Without doubt, my #1 album of the decade.

Introduction:  I once had the thought of doing a Top 100 Albums of All-Time post.  But, the problem with that is that, aside from the large swaths of music that I don’t listen to that would have earned me crap from various people who like that music (and since this is an 80’s post, I’ll go with Prince fans as an example), there is the fact that since leaving Borders in 2009 (where we sold music) the new music I have listened to (other than a few artists) has gone drastically down.  So, there will never be a post of my Top 100 Albums.  I will give a brief list here though for a few other decades.  Please note that these lists are all studio albums only, no live or compilation albums.  For top examples of live albums or compilation albums from the 80’s, please look at my original 80’s music post.

Top 20 Albums of the 60’s

  1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band  (The Beatles, 1967)  –  #2 all-time
  2. Pet Sounds  (The Beach Boys, 1966)
  3. Abbey Road  (The Beatles, 1969)
  4. Highway 61 Revisited  (Bob Dylan, 1965)
  5. The Velvet Underground and Nico  (The Velvet Underground, 1967)
  6. Bringing It All Back Home  (Bob Dylan, 1965)
  7. Are You Experienced  (The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1967)
  8. Revolver  (The Beatles, 1966)
  9. Tommy  (The Who, 1969)
  10. Led Zeppelin II  (Led Zeppelin, 1969)
  11. Let It Bleed  (Rolling Stones, 1969)
  12. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan  (Bob Dylan, 1963)
  13. The Doors  (The Doors, 1967)
  14. The Beatles  (The Beatles, 1968)
  15. Bookends  (Simon & Garfunkel, 1968)
  16. Buffalo Springfield Again  (Buffalo Springfield, 1967)
  17. Green River  (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969)
  18. A Saucerful of Secrets  (Pink Floyd, 1968)
  19. Surrealistic Pillow  (Jefferson Airplane, 1967)
  20. Rubber Soul  (The Beatles, 1965)

note:  There’s a bit of a break in quality between #7 and #8 as well as one again between #16 and #17.  The Top 16 would almost certainly be in my Top 100 and there’s a good chance all 20 would be there.  It’s not a coincidence that only one album comes from before 1965 when The Beatles started redefining the whole concept of what an album was.

Top 25 Albums of the 70’s

  1. Dark Side of the Moon  (Pink Floyd, 1973)  –  #1 all-time
  2. Born to Run  (Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, 1975)  –  #5 all-time
  3. London Calling  (The Clash, 1979)
  4. Blood on the Tracks  (Bob Dylan, 1975)
  5. The Wall  (Pink Floyd, 1979)
  6. Horses  (Patti Smith, 1975)
  7. Loaded  (The Velvet Underground, 1970)
  8. Rust Never Sleeps  (Neil Young & Crazy Horse, 1979)
  9. John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band  (John Lennon, 1970)
  10. Led Zeppelin IV  (Led Zeppelin, 1971)
  11. The Clash  (The Clash, 1977)
  12. Wish You Were Here  (Pink Floyd, 1975)
  13. Hotel California  (The Eagles, 1976)
  14. Tonight’s the Night  (Neil Young & Crazy Horse, 1975)
  15. Easter  (Patti Smith, 1978)
  16. Darkness on the Edge of Town  (Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, 1978)
  17. Who’s Next  (The Who, 1971)
  18. Bridge Over Troubled Water  (Simon & Garfunkel, 1970)
  19. Unknown Pleasures  (Joy Division, 1979)
  20. Still Crazy After All These Years  (Paul Simon, 1975)
  21. Houses of the Holy  (Led Zeppelin, 1973)
  22. Cosmo’s Factory  (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1970)
  23. Imagine  (John Lennon, 1971)
  24. Running on Empty  (Jackson Browne, 1978)
  25. Boston  (Boston, 1976)

note:  It annoys me no end that there is no album from the year I was born (1974) that even comes remotely close to the list.  Likewise, there is a distinct lack of great novels from my year as well.  At least I’ve got Chinatown.
note:  This one was much harder than all the others even though there are more on the list.  Going through chronologically, once I hit 1979 and started adding a bunch of albums, what ended up on the cutting room floor included Rumours, What’s Going On, Blue, Wave, The Stranger and Slowhand and I ended up with no albums from The Police, Van Halen, Talking Heads or Tom Petty.  In fact, New Wave pretty much got pushed to the 80’s.  The Cure got hosed a little because do I include Three Imaginary Boys here or go with Boys Don’t Cry and put in the 80’s list?  In the end, it ended up on neither.  I think this entire list might end up in my Top 100 but definitely the Top 20 would all be there.

Top 10 Albums of the 00’s

  1. The Rising  (Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, 2002)
  2. American Idiot  (Green Day, 2004)
  3. Kid A  (Radiohead, 2000)
  4. All That You Can’t Leave Behind  (U2, 2000)
  5. One Beat  (Sleater-Kinney, 2002)
  6. Oh, Inverted World  (The Shins, 2001)
  7. Castaways and Cutouts  (The Decembrists, 2002)
  8. Under Rug Swept  (Alanis Morissette, 2002)
  9. Hot Fuss  (The Killers, 2004)
  10. Riot Act  (Pearl Jam, 2002)

note:  In spite of what this might look like, I did not suddenly stop listening to music in 2004.  I do happen to think that 2002 was a magnificent year for albums.  There were a couple of later albums at #11 (All the Roadrunning) and #12 (21st Century Breakdown), the latter of which Veronica feels would be in her Top 3 for the decade.

Top 5 Albums of the 10’s

  1. Wrecking Ball  (Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, 2012)
  2. Lightning Bolt  (Pearl Jam, 2013)
  3. No Cities to Love  (Sleater-Kinney, 2015)
  4. Going Out in Style  (Dropkick Murphys, 2011)
  5. Night Visions  (Imagine Dragons, 2012)

You may have noticed that there’s no list for the 90’s.  That’s because writing this post was rather enjoyable and I ended up deciding I would, in fact, do a list for the 90’s as its own post.  So you have that to look forward to.

The 80’s:

Before I get into the list itself, I would like to point out that there are certain artists that I like a lot.  That doesn’t mean that I think everything they do is brilliant, but it does mean certain artists will be repeated in this list and one in particular looms above all others and if you can’t guess who it is, you haven’t been looking very hard at the other decades listed above.

Before the list, I will also mention some honorary mentions that I considered for this list (or were even part of the list, then got cut for one reason or another).  In rough chronological order (by year, but not by release date within year), here are the honorary mentions:  Duke (Genesis), Double Fantasy (John Lennon & Yoko Ono), Peter Gabriel III, Zenyatta Mondatta (The Police), The Pretenders, Ghost in the Machine (The Police), She’s So Unusual (Cyndi Lauper), Speaking in Tongues (Talking Heads), Ocean Rain (Echo & the Bunnymen), Reckoning (R.E.M.), 1984 (Van Halen), Reckless (Bryan Adams), Dead Man’s Party (Oingo Boingo), The Dream of the Blue Turtles (Sting), Songs from the Big Chair (Tears for Fears), The Bridge (Billy Joel), 5150 (Van Halen), Skylarking (XTC), Music for the Masses (Depeche Mode), A Momentary Lapse of Reason (Pink Floyd), Strangeways Here We Come (The Smiths), Watermark (Enya), Rattle and Hum (U2), Pump (Aerosmith), Indigo Girls, Mystery Girl (Roy Orbison), Full Moon Fever (Tom Petty).

