Following the massive success of The Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden had to prove that they had staying power. Piece of Mind not only accomplished that, but it was really a stepping stone to a run of excellent albums. It’s true that later in their career they got more adventurous (Powerslave, Seventh Son of A Seventh Son), but there is something so alluring about the simplicity of this album. Not to say musically it was simple, but that it’s just a great metal album that sticks to the basics. This album really has everything you could want in a Maiden album; the iconic and insanely catchy riffs from the “Trooper,” the melodic “Revelations” that switches from its pounding riffs to its phenomenal guitar licks, or “Flight of Icarus” with its bombastic chorus. A lot of this was a pre-cursor to their later songs that would be even more epic and over the top. Ultimately Piece of Mind showed that Maiden wasn’t a one trick pony. And while it might not be their most expansive work in terms of musical scope, it could easily be argued to be their finest album.
– Brent Koepp
Transitioning from a post-punk powerhouse to a braver form of jittery psychedelic pop, the double-album English Settlement marks XTC’s breakout moment behind the power of its first single “Senses Working Overtime.” Unfortunately, this fame would lead Andy Partridge to a mental breakdown while touring the album. Diving into their work is daunting considering the sheer volume of their output in the ‘80s alone. The two albums represented on this list, English Settlement and Skylarking, are certainly worthy of celebration, and mere shades better than Black Sea, which was very much an extension of the sound they mastered on Drums and Wires. Their Dukes of Stratosphear pseudonym allowed Partridge and Colin Moulding to pay a more direct homage to ‘60s psychedelia, but it was on this album that they apparently were taking notes from Talking Heads, and recorded one of their most ambitious and coincidentally well-accomplished works.
– Michael Tkach
Strangeways, Here We Come
[Rough Trade; 1987]
Tensions between Morrissey and Johnny Marr were tearing the Smiths apart by the time they began recording their fourth LP, but it didn’t stop them from coming up with some of their best material yet. Strangeways is best known for the hits “Girlfriend in a Coma” and “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me,” but the real stunner is the “Paint a Vulgar Picture.” The song is a screed against record companies that doubles as perhaps the best-ever showcase of Marr as a guitarist. Marr can also add to his sterling session-guitarist audition tape “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish,” “Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before,” and “Death of a Disco Dancer.” The songs on Strangeways are glossier and shinier than anything else in the Smiths’ oeuvre, bringing in horns and synth strings. Strangeways is the sound of one of the great bands of their era not only at their peak musically but also at something of a crossroads, making it a fascinating historical document as well as an enduringly rewarding collection of songs.
– Sean Highkin
Following-up a successful album is a daunting task, but one that is both universally acclaimed and the biggest seller of all-time? Although another monstrous hit, the paranoia-exuding Bad has not enjoyed quite the same level of commercial and critical success as Thriller, but in all fairness, what can? On Bad, Michael Jackson pushed the art of a slick studio production further than ever before. While this gives a layer of artifice to the emotionality of some songs and proves that not even “studio magic” can breathe life into disappointments like “Liberian Girl,” the likes of “Smooth Criminal,” “Man in the Mirror” and the title track are more than strong enough to stand alongside the best of Thriller and Off the Wall.
– Frank Mojica
Reign In Blood
[Def Jam; 1986]
At just under 29 minutes in length, Reign In BloodReign In Blood has this mystique to it. Maybe it’s Araya’s disturbing lyrics, or just how abrasively the album hits you, it’s often seen as one of the heaviest metal albums of all time, and rightfully so. But what really makes this album great is how the band can transition on a dime from going 100mph to slowing down and launching into an epic break down of colossal riff and bass lines that will blow your ear drums.
– Brent Koepp
The British cult hero had begun to move away from the singer-songwriter mold on her third album, 1980’s Never For Ever, but nothing could have prepared fans for the transformation she underwent on The Dreaming. Bush’s voice is at times unrecognizable here, being that she had begun around this time to experiment with all manner of synthesizers and other methods of digital manipulation. Her work had always been decidedly outside the box, at least in the realm of British pop singers of the time, but her reputation as the pre-eminent art-rock siren of the last three decades, and the starting point for careers from Tori Amos to Bjork, starts here, with “Sat in Your Lap,” “Get Out of My House,” “Night of the Swallow,” “There Goes a Tenner,” and others.
