Top 41 Music Albums of the 1980s by DriftingOrpheus (2022)

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Very few vocalists dare to be as concomitantly witty and snide as Manchester's own, Morrissey. The brainchild of both he and guitarist-extraordinaire Johnny Marr, The Smiths were a dominant force behind the ever-transfiguring musical landscape of the 1980's. Their music was romantic, frequently Victorian in thematic approach and most of all, sagaciously melodic. 1986's indie rock oeuvre The Queen is Dead bears all of those aforementioned qualities, with a heavy dose of political juxtaposition and mournful longing for love to boot. Only the words of Morrissey could seem so unabashedly supercilious and painfully vulnerable.

Sonically, the foursome has never produced a richer album. Take I Know It's Over for example, the archetype for loneliness in track form. It begins as a bellowing croon which matures into a booming declaration of resigned fate. Bigmouth Strikes Again plays with pitch on Morrissey's vocals that serve as backing that gently coat Marr's expert guitar playing. Mike Joyce's steadily-paced drumming on There is a Light that Never Goes Out provides support as the spine of a track that is revered by most self-proclaimed "Smithsonians". Morrissey's appeal to logos on Cemetry Gates functions as a scathing rallying cry against plagiarism and the absence of original thought found in his analyzation of the disposition of art at the time.

Later in the fleeting recording history of one of the decade's finest acts, the band began to be gravitationally pulled towards the sun of the ego of its vocalist. A direction that divided the group, but The Queen is Dead stands unpolluted by those philosophical imbalances. This is a record that optimizes the potential and contributions of every member equally, uniformly proficient and poignant in staggering detail. The Smiths are chiefly remembered as an 80's ensemble, but this record sounds as unlinked to time as any record in history. Truly, the only thing ordinary about the band was the namesake.

"And now I know how Joan of Arc felt
Now I know how Joan of Arc felt
As the flames rose to her roman nose
And her hearing aid started to melt"

-Bigmouth Strikes Again

Standout Tracks:

1. I Know It's Over
2. There is a Light and It Never Goes Out
3. Bigmouth Strikes Again

96.7
[First added to this chart: 04/27/2020]
Year of Release:
1986
Appears in:
Rank Score:
45,001
Rank in 1986:
Rank in 1980s:
Overall Rank:
Average Rating:
Comments:
The swan song from short-lived post-rock luminaries Joy Division is markedly more finessed and emotionally nuanced than the band's universally hailed debut record, Unknown Pleasures. Closer, their second and concluding collection of music, is a paradigm shifting, soul excursion into the psyche of frontman Ian Curtis during his final days. Due to this saddening alignment of events, the album acts both as a monument of post-rock music but also as a scientific, psychological documentation of a virtuoso battling mortal depression. At times, knowing the events that would unfold, some of Curtis' poetry may be too searing for certain listeners. Rest assured, they can take solace in the transcendent beauty of the music itself.

The LP emerges with Atrocity Exhibition, a tribal tonal shift for the quartet, which features drummer Stephen Morris as the focal point of the track, extending the invitation to the listener as Curtis croons, "This is the way, step inside". Track two features the airy, hissing Isolation during which Bernard Sumner's synthwork fills the sonic space like a gas leak. Cavernous and harrowing, Curtis murmurs, "Surrendered to self preservation, from others who care for themselves, a blindness that touches perfection, but hurts just like anything else." Percussion, as touched upon earlier, is a large component of the album's might. This is showcased astutely on side two opener, Heart and Soul, where Morris' hypnotic drumbeat is pushed to the forefront of the mix as Peter Hook's accordant bassline hovers close behind. Lyrically, Curtis must ponder his sacrificial preference, proclaiming, "Heart and soul, one will burn." The final album track in the band's canon is Decades, an icy, sparkling ode to the destructive nature of trauma and a youth unfulfilled. Synth whirls in tandem with Morris' punctual drum hits create the illusion that time is spiraling away from the narrator with no way to correct the nefarious rotation. Curtis sings, 'Weary inside, now our heart's lost forever, can't replace the fear or the thrill of the chase, each ritual showed up the door for our wanderings, open then shut, then slammed in our face," contextualizing his forlorn disappointment.

Vocalist Ian Curtis wouldn't live to see the release of his final, most significant piece of art. Closer's album cover serves as an eerie testament to what lies between the lines of the poetry confined within. The sense of mourning is thoroughly encapsulated in the black and white starkness of Bernard Pierre Wolf's photo of the Appiani Family Tomb in Genoa. Closer embodies its namesake as a conduit to occupy remarkable proximity to death and emotional turmoil. From the debris left behind from Joy Division's Shakespearian conclusion, a new artistic force was constructed. New Order would go on to have commercial and critical success for two decades, all the while enduring the immense pain of their phantom limb, a fallen brother in arms. Closer is Ian Curtis' gift to the world, in all its shimmering beauty and soul-demolishing despair.

