#40. The Police | Zenyatta Mondatta
Released: 10/3/80 | RIAA certification: 2X Platinum
Mind-Blowing Fun Fact: Apparently, Stewart Copeland isn’t too fond of this album. That man is nuts.
Andrew Coleman lived up the street from me in Brooklyn. He loved a lot of things, but there was nothing he loved more than The Police. Hell, he named his dog Sting. And thusly, Zenyatta Mondatta was the first rock album that I memorized in full. While my warm childhood memories may have a little to do with how much I like the album, the fact of the matter is that The Police (who never made a bad album IMHO) were at the top of their respective games when this was released. This album is pure hotness from beginning to end. Sting’s lyrics are highbrow but not as pretentious as they would become by the mid-’90s (or hell, the mid ’80s). “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” the infamous tale of student/teacher seduction, is a standout, but “Driven To Tears” and “When The World Is Running Down…” also reflect a lyrical maturity. Instrumentally? These dudes COOK. “Voices Inside My Head” has a rhythm that flirts with funk and has been used in numerous hip-hop samples, while the mysterious “Behind My Camel” won the guys a Grammy. Zenyatta gets my vote as the best rock album of the Eighties, hands down. (Big Money)
#39. Madonna | Like A Prayer
Released: 3/21/89 | RIAA certification: 4X Platinum
Fun Purple Fact: Prince is credited as appearing on “Love Song,” but he allegedly also played guitar on “Like a Prayer” and “Keep It Together.”
Although I enjoyed Madonna’s first three albums, as a lover of pop music it was hard not to, they weren’t exactly grand artistic statements. They were mostly filled with rather mindless, but damn catchy, radio friendly pop tunes and that is fine if that’s all you aspire to. My respect for Madonna increased tremendously with Like A Prayer.
By far her most personal work to date, her fourth album saw Madonna tackling some heavy subjects, from her relationship with her parents to her divorce from Sean Penn. There is a maturity on Like A Prayer, musically and especially lyrically, that at the time I wasn’t sure Madonna was capable of. Yes it still sold millions and spawned huge hits like the title cut, “Cherish” and “Express Yourself”, but it was within some of the lesser known tracks that the album truly shines.
“Till Death Do Us Part” takes on her failed marriage to Sean Penn with a truly gutsy lyric. “Promise To Try” is a dedication to her mother who passed away when Madonna was just five. The powerful, moving ballad “Oh Father” addresses her estranged relationship with her father and “Keep It Together” is a call to find strength in your family.
Like A Prayer even brought the much anticipated collaboration with fellow superstar Prince in “Love Song”, but it surprisingly gets overshadowed by the much stronger, autobiographical content of much of the rest of the album. This still goes down as Madonna’s strongest artistic statement, a bold, mature work. (Mike A.)
#38. Pixies | Surfer Rosa
Released: 3/21/88 | RIAA certification: Gold
Fun Fact: Um…welcome to the beginning of grunge, folks. Thank you, Steve Albini. Does our thank you make you unhappy?
The gravitational field that emanates from this record is pretty astounding. It’s difficult to imagine albums like Gish or Dry or even Nevermind without the precedents of “Gigantic” or “Where Is My Mind” or even just the sound of David Lovering’s kit and the scabrous racket of the guitars. Credit Steve Albini for the sound (just ask him), but all other praises due should be sent care of Black Francis and his crazy weird melodies and crazy freaky vocals and crazy crazy lyrics and stories and banter and vision, the gravity within the gravity. Released in a year dominated by George Michael and Dirty Dancing, Surfer Rosa was primo anti-pop, a warning shot for the revolution to come. (Rob Smith)
#37. The Clash | Sandinista!
Released: 12/12/80 | RIAA certification: Gold
Fun Fact: Sandinista! is the only Clash album on which all four members sing lead at least once.
Ok. I know some people like London Calling (this is still true, right?), but, what for those of us not in thrall to Springsteen-sized grunts and bellows or baby-boomer bar-band notions of authenticity? Whither us, The Clash???
To Sandinista!, of course!
