in the mid-90s. While Wonder’s first 80s album wasn’t hotter than his 70s run, it’s still a high-quality Stevie Wonder album which means it’s better than nearly everything else out there. Stevie’s A-minuses are everyone else’s A-pluses. (GG)
#65. Mission of Burma | Vs.
Released: 1982 | RIAA certification: none
Boston’s Mission of Burma cemented its reputation as one of the most influential post-punk bands of all time with this 1982 album, which was its only full-length recording before the band split up in 1983 because of guitarist-singer Roger Miller’s tinnitus problem. The band, of course, unexpectedly reunited in 2002 and has been fairly prolific since, releasing three excellent albums with another on the way this year. But in 1982, Vs. only received attention from college radio stations and the burgeoning indie rock scene; artists including R.E.M., Moby, Pearl Jam and Soul Asylum have since cited Burma as an influence. Miller wrote most of the songs, with his jagged guitar style punctuating his shout-singing on “New Nails,” “Trem Two” and “Weatherbox.” Bassist-singer Clint Conley contributed the more melodic but no less fierce “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate,” “Mica,” “Dead Pool” and “Train,” while drummer Peter Prescott’s lone song, “Learn How,” was a precursor to his later work as the driving force behind Volcano Suns and Kustomized. Tape manipulator Martin Swope played a unique role in the band, using loops and effects to accent Burma’s sound. Even though Vs. was heard by a miniscule audience when it was released, it proved to have lasting power that resonates to this day. (Jay)
64. The Smiths | The Queen Is Dead
Released: 6/16/86| RIAA certification: Gold
63. Prince & The Revolution | Parade: Music From The Motion Picture “Under The Cherry Moon”
Released: 3/31/86 | RIAA certification: Platinum
62. Duran Duran | Duran Duran (First Album)
Released: 6/15/81 | RIAA certification: Platinum
The sound of self-confidence.
Here we have a band in thrall to Japan’s Quiet Life and Gentlemen Take Polaroids, but far too young, dumb and full of cum to be completely sold on David Sylvian’s solemn song-fog. The Beavis & Butthead version of Japan, then… and that’s kind of a perfect sound (forever). Add a dash of disco and glam… a naughty video… and five photogenic jack-a-dandies with more ambition than sense… and what you’ve got is the sound of the future. Or, at the very least, The Sound of Thunder. Switch it on!
61. David Bowie | Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
Released: 9/12/80| RIAA certification: none
There’s a reason every David Bowie album since, oh, Outside or so has been called by someone “his best album since Scary Monsters“. Scary Monsters offered a standard so high as to be near-impossible to equal, a mix of pure artistry and commercial aspirations that sits well with casual fans and Bowiephiles alike.
Somewhat abandoning the krautrock and ambient leanings of the critically celebrated (though commercially ignored) Berlin Trilogy, Scary Monsters sees a Bowie embracing rock ‘n roll once more, though doing so in a distinctly Bowie fashion. Opener “It’s No Game (No. 1)” sounds positively unhinged, an abrasive thing that only a longtime fan could truly love, though such noisy material is tempered by songs like single “Ashes to Ashes”, perhaps the most accessible song he’d written since the Ziggy Stardust days (“Heroes” notwithstanding). Both sides of the persona even come to the fore in “Teenage Wildlife”, a musically straightforward song that offers cryptic lyrics that seem to deride the very same new wave genre Bowie would come to help define when he released Let’s Dance a few years later.
Maybe he had a change of heart.
Regardless, Listening to Scary Monsters start to finish is an off-the-wall experience, every twist and turn of the tracklist a new adventure into the psyche of someone who had done it all, who had achieved so much both artistically and commercially, and who was looking for something else, something fresh, something new. Perhaps he didn’t know at the time that the chance to hear such a process was exactly what he hoped to achieve, or perhaps that was his plan all along. Regardless, this transition from Berlin to Let’s Dance feels like lightning in a bottle, actually deserving of all the comparisons that it would come to be the basis of.
Now, if only he’d release a new album so we could make one more. (Mike Schiller)