"Now that I've realized how it's all gone wrong,
Gotta find some therapy, this treatment takes too long,
Deep in the heart of where sympathy held sway,
Gotta find my destiny, before it gets too late."

-Twenty Four Hours

Standout Tracks

1. Decades
2. Isolation
3. Twenty Four Hours

96.3
[First added to this chart: 04/27/2020]
Year of Release:
1980
Appears in:
Rank Score:
19,868
Rank in 1980:
Rank in 1980s:
Overall Rank:
Average Rating:
Comments:
When discussing The Smiths within musical circles, many would cite The Queen is Dead's politically-laced barrages of sound or perhaps the shyly-communicated romantic and physical insecurities of the band's brilliant debut record. When Meat is Murder eventually surfaces in conversation, it comes embroidered with the tagline, "The one where Morrissey pontificates about vegan ideals?" While it's certainly true that the album's title track is just as preachy as it is powerful, the record stands (albeit mostly unseen by most) as one of the band's most consistently brilliant outings. One could certainly attest to this album being the most varied in the discography, fluctuating between windswept, idyllic ballads and guitar-driven, rebellious canticles. This stylistic grab bag usually results in an uneven sonic experience, however, with the collective talent on hand, The Smiths deliver a master stroke markedly representative of their entire body of work.

The Headmaster Ritual kicks off the record, which serves as the band's statement on corporal punishment in educational settings. Marr's guitar is promptly infectious on the track, serving as the skeleton of the song while Mike Joyce's drum hits assume the figure of a percussive heart. Morrissey's yowls can be found scattered throughout, bridging between condemning cries of "Belligerent ghouls, run Manchester schools, spineless bastards all." The frontman's personal experiences can certainly be inferred upon here. It's possible his inclination towards artistic pursuits and not athletics made his time at school tumultuous. The Headmaster Ritual is a potent opener, flaunting wondrous instrumentation and inciting social discourse. Track two entitled, Rusholme Ruffians, conjures a carnival scene set against the backdrop of a hot summer evening in Manchester. Morrissey, from a lyrical standpoint, relays his most satirical skepticisms. He beckons, "Scratch my name on your arm with a fountain pen, this means you really love me." He then recants (slightly), proclaiming that his "faith in love is still devout". Sixth track, Nowhere Fast, continues with all things snide, although far less concealed. Lyrics such as, "I'd like to drop my trousers to the Queen, every sensible child will know what this means" serve as a playful foreshadowing of political sentiments to follow. Marr's rockabilly rhythms once again propel the track reiteratively interlocked with Joyce's dependable drumming. For the quintet, Nowhere Fast acts as the musical equivalent of "cocking a snook". The album then coasts into seventh track, Well I Wonder, manifesting as part lullaby and epitaph. The appropriate visual accompaniment is that of beads of rain wandering down a windowpane as the sound of the drops patter overhead. Morrissey's vocal delivery is painful serene here as he croons, "Gasping, but somehow still alive, this is the fierce last stand of all I am." Andy Rourke's bass work creates a sense of space for the vocals, constructing a visual of Morrissey transmitting from the deepest, ghastliest alleyway where his pained but gorgeous falsettos only go as far as the wind takes them.

Morrissey's polarizing views on meat-infused diets, (comparing meat eating to child abuse and biting into your grandmother among others), often lampoon the album as an extension of those divisive statements. These snippets, nevertheless, should not detract from what an immense triumph this record still is, despite the idealogical load it must unfairly saddle. The Smiths were indeed two steps ahead of most of their contemporaries in the 1980's and routinely reduced similar-sounding groups to cut-rate emulations. Coinciding with their imminent prime was Meat is Murder, a stirring collection of some of The Smiths' finest musical exertions, layered and textured both in instrumentation and poetic capability. Ignominiously, It continues to remain back-seated when pitted against other Smiths discography entries. Oddly enough, you'll "get a crack on the head" for daring to bring it up.

"This is the last night of the fair,
and the grease in the hair,
of a speedway operator
is all a tremulous heart requires.
A schoolgirl is denied
She said : "How quickly would I die
If I jumped from the top of the parachutes?"

