August 17, 2005

100 top albums of the 1980s.

Speaking of Prince, why was "1999" only #16 on Rolling Stones list of 100 top albums of the 1980s? Here's the top 20 (go to the link for the full list):
1.London Calling, The Clash
2.Purple Rain, Prince
3.The Joshua Tree, U2
4.Remain In Light, Talking Heads
5.Graceland, Paul Simon
6.Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen
7.Thriller, Michael Jackson
8.Murmur, R.E.M.
9.Shoot Out The Lights, Richard and Linda Thompson
10.Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman
11.Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello
12.It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Public Enemy
13.Diesel And Dust, Midnight Oil
14.So, Peter Gabriel
15.Let It Be, The Replacements
16.1999, Prince
17.Synchronicity, The Police
18.Dirty Mind, Prince
19.New York, Lou Reed
20.Pretenders, The Pretenders

One answer is that they gave him the second slot for "Purple Rain" and even put "Dirty Mind" at #18. ("Sign o' the Times" is #74.) Another answer is that the list was made in 1990.

What looks really out of place on this list today? Maybe my younger readers will agree with me that this list reeks of Baby Boomer.


DannyNoonan said...

Thriller at 7? Isn't that the best selling album of all time? I know it's up there.

Ann Althouse said...

Danny: It's a critical opinion, not a sales ranking.

Scipio said...

Steel Wheels? Labour of Love? Colour by Numbers? I mean, WTF?

Where's Raisin' Hell from Run-DMC?

Tattoo You is infinitely better than Steel Wheels, which was total garbage. Garbage, I say.

Two tolerable songs does not a good album make. This list seems to ignore that entirely.

bill said...

Boomer list? You betcha. Rolling Stones, Jackson Browne, Aretha Franklin, Don Henley, Traveling Wilbury’s, John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen - sounds like the soundtrack for the old folks home. A *nice* old folks home…I’d probably visit on most of the major holidays.

List has little love for funk and rap. Public Enemy isn’t in the top 10 and Run D.M.C. not until 51. That gets a boo hiss. I’m not much of a Beastie Boys fan, but I’d even put them on here. Salt and Peppa could easily take one of Metallica’s spots.

Sure I could debate rankings, but nothing is jumping out as being criminally wrong. For example, Midnight Oil is a nice enough band, but top 20 album for an entire decade? No. I would have liked to have seen X’s more fun the new world on the list, as well. And I never got the appeal of Thriller. Great video, but I was one of those people saying, “yeah, but have you listened to Prince”? I’m probably the only person who prefers Townshend’s All the Best Cowboy’s Have Chinese Eyes to Empty Glass.

One omission I was glad to see was We are the world; possibly the worst song ever written. Likewise glad to see Sun City did make the list (of course, I’d of placed it higher). Politically and musically a much more interesting album than the We are the World celebrity circle jerk. (Circle Jerks - now they’ll be my old folks home…along with Men Without Hats. )

alkali said...

Here are my candidates for the obvious "mistakes":

(Critics' favorites that no one ever listened to again:)

10.Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman
13.Diesel And Dust, Midnight Oil
19.New York, Lou Reed

(Chart toppers that you heard too many times to ever want to hear again:)

14.So, Peter Gabriel
17.Synchronicity, The Police
20.Pretenders, The Pretenders

Sloanasaurus said...

I think every U2 Album released in the 1980s is better than Midnight Oil.

And I don't know any REM fan who would argue that Murmur is superior to Reconstruction of the Fables (or even Document).

And where is Rush: Moving Pictures (1982). Or Pink Floyd: The Wall (1980).

Charlie (Colorado) said...

The Clash?

tommy said...

I can find about 3 I can agree with. maybe.

I guess that's why I quit listening to the radio.

Tonya said...

Great discussion. I had over 30 albums on that list -- probably all of them on cassette -- everything from Prince to AC/DC to RunDMC to Paul Simon. It was nice to see some groups that I think of as being quintissentially from the 80s, like Culture Club, UB40 and Squeeze. Did anyone see that short-lived series on Vh1 where they tried to get some old bands, including Squeeze, to reunite for one performance "just for the fans?" If I am remembering correctly, Squeeze was the only band that refused to do it.

I do agree with the commenters who have pointed out that there's no funk or rap on the list. Indeed, there's very little music by black artists. The few there are primarily crossover artists. I know black people and I can assure you that they were not listening to John Fogerty in the 80s.

