My extensive research into matters regarding the 1980s has proven that the kids can't get enough of that shoulder-padded decade. At the time, it seemed like a bit of a letdown from the achievements of the 1960s and 1970s, but in retrospect you don't even need rose-tinted glasses to get the idea that it's a much better decades by comparison to, say, the last twelve years or so. For music, not for computers, just to be clear. Just look at the stylistic diversity here! Better yet, there are no emo bands, only Phil Collins. While I would never wish to relive the 1980s commercial radio experience, I wouldn't be averse to growing younger.
Keep in mind, this is only Part One of a, uh, 17-part retrospective.
25) Iron Maiden -- The Number of the Beast: I said, Hello Satan, I believe it's time to rock the house! Bruce Dickinson joins the band to do some lead sings and the band take their horses-galloping-into-the-hills sound to its logical extreme. Generally, if you're going to "do" heavy metal, it's a good idea to catch up on these gents, who subtly influence you to drive faster. I wouldn't be surprised to learn FedEx use this as motivational music. 22 Acacia Avenue gets its packages ahead of schedule, for sure.
24) Prince -- 1999: Everyone, meaning The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton, Pink Floyd, The Clash and Smashing Pumpkins, knows the importance of releasing double albums. It immediately tells the world you are a major, serious artist and that you are so overflowing with creativity that 45 minutes cannot possibly express your vision for the future. Of course, CDs turned every mediocre schmuck into a 70-minute midnight babbler, but 1999 is before that and it cemented the Prince reputation that had been growing for years. Short rock is in! Only the cold winters prevented Minneapolis from being the place to move to in 1982.
23) The Gun Club -- Miami: The joy of being in an "underground" band in 1982 was that you knew no one was going to really sign you to a big money contract, so you racked up critical praises and a cult following that allowed you to do exactly what you felt like doing. The production by Blondie's Chris Stein was spare but to the point and his wife, the Deborah Harry, added backing vocals to further the cause of one Jeffrey Lee Pierce. The darkness here is one part Iggy Pop, one part Jim Morrison and one part chronic underemployment. Ain't it fun when you know you're going to die broke!
22) Joe Jackson -- Night and Day: Thanks to the clear accessibility of its two hit singles, "Steppin' Out" and "Breaking Us In Two," Night and Day became Jackson's biggest mainstream success. His decision to abandon the pure pop of his first two albums and to pursue a variety of less accessible styles ensured that he alienated much of his audience. Which didn't seem to trouble Jackson all that much and doesn't bother me at all. I got the GameShow Network now!
21) X -- Under the Big Black Sun: If only X could've had the "punk" tag removed from their resume, the mainstream might've enjoyed their toe-tappers. They were always more cultured than the spitting spiked hair club crowds and with "The Hungry Wolf" they made friends in high places, but simply not enough in the medium-sized and low places to sustain a mega-successful career. They always sounded good on MTV late on Sunday nights.
20) Donald Fagen -- Firefly: What would Donald Fagen sound like without Walter Becker? Pretty much like a modified Steely Dan. It wasn't like his writing was suddenly going to severely alter or he was going to go back-to-basics. If anything, he probably thinks this is back to basics. It's autobiographical and very funny and considered to be the perfect "test disc" for sound engineers everywhere. Sound is important!
19) Rush -- Signals: The increased use of synthesizers had the stoned legions a bit suspicious but then "Subdivisions" kicked in and everyone knew they were singing about their beat, boring suburb! Gone were the 10-minute epics. In their place were hits! Sales of fire hydrants went way up and Hemingway not Rand is referenced. Free market rock! Old men and the sea unite!
18) Angry Samoans -- Back From Samoa: I hate to append the "classic" tag to music that spit in the eye of such hegemony, but, really, what else can you call an album that includes "They Saved Hitler's C--k," "My Old Man's A Fatso," "Homo-Sexual" (credited to J. Falwell) and the 23 seconds of "You Stupid Jerk"? Clocking in at a sprawling 17+ minutes, Back From Samoa is the perfect album to listen to while trying to get out of the parking lot of your local shopping mall. You can listen to it twice.
17) Duran Duran -- Rio: The men don't know, but the little girls and video channels understand. While boys were content with worshiping Satan, girls went for the cute guys they hoped they'd run into at the mall. Since most dudes are ugly, dudes resented DD's influence and success. And even pretended to hate air conditioning in the process. Who hates air conditioning? Besides Henry Miller?
16) Venom -- Black Metal: Why aren't there any women in the audience? Maybe because they're afraid they'll be sacrificed? Or maybe because their idea of a good time doesn't involve hanging out with boys who want to raise the dead and visit hell? When given the choice of having your poser butt kicked or going to the mall, the mall wins. I fought the mall and the mall won!