The Top 50 Albums

#50  –  Pretty Hate Machine  (Nine Inch Nails, 1989)

Not originally in the post because I had it in my head that it was released in 1990, but it was released in October of 1989 and thus made this list.  I actually think this is a superior album to The Downward Spiral, the album that made NIN such a part of college experience for people my age.  While “Down in It” and “Head Like a Hole” are the most well-known songs, don’t miss out on “Terrible Lie”.  This is probably the only album on this list that was ever out of print but that’s because of an issue between Reznor and the label, not because of a lack of sales.

#49  –  Bad  (Michael Jackson, 1987)

Michael Jackson only released two albums in the 80’s.  In spite of that, he had 16 Top 10 singles (two of which were from his 1979 album Off the Wall) and 8 #1 singles.  Bad could never live up to what Thriller had done but in terms of singles, it was actually more successful, with five consecutive #1 singles (Thriller only had three #1’s).  Yet, what to me is the best song, “Smooth Criminal” didn’t hit #1.  This album, like the one before it, is compulsively danceable, but it also has a strong social message (notably with “Man in the Mirror”).  It ranked at #200 in Rolling Stone‘s Top 500 Albums of All-Time.

#48  –  Crowded House  (Crowded House, 1986)

Do albums ever bring you back in time?  This one does for me.  In some ways, every time I hear the album, it is the summer of 1993, I am up at my parents house, listening to this in the living room, borrowed from the library (in the living room because my parents had a CD player and I didn’t) and I’m reading It.  I didn’t start listening to this album until 1993 for two reasons, both of which wouldn’t happen today thanks to the Internet.  The first is that I couldn’t find out the name of the song “Don’t Dream It’s Over”.  The second, is that even after I found it the name, I thought it was by Tears for Fears.  So it wasn’t until 1993 when I was finally able to identify the album I wanted and I when I listened to it that first time, I was blown away by the first song, “Mean to Me” and I never looked back.

#47  –  Murmur  (R.E.M., 1983)

Already the third debut album on this list, but it will be awhile before you hit another one.  For many people this is actually the definitive R.E.M. album (you will see that this isn’t even close to the case with me).  It defined the kind of sound that R.E.M. would perfect, the college rock jangling guitar.  This is a rare album in the Top 50 that technically has no songs in my Top 250 because the version of “Radio Free Europe” on the album is, to me, far inferior to the original single that would reappear on Eponymous.  To me, the most under-appreciated track on the album is “We Walk”.  Ranked in the Top 200 by Rolling Stone.

#46  –  The Queen is Dead  (The Smiths, 1986)

Probably the most highly regarded of The Smiths albums and NME once declared it the greatest album of all-time.  What makes it tricky for Smiths albums, of course, is that most of the singles you know and love weren’t on the albums.  This one does have three solid singles (including “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”) and has my favorite Smiths album track, “Cemetry Gates”.  It also has “Frankly Mr. Shankley” which at least one person I knew at Powell’s declared the worst song ever from a great band.  Rolling Stone put this album in the Top 250 in their 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time.

#45  –  Dare to Be Stupid  (Weird Al Yankovic, 1985)

While many albums in the 90’s, I can tell you when I first heard them (either because I bought them or I remember first hearing them), this is the only album in the 80’s that I can pinpoint a specific date when I first heard it (Crowded House I can give a general date but I didn’t hear it until 1993).  I first heard this album on 5 August 1985, six weeks after the album was released.  I had known Weird Al mainly for “Eat It” but I went with my mother to San Francisco to visit family friends.  One boy in the family, Andy McManus, had gotten this tape and knowing I liked Star Wars, knew I would like “Yoda”.  His brother Jim played it in the tape deck of his car when we went to the A’s game on 5 August and I know it was that night because it was the night before the strike (which only ended up lasting two days) and I remember that so distinctly because, knowing baseball history, we started a chant in the crowd of “Three strikes, you’re out”, referencing the 1972 and 1981 strikes.  I listened to the album the whole time I was in SF and loved it and would later make it one of the first tapes I would ever buy myself.  “Yoda” is probably the best known song on the album (even though it was never actually a single) but “One More Minute” is one of the funniest songs ever written.

#44  –  Let it Be  (The Replacements, 1984)

This is one of the few albums I have bought without having heard a single song on it.  For years I had been buying vinyl on the cheap so that when I got around to making my definitive greatest hits tapes of numerous music artists I would know what I wanted on it.  But once I got a cd burner, that all changed and I started gathering things.  At the time, the library had several Replacements cds and my friend Joe had Tim but I couldn’t find Let it Be.  Yet, from everything I had read, it was supposed to be the definitive Replacements album.  So I simply bought it, figuring I liked them enough that it had to be the right move.  And it was.  While there is no single song on the album as good as “Can’t Hardly Wait” or “Within Your Reach”, this is the definitive album for the group.  When I would eventually burn the cd (which, to be fair, included some of Paul Westerberg’s solo work, as I often do that), seven of the eleven songs from this album would end up making the cut, far more than any other Replacements album.  With songs like “Androgynous” and “Gary’s Got a Boner”, there are few albums that so perfectly capture the angst of growing up.

#43  –  Brotherhood  (New Order, 1986)

As was mentioned in the original post, New Order was a band that didn’t put their singles on their albums.  They went into the studios to record singles and they went in to record albums.  Those were separate artistic endeavors.  But this album spawned “Bizarre Love Triangle”, one of the great all-time synth-pop songs.  It ends with “Every Little Counts”, one of the great closing songs of the decade and one of their most beautiful songs.  While I like New Order a lot, I definitely prefer their singles to their albums.  This is the one where they come through the strongest.

#42  –  Sports  (Huey Lewis and the News, 1983)

This album only has nine songs on it and four of them went on to be Top 10 hits (“Heart and Soul”, “I Want a New Drug”, “The Heart of Rock and Roll”, “If This is It”) and all of them deserved it.  It’s one of the most relaxing, feel good, kick back and relax and enjoy some rock and roll songs albums.  It even has a nice humorous song as one of the few that wasn’t released as single (“You Crack Me Up”).  If there is a weakness in the album it’s that it doesn’t contain either of Lewis’ best two songs of the decade (“The Power of Love”, “Do You Believe in Love”) and that hardly qualifies.

#41  –  No Jacket Required  (Phil Collins, 1985)

And here is where I lose Veronica because she hates Phil Collins.  But this album and the songs on it are so fantastic.  It also spawned four Top 10 hits, one of which is among my favorite songs of all-time (“Take Me Home”) and another of which is one of my favorite videos of all-time (“Don’t Lose My Number”) and those aren’t even the two songs that hit #1 (“One More Night”, “Sussudio”).  The album is also very deep, with great songs like “Long Long Way to Go” and “Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore”.  It even has a fantastic b-side that would later be included on the CD release (“We Said Hello Goodbye”).  It’s worth remembering that Phil Collins was the lead singer on a Top 10 hit every year from 1982-1991 either solo or as part of Genesis and the success of this album was a major reason why.  In an interesting career twist for a drummer, this is also the album where he started using drum machines but that was counter-balanced by his use of horns as well.