Finally, there really should be more U2 on the list. U2 owned the 80s.

Ann Althouse said...

Tonya: There's Tracy Chapman, who's the quintessence of the sort of black artist white Boomers like. I still hear that album played in cafés around Madison. So overrated! And whatever happened to her?

Sloanasaurus said...

I left out Guns and Roses. Granted it was the late 1980s, but what a great album! It is certainly better than Lou Reed....

jult52 said...

The awful decision about Peter Gabriel -- leaving out "Security" and then replacing it with the made-for-cash "So" -- is a major mistake, which really damages the list's credibility. And I share the wonderment that anyone could place anything by the Clash #1 for a decade.

Tonya said...

The funny thing is that black folks didn't listen to Tracy Chapman all that much. As for what happened to her, she was out of sight for over a decade I believe. She released a new album recently -- in the last couple of years -- but I don't know how well it did either commercially or critically.

bill said...

Tracy Chapman - she's put out 4 albums/CDs/collection of songs since 2000. Haven't heard of any of them. She had a nice song in 1995.

Here's her billboard record

"Fast Car" #6 US; #5 UK
"Baby Can I Hold You" #48 US
"Talkin' Bout A Revolution" #75 US

"Crossroads" #90 US

"Give Me One Reason" #3 US

Jeff said...

Anyone of Generation X will immediately recognize this list for what it is: a narrow-minded Baby Boomer playlist. Rolling Stone magazine ad corporate radio represented the reactionary circle-the-wagons mindset of a generation that stopped listening to new styles of music around 1975.

For a real taste of 80's greatness, check this out:

And to check out how completely the aforementioned arbiters of taste dropped the ball (for an entire generation!):

Jann Wenner and his ilk have no excuse. Look at all of the rock acts that Ed Sullivan had on his show, and he got his start in the 1920's!!! Wenner and co. closed their minds before they hit their 30's!

I spit on them all.

bill said...

This might be interesting. Of the bands listed, only 32 had not released albums prior to 1980. Trouser Press is a good site for info on alternative bands of the 80s and 90s.

10,000 Maniacs
Crowded House
Culture Club
Cyndi Lauper
Def Leppard
George Michael
Guns N' Roses
Hüsker Dü
Janet Jackson
Living Colour
LL Cool J
Lyle Lovett
Marshall Crenshaw
New Order
Public Enemy
Sonic Youth
Steve Earle
Suzanna Vega
The Feelies
The Pretenders
The Replacements
The Robert Cray Band
The Smiths
Tracy Chapman
Was (Not Was)

chuck b. said...

Shoot Out the Lights reeks boomer. It's a good song even if boomers were the only ones who heard it in the 80s. (I know the song, but not the album.)

StrangerInTheseParts said...

I'm surprised by the hostility to Lou Reed's New York here. That's a great album both muscially and lyric-wise. It's enjoyable to listen to as background music and it's intelligent and soulful to listen to up close and personal. It's also the only album anywhere on that list or in the comments that really speaks directly to the harhser realities of the 80's. Well, London Calling does that too I suppose.

And finally - I love how Richard and Linda Thompson appear on the list. They are GREAT. But clearly the putzes at Rolling Stone only included it to give themselves some Real Music Credibility. It has nothing to do with the mostly pop-trashy quality of the list.

Matt Barr said...

Two words: Brothers In Arms.

Too Many Jims said...

I think that a lot of this gets back to the point Ann made in passing that the list was compiled in 1990.

This is particularly true with regard to rap. It was still unclear whether rap was a passing fad or would have a long term impact. 1990 is only 2 years removed from the release of "It takes a nation. .." I bet when the list was originally released they caught all sorts of grief for including that "noise".

Further, while there were a number of great rap singles released in the 1980s there were few great albums. As Chuck D said in recently talking about "It takes a nation . . .": ""This was the first hip-hop album that held together all the way through. At the time, hip hop was a singles medium. Most albums were a couple of singles and filler."

Finally, many people, critics included, had a difficult time with some rap lyrics because of the violence etc. For example, probably the most important rap album from the 1980s not included on the list is "Straight outta compton" which was radioactively dangerous in the early 1990s.

chuck b. said...