--Rusholme Ruffians

Standout Tracks:

1. Nowhere Fast
2. The Headmaster Ritual
3. Rusholme Ruffians

94.4
[First added to this chart: 04/27/2020]
Year of Release:
1985
Appears in:
Rank Score:
7,846
Rank in 1985:
Rank in 1980s:
Overall Rank:
Average Rating:
Comments:
For years, Tom Waits constructed a visage of a midnight, woebegone crooner slouched over a piano which supported a glass of hard liquor home to a school of swirling cigarette ash. For years, that character would morph and contort into something less and less conventional until the 1980's ushered in a Waits completely detached from society who resembled a vagabond guttersnipe that embraced a new sonic identity. Hobo Waits would first surface in earnest on 1983's Swordfishtrombones, a record characterized by unorthodox percussion motifs, reminiscent of a subterranean city of banished circus mutants planning their ascent. Still, on that LP, he embodied the role of a freak show ringmaster parading his ostracized compatriots through the streets. On Rain Dogs, Waits' ninth full-length release, he more closely examines the lives of the disenfranchised, alleyway dreamers who live in sky-blackening squalor. The album approaches this as a purveying construct rather than a single track one-off that Waits commonly flirted with earlier in his career. However, instead of employing the prior method of getting shit-faced in downtown L.A. while mining for narrative inspiration from Skid Row's finest, Waits decided to put himself in their shoes on Rain Dogs. The music produced seems decidedly out of place when set against the backdrop of a 1980's music landscape dominated by new wave and synth pop tunes. Waits rarely gets enough credit when discussing music's most triumphant reinventionists, but the man who claimed to be born in a taxi cab was guilty of metamorphizing more than once in his checkered career. Rain Dogs just happens to be his finest reawakening.

The record begins with "Singapore" which functions as a gothic sea shanty of sorts (if you can imagine such a thing). Similar to the opening track of Swordfishtrombones, "Singapore" shines light on a theatrically-rendered sub-culture with a ragtag group of sailors as his subject. Waits declares, "The captain is a one-armed dwarf, he's throwing dice along the wharf; In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." The track chugs at a steady pace, lead by trumpet and junkyard percussion and invites the listener into the world of Rain Dogs. Second track, Clap Hands, continues the trend of unorthodox percussion, employing the marimba as the spine of the song. The piece is centered around a grotesque locomotive trip through the Big Apple with Waits himself attaching backstories to fellow passengers to pass the time. "Cemetery Polka" arrives third and it features a bizarre roll call of the most aberrant family members one could have. At this family reunion, accordion and farfisa organ take center stage. Waits describes, "Uncle Bill will never leave a will, and the tumor is as big as an egg; He has a mistress, she's Puerto Rican and I heard she has a wooden leg." On "Jockey Full of Bourbon", he recants a tale of a drunken, fragmented evening with the help of conga drums and a baritone sax. Waits invokes the spirit of his idol Jack Kerouac here with his prose, "Schiffer broke a bottle on Morgan's head and I've been stepping on the devil's tail; Across the stripes of a full moon's head, through the bars of a Cuban jail." Waits' lyricism displays shades of influence from Bob Dylan to Allen Ginsberg while effortlessly being raw, idiosyncratic and indigenous. Fifth track, "Tango Till They're Sore" is a waltzy, crooked ballad seemingly played by the town drunk on a 300 year old grand piano. The track is seemingly the last will and wishes of a destitute, easily visualized on the curb near a dive bar as light from the nearest window backlights him for his small gathering of similars. Waits promises, "I'll tell you all my secrets, but I lie about my past; Send me off to bed forevermore." It's a proposition that receives further treatment later in the LP.

"Big Black Mariah" showcases a howling Waits describing this Mariah as a black hearse coming for New Orleans' recently deceased. The song includes an appearance from Keith Richards on guitar which is a match made in heaven with Waits' one of a kind vocal delivery. Waits concludes, "He's got a wooden coat, this boy is never coming home." Eighth track, "Hang Down Your Head", is far more digestible than previous entries. Waits recruits a softer touch in the solemn, reflective track. The cut is vaguely Springsteenian, if the boss had swallowed glass while smoking a cigar.. The end result is something profoundly earnest and devoid of any decoration, strengthening the pathos within. Speaking of pathos, Waits doubles down on ninth track "Time", an understated guitar stroll evocative of his 1970's output. Here, Waits isn't trying to rekindle a former love. He knows he's incapable of it and urges his paramour to move on. It's symbolic of Waits giving himself to abstraction and leaving the world of lounges and muses behind. The title track introduces itself with wheezing accordion and chronicles a man who champions his position on the outskirts of society. These Rain Dogs are a proud bunch that shoo away taxis in favor of walking through torrential downpour and dance all night long, free of societal restraints and commitments. It's also a track that doubles as a rallying cry for Earth's outcasts during Waits' live sets. The LP winds down with one of its most enduring cuts. "Downtown Train" was made famous by Rod Stewart's rendition, but it's Waits' original that retains the piece's soul and depth. Waits pens a siren song for a nameless beloved as he rides a New York City train in the hopes that she will be amongst those in attendance. He questions if he himself would be good enough for his soulmate and how she'll be illuminated amongst all the "Brooklyn girls looking to break out of their little worlds". Waits' delivery here is so remarkably passionate and vulnerable that it provides lucidity to his character's eternal strife. The record culminates with the hyper-appropriate "Anywhere I Lay My Head", a jubilant, triumphant funeral march celebrating the life and times of defiant transient. Sonically, it wouldn't be out of place at Mardi Gras, with brass tones sending the narrator off into the great beyond. He declares, "I don't need anybody because I learned, I learned to be alone and I say anywhere, anywhere, anywhere I lay my head, boys; I will call my home." It's a glowing, stirring epitaph that symbolizes America's homeless and calls upon to the listener to undergo a paradigm shift. A miraculous end to a poignant record.

