This list is going to be divisive. It’s unavoidable. Some choices you will agree with, some you won’t. Some might even prompt you to dust off those old CD’s, or nip over to Spotify to see what you missed. The fact of the matter is that for a decade more famous for it’s fashion crimes than anything else, there was a lot of great music produced in the eighties. This list barely scratches the surface. I’ve chosen the albums that were especially meaningful to me, or played a significant role in my life. If you think you can do better, make your own list. Now, let’s rock.
1: U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987)
Before Bono disappeared up his own arse, U2 were probably the best band in the world. They hit their creative and commercial peak with this collection of America-centric songs released in March 1987. In fact, legend has it that it’s working title was ‘The Two Americas,’ to signify what Bono saw as the mythic America and the ‘real’ America. Paradoxically, at the time it was the fastest selling album in British chart history, shifting 300,000 copies in just two days. Universally well-received, it topped the charts in over 20 countries. In his liner notes for the album’s 20th anniversary edition, American writer Bill Flanagan stated, “The Joshua Tree made U2 into international rock stars and established both a standard they would always have to live up to and an image they would forever try to live down.”
Random Fact: The Joshua Tree was the first new release to be made available on CD, vinyl and cassette on the same day.
2: INXS – Kick (1987)
Apart from AC/DC and the Bee Gees, Australia had never been known for producing international rock stars. That changed with INXS, who found worldwide fame with their fifth opus. Impeccably produced by Chris Thomas, who had previously worked with the likes of Queen, the Beatles and Pink Floyd, Kick was loaded with huge, anthemic choruses set to a rock/funk backdrop, with a liberal smattering of heart string-pulling ballads. Michael Hutchence was the archetypal front man, oozing mystique and sex appeal like a modern-day Jim Morrison. Unfortunately, the parallels didn’t end there. New Sensation still gives you chills.
Random Fact: At the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards, the band took home no less than five awards for the Need You Tonight video.
3: Bryan Adams – Reckless (1984)
BA’s fourth album probably ranks as his best. At least, his most successful. No fewer than six singles were released from the 10-track album, including the classics ‘Run to You’ and ‘Summer of ’69’. Adams ‘came’ clean afterwards and publicly admitted the latter was about a sexual position, rather than a reference to a year. In November 2014, Adams embarked on the Reckless 30th anniversary tour comprising 23 dates in Europe, during which he played the entire album in sequence. Around the same time, Reckless was re-released as a double set with live tracks and studio out-takes. It still sounds fresh as a daisy.
Random Fact: Reckless was the first Canadian album to sell a million copies in Canada.
4: Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA (1984)
To some, the Boss’s macho posturing and fist pumping, never more prevalent than in the mid-eighties, is tedious and contrived. To others, it is passionate and life-affirming. There can be no argument that this album struck a chord not just in the American psyche, but on the international stage as it remains Springsteen’s biggest commercial hit. The follow-up to 1982’s starkly acoustic offering Nebraska, the album took a more pop-oriented approach, mainly at the behest of producer/manager Jon Landau. Seven singles were released, all making the top 10 in America, catapulting the Boss to a whole new level of stardom. The production lets the album down a little as the keyboards are too high in the mix and it hasn’t aged well but still, great stuff.
Random Fact: Born in the USA spent a total of 84 consecutive weeks on the Billboard Top 10, the longest period in American chart history.
5: Prince & the Revolution – Purple Rain (1984)
The Grammy award-winning soundtrack to the movie of the same name is universally regarded as one of the best albums of all time. And rightly so. Love him or hate him, the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince ticked all the boxes on this one. Featuring a host of his best-loved singles including When Doves Cry, Let’s Go Crazy and the sweeping title track, Purple Rain spent an incredible 24 consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard album charts, before being ousted by Springsteen’s Born in the USA.
Fun Fact: Purple Rain was the first album recorded with and credited to Prince’s backing group, the Revolution.