I would change out the Clash's London Calling for X's Los Angeles. The Clash made some good music and they hit the top 40, but I don't think their legacy stands out over time as being particularly broad or unique. U2 wrote political songs better (U2's War is a better ablum than London Calling) and musically the Clash borrowed from all the usual sources. X, on the other hand made it up as they went along, borrowed music from a deeper well, wrote damn great poetry and exerted a direct influence on a generation of top bands including Nirvana and Wilco. X defined the punk ethos; the Clash exploited it.

Ann Althouse said...

Stranger: I've got an old issue of Mojo (1996) listing the 100 greatest guitarists that puts Richard Thompson at #10. (Ahead of him are only: Neil Young, T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Peter Green, Steve Cropper, and Jimi Hendrix.)

knoxgirl said...

Rolling Stone is the "People" magazine of music. It's generic and irrelevant and at some point in the 90s I noticed that they simply resorted to plastering T&A on just about every cover to entice people to buy it. And yes, the list itself is totally boomerified. Somebody needs to tell their critics to retire along with all those aging rock "stars" who refuse to give it up.

Smilin' Jack said...

Bauhaus should be on there, as the forerunners of the goth/industrial/darkwave sound that is the only danceable music left today (e.g. Evanescence.)

Hip hop fans: rap is noise...moronic doggerel chanted to a boring beat. Three words sum it up: "Ice, Ice, Baby." Vanilla is your Elvis; own him.

Too Many Jims said...

Smilin Jack,

"Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant sh*t to me"

If you are going to insist a (black) artform must be defined by a white person appropriating it, I would suggest that the Beastie Boys (years before Vanilla Ice) or Eminem are better analogues.

bill said...

Vanilla Ice is to rap what Pat Boone was to R&B.

Tim Harden said...

One point for Bill in the comments above. Technically, there is only one Metallica album on this list: "Kill 'Em All." I don't know who did "Rapture," but it certainly wasn't Metallica. Personally, I think "Ride the Lightning" would have been a better selection for this list. However, I do think that Metallica belongs, given their influence on metal and continuing popularity.

Smilin' Jack said...


Yeah, the Beastie Boys made albums before Vanilla, but how many did they sell? "To the Extreme" went 7x platinum. That's my point: like Elvis for rock, Vanilla made rap commercially viable; without him, there might not be any today. And for that, I hate him as much as you do.

HaloJonesFan said...

What I wonder is why there is so little metal (and little enough hard rock!) on this list. The eighties was the generation that defined metal, and the best metal band they can come up with is Metallica? Where are Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Megadeth?

LarryK said...

Ironic that London Calling is #1 for the 80s since it was released in 1979 in the UK (but 1980 in the US).

Kate Marie said...

A quibble about R.E.M. -- it's Fables of the Reconstruction (not Reconstruction of the Fables), and, yes, that's their best album.

bill said...

Smilin' Jack: don't discount the fact that License to Ill was the first rap record to reach #1 on the charts.

Vanilla was possible because by 1990 rap was already commercially viable. He might have been more mainstream, but he didn't make it popular. Acutally, he was the last gasp of the Hammer school of rap.

And unless you're calling Elvis a talentless hack, comparing him to Vanilla Ice is unfair. That's why I prefer the Pat Boone = Vanilla Ice. Elvis grew up singing the music he did and Pat just sang what he was told to because the kids would like it.

As the Beasties fell into rap as a failed hardcore band, for white rappers I'll go with 3rd Base. In the video for Pop Goes the Weasel, they beat up Vanilla Ice.

Bill_P said...

This list is ridiculous. Three Prince Albums and not one good rock album? I mean, Charlie Murphy says he makes some good pancakes, but come on... May I suggest:

1. Appetite for Destruction - GnR
Name a bad song on that album

2. Master of Puppets - Metalica
Probably the most musically intricate of the Cliff era

3. Dr. Feelgood - Motley Crue

bill said...

Purple Rain is a great rock album.

Tom said...

I think the point about this list being compiled in 1990 needs to be reiterated because it explains alot. Over the years, reassessments can seriously alter an acts' reputation. Keep in mind that for years, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds was considered completely inconsequential, even by Beach Boys' fans. But sometime in the 1980s critics started reassessing it and realized how great it was. Now, it is considered one of the greatest albums ever recorded, eclipsing even Sgt. Pepper on some lists (which I don't mind, because if you want to talk about overrated albums, then grab your copy of Sgt. Pepper).

