The 50 best albums of the 80s

40) Prince & The Revolution - Purple Rain (1984)

Remember when Prince Rogers Nelson was still more famous for making music than changing his name to a symbol or suing his record company? If so, Purple Rain will most likely be responsible. 

A maximalist magnum opus that’s sold 25 million copies and counting, Purple Rain catapulted Prince into the immortal pop pantheon with its audacious blend of machine-tooled sex-funk, heavy metal guitars, porno-suggestive lyrics and MTV-friendly, high-gloss showmanship. The accompanying film may have been a polished turd of soapy melodrama but it transformed its diminutive star into a towering icon of the video age.

From the skeletal robo-funk and Hendrix-oid guitar eruptions of When Doves Cry to the controversial, overblown perv-pop wank fantasy Darling Nikki and the epic blow-out finale of Purple Rain itself, this is Prince in his imperial pomp, cranking everything up to 11 with his tongue in both cheeks. Usually somebody else’s.

Slayer – South Of Heaven album cover

39) Slayer - South Of Heaven (1988)

Deciding (probably wisely) not to try to top the extremities of their 1986 speed metal classic Reign In Blood, Slayer instead reined back the beats-per-minute rate – mind you, when anyone suggests Slayer ‘slowed down’, it has to be born in mind that they were still playing riffs at hyper speed, just not going consistently into warp overdrive.

The highlight of the results is the title track, which often enjoys the distinction of being the first Slayer song to be enjoyed by people who believed they didn’t like Slayer. It’s not all pipe-and-slippers though; Silent Scream and Ghosts Of War are Slayer as fast and ferocious as ever. They even included Judas Priest’s Dissident Aggressor as a nod to their own metal heroes.

South Of Heaven remains a fine example of a band escaping the corners into which they had painted themselves. By now a metal classic, it's nonetheless still reassuringly unpleasant, as evinced in the title track's line “bastard sons begat your cunting daughters.” Nice.

38) Mötley Crüe - Dr Feelgood (1989)

Mötley Crüe never needed an excuse for a party, but when their fifth album topped the US chart – the only Crüe album to do so – it was the sweetest of victories. Having seen LA rivals Guns N’ Roses attain world domination, the Crüe served notice with Dr. Feelgood that they were still major players. 

The album’s title track, a frankly hypocritical warning on the perils of drug abuse, had a crunching riff so woofer-warpingly bottom-heavy that an envious Metallica subsequently enlisted producer Bob Rock for The Black Album. And while the other standout track, the turbo-powered Kickstart My Heart, also had a drug-related title (it was the song inspired by the Nikki Sixx overdose which prompted Mötley Crüe to pull back from the precipice and go into collective rehab), its lyrics posted a defiant message to all-comers, with Vince boasting, “We’re still kickin’ ass!”

In fact, this album is in many ways the last hurrah for the excesses of big-haired, tattooed 80s metal. And what a send off it is: packed with hits, it is – quite rightly –regularly hailed as the Crüe’s best.

37) Ozzy Osbourne - Bark At The Moon (1983)

Replacing Randy Rhoads was an unenviable task, but in late ’82 the job went to Virginia-born Jake E Lee, formerly of LA hair metal bands Ratt and Rough Cutt (those double-Ts were all the rage back then). Lee had also worked, albeit briefly, for Ronnie James Dio, the man who replaced Ozzy in Black Sabbath, but Ozzy overlooked this indiscretion to pick Lee ahead of Dokken’s George Lynch. 

Lee made an impressive debut on Bark At The Moon, his flashy style best illustrated on the lunatic title track, its Hammer-inspired video featuring Ozzy as a werewolf. Thanks to that and the ballad So Tired, this album, along with Diary Of A Madman, remains Ozzy’s most successful record. 

36) Kate Bush - Hounds Of Love (1985)

Like Björk, Kate Bush has always had a highly developed sense of her voice as an instrument that can growl or croon as the mood demands. It’s employed to great effect on this self-produced album, backed by tender keyboard washes and layers of pounding drums. 

Her fifth album – and her best seller – remains the antithesis of all you think you know about 80s pop. Having built her own studio in the barn behind the family home to facilitate her now slow, meticulous recording techniques, and using everything from samplers to traditional Irish instruments, she emerged with something unparalleled. 

The first half was five odd yet accessible songs, from crossover hit Running Up That Hill to the giddy exhilaration of The Big Sky and the haunting hooks of Cloudbusting. The second was a prog-tastic suite taking in King Arthur, drowning and countless shifts. She thinks of it as “two separate albums”. Both are breathtaking.

