Top 100 Music Albums of the 1980s by buzzdainer (2020)

These days, when people talk about "eighties music" as if it were a genre, mainly they're referring to Michael Jackson and Madonna and George Michael. Maybe some of the one-hit wonders like Frankie Goes to Hollywood and the Georgia Satellites. Or the Pretty in Pink soundtrack. Or hair metal, which ruled the musical culture of my hometown in Maine with bands such as AC/DC and the Scorpions. None of those things quite describes my own musical experience of the eighties. On the one hand, I definitely knew about the stuff that was popular; it was the water in which we all swam. On the other hand, as a teenager I actively sought out music that moved me differently--the things that felt a little edgier, a little riskier, a little more emotionally charged without being completely overwrought. Well, okay, and some of the overwrought stuff, too.

A representative moment I still remember well is from fall of my eighth grade year. My English teacher gave us an assignment to bring to class a cassette tape including a song we liked for its lyrics, and we had to distribute a transcription of the lyrics to our classmates and give them an interpretation of what we thought the lyrics meant. When you're a teenager, music is tied closely to identity, or at least it was for me, and I spent a lot of time thinking of what song I should bring. I eventually settled on Hüsker Dü's "Pink Turns to Blue," because I wanted something I figured nobody else had heard, something that felt more rebellious and badass than Def Leppard or Bon Jovi. My classmates, and my teacher, were visibly uncomfortable trying to listen to the opening lines, "Going out each day to score, she was no whore but for me / Celebrating every day the way she thought it should be." If my goal was to signal to my classmates that I wasn't to be messed with, mission accomplished. Which is funny to think about now, since I now think of music as a means for bringing people together, not alienating them. Nevertheless, and maybe paradoxically, I still love a lot of that same music I loved then--perhaps because it connects me to a past version of myself that I still have a certain affection for.