#40  –  Lincoln  (They Might Be Giants, 1988)

And here’s where I get Veronica back with one of her favorite bands.  The first TMBG album was quite good but was also a bit uneven.  This one cuts back a little on the silliness and produces some fantastic singles, including “They’ll Need a Crane”, “Purple Toupee” and most especially “Ana Ng”.  Both sides start off with great rocking songs (“Ana Ng”, “The World’s Address”) and end with a bit more of a mellow tune (“Pencil Rain”, “Kiss Me, Son of God”).  But the maturity in these songs (including “Stand on Your Own Head”, one of my favorite of their songs) would help set the stage for Flood, which would be one of the best albums of the 90’s.

#39  –  Some Great Reward  (Depeche Mode, 1984)

Back before the internet, certain things could massively influence what music you heard.  For instance, growing up in Wisconsin and lacking older siblings, Veronica basically never heard any Depeche Mode.  I, on the other hand, grew up in LA with KROQ and an older sister who was very into British alternative bands.  I couldn’t escape the song “People are People” in 1984 and 1985 and was stunned when I was older to learn that it wasn’t even a Top 10 hit.  I also listened to “Blasphemous Rumours” a lot, partially because my sister and my cousin and I actually made a video to the song using my uncle’s video camera.  And those two songs, while brilliant, only crack the surface of this album, from one of the most beautiful love songs ever written (“Somebody”) to the song that gives the album it’s title (“Lie to Me”) to the fantastic playful “Master and Servant”.

#38  –  An Innocent Man  (Billy Joel, 1983)

This is one of those albums (like Bad) where it’s hard to point out a strong album track, not because there are weak songs on the album but because so many songs on the album were released as singles.  Six of the songs were released in the U.S. as singles (the lowest of which hit #27) and a seventh was released overseas (“This Night”, one of my favorite slow dance songs).  The entire album was a tribute to the music Joel listened to while growing up and that comes through in the videos with odds to Ed Sullivan (“Tell Her About It”) and classic rock and roll (“Keeping the Faith”).  What is perhaps most amazing is that this album peaked at #4, but that’s because it had to sit behind Synchronicity andThriller which held the top spot for 32 of the first 36 weeks after this album was released.  This album of course also gave us “Uptown Girl” which was the first exposure to Christie Brinkley for a lot of boys my age and that was a big deal.

#37  –  It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back   (Public Enemy, 1988)

This was originally on the list in the first post of best debut albums until I realized it was their second album.  I was introduced to this in college by my friend Chris who used it (and Fear of a Black Planet) to insist that you couldn’t just write off hip hop no matter how much it wasn’t to your taste, that some bands transcend their genre of music.  I agreed with him then and now.  I have almost no hip hop but almost that I do have is by Public Enemy.  Rolling Stone ranked it at #48 all-time, which made it their 3rd highest album in the decade.

#36  –  Combat Rock  (The Clash, 1982)

I came up with a theory in college.  Actually, I came up with a lot of theories in college but only one of them is relevant here.  I suggested that bands that truly transform things, that transcend a genre and turn into something else don’t last because they are so built-up with inner tensions that they will explode.  The Beatles lasted eight years only because they were The Beatles as they transformed innocent fifties rock into an artistic endeavor.  The Velvet Underground helped birth art rock out of rock and roll and set the stage for many things and their first album was released only three and a half years before their last.  Nirvana, in helping to take underground garage music and merge it with the Neil Young sound exploded in five years.  Then there’s The Clash.  Yes, they made an album in 1985 and that should have qualified them for a Top 5 list in the main post but that album is missing half the band.  The Clash really lasted five years as they took the punk sound and merged it with such things as reggae and gave birth to post-punk.  This was the last real album for the Clash and their only significant one of the 80’s, though I could have included London Calling in this post since it was released in the States in January of 1980 and it would have been #2.  This album doesn’t just have two of the band’s most famous songs (“Rock the Casbah”, “Should I Stay or Should I Go”) but also their best slower song (“Straight to Hell”) and other tracks that are as powerful as anything they had done before (“Know Your Rights”, “Ghetto Defendant”).

#35  –  Faith  (George Michael, 1987)

Artists departing for solo careers can have a very different sound than when they were with their band.  Peter Gabriel was able to focus in a way he couldn’t with Genesis and thus you get “Solsbury Hill”, a truly great single from an artist that didn’t seem capable of cutting a track like that.  Sting would have more of a jazz inflection in his solo work than the reggae beat in The Police’s albums.  Now we have George Michael.  But George Michael is more like Paul Simon; both of them had been the songwriters in a duet and decided they didn’t need their partners anymore.  So, Michael would burst forth with one of the all-time top selling albums, merging his pop sensibilities with an R&B influence and teenage girls everywhere would melt (like my sister) and mothers would catch glimpses of the video for “I Want Your Sex” and be mortified (like my mother).  I have a distinct memory of watching the video in a shitty motel room in Eugene, Oregon that we were stuck in because the Dead were in town and every other motel was booked solid (19 July 1987) and my mother just about having her brain fried.  But that single, brilliant as it was, was only one part of an excellent debut album, with songs like “Faith”, “Father Figure”, “One More Try” and “Monkey” ready to burn the charts down for well over a year.  One last little bit which I don’t have anywhere else to write: I actually much prefer Listen Without Prejudice, the second solo album from Michael that I think has a more mature sound and some really great songs and I almost wrote a piece on it back in December when George Michael died.  It didn’t have the sales or reputation of Faith, but it’s an album you should listen to again because it’s brilliant.  Rolling Stone lists this among the Top 500 Albums of All-Time.

#34  –  Remain in Light  (Talking Heads, 1980)

If there’s a weakness in the theory I discussed in Combat Rock, then this is it.  What is New Wave?  Is it a definable sound?  Is it something different than what came out of post-punk?  What musical artists were part of it?  Who was the definitive artist?  In other words, if that theory is correct, who is the band whose passions couldn’t be contained and thus disintegrated.  The obvious answer is The Police, of course, but then we would have to pass over Talking Heads, perhaps the most essential New Wave band.  I could argue that The Police were a better band but Talking Heads sprung up in 1977 and their mixture of art rock with a kind of punk sensibility helped birth New Wave in the States at the same time that The Police and Elvis Costello were doing the same across the pond.  Is this the best Talking Heads album?  It’s certainly their most highly-regarded album, appearing on most lists of greatest albums and it does have their single best song, “Once in a Lifetime” (even if I prefer the live recording of it from Stop Making Sense).  All eight tracks on the album remind us that Talking Heads were always a thinking man’s band, what would happen when the really smart kids would finally decide to fuse their intellectualism with some decidedly mature and fascinating music.

