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“Dolby’s Top 100 Albums of the 1980s”

To be honest, I have no idea what spawned me into doing an ‘80s list. It’s about as well fated for me, somebody who grew up on Hootie & the Blowfish and the Cranberries, as an oral bowel movement.
I have though definitely found an astonishingly diverse musical genus emanating from this time, along with the newfound grasp of the fact that also, Bruce Cockburn really held up music in his own way, at certain points.
What’s more, I’ve found that critics in the ’80s were just as tooth-gnashing and obtuse as ever. The Chicago Tribune, for instance, gave Talking Heads – True Stories (a 1986 effort which follows up the listenable if nauseatingly cutesy Little Creatures) only two stars — whereas, for me, these songs are really blowing my mind! The opener isn’t great but it’s solid, then “Puzzlin’ Evidence” is actually a song I’d legit classify as TOO GOOD — it harbors mediocre lyrics and more than supplants the almighty Dahvid Bowwwie in terms of brisk, fun-boy funk-rock.
With Reagan as the president (there was not a Democrat commander the entire decade, keep in mind), lots of statements had to be made. Heck… here’s a few of ‘em.

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100 David Bowie – Let’s Dance
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To be honest I have a big hangup about Bowie… like I heard he didn’t even write the titled track on this album, which is an abysmal track anyway (“Modern Love” happens to be really tight)… and sure enough there’s ol’ boy Rob Sheffield in the Rolling Stone Paul McCartney special edition asserting that McCartney had made a “bold statement.” I could fu**ing puke.
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99 Meat Puppets – Up on the Sun
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On Up on the Sun, the Puppets had finally started behaving as if they were interested at last in the ephemeral idea of anybody ever hearing or habitually listening to their music: it does not one-up their later, more focused and melodic EP Out My Way but it’s a start, and very similar to the latter with the noodling guitars and delicate chord changes, to boot.
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98 R.E.M. – Green
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Green has a couple of classic tracks, for sure: “Stand” and “You Are the Everything,” the latter buoyed by one of Peter Buck’s more masterful mandolin performances… I still remember my sister making a comment about this album one time that the “treble” presence was too strong. Well there ya go.
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97 Huey Lewis & the News – Sports
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As Weezer circa 2008 or so found out via the ether, hell hath no fury like Carrie Brownstein when rendered a music critic: well even by her memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl we learn her to have always professed an affinity for this album, which commendably and hummably boasts the colossal singles “The Heart of Rock and Roll” and “I Want a New Drug.”
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96 Erasure – The Innocents
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Oh… bangin’ that dop Brit-pop sh** y’all! Some bona fide head-noddin’ Saturday night music right here, complete with a wildly plangent vocal part as if this guy was really pouring his heart into it, to such an extent where it’s as memorable as it is ridiculous.
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95 Alien Sex Fiend – Acid Bath
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Great founding industrial music here, also from across the pond, not the least of its accomplishments being spawning the band name of the seminal New Orleans rockers Acid Bath.
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94 MC Hammer – Let’s Get it Started
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I mean come on I had to get SOME hip-hop on the scene on here… LL Cool J tends to just rap a little too slow and be a little too simple and stuff… and yes, it’s hard to believe, but Hammer did have an album out before that “Can’t Touch This” sh**, which, if nothing else, implies that there was a certain artistry going on with this whole thing. I don’t doubt it.
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93 Prince – Sign o’ the Times
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The titled track on this cut might be my favorite Prince song, whether or not there is a bass hit on the one-beat (which there isn’t)… coming out in the same year as Michael Jackson’s Bad, it tends to fly under the radar a little bit, but shows nonetheless that Prince had some grit and urban examination ability in him.
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92 Talking Heads – Little Creatures
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Indeed, you could probably put like Billy Joel on the rest of this album and it would still be a classic, after the unforgettable classic single opener “And She Was” (I once spent an entire summer with this song in my head thinking about this one girl). And this is a good thing, since the rest of the album does kinda suck.
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91 R.E.M. – Fables of the Reconstruction
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A couple of these rockers would make their ways on to the band’s early-days best-of of Eponymous (“Can’t Get There from Here”; “Driver 8”), but to me it’s the closeur “Wendell Gee,” gentle, cunning and serene, that takes the cake.
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90 Pat Benatar – Crimes of Passion
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I was listening to this album on the handy-dandy Spotify and dog gone-it… it’s actually pretty good! Obviously there’s the classic single “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” but most of the songs have credible guitar solos to them and there’s even a foray into reggae, which doesn’t work, but is documentable at least for trying.
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89 AC/DC – For Those about to Rock
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The overwhelming storyline on AC/DC is definitely the undeniable energy they generate with preciously scant raw materials — in terms of chord plurality, or theoretical complexity of any kind. This album is full of simple rockers but is well-sequenced, all the three-minute Fender thirst-quenchers seeming to differ just enough from the one before.
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88 Bad Religion – Suffer
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Wow, what a way to pick back up… Bad Religion ended their five-year hiatus from releasing full-lengths, at this time with just How Could He** Be Any Worse? under their belts, with a similarly unflinching and disillusioned message here, but upping the ante in groove complexity no doubt, veering more, if subtly, toward the stops and starts of the thrash metal of early Metallica.
