Welcome to our epic rundown of the Real 100 Greatest Albums Of The 80s - the true connoisseur’s choice. The rules are simple:
1) ONLY One album per band Yeah, we know Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden and the rest made enough great albums between them to make up the entire list, but that would be boring. We’re giving the other guys a chance.
2) Don’t pick the most famous albums The ones we’ve chosen are the often unsung classics and hidden gems, so expect the unexpected.
3) Justify it Why should you care? Well, we’re about to tell you
All clear? Good. Now dig in and enjoy…
100) In The Flat Field - Bauhaus (1980)
Though it lacked their spooked single of the previous year, Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Bauhaus’ debut helped set goth’s template with its chilly, knowing alienation, and a stylishly cinematic gloom suiting the decade’s monochrome, depressed start. Peter Murphy called himself “an optimist with nihilistic tendencies”, and like Hammer’s later horror movies, his band winked while they shrieked.
What they said at the time: “Too priggish and conceited… Gothic as a brick.” Sounds
99) Album - PiL (1986)
Rise was the single that returned John Lydon to the charts, with its Apartheid-inspired lyrics and defining mantra that ‘anger is an energy’. 1986’s Album also made symbolic peace between the voice of punk and hard rock’s supposed dinosaurs, with the likes of Ginger Baker and Steve Vai among the thunderous hired guns who appeared on the record.
What they said at the time: “The music offered no light, no respite – but kept plunging further and further into a heart of darkness.” NME
98) If I Should Fall From Grace With God - The Pogues (1988)
By their third album, The Pogues had perfected their anarchic folk/punk fusion. From the batshit-crazy rave-up that is Fiesta to the cry-in-your-beer Fairytale Of New York, never has an album so perfectly caught the spirit (both kinds) of a pub lock-in.
What they said at the time: “Within the grooves of Grace, you get Heaven and Hell and everything in between.” Sounds
97) Agent Provocateur - Foreigner (1984)
Foreigner 4 may have been the breakthrough record, but Agent Provocateur became the connoisseur’s choice. It glows with golden songs and crowns Lou Gramm’s career: he would never sing better than he did here. I Want To Know What Love Is was the hit, yet Down On Love, A Love In Vain and That Was Yesterday join it as masterpieces of AOR, machine-tooled for their era.
What they said at the time: “Have to admit I’ve had some good times inspired by Foreigner.” Creem
96) Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables - Dead Kennedys (1980)
American hardcore was still in its infancy when Dead Kennedys issued their defining statement. It took three-chord punk and gonzo surf into biting political satire – Kill The Poor, California Über Alles, Holiday In Cambodia – while retaining a trashily humorous aesthetic. Needless to say, the effect was polarising.
What they said at the time: “The only legitimate companion piece to the Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks.” Trouser Press
95) Dawn Patrol - Night Ranger (1982)
It was the power ballad Sister Christian that made Night Ranger famous in 1984, but this debut album, from two years earlier, was their masterpiece. Bassist/vocalist Jack Blades described Dawn Patrol as “a full‑on kick-ass American rock record”, and so it was: supercharged, ultra‑melodic hard rock with Thin Lizzy‑inspired twin lead guitars and killer songs from end to end.
What they said at the time: “A heavy metal Journey.” Kerrang!
94) MSG - The Michael Schenker Group (1981)
While in his brother’s band Scorpions, then with UFO, Michael Schenker became a guitar hero. With his own band, he made a great debut album and then topped it with this superb follow-up. For the errant genius, Attack Of The Mad Axeman was a signature song. His solos in Looking For Love are mind-blowing.
What they said at the time: “Superior heavy rock. An album with balls that should be played loud.” Record Mirror
93) Doolittle - Pixies (1989)
David Bowie found the Pixies “the most compelling music of the whole 1980s”. And the ‘quiet-loud’ formula which Kurt Cobain confessed he cribbed was carefully honed here. Black Francis’s feminine, disturbing scream and surreally vicious lyrics on the likes of Debaser brought mutilation into the mainstream.
What they said at the time: “Nothing is quite, thankfully, what it seems on Doolittle, and that’s exactly what gives it a razor edge.” NME
92) Emotions In Motion - Billy Squier (1982)
Billy Squier’s third album suffered in comparison for not being the multi-platinum Don’t Say No, but as history shows it’s Emotions In Motion that has the edge over its 1981 predecessor. Queen sing back-up vocals on the title track, and Andy Warhol created the cover, but it’s the crisp songwriting that packs the real punch, not least in tracks like Learn How To Live and the sublime In Your Eyes.
91) Franks Wild Years - Tom Waits (1987)
The last of a loose trilogy of Tom Waits albums about dissolute musician Frank, which started with 1983’s Swordfishtrombones, Franks Wild Years is in Bowie terms the Lodger of the three, underestimated because of its predecessors. Diseased Sinatra pastiches sit alongside ballads such as Innocent When You Dream.
What they said at the time: “He turns back the clock on all the manifold styles that make up music in America… and then he cocktails them.” Sounds
90) Vivid - Living Colour (1988)
Living Colour hit the New York streets in a blur of hard-rocking guitar fuzz, sledgehammer funk and political sloganeering. A smash hit single, Cult Of Personality, plus sampled speeches by John F Kennedy, Malcolm X and Franklin D Roosevelt, helped to fuel two million sales of their debut album, Vivid. Guitarist Vernon Reed retells their story.
What came first: the messages you wanted to send out or, the vehicle for their delivery?
Oh, the messages. Vivid was almost a diary for me. Funny Vibe came about following an incident in a department store, Glamour Boys was from shopping Downtown and Open Letter (To A Landlord) was indebted to gentrification.
A few years ago you told Classic Rock: “Living Colour were unwilling to play by hard rock’s rules and culture. Some felt that we were being provocative merely for existing.”
Well, my musical criteria have never been genre-driven. If a song is authentic, that’s good enough for me.
Did it help that Anthrax, Maiden’s Steve Harris and Lemmy of Motörhead all stood up for the band?
Absolutely. Lemmy was one of the first of the heavy guys to speak up about us. Robert Fripp has also been very complimentary about my guitar playing.
Why did Living Colour split up in 1995?
Things had started to go sideways. The departure of Muzz [Skillings, bassist] was a huge thing. Being in a confrontational Afro-American hard rock band and doing it for very little money was a hard sell.
And what brought about the reunion in late 2000?
I’m still asking myself that question.
Twenty-eight years on from your debut, have any of the things the band railed against improved?
At least the definition of rock’n’roll has expanded. I love the fact that it’s no longer the exclusive domain of the white man.
What they said at the time: “Living Colour’s world vision may be in glorious technicolour, but they’re the first to admit that a black rage sweeps through their music.” – Sounds
89) Robbie Robertson - Robbie Robertson (1987)
Various admirers (U2 and Peter Gabriel included) helped out on Robertson’s debut, issued over a decade after The Band had signed off with The Last Waltz. Robertson allied his rootsy sensibilities to a heavily atmospheric and experimental approach, best served by Broken Arrow and Somewhere Down The Crazy River.
What they said at the time: “Robertson’s abilities are still very much intact… [He] establishes himself as his own man.” Rolling Stone
88) Tattooed Beat Messiah - Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love Reaction (1988)
Messiah was the fever dream of Flexi‑Pop mag designer Mark Manning, who came up with it while laying out a Spandau Ballet story while blasted on acid. The Love Reaction were filthy, hairy cretins, and the sounds they made were like AC/DC being sucked through a turbine engine, but somehow they made one of rock’n’roll’s most holy artefacts. If Spinal Tap went up to 11, the Love Reaction went to 137 at least.
What they said at the time: “The biggest jerk in the world.” Kerrang!
87) Out Of This World - Europe (1988)
The Final Countdown, a No.1 single in 25 countries in 1986, was a hard act to follow. But on Out Of This World were songs that David Coverdale would have sold his children for: power ballad Open Your Heart, and the Deep Purple-gone-AOR anthem Superstitious.
What they said at the time: “An Out Of This World album that, ultimately, finds itself struggling to leave the stratosphere.” Kerrang!
86) Street Talk - Steve Perry (1984)
By 1984, Journey were beginning an extended break that would last for another two years (and would include a substantial line-up shake-up before they returned with 1986’s Raised On Radio). So what better way for singer Steve Perry to pass the time than to record a solo album? Titled Street Talk, it was his solo debut. The album’s biggest hit, Oh Sherrie, written for his then-girlfriend Sherrie Swafford, reached No.1 on the US Billboard Rock chart.
What they said at the time: “Pat Boone didn’t understand, so why should Steve Perry – oversinging signifies not soul and inspiration but will and desperation.” Christgau’s Consumer Guide
85) The Lonesome Jubilee - John Cougar Mellencamp (1987)
On the verge of dropping the ‘Cougar’ from his professional name, John Mellencamp secured his place in the American canon of blue-collar songwriters with The Lonesome Jubilee, a collection that reflects on death and disappointment and the passing of generations. Melancholy drifts through Paper In Fire, Check It Out and The Real Life, Mellencamp’s voice ringing plaintive, pure and true.
What they said at the time: “The Lonesome Jubilee suggests that the sources of people’s unhappiness resides at least partly within themselves or, more disturbingly, in the fabric of life.” Rolling Stone
84) Everybody’s Crazy - Michael Bolton (1985)
AOR’s golden decade suddenly had another rare gem when, in 1985 and with his fourth record, nearly man Michael Bolton nailed it at last. Always adept with a bridge here, a chorus there, now came the glorious melding of his talents, that giant voice dominating huge hooks such as on Save Our Love, Can’t Turn It Off and You Don’t Want Me Bad Enough. With this rowdy slice of soft rock supremacy, Bolton’s unlikely journey to housewives’ favourite began.
What they said at the time: “Perhaps the strongest, most coherent vinyl achievement of its kind since Boston’s debut or Departure by Journey.” Kerrang!
83) Birth, School, Work, Death - The Godfathers (1988)
Following the filthy garage-rock of debut Hit By Hit, with Birth, School, Work, Death The Godfathers flew against the prevailing wind of acid house and glam-metal by invoking the kind of punkoid R&B patented by The Pretty Things and Dr. Feelgood, with heaps of sneery attitude.