#33  –  Lifes Rich Pageant  (R.E.M., 1986)

Is this the most unfairly neglected of the original albums that R.E.M. released when they were on IRS?  I put that thought forward because if you look at Eponymous, the compilation / greatest hits collection that was released to fulfill their IRS contract (and just before their debut on Warner Bros), there are 12 songs.  With five albums, that means you have two songs from each album plus two other songs (the Hib-Tone single of “Radio Free Europe” and the soundtrack song “Romance”).  But, instead, Document got three songs (which, to be fair, it deserved) and LRP only ended up with one: “Fall on Me”.  Granted, the only other single from this album is “Superman”, which is a fun song, but is a cover and is hardly indicative of the album’s strength.  The album moves between rock (the great opening back-to-back of “Begin the Begin” and “These Days”) to the beautiful (“Fall on Me”, “The Flowers of Guatemala”) to the mournful (“Swan Swan H”) and then ending with the silly (“Superman”).  This was actually the first of the IRS albums by R.E.M. that I owned and that was because I had heard so little of it and wanted to hear the rest and I have never been let down.  It might be their most under-rated album.

#32  –  Security  (Peter Gabriel, 1982)

While Peter Gabriel was still releasing albums without a title in the U.K., his American label, Geffen, said, can we put a title on this one and so, in the States and Canada, it’s called Security but you can also call it Peter Gabriel IV if you want.  This was the album that first made me notice Peter Gabriel because “Shock the Monkey” is the first video I remember.  But, while “Shock the Monkey” is a fantastic song, it’s really the rest of the album and how it works as a whole that is more important.  “Monkey” is the big song on the second side but the first side is especially strong, with the first three songs (it only has four songs) giving a deeper mood and theme than even his previous three albums with “San Jacinto”, “The Rhythm of the Heat” and “I Have the Touch”.  This is also one of the few albums on this list that was immediately followed by a live album, in this case one that contains five of these songs, so it helped make the songs even more accessible.

#31  –  Green  (R.E.M., 1988)

The album that helped R.E.M. become superstars, though it might not seem like it.  It actually charted lower than Document (though this would eventually hit double platinum and Document would only hit platinum) and, like the previous album, would have just one Top 40 hit, although it would be a Top 10 hit (“Stand”, which would go to #6).  But, with a major label behind them and a massive tour, it would help lay the groundwork for the re-envisioning of the band that would lead to their massive artistic triumphs of Out of Time and Automatic for the People, albums so successful that they would be massive sellers without a tour accompanying either album.  It was an oddity, in that it meant that for those of us too young to see them in 1989, we had to wait until 1995 and the Monster Tour to see them, at which point they were barely playing a lot of the songs we had been listening to all through college.  Which is too bad because this song bounced between the pop (“Stand”) and the rock (“Orange Crush”), between the personal (“You are the Everything”) and the political (“World Leader Pretend”).  In some ways, it doesn’t have the reputation it should because the album before it and the two following it were so incredible.  But Green deserves its place, especially since, in a weak year like 1988, it’s the best album of the year.

#30  –  Freedom  (Neil Young, 1989)

The first of back-to-back albums on this list in which classic rockers would redeem a mostly lackluster decade of work.  We’ll start with Neil Young, since this is his album.  Neil Young made nine studio albums (with three different bands, two of which were formed for just one album) and I defy you, unless you are a hardcore Young fan to name three songs that aren’t from Freedom.  Things got so bad that his own label, Geffen, sued him for making uncommercial music.  But after all that wandering, he came back to what he did best.  He focused on an album, and like his great album to end the 70’s (Rust Never Sleeps), he book-ended it with two different versions of the same song, the instant classic “Rockin’ in the Free World”, with both acoustic and electric versions.  That alone would have made it his best album of the decade, but we also have the epic social commentary in “Crime in the City”, the beauty of “Don’t Cry” and the great cover of “On Broadway”.  This would set the stage for Ragged Glory, the 1990 album with Crazy Horse that would help set the stage for grunge the next year.

#29  –  Oh Mercy  (Bob Dylan, 1989)

Dylan, like Young, had been prolific in the 80’s and this was his seventh studio album in the decade.  But, like Young, most of what he had released hadn’t really been very good.  Yes, there were occasional signs of greatness but it was in individual songs, not full albums.  But on Oh Mercy he had returned to form, whether it being political (“Political World”), personal (“Most of the Time”) or somewhere in between (“Everything is Broken”).  What was more interesting, is that while Young had always played around with his sound, Dylan’s sound had been variations of the same thing for a long time.  Yet, here, with Daniel Lanois producing, Dylan was suddenly giving us music that sounded more like it was written by U2 (probably not hurt by the fact that Dylan had worked with them on Rattle & Hum the year before).  If there’s a weakness in the album, it would only be apparent years later when “Series of Dreams” and “Dignity”, two amazing songs that didn’t make the album would be released and we could realize what this album could have been.

#28  –  In My Tribe  (10,000 Maniacs, 1987)

While two of the albums on this list would be notable for the b-sides that would be included in the cd release, with this album it’s notable what would actually be deleted off the cd.  That was “Peace Train”, the cover of the Cat Stevens song that they disowned when Stevens decided to chime in on Salman Rushdie’s fatwa.  The original EP and first two albums by 10,000 Maniacs had shown off Natalie Merchant’s odd twanging voice, their esoteric lyrics and the R.E.M. inspired sound.  But this was the album where the band came into its own and if “Peace Train” was a nice compliment to their own songs, its deletion from later pressings also allowed their own songs to shine through.  Shine through they did, because when you have an album that opens with a trio of “What’s the Matter Here”, “Hey Jack Kerouac” and “Like the Weather”, you know you’re in great shape, especially when it’s backed later on the album by songs like “Don’t Talk” and the guest appearance of Michael Stipe on vocals in “Campfire Song”.  Not the best Maniacs album because in 1992 they would release the truly amazing Our Time in Eden but it showed where the band was going and what potential they had.

#27  –  Building the Perfect Beast  (Don Henley, 1984)

I remember the Rolling Stone Album Guide calling this the perfect pop album.  I found that confusing at the time both because I actually prefer The End of the Innocence (see below) but also because I think this is a rock album.  But that doesn’t change that this is an excellent album.  In fact, Don Henley released only three albums in the 80’s and I have owned all of them for over 20 years and continue to listen to them time and time again.  I feel like what they meant by “pop” is that this album, with it’s bevy of Top 40 hits (“The Boys of Summer”, “All She Wants to Do is Dance”, “Not Enough Love in This World”, “Sunset Grill”) is perfectly suited for rising up the charts.  But it’s more interesting than just a collection of hit singles.  It’s got the pulsating beat of the title track, fascinating songs like “You Can’t Make Love” and “You’re Not Drinking Enough” and even one of the best b-sides of the decade added in for the cd release (“A Month of Sundays”).  What all three Henley albums also do is add in talented musicians to help back up Henley’s rock and pop sensibilities.  His first album (which didn’t make my Top 50) made use of Danny Kortchmar, J.D. Souther and Steve Lukather (from Toto) and that was just on guitar.  It also had backing vocals from his then girlfriend Maren Jensen (yes, the same Maren Jensen).  This album would have Kortchmar co-writing most of the songs (and playing on almost every track), would use most of the Heartbreakers as well as Randy Newman and Belinda Carlisle.