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87 Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill
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I’m not going to top the Pitchfork best-of-‘80s blurb on this album so I’m not going to even try: it had an account of Ryan Schreiber getting a twinkie in his hair, but then reminding his counterpart heroically, in defense of said selection, that this album was “epochal,” meaning of the epoch, of the particular time from which it was issued.
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86 Pixies – Come on Pilgrim
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Wow, ya know, I was just looking at this track list and I might have even ranked this album too low: every one of these da** songs is a classic pretty much, especially the bizarrely grim “Nimrod’s Son,” which has the band playing rock music and playing it fu**in’ fast, and HEARTILY, gentlemen. But then, it is just an EP, I suppose, or “mini-LP,” officially.
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85 U2 – October
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At this point with U2 we’re still very similar to what we had with Boy: a couple pseudo-melodies sauteed and indulged in over ostensible median, laconic punk rock, all a presage to the tireless, sweeping statements we’d get on The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree.
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84 Pink Floyd – A Momentary Lapse of Reason
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With beautiful centerpiece “Learning to Fly” as its flagship, A Momentary Lapse of Reason more than ingratiates Pink Floyd to the overall 1980s conversation of psychedelic rock, which, if I’m doing my job, will be more than apparent after the viewer’s imbibing of this list.
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83 Grateful Dead – Go to Heaven
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Belied by the album cover, which exudes a more detached, sort of posh, “uncommon” image, Go to Heaven is full of gutbucket blues a la “Alabama Getaway,” “Feel Like a Stranger” and “Don’t Ease Me in,” albeit still overproduced, wah-wah pedal and all.
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82 John Cougar Mellencamp – Uh-Huh!
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It’s just like the Indiana boy to go underrated and in some of my more delusional moments in life, I start to think maybe for a second that Mellencamp might be better than Bruce Springsteen (then of course I listen to “Cover Me” and all such notions are dashed)… still this album is loaded with some rockin’ singles and some soothing safari slow-downs, to even things out nicely.
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81 Sonic Youth – Evol
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This album should probably make the list on the strength of its cover alone, which is serendipitous since it really doesn’t have THAT many good songs on it compared to Sister and Daydream Nation: but “Starpower” and “Green Light” go a long way, along with all the interesting, grating sounds bubbling to the surface all over.
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80 Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
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And yes, there’s no doubt, this album is probably sort of SLIGHTLY overrated, being such a hipster token (I mean aahhgh, Travis Morrison cites it in “Ellen and Ben”!) [1], but the feeling is there and we needed a bona fide country album on this list. Still, it’s just like people to make a feeding frenzy toward someone when he most wants to be alone.
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79 John Fogerty – Centerfield
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I mean, this album is just FUN: there’s no other way to describe it. I’m surprised they haven’t made it illegal yet. Oh wait, they DID! John Fogerty actually got sued for “The Old Man down the Road” for sounding too much like, you guessed it, HIMSELF (“Run through the Jungle”).
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78 Donald Fagen – The Nightfly
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Given that this was a member of Steely Dan now gone solo, I’d expected to on the Wiki. page see him under “Past Members,” whereas he in fact lists as but one of the two extant ingredients in the band. It doesn’t get much more authentic than that. Or this.
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77 Dinosaur Jr. – You’re Living All over Me
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Courtney Love once made the comment that if this album had undergone clean production like Nirvana – Nevermind, it could have blown up and spawned number one singles… while probably an overstatement leveled partially toward getting under her husband’s skin a little bit, J. Mascis does here show his knack for the chord change and the use of the distortion pedal.
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76 XTC – Black Sea
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It’s impossible to describe with words how fishy this band and fu**in’ album are… I mean it’s just ludicrous… every song is bouncy and edible, with classic singles like “Generals and Majors” and “Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me).”
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75 Richard Hell & the Voidoids – Destiny Street
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Destiny Street essentially picks up where Richard Hell & the Voidoids’ 1977 debut album Blank Generation left off in terms of style, which or course begs the question of why I do these weird decades lists in the first place. Finger calisthenics, for the record.
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74 R.E.M. – Document
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If these albums were ranked in terms of their political commentaries alone, there’s no doubt that Document would come out number one, making as it does a direct reference to the Red Scare with “Exhuming McCarthy” and then once again panoramically summing up the ‘80s with the trip to meet Lester Bangs and “It’s the End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine).”
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73 Yo La Tengo – President Yo La Tengo/New Wave Hot Dogs
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Honestly, contrary to what you might think, the ‘90s were Yo La Tengo’s decade… but this stuff is still nothing to thumb your nose at, and I’m glad for the opportunity to showcase a double album here and call it one, though it was once two separate LP’s, the band’s second and third, respectively, of their catalogue. Interesting is that the song “Lewis” titularly handles a departed band member, Mike Lewis.