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This may have been the last Talking Heads studio album that I discovered, and in this case last was definitely not least. The cross between funk, African rhythms, and early 1980s electronics works perfectly. And of course, this album includes Talking Heads' finest moment, the fascinating and beautiful and mysterious "Once in a Lifetime," which seems to be on every consequential movie soundtrack between 1980 and 1989. [First added to this chart: 02/16/2016]
Year of Release:
1980
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Rank Score:
35,401
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It's surprising to me that for an album that is relatively difficult listening in places, Doolittle has become an uncontroversial classic. The appeal, I think, is that behind Black Francis's maniacal screaming and Kim Deal's keening, there are great melodies, memorable (and often hilarious) production flourishes, and clever songwriting. As A.A. Dowd of the Onion's A.V. Club incomparably expressed it, "Doolittle marries psychotic gibberish to sunny surf-rock hooks." My favorites here are "Hey," "Here Comes Your Man," and of course, "Monkey Gone to Heaven." [First added to this chart: 02/16/2016]
Year of Release:
1989
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Rank Score:
49,848
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It's actually a little gratifying to see The Joshua Tree sitting as the #1 album for 1987 here on BEA. When I was in high school, U2 were an indisputably cool band that was not only loved by people from my generation, but also my parents' generation. That's a rare thing. But then, over the past few decades, there's been a fairly intense backlash against U2, focusing mainly on Bono's cult of personality. I've always felt that such criticism was pretty off base when you consider the far worse things other celebrities have done compared to Bono's penchant for short-term political causes and wearing sunglasses indoors because he has glaucoma. Cut the dude some slack, I say. And if you need reminding, play the opening minute and a half of "Where the Streets Have No Name" really loud, and try to remember what it was like hearing the building intensity of that great rock song for the very first time. [First added to this chart: 05/11/2016]
Year of Release:
1987
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25,987
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I'm still not sure whether or not, overall, I like Kate Bush. I've spent quite a lot of time listening to The Dreaming, and I don't hear much there that I love. But Hounds of Love is another story. It's one of those consistently great, inspired, timeless albums that transcends both its genre and the time period in which it was made. Since I moved to Montana, I've been especially taken with "The Big Sky," which captures through synths and airy, breathy vocals the vertigo feeling of standing under the biggest, most expansive sky on Earth. [First added to this chart: 05/27/2016]
Year of Release:
1985
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Rank Score:
19,070
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When a band I love breaks up, most of the time I'm less enamored of the new bands, side projects, and solo endeavors that ensue afterward. There's often something special about the chemistry between band members that makes whatever they were doing unique and special, and it can be difficult for even the most talented musicians and songwriters to recapture the magic. I assumed that would be the case with Hüsker Dü, as Bob Mould and Grant Hart brought such different and complementary energies to that great punk/alternative rock band. But I think Workbook surpasses anything Hüsker Dü ever did. The use of acoustic guitar, paired with the searing distortion-heavy electric lead guitars for soloing, draws attention to Mould's talents as a lyricist in ways that Hüsker Dü's wall of noise tended to obscure. An unexpected and still much-underappreciated album, Workbook is an incredibly consistent collection of songs with many highlights, perhaps the most memorable of which is the scorching guitar work on "Wishing Well." [First added to this chart: 05/15/2016]
Year of Release:
1989
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Rank Score:
484
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A watershed album in the history of pop music, and one I remember fondly from my high school days. A buddy of mine and I recorded a silly lip-sync video of "You Can Call Me Al" based on the music video featuring Paul Simon and Chevy Chase. I believe I played Chevy Chase playing Paul Simon. Not a very original concept, but that's no fault whatsoever of the album itself, which actually broke a lot of ground by bringing together Simon's clever, folksy, hyper-literate songwriting with African rhythms and instrumentation, including contributions from Nguni folk musicians Ladysmith Black Mambazo that integrate surprisingly well with Paul Simon's late-night Manhattan sensibilities. I've probably listened to this album a few too many times for it to feel genuinely fresh, but it still brings a smile to my face. [First added to this chart: 02/16/2016]
Year of Release:
1986
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Rank Score:
13,293
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I have not always loved Prince. But some years ago I had a friend who was obsessed with Prince: he had Lovesexy on vinyl, and he had the absurdly naked inside sleeve tacked to his wall. And this friend wasn't even gay. He just liked Prince that much. Purple Rain, however, is the gold standard of Prince's discography, with the wonderful and sexy "When Doves Cry" as the track I want to hear again and again. [First added to this chart: 02/16/2016]
Year of Release:
1984
Appears in:
Rank Score:
17,947
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I first heard Fun and Games during the fall semester of my freshman year of college, when a guy from Atlanta who lived downstairs from me in my freshman dorm couldn't stop raving about it, and about the Connells more generally. The band was a sensation on college radio at the time, and were all the rage in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They were "fratty," as another buddy of mine has said more recently. Yet what strikes me, listening to this album all these many years later, is how sweet, melodic, and sensitive these alternative rock songs are--sort of the antithesis of the fraternity scene of their origins. The Connells were never brilliant lyricists, but they more than make up for it with memorable melodies and guitar hooks you'll carry around with you for the rest of the day. [First added to this chart: 02/17/2016]
Year of Release:
1989
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Rank Score:
116
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[First added to this chart: 02/17/2016]
Year of Release:
1986
Appears in:
Rank Score:
5,166
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Several other Bruce Springsteen records--Nebraska, Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Born in the U.S.A.--are all candidates for my favorite from his catalog. But I'm going with The River because I think it is the album where his artistic vision is most fully realized. Here Springsteen shows how most of our todays are the tragicomic sum of a scattered series of yesterdays that had once hoped to become better tomorrows. His lyrics fuse past and present, desire and destiny, laughter and longing, in ways that speak directly to today's economically troubled, and disappearing, middle class. Nowhere is this poignancy better seen than on the title track, a quintessentially American tragedy told from the perspective of a working-class everyman whose life is turned upside down by an unplanned pregnancy. [First added to this chart: 02/17/2016]
Year of Release:
1980
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Rank Score:
5,073
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Total albums: 100. Page 1 of 10

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Top 100 Music Albums of the 1980s composition

Year Albums %


1980 7 7%
1981 6 6%
1982 9 9%
1983 9 9%
1984 7 7%
1985 12 12%
1986 9 9%
1987 9 9%
1988 15 15%
1989 17 17%
Country Albums %


