#60. The Replacements | Pleased To Meet Me
Released: 7/7/87 | RIAA certification: none
Fun Fact: Pleased To Meet Me is the only album The Replacements recorded as a trio.
The greatest music video ever made was the Replacements’ “Bastards of Young.” I will argue this point vociferously, perhaps even violently (with enough drink in my belly). Fuck Michael Jackson. Fuck “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” and fucking “Thriller.” Had MJ been as great an artist as he’s been posthumously made out to be, he’d-a made a video for “Human Nature” or “The Lady in My Life” that consisted solely of a single camera shot of a cityscape, taken from high up on a hill overlooking the city of his choice—LA, Vegas, Gary, London, whatever. Just that shot—maybe dolly it out a bit, gradually, or zoom it in at the end. No dancing, no lip-synching, no zombies or gang members, no MJ at all. But he couldn’t do that, could he? No, he had to rely on his looks, his zippery fashion, his odd sexuality, his ability to dance. The Mats made the greatest video ever—ever—by pointing a camera at a stereo speaker and a guy’s leg, and that was it. That takes balls, I tell you. Balls and the circumstance of spending your entire video budget on beer and takeout Jucy Lucys from Matt’s Bar.
That was on Tim, their major-label debut, their last with the original quartet. By the time Pleased to Meet Me rolled in, the band was playing as a three-piece, having ousted the beloved and perpetually blotto Bob Stinson. And their videos had graduated from single shots of a speaker and a leg to multiple angles of shoes and chairs and band members—images from “The Ledge”—only to have that video banned by MTV because its song dealt with the planned suicide of its protagonist. Couldn’t catch a break, those Mats.
And that ain’t all, pardners. Paul Westerberg wrote a loving tribute to just about the only person he thought he understood, the great pop songsmith Alex Chilton (who played guitar on “Can’t Hardly Wait,” the last song on the record). Even called the song “Alex Chilton.” In this loving tribute, Westerberg sang, “Children by the millions wait for Alex Chilton when he comes round / They sing, ‘I’m in love / What’s that song? / I’m in love / With that song.'” Chilton fucking hated the song. Undeterred, Westerberg built an entirely different song around the guitar riff in the chorus; it was called “Talent Show,” and appeared on the next Mats album, Don’t Tell a Soul. No one knows what Chilton thought about that.
Pleased also had “Skyway,” arguably Westerberg’s finest ballad, a song whose chilly sadness crushes me to this day. By 1987, the Replacements were not long for this world—they had two more records and four more years ’til they petered out into dust—and “Skyway” sounds like an exhausted final statement. It wasn’t, but it could have been. Would’ve made a great video, too. (Rob Smith)
#59. The Feelies | Crazy Rhythms
Released: April 1980 | RIAA certification: none
Fun Fact: Glenn Mercer has said that The Feelies’ sound was a reaction against the punk scene…which is…pretty damn punk rock.
Remember those warnings about how the certain video games could wreak havoc on your central nervous system, causing problems ranging from nervous tics and jitters to irregular heartbeats to possibly seizures? The Feelies 1980 debut, Crazy Rhythms, should carry the same warning label. The albums’ blend of punk’s energy and 60’s pop guitar jangle influenced any number of 80’s indie bands, none more famously than R.E.M.
The New Jersey based band was made up of guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million, bass player Keith De Nunzio and drummer Anton Fier, all whom also also chipped in on a wide variety of percussion instruments which added to the album’s near-frantic, propulsive sound.
Many of the songs feature Bolero-esque build ups. The record’s opener, the aptly named “The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness”, starts slowly over a simple beat tapped out on wooden blocks, the guitars come in playing single notes over a heartbeat bass drum beat before settling into a jitter-inducing 123, 123, 123 beat. The first minute and a half of “Forces at Work” is barely audible before exploding into a churning rave up.
Other songs like “Fa Ce La” and the title track take off from the opening chords. A cover of the Beatles’ “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except For Me and My Monkey” moves along at a pace John Lennon likely never imagined.
