Thursday 6 August 2020

50 Albums For 50 Years - 1980 to 1989

PART 2 - 1980 to 1989

The 80s?  All big shoulder pads, yuppies, and bashing Mrs Thatch.
Not necessarily for someone who entered the decade in their last year of junior school, and ended it with long hair, a leather jacket, and 2 years of a 4 year Apprenticeship behind them.
Key interests at the start was Football (West Ham winning the FA Cup in 1980, and completing my Espana 82 Panini Sticker Book being two highlights), but by 1982/83, Music was rapidly becoming an obsession - first record player, first album, first Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles, regular visits to the second hand record shop - I was building quite a collection.
So was the 80s all about shoulder pads and money to burn?  No, mostly it was about acne, dandruff, and accumulating "stuff".

Again, I may well have banged on about some of these in the past, but I'm going to do it again anyway.

1980 Dexys Midnight Runners – Searching For The Young Soul Rebels
Off the back of Punk and what followed, youth tribalism was once more in vogue (in truth it had never gone away).  In the midst of a Mod Revival and the Two Tone movement came another tribe with a love of 60s Soul, a gang mentality, and a soundtrack that fitted perfectly with the times.
Dexys didn't place adverts for their new album, they wrote essays explaining the importance of the music and their vision.
Kevin Rowland saw his initial vision through, and then re-invented Dexy's for every subsequent release.  All essential listening, but none more essential than the debut.

1981 Human League - Dare
The Human League started life as an avant-garde-ish Art School Project - all synths, slideshows and asymmetric haircuts.  Lack of commercial success and crumbling relationships within the band led to Martyn Ware and Ian Craig-Marsh jumping ship and leaving Phil Oakey with the bands name and debts, but no actual band.  Two female singers were recruited from a Sheffield night-club and a musician acquaintance added.  Not only did the membership change, the bands sound became more pop-orientated and commercial (no doubt helped by rising debts and Martin Rushent's production guidance).  What came next is the Human League's best album, adding seriously lush pop alongside the darker tones of original League.
It also includes an afterthought song tacked onto the end of the album to please the record company.  That song is now seen as the Human League's most well known 3 minutes, and trotted out by lazy TV producers when they want to evoke the 80s.
There are 9 other better songs on this album though.

1982 Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast
Iron Maiden were at a bit of a low point in late 81.  After their initial success, their second album didn't do the same business, their vocalist was enjoying the Rock n Roll lifestyle a little too much, and their record company were demanding hit singles.  Cue 3 non-album singles - "Women In Uniform", "Twilight Zone", and "Purgatory".  None of them provided the breakthrough hoped for, and their singer departed and/or was sacked.
With a new singer installed, the band were prolific in writing and recording (mindful of the increasing debt they were building).  The reward was a Top 10 single ("Run To The Hills") and an instant Number 1 album upon release.
This rejuvenated Iron Maiden entered 1982 at the top of their game, and with some minor hiccups along the way, stayed there.

1983 Big Country – The Crossing
It's got Guitars that sound like Bagpipes - what more do you need.
Viewed as peers of U2 in 1983, and sharing a producer (Steve Lillywhite) this debut took the songcraft Stuart Adamson learned in The Skids, and advanced it in a sort of Celtic Bruce Springsteen-ish way - all honest and workmanlike, with added bombast.  A marriage of big riffs, a solid rhythm section, melodious twin guitars ,and air-pinching anthems.  Did I mention the Bagpipe Guitars?
Another one of those accomplished debut albums that was very nearly equalled in future releases, but never felt quite as whole as the first outing.

1984 Metallica – Ride The Lightening
Can't have compilations so Status Quo's '12 Gold Bars Volume I + II' is out (sadly), Frankie Goes To Hollywood were everywhere in 1984, but the album honestly wasn't that great.  The Smiths debut?  I didn't actually properly get The Smiths until 1987, so that's out too.
So 1984s nomination goes to a bunch of longhairs from California at the forefront of the Thrash Metal scene.  Nut wait .. this, their second album, holds back on the thrash in favour of a more refined heavy rock (still played very quickly at times) with a debt to Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and (thanks to drummer Lars Ulrich's passion) various New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) bands including Diamond Head, Blitzkreig, and Sweet Savage.
The sound flying from those grooves is as heavy as anything out there, but done with a touch of musicianship so missing from many of their head rattling peers.