– Sean Highkin
Not only is Operation: Mindcrime one of the most criminally underrated albums in the ’80s, Queensryche are also one of the most overlooked bands in the metal genre. Which is a damn shame, because not only is Geoff Tate one of the best singers in the genre, Operation: Mindcrime is one of the best concept albums of all time. The story revolves around an insane man who is in a mental institution and is trying to remember how he got to this point. What then unfolds across the album is a recollection of his memories. In a time of public outcry due to a corrupt government, our main protagonist Nikki is tricked into joining an organization dedicated to revolution. This organization is led by a mysterious figure named “Dr. X” who then brainwashes Nikki into being his assassin. Just by uttering the words “Mindcrime,” Nikki is sent into a fit of rage, and kills his political targets.
Then throw in a blasphemous story of him falling in love with an ex-hooker-turned-Nun, and you have one insane story. Drugs, sex, brainwashing and political assassinations – sure on paper that sounds cartoony, convoluted and, well, stupid, but what makes this concept so amazing is the performance by Tate. He transforms himself into Nikki, and you really feel the character’s pain, sorrow and anger through his incredible voice. It’s this performance that really sells the story, and keeps you on the edge of your seat as you want to figure out what the hell happened to this character to bring him to a mental institution. But the really great thing about Operation: Mindcrime is that musically, it’s just damn good. Even if you couldn’t care less about the story, it’s a powerhouse of powerful anthems, and incredible instrumental work.
– Brent Koepp
Blizzard of Ozz
Blizzard Of Ozz was released in September 1980 in the UK and was Ozzy Osbourne’s debut solo album after being fired from Black Sabbath in 1979, and it is without a doubt his best solo album. With Sabbath in 1970s Ozzy Osbourne helped to create and define the heavy metal genre, but by the end of his time with Sabbath much of the former greatness had been lost to substance abuse, however Blizzard Of Ozz showed Osbourne to be revitalized – as Sabbath’s first album with new singer Ronnie James Dio did.
Blizzard Of Ozz is, despite Osbourne’s contribution, very much a showcase of the talent of Ozzy’s new guitarist Randy Rhoads, who would die in a plane crash in 1982 – making this and the follow-up Diary Of A Madman his defining documents. Rhoads was one of the premier heavy metal guitarists, with the invaluable ability to turn his impressive skills to benefit the song and not just his ego. Rhoads shines throughout the record and his playing coupled with several of Osbourne’s best tracks in “Crazy Train,” “Mr. Crowley” and “Suicide Solution” makes Blizzard Of Ozz into one of the most important metal records of the 1980s.
– Johan Alm
Viva Hate was released only six months after The Smiths released their final album, and, as the title suggests, Morrissey was not shy about his discontent with his musical affairs. Musically, Viva Hate begins where The Smiths left off and contains a couple of the singer’s finest singles, with or without The Smiths, in “Suedehead” and “Everyday Is Like Sunday.” Today, the latter has been co-opted by Fox to advertise the NFL on Sunday, but at the time, it was these songs on Viva Hate that kept Morrissey’s forward momentum in full force, allowing him to still be among musical royalty; an artist whose every bit of musical output is still anticipated and shown the utmost respect. Except for the football thing. That was just weird.
– Philip Cosores
[CBS / Epic; 1980]
The Clash’s triple-vinyl follow-up to London Calling might be the most highly-regarded album of its era that the least amount of people have actually listened to in its entirety. Its 36 tracks amount to a hodgepodge of classic punk, reggae, early hip-hop and dub experiments, soul, and — quite literally — everything else you could name. About half of it is filler, but it’s the kind of filler that’s fun to listen to once, and even when you strip that away, it still leaves at least an album’s worth of classics. “Police on My Back,” “Washington Bullets,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Up in Heaven (Not Only Here),” and “Somebody Got Murdered” all rank right there with the best Clash material ever recorded. The fact that the biggest punk band in the world was willing to go this far outside their lane and risk falling on their face was at once a middle finger to punk purists and one of the most punk-rock things a band could do.