The album, released on the Stiff label, didn’t sell and after not playing live much to support it, either, The Feelies broke up. Mercer and Million restarted the band with a different lineup with 1986’s fabulous The Good Earth, and would release more two more records in the late 80’s/early 90’s before again disappearing from the music world. The Feelies reunited for a handful of shows, including playing Crazy Rhythms in its entirety at the All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival in the UK. Last year the band released its fifth album, the wonderful Here Before and has even played a number of dates in the Northeast. (Dennis)
#58. The Stone Roses | The Stone Roses
Released: May 1989 | RIAA certification: none
Fun Fact: In 2006, NME (New Musical Express) named The Stone Roses the best British album of all time.
Though its initial reach in the United States was largely contained to college dormitories, in the United Kingdom, the Stone Roses’ eponymous debut signaled a youth revolution. Masterfully weaving classic rock guitars with an acid house sensibility, The Stone Roses was about so much more than bellbottoms and bucket hats.
The Stone Roses is deceptively DIY; Ian Brown’s vocal range is indeed something of a musical liability in a live setting, though on album it works perfectly. But he’s also the coolest motherfucker on the planet. In John Squire, the Roses had their own guitar hero, and in Reni the greatest drummer since…well, since anyone, and with Mani’s soulful bass guitar, the band had a rhythm section for the ages.
But without the songs – those songs, my God… – The Stone Roses would have been a flash in the pan. The soaring chorus of “Made of Stone” (“Sometimes I fantasize when the streets are cold and lonely, and the cars they burn below me”) still sends shivers down the spine, and the 8-minute-plus closer, “I Am the Resurrection”, with its dismissive lyrics (“I don’t care where you’ve been or what you plan to do”) and churning instrumental section is an exhaustively perfect finish to one of rock’s few perfect albums. (Crispin Kott)
#57. Violent Femmes | Violent Femmes
Released: 4/13/83 | RIAA certification: Platinum
Fun Fact: Gordon Gano was still in high school when most of the songs on Violent Femmes were written.
Long before “How I Met Your Mother” and “Community” used its songs in montages, and long before “Add It Up” was blasting from every college dorm room circa 1994, there was just Violent Femmes, a quirky little indie LP stuck in the Staff Recommends bin. In 1983, I was Gordon Gano, and this record was my teenage nerd soundtrack. Touched by the spirit of Jonathan Richman, and fused with the sounds of the burgeoning folk-punk movement, the Milwaukee trio’s debut was a snot shot in the arm of college radio. As sonically newsworthy as the band was (Gano’s reedy voice, Brian Ritchie’s acoustic bass, Victor DeLorenzo’s sole snare drum), it was the lyrics that angst-ridden boys memorized verbatim. Classics like “Blister in the Sun”, “Kiss Off”, “Gone Daddy Gone” and the aforementioned “Add It Up” as well as tasty nuggets of self-loathing such as “Please Do Not Go”, “Prove My Love” and “Good Feeling” contained words of wisdom that, at least in the 80s, spoke to us “losers”, who try as we might just couldn’t see why she was with “that” guy. The Femmes have made a few good records since, but there’s a reason why so many still refer to this one as “Violent Femmes’ Greatest Hits.” (Dan Paquette)
#56. Talking Heads | Remain In Light
Released: 10/8/80 | RIAA certification: Gold
Fun Fact: LaBelle’s Nona Hendryx is one of the main backing vocalists on this album.