United States 65 65%
United Kingdom 20 20%
Australia 6 6%
Canada 4 4%
Ireland 3 3%
Mixed Nationality 2 2%
Compilation? Albums %
No 99 99%
Yes 1 1%

Top 100 Music Albums of the 1980s chart changes

Biggest climbers
Climber Up 7 from 20th to 13th
Disintegration
by The Cure
Biggest fallers
Faller Down 1 from 13th to 14th
Zen Arcade
by Hüsker Dü
Faller Down 1 from 14th to 15th
The Trinity Session
by Cowboy Junkies
Faller Down 1 from 15th to 16th
The Stone Roses
by The Stone Roses

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Top 100 Music Albums of the 1980s ratings

Average Rating: 
90/100 (from 13 votes)
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This chart is rated in the top 2% of all charts on BestEverAlbums.com. This chart has a mean average rating of 94.0/100. The trimmed mean (excluding outliers) is 93.8/100. The standard deviation for this chart is 6.2.

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Top 100 Music Albums of the 1980s comments

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From 07/18/2016 15:57
Thanks for the nice comment, pa! Doolittle is definitely worth checking out, especially given your appreciation for the likes of Fugazi, Meat Puppets, Yo La Tengo, Hüsker Dü, and others. It's plenty challenging and weird in its own way, but also melodic and likeable. Happy listening, and thanks for visiting my chart!
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Rating:  
100/100
From 07/18/2016 15:47
Hey there :)
I really like your chart too and I love the inclusion of Zen Arcade and California by AMC.
Doolittle is still on my wishlist...I'll check it out soon!
Helpful?  (Log in to vote) | +1 votes (1 helpful | 0 unhelpful)
Rating:  
95/100
From 07/17/2016 22:36
Excellent mix of headliners and blue collar alternative acts. Quite a few I haven't heard so will have to check out.
Helpful?  (Log in to vote) | +1 votes (1 helpful | 0 unhelpful)
From 07/17/2016 21:15
Thanks, garycottier, for rating and commenting on this chart! Greg Brown is a bluesy, nostalgic singer-songwriter from Iowa who sings about the midwestern landscapes of his youth and a wide range of other topics. He's funny and irreverent, and a great guitar player. I'd recommend starting with some of his albums from the nineties, especially Further In, Dream Café, and The Poet Game. And yes, I love The Trinity Session--such a languid, dreamy, haunting listening experience. Margo Timmins is, in my opinion, one of the great vocalists of her generation.
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Rating:  
90/100
From 07/17/2016 19:19
Excellent chart. Full of interesting albums, and quite a few I'm not familiar with. I'm not at all acquainted with Gregg Brown, I'll have to check him out. Nice to see the Cowboy junkie's, Trinity sessions, in there too. I'd actually forgotten about that one. Good stuff, and thank you for rating and commenting on my eighties chart.
Helpful?  (Log in to vote) | +1 votes (1 helpful | 0 unhelpful)
From 07/15/2016 19:40
I appreciate the positive feedback, Kuzh69! I've actually seen at least one member apply the one-artist rule to decade charts, as well, but that was something I didn't want to do. There's way too much great Bruce Springsteen in both the seventies and eighties for me to limit myself! Glad you appreciated the PIL reference--I know it's blasphemy, but in many ways I actually liked them better than the Sex Pistols.
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Rating:  
95/100
From 07/15/2016 19:28
Thanks 4 the nice comment...... Now your charts are on a whole
New plateau on many levels . To be able to pick only 1 for each artist on your 100 greatest albums had to be excruciating . Fantastic job, even
Though there are many artists I'm unfamiliar with. But based on your 80's
Chart here, that will change with time and headphones.
By the way, I love your public image reference... And.....The boss and Elvis still rule !!! Great job
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From 07/11/2016 14:53
Thanks for the kind comment, sssvnnn! Lucky for me, you never saw my hair in the eighties. I'd say INXS might be about the most embarrassing artist on my list, but what can I say? I still like them.
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Rating:  
85/100
From 07/11/2016 14:12
A very good 80´s chart.
There were so many embarrassing artists in the 80´s... but not in your chart.
like it.
Helpful?  (Log in to vote) | +2 votes (2 helpful | 0 unhelpful)

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