#26  –  Hearts and Bones  (Paul Simon, 1983)

This is quite possibly my pick for the most under-appreciated album of the decade.  Part of that is because Graceland came along in 1986 and people (rightfully) worshipped it.  But part of it was that this album was just not that successful.  In fact, my first brush with the album didn’t leave me that impressed.  When I joined BMG, like every person did when I was in college (because you could get 8 cds and then quit without buying any more) one of the cds I ordered was Negotiations and Love Songs, a Paul Simon compilation.  But the compilation was too mellow and later I would get rid of it.  It had three songs from this album but that left me with the notion of an almost lethargic album.  Later in college, after I got the box set Paul Simon 1964/1993 and heard “The Late Great Johnny Ace” and was blown away by how the music changed through the song and the way the song moved me I took a chance and got Hearts and Bones.  It was then that I realized how complex the album was, from the single that opens it, “Allergies”, a fun and rocking song to the two very different versions of “Think Too Much” (to this day I have trouble deciding which is better because they’re both so damn good and yet so different) and that the mellow songs from the compilation fit in as pieces of a larger whole.  Most notable, of course, was “Train in the Distance”, which gave the compilation its title with one of the most moving, but painfully true lines of the decade: “Negotiations and love songs are often mistaken for one and the same.”

#25  –  Kick  (INXS, 1987)

In some ways, I think that Kick works well this close to Building the Perfect Beast because they fit together in my mind.  Both albums are great popular albums that spawned an array of Billboard hits.  Yet, in both cases, in spite of the critical acclaim (and they both are acclaimed in my mind as they both make the Top 27 for the decade), it is the follow-up album that I find to be a greater artistic work.  I mention that here because while Don Henley’s follow up came out in 1989 and appears later in the list, the follow-up from INXS, X, came out in 1990 and won’t get a full description here.  Nonetheless, to me, it is the highlight of their work, most especially the song “The Stairs”, which does just about everything I would want in a song (it was also the first album I ever owned on cd because my brother didn’t pay attention to the fact that I didn’t have a cd player and bought it for me for Christmas on cd instead of cassette).  But, back to the album at hand, which is Kick, one of the most successful of the decade and a fantastic work in its own right.  With most albums, it can be difficult to find a favorite song (here I go with “Never Tear Us Apart”, though there are definitely days when I think of “The Loved One” instead) but easy to find a least favorite.  Most albums, even great ones, have a song that just doesn’t seem to be up to snuff.  But with Kick, I am hard pressed to find one.  It always comes down to those last three songs, possibly the least well known songs on the album “Kick”, “Calling All Nations” and “Tiny Daggers”.  And yet, every time I listen to them, I find myself really enjoying all three songs and I think, well maybe “Devil Inside” or “Mystify” is really the weak link and that’s crazy.  There is no weak link in this album, start to finish, it is one of the most polished, easy to listen to albums of the entire decade.  If no song reaches the heights of “The Stairs”, no song, even for a second, fails to satisfy.

#24  –  Appetite for Destruction  (Guns N’ Roses, 1987)

Has any band every been so successful with less of a discography?  GnR released three albums, an ep, an album of cover songs and then, over a decade later, another album that’s missing most of the band and still managed to sell in the area of 100 million records.  It all starts here with one of the most, if not the most successful debut album of all-time.  The band was fronted by a hyper-active little drowned rat who liked to get in screaming matches with critics, with fans and with his own band members and a guitarist who was so ugly that he made Jimmy Page look handsome.  But in the conflict between the band members (and there was a lot), they gave energy to their songs.  How many albums, let alone debut albums, start off with a guitar riff as amazing as the one in “Welcome to the Jungle”, a song that perfectly sets the scene for everything about the band.  And it wasn’t just the guitar playing or fantastic drumming.  What would the song be without such a memorable line as “Welcome to the jungle, it gets worse here everyday”?  And that’s not even the best song on the album, given that this album also has “Sweet Child o’ Mine”, which has some of the best guitar playing ever heard outside of Clapton and Hendrix.  Even two hits wouldn’t make for a great album and this album has a third one (“Paradise City”) not to mention some of the band’s most memorable other songs like “Mr. Brownstone” (about Slash’s heroin addiction, a very different song from “Running to Stand Still”, another 1987 song about heroin) or “Nightrain”.  Guns wouldn’t last for long (at least not as a real band) but between this and the two Use Your Illusion albums, it would be a very good and memorable ride.  Ranked #61 all-time by Rolling Stone which places it 4th in the decade.  From this point up, all of these albums would almost certainly make my Top 100 all-time.

#23  –  Boy  (U2, 1980)

If you want to write off my U2 fandom and move GnR up one notch to the best debut album of the decade, be my guest.  But I’ll stick with Boy, the album that helped define what the sound of 80’s alternative music would be as everyone, in the shadow of London Calling, made the transition from punk to post-punk.  Rolling Stone perhaps summed it up in their Top 500 Albums: “Too ingenuous for punk, too unironic for New Wave, U2 arrived on Boy as big time dreamers with the ambition to back it up.”  Perhaps what most personifies the sound and idea of U2 is the very first song on this, their very first album: ” I Will Follow”, which has continued to resonate for almost 30 years now and is still a fan favorite.

#22  –  Black Celebration  (Depeche Mode, 1986)

There is no question that I have this band ranked higher for the decade than almost anyone else.  Most people, I suspect, wouldn’t have a Depeche Mode album in the Top 100 and here I have two in the Top 50 (and I originally had three when I did my first draft of the list).  This isn’t quite the definitive Depeche Mode album (like several other musical artists on here (They Might Be Giants, INXS, George Michael) I actually think their best album is from 1990) but it’s close.  It’s certainly the one that most straddles the line between the synth-pop band that was first formed under the guiding hand of Vince Clarke and the mope rock purveyors that would eventually come out of the darker, deeper song-writing of Martin Gore.  When I saw Depeche Mode in concert in November of 1993, I knew Violator, Music for the Masses, Some Great Reward and the songs highlighted on Catching Up with Depeche Mode but didn’t know almost any of the songs on this album.  I started listening to it heavily afterwards because of the amazing performance of “A Question of Lust” from that concert, which would emerge as one of my favorite Depeche Mode songs and lead me towards some of the other great songs on this album, from “Fly on the Windscreen” to “Stripped” to the title track.

#21  –  True Blue  (Madonna, 1986)

While I worked on my novel sleeps now the angels over the course of over 20 years, some of the things that appeared in it when it appeared on this blog were written quite recently before it was published.  One of those things was my decision that True Blue would be the favorite album of Michelle and that it would play into a scene where her daughter plays “Open Your Heart”.  I can absolutely believe that for a female my age, this would be their favorite album of all-time.  I bought this album when I was in college because I had owned The Immaculate Collection since almost the day it was released but that was missing “True Blue”, one of my absolute favorite Madonna songs.  I think this album is under-appreciated because it wasn’t the album that helped to make her a star and it isn’t her magnum opus.  It’s just a fantastic album where over half the songs were Top 5 hits (“True Blue”, “Papa Don’t Preach”, “Open Your Heart”, “Live to Tell”, “La Isla Bonita”) and four solid album tracks that back them up.  Like a Prayer may be the more artistic work but if I want to just sit back and listen to Madonna and enjoy it, I am more likely to actually put in True Blue.