What they said at the time: “The Godfathers play truly scalding rock’n’roll like they were born to do it.” Sounds
82) Battle Hymns - Manowar (1982)
Like Kiss before them, Manowar were heavy metal superheroes; four muscle-bound, fur-clad warriors proclaiming ‘Death to false metal’. Battle Hymns, their first and greatest album, delivered the requisite blood and thunder. Fittingly for music of such theatrical grandeur, Hollywood legend Orson Welles narrated the grisly tale of Dark Avenger.
What they said at the time: “If anybody ever makes Conan The Barbarian into a musical, it should sound something like this” Record Mirror
81) Workbook - Bob Mould (1989)
The suicide of Hüsker Dü’s manager, heroin addiction of estranged bandmate Grant Hart and final failure of their band sent Bob Mould reeling into self-exile in a Minnesota farmhouse. His solo debut album, Workbook 25, veered between acoustic classicism, implacable electric guitars and howls into the hurricane, in some of the best and most confessional songs of his career.
What they said at the time: “A genuine feeling of catharsis… by Mould’s one-two punch of confessional honesty and guitar euphoria.” Rolling Stone
80) Taking On The World - Gun (1989)
In stark contrast to their colourful, energetic music, the grainy black-and-white cover photograph of Taking On The World showed the five members of Gun on the dockside at the River Clyde, walking purposefully towards the camera – a grim setting that made them resemble a street gang.
Following a bidding war between Island, Mercury, EMI and A&M Records, the five-piece signed to the latter in early 1988. It took them almost two years to release their debut album, during which time the word going around was that Gun were over before they’d started. However, the naysayers were made to look pretty stupid as Gun’s debut album Taking On The World spawned winner after winner – hit single Better Days, Inside Out, Money (Everybody Loves Her), Shame On You and the title track, all of which had videos made.
“The shit-talking was annoying, but we signed to A&M because it was a smaller label, almost like a family,” guitarist Giuliano Gizzi explains. “They locked us away and allowed us time to make the right album, instead of rushing out something and seeing it flop.”
In those days of rigidly defined genres, Gun’s mix of pop and rock really stood out. They readily admitted to liking AC/DC, Def Leppard and Springsteen, as well as Simple Minds, Prince and especially INXS. “We always loved rock music with a dance feel,” Gizzi reasons. “Listen Like Thieves [by INXS, 1985] was such a great album. It’s why we loved Prince, too.”
Five years before they scored one of their best known hits, by transforming Cameo’s Word Up into a hard-rock anthem, they used to play Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy as an encore.
“Prince was taking off back then, and to us he was just like Hendrix,” Gizzi enthuses. “When he played an overdriven guitar over a dance beat… we tried to bring an element of that into our own music.”
Before hiring Kenny MacDonald of Slide and Texas fame to produce their debut, Gun had experimented with Mick Ralphs of Bad Company/Mott. As producer of their demos, MacDonald got the nod after things with Ralphs didn’t work out – though not before one rather star-struck moment.
“Here’s a great story,” Gizzi laughs. “Mark [Rankin, vocalist] and I were waiting to leave the studio when we heard Better Days [the album’s first single] being cranked out at top volume. Inside the studio – and I swear this is true – Ralphs, Les Paul in hand, was jamming on our song with David Gilmour. They’d had a couple of drinks, and Pink Floyd stored their backline at that place. We couldn’t believe our eyes!”
Gun wanted everyone to know their origins. At the time, Mark Rankin said: “Glasgow is a hard place but we’re proud of our roots.”
“In Glasgow you are what you are,” Gizzi reflects now. “Glaswegians are down-to-earth and hard working. Despite my five minutes of fame I’ve never changed. We love our roots and there’s nothing wrong with being grounded and hard working.”
With a nervous smile, Gizzi recalls the precise moment he realised their album was something special. He and Rankin had been invited to a breakfast meeting with David Rose, the label’s head of A&R.
“We were afraid he might have bad news to break, but instead David said: ‘You’ve got a great album here and the label’s behind you. This could be the start of Gun becoming a popular band.’”
Rose was right. Due initially to the success of Better Days, Gun became familiar faces at the Top Of The Pops studios. “We did that show maybe five times,” Gizzi estimates. “The first time, for Better Days… that was it for me. It could all have stopped right there. I think Alex holds the record, he did it a hundred and five times!”
Gizzi is referring to Alex Dickson, the 17-year-old guitar prodigy who replaced Baby Stafford in Gun for their next album, Gallus. Dickson, who went on to play with Robbie Williams, among others, recently rejoined the group after decades away and is playing on a new studio album that’s currently being recorded.
Gun guys relished every last second of their golden era, which was crowned by an invitation to support the Rolling Stones on a long stretch of their Urban Jungle tour.
“Those guys invited us to their parties – we jammed on Muddy Waters and ZZ Top songs with Ronnie Wood,” Gizzi says, marvelling at the memory. “I’m still pinching myself.”
What they said at the time: “This is pop/rock at its finest, with a bucketful of soul and an epic sense of feel.” RAW
79) The Crossing - Big Country (1983)
Once dubbed “Britain’s answer to Jimi Hendrix” by John Peel, Stuart Adamson was no conventional guitar hero. His work with new wave punks The Skids was notable for its paucity of breakneck riffs, preferring instead to make drama from slower tempos and shrill, elongated lines. In Big Country, in tandem with fellow guitarist Bruce Watson, Adamson perfected a sound that resembled bagpipes.
Eventually fleshed out by a rhythm section of Tony Butler and Mark Brzezicki, Big Country pioneered a heroic new form of guitar rock that took the basic elements of traditional Celtic roots music and rolled them out on a widescreen canvas. The most identifiable songs on debut The Crossing – Harvest Home, Fields Of Fire (400 Miles), In A Big Country – sounded like rugged battle hymns, crackling with a rebellious kind of nobility. “I certainly felt that pop music hasn’t used guitars in adventurous enough ways,” Adamson said to Smash Hits on its release in 1983. “So we’ve tried to make different sounds, rather than just strumming chords with a screaming lead break in the middle.”
There was, too, a cinematic debt to The Crossing, with its allusions to American westerns and the tacit acknowledgement of the score for The Guns Of Navarone on Fields Of Fire. Yet Adamson’s lyrics often seemed highly personal. Big Country’s rousing anthems spoke of hardship, struggle and lost innocence, of a resolute quest for beauty in a world left to ruin. These themes were tangible in the album’s more downbeat moments, particularly Chance and Close Action. Meanwhile, enigmatic closing track Porrohman, an epic meditation on death and religion, hinted at something altogether proggier and experimental.
The Crossing was a huge success in the UK, spawning three major hit singles and going platinum, and in the US it made the Top 20 and sold over half a million copies. In the age of synth-pop and plastic funk, Big Country led the clarion call for what became known as The Big Music, sharing with U2 a mind-set that suggested windblown guitar rock was the only guide you’d ever really need.
What they said at the time: “The Crossing frequently achieves the epic drama it’s after.” Creem
78) Sea Hags - Sea Hags (1989)
“We’ll be the new Guns N’ Roses if anyone wants to point that at us,” said Sea Hags frontman Ron Yocom when the San Fran band’s debut was released. Produced by Mike Clink, who’d done Appetite For Destruction, the Hags delivered genius-level sleaze rock. Undone by heroin, they never made a follow-up.
What they said at the time: “This record is from the heart and the gutter.” Kerrang!
77) Gas Food Lodging - Green On Red (1985)
Tuscon’s finest created an explosive roots-rock opus forged from the constituent parts of The Band, Meat Puppets and Neil Young at his woolliest. Chuck Prophet’s untamed guitar lines were matched only by the primal howl of Dan Stuart’s ravaged vocals.
What they said at the time: “Total mastery…some songs could become classics.” Sounds
76) Fire Of Love - The Gun Club (1981)
The fearsome debut from Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s band assimilated punk, blues and psychobilly into an alternative history of US rock’n’roll. Released on tiny indie label Ruby, Fire Of Love pointed the way for a new generation of upstarts, not least the White Stripes.
What they said at the time: “Demonic intensity grabs you by the throat.” Melody Maker
75) Brian Wilson - Brian Wilson (1988)
Brian Wilson was missing, presumed creatively dead for most of the 80s. He was in fact being controlled and exploited by his psychiatrist Eugene Landy, which overshadowed this album’s reputation. But it also contains the Smile-style Americana saga Rio Grande, and the signature Wilson sentiment of Love And Mercy – still his best songwriting since the 70s.
What they said at the time: “A stunning reminder of what pop’s been missing all these years.” Rolling Stone
74) Southern Accents - Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (1985)
Petty’s biggest hit of the 80s was Full Moon Fever, produced by Jeff Lynne, and nominally a solo album. His best record of that decade was Southern Accents, with its glorious, Dixie-referencing anthem Rebels, hypnotic left-field single Don’t Come Around Here No More and the beautiful, elegiac title track.
What they said at the time: “Petty’s roots album, but the accents here aren’t exactly orthodox southern rock.” Creem
73) Copperhead Road - Steve Earle (1988)
Eschewing the heartland country rock that had marked his first two albums, Steve Earle described Copperhead Road as “heavy metal bluegrass”. Factor in some Celtic folk, a guest spot from The Pogues and a large dose of anti-war polemic and the end result was glorious, although less easily digestible.
What they said at the time: “Harder hitting than either of its predecessors… a raw-knuckled dose of rock’n’roll.” Rolling Stone
72) Slam - Dan Reed Network (1989)
It should have been their Slippery When Wet. Instead the Network’s second album became a lost classic; a funk rock tour de force produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers and lit up with so many great songs, from rump-shakers Tiger In A Dress and Make It Easy to beautiful ballads Rainbow Child and Stronger Than Steel.
What they said at the time: “Before, rock was never this funky, funk never this rocking.” Sounds
71) Long Cold Winter - Cinderella (1988)
Viewed in retrospect, this appears to be a trend-setting record, with Cinderella abandoning the cheery hair metal of Night Songs for an album of darkness and depth. It was far from grunge. Gypsy Road and The Last Mile are perfectly pitched cock-rock, while Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Til It’s Gone) is a tearful, heart-on-sleeve ballad. The tone, though, is adult, and it marked the arrival of Tom Keifer as a writer of some talent.