An incredibly frustrating first dozen listens (especially on the liner note-free cassette: who is that singing? is this whole song backwards? why are there children singing “Career Opportunities?”) are spent searching for The Clash of old. They no longer exist. Too high and too tense to pretend there’s only one band that matters, The Clash spend 104 minutes playing a fun-house mirror version of themselves, adding and discarding musicians and genres until you’re not even sure what a Clash record is supposed to be. Bravo.
key words sourced from youtube reviews:
cannabis, fascists, reggae, bin Laden, Donna Summer, drugs, rap (Carlos Halston)
#36. R.E.M. | Reckoning
Released: 4/9/84 | RIAA certification: Gold
Fun Fact: Peter Buck lobbied to make Reckoning a double album. Alas, he was outvoted.
The rumble and mumble of Murmur created a music and a myth, virtually defining the sound of alternative American rock and codifying college radio as a taste-making cultural force. Reckoning extended Murmur‘s range and jangle, and gave REM the canvas on which they could let the beauty of their music flourish. With “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry),” “Time After Time,” “Camera,” and “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville,” gorgeous melodies gave form to the ambiguous imagery of Michael Stipe’s lyrics. “Harborcoat,” “Second Guessing,” and “Pretty Persuasion” amp things up considerably, and “Little America” closes the record with a manic energy the band would all but abandon on its next record, 1985’s Fables of the Reconstruction. REM was still finding itself on Reckoning, but doing so with an assertiveness that escaped most other bands at that time. (Rob Smith)
#35. INXS | Kick
Released: 10/19/87 | RIAA certification: 6X Platinum
Fun Fact: Allegedly, Kick was at first rejected by INXS’s record company, because it sounded “too black.”
Here’s an interesting theory for ’80s music enthusiasts: the “album as single.” This is for those albums of the ’80s – and there were many – where it felt like every song could find a home on radio and on the pop charts. Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bad, Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 – those kind of albums. INXS guitarist Kirk Pengilly wanted his band to make a record like that – and, amazingly, they did.
Kick is exactly the kind of album any self-respecting fan of the ’80s craves: a triumph of pop/rock songcraft that’s also deviously stylish on all fronts. That extends far beyond the four Top 10 singles (“Need You Tonight,” “Devil Inside,” “New Sensation,” “Never Tear Us Apart”) or any of the heavily-played videos from the LP. Kick has gloss in its sweat and sensuality in its veins, from the stomping drums on “Guns in the Sky” to the speeding-down-the-freeway closer “Tiny Daggers.”
And the genius of it is that no one thing can point to why the album remains so good, 25 years later. Is it the songcraft? Chris Thomas’ fine production? Michael Hutchence’s smoldering, unfairly-no-longer-with-us voice? Yes, yes and yes – and then some. Few albums have that kick quite like Kick. (Mike Duquette)
#34. Cyndi Lauper | She’s So Unusual
Released: 10/14/83 | RIAA certification: 6X Platinum
Fun Fact: She’s So Unusual was the first album by a female artist to spawn four Top Ten (or Top Five) singles.
Cyndi Lauper and Madonna rose to prominence around the same time, and for a couple of years, rock critics played up their successes as a competition-trying to predict who would outlast the other. Although they shared some surface similarities-most notably, a sense of daring and a New York attitude (although Madonna adopted the Big Apple and Cyndi was born there)-it should have been apparent from day one that the two were apples and oranges. Madonna had pop smarts and a dangerous edge, Cyndi had chops and a quirky flavor. That was certainly evident when she appeared on the scene in the “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” video, sporting bright orange hair with a tic-tac-toe pattern shaved into the side. Her first album is an undeniable classic, matching Cyndi with a great mix of covers (Prince’s “When You Were Mine”) and originals (the immortal “She Bop”). Although casual pop fans may have deemed Cyndi as a squawky goofball, all it should’ve taken was one listen to “Time After Time” to convince them otherwise. Dripping with genuine emotion and subtlety, that song has taken on a life of it’s own. Quite possibly the greatest ballad of the decade, it’s been covered by gospel choirs, children’s choruses, and artists ranging from Miles Davis to Sugar Ray. While the remainder of She’s So Unusual doesn’t quite live up to that lofty standard, it’s still an impressive listen, and while Cyndi hasn’t had the same level of commercial success as her alleged rival, the success of her debut album has allowed her to enjoy a varied career that’s included everything from show tunes to New Orleans jazz. (Big Money)
#33. Terence Trent D’Arby | Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby
Released: 10/5/87 | RIAA certification: 2X Platinum
Fun Fact: Terence is American, damn it! Not British!