#20  –  The Unforgettable Fire  (U2, 1984)

I remember finding this in a book of the 50 Worst Albums Ever Made or some crap like that and it made me immediately put down the book.  It’s hard to justify any book that thinks this album, with the two best songs U2 has ever recorded, two of the best songs of the entire decade, is one of the worst ever made.  Is it true that this album experiments?  Absolutely.  But the critical and commercial success of War had allowed them to do that and if some people hate “Elvis Presley and America” because it doesn’t really go anywhere, well, I am not among them.  I love the ethereal sound of it.  In fact, the sound of this album is precisely the point.  You can’t just jump from War to Joshua Tree; you need this album in between, for the Eno and Lanois partnership with the band to form and find its way, through the social themes, through the personal angst, and transform U2 from a great post-punk band with a devoted following to a bad that Time would call the best band in the world before Joshua Tree.

#19  –  The End of the Innocence  (Don Henley, 1989)

We are back into the Rolling Stone Top 500 of All-Time.  In fact, from here on out, only three albums aren’t included in that list.  This album is, to me, the pinnacle of Henley’s work as a solo artist.  It has several hit singles (“The End of the Innocence”, “The Heart of the Matter”, “The Last Worthless Evening”) as well as some pointed social commentary (“New York Minute”, “Little Tin God”, “If Dirt Were Dollars”).  Henley continues to make good use of other artists in his work, whether it be great session musicians (J. D. Souther and Danny Kortchmar, both of whom co-wrote many of the songs as well as Jeff Porcaro who seemed to be on every album this decade), emerging stars (Edie Brickell, Axl Rose, Patty Smyth) with the last two showcasing his use of background female vocals on harmony as he has future 90’s songs on the album as well (Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge).  Unfortunately, this would be it for Henley for a while; he would be a number of artists that I got really into while in high school or college who didn’t release an album basically the entire time I was in college (along with Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, George Michael and The Cure, the latter two of whom did just sneak one in during the second semester of my senior year).

#18  –  Closer  (Joy Division, 1980)

Ranked at #157 on the Rolling Stone list, this album is often seen as a definitive post-punk album but I think this fits into my theory of transformative bands that self-destruct as I think that Joy Division is the band that pushes things from punk to mope rock, inspiring The Cure, the Smiths and, unfortunately, most of emo.  Because Joy Division, like New Order after them, primarily released their singles as stand-alone rather than on albums, this doesn’t have “Love Will Tear Us Apart” but it doesn’t need it because the album stands as a single work of art, with songs like “Isolation”, “Heart and Soul” and “Twenty Four Hours”.  The best way to listen to it, at least once, is to get Peter Hook’s book (from the library if you have to) and read his section on the album while listening to it, start to finish.

#17  –  Scarecrow  (John Cougar Mellencamp, 1985)

One of the few albums at this point that doesn’t appear on the Rolling Stone list and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  They give it four stars but they only gave Faith three and a half.  RS just doesn’t have much of an appreciation for the kind of basic rock and roll from such artists as Mellencamp and Bob Seger (with the exception of Springsteen).  But this is the album where Mellencamp dove deep into his roots, tapping his home for songs that come from the heart, thus bringing forth such great songs as “Rain on the Scarecrow”, “Small Town” and “Minutes to Memories”, all of them among the best songs that he has ever written.  There were also hits a-plenty on the album, with three songs hitting the Top 10 (“Small Town”, “Lonely Ol’ Night”, “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”).

#16  –  The River  (Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, 1980)

Some bands struggle to put together enough songs to put out an album.  Springsteen, in the late 70’s and early 80’s would struggle to limit them.  Just look at The Ties That Band, the 4 disc collection released for the 35th anniversary of The River.  It includes the entire album, the b-sides (including “Be True”, one of the greatest b-sides ever recorded), as well as the songs that had been cut for the album but would later be released on Tracks (including “Loose Ends”, “Dollhouse” and “Restless Nights”), songs that would only now be getting an official release and alternate versions of several songs, including “Stolen Car”, “Hungry Heart” and “The Price You Pay” (which has a verse not in the released version).  Yet, all of these great songs still show what a remarkable job Springsteen did of honing a specific vision for the album, something that was dark and a bit brooding, with songs like “Point Blank”, “Independence Day”, “Wreck on the Highway”, and of course the title track, but not as dark as either the album that preceded it or the one that would follow.  It’s one of the rare truly great double albums and it would endure to the point that in 2015, Springsteen would tour entirely based on this album.  It makes RS‘s top 250 albums of all-time.  The astute reader will also notice that while Springsteen released four studio albums in the decade, this is the first one on the list, which says something about the rest of the list.

#15  –  Invisible Touch  (Genesis, 1986)

Invisible Touch (Atlantic; 1986) is the group’s undisputed masterpiece.  It’s an epic meditation of intangibility, at the same time it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding three albums.  It has a resonance that keeps coming back at the listener, and the music is so beautiful that it’s almost impossible to shake off because every song makes some connection about the unknown or the spaces between people (“Invisible Touch”), questioning authoritative control whether by domineering lovers or by government (“Land of Confusion”) or by meaningless repetition (“Tonight Tonight Tonight”).”  Now, in all fairness, those are the meanderings of a fictional character who likes to pick up strange women for sex and then chop them up with an axe so he’s maybe not the best evidence for my case.  (quote from American Psycho, p 135, also presented by Christian Bale here).  Yet, he sums up many of my feelings on the album.  Though there are 14 albums that I rank above this one, there are only two (#1 and #3) that I can definitively say that I have listened to from start to finish more times than Invisible Touch.

#14  –  War  (U2, 1983)

Like a lot of bands, U2 had a fantastic debut album and then a disappointing sophomore effort that seemed rushed into production.  So, it would be up to the third album to help steady the boat and keep them moving forward and the band would respond with a third album for all-time.  From the opening drumbeat of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” through to the bass that helps bring Psalm 40 to life at the end, it’s an album that moved U2 directly into the world of political music.  Whether it’s an attack against the IRA in “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, fighting the fears of nuclear war in “Seconds”, singing out lyrics that still resonate over 30 years later (“So we’re told this is the golden age  /  And gold is the reason for the wars we wage”) or under-appreciated songs that often get passed by, even by U2 fans (“Like a Song” with the brilliant line “A generation without name” and “Surrender”).  The reviews in Britain when it was released weren’t that positive but it supplanted Thriller as the U.K. #1 and Rolling Stone would give it a spot in the Top 250 Albums of All-Time.

#13  –  Nebraska  (Bruce Springsteen, 1982)

I don’t know what people were expecting as a follow-up to The River, but I guarantee this wasn’t it.  Springsteen had holed up without the band after finishing The River Tour and started writing songs.  He would eventually, over one very long day (3 January 1982), he would record the songs with just a harmonica and an acoustic guitar on a four-track recording system.  These were supposed to be the demos for a full band recording but after trying out various recordings, he would eventually go back and decide to release the demos as they had been originally recorded making this his first album without the E Street Band.  These are painful songs, songs of loss and heartbreak, of down and desperate times and they worked best in this setting.  Even the songs that would be later played by the full band don’t sound good as these original recordings.  Sales weren’t nearly as strong as they had been before and after (it’s the weakest selling album of his 70’s and 80’s work) but the critical acclaim would make up for it.  Rolling Stone puts it in the their Top 250 and it has won me over from the first time I heard it, having bought it without ever having heard a single song off it.  All it took was one listen to “Atlantic City”, with one of the best lines I have ever heard (and one my most quoted): “Everything dies baby, that’s a fact  /  But maybe everything that dies someday comes back,” and I understand where he was going with this album.  This recording session was a treasure trove for Springsteen, as not only did he record the album but also a considerable part of what would become the first side of Born in the USA.