What they said at the time: “Exhibits an admirable willingness to take a stab at something different.” Rolling Stone
70) Killing Joke - Killing Joke (1980)
For many, Killing Joke’s eponymous debut would be the ultimate blueprint for heavy music in the post-punk landscape. Geordie Walker’s solo-free guitar wash allied to Paul Ferguson’s tribal drumming, the dub depth, Chic-informed bass lines of Youth and Jaz Coleman’s coal-black apocalyptic vocals and keyboard moods created a sound latterly adopted, nurtured or fed upon by Manson, Nirvana and Metallica.
What they said at the time: “Killing Joke have an edge of violence crucial to their music.” NME
69) Unmasked - Kiss (1980)
Although Kiss mainman Paul Stanley would subsequently disown Unmasked – stating bluntly that “We lost our balls” – it’s a great pop-rock record, like Dynasty before it. On two songs, Tomorrow and Shandi, Stanley himself achieved power-pop perfection. And Ace Frehley’s Torpedo Girl is a unique marker where genius and insanity meet.
What they said at the time: “Only Simmons seems to comprehend that Kiss are really a pantomime based on a rock group.” NME
68) Synchronicity - The Police (1983)
With their fifth – and final – album of engaging but inscrutable pop-rock, The Police finally ascended to the premier league. The fact that Synchronicity included four enormous hit singles – Wrapped Around Your Finger, King Of Pain, Every Breath You Take and Synchronicity II – didn’t do any harm. Even the more experimental material on the album – and the trio’s mutual loathing – didn’t stop them becoming the world’s biggest band.
What they said at the time: “A record of real passion that is impossible to truly decipher.” NME
67) Juju - Siouxsie And The Banshees (1981)
The Mark II Banshees’ defining moment dragged goth kicking and screaming into the mainstream. From its vinyl A-side’s chart-busting hits (Spellbound, Arabian Nights) to its darker flip-side (Night Shift, Voodoo Dolly), the addition of Budgie’s strident percussion and John McGeoch’s evocative guitar broadened the band’s cult appeal and transformed the enigmatic Siouxsie into an icon.
What they said at the time: “Intriguing, intense, brooding and powerfully atmospheric.” Sounds
66) East Side Story - Squeeze (1981)
East Side Story saw the South London band ditch the ‘new wave’ tag and match commercial reward with critical acclaim. Songwriters Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford were even hailed as the latter-day Lennon & McCartney for their endless flow of deft melodies and adroit lyrics. Indeed their only rival in the witty songcraft stakes, Elvis Costello, was the co-producer of this, Squeeze’s fourth album, alongside his own producer Roger Bechirian. Ranging from rockabilly to country, psychedelia to blue-eyed soul, the singles Labelled With Love, Tempted and Is That Love? were just the tip of an eclectic iceberg.
What they said at the time: “An album that harkens back to the halcyon era of English studio experimentation.” Creem
65) Disintegration - The Cure (1989)
Burnt by the fame The Cure had garnered with 1985’s The Head On The Door, mainman Robert Smith did his best to reverse the juggernaut on Disintegration, reverting to the doomy production of early times, shovelling down hallucinogens and refusing to speak during sessions at Hook End Manor in order to create a “slightly unpleasant environment”. It didn’t work: the shimmering Pictures Of You, the bleakly beautiful Lovesong and the unsettling Lullaby were all too hooky to lurk in a subterranean goth club, and they dragged Disintegration to The Cure’s best-ever sales.
What they said at the time: “Eleven years and eight studio albums in, [Smith] is still playing the confused adolescent adrift in suburban heartbreak.” Q
64) Psychocandy - The Jesus And Mary Chain (1985)
Arriving four months after Live Aid, the Mary Chain’s debut album of feedback-drenched guitar noise was like a splash of cold water on the face, an invigorating antidote to stadium bombast and boring, beige chart pop.
Finding a middle ground between 60s girl groups and 70s nihilism, they were a sort of unholy fusion of the Shangri-La’s and The Stooges. Just Like Honey was a delicious drizzle, My Little Underground a call to arms from the new indie generation.
What they said at the time: “Rooted so specifically in a New York situated exactly halfway between the Velvet Underground and The Ramones.” Melody Maker
63) Earthshaker - Y&T (1981)
A new decade and the change of name from the whimsical Yesterday And Today to the more succinct Y&T ushered in a new era for the Californian band. An altogether tougher proposition than their previous two records (less soft-focus band portraits, more grandstanding guitars and vocals), the songs were punchy and precise, the colour and musical dexterity baffling at times. It was the start of a strong run of albums for the band, but Y&T would never be this good again.
What they said at the time: “Y&T went from mediocre beginnings to full-blooded, hot-rockin’, barnstormin’ metal maestros.” Sounds
62) Welcome To Hell - Venom (1981)
‘Don’t be a prophet in your own land,’ the old proverb runs. And how true it proved for Newcastle’s Venom, the band that, with Welcome To Hell, invented a genre that flourished globally without them. It’s hard to overstate the shock of hearing this in 1981, a discordant, angry and gleefully horrific record made in a style so new it had no name. Venom called it black metal. Within In League With Satan was the dark throb that equipped a generation, while Witching Hour contains the first iterations of all kinds of thrash sub-strains. Welcome To Hell remains key to understanding all that followed.
What they said at the time: “Brings new meaning to the word cataclysmic.” Sounds
61) Remain In Light - Talking Heads (1980)
Talking Heads’ quantum creative leaps between albums culminated in this, their fourth, the apotheosis of their assimilation of world music and African polyrhythms.
Enabled by producer Brian Eno, Remain In Light was a dazzling display of looped grooves and dextrous musicianship, from the frazzled art funk of Crosseyed And Painless to the mesmeric, near-psychedelic Houses In Motion. Meanwhile, frontman David Byrne effected the transition from exaggerated Mr Normal to a sort of unhinged preacher.
What they said at the time: “Approaching a strong funk that you last heard at length on [Funkadelic’s] One Nation Under A Groove.” NME
60) Deface The Music - Utopia (1980)
Utopia followed the opposite trajectory to The Beatles: their 1974 debut was a complex-prog meisterwerk, but by their sixth album they were purveying three-minute pop nuggets.
The Beatles-esque Deface The Music was a tribute to the Fabs by Beatlemaniac Todd Rundgren and his band. Arranged chronologically, from mop-top rave-up I Just Want To Touch You, through the more harmonically sophisticated (and Eleanor Rigby-ish) Life Goes On, to Strawberry Fields Forever/I Am The Walrus hybrid Everybody Else Is Wrong, this compressed The Beatles’ career into 13 succinct homages.
What they said at the time: “Beatlemaniacs will either froth or fume.” Rolling Stone
59) Mirage - Fleetwood Mac (1982)
Christine McVie has a look of sultry invitation as she puts her hand on Lindsey Buckingham’s shoulder. She’s almost touching his tempestuous ex Stevie Nicks’ left hand, as Nicks puts her other hand in Buckingham’s and leans back in his arms to dance. Buckingham for his part looks a figure of glowering romance, the Heathcliff of Hollywood, dressed all in black, with black shadows encroaching on them all, as he gives McVie a reproachful look that stops short of rebuffing her. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie stand forlornly, looking out from the back of this sleeve photo for Mirage, the multimillion-selling Fleetwood Mac album most likely to have slipped your mind. But the message to potential buyers in 1982 was clear: step inside the Mac circus for more Rumours -style entanglements… Read the full extended feature on Mirage here.
What they said at the time: “Fleetwood Mac have never pretended to be heavy thinkers. But like ET… Mirage is another of 1982’s sunny entertainments: it sounds great in the morning and fine over a sunset with wine.”Rolling Stone
58) Rebel Yell - Billy Idol (1983)
With his second album, featuring the title track and electra-gliding ballad Eyes Without A Face, Billy Idol became the biggest British star of the USA’s early MTV era. All black leather, spiky blond hair and sneer, he was a one-man Elvis, Iggy and Jim Morrison, bringing a palatable version of punk rebellion to Middle America. For some it was a too-polished amalgam of pop hooks and new-wave smarts, although there was little denying the catchy, slashing riffs from Idol sidekick guitarist Steve Stevens.
What they said at the time: “Vaguely anthemic, vaguely riffy tunes, eminently fit for one’s less-alert moments of pop consumption.” Creem
57) Rage For Order - Queensrÿche (1986)
With their first album The Warning, Queensrÿche came on like the new Judas Priest. On the follow-up, the Seattle band went deep into new territory, with a more progressive rock mind-set allied to state-of-the-art production. As a result, Rage For Order was one of the most bold and brilliant metal albums of its time, with explosive heavy songs such as Walk In The Shadows alongside dark mood pieces, notably the sinister Gonna Get Close To You, originally written and recorded by oddball Canadian singer Lisa Dalbello.
What they said at the time: “Continually pushing at the boundaries of their ability, continually thriving on the variety of their turbulent sound.” Kerrang!
56) The Last In Line - Dio (1984)
Ronnie James Dio was one of the greatest heavy metal singers that ever lived, and every studio album he made between 1975 and 1984 became a classic in its own right – first with Rainbow, then Black Sabbath, and finally with the band he created in his own image. The second Dio album, The Last In Line, had all the power and mystique of the debut, Holy Diver, with the galloping We Rock a defining anthem, and two Stargazer-sized epic pieces in the title track and Egypt (The Chains Are On).
What they said at the time: “Listen to We Rock and you can feel the swell of Ronnie’s chest.” Kerrang!
55) Corridors Of Power - Gary Moore (1982)
On his third solo album, the Irishman came screaming into his heavy period, armed with songs stockpiled during his tenure with Greg Lake and backed by the thunderous rhythm section of Ian Paice and Neil Murray. Thumpers like Don’t Take Me For A Loser and the foot-down Rockin’ Every Night had the listener clinging on by the fingernails, but even those were sluggish compared to End Of The World, whose neo-classical intro came on like a gauntlet being slapped down four years after Eruption. Respect to Moore’s later, more critically garlanded Still Got The Blues, but that’s tame stuff by comparison.
