The Top 100 Albums of the 1980s



Computerwelt (Computer World)

[Kling Klang / EMI / Warner Bros.; 1981]

Music and culture has long reflected developments in science. You might laugh at that statement, but it’s true: Salvador Dali’s art took a turn for the weird(er) after Einstein revolutionized science and philosophy with his Theory of Special Relativity. The development of space travel in the ‘60s was partially responsible for the genesis of progressive rock. Groups like Kraftwerk embraced the emerging computer technology of the early ‘80s and wrote it a love letter called Computer World. The album is heralded in the electronic music community as one of the most influential LPs in the genre — you can even hear a touch of Aphex Twin in the driving, rhythmically dynamic “Numbers.” But what most people don’t realize is how Computer World has been subtly influencing the mainstream for years — recognize the melody in “Computer Love”? That’s because the central motif has been adopted by Coldplay and turned into a mall radio-friendly song called “Talk.” And that’s just a modern example — Kraftwerk ushered in an entire era of computer fetishism in ‘80s pop production that was less blatantly tributary, but pervasive regardless.

Arika Dean


Bruce Springsteen

The River

[Columbia; 1980]

The River wasn’t recorded entirely as one piece – indeed, variations, fragments and in some cases full songs had been written during the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions a couple of years prior – but listening to it over thirty years later, you’d never really guess. The songs’ themes definitely contrast each other – from solemn to upbeat one track to the next – but it’s a testament to the strengths of Springsteen’s songwriting that it all gels into a cohesive whole, and indeed, as a concept album of sorts, it all flows along beautifully.The River, like many double albums, has its obvious stand-outs – successful singles like “Hungry Heart” – but it also has its fair share of the more obscure (or, in the case of an album this popular, relatively less acknowledged) tracks such as “Drive All Night.” Despite strong sales, the record wasn’t immediately greeted by universally positive reviews, but over time has revealed itself to be one of The Boss’s best efforts.

John Ulmer


Leonard Cohen

I’m Your Man

[Columbia; 1988]

There’s something about this album that just gets me every time. Leonard Cohen has long been known as a brilliant poetic mind and songwriter, and with I’m Your Man he’s near the top of his game. From the moment his monotone voice barrels in on “First We Take Manhattan,” the album becomes a completely spell-binding machination of ’80s pop goodness and deep-thinker’s ear food. The pop songs are full of the timeless trademarks of the decade – cheesy synthesizers, backing female vocals – but it’s the title track that, for me, ties all the threads together. If nothing else, Cohen is a lover, a practical ticking time bomb of emotion. On “I’m Your Man” he exerts that to the fullest, and when he offers “if you want another kind of love, I’ll wear a mask for you,” it sends the whole album soaring.

Andrew Bailey


Iron Maiden

The Number of the Beast

[EMI; 1982]

While I could easily argue that The Number of the Beast isn’t even Maiden’s best album, there is no denying that it’s their most iconic. Without a doubt TNOTB stands out for a lot of reasons as being one of the most recognizable and influential metal albums of this decade. Whether it’s the iconic album art (who doesn’t love Eddie?) or the well-crafted balance of fast paced riffs and anthemic choruses, TNOTB was in a league of its own.

Iron Maiden bridged the new wave of British heavy metal movement with mainstream accessibility without ever compromising the music’s integrity. They had the technical proficiency to impress even the most diehard metal heads (Harrison’s blistering bass, Dickinson’s insane pipe range, and Murray’s gift for melodic riffs) as well as having incredibly catchy and accessible choruses. And it’s for this very reason that even today, Iron Maiden are considered one of the royalties of metal. All the more impressive is the fact that this album was the introduction to many of Bruce Dickinson, who had replaced Maiden’s old singer Paul Di’Ano after his bout with drug and alcohol abuse. Dickinson’s impeccable vocal range and stage presence really took Iron Maiden out of their humble roots, and put them on the world stage. From the explosive opener “Invaders” to one of the most epic albums closers of all time “Hallowed Be They Name,” The Number Of The Beast is one of those albums that is an exhilarating ride front to back.