He coulda been a contenda…he shoulda been a contenda…
After Introducing The Hardline… became a hit in early 1988, everyone was expecting Terence Trent D’Arby to become the next Michael Jackson or Prince. After all, the man had it all: a husky voice dripping with soul, model good looks that belied his past as a boxer, supreme dance skills, and songwriting flavor that led to smashes like “Wishing Well” and “Sign Your Name.” A magnificent Grammy performance (back when you didn’t have to top the charts to perform on the show) was the catalyst for TTD to become a sign of where pop music was headed.
Only it wasn’t.
TTD famously crashed & burned commercially, with a difficult second project called Neither Fish Nor Flesh that had the pop appeal of a cow pie in an age when Michael Bolton and NKOTB were all the rage. However, for one brief moment, the man held promise as pop’s next big thing.
And really, you should check out Neither Fish Nor Flesh. It’s not a bad album.
So TTD’s career has been relegated to the margins, and Hardline has been largely forgotten, despite the fact that it’s a near perfect synthesis of pop, rock and soul in a year that gave us high-water marks for those types of fusions in the form of Sign ‘O The Times and Faith. Whether unleashing a flurry of vocal pyrotechnics in “Let’s Go Forward,” singing the bejeezus out of Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Lovin’ You” or channeling James Brown on “Wishing Well,” TTD’s debut is still thrilling a quarter-century later. Someday, people will realize what a classic it is. (Big Money)
#32. Janet Jackson | Control
Released: 2/4/86 | RIAA certification: 5X Platinum
Fun Fact: Five of Control’s six singles hit #1 on the R&B chart-setting a record. The one single that missed the top spot? “When I Think of You”-which was the only single from Control to top the pop charts.
I imagine there are a lot of people who still believe that Control was Janet Jackson’s first album. It was actually her third. The strength of the album is in Janet’s ability to turn real-life situations into the theme of her album. For that, you can thank Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Jam and Lewis were able to pull Jackson away from Papa Joe, who wanted full control of her career. Remember how I said that people thought this was Janet’s first album? Her first self-titled album and her second, Dream Street, didn’t make a dent on the pop scene. Those were helmed by Papa Joe and thus, young Janet fired her pops and hired John McClain who put the album in the hands of Jam and Lewis. Janet had married and divorced James DeBarge just a couple years earlier and was trying to find her way. Jam and Lewis figured out how to tap into her burgeoning adulthood and what you have is a really tough and fierce pop album.
Listening to the album with 2012 ears was fun because six of the nine songs were hits. Play the album all the way through and you only find yourself not singing when “ You Can Be Mine”, “He Doesn’t Know I’m Alive,” and “Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun)” pass through. It’s a quick jaunt at just over 37 minutes, but it’s a mean record. (GG)
#31. Van Halen | 1984
Released: 1/9/84 | RIAA certification: Diamond (Dave)
Fun Fact That Kinda Bugs Me Out: Michael McDonald co-wrote “I’ll Wait.” Michael McDonald!!!
In music geekery there are many great debates, none more so then the question of David Lee Roth versus Sammy Hagar. 1984, Van Halen’s sixth, and final record of Roth’s first tenure, is the record upon this writer will always hang his hat upon as unquestionable proof that the answer to that debate is always: Diamond Dave. 1984 was the record that finally bridged the bands virtuosity with the songwriting to propel them from just another rock band, to the world’s biggest rock band. There is a certain magic that happens when you mix the oil and water of Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth. This is what is bottled in 1984, and what hasn’t been recaptured–sorry, Van Hagar fans–in the years since. (Michael Parr)