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72 Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
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I have no idea what kind of impression the Violent Femmes would have made in the year 1984, or even if many people would have heard them for that matter, but although today they do play as somewhat of a novelty the bite and rock moxie are undeniable, from the obvious lead opener “Blister in the Sun” to the tenacious breakup paean “Kiss off” to perhaps the greatest, the Dadaist punk blues of “Gone Daddy Gone.”
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71 Pixies – Surfer Rosa
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Good God is this album fu**ing weird, but “Vamos” and “I’m Amazed” could more than constitute a classic LP all on their own. You know what else I just realized? All of the Pixies albums seem to feature nudity in some regard on the cover, albeit on Doolittle just a monkey.
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70 Prince & the Revolution – Purple Rain
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Despite the overhyped aspects of the titled track here following Prince’s death, you’ve got to admit that the songs on this film soundtrack are some heavyweights — “I Would Die 4 U” contains a distinct, inimitable rhythm and “When Doves Cry” is the absolute perfect pub song.
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69 Melvins – Ozma
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Ozma is the proud, standup successor to 1987’s Gluey Porch Treatments and… it ain’t a he** of a lot different, but then there is the fact that (a.) what the band were doing was working and (b.) it’s not like they’d reached an incredible pinnacle of fame or anything, although they did obviously have one notable hanger-on who went by the name of Kurt Cobain.
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68 The Vapors – New Clear Days
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I’m not even making this up… I think it’s a conspiracy… I’d shared “Turning Japanese” on Facebook and devised the PERFECT accompanying comment, I mean it would have been like the stuff to make Lewis Black crumble with emotion… and it got deleted. Apropos of that, this title is a play on words for “nuclear days.” Apropos of that of that, this whole da**ed album is good.
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67 Madonna – Madonna
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Here we have a pretty promising debut album from a fairly well known young maiden among these pawts, a couple highlights being “Lucky Star” and “Holiday,” the best part of course being that she’d yet to start b.s.-ing us thoroughly, with all that “I’ll never leave you” crap.
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66 Bad Religion – How Could He** Be Any Worse?
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I’ve never been to L.A. and… it’s a wonder, with how charming everybody makes it sound! Dog gone-it, maybe I’ll go there and like walk a purple poodle around or something. This is Bad Religion’s debut album, which to be honest is exactly like their second and third albums (they’d branch out into poppier chord progressions and more developed song structures on Stranger than Fiction and No Substance in the ‘90s).
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65 Run-DMC – Raising He**
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For a while I was on this kick about how Run-DMC is too primitive… and to be honest I’m a huge hip-hop guy but I think I’ve only got two or three or so rap albums on this list… but it’s easy to get disarmed at the end of the day, still, by some of these projects, which can play like exceptional talents just without some of the raw materials their respective successors would go to enjoy, production-wise.
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64 Bruce Springsteen – The River
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Short of actually praising the album The River, I’m going to say this about Bruce Springsteen: he had a preternatural knack for sustaining commercial success in pop music, evidenced by how he seemed to pepper every modestly sized album with at least one classic cut (in this case “Hungry Heart,” of course), as well as how he even duped some white conservatives into using “Born in the U.S.A.” for a campaign theme song, the latter not even initially realizing the satiric elements thereof.
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63 AC/DC – Back in Black
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I had this friend a while ago, he died of a heroin overdose, but one of his buddies we’d go over to visit in Portage, Indiana had a little saying he’d say, applied to everyday life: “Hell’s bells.” You could pull this thing apart piece by piece, if you were in the fu**in’ mood.
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62 U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
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My favorite memory of meeting a big U2 fan was probably coming across this Asian dude in the downtown of my hometown of South Bend, Indiana, who could actually name all the U2 albums and a bunch of songs off each one — a nicer dude you’ve never imagined in your entire life. He’d lived in San Fran for several years and then was back in the impoverished Midwest, just trying to soak up whatever positive vibes he could.
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61 Bruce Cockburn – Stealing Fire
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Here we have the fine Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn lodged about 14 years into his recording career, veering perhaps slightly toward the folky (I’m going to avoid using the term “folksy,” which is a common pejorative among New Yorkers), goopy and sentimental, but… Cockburn-ish all the same, which is the primary feather in his cap.
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60 Grateful Dead – In the Dark
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You might have heard of a little tune called “Touch of Grey”… love it and personally hate the song “Hell in a Bucket” but then “Throwing Stones” more than makes up for it, even if it does rip off the chord progression of “I Want a New Drug.” “Black Muddy River” is sort of a like an equally plangent permutation of “Brokedown Palace.”
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59 Tom Tom Club – Tom Tom Club
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Oh, Tom Tom Club went platinum before the Talking Heads ever did! Oh, Tina Weymouth looks so funny “wielding” that “unwieldy” giant instruments the bass guitar! The side-stories almost occlude the actual music here, so it’s good that the first song is called “Wordy Rappington,” and the album as a whole makes for some bouncy dance-rock.
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58 Breakfast Club – Breakfast Club
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Keeping it in New York here, this is a band which went through so many metamorphoses and got so overlooked by mainstream (they’d started out as sort of reggae in the late ‘70s, only to take ’til ’87 to achieve success through dance pop) that at their commercial apex they’re all