#12  –  Thriller  (Michael Jackson, 1982)

When Rolling Stone initially did their Top 100 Albums of the 80’s, this finished 7th but by the time they did their 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time it was the highest ranking album of the decade (landing at #20 all-time).  Of course, critical acclaim is only part of this album.  It is, after all, the highest selling album in the history of recorded music, the only album to be certified 33x Platinum.  It has sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 66 million copies.  It won 8 Grammys including Album of the Year.  Of the nine songs on the album, seven of them were released as singles and they were all Top 10 hits with two of them hitting #1.  It spent 22 weeks at #1 in 1983 and then another 15 weeks at #1 in 1984, becoming the top selling album of each year.  But all of that shouldn’t obscure how great an album it is, how “Thriller” and “Billie Jean” were revolutionary videos, how “Beat It” is a fantastic song with great guitar work from Eddie Van Halen, how great a song “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” is, how utterly fantastic to listen and dance to this album is.

#11  –  Document  (R.E.M., 1987)

This was R.E.M.’s farewell to their original label, IRS and they did it in grand style.  First of all, it was their first album to hit Platinum, certainly helped along by their first Top 10 single in “The One I Love”.  It continued the turn towards the political that had begun with their previous album with two of their best album tracks: “Welcome to the Occupation” and “Exhuming McCarthy”.  But, of course, all of that (even “Finest Worksong”) pales in comparison with their best song, not just on this album, but in their entire career: “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”, probably one of the five favorite songs of every person my age.  RS includes this in their Top 500.  It’s their best album of the decade but I still think it doesn’t reach the artistic peak they would reach in 1991-92 with Out of Time and Automatic for the People.

#10  –  Synchronicity  (The Police, 1983)

How many bands go out with something like this?  The Beatles might have if their actual farewell album, Abbey Road, had been released last.  Joy Division had Closer, but things were a bit different there.  The Velvet Underground had Loaded and that might be the closest I can think of.  First of all, this album is loaded with great singles, lead by one of the best songs of the decade (“Every Breath You Take”) but also a number of other singles, all of which are great songs (“King of Pain”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, both “Synchronicity” songs, although the first one wasn’t technically a single) but also has room for nice, sweeter songs (“Walking in Your Footsteps”, “Tea in the Sahara”), strange but fascinating songs (“Miss Gradenko”) and even songs that you’re not certain quite what to make of (“Mother”).  The album, like the title, fits together perfectly.  As said above, if you follow my theory about transformative bands, then The Police who managed to find the rhythms of reggae and merge them with the feeling of punk (Sting would later say they weren’t a punk band because they knew how to actually play their instruments) made them the definite New Wave band and helped birth a completely new sound.  When I first started to come up with the theory it was because I was making a list of bands that challenged The Beatles for supremacy at the top of the list of rock bands and several of those bands (The Police, The Clash, Joy Division, The Doors, Velvet Underground, CCR) all lasted five or fewer years (at least from first album to last album) and I felt that maybe there was something that could explain it.  In this case, Sting wanted to be on his own and find a bit more jazz and though Sting’s solo career was satisfying (at least for the first few albums), it’s to the world’s detriment that there have been no more Police albums because they were one of the best of all-time.  Listed in RS’s Top 500 (although I was surprised it wasn’t very high, not even in the Top 250).

#9  –  Tunnel of Love  (Bruce Springsteen, 1987)

There are some days where I think that this is the album that really proves how great Springsteen is.  It’s not his best album; I don’t even rank it as his highest album of the decade.  But, without the big rock and roll sound, without the band that had been backing him for so long, bringing such brilliant precision to all of their instruments, he manages to look inward and find some of his most beautiful songs and the lyrics really shine through in a way that wouldn’t have confused people like they did with “Born in the U.S.A.”.  Of course, he hadn’t completely left the band behind and several members make appearances on songs throughout the album.  Indeed, what would “Tougher Than the Rest” be without Danny Fedirici on the organ and Max Weinberg doing percussion?  But, in songs like “Tunnel of Love”, “Brilliant Disguise”, “Tougher Than the Rest”, he was writing some of the best work of his career.  These, like the songs on Nebraska, were more quiet portraits, but ones about relationships this time.  Ranked by RS in their Top 500.

#8  –  Brothers in Arms  (Dire Straits, 1985)

The first album to ever go platinum just with cd sales alone.  That alone would make it a notable album.  But with singles like “Money for Nothing” and “Walk of Life”, with brilliant political tracks like “Brothers in Arms” and personal songs like “So Far Away” it is also an amazing album.  It won multiple Grammy Awards, was the first album in U.K. history to go 10x platinum, has a place in the Rolling Stone Top 500 and is one of the best selling albums of all-time.  Sadly, it wouldn’t be the herald of more success for the band, as they would split for a few years and do their own thing (with Mark Knopfler focusing on soundtrack work) before reuniting for the disappointing On Every Street.  Yet, amazingly, not the top Dire Straits album on this list.

#7  –  Like a Prayer  (Madonna, 1989)

Madonna was progressing.  Like a Virgin had been a good album with two outstanding singles and some decent songs to fill in the rest.  True Blue had been a big improvement, with several outstanding singles and some very solid songs in the gaps between them; moreover, it had a consistent sound to it that made it seem like more of an album rather than just a collection of songs.  Then came Like a Prayer and it was unlike anything she had done before or since.  It not only had the title track, the single best song she would ever record and one of the very best of the entire decade.  It not only had other fantastic singles like “Express Yourself”, “Cherish” (both of which were fun and you could dance to) but also “Oh Father”, a moving, haunting song that would tie the themes of the album together: progression through from childhood to adulthood and facing the demons of your past as you try to move towards your future.  That would also come through in the thing that made the album such a great work of art: the tracks in between.  With songs like “Till Death Do Us Part” in which a catchy beat is juxtaposed against the haunting lyrics of a failing marriage or “Spanish Eyes” and “Promise to Try” in which the pain of love comes through, we get an entire album that is among the best of the decade (obviously).  Rolling Stone noticed this, making it one of the few albums from the decade that made not just its Top 500 of all-time but its Top 250.