Waits' prophetic prose on Rain Dogs would be distinctly pertinent both within the walls of a philosophy classroom and sketched onto the stall of a subway toiletry. Few men can walk such a thin line and Waits' approach to this principle was never more dynamic than on Rain Dogs. His provocative commentary and crystal clear imagery are bolstered even further by the daring sonic experimentation that helped define the album. In a few short years, Waits graduated from barfly, lonesome anthems to concept albums about hobo culture and sideshow empowerment. Only Tom himself could make the transition between these two abstracts an unbridled success. Even with the runaway acclaim garnered with Rain Dogs and subsequent albums, Waits has rarely seen consistent recognition as one of history's finest songsmiths and innovators. However, to those who know his work well, it never fails to shine as brightly as a silver dollar intertwined amongst the discarded waste of a city's populace. His underground appeal is his lifeblood and Rain Dogs is his inspirational tale to endlessly entertain an audience of three that feels like three-hundred huddled around a barrel of fire to escape old man winter's scorn.

"Well it's 9th and Hennepin
And all the donuts have names that sound like prostitutes
And the moon's teeth marks are on the sky
Like a tarp thrown all over this
And the broken umbrellas like dead birds
And the steam comes out of the grill
Like the whole goddamned town is ready to blow"

-9th & Hennepin

1. Anywhere I Lay My Head
2. Tango Till They're Sore
3. Time

94
[First added to this chart: 04/27/2020]
Year of Release:
1985
Appears in:
Rank Score:
15,081
Rank in 1985:
Rank in 1980s:
Overall Rank:
Average Rating:
Comments:
91.8 [First added to this chart: 04/27/2020]
Year of Release:
1984
Appears in:
Rank Score:
9,713
Rank in 1984:
Rank in 1980s:
Overall Rank:
Average Rating:
Comments:
90.7 [First added to this chart: 04/27/2020]
Year of Release:
1986
Appears in:
Rank Score:
1,273
Rank in 1986:
Rank in 1980s:
Overall Rank:
Average Rating:
Comments:
90.5 [First added to this chart: 06/25/2021]
Year of Release:
1983
Appears in:
Rank Score:
9,294
Rank in 1983:
Rank in 1980s:
Overall Rank:
Average Rating:
Comments:
90.3 [First added to this chart: 04/27/2020]
Year of Release:
1982
Appears in:
Rank Score:
1,087
Rank in 1982:
Rank in 1980s:
Overall Rank:
Average Rating:
Comments:
90.1 [First added to this chart: 08/30/2021]
Year of Release:
1987
Appears in:
Rank Score:
6,580
Rank in 1987:
Rank in 1980s:
Overall Rank:
Average Rating:
Comments:
90.1 [First added to this chart: 04/27/2020]
Year of Release:
1983
Appears in:
Rank Score:
7,551
Rank in 1983:
Rank in 1980s:
Overall Rank:
Average Rating:
Comments:
Total albums: 41. Page 1 of 5

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Top 41 Music Albums of the 1980s composition

Year Albums %


1980 5 13%
1981 4 10%
1982 5 13%
1983 6 15%
1984 3 8%
1985 5 13%
1986 2 5%
1987 4 10%
1988 2 5%
1989 4 10%
Artist Albums %


New Order 5 13%
The Smiths 4 10%
Tom Waits 4 10%
The Adicts 3 8%
Swans 2 5%
Misfits 2 5%
Dead Kennedys 1 3%
Show all
Country Albums %


United States 19 48%
United Kingdom 18 45%
Mixed Nationality 2 5%
Canada 1 3%
Soundtrack? Albums %
No 39 98%
Yes 1 3%

Top 41 Music Albums of the 1980s chart changes

Biggest fallers
Faller Down 1 from 31st to 32nd
Strangeways, Here We Come
by The Smiths
Faller Down 1 from 32nd to 33rd
Climate Of Hunter
by Scott Walker
Faller Down 1 from 33rd to 34th
Songs Of Praise
by The Adicts
New entries
New entryDiscipline
by King Crimson

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Top 41 Music Albums of the 1980s ratings

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88/100 (from 4 votes)
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95/100
From 07/20/2021 15:03
Love that Misfits album!
Helpful?  (Log in to vote) | +1 votes (1 helpful | 0 unhelpful)

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