What they said at the time: “Moore’s solos are indeed works of art.” Guitar World
54) Georgia Satellites - The Georgia Satellites (1986)
Southern rock went down a storm during the 70s, thanks to jam-the-night-away bands such as the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. But by the 80s, southern rock had taken a back seat to other, more popular genres. For one glorious moment, however, the Georgia Satellites seemed to be the genre’s saviours, and almost single-handedly kept “rock with a down-home twang” alive with their self-titled debut album. And the way they did so was not with never-ending guitar solos, but with succinct songs, especially the big hit Keep Your Hands To Yourself and a spirited cover of the obscure Battleship Chains. But the band couldn’t stretch their commercial success, and are nowadays neatly filed under the dreaded ‘one-hit wonder’ category.
What they said at the time: “A 1980s twist into three-chord updates of Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, Little Feat and the Faces.” New York Times
53) Bad English - Bad English (1989)
With Journey taking an excruciatingly long time between albums by the late 80s, two Journey men (guitarist Neal Schon and keyboard player Jonathan Cain) teamed up with two of The Babys (singer John Waite and bassist Ricky Phillips) to form Bad English. It wasn’t much of a surprise that Bad English’s music was a merger of the two, especially on the two US hit power ballads When I See You Smile (which reached No.1) and Price Of Love. But with grunge rising, Bad English spoiled after only one more album, 1991’s underwhelming Backlash, before Waite eventually resumed his solo career and Journey reunited briefly with Steve Perry.
52) Enuff Z’Nuff - Enuff Z’Nuff (1989)
It seemed appropriate that Enuff Z’Nuff came out of Illinois, given the brickbats they received comparing them (unfairly) to that State’s pioneering power pop sons, Cheap Trick. Championed by A&R guru Derek Shulman (Bon Jovi) on his resurrected Atco label, Enuff Z’Nuff achieved initial chart success with the effervescent New Thing and the chiming (even if it did deal with an ex’s overdose) Fly High Michelle, while the album was peppered with colourful gems such as For Now and Hot Little Summer Girl. The following Strength album would be better still, but they’d not climb these commercial heights again.
What they said at the time: ‘It’s an album that dares to ask the question: What if the next Beatles were a hard-partying hair band?’ Rolling Stone
51) Two Steps From The Move - Hanoi Rocks (1984)
Upon the release of their magnum opus Two Steps From The Move, it was fair to say the world lay at hard-living Hanoi Rocks’ feet. But as they teetered on the brink of going global, heart’n’soul drummer Razzle was killed in DUI Vince Neil’s speeding car and the dream was over. From its finely tooled ballads (Don’t You Ever Leave Me), through its all-out rockers (Futurama) to Underwater World’s ‘Welcome to the jungle’ refrain, every last nuance of Hanoi’s Faces-tinged glam-metal masterpiece was latterly adopted by Guns N’ Roses.
What they said at the time: “Hanoi Rocks rock’n’roll like they just invented it.” Melody Maker
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50) Empty Glass - Pete Townshend (1980)
Pete Townshend’s first proper solo album is a tough, acutely personal pop record, and fleeting proof that he could cut it without The Who. It’s hard to imagine Roger Daltrey singing ‘I wanna bite and kiss ya…’ as Townshend does on the hit single Rough Boys, exploring a homosexual encounter (And I Moved) or facing down rock critics Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons (Jools And Jim) with quite such conviction. Empty Glass is still the best non-Who album Pete Townshend has ever made.
What they said at the time: “An old man giving himself a new lease of life.” NME
49) Blackout - Scorpions (1982)
While 1984’s Love At First Sting catapulted the veteran German metal band into the stratosphere, it was previous album Blackout that set it all up perfectly. Walking the line between tunes that could be cranked on the radio (No One Like You, Arizona) and those that required some serious headbanging (the title track, Dynamite), Blackout was also the album where guitarist Matthias Jabs truly came into his own, putting the large, lingering shadows of former Scorpions guitarists Uli Jon Roth and Michael Schenker behind him. And one mustn’t forget the album cover image, which adorned many a denim jacket at the time.
What they said at the time: “[Borrows from Eddie Van Halen and Rob Halford] but the overall effect is so audaciously over-the-top that it works anyway.” Rolling Stone
48) Avalon - Roxy Music (1982)
Roxy Music’s first album since 1980’s Flesh + Blood was a far cry from rock’s usual rawness. One long, etiolated sigh, it wafted between limpid balladry and a sort of slow-motion disco. Varnished almost to the point of invisibility, it was dismissed as ersatz muzak for the vapid nouveau riche from the one-time masters of postmodern derring-do. But for those in the (languid) mood, More Than This and the rest were evanescent perfection.
What they said at the time: “A shimmer of easy hypnosis that is as beautiful as it is lacking in fire.” Sounds
47) Heartbeat City - The Cars (1984)
It was a perfect match: new-wave hipsters The Cars plus über-producer Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange (AC/DC, Def Leppard, Foreigner). And it resulted in a perfect album.
Heartbeat City was a seamless fusion of art-rock, power-pop and AOR. Lead single You Might Think had The Cars’ quirky signature sound, but on Hello Again the band were barely present (around Ric Ocasek’s vocals it’s all Lange’s trickery), and Drive, sung by bassist Benjamin Orr, was the most immaculately textured rock ballad since 10cc’s I’m Not In Love.
What they said at the time: “A perfect example of forward-looking contemporary pop.” Rolling Stone
46) Pretenders - Pretenders (1980)
She’d been peripheral. Sure, you’d heard of her: Akron sassy, she’d written for NME, worked at McLaren and Westwood’s SEX, almost managed to form a succession of great punk bands, Chrissie Hynde was rock’s ‘nearly’ girl. Then this happened.
Released seven days into the new decade, here was sharp, intelligent, classy mid-Atlantic pop-rock with one foot forward and the other rooted in Kinks-literate old-wave classicism. Street-smart, but with lashings of Brill Building nous, Detroit-leaning chutzpah. Brass In Pocket, that voice… It flew straight to No.1. How could it not?
What they said at the time: “A classic debut album.” Zigzag
45) Blood & Chocolate - Elvis Costello And The Attractions (1986)
There was almost literally blood on the floor. The Attractions were seething after being sidelined for King Of America’s restrained Americana, and about to be sacked. Costello channelled this frustration into his most brutal, claustrophobic record. Tokyo Storm Warning was the kamikaze first single, I Want You was a psychotic love song like nothing else in rock. It all made for a savage, commercially disastrous climax to his work with perhaps punk’s greatest rock’n’roll band.
What they said at the time: “[Costello’s] most stark, honest record since Trust.” NME
44) Point Of Entry - Judas Priest (1981)
Every great band has an unsung classic. Judas Priest’s is Point Of Entry, a masterful album that has long been overshadowed by the career-defining hits that came before and after it – specifically 1980’s British Steel and 1982’s Screaming For Vengeance.
Point Of Entry had a classy hard rock sound, which was a welcome departure from the band’s typically gonzoid heavy metal. It featured three of the greatest songs Priest ever recorded: Heading Out To The Highway, Solar Angels and Desert Plains. And the single Hot Rockin’ came with the most hilariously over-literal heavy rock video of all time.
Priest’s Rob Halford on Point Of Entry: “I think Point Of Entry was a great album that got lost in the mix because it came between two really big records for the band. There were great songs on that album. Heading Out To The Highway has become a standard classic – it would not have been out of place on British Steel. I love Desert Plains. We played it on the last tour. And with tracks like Don’t Go and Turning Circles, that was Priest experimenting and trying to break the mould of what was expected of a metal band. The cover of the album was crappy. There was a lot of screaming and yelling about that. But it was an important record in the overall Priest experience. The strength of the album lies in the fact that we are still doing those songs live all these years later.”
What they said at the time: “These guys are stupid in the same sense that Ronald Reagan is unelectable.” Creem
43) Dead Ringer - Meat Loaf
Dead Ringer was not supposed to have been Meat Loaf’s second album. That was supposed to have been Renegade Angel, the record that Jim Steinman conceived and wrote as the planned follow-up to Bat Out Of Hell. But then, for the longest time, it seemed no one had wanted a Meat Loaf-Steinman record full-stop.
Born Marvin Lee Aday in Dallas, Texas in 1947 to a schoolteacher mother and alcoholic cop father, Meat Loaf was a nickname given to him by a high-school football coach on account of his bulk. In the mid-60s he fled the trials of his home life for LA. Also possessing an oversized voice, he knocked around the West Coast in a succession of bands before joining the cast of the LA production of the hit musical Hair, which subsequently transferred to Broadway. Read the full story behind Meat Loaf’s Dead Ringer here.
What they said at the time: “Meat ‘anywhere he wants to’ Loaf is waxing rhapsodic once more.” Creem
42) The Uplift Mofo Party Plan - Red Hot Chili Peppers (1987)
It was on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ third album, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, that the group’s punk-meets-funk merger truly fused – with awesome results. The energy of tracks such as Fight Like A Brave, Backwoods, and Skinny Sweaty Man remain gloriously hyper all these years later, while the gorgeous psychedelic pop of Behind The Sun proved that the band was no one-trick pony (and hinted at the variety of more melodic styles the Peppers would eventually embrace). You can pinpoint this album and their next, Mother’s Milk, as the inspiration for all of those funk-metal acts that thrived afterwards.
What they said at the time: “Wears pretty thin pretty fast… this is a band that’s in command on stage but in trouble in the studio.” Los Angeles Times
41) Murmur - R.E.M. (1983)
As synth-pop looked set to dominate the 80s, R.E.M. were part of a guitar resistance movement in the States, joining the Dream Syndicate and Hüsker Dü in mixing 60s rock’s melodic virtues with a punk mentality. But guitarist Peter Buck recalled that it was his band R.E.M. who quickly became the “touchstone”. This debut LP’s title accurately described Michael Stipe’s mystique-shrouded vocals, and the shimmering, rural southern atmosphere and ringing, Byrds-style jangle of its sound. Its Top 30 success helped carve out an alternative space on US radio which Nirvana would later crash through.