#6  –  Disintegration  (The Cure, 1989)

This album isn’t just a joke for South Park.  It really is an amazing album, from start to finish.  This is the definitive Cure album, not just because it’s a great album (and it is) but because of the way it ties in all the aspects of the band.  We get the slow melodic, moody start to open the album in “Plainsong”.  Then comes one of the great songs of the decade, one that builds with all the instruments and shows just how well they all work together and create an actual band with “Pictures of You”.  Two songs later we get their most successful single and a glimpse into what could have been if Robert Smith had been more popularity inclined with “Lovesong”.  And then we slide from that back into moodiness and darkness, the mope rock that this band was the epitome of with “Last Dance” and “Lullaby”.  As we progress through the second half of the album we get longer songs that are lyrically a bit more obtuse (a reflection of Smith’s literary stylings in earlier songs) and melodically more complex, with songs such as “Fascination Street”, “The Same Deep Water as You” and “Disintegration”.  Then, to close the album, we get one of the best album tracks of the decade, a song simply titled “Untitled” and which is still one of the best songs of one of the best bands.  It’s such a great album (in the RS Top 500) because it is such a coherent, statement of art.

#5  –  Making Movies  (Dire Straits, 1980)

The only album in the Top 15 that isn’t on the RS list and it really astounds me.  In fact, is there any side of an album that can compare with the first side of Making Movies: “Tunnel of Love”, “Romeo and Juliet” and “Skateaway”.  There are only seven songs on the album in total but they all seem to flow right into each other, not in a literal way like Sgt. Pepper’s or Dark Side of the Moon, but in their music, in their themes, in their style.  Even with such amazing parts (the second side’s songs aren’t on the same level as that first side but they are still very good) this is an album that is more than the sum of its parts.  One last little bit – thanks to early listening to Under a Blood Red Sky and Rattle and Hum, I have always been a big fan of naming an album with a line from a song.  Sadly, one two albums on this list really fit that classification (Some Great Reward is the other one), especially since sometimes a line like that can really tie the album together, as it especially does in these two cases.  In So Long and Thanks For All the Fish, when Douglas Adams spends two pages discussing the Fuolornis Fire Dragons and their affect on romance and then notes they are not around and aren’t needed and can go off for some pizza and writes “Had an emergency cropped up while they were still in the middle of their pizza with extra anchovies they could always have sent a message to put Dire Straits on the stereo, which is now known to have much the same effect,” I have always worked under the assumption that he is writing about this album.

#4  –  So  (Peter Gabriel, 1986)

I knew “In Your Eyes”, of course, because I had seen Say Anything a number of times.  I also knew “Sledgehammer” because it had been a massive hit, although I wasn’t a huge fan of the song at the time.  Outside of those two, the only song I even really knew by Peter Gabriel was “Shock the Monkey”, which had been the first video I ever remember seeing.  But I was becoming more and more interested in music and so, in the summer of 1993, when Stacy left her music at home after graduation while she went back east for some reason, this was one of the albums I grabbed from her and started listening to, start to finish.  I was taken in as soon as I heard the opening music in “Red Rain” and I stayed in all the way until the final refrains from “This is the Picture” faded out.  Listening to the way that modern alternative music had been blended with world music beats, how massive pop hits like “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time” could not only co-exist with deeper, more haunting songs like “In Your Eyes” and “Mercy Street” and how even something that could seem like a little throwaway like “We Do What We’re Told” could be a solid work of art, I realized that even with the power of the individual songs, this was an album in which the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts.  Included in the RS Top 200.

#3  –  Born in the U.S.A.  (Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, 1984)

Coming in at #85 on Rolling Stone‘s all-time list, it ranks as one of the highest albums of the decade.  It is the first album that I ever listened to all the way through, start to finish, and was the first album I ever owned, taping my brother’s copy.  I used to ride to school listening to my Walkman, with this on one side and the first 45 minutes of Rattle and Hum on the other every day.  It wasn’t just the great singles on the album.  Of course, the album is full of them, with an astounding seven of them being released, all of them going Top 10 and none of them going to #1, an amazing feat that has never been equalled before or since.  Ranging from the pure fan dance beat of “Dancing in the Dark” to the rocking roadhouse style of “Glory Days” to the bombastic complexities at the heart of “Born in the U.S.A.” to the intimate whispers of “I’m on Fire”, they were all worth getting (not the least of which was because of the great array of b-sides).  But some of the best songs on the album weren’t the singles.  Indeed, my highest ranked song on the album is “No Surrender”, a fantastic look at nostalgia and the promises of the young and it stands alongside such great songs as “Downbound Train” (originally recorded for Nebraska) and “Bobby Jean” (which, in spite of what Rob might think, is not about a former lover but about Little Stephen leaving the band).  One of the songs that first caught my attention when listening to the entire album was “Working on the Highway”, a song, like “Born in the U.S.A.” which is much different once you get past the beat and the chorus and listen to the words (more obvious in the original version from the Nebraska sessions titled “Child Bride”).  When I feel the need to point four of the five songs that weren’t released as singles, you can see what a great collection of songs this is, and yet, once again, the whole of the album, moving from the powerful opening chords and chorus of the title song to the quiet, more haunting lines in “My Hometown” is again greater than the sum of its parts.

#2  –  Graceland  (Paul Simon, 1986)

I am not a serious student of music, so I often don’t know where the roots of certain types of music come from.  It’s perhaps ironic that two of my top four albums are heavily influenced by African music, which I have never much listened to and couldn’t tell you about.  When Graceland was first recorded, Paul Simon was lambasted in some quarters for violating the artistic embargo of South Africa but Simon pointed out that he was helping to spread the music of native black South Africans to the world and that should be worth something.  Indeed, how many people in the United States could identify any music from South Africa but could easily hum “You Can Call Me Al” or “Diamonds of the Soles of Her Shoes”.  Irregardless of the embargo, Graceland was met with massive critical acclaim, winning Album of the Year at the Grammies and landing at #81 all-time on Rolling Stone’s list.  It’s replete with great hits, fantastic album tracks (my top two being “I Know What I Know” and “All Around the World” but all of them are great) and a sound that makes the album a coherent whole unlike anything Simon had done before (and which would influence his very strong follow up The Rhythm of the Saints).

#1  –  The Joshua Tree  (U2, 1987)  –  #3 all-time

At various times, Rolling Stone has listed this as the best album of the decade, though in their all-time list it ended up at #27, which placed it second for the decade behind Thriller (their 80’s list which can be found online has it third although one of the two ahead of it is London Calling which is really from 1979).  It won Album of the Year at the Grammys.  I am listing it at #3 all-time behind only Sgt. Pepper’s and Dark Side and those three albums constantly end up changing places.  They are always my Top 3 but their order changes all the time.  This album changed the way I listen to music.  I used to just listen to the radio at times and what my siblings were playing and liking some songs.  But listening to this, going through each song, it was amazing how each informed the last and the next.  The three big hit singles are on the first side, beginning with what be my #1 first track on an album, “Where the Streets Have No Name”, with that glorious lead-in to the song.  But then you flip to the second side of the album.  You start with “Red Hill Mining Town”, perhaps the band’s most under-appreciated song (and never played live before this past year’s tour), then move on to “In God’s Country” and you find yourself, like in the opening song, under desert skies, looking for biblical redemption.  You move towards the end, the hauntingly beautiful “Mothers of the Disappeared” and you are stunned to see how much the personal and the political have intermixed, how the feel of the desert can come through in a guitar, that the ambiance of the album is floating you away.  When I was in college, it was almost mandatory that you own this album.  It wasn’t because it was the in thing.  It was because everyone agreed on it.