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


Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation

It’s hard to think of a band that matched malice with infectiousness as well as Sonic Youth, that pulled of this tricky balance most adroitly on Daydream Nation, the shining capstone on a strong decade of experimentation. Combining consummate songcraft with the furthest reaches of noise, they end up with withering digressions like “Silver Rocket,” which derails its hooky, slithering guitar line to plunge into a two-minute-long sea of noise, and “Total Trash,” which recalls Television with its rambling, seven-minute-plus exploration of a looping melody, buttressed by increasingly frantic walls of noise. Cataldo

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man

Pop goes Leonard Cohen and it soars. I discovered this poet prophet through McCabe & Mrs. Miller, his deadpan baritone passing throughout Robert Altman’s dreamy film like opium smoke. The almost synth-pop production of this 1988 masterwork, arguably his finest next to his stunning debut, would seem to be a terrible match for his customarily dense and nuanced lyricism. But Cohen has always been a man of many hats, and here he ballsily suffuses his pained declarations of romantic and spiritual desperation with a wryness that’s matched almost subversively beat for beat by the sugariness of the background vocals. With great courage and conviction, the man turns a sermon into a cabaret. Gonzalez

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses

In hindsight, The Stone Roses is essentially a lithe and sinuous greatest-hits album, a string of would-be singles blaring from the speakers of a Madchester baggy disco, dominating dance floors still reeling from the acid-house scene and the new-romantic era. Mani’s thundering basslines and John Squire’s kaleidoscopic guitar parts keep the sound firmly rooted in indie-rock territory, their anthemic refrains setting a number of Britpop trends in a heartbeat, while John Leckie’s psychedelic production won over pill-popping ravers en masse. The Stone Roses is an unashamedly British album, a love letter to its working classes and an ultraprecise predictor of what was on the horizon for Her Majesty’s airwaves in the ’90s. Jones

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


David Bowie, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) catches David Bowie on the cusp of international megastardom and is widely regarded as the glam-rock icon’s last truly great album. Bowie bridles the experimentation of his Berlin trilogy and channels those synth flourishes and off-kilter guitar licks into one of the decade’s quirkiest pop albums. “Ashes to Ashes” is absolutely mesmerizing, and “Fashion” almost sets the tone for the entire decade by itself, and even beyond these singles are countless examples of utterly flawless pop. That it’s difficult to even notice Brian Eno’s absence is a testament to how convincing this madcap milieu really is, and affirms Bowie’s reputation as the maharishi of avant-garde pop. Jones

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Tom Waits, Swordfishbones

At the turn of the decade, lowlife laureate Tom Waits was well on his way to becoming an industry-vetted, Hollywood-normalized singer-songwriter. Think Randy Newman if Randy Newman wrote songs about hookers. Swordfishbones marks the beginning of a genius period, which, judged by last year’s Bad As Me, isn’t winding down anytime soon. Here, he trades barroom ballads for disorienting, percussive songs that sound like a junkyard come to life, and on “Down, Down, Down” and “16 Shells from a 30.6” he unleashes the gravely howl that would become his trademark. Waits was always a reliable guide to the desperate underbelly of American city life, but with Swordfishtrombones, it became clear that this was only the first stop on an itinerary eventually destined for hell. Cole

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Kraftwerk, Computer World

In the beginning there was light, said Genesis. Then came apes and space travel, an odyssey immortalized by Stanley Kubrick. And somewhere between there were computers, their rise the theme of the maximalist Computer World, the eighth and last great album by chilly electronic geek-teurs Kraftwerk. Consistent with the pioneering German band’s body of work, the album is an exploration of the effects of technology on modern urban living, which will sound as torturous as a Todd Haynes film lecture to someone who’s never actually heard Kraftwerk’s music. Across seven gorgeously lurching and exacting tracks, we are made to understand the angst and hilarity of our inextricable, personality-warping ties to the computer. This prescient sonic landscape still leaves one feeling with the sensation of having swum through a prickly but immaculate ocean of 0s and 1s. Gonzalez

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


U2, The Joshua Tree

Never has an album synthesized angst, spirituality, love, and politics in just its first three tracks as well as The Joshua Tree, the only U2 album that seriously threatens Achtung Baby as the band’s greatest accomplishment. With “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “With or Without You,” three of the band’s most aching, impassioned songs back to back to back, the band became lords and emperors of anthemic ’80s rock. Perhaps on a more meaningful level, though, the universality of The Joshua Tree completed U2’s evolution from Irish ruffians to globe-straddling rock heroes. “Outside is America,” Bono sings on “Bullet the Blue Sky,” prescient to the fact that with the album’s astounding success, U2 no longer belonged to Dublin, but the world. Liedel

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


New Order, Power, Corruption & Lies

From the instantly recognizable surf-guitar riff that opens “Age of Consent” to the poignant, observational lyrics of “Leave Me Alone,” New Order’s second album finds the band working with broader sonic and emotional palettes than on their debut. Movement was apiece with Joy Division’s dismal worldview (the suicide of a dear friend does not often prompt a positive reassessment of one’s lot in life), but Power, Corruption & Lies marks the real beginning of New Order’s career. Sweet pop songs like “The Village” are juxtaposed by beautiful, melancholy compositions, none of which stand out as elegantly as “Your Silent Face.” With Bernard Sumner’s fragile, boyish voice giving the album a human center, the dance-rock pioneers had crafted their first perfect pop record. Cole

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Cyndi Lauper, She’s So Unusual

An absolutely peerless collection of profound pop jewels that achingly and euphorically speak to the heart and soul of a girl grappling with loneliness, carnality, being down and out, the pressures of growing up, knowing that you have to even though you don’t want to, and the paradoxes of being a girl in a society that doesn’t respect you. And maybe it’s because Cyndi Lauper is a girl that the album still doesn’t get the respect it deserves from chauvinistic rock critics that would hide her away from the rest of the world—or maybe it’s because two of its greatest songs are covers, which trivializes her outstanding retaining of Prince’s pronouns for her take on “When You Were Mine,” one of pop music’s most radical sleights of hand. Like the fluttering production of “All Through the Night,” there are some mightily empowered hooks here that still send shivers up my spine, that once made me believe that this wonderful kook really could walk in the sun. Gonzalez

The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s


Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes

Folk-punk pioneer Gordon Gano wrote the songs on Violent Femmes’ 1983 debut when he was still in high school, which goes a long way toward explaining why the songs possess such an authentic sense of teen angst. Of course, Gano’s creaky voice aids in the image of a pimply social outcast scribbling in his notebook late at night or in the back of a classroom. Violent Femmes is horny, cheeky, and audacious, but it’s also musically sophisticated and deftly executed, with infectious hooks and harmonies (“Please Do Not Go”) and some of the slickest acoustic ax riffs and tightest rhythm sections (“Blister in the Sun,” “Kiss Off”) put to tape. Cinquemani