6: The Alarm – Strength (1985)
A well-deserved entry on this list by a band often labelled ‘The Welsh U2.’ Released by IRS in October 1985, Strength, their second album, features such cult classics as Knife Edge and Spirit of ’76, which made the UK Top 40. Many of the lyrics concerning poverty, social deprivation and working class struggles strike a chord with British people who grew up during this era. Strength represented the band’s peak, during which they toured with the likes of Bob Dylan, Queen and, of course, U2, and are still active today, albeit with a vastly altered line-up. 2015 has been dubbed ‘The Year of Strength’ by original member Mike Peters, who is undertaking a full tour to mark the album’s 30th anniversary and releasing a re-imagined and re-recorded version.
Random Fact: The band’s live show in front of 26,000 fans at UCLA on April 12th 1986 was one of the first concerts to be broadcast live via satellite.
7: Marillion – Misplaced Childhood (1985)
The eighties saw the return of the concept album, with the third opus by prog rock staples Marillion standing up as one of the best of all time. Mid-way through shows of this era, then-front man and lyricist Fish would announce to the crowd, “Now there is time for one more track. The name of track is Misplaced Childhood,” before performing the 41-minute album in its entirety. The story has many thematic elements mainly based around love, the passage of time, and the loss of innocence, and legend has it that Fish conceived the idea during a particularly fraught acid trip. The result is a deep, emotive piece of work that has stood the test of time.
Random Fact: The boy depicted on the cover in military garb lived next door to sleeve artist Mark Wilkinson.
8: Genesis – Invisible Touch (1986)
English band Genesis had released no fewer than twelve albums before Invisible Touch, though it was their first in three years. Despite some mixed reviews, it quickly became the fourth consecutive release to top the UK album charts, and spawned a total of five singles, all of which made the UK Top 40. It’s worldwide success was largely attributed to Phil Collins’ burgeoning solo career, who had released the insanely successful No Jacket Required album the year before. Music from the album has been featured in such TV classics as Magnum PI, Miami Vice and, er, American Dad .
Random Fact: In the movie version of American psycho by Brett Easton Ellis, Patrick Bateman calls the album the group’s ‘undisputed masterpiece.’
9: Simple Minds – Once Upon a Time (1985)
Their seventh album marked a transition from the group’s experimental early years to the pantheon of stadium rock, bridged by 1983’s classic Sparkle in the Rain. Recorded at Richard Branson’s London studio the Townhouse in May 1985, Once Upon a Time was released five months later, hot on the heels of the massive single Alive and Kicking. Don’t You Forget About Me, from the soundtrack to the John Hughes movie the Breakfast Club, was left off the album because of their initial reluctance to record it. It would be four long years until the band released any more studio material, and Once Upon a Time remains their biggest seller.
Random Fact: The single All the Things she Said was featured on Grand theft Auto V, which went on to become the highest selling videogame ever.
10: Dire Straits – Alchemy Live (1984)
Yeah, I could have gone for the commercial juggernaut Brothers in Arms, but that would have been too easy. This double live set, recorded at the Hammersmith Apollo over two nights in July 1983 at the very end of the Love over Gold Tour, is where it’s at. From the moody opening strains of Once Upon a Time in the West all the way through to the instrumental set closer Going Home (Theme from Local Hero) every whispered lyric, every plucked chord, is perfection personified. When I first discovered this album a couple of years after it’s release, I had been thoroughly brainwashed by the three-minute pop song. I could barely comprehend the fact that an entire double album could accommodate just ten Dire Straits tracks, one of which, Telegraph Road, is an epic 14-minutes long.
Fun Fact: This is the lowest selling entry on this list, with less than a million combined sales in the UK and US. That doesn’t make it a bad record.
Heart – Animals (1987), The Smith’s – The Queen is Dead (1986), Jesus & Mary Chain – Darklands (1987), Peter Gabriel – So (1986), Stone Roses – Stone Roses (1989).
This list was first published by the Huff Post:
Check out the companion piece:
September 10th, 2015 at 9:21 pm
How can the Joshua Tree be U2’s best album yet also the band’s nadir?
See me after class
September 11th, 2015 at 12:11 am
Haha! Have you heard ‘Songs of Innocence?’ Maybe that didn’t come across too well in the copy. Sorry, sir. You didn’t disagree with my choices, though! Beer soon. Or gluten-free whatever it is you are drinking these days….
October 27th, 2018 at 6:42 pm
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