The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s
The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


The Clash, Combat Rock

“This is a public service announcement…with guitars!” The album’s famous first words, and a perfectly concise summation of the Clash’s uniquely exuberant and stylish craft, their provocative blending of political provocation with eclectic musicality. Their evolution was such that they became catchier as their convictions became more dense, which may explain Combat Rock’s somewhat ill repute; there would be hits, and as such it was conceived, wrongly, as a sell out. To me, the stream of consciousness of “Car Jamming” attests like few other Clash songs to Joe Strummer’s social consciousness, restless even when he was standing still. They saw rock, like fascist might, as a power, and so it is that their music feels as if it hits you with the force of a club or a boot to the face. Gonzalez

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


The Cure, Pornography

The general read on the Cure’s legacy has been unfairly reduced to music for mopey goth kids, which misses the breadth of the band’s actual output. But it’s not like that reputation emerged from a vacuum: There’s Pornography, which opens with the line “It doesn’t matter if we all die” and then gets even more bleak from there. A thick, sludgy album that underscores its miserable bent with portentous arrangements that are brooding and uncompromising, Pornography peaks with “The Figurehead,” on which Robert Smith outlines his vision of hell in unflinching detail. The themes may be dire, but Smith elevates his unrelenting pain into real art. Keefe

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


The Bangles, Different Light

It’s telling that, in a decade dominated by men, the first all-girl band to top the Hot 100 (with the kitschy “Walk Like an Egyptian”) featured a name, lush harmonies, and guitar riffs that all hark back to the 1960s. The caveat to their accomplishment, of course, is that producer David Kahne infamously excised drummer Debbi Peterson from the track. The album’s biggest hits were written by other people (including the somewhat out-of-place yet nonetheless hard-to-resist “Walk Like an Egyptian” and the Prince-penned opener “Manic Monday”), but it’s the simple sophistication of the songs composed by the band themselves, like the rollicking title track and the haunting acoustic ballad “Following,” that makes Different Light more than simply a collection of Top 40 hits from a bygone era, but one of that era’s best pop albums. Cinquemani

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime

The punk-rock scene was built on a discontented ethos, but it was often a challenge in itself to decipher just what bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat were raging against. Minutemen, though, always stood out for the lack of ambiguity in their mission statement, and Double Nickels on the Dime features D. Boon and Mike Watt’s fiercest social and political tirades. What’s more, given Watt’s propulsive basslines and Boon’s eclectic guitar work (shifting from soft Spanish-guitar interludes and shrill punk riffs with the greatest of ease), the album also boasts far tighter and more varied musicianship than anything they did before or after. Jones

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Art of Noise, Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise?

“In the nineteenth century, with the invention of the machine, Noise was born,” wrote Luigi Russolo in a letter to fellow Italian futurist composer Balilla Pretella. And in the late 20th century, avant-garde electronic-pop collective Art of Noise, who took their name from Russolo’s famous essay, was born, concocting cacophonous collages of digital beats and samples that would influence an entire generation of knob twirlers. The group’s 1984 debut opens with the proto-political “A Time for Fear (Who’s Afraid),” portions of broadcasts from the U.S. invasion of Grenada building to industrial beats and a minimalist sub-bass that informed the work of future pioneers like Björk and Tricky. Surprisingly, it’s the album’s least noisy track, the 10-minute instrumental chill-out “Moments In Love,” that truly veers off into some exhilaratingly strange, unexpected territory. Russolo would be proud. Cinquemani

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Depeche Mode, Music for the Masses

Communication is a recurring theme on Depeche Mode’s landmark Music for the Masses, and from the sampled radio broadcast of “To Have and to Hold” to the collage of grunts and moans of “I Want You Now” and the use of chamber choirs on “Sacred” and “Pimpf,” voices play a pivotal role in conveying Martin Gore’s missives of repentance and redemption. The high drama that’s so often proven to be the band’s Achilles’ heel works impeccably here, each song seguing effortlessly into the next, each histrionic verse and melodramatic key change aiding in the creation of a bona-fide pop-rock opera. While the band’s music wouldn’t truly meet the masses until 1990’s Violator, Music for the Masses stands as an early masterpiece of the synth-pop genre. Cinquemani

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Cocteau Twins, Treasure

No, you still can’t make out a damn thing that Elizabeth Frazer sings on Treasure. But you don’t need to: Her rolling, ululating syllables impart the kind of feelings that verbal communication is notoriously ill-suited for, and besides, when she swoops between the extremes of her range on a devastating number like “Lorelei,” you’ll swear you’re speaking her language. Robin Guthrie’s hypnotic guitar playing, by turns majestic and muscular, is everything that dream-pop guitar should be—if not for My Bloody Valentine, maybe all it ever would be. Critics sometimes protested that the Cocteau Twins shouldn’t really be considered a rock band at all, and that’s fine by me: When “Donimo” closes the album with operatic splendor, it’s clear that they’re something far more special. Cole

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Hüsker Dü, Zen Arcade

With 1984’s Zen Arcade, Hüsker Dü married their fast and furious brand of punk with swirling psychedelica, elaborate noise arrangements, and a newfound melodious side. Bob Mould’s cacophonous solos and treble-heavy riffing are raw and intense, while his sullen acoustic jams are gorgeous in their own melancholic way, and he even gets raise-your-fist anthemic with “Turn on the News.” With all this sonic shapeshifting, and an exhausting 70 minutes on the clock, Zen Arcade is something of an operatic frenzy, one where violent forays of rapid-fire punk are set to eccentric and elaborate structures. Jones

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Sonic Youth, Sister

Overshadowed both critically and commercially by its successor, Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth’s Sister is the last great punk album of the Reagan era and the first great pop album to emerge from the American underground. The chiming, bending guitars of “Schizophrenia” interject a gorgeous haze into a sad, understated song about a friend’s crazy sister that immediately signaled a new era in the band’s development. Across the album, tightly interwoven textures of machine noise, feedback, and distortion are balanced out by shimmering harmonics and unprecedented warmth. Sure, the album still seethes with disaffection, but the avant garde never sounded so inviting. Cole

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Kate Bush, The Dreaming

As far as 1980s female-centric performance-art-cum-mutant-pop goes, Kate Bush is the explosive sensualist against Laurie Anderson’s cool, detached yogi. Years removed from the idyllic anticipation of “This Woman’s Work,” The Dreaming is a violently singular work that places its creator’s emotions in their most natural environment: inscrutable and volatile. Each song, from the pedagogically impatient “Sat in Your Lap” to the trap-door hysterics of “Get Out of My House,” is a Joyce-worthy confluence of footnotes-to-be, and the key keeps getting tantalizingly passed between tracks via Bush’s darting tongue. Henderson