Brent Koepp


Echo & The Bunnymen
Ocean Rain

[Korova; 1984]

Four albums in, Echo & The Bunnymen made their masterwork. Just ask Ian McCulloch himself. To this day, he still calls “The Killing Moon,” the lead single from Ocean Rain, the greatest song ever written. He doesn’t call it his greatest work, but The Greatest Song Ever Written, and I’d be content not to argue with him. While that song is distinctive, the rest of the album doesn’t lag far behind by any means. Mac himself said in an interview with Max Bell “It was our Michaelangelo’s David, if that’s the one with the arms.” While that’s a bold statement, he wasn’t kidding. It encapsulated everything they’d done to that point, and is really just an outstanding artifact of an overpopulated post-punk field.

Colin Joyce



Permanent Waves

[Anthem / Mercury; 1980]

After 1978’s Hemispheres, Rush had had it with sidelong epics, but they still hadn’t completely abandoned their roots as one of the most technically proficient metal acts around. 1981’s Moving Pictures was the record that completed the Canadian trio’s transformation into one of the more durable album-rock acts of the last few decades, but the previous year’s Permanent Waves put that development on the fast track. Its six songs featured the immortal “The Spirit of Radio,” the equally impressive radio staple “Freewill,” the underrated ballad “Different Strings,” and a couple of more reined-in, but no less potent, extended pieces, “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Natural Science.”

Sean Highkin


Mission of Burma


[Ace of Hearts; 1982]

Mission of Burma split up initially in 1983, citing singer guitarist and co-singer Roger Miller’s complaints of permanent tinnitus. You can look at this two ways: either Miller was a pussy, or Mission of Burma rocked so fucking hard that it was difficult to live through. Within the opening 30 seconds of Vs. it becomes clear that it was probably the latter, and upon hearing Miller’s screamed introduction it’s certain.

The entirety of Vs. is thrilling and essential listen, from the opening powerhouse chug of “Secrets,” through the rising and swelling guitars of “Weatherbox,” and to the howl in the final seconds of the punkishly heroic “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate.” Why is Vs. still relevant today? Aside from being at its core a collection of brutally brilliant and well-built rock songs, they also had the added fascination of Martin Swope’s tape loops, which weaved between and melded with the thunderous music. Bassist Clint Conley picked the band name because he thought it sounded “murky and disturbing” – two qualities that are brought to the band’s sound by the tape looping of Swope, whose work on Vs. to this day has rarely been matched.

Rob Hakimian


Sonic Youth


[SST; 1987]

As a general rule, the further back you go in the catalog of Sonic Youth, the harsher things get, and Sister was where things really started to clear up. Here the new-found listenability proved key to some critical and mild commercial success. “Schizophrenia” is certainly amongst the best work of a band with a catalog in which stunning songs are more than plentiful. Here they just seemed to really buckle down and write solid songs, with the little noise jams tacked on, rather than noise jams that begin to take the form of songs. This album certainly begins to foreshadow the success that came later on. There’s no bona fide anthems here, but it’s very clear that we’re moving in that direction.

Colin Joyce




[Virgin / Geffen; 1986]

For as ambitious and elaborate as XTC’s eighth studio album is, the most impressive thing about it is how naturally everything it tries comes. There’s no straining on the part of principle songwriters Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, no overreaching to try something out — just a band confidently taking the leap from intriguing, versatile new-wave outsiders to a fully realized, completely formidable pop-rock juggernaut capable of just about anything.

Sean Highkin


The Fall

This Nation’s Saving Grace

[Beggars Banquet; 1985]

Approaching the Fall’s discography is ridiculously intimidating. Nearly 30 albums make you cower in fear, or maybe have you excited. But a large majority of people who have dug into this brilliant band will be able to tell you that This Nation’s Saving Grace is their finest hour. It’s dark, it’s grimy, and it’s probably what London was in the 1980s. Except for the brilliantly slick, somewhat new wave “L.A.,” the entire thing screams British. Sure, no single song reaches the height of “The Classical,” but the flow and songwriting on This Nation’s Saving Grace are the greatest this band came up with. If you want catchy, anthemic songs, they’re here. “Bombast,” “What You Need,” “Spoilt Victorian Child,” and “Couldn’t Get Ahead” cement themselves in the heads of listeners after first playthroughs. The album wouldn’t be a Fall record without experiments, but “Paintwork,” “Barmy,” and “My New House” fill the role well with the help of the brilliant Can tribute “I Am Damo Suzuki.” Mark E. Smith could ramble on a while over his songs, and This Nation’s Saving Grace just shows why he’s done so for 30 years.

Ryan Nichols