What they said at the time: “R.E.M. have so thoroughly transformed…the result sounds both familiar and wholly original.” Creem
40) Discipline - King Crimson (1981)
Crimson’s first album for seven years could have found them (only Robert Fripp remained from previous incarnations) hopelessly adrift of contemporary developments. Instead it was utterly in tune, specifically with the technoid funk and mutant disco of Talking Heads and David Byrne/Brian Eno’s spin-off project. Indeed Adrian Belew’s vocals throughout were distinctly Byrne-ish, while album opener Elephant Talk could have appeared on Remain In Light. The rest of the record alternated between hard and heavy rhythms, intricate guitar play and haunting third-world experiments.
What they said at the time: “Musically, not bad – the Heads meet the League Of Gentlemen.” Christgau’s Consumer Guide
39) Frontiers - Journey (1983)
How the heck were Journey going to follow up the gargantuan success of 1981’s Escape? Easy – by following the same melodic rock/tender ballad blueprint of its predecessor.
Which was precisely what they did with Frontiers. And while some veteran rock acts were slow to embrace the fast-rising music video format and recognise the clout of MTV, Journey were wise enough to use it to their advantage – with the popular (yet now inadvertently hilarious/dated) clip for the rocking Separate Ways (Worlds Apart). Elsewhere you’ll find Faithfully, a tune that caused many a tear and a tender embrace on the dancefloors of high-school proms coast-to-coast.
What they said at the time: “A high level of musicianship, but little [to learn] beyond how smart guys play heavy metal.” Rolling Stone
38) The Final Cut - Pink Floyd (1983)
As a Pink Floyd album, The Final Cut was a bit of a disappointment. But looking through a different lens, it’s a great start to Roger Waters’s solo career, and should be reappraised as such.
Here, the rest of the Floyd are scarcely on the album. Rick Wright is absent, having left the band three years earlier, although most fans were unaware that Pink Floyd were now a trio until they checked the credits. Both David Gilmour and Nick Mason were reduced to the roles of session men. Mason said: “It was a ghastly period with Roger, being treated more and more like a useless bit of kit and him wanting to take the whole thing over and saying menacingly: ‘If we want to make another record it will be different after this.’”
Waters was certainly not in a good place. He was still bruised after a bout of artistic fisticuffs with film producer Alan Parker over the film of The Wall, his prevailing mood angry and bitter, resentful towards his bandmates, and things weren’t improved by the recent conflict between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands.
But when it came to channelling all this bile into A Requiem For The Post War Dream, as The Final Cut was subtitled, Waters delivered a savage critique of our leaders and the games they play to keep them in power. He was not about to tolerate any dissent, either. “The fact was that I was making this record. Dave didn’t like it and he said so. There wasn’t any room for anyone else to be writing. I didn’t play any guitar solos, Dave didn’t write any lyrics.”
The Final Cut expands on The Wall but this time it’s personal, Waters honing in on the death of the father he never knew at the Battle of Anzio in 1944 and then focusing his ire on the Falklands War.
The vitriol rains down unrelentingly, from the opening Post War Dream, with its caustic attack on the nature of war, to the dark humour of The Fletcher Memorial Home where Waters spits out his condemnation of the world’s ‘incurable tyrants’, Thatcher, Galtieri, Reagan and Brezhnev among them.
While there are no radio-friendly tunes to sweeten the pill, there’s plenty of audio drama, at which Waters is a master, heightened by a new holophonic sound technique that has you ducking for cover as a missile flies over your head.
What they said at the time:“This may be art rock’s crowning masterpiece.” Rolling Stone
37) State Of Confusion - The Kinks (1983)
Banned from touring the US in the late 60s, The Kinks spent the late 70s clawing back lost ground, peaking with State Of Confusion. The very English Come Dancing was their biggest hit since Lola, and the album triumphantly retooled the sensitivity, wit, paranoia and raw power of their 60s best for Reagan’s USA, in a highly personal stadium-rock classic.
What they said at the time: “No band but The Kinks could have made such a record in 1983, and no band deserves more to be at the very top.” Rolling Stone
36) Surfing With The Alien - Joe Satriani (1987)
Almost 10 years after Van Halen, it took a destitute former guitar teacher to give the instrument its next quantum leap. Joe Satriani was the technical equal of anyone on the shred scene, but tracks like Always With Me, Always With You put melody front-and-centre, while Satch Boogie prized groove over chops. The absence of a human larynx meant that Alien could never go fully mainstream, but its US No.29 placing proved that this instrumental benchmark wasn’t being bought only by guitar nerds.
What they said at the time: “Not only does he write melodies – he fucking edits them.” Christgau’s Consumer Guide
35) The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking - Roger Waters (1984)
Based on a mostly baffling concept – but something to do with a midlife crisis – Waters presented this idea to his then-Pink Floyd bandmates in 1977, who rejected it in favour of The Wall. Resurrected as his first solo album, The Pros had a revitalised Eric Clapton on guitar. Reviled upon release, as much for its soft-porn cover as anything, it sounds as ominously imposing as Waters’s best work with Floyd.
What they said at the time: “I can’t imagine anyone will sit more than once through this faintly hideous record.” Rolling Stone
34) Duke - Genesis (1980)
Sadly it was Phil Collins’s first marriage imploding that was the catalyst for Genesis blowing up the charts. After years of burying their emotions under a tsunami of arpeggios and paradiddles, on Duke Collins and co. wrote about love and heartache. Turn It On Again, Man Of Our Times and Misunderstanding were sterling prog-pop songs, with clever bits for the ‘air’ keyboard players and proper tunes for Top Of The Pops viewers who’d never heard The Return Of The Giant Hogweed – and probably never would.
What they said at the time: “It sorely misses Peter Gabriel’s perverse wit… but Genesis aren’t for an exodus yet.” Rolling Stone
33) Freedom - Neil Young (1989)
By his own admission, the 80s were tough for Neil Young, marked by a succession of wildly erratic albums that tested the loyalty of even his staunchest fans, and reaching a nadir when his own label, Geffen, sued him for making “unrepresentative” music. Freedom, half-electric rock and half-acoustic, averted the slump. Crime In The City and Eldorado offered ample evidence that Young’s muse hadn’t yet deserted him, but the record’s centrepiece was Rockin’ In The Free World, so good he included it twice.
What they said at the time: “A classic Neil Young album, deploying the folk ditties and rock gallumph that made him famous.” Village Voice
32) Drama - Yes (1980)
The prog behemoths’ tenth album was one of their most controversial, marking the departure of Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman. With previously booked tour dates to fill, a new line-up and album had to materialise – fast. Cue the arrival into the Yes line-up of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, the duo who as Buggles had just been at No.1 in the charts with their new-wave smash Video Killed The Radio Star, and who were with the Yes’s management. But instead of foppish synth-pop, Drama was a showcase for surging metallic riffs and virtuosic technoflash. Thunderous 10-minute opener Machine Messiah alone was worth the price of admission, while Into The Lens was classic tempo-shifting, multipartite Yes.
What they said at the time: “Yes sound more like Yes here than they recently have with their classic members.” Sputnik Music
31) Lou Reed - New York (1989)
Lou Reed’s 1960s expanded rock’s parameters. His work with the Velvet Underground, as fearlessly transgressive as any outsider art, toughened the nascent genre, matured its lyrical lingua franca from Brill Building baby talk to frank, unexpurgated Hubert Selby Jr grime, while cranking its carefree Green Onions grooves toward searing proto-metal aggression. His solo 70s sealed his dark reputation as street-smart rock’n’roll animal. Deadpan, dangerous, embraced by glam and punk movements alike as a reluctant prime mover, his reputation for critic-confounding artistic forward momentum was unparalleled. From Transformer to Street Hassle, here was a shark among minnows.
And then the 80s happened. Read the full article about Lou Reed’s New York here.
What they said at the time: “New York marks a welcome return to the wild side for the veteran Velvet Underground founder and street bard.” Hits
30) The Works - Queen (1984)
By the mid-80s, Queen needed to get their career back on track. Their previous LP, the discofied bacchanalia of Hot Space, was the ultimate musical identity crisis – one which lost them half their audience overnight.
Their solution was to return to basics for The Works, a record which took the anything-goes approach of the 70s and gave it a sleek 80s makeover. Here they swished between retro-futuristic synth pop (Radio Gaga), balls-out rockers (Hammer To Fall, Tear It Up) and perfectly formed chart-pop (I Want To Break Free, It’s A Hard Life). The Works wasn’t just their best album of the 80s – it also set the stage for Live Aid and the mother of all career resurrections.
What they said at the time: “A royal feast of hard rock without that awful metallic aftertaste; as such, it might turn out to be the Led Zeppelin II of the eighties.” Rolling Stone
29) Let It Be - The Replacements (1984)
Minneapolis misfits The Replacements made their reputation with rowdy rock’n’roll that swung from the inspired to the downright sloppy. Three albums in, however, they’d started to become tired of the formula. Let It Be revealed leader Paul Westerberg to be a sensitive and articulate songwriter when the mood struck, particularly on Unsatisfied and the spare Androgynous. Meanwhile, minor classics such as I Will Dare and Answering Machine proved they’d lost none of their raw power.
What they said at the time: “A brilliant rock’n’roll album: as loose as it is deliberate, as pretty as it is hard rocking.” Rolling Stone
28) Love Junk - The Pursuit Of Happiness (1988)
Pity TPOH’s mainman Moe Berg. Had this debut been released three years later, after Nevermind, his knowing songs about post-adolescent sex and yearning and his Todd Rundgren-produced thumping power pop might have found a bigger audience. To the faithful few, though, the witty, poignant I’m An Adult Now, Ten Fingers and She’s So Young played like the glorious soundtrack to an imaginary John Hughes movie: Still Pretty In Pink, perhaps?