15) MDC -- Millions of Dead Cops: OK, who doesn't want to singalong to "John Wayne Was A Nazi"? Who cares if it's not true? The kids who all sang "Corporate Deathburger" did so while eating at McDonald's. Hey, everybody's into irony!
14) Lou Reed -- The Blue Mask: If we wished to be truthful, this album would be billed to Lou Reed & Robert Quine, since no one's listening to the album to hear Lou sing. We listen for the words, but when it comes to notes, it's all Quine. Pay your respects.
13) The Clash -- Combat Rock: While almost as good as sides 5 and 6 of Sandinista!, Combat Rock should come with combat pay for listening to it in its entirety. Anyone who bought the album for "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" likely mourned the loss of $$ spent on such experimental fare as… you know, whatever those are called, the ones no one listens to.
12) Richard and Linda Thompson -- Shoot Out The Lights: Who doesn't love albums that end in messy divorce? Production is a bit thin, but the songwriting makes up for it. Live bootlegs of the material flesh it out further. While it's the album everyone points to, I'd still take individual tracks from other albums just as quickly. It isn't like he's not always doomed.
11) Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five -- The Message: Obligatory acknowledgment of seminal rap and hip-hop album. Given 5 stars by Rolling Stone. Curious, since the group didn't merit a mention in the Album Guide from 1983. We're all allowed to revise our opinions, but isn't it a little curious when the only time a mag sticks it neck out is when the artist is already safe? I say, the Beatles are pretty good! The Complete Works of John Coltrane? Yes! Jethro Tull? Wait, what's the consensus?
10) The Church -- The Blurred Crusade: Maybe in Australia, church is different, but where I grew up, there was nothing rock 'n' roll about church. So, the idea of a band appealing to your inner conformist just doesn't sound like a winning strategy to me. If you can get past such superficialities, you'll be pleasantly greeted by songwriting that is very un-church like in the Biblical sense, but very much like what Steve Kilbey and Marty Wilson-Piper would continue to give the world. College rock before R.E.M. stole the market!
9) Asia -- Asia: You know how some things sound better in retrospect? Yeah, this isn't one of them. If possible, this actually sounds duller than it did in 1982 when it dominated FM radio enough to chase many rock 'n' roll fans to the underground. Grandpa, tell me again about when radio stations used to play Black Flag?
8) John Cougar -- American Fool: Back when vinyl was still the way music fans digested music, it wasn't uncommon to never get around to listening to an album's second side. Cougar, now Mellencamp, did us all a favor and put the hits on side one.
7) Billy Idol -- Billy Idol: It was only a matter of time before "punk" rock found someone with the right face and enough agreeability to work with the industry while still giving off that "renegade vibe." "White Wedding" was a great sounding pop track and if the rest of the album was less inspired, it didn't matter because Idol had singles-in-waiting. It might have still been conceivably the album era, but singles never went out of style. Would you buy an entire album by a guy who looks this smooth?
6) Phil Collins -- Hello, I Must Be Going: One solo album and total dominance with Genesis wasn't enough for ol' Phil, who really knew how to write songs that defined the word "innocuous." One of his songwriting strategies called for him to get more and more agitated as the song went on until he sounded completely annoyed by the end. Imagine what it was like for those of us listening, Phil.
5) Bruce Springsteen -- Nebraska: Not everyone could sit down with a home four-track cassette recorder and come up with nearly an entire album in one day (January 3, 1982) -- well, a listenable album, let's put it that way, Pussy Galore -- but Bruce Springsteen could mumble into his shirt in 1982 and the world would listen. Or at least his fans, who were numerous enough to land the album at #3. Even if you don't like Bruce, you probably like the idea of this album.
4) Michael Jackson -- Thriller: The album that everyone's grandmother bought for them. It was, after all, eventually something even grandma heard of. Seven singles from the album enforced a startling trend into the 'album as a never-ending presence', giving Jackson five years to follow-up with Bad, and allowing other artists similar amounts of time to deliver their almighty message. This album is the equivalent of putting a man on the moon and leaving him there.
3) The Birthday Party -- Junkyard: In my endless quest to revise world history to my liking, Jimmy Carter won a second term and the Birthday Party topped the album charts with this album, in part, due to the overwhelmingly popular hit single "Big Jesus Trash Can" that begat a string of eight hit singles, a feat only topped by…
2) Captain Beefheart -- Ice Cream For Crow: Twelve hit singles! Yes Beefheart-mania reached new heights as "Semi-Multicoloured Caucasian," "Hey Garland, I Dig Your Tweed Coat" and "'81' Poop Hatch" each sat at #1 for 16 weeks apiece, preventing any other music from achieving the top position for all of 1982. When the album was finally released in September 1982, President Carter stated, "Time has proven, we are all Beefheartians now."
1) The Cure -- Pornography: Here's where we separate the boys from the beach-goers. The album is a perfect litmus test for who should and should not be your friend. This album should make you smile and laugh uproariously. If not, you're just a truly awful human being.