The Talking Heads’ first two albums were punchy new wave pop with a slightly artsy bent. As the group entered the 1980s however, they began to stretch out well beyond the confines of conventional pop rock, yet managing to never get so abstract as to alienate rock audiences. Remain in Light is considered by many to be the Heads’ creative peak. One critic even referred to it as the Talking Heads’ Sgt. Pepper, which of course made 1979’s Fear of Music the group’s equivalent of Revolver. The comparison is apt perhaps not in aesthetics, but in terms of the Heads’ evolution. Remain in Light continues down the paths laid by Fear of Music, developing them to perfection. With Eno again behind the production desk, the Talking Heads created their funkiest, most danceable album to date – yet it sounded like nothing else on the radio. Remain in Light finds the group totally immersed in the structures and styles of afrobeat – hypnotic, polyrhythmic vamps underlaying the simultaneously simple yet esoteric lyrics of David Byrne. It was the group’s highest charting album to date, although the album’s only “hit” (“Once in a Lifetime”) failed to crack the Top 100 on Billboard’s singles chart despite heavy MTV airplay (a live version from the Stop Making Sense film would fare slightly better four years later, peaking at #91). The Talking Heads would go on to greater success, yet Remain in Light continues to be a critics’ favorite, capturing the band at what was perhaps their most adventurous moment. (Dr. Gonzo)
55. Living Colour | Vivid
Released: 5/2/88 | RIAA certification: 2X Platinum
Fun Fact: “Glamour Boys” and “Broken Hearts” were both produced by Mick Jagger.
The world of hard rock and heavy metal in the ‘80s was about as white as it could get, with the exceptions of the late Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy (who died in ’86), speed guitarist Tony Macalpine and Filipino-American thrash act Death Angel. Which made the debut of Living Colour, an all-black band that could rock harder and louder than just about anyone, that much more auspicious when Vivid was released in May 1988. Formed in 1984 by guitarist Vernon Reid, the band had been kicking around NYC in various incarnations until it was famously discovered by Mick Jagger a few years later. It took a few months until the video for “Cult of Personality” hit MTV and then Vivid took off. The album is certainly not a one-note collection of rockers, although “Cult of Personality,” “Middle Man” and “Desperate People” certainly fit that bill, punctuated by Corey Glover’s wailing vocals, Reid’s screaming solos and the hard-hitting rhythm section of Muzz Skillings and Will Calhoun. But the album also incorporates reggae (“Glamour Boys”), hip hop (with Chuck D and Flavor Flav guesting on “Funny Vibe”), soul (“Open Letter (to a Landlord)) and even a Talking Heads cover (“Memories Can’t Wait”). The band rode the popularity of Vivid for two years, playing on “Saturday Night Live”, opening for the Rolling Stones and seeing the album go multi-platinum, while inspiring other harder-edged bands to follow in their footsteps (King’s X, 24-7 Spyz, Follow for Now, Rage Against the Machine). (Jay)
54. Run-DMC | Run-DMC
Released: 3/27/84 | RIAA certification: Gold
Fun Fact: Run-DMC was the first rap album by a group to be certified Gold.
It lacks the party anthems that the group would become known for in a few short years. It also doesn’t have nearly the same level of crossover appeal. And while Raising Hell, King of Rock, and Tougher than Leather are all classics, Run DMC’s self-titled debut is the group’s most sincere “hip hop” album. The germs of the Run DMC sound are still here – crunching guitars, big booming beats, and with Russell Simmons at the helm, the formula that would soon become synonymous with Def Jam recordings. I’m no ethnomusicologist, but to the distant observer, Run DMC’s debut also has more of a New York feel to it than their subsequent albums. What’s also striking about the album is the level of social commentary that would only make occasional appearances on the group’s later work. “Hard Times,” “It’s Like That,” and “Wake Up” all speak directly to the poverty, unemployment, violence, and corruption that plagued many urban areas in the Reagan years. But it’s not all heavy – there’s plenty of hip hop bragodoccio here as well. The more pop-rock oriented works of Run DMC are still fantastic. But their debut is pure NYC bred hip hop circa 1984. (Dr. Gonzo)
53. Nine Inch Nails | Pretty Hate Machine
Released: 10/13/89 | RIAA certification: 3X Platinum
Fun Fact: The missing link between Trent Reznor and Malcolm X? Keith LeBlanc, whose “Malcolm X: No Sell Out” was a regional hit in the early Eighties, and who played on and co-produced much of Pretty Hate Machine.