What they said at the time: “Literate, wise, poignant and irremediably horny… Delightful and surprising from beginning to end.” Trouser Press
27) Orgasmatron - Motörhead (1986)
Motörhead’s primal brutality had been proved on six albums before Bill Laswell brought his trademark production magic to Orgasmatron. When things bludgeoned along at speed (propelled by drummer Pete Gill, playing on his only complete album behind Lemmy, Phil Campbell and Würzel) there was more bottom-end power, but the real fireworks were saved for a closing title track where every detail was finessed into a swirling, psychedelic maelstrom. As Lemmy inhabited the role of insatiable grim reaper the band pounded onward at a relentless marching pace as deliberate as cold-blooded premeditated murder.
What they said at the time: “Louder, faster, harder.” Los Angeles Times
26) Introduce Yourself - Faith No More (1987)
Rap, heavy metal, post-punk, new wave and funk. Somehow, someway, Faith No More made sense of these five tricky musical ingredients on their second album, Introduce Yourself. While quite a few alt.rock bands of the era were starting to lean – albeit cautiously – towards the ‘rockier’ side of things, FNM were one of the first bands of the genre to feature unapologetic Sabbath-style guitar riffing, from the great Big Sick Ugly Jim Martin. A re-recording of the title track of their debut album, We Care A Lot, earned FNM their first bit of radio/MTV play, the title track was their most explosive yet, while Martin’s guitar was front-and-centre on The Crab Song. Add singer Chuck Mosley’s on-key/off-key vocals to the mix and you had a daring sound unlike anything else circa 1987.
What they said at the time: “A breathtaking harmonisation of molten-metal guitar, deadly dance rhythms and poignant, pointed lyrics, the sound of a band with no precedent.” Sounds
25) Signals - Rush (1982)
Within three years and across three records – Permanent Waves to Moving Pictures and then Signals – Rush evolved and transformed. Their space-opera past was a thing of adolescent glory; here and now was a mature rock band defining and redefining itself. For some, Signals leans too far towards Geddy Lee’s synthesisers, yet it’s an album that almost forced guitarist Alex Lifeson to reinvent how he played. Subdivisions became one of their greatest songs, while The Analog Kid and Losing It had a grand sadness about them, a sure sign that Rush had grown up and were restlessly looking forwards.
What they said at the time: “Makes a strong argument for the view that advanced technology is not necessarily the same thing as progress.” Rolling Stone
24) Piece Of Mind - Iron Maiden (1983)
A transitional point between the earthy heavy metal of their early days and the progressive excesses of the late 80s, Piece Of Mind is Iron Maiden’s most under-appreciated album – and their most frustrating.
At least half the songs on it rank among their finest: the Boy’s Own anthems Where Eagles Dare and The Trooper; the quasi-Biblical Revelations; the perplexingly overlooked Still Life. These, as much as anything from The Number Of The Beast, defined Maiden as a world-class proposition.
At the other end of the scale are the misfiring Dune knock-off To Tame A Land and the abject Quest For Fire. Luckily those two stinkers are right at the end of the album. For the rest of the time, Piece Of Mind remains a crucial stepping stone on their journey to global domination.
What they said at the time: “This is the band’s best produced and most technically proficient offering to date.” Sounds
23) Tunnel Of Love - Bruce Springsteen (1987)
For Bruce Springsteen, the late-80s was a time of partings – from his first wife Julianne Phillips and from the E Street Band – and Tunnel Of Love adroitly turned the focus from the political to the personal. His conclusions weren’t exactly the stuff of Clintons Cards – with the stunning but cynical Brilliant Disguise questioning how well we ever know a partner, while the spare folk of Two Faces admitted to a darker side. The downbeat mood meant the album sold a fraction of predecessor Born In The USA, but the songs on Tunnel Of Love still ring powerful and true.
What they said at the time: “One of Bruce Springsteen’s finest albums and easily his best this decade.” NME
22) Out Of The Silent Planet - King’s X (1988)
There are parts of Out Of The Silent Planet that remain deeply mysterious in the way that real art can be – within it there is a strange and often ethereal beauty, trapped between the three-part harmonies and Ty Tabor’s spacey, sonic guitar playing. It was voted Album Of The Year by Kerrang!, and was hugely influential without ever being copied. In songs like King, Shot Of Love, Power Of Love and Goldilox are ideas and sounds that spread outwards like ripples towards everyone from Alice In Chains to Dream Theater and beyond.
What they said at the time: “What you’re hearing could be as special as the first time you heard Metallica, or U2, or any original and new-thinking band.” Kerrang!
21) Skid Row - Skid Row (1989)
From 1987-89, it seemed like every time you switched on MTV or flicked through a glossy rock publication there were multiple new hair-metal bands begging for your attention. And while with their self-titled debut album Skid Row were first looked upon as a hair-metal band, they would wisely harden up their image and sound on later releases. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Skid Row had everything a rocker sporting spandex trousers and mile-high hair required, including fist-in-the-air anthems (Youth Gone Wild), ballads (I Remember You) and tough-guy rock (Piece Of Me). And with plum opening spots on some of the era’s biggest arena tours (Bon Jovi, Aerosmith), Skid Row couldn’t miss with their debut album.
What they said at the time: “Nasty three-chord rock’n’roll with streetwise lyrics… Sound familiar? Well, so do the 11 generic songs on this highly unoriginal LP.” Los Angeles Times
20) Skyscraper - David Lee Roth (1988)
The worst thing that happened to Skyscraper, David Lee Roth’s second solo record, was that it followed 1986’s Eat ’Em & Smile, his first post-Van Halen album. Spontaneous, raw and a bloody good laugh into the bargain, Eat ’Em & Smile was a massive ‘fuck you’ to those who viewed Diamond Dave’s exit from Van Halen as a rock’n’roll suicide by any other name. The album teamed the Sunset Strip’s biggest ego with the best rock musicians on the planet: guitarist Steve Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan, drummer Gregg Bissonette.
Where Eat ’Em & Smile was raw, visceral and a critical success, Skyscraper divided the faithful for the same reason Van Halen had bugged some of their fans with the 1984 album: for being keyboard heavy, slick and far too polished. Roth’s earlier album gets the plaudits all these years later, but Skyscraper is bloody good. Read the full article on David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper here.
What they said at the time: “Doggone if David Lee Roth’s second solo album isn’t the most flat-out rambunctiously enjoyable hard rock album since, well, David Lee Roth’s first solo album.” LA Times
19) Oh Mercy - Bob Dylan (1989)
The 80s weren’t kind to Bob Dylan, and by the decade’s end this one‑time sacred cow was widely perceived as being a spent force. Oh Mercy dashed that notion, the 48-year-old rising to Daniel Lanois’s production with songs of wisdom and regret. Most Of The Time and Shooting Star were Dylan’s finest croaks de coeur in years, and if he’d found space for fan-favourite out-takes like Dignity and Series Of Dreams, Oh Mercy might even have nudged his 60s work. Critical acclaim rained down, but it was never matched by the sales.
What they said at the time: “Oh Mercy reminds you of what used to excite people about Dylan. Who would have guessed it?” Q
18) Tattoo You - The Rolling Stones (1981)
Tattoo You, ostensibly a collection of cleverly reupholstered out-takes, is the Stones’ greatest album of the 1980s. Besides the evergreen Start Me Up and Waiting On A Friend, it’s packed with forgotten gems: from the granite-tough funk rocker Slave to Mick Jagger’s dancefloor curio Heaven, to Little T&A, Keith Richards’s knuckle-sucking tribute to his latest ‘broad’: ‘She’s my little rock’n’roll/My tits and ass with soul, baby…’ Who said romance was dead?
What they said at the time: “There’s no denying it, unfortunately. This is a damn good record.” The Village Voice!
17) Clutching At Straws - Marillion (1987)
The success of Marillion’s third album, Misplaced Childhood, had turned an unfashionable prog band into the unlikeliest pop stars of the decade.
On Clutching At Straws Marillion ditched any remaining musical excesses for a set of songs that were as concise as they were dark. This was largely frontman Fish’s album, a slice of tortured introspection that mixed the personal (loneliness, failed romance, alcohol and drug abuse) with the global (most noticeably on the bleak White Russians). The heavy emotions carried into the real world – a schism had opened up between Fish and the rest of the band, and the album was his swansong with Marillion. But it was a hell of a way to go out.
What they said at the time: “Clutching At Straws suggests that Marillion may be finally coming in from the cold.” Q
16) Imaginos - Blue Öyster Cult (1988)
Imaginos is quite probably the longest-gestating album of all time. Its concept – in the loosest sense, the story of an alien race arriving upon Earth in the Middle Ages and shaping human history from that point forward – was developed by erstwhile rock critic Sandy Pearlman when he was still a college student in the mid-60s. Pearlman, of course, went on to found, manage and produce Blue Öyster Cult, originally as Soft White Underbelly. Even the band’s eventual name was taken from their mentor’s monumental creation.
The band used Pearlman’s sprawling collection of poems on the subject as source material for lyrics on their first four albums, notably on two tracks on 1974’s Secret Treaties –Astronomy and Subhuman – but never tackled the whole. That task eventually fell to drummer Albert Bouchard, who, having been fired from the band in 1981, went on to work with Pearlman on a planned three-double-album saga. However, Columbia Records, BÖC’s label, rejected the first instalment of Bouchard’s magnum opus in 1986, by which point BÖC had also disbanded, demoralised after the failure of their most recent album, Club Ninja, and then re-formed once again. Read the full article on Blue Öyster Cult’s Imaginos here.
15) Texas Flood - Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble (1983)
The blues scene was practically a retirement home before Stevie Ray Vaughan arrived in 1983 with Texas Flood. In three days, the Texan essentially tracked his club set that had knocked ’em dead down in Austin. And you felt the momentum on Love Struck Baby’s manic lead break, the punchy cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s Tell Me and the bounce of Pride And Joy. The decade had its first blues superstar – at last.
What they said at the time: “He plays stinging leads on Pride And Joy and a roiling combination of Berry, boogie and ensemble horn lines on Love Struck Baby.” Rolling Stone
14) For Those About To Rock We Salute You - AC/DC (1981)
Released just 16 months after Back In Black, although it was a US No.1 AC/DC’s eighth studio album was bound be overshadowed by its predecessor. But it’s a more than worthy follow-up to that classic. ‘Mutt’ Lange once again sprinkled stardust on the AC/DC’s primal bump and grind and the title track’s thunderous opening fusillade remains enduringly spectacular.
