The Top 100 Albums of the 1980s


Black Sabbath

Heaven and Hell

[Vertigo / Warner Bros.; 1980]

I don’t think anyone will dispute the fact that Black Sabbath are considered by many to be the forefathers of metal. Their heavy sound and dark themes really paved the way for the genre. But many will defend to the death that the best era of Sabbath was led by Ozzy Osbourne. And this is true. Sabbath’s golden era was with Ozzy. And while it’s easy enough to write off a band that continues on without their original singer, you can’t when it’s Ronnie James Dio. Dio personifies the genre more than any other singer. The dramatic vocals, the sinister bite as he growls out lines. If Black Sabbath were the forefathers of metal, Dio was the grandfather of Metal. He’s a legend, to say the least.

And It’s because of Dio that this album really stands on its own within the Sabbath catalogue. Dio’s unmistakable vocals and theatrical presence, combined with a band that had eight albums already under their belt makes for one of Sabbath’s most energetic albums in their canon. Heaven and Hell, in a lot of ways, is an overview of Sabbath’s early career musically, running the gamut of their various stylings. But with a renewed energy, it’s really one of the band’s finest outings. The album is so revered that Sabbath reunited twenty years later with Dio and toured and recorded under the name “Heaven and Hell.” With Dio passing in 2010, this album will no doubt be one of his biggest achievements in his long career.

Brent Koepp




[I.R.S.; 1987]

Document has always struck me as an unbelievably accessible album, not just for R.E.M., but for any band — it epitomizes that ‘80s college rock/mainstream crossover sound, because, well, that’s exactly what it was. The riffs were bigger and the production cleaner, but the political and intellectual savvy of Stipe and Co. remained completely intact. There’s the band’s excellent cover of Wire’s “Strange,” the deft McCarthy Hearing-sample in “Exhuming McCarthy,” and Peter Buck’s siren-like guitar on “Finest Worksong,” a certain call-to-arms. But it’s the album’s hits, “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and “The One I Love” that propel Document to legendary status — the former a stream-of-consciousness cultural overload that breaks into that gleefully desolate, and comprehensible, chorus (plus: Leonard Bernstein!); the latter a simple, sardonic anti-love love song that’s become a late-night lovers radio request mainstay. And if you got the jokes, great; if not, so what? The tunes were just that good.

Jon Blistein




[Sub Pop; 1988]

When Bleach was released in June 1989, it would have been almost impossible to predict that Nirvana would become the most notable band of the following decade. Even looking back at it now, it’s difficult to gauge its exact impact; the enormous dust cloud kicked up by Nevermind is thick and unmovable, and for better or worse, Bleach‘s lasting impact has been – at least to some degree – pulled under its shadow. But if you really squint your eyes and focus your ears, it isn’t difficult to see why Nirvana’s first album charted on our list. Here, Kurt Cobain and company hadn’t yet been thrust into the spotlight. This album has them playing with a more indie-leaning sound and grittier production. “Floyd the Barber,” “About a Girl,” and “Negative Creep” remain among the best songs in the band’s short-but-famed canon, a compliment that could similarly be paid to the album they appear on.

Andrew Bailey


The Feelies

Crazy Rhythms

[Stiff; 1980]

Those beats are just so fresh! Thirty years on, and The Feelies’ absolutely blistering debut Crazy Rhythms is still something to behold. Hell, just from a stylistic stand point, you have to respect the part about how it basically helped usher in that whole “straight-laced geek” look into the indie landscape, as it were. But (obviously) more important than that, Crazy Rhythms was a God-damned percussion factory, churning out meticulously-timed compositions of almost symphonic origin. Because, while The Feelies expertly matched their jangly riffs with those crisply cracked vocals, Crazy Rhythms was also backed by, perhaps, the strongest rhythm section of its time. Bold, and completely innovative in its forward thinking and structural choices, the tracks on Crazy Rhythms feel more like raw, jagged components than they do a cohesive whole – which is actually a compliment. Crazy Rhythms remains a perfect modern showcase of sonic architecture, and basically the…most example of a post-punk album, maybe ever.

Daniel Rivera


The Smiths

The Smiths

[Rough Trade; 1984]

In light of the way Morrissey would progress as a songwriter over the following Smiths albums and later into his solo career, it’s interesting, and sort of sweet, to hear the man sounding genuinely earnest on The Smiths’ introduction. Opening song “Reel Around The Fountain” has the honesty to proclaim that “15 minutes with you” is something he greatly desires, but of course, knowing the man as we do now, this couldn’t last. Songs like “Pretty Girls Make Graves,” “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” and “Suffer Little Children” showed the darkness that would encroach everything Morrissey produced for the rest of his career. Yet it was still a massive hit.