1985 Marillion – Misplaced Childhood
Another one of those perfect moment albums where a band deep in debt hits a seam of gold.
But the question remains: how can a bunch of Prog-Rockers from Aylsebury release a concept album into a world dominated by Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins, and Tears For Fears and expect success?
Well they did, helped in no small part to 2 very strong single ("Kayleigh" and "Lavender" which do actually work outside of the concept), a supportive media (for a change), and a ravenous fan base.
Written as one long story (over 2 sides of vinyl) after an acid trip, this album took the tropes of their previous 2 releases and honed the edges.  There was to be one more Fish-era album after this one - another concept album, and a very good one too, but not quite as good as this one.

1986 Metallica – Master Of Puppets
Whilst this could be initially viewed as "more of the same" after 1984s 'Ride The Lightening' (ie full production, focussed playing, dark lyrics, growled vocals, thrashy moments) this is the point where everything came together and over the course of the album pretty much defined Heavy Metal/Heavy Rock for the next 10 years.  The world was opening up before them, only to be snatched from them when bassist Cliff Burton was killed in a coach crash.  Metallica never sounded as musically forceful again, falling back on the more down, sombre, darker style.   But ... re-invention happens and I can report that 2016s 'Hardwired To Self Destruct' is easily the best thing they've done since the early 90s.

1987 Cult – Electric
In truth, probably a tie between this and Guns n Roses - 'Appetite For Destruction', but this one I think just edges it.  It's probably more evocative of the moment than Buns n Toasties who wheedled their way into my lughole affections later.
A relatively successful Goth band, this album marked a re-invention in their sound - of which much can be attributed to producer Rick Rubin (he of DefJam Records, various Hip Hop tunes, The Beastie Boys, and a Metal dabbler with Slayer's 'Reign In Blood').
What came was an almost perfect record to get (and keep) a party going in 1987.  It starts on a high and rarely lets go (except maybe for the perfunctory cover of "Born To Be Wild")

1988 Wonder Stuff – Eight Legged Groove Machine
I wrote many moons ago of my belief that 1987 was something of a nadir in popular music, but the rumblings were there, and by 1988 a new UK indie sound (called invitingly Grebo) was developing in the Midlands, helmed by Pop Will Eat Itself, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, and this lot.  The Wonder Stuff's debut was a real blast of energy, full of humour, directness (the 3 minute barrier is rarely broken), and an almost folky lilt behind it.  Grebo as a thing may not have lasted that long, but was the perfect antidote to Stock Aitken and Waterman.

1989 Stone Roses – Stone Roses
A retrospective choice this one - my most played record that year was probably Last Of The Teenage Idols – 'Satellite Head Gone Soft' or Wolfsbane - 'Live Fast Die Fast'.  I may even have played The Macc Lads - 'From Beer To Eternity' more often.  It's one of those that I bought, listened to, but was obviously not in the right frame of mind for it.  The release of 'Second Coming' brought me back to it - oh what I fool, this is superb.
Madchester rumbled into public conscious in the late 80s - according to legend The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays were at the front.  Both mixing dance music with indie guitars, the Happy Mondays arrived at a club happy formula, whilst the Stone Roses imbued the music with more 60s psychedelia.  Their debut album was not as hotly received as (false) memory suggests, waiting some 6 months (and the release of the "Fools Gold" single which is not on the album) to become a massive success.
In retrospect, fully deserving of that success - it still sounds remarkably fresh today, and not a bad way to round off a decade (even if it took me 5 years to get round to that opinion)


  1. Definitely Dexys and Dare. And, of course, the Roses. But you're on your own with the rest, I'm afraid. We're all different, aren't we?

    1. The 90s may be further divergence. All I've got to do is write it - the list is sorted, but the meandering words not yet finalised.
      Coming soon ...

  2. Interesting list, you've even persuaded me to give a couple of the less familiar ones another spin... although probably not Metallica.