Kurt Cobain gets all the credit, but this is how the ’80s died, drowned in machinery, couched in cacophony.
Even as new wave artists like Tears for Fears, Information Society and Depeche Mode were getting all the publicity when it came to electronic music making itself known in the mainstream arena, artists like Skinny Puppy, Ministry, Coil, and Cabaret Voltaire were simultaneously pioneering something much darker. These were artists who saw in electronics not a means of making people dance so much as they saw a medium that could better express the cold, ugly side of the world in a way that so-called “traditional” instruments could never approach.
Trent Reznor, bless his angry heart, found a way to take that ugliness to the mainstream. By merging the machinery of the underground with the beats and sugar-sweet melodies of new wave, he created something that we could shout along to, something that would replace the insidiously catchy melodies of pop radio with melodies that were just as catchy, yet tied to the frustration and disillusionment so tied to those underground sensations.
Pretty Hate Machine is not a perfect album; sure, Reznor has a habit of devolving into a self-obsessed whiner at the worst of times, and a couple of the late tracks are simplistic to a fault in structure. Still, its best moments — whether the Skinny Puppy-aping “Down In It”, the piano-laden “Something I Can Never Have”, or the deconstructed new wave breakdown of “Kinda I Want To” — were a precursor to a decade far angrier than anyone could have imagined.
And yes, you can dance to it. (Mike Schiller)
52. The Police | Ghost In The Machine
Released: 10/1/81 | RIAA certification: 3X Platinum
Fun Fact: Ghost In The Machine was the fourth album released by The Police…and the first with a title in English.
In their best moments, The Police were truly a band for all people. Their first three albums flirted with punk, New Wave and ska styles, all of which they did a phenomenal job of introducing to virtually every world market through an ambitious, breakneck touring schedule. But only one album, 1981’s Ghost in the Machine, took all of those styles and combined them in the most stunning way possible.
Bolstered by a new locale (George Martin’s lush AIR Studio on the tropical island of Montserrat) and a new producer (XTC and Phil Collins producer Hugh Padgham), The Police used Ghost as a palate on which to paint their usual sounds in the biggest, brightest way possible. For New Wave fans, spacey synthesizers doubled or countered Andy Summers’ guitar on many tracks, from “Spirits in the Material World” to “Secret Journey.” Ska/reggae traditionalists would be satiated by urgent horns on fun album cuts like “Demolition Man” or fierce backbeats from the masterful Stewart Copeland on “One World (Not Three).” And Sting was strengthening as a songwriter, obliging some of his purest pop inclinations on “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and attempting some of his most socially conscious lyric writing on the ominous “Invisible Sun.”
Ghost in the Machine ably takes everything you like about The Police and turns it all the way up. More than any of their five albums, every little thing they did on this one was magic. (Mike D.)
51. The Pretenders | The Pretenders
Released: 1/19/80 | RIAA certification: Platinum
Fun Fact: Nick Lowe produced “Stop Your Sobbing,” but wasn’t sold on the band’s commercial future, so he bailed on producing the rest of the album.
Few bands explode onto the rock scene like The Pretenders did in 1980 with their self-titled debut. Frontwoman Chrissie Hynde’s combination of toughness and sex appeal was the immediate attraction, especially on lead single “Brass in Pocket,” but it quickly became apparent that the band itself was amazing: James Honeyman-Scott was a ridiculously talented guitarist while Pete Farndon (bass) and Martin Chambers (drums) formed a deadly rhythm section. The album features melodic songs like “Brass in Pocket,” “Kid,” and a cover of the Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing,” but it’s the rockers that really snarl. “Precious” opens the album with a no-nonsense Hynde taking names and kicking asses, while “The Phone Call,” “Up the Neck,” “Tattooed Love Boys” and “Mystery Achievement” are all potent doses of the rock. Sadly, this lineup of the band would only last another album and an EP before Honeyman-Scott and Farndon both died of drug-related causes. Hynde and Chambers soldiered on, but the band’s first album is still their best. (Jay)