I think the same can be said of this list. For exmaple, in this chart Purple Rain is ranked considerably higher than Sign o' the Times. Today, Sign of the Times is considered a superior album by most critics and Prince fans, and as something of a culmination of all of Prince's musical explorations of his first decade, just before he wigged out completely and turned on the crap machine.

Likewise, to build on a previous poster's comments, I think rap is largely missing from the list because critics simply didn't understand it in 1990. This poll came out right about that time that Chuck D. said rap was important becuase it was "the black CNN." He was right, but nobody really knew what it meant at the time. Today, we know, and if you were to ask critics to compile a list of great '80s records, you'd see a lot more rap.

At the same time, Richard Thompson and Midnight Oil were seen at the time as being "the next big thing." That would have been reflected in a 1990 list. But not today. Midnight Oil was nothing but a one-hit wonder in the US.

As for the lack of metal in the list, I would offer this explanation: in 1990, metal's reputation was still being dragged down by the Hair Bands: Poison, Great White, Motley Crue, Cinderella, Ratt, etc., which made all of metal seem like something of a joke. Metallica should have more albums on this list, and Appetite for Destruction is one of the most glaring omissions.

I am glad to see The Pretenders made it, though. I love The Pretenders.

And, I agree, this list is also heavy on the boomer acts.

downtownlad said...

Everyone is missing the obvious. This list was put together in 1990, so they missed the most important album of the decade, which was from only one year earlier in 1989.

I'm talking of course about The Stone Roses, which some people rate as the best album of all time.

anselm said...

The Beastie Boys and 3rd base both brought rap to suburbia. Which was necessary to get the diversity and tension that would identify the path of the musical form. A little context:

In the late eighties, rappers were diversifying in ways that would, with a slight delay, transfix all those kids who started out with the B-Boys, 3rd Base, and maybe the PE theme from Do the Right Thing. It begin to diversify, and in doing so a bunch of different artists began to create rap milestones:

Slick Rick
Heavy D. & the Boyz
Eric B. & Rakim
Nice & Smooth
Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth (might have been early 90's)

How should these artists and their albums be rated? Definitely not on the same plane as the rock artists of that time; there was very little crossover musically or fan-wise. But the whole "Top 100" thing is more interesting as a time-capsule piece than in any definitive sense anyway.

But eighties rappers laid the groundwork for all the hip-hop albums that mongrelized pop music in the 90's and became top-100 material in their own right. You had everything from Fear of a Black Planet to Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, & Easy-E (separately now) to the suburban feel of "new school" rappers like Kwame, Kid n' Play, and Digital Underground to the more eclectic, socially conscious Native Tongue groups: De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, and the Jungle Brothers. And Nas, who set a gold standard for "real life" rap made by, for, and about the streets.

Meanwhile, there were some beneficiaries of circumstance and A&R gimmicks that enjoyed flashbulbs of popularity, like Hammer and, a bit later, Vanilla Ice. But they never even got Pat Boone status.

anselm said...

Which is to say, this statement by smilin' jack shows an absurd level of naivete:

"Vanilla made rap commercially viable; without him, there might not be any today."

Sloanasaurus said...

While I agree Fables is R.E.M.s best work form the 1980s, I still think Automatic for the People is their best.

And I still cannot believe that Rush: Moving Pictures did not even make the top 100 list. Maybe I am a sucker for outrageous stadium shows.

Also, we shouldn't forget the best of Simon & Garfunkel and the Best of Steve Miller, two CDs that every college student in the 1980s seemed to get with their 8 CDs for a penny deal with Columbia.

downtownlad said...

Murmur is clearly the best REM album. I don't think Fables comes close.

Adam said...

Murmur is the most "important" R.E.M. album, but Life's Rich Pageant is my favorite.

The primary "it was done in 1990" problem of the list is that it didn't foresee how music would change in 1991. Which is another way of asking why are there no Pixies albums on the list? Both Surfer Rosa and Doolittle make my top twenty (as compiled now); "Debaser" is a song so perfectly constructed it all but brings me to tears when I listen to it.

Also, Nebraska is better than Born in the USA. So is The River. Duh.

Chris O'Brien said...

OK. I was ready to make a snarky post about The Wall not being on there and how 10 years would have given RS the perspective to at least have had that up there...but I Shepardized it it, it was released mere days before the 80's began.

But still..and maybe Tim Blair's influenced me too much.. but Midnight Oil as #13? Puh. Leese.