What they said at the time: ‘Beneath all those enormous guitar riffs and gut-wrangling rhythms, AC/DC is an unusually expert song-writing band.’ Rolling Stone
13) Pretty Hate Machine - Nine Inch Nails (1989)
Electro-dance meets heavy metal? That was an absolute, utter no-no until bands such as Ministry and Nine Inch Nails – and specifically both of their 1989 albums, Ministry’s The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste and NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine – came along.
NIN’s debut wouldn’t be the hardest rocking of their career, but tracks such as Head Like A Hole courageously – and successfully – bridged the aforementioned stylistic gap. And despite the album being two years old by 1991, it was a show-stealing spot on the inaugural Lollapalooza tour that summer which introduced NIN to the masses and catapulted Pretty Hate Machine up the charts.
What they said at the time: “The playing and production get points for introducing some variety to the industrial style, but the moments of soap-on-a-rope singing tend to cancel them out.” Chicago Tribune.
12) Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel (1980)
Gabriel’s dissolving face on the cover of his third album (aka Melt) might be a metaphor for him shedding the image of Genesis’s flowery ex-frontman and assuming a new, artier persona for the 1980s. The brilliant pop inside was also arty and new, pairing Gabriel’s human touch with mechanised bleeps and heavy-duty percussion. But as the nursery-rhyme lyrics and whistling on the big hit Games Without Frontiers demonstrated, his sense of humour and the absurd remained intact.
What they said at the time: “Gabriel’s third solo album sticks in the mind like the haunted heroes of the best film noirs.” Rolling Stone.
11) Combat Rock - The Clash (1982)
Coming after a couple of multi-disc exercises in pan-generic experiment-ation, the relatively compact Combat Rock almost sounded like mid-career consolidation. But anyone expecting the globe-trotting Clash to completely abandon the dressing-up box underestimated their breadth of vision.
1982’s Clash assimilated new sounds as casually as they threw on new styles. Post-Apocalypse Now! darkness shrouded lyrics, beat poetry rubbed shoulders with keffiyeh-ed Casbah chic, broader horizons lent a cinematic aspect to each musical vignette. Combat Rock’s tightly packed intensity earned double-platinum Stateside, but it ultimately killed The Clash.
What they said at the time: “Proves The Clash can just as easily make a sprawl of a single album as a triple.” Record Mirror.
10) Nothing’s Shocking - Jane’s Addiction (1988)
Nirvana often get credit for being the first alternative band to break through, the band that changed music and led rock out of the hair-metal wilderness of the 80s,” noted Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello in 2011. “That’s just not true. It was Jane’s Addiction: inspiring, intelligent, furiously rocking and artistically deep.”
There’s no denying the critical acclaim that greeted LA alt.rockers Jane’s Addiction’s major-label debut, nor the roll-call of notable bands mobilised by the album’s fiery, feral, genre- (and gender)-bending moments like Mountain Song and Pigs In Zen. In a world of plump poodle-rock, Had A Dad and Standing In The Shower…Thinking were hard, lean guttersnipe anthems, thrillingly prescient of the 90s scene to come.
In 1988, though, the album’s all-pervading sexuality was its undoing, with the sleeve’s topless-and-flaming conjoined twins getting it paper-bagged by US retail chains, and the aforementioned Mountain Song’s video banned from MTV for nudity. Nothing’s Shocking fired the starting pistol for alt.rock, but it managed only to crawl to No.103 in the US Billboard chart. Sometimes, being seminal doesn’t ring the tills.
What they said at the time:“When they camp it up or slide like nylon over leather, when Farrell hits on a left-handed ruby-in-fist degenerate poetry, they can be wickedly sweet.” Melody Maker
9) War - U2 (1983)
With War, their third album, U2 set out to shed what Bono perceived as the Dublin band’s “cosy image” – and it didn’t mess about. The cherubic cover star of 1980’s Boy now had a split lip and thousand-yard stare, leading the listener into a world whose tone was set by the jackboot drum beat of Sunday Bloody Sunday. If, as Bono said, “war seemed to be the motif for 1982”, this was an apt soundtrack.
Written as U2 watched turmoil unfold in the Falklands and the Middle East, tracks like Seconds and the wiry Like A Song… were markedly harsher than the stadium-ready sweep of their later work. Yet it was Bono’s lyrics that hit hardest. Political but not yet preachy, he has never written more powerfully than on Sunday Bloody Sunday’s account of the 1972 massacre (‘Broken bottles under children’s feet, bodies strewn across the dead-end street’).
War knocked Thriller off the UK No.1 spot and broke U2 in the States – yet it was mostly savaged by critics and put in the shade by the band’s 1987 album The Joshua Tree. A shame, as the album’s themes remain grimly relevant today. As Sunday Bloody Sunday demanded: how long must we sing these songs?
What they said at the time: “In spite of itself, War is another example of rock music’s impotence and decay.” NME
8) Now And Zen - Robert Plant (1988)
Robert Plant spent the first half of the 80s running away from Robert Plant; as in the preening, tight-trousered Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin days. His fourth solo album, Now And Zen, finally embraced the man he used to be. It was an album in thrall to modern technology and pop’s imaginary computerised future but unafraid to acknowledge the past.
For the first time in seven years, Plant re-located his inner golden god, even singing ‘since I’ve been loving you’ on the album fade-out and getting Jimmy Page to play on Heaven Knows and Tall Cool One (which included some cheeky Beastie Boys-style sampling of old Zep riffs). Better still, The Way I Feel and Ship Of Fools proved that Plant could do those melodramatic semi-ballads better than the younger hard rock acts dominating MTV at the time. True, Now And Zen’s programmed drums and chirruping synths scream ‘1988’ as loudly as a pair of stone-washed jeans. But Plant never sounded so alive and yet so like the old Robert Plant ever again.
What they said at the time: “Rich in conceptual invention… Plant is better, in some ways, than ever.” Rolling Stone
7) Ride The Lightning - Metallica (1984)
Monochrome to full-colour, boys to young men, amateurs to professionals. However it is expressed, Ride The Lightning, their second album, was Metallica’s transformative record, one that opened ears and eyes to what they, and their genre, could become.
It owes much to the interests and obsessions of their bass player Cliff Burton, for whom it would prove, sadly, part of an abbreviated legacy. His love of everything from the cultish, squishy horrors of HP Lovecraft to the quirks and power that changing time signatures, guitar harmonics and musical dynamics brought to Metallica’s irresistible way with a riff ring through the record. His was the high, distorted bass melody that intros For Whom The Bell Tolls, and the extended solo in the closing instrumental The Call Of Ktulu.
Ambition and a natural belligerence were essential bedfellows, that belligerence not just useful for lacerating thrashers like Creeping Death and Fight Fire With Fire, but also to deliver a defiant middle finger to those who questioned Fade To Black, the forefather of Metallica’s power ballads.
Ride The Lightning was the band’s great leap forwards, and a record that ensured heavy metal a new future.
What they said at the time: “One of the greatest, most original heavy metal albums of all time.” Kerrang!
6) Live… In The Heart Of The City - Whitesnake (1980)
It was with their 1987 album that Whitesnake became one of the biggest rock bands in the world, with leonine singer David Coverdale backed by similarly big-haired dudes, and MTV-assisted hits in Here I Go Again and Is This Love. Back in 1980, it was a different story: essentially a different band.
When Coverdale formed Whitesnake in 1978, having made his name as frontman for Deep Purple, his focus was on soulful, blues-based hard rock. And it never sounded better than on Live… In The Heart Of The City, a double album recorded at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in 1978 and 1980. The earlier performance was with original drummer Dave Dowle; the latter the classic Whitesnake line-up of Coverdale, guitarists Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody, bassist Neil Murray, and two of Coverdale’s old Purple bandmates, drummer Ian Paice and keyboard player Jon Lord. The band’s swagger was captured in ’Snake classics Fool For Your Loving and Love Hunter. And in a beautiful version of the soul standard Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City, the rapport between Coverdale and his audience – “the Whitesnake choir” – was magical.
What they said at the time: “Coverdale and the boys stick it to the cynics.” New Music News
5) Done With Mirrors - Aerosmith (1985)
Upon hearing that Done With Mirrors is being reclaimed as one of the great lost albums of the 1980s, Joe Perry’s reaction is one of surprise. Or perhaps outright disbelief would be a more accurate description. From when he first begins speaking today at his home in Florida, the now 66-year-old guitarist can barely form a coherent sentence to encapsulate his thoughts on Aerosmith’s eighth studio album. At the time it was also a contender for their least well-regarded, an ignominy it then shared with its immediate predecessor, Rock In A Hard Place, made without Perry and when the great Boston band were at their lowest ebb. After wandering up several grammatical blind alleys, with much huffing, puffing and sighing, Perry eventually settles upon a question: “Um, whatever possessed you guys to pick that one?” Read the full feature about Aerosmith’s Done With Mirrors here.
What they said at the time: “This is easily the best thing the Aeros have recorded since the masterful Rocks back in 1976.” Kerrang!
4) Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) - David Bowie (1980)
The music world had never been readier for a David Bowie album than it was in 1980. Most of 76’s original punks had been disaffected Bowie fans, and since the scene’s stagnation, many had found their way to Rusty Egan’s Bowie nights at Billy’s in Soho. Mixing Bowie’s back catalogue with complementary contemporary electronic music (after Low), disco (ditto Young Americans) and Ziggy’s glam contemporaries, these Bowie nights (characterised by ever more ornate attire and savagely enforced exclusivity) swiftly developed into a Futurist scene that by 1980 had spread from Billy’s through Covent Garden’s Blitz club to Manchester’s Pips and Birmingham’s Rum Runner, eventually spawning the New Romantics and the next wave of 80s pop.
To say Scary Monsters was eagerly anticipated is to grossly understate matters. Teaser single Ashes To Ashes shot to No.4, then making No.1. Its none-more-futurist David Mallet-directed promo video, a zeitgeist-capturing classic, featured Bowie in full Pierrot garb with Blitz host Steve Strange at his side.
