As someone who had to suffer childhood during the 1980’s, I tend not to look back on the decade with a bunch of fondness. Being an awkward adolescent will do that to you. From the weird fashion, evolving technology, and sometimes disturbingly awful music scene, the 80’s can best be described as awkward, maybe because the country itself was growing up as well. But as I get older, and am able to appreciate things from the past more, I have started to realize to impugn an entire decade because Rick Astley existed is a little foolish. I began to understand that all that grunge music that I loved so much in the early 90’s was rooted in something. That all musicians get their influences from somewhere, and digging deep into those helped me discover some things. I went back and explored, and found that even in the 80’s, which birthed a rocketing growth of pop culture, there was still music that was inspired and worth listening to. It wasn’t all style over substance.
Feeling nostalgic today, I wanted to go through some of the albums from the 80’s that I found worth discovering, in hopes that some of our younger readers might find some interest there as well. This list isn’t comprehensive, but these albums are essential listening for anyone interested in indie music.
Here we go:
1. Jesus and Mary Chain- “Psychocandy”
Anybody that plays or listens to noise-pop owes Jesus and Mary Chain a bit of gratitude. The sonic assault on the ears coupled with the California-esque slacker vocals has never sounded so good as it did in 1985 with JAMC. ‘Just Like Honey’ highlights the album, but other songs like ‘The Hardest Walk’ and ‘Taste of Cindy’ balance the line between innovative and catchy perfectly. This album stands as the king on top of the noise-pop mountain.
2. The Pixies- “Doolittle”
I know many people prefer “Surfer Rosa” as their Pixies album, and I admit that it is good. “Rosa” gave us ‘Where is My Mind’ the song most people know the Pixies for. However, to me, “Doolittle” encompasses all that is good about the Pixies. From the screaming rage of the not-so-aptly named ‘Tame’, to the laid back vibe of ‘Hey’, the Pixies hit every note. The album kicks off with ‘Debaser’ which is one of the Pixies best songs period. Add to that the comfortable mid-tempo track ‘Here Comes the Man’, and the excellent ‘Wave of Mutilation’ and we have one heck of a good 80’s indie album.
3. Dinosaur Jr.- “Bug”
If I had to compile a list of top ten songs from the 1980’s I have to believe that ‘Freak Scene’ off of Dinosaur Jr’s “Bug” would be one of those songs. Given that it starts off the album, one can’t help be entrenched right away by the bands 1988 effort. ‘No Bones’ follows in the vain that Dinosaur Jr. has become so famous for. It’s a noisy, sludgy, rock song that makes you relaxed despite the noise that’s being pumped out of the amps. Other highlights include, ‘They Always Come’ and ‘The Post’.
4. U2- “Joshua Tree”
I contemplated other albums from U2’s catalog. After all, their history in the 80’s is good, and their earlier albums have a little more spunk, but not more “feeling” than “Joshua Tree”. From the opening guitar of ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’, as a listener, you know you are in for a treat. Bono has never matched the soaring vocals he belts out on the album that included the smash hit ‘With or Without You’. The energy that comes from songs like ‘Running To Stand Still’, ‘Red Hill Mining Town’, and ‘In God’s Country’ is something to admire.
5. The Cure- “Disintegration”
The Cure have a huge catalog, and many of those are in the 80’s. Many of those are fantastic as well, however, “Disintegration” is the bands greatest accomplishment in my eyes. Many others as well. Never has an album with this many songs that clock in at over 4:30 minutes kept my attention so well. From the chilling opener, ‘Plainsong’, the listener is bathed in gorgeous melodies, full of sound and emotion. Hit songs ‘Pictures of You’ and ‘Lovesong’ highlight the album, and are the sunny songs on a gloriously gloomy album. The tribal drum beats of ‘Closedown’ interlace perfectly with a mournful guitar and vocals. The Cure doesn’t get any better than this album.
6. R.E.M.- “Document”
Not everyone is a fan of Michael Stipe and the boys, and if truth be told, I’m not even the biggest fan. The band debuted in 1983 with “Murmur” and took the indie world by storm with ‘Radio Free Europe’. “Document” is actually the third album in the band’s catalog, but is famous for good reason. The album is highlighted by R.E.M’s most famous song, ‘It’s the End of theWorld…” but offers much more than that. “Document” also offers ‘The One I Love’ as well as ‘Finest Worksong’ and ‘Welcome to the Occupation’.
7. The Replacements- “Let It Be”
One can’t listen to the Replacements ‘Answering Machine’, the closing track, and not think that a guy like Kurt Cobain didn’t grow up listening to the Replacements. The Replacements might be the band on this list that influenced two or three other bands on this list. This 1984 album includes band highlights ‘Unsatisfied’ and ‘I Will Dare’ as well as playful, but good songs titled, ‘Gary’s Got A Boner’ and ‘Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out’. This album at times toes the line between punk rock and cock rock, and is all the better for it.
8. The Misfits- “Legacy of Brutality”
The Misfits were a strange but awesome band in the 1980’s. Led by Glenn Danzig, the band didn’t really put out albums so much as a bunch of singles. There was “Earth A.D./Die Die Die” and “Walk Among Us”, and many of the songs focused on alien beings and zombies creating an army of followers who liked the dark side of things. Besides the cultural influence however, the band had the chops musically, and a ton of great songs litter “Legacy of Brutality”. ‘Hybrid Moments’, ‘Angelfuck’, ‘She’, ‘Some Kind of Hate’, ‘TV Casualty’, and pretty much every other song on the album are punk classics.
Just Missed The List:
New Order- “Power, Corruption, and Lies”
This album isn’t widely as acclaimed as “Substance” but I like it for a different reason. While the ghost of Ian Curtis is still at play here, the album begins to move in the direction that it later became famous for, and is the first in which the band with Bernard Sumner begins to take a different identity.
I’m sure that I missed some others, so feel free to list down below to write in any albums you think should be on the list.