35) Skid Row - Skid Row (1989)

The debut from Jon Bon Jovi’s New Jersey protégés, fronted by the ever-pouting Sebastian Bach, is uncomplicated but ambitious – ambitious in the sense that it sounds as if it was boldly recorded with huge stadium crowds in mind, and because theirs is a much heavier sound than their pop-metal image might suggest. 

Teen anthem Youth Gone Wild may not have been the biggest hit off Skid Row, but with its grab-you-by-the-throat riff, shouted, gang-style backing vocals and ‘us against them’ lyric the song quickly became, and remains, the band’s defining anthem. It also holds a special place in the heart of Bach, as the song was largely responsible for his joining the band. 

On the strength of two more singles – 18 And Life and the power-ballad I Remember You – the Skid Row album went on to sell more than five million copies. The band became superstars, and no member more so than the still-under-21 Bach, who, with his pretty-boy good looks, banshee wail of a voice and penchant for wild behaviour, was Youth Gone Wild personified. 

34) ZZ Top - Eliminator (1983)

ZZ Top were already an immensely popular Texan blues trio. But when in 1993 Eliminator roared up the road and parked in the charts, the trio and the album took the 80s by the scruff of the neck – helped in no small part by a series of superb, truly memorable, MTV-friendly videos and some daftly successful singles, including Gimme All Your Lovin’ and Sharp Dressed Man

In total, the album sounded the work of an altogether new band, but then again timeless. Eliminator was such a significant departure from what had come before it that it incited blues purists to accuse the band of an act of near-heresy. 

Yet it has endured to such an extent that, over 30 years on, it supplies more than a third of the tracks in frequent rotation in the band's live sets. Infectious, humorous, and way more successful than any record by men with that much facial hair should be, Eliminator remains ZZ Top’s commercial peak.

33) Mötley Crüe - Shout At The Devil

1983 was the year that these four reprobates from Sunset Strip really popped their spiky heads above the parapet as far as the UK was concerned, and Shout At The Devil displays Mötley Crüe’s sleazy metal at its best. 

The Crüe’s second album, their platinum-selling breakthrough was an all-out attack on America’s self-appointed moral majority. With its faux-Satanic imagery, a mischievous warning of “masked backwards messages” and a knowingly controversial cover of The Beatles’ Helter Skelter (a song inextricably linked to the 1969 Manson Family murders), Shout At The Devil was an affront to decency. 

It was also, fundamentally, a great heavy metal record, stacked with gonzoid anthems: Looks That Kill, Too Young To Fall In Love and the fists-in-the-air title track. The Crüe’s alien-hooker chic – skyscraper hair, crude make-up, S&M leather outfits – spawned a legion of copycats on the Sunset Strip. Equally, Shout At The Devil remains the definitive ‘80s glam metal album, and Mötley’s masterpiece.

32) Ozzy Osbourne - Diary Of A Madman (1981)

Ozzy’s first post-Sabbath band – himself, guitarist Randy Rhoads, ex-Uriah Heep drummer Lee Kerslake and ex-Rainbow bassist/lyricist ‘Bomber’ Bob Daisley – formed such a tight writing unit that they cut two albums back to back in 1980. The second album, Diary Of A Madman, was released 14 months after the first, and is a genuine classic. 

Ozzy was on top dove-baiting, bat-biting form for this album, consolidating his position as a heavy metal monster. It shows him in vintage form, rejoicing in his wild lifestyle on the self-explanatory Flying High Again, sticking it to The Man with heartfelt emotion on You Can’t Kill Rock And Roll, and wailing “Sanity now is beyond me!” on the title track. 

The latter, a bizarre gothic metal masterpiece with neo-classical flourishes, is Randy Rhoads’ crowning glory. But as Ozzy later mused, “He was only just beginning…” Sadly, Rhoads died in a plane crash the year after the album’s release.

31) Faith No More - The Real Thing (1989)

It wasn’t just that this was the world’s introduction to Mike Patton that made this album special. Faith No More had been steadily building towards something over their seven-year existence, and The Real Thing was it. The loose ends, promise and hinted-at ideas of Introduce Yourself here coalesced into a fiercely united musical vision. 

Given that the various members had long complained that they had nothing in common musically, The Real Thing demonstrated not only how individually talented the musicians in Faith No More were, but how devastatingly inventive they could be when combined. Here, they remodel their sound into super-colourful heart-stopping pop metal. Almost any track from this album could have been a hit, and Epic was simply colossal. 

And then there was, of course, Mike Patton, who from now on loaded FNM’s music with a lethal dose of sarcasm and surrealism. It’s difficult to imagine what this album would sound like without Patton (the eleventh-hour replacement for Chuck Mosley), such is the extent to which he imposes his personality on proceedings. 


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