“Scary Monsters for me has always been some kind of purge.” Bowie latterly reflected, “It was me eradicating the feelings within myself that I was uncomfortable with.”
Ashes To Ashes found a strung-out Major Tom – reflecting Bowie’s earlier drug dependency – hitting ‘an all-time low’: “I have a lot of reservations about what I’ve done,” Bowie told NME, “I don’t feel much of it has any import at all.” Then there was Fashion, outwardly integral to Bowie as an ever-evolving contemporary icon, but dismissed here as slavish adherence to the fascistic demands of the trend-setting ‘goon squad’.
Scary Monsters’ title track (subtext: claustrophobia, alienation, desperation), reflected its time perfectly; the following year saw riots erupt from the UK’s simmering malaise of nuclear paranoia and inner-city hopelessness. Yet just as New Romantic escapism counterbalanced austere strike-blighted grim reality, so Bowie’s self-immolating lyrics were offset by an irresistibly uplifting soundtrack.
An inspired Tony Visconti production, utilising state-of-the-art methods, created a unique auditory environment. Meticulous drums triggered nagging programmed bass lines, treated vocals lurched from haranguing, edge-of-breakdown, primal screaming to nursery-rhyme creepiness. Robert Fripp’s exceptional guitar playing – impassioned, utterly unmistakeable – was key (but not integral; Carlos Alomar’s broad strokes proliferated, while Pete Townshend was brought to bear on Because You’re Young and Chuck Hammer on Ashes To Ashes).
Yet while Scary Monsters’ every last nuance was fiercely progressive, you could still dance to it. Which, in 1980’s club culture, was an essential prerequisite, even of a musical visionary afforded God-like status, while absent in self-imposed Berlin exile, by an exceptionally visible futurist faithful.
Capturing its moment perfectly, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) saw David Bowie return in triumph.
What they said at the time: “An eerily impressive stride into the 80s.” Melody Maker
3) High ‘N’ Dry - Def Leppard (1981)
In the 80s, no band was bigger than Def Leppard. With two brilliant albums, Pyromania in 1983 and Hysteria in 1987, the Sheffield band created state-of-the-art arena rock in which their stated blueprint – the crunch of AC/DC plus the sophistication of Queen – was perfected in partnership with genius producer ‘Mutt’ Lange. Those albums sold more than 10 million apiece in America, back to back. But in terms of pure hard-rock power, white-hot intensity and balls-out bludgeon riffola, no Leppard record kicks more ass than High ’N’ Dry.
Their second album, and first with Lange, it was a huge leap forward from the debut On Through The Night, released during the height of the NWOBHM and had a rawness to match. High ’N’ Dry had better songs, more energy and vibe and more class. Side one, as it was in those days, was flawless: the in-your-face aggression of Let It Go and Another Hit And Run, the boozing-anthem title track, and power ballad Bringin’ On The Heartbreak leading into the smoking, guitar-heavy instrumental Switch 625. Side two had some great stuff too: a real zinger in Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes). High ’N’ Dry was Leppard’s first great album. Like AC/DC’s Powerage, it’s their cult classic.
What they said at the time: “A five-star studded, senses-shattering sensation.” Sounds
Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott on High ’N’ Dry
What does the album represent for Leppard?
Joe Elliott: It’s our rock album. It’s the rock album, for sure.
The title track is very AC/DC.
The whole album is! We were AC/DC fans. We were working with AC/DC’s producer, in the same studio where Highway To Hell was recorded. The difference is we did harmonies and they didn’t.
How important was Mutt Lange’s role as producer?
Mutt was our teacher. We wanted him on the first record but he wasn’t available. And then with High ’N’ Dry we had to wait for him to finish the Foreigner album 4. Although we’d had a Top 20 album and toured the States, we had no money. So while we waited for Mutt, I was working for my girlfriend’s dad as a hod carrier on a building site through the winter. I was so pissed off I broke a Foreigner album in half. Double Vision, it was.
But in the end Mutt was worth waiting for.
We had the best producer there’s ever been this side of George Martin. Certainly he was the right guy for us. I remember when he heard us play a song called When The Rain Falls and said: ‘It’s all right, but slow it down, it’s too fast. And those lyrics suck.’ I thought, okay, so that’s what a producer does. That song became Let It Go. And Mutt was great for me. He taught me how to really project myself as a singer. He turned me into the shouty Joe Elliott.
And Rick Allen’s drumming was phenomenal for a kid of seventeen.
Rick was amazing on that record. In fairness, we were always trying to talk him down from over-playing. It just gets in the way of the vocal. So when we were making that album he threw a lot of sticks through the walls. But he was so good – and because back then he had two arms – he could do all the stuff that Brian Downey or Ian Paice did. He learnt from the masters.
Which, for you, are the best songs on the album?
Let It Go is a great song. It’s still in our live set now. Mirror, Mirror is very cool – with Clarky [guitarist Steve Clark] doing his utmost Jimmy Page kind of riff. And another one that was all Steve was Switch 625 – although he did base the chord structure on Tom Sawyer by Rush.
That segue, Bringin’ On The Heartbreak into Switch 625, was a touch of genius.
We thought about making it one song with this long instrumental thing at the end, like Free Bird or the piano coda in Layla. A little known fact: Mutt asked me to write lyrics for Switch. I said: ‘It’s an instrumental!’ I thought that was obvious.
Is High ’N’ Dry the connoisseurs’ Def Leppard album?
To use a rough comparison, it’s our Led Zeppelin II. That was their big rock record. They would never make another record that intense again. And we would never make another album as intense as High ’N’ Dry.
And after that?
We didn’t want to do High ’N’ Dry II. We wanted to take it to the next level. And that was Pyromania.
2) Women And Children First - Van Halen (1980)
As the 80s dawned, Van Halen persevered in trying to top the greatest hard rock debut album of all time. Whereas Van Halen II had aped some of their debut’s glittering, histrionic pop smarts, album number three was an altogether heavier proposition and all the better for it. Dave Lee Roth was at his most voluble, the crunchy cover tunes were a thing of the past, and not one of the album’s 33 minutes is wasted. The cover photo – a collapsing Eddie Van Halen held up by his bandmates – was an exercise in throwaway cool. If you were lucky enough you might even have got a copy that had a poster of the shy and retiring Diamond Dave topless and chained to a fence, taken by renowned photographer Helmut Newton.
The band clearly weren’t afraid to push musical boundaries either. The songs grooved and roiled, Eddie was already starting to experiment musically, throwing a distorted Wurlitzer into the mix, while they married acoustic guitar with Eddie’s rangy, open and roaring electrical riffs on songs like Take Your Whiskey Home, opted for some lop-sided skiffle with the languid Could This Be Magic?, but were still capable of the full-throated bellow that was the Van Halen stamp, as on the album’s caustic openers And The Cradle Will Rock… and Everybody Wants Some!!. The former was playful and loose – who else would pause a song so that their singer could lean in to ask: ‘Have you seen Junior’s grades?’? – while the latter became a live staple of Van Halen’s live shows, if only for Dave’s eulogy to stockings, on which the song hinged. Perhaps best of all, though, is In A Simple Rhyme, which swaggers like The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again would have if it had been conceived beneath the Californian sunshine.
What they said at the time: “Specialising in decibels and cock-strutting bravado, they put forth the proposition that Might Is Always Right, and the proof on their third LP is pretty convincing.” Rolling Stone
1) Heaven And Hell - Black Sabbath (1980)
In 1970, Black Sabbath defined a new genre in rock music with not one but two of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time – the debut, Black Sabbath, and Paranoid. What they created ten years later, with Heaven And Hell, was a masterpiece that brought the band back from the dead. “That album,” said guitarist Tony Iommi, “gave us a new lease of life.”
And in this, the resurrection of Black Sabbath, the key figure was the guy who had the balls of steel to take the place of Ozzy Osbourne as the band’s new singer. That guy was Ronnie James Dio. And as he once said of Heaven And Hell: “It was not Black Sabbath with Ozzy. It was something different. And we were great together.”
The band had been in a steep decline before the decision was made to fire Ozzy in 1979. On their last two albums of the 70s – Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die! – they sounded frazzled and unfocused, and on a 1978 tour they’d had their arses kicked by the support act, a young and hungry Van Halen. Dumping their singer was a major gamble. For all the wild, booze-fuelled antics that had led to his dismissal, Ozzy was a hugely charismatic frontman whose bruised voice was as integral to Sabbath’s sound as Iommi’s leaden riffs. But what they found in Dio – himself recently fired from Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – was a singer as unique in his own way as Ozzy was.
As illustrated in the three classic albums he made with Rainbow, Dio had a voice of immense range, power and melodic finesse. He was also a lyricist of such distinction that he took over that role from Sabbath’s bassist Geezer Butler. “I knew what Ronnie could do,” Iommi said. “I’d heard the Rainbow stuff.”
What Dio brought to Sabbath was a sense of grandeur and epic scale, and it was evident in the very first song they wrote together, Children Of The Sea. Based on what Butler called “this old blues song”, it was developed into a heavyweight piece, as beautiful as it was powerful: the touchstone for the entire album.
Most epic of all was the title track, in which Dio weighed the opposing forces of good and evil, and Iommi laid down the greatest solo of his life. Die Young was both brutal and eerily atmospheric; Lonely Is The Word a titanic heavy blues. And the last song written for the album became its thundering opening statement, Neon Knights.
Released in April 1980, five months before Ozzy made his comeback with his Blizzard Of Ozz album, Heaven And Hell was Black Sabbath reinvented and resurrected. Dio would go on to make two more Sabbath albums – Mob Rules in 1981, and Dehumanizer in 1992. There was also the reunion album on which the band were billed as Heaven & Hell, Dio’s final act before his death on May 16, 2010. But it was with this, his first Sabbath album, that Ronnie James Dio reached his peak: the greatest heavy metal singer of them all, in the greatest heavy metal band of them all.
What they said at the time: “Ronnie James Dio has injected a whole new energy into the group. Just sit back, turn it up, and feel your brain implode.” Sounds