Jay DeShan said...

My fave 80's LP? XTC's Skylarking.

XWL said...

I don't know anyone who was in their teens in the 80s (like myself) who ever read Rolling Stone.

Imported copies of NME or the style specific magazines like Circus were the slick-papered full color music press that everyone I knew gravitated towards, but what really was taking off then were small run self published fanzines that were very local, specific and DIY.

You could draw a straight line from the aesthetic nutured by those Zines to the same ethos later expoused by early weblogs.

It was obvious then, and continues to be obvious now, that Rolling Stone was just a bunch of Bay Area Hippies and they didn't get what was going on currently (now or then).

It was a mammal v. dinosaur situation and even if the Zine scene never reached critical mass with Big Media they had a profound effect on who taste-maker types enjoyed.

My knowledge of this scene only extends to SoCal, but the bands that were incubated through these Zines covered many styles and bands like The Bangles, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Guns and Roses, Jane's Addiction went on to wider audiences in part because of the fanatical local followings they developed through these small black and white cheaply copied fanzines.

If I had compiled a list in 1990 my top 5 might have been:
1.Prince, Parade (still his best album)
2.Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes (a nearly perfect album)
3.Aztec Camera, High Land Hard Rain (amazing writing and guitar, one of the songs is an english sonnet for chrissakes)
4.Eurythmics, Touch (Annie Lennox, one of the greatest voices ever)
5.The Bangles, All Over the Place (Purely a personal choice, but really solid garage-pop with great harmonies)

If I made a list now, GnR's Appetite for Destruction would replace the Femmes in 2nd and The Bangles would be replaced by the first Pretenders album, but I will defend to my grave Prince's Parade album as the best 45 minutes of music ever put to vinyl.

jult52 said...

Rush Moving Pictures -- c'mon, not a top album. And I LIKE Rush.

XTC Skylarking -- I think the problem with this album are the embarassingly bad lyrics. The music is pretty good.

Jack said...

Well, heck, I'm not going to debate everyone's personal opinions here.

Even though the albums mentioned were far from representative of their best work, I was glad to see both Peter Gabriel and Elvis Costello on the list.

Sometimes, even though you may not agree with the details, it's good to see at least *some* kind of validation of your obsessions...

MK said...

This list was a joke when it came out a decade ago. If you polled every respectable music critic today, at least half of those albums would probably make it, but there'd be a lot more indie/underground rock, probably more hip-hop, and the rankings would be very different.

MK said...

BTW, Tracy Chapman's first self-titled album is pretty good, if not quite a classic. Overrated? On that list, maybe, but she hasn't gotten much critical attention since that first album.

radio gnome said...

The Rolling Stone's list isn't nearly as depressing as some of the comments here. A list is a list is a list, everyone is always gonna bitch about something not being on the list (what, no Echo & the Bunnymen, no Teardrop Explodes, no Dream Syndicate, no Rain Parade, nothing from the Church, no John Hiatt and on and on).

But some of y'all are just downright mean dissing on some great music. Maybe it isn't in the style you like, or maybe you don't understand the geography or the sociopolitical issues the creators are concerned with, but some of the opinions expressed here read as the harbingers for the fall of civilization as we know it.

X (a band I dearly love) defined punk and the Clash (a band I rather enjoy) exploited it? Granted, "London Calling" was released in 1979 and therefore shouldn't be on the list, but that's an objective detail. "London Calling" is a fine record and the Clash was a fine band. So was X, and so are the Knitters.

XTC's "Skylarking" has embarassingly bad lyrics? I can't believe anyone would say such a thing. Do you actually speak English? Correctly?

And what's the deal with Midnight Oil? Y'all actually listened to what the Oils were saying? The tunes were catchy as hell and the "message" spot on. One may disagree with what they are saying, or one may feel a bit guilty by what they are saying, but dissing their music is uncalled for.

And why quibble over whether Murmur is superiour to Reckoning? They are both great records. Just enjoy both of them.

Like Ann's mention of the top 10 guitarists - all of them are great, if you haven't listened to any of them do so. Everyone will other faves here too (Adrian Belew, Steve Vai, Robert Fripp, Bill Nelson). Listen to them too.

Cherish this fine music, for none of it is awful. Let folks know of other records you feel worthy of recognition. But dissing music, good music, because your personal fave wasn't listed?

We're doomed.