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


Grace Jones, Nightclubbing

In go Iggy Pop, David Bowie, the Police, Bill Withers, and Astor Piazzola. Out comes Grace Jones as though none of the others ever existed. (All right, Jones’s dubby take on “Use Me” is no patch on Withers’s original. A minor chink in the armor.) With backing from Sly & Robbie, Jones’s Nightclubbing performs double duty, building up the singer’s legend even as it makes attempts at deconstructing it (as in “Art Groupie,” in which she enunciates “Touch me in a sculpture” so that it sounds like “Touch penis sculpture”). But the boogie masterpiece “Pull Up to the Bumper” removes such academicism from the table entirely. Henderson

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


The Replacements, Let It Be

In the rough and raw underbelly of hardcore punk, naming your LP after a seminal Beatles album and peppering it with coarse ballads and painfully intimate moments is certainly a brave move. But that’s exactly what Paul Westerberg and company did on Let It Be, and that decision puts the accent mark on what is their strongest work by some stretch: “Unsatisfied” is a jagged ballad on which Westerberg howls his lungs out, while “Androgynous” is a tender, heart-on-the-sleeve piano number that finds the singer in equally gripping form. Make no mistake: The Replacements still fulfill their obligation to exhilarating punk jams, and the band is at their anthemic best on “I Will Dare,” but the album’s really remarkable moments arrive whenever the group dares to leave their hardcore comfort zone. Jones

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


The Jesus and Mary Chain, Psychocandy

Shaping fuzz into a potent, tactile instrument, the Jesus and Mary Chain helped establish the style of distortion-laden fogginess that would eventually become the foundation for shoegaze. Possibly their most amorphously detailed album, and probably their best, Psychocandy buries snide and snotty vocals in a rolling sea of noise, an enormously effective approach that’s still being imitated today. The musical backing may be spare, like the faint guitar shimmer and lonely hi-hat smack of “Just Like Honey,” or it may be dense, the roiling chaos of “In a Hole,” but it remains effective throughout, leaving each song encased in a thick viscous shell. Cataldo

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction

The Sunset Strip didn’t spew the decade’s noisiest music. It just produced the most popular noise. In some cases, the sound disguised an iffy supply of fury. Despite initially boasting what would’ve been one of the most nasty-as-we-wanna-be covers ever attached to a diamond-selling blockbuster (Robert Williams’s comic-strip panel depicting the aftermath of robot rape) before caving into retailer pressure, and beyond such liquor-soaked speed-metal anthems as “You’re Crazy” and “Welcome to the Jungle,” the bleeding heart at the center of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” proves Axl Rose was always one good bender away from getting all “November Rain” on us. Henderson

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Pixies, Surfer Rosa

The scary thing about Surfer Rosa is that the songs are so damn catchy you’re in danger of not only deciphering the initially incomprehensible lyrics, but of singing them out loud. Which is great, since “Bone Machine” has a memorable bridge about being molested by a priest, “Broken Face” is yet another terrific Pixies song dedicated to the inbred, and “Cactus” finds Black Francis missing his lover and wishing to slip into one of her wet, bloody dresses. But the hooks are as grotesquely powerful as the imagery, and against all odds the Pixies created some bizarrely poignant moments in unexpected places (like Fancis’s trippy scuba fantasy, “Where Is My Mind?,” and Kim Deal’s “Gigantic” ode to the well-endowed), a fact which owes, more often than not, to Joey Santiago’s endless supply of otherworldly guitar leads. Cole

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A.

The ironic misinterpretation of Born in the U.S.A.’s title track has been well-documented, and persists as a rather inane flap as it pertains to the album’s real import: Bruce Springsteen’s transformative leap from bar muse to blue-collar rock god. Born in the U.S.A. is chock-full of working-class anthems that fueled that metamorphosis, from burners like “I’m on Fire” to the wistful “My Hometown,” where the Boss sings of old Buicks, racial tensions, and the sting of economic downturn. Rounded out by the mixture of sex, magnetism, and poetry in “Dancing in the Dark,” Born in the U.S.A. propelled Springsteen not only into a pop-radio staple in the ’80s, but cast him as the voice of the disillusioned American everyman. Liedel

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Pixies, Doolittle

Doolittle is their manifesto for ’90s alt rock: dark, offbeat, slow-churning, humorously grim, and peppered with the kind of loud-soft dynamics that exemplify both the Pixies’ sound and the countless bands that followed in their wake. Arriving in 1989, Doolittle served as vanguard for modern rock both sonically and tonally, as evidenced by the descriptive, almost metaphysical nature of the band’s lyrics. When Black Francis screams, “God is seven!,” on “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” there’s little doubt about the gravity of the message—or where Billy Corgan found his inspiration. Liedel

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Madonna, Madonna

Few would deny that Madonna went on to pursue deeper goals than the simple pop perfection of Madonna. But any debut album that yields a “Holiday” and a “Lucky Star,” both released as singles in the span of two consecutive days (albeit an ocean apart), is still pretty untouchable. Wistful and eager to please, Madonna’s sparkling ditties aren’t so much “post-disco” as they are “disco ain’t going nowhere, so shut up and dance.” Like a heavenly body atop the surging underground currents of every synth-heavy dance subgenre that preceded her, Madonna’s cultural co-opting is nothing if not fervent. Henderson

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Eric B. & Rakim, Paid in Full

Many would argue that the late ’80s was the absolute pinnacle for hip-hop, and it’s difficult to argue against Paid in Full being a benchmark of the era. Rakim’s methodical and meticulous approach to his delivery provides a stark contrast to that of his contemporaries, while his mastery of internal rhymes underlines his status as a superbly technical wordsmith. For his part, Rakim didn’t need to rely on macho jargon and trite gangsterisms for his self-aggrandizing sermons; he would simply reel off line after line of spellbinding wordplay, influencing an entire decade of tongue-twisting MCs in the process. Jones

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Janet Jackson, Control

The story goes that Papa Jackson warned producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, former members of the Time, not to make his daughter sound too much like Prince on her breakthrough album, Control. Not only did they fail, but they failed spectacularly. The keyboards and synth melodies on tracks like “What Have You Done for Me Lately” and “You Can Be Mine” are quintessential Minneapolis pop, but Jam and Lewis also previewed what would become their signature industrial beats and spliced-and-diced vocal treatments (which, it should be noted, is all the rage in indie pop today) on the title track. Janet would go on to release more “important” albums (namely Rhythm Nation and The Velvet Rope), but track for track, Control is still her strongest. Her albums would get longer as her waistline got slimmer, but Control boasts little padding. Cinquemani