This is, of course, thanks to the Morrissey/Marr partnership that formed the crux of the band. Morrissey’s honey-like crooning could make any of his soliloquies into something seductive (although here he does dabble a little with an underdeveloped falsetto) and the gorgeously jangly guitar work of Johnny Marr single-handedly made songs into something catchy. When Morrissey actually decided to write a chorus and paired it with Marr’s tuneful prowess it was guaranteed to be a hit. Although most of these instances were saved for non-album singles that followed The Smiths, songs like “Hand In Glove” and “This Charming Man” (not actually featured on the original release, but on every subsequent one) were enough to attract people in to the album, and give them the perfect introduction to a band that would go on to be one of the mainstays for UK indie fans for decades to come.

Rob Hakimian


Los Angeles

[Slash; 1980]

X, as a band, have always carried with them that curious and rare espousal of style and substance. Founded by John Doe and co. in 1977, X released their debut album Los Angeles three years later, perfectly showcasing the punk outfit’s socially bratty attitudes, off-center allure, and surprisingly honed knack for pop-like brevity. Philosophically, this was to be the definition of “punk” (with its own distinct rockabilly flourishes), but in practice it was a wisely packaged exercise in expectation and subversion. Laced with tons of the kind of hookish magic that an album by such a band would seemingly shy away from, Los Angeles was decidedly dark, but not entirely without a soul. Filled to the brim with surprisingly unique harmonies, and charming (though esoteric) poetic rantings, Los Angeles was a full throttle sonic experience that found its many, tenuously held together facets shown in vibrant and satisfying display.

Daniel Rivera


Depeche Mode

Music for the Masses

[Mute / Sire; 1987]

With that famously honed atmosphere of dark tension, Depeche Mode’s ironically titled 1987 album Music for the Masses seemingly had very little actual interest in appealing to the world at large. Serving as an homage of sorts to the likes of Kraftwerk (while methodically co-opting that new wave method), the LP found Depeche Mode further developing their already inspired sound. Both largely theatrical and deeply thematic, Music for the Masses still seems isolated in its moral ambiguities and cryptic qualities. What brings it around to such greatness, though, is that signature way that Depeche Mode can become so wrapped up in relative melancholy, but convey so much power through reveling in those base desires; all while whistling a (not-so-happy) tune. There’s an incongruity apparent that Music for the Masses taps into quite brilliantly. Depeche Mode wouldn’t release their masterwork until three years later, but Music For the Masses was a watershed moment for a group that was on the verge of becoming legendary.

Daniel Rivera


The Replacements

Pleased to Meet Me

[Sire; 1987]

The Replacements made two of the greatest records of the ‘80s with Tim and Let It Be, at least in my book, and while those surely deserve the recognition it would be a travesty to ignore the rest of Westerberg and co.’s discography. Strongest among “the rest” is Pleased To Meet Me, the 1987 follow-up to Tim which saw the band moving further away from their punk beginnings, and in many ways the album heralded the end of the band – but it still contained a few of their greatest songs.

As with Tim the production leaves a lot to be desired, with a tinny sound that at times distracts from the songs, but with Paul Westerberg and the band, with new guitarist Slim Dunlop in great form it’s a fault that is easily forgiven. The stand-out track on the album is “Alex Chilton,” Westerberg’s tribute to the Big Star frontman (who also guests on the album’s other highlight “Can’t Hardly Wait”). While those two are strong enough to compete with any of their best tracks, the rest of the album marks a drop in quality – perhaps not a big one but one that keeps it from being counted among the greats.

Johan Alm


Jane’s Addiction

Nothing’s Shocking

[Warner Bros.; 1988]

Nothing’s Shocking is seen as Jane’s Addiction’s most classic album, and for good reason. It’s a diverse album full of heavy swag and beautiful emotion. I can count the number of albums from the ‘80s that successfully combine the two on one hand, and this album is at the forefront.

“Up The Beach” is a great example of this. What starts off as a mellow bassline turns into wails and guitar virtuosity, and while the majority of the song is heavy, positive emotion flows in its veins. “Had A Dad,” “Mountain Song” and “Pigs In Zen” show the band at its best. Perry Ferrell’s shouts, Dave Navarro’s shredding solos, Eric Avery’s thick bass and Stephen Perkins’ pounding drums fit together in ways that modern rock groups can only dream of achieving. Softer songs like “Jane Says” and “Summertime Rolls” are perfect lighters-up-in-the-air tracks.

Nothing’s Shocking has stood the test of time and I would argue that it’s still just as relevant to music today as it was back in 1988.

Nicholas Preciado


Spacemen 3

The Perfect Prescription

[Glass, Fire, Genius Records; 1987]

Spacemen 3’s The Perfect Prescription is such a meaningful album for two key reasons. First, based solely on its own merits, it’s one of the finest pieces of drug-addled, heartbroken shoegaze to come out of the 1980s. The album’s first two songs, “Take Me to the Other Side” and “Walkin’ With Jesus,” are absolutely flawless from start to finish, representing two of the most powerful cuts in shoegaze history. There’s plenty of individual merit here, but The Perfect Prescription is also a phenomenal relic from our present perspective. Like watching footage of your childhood through the lens of modern accomplishments, The Perfect Prescription is a brilliant window into what would become of Jason Pierce’s vision (Spiritualized). For this album, both the then and the now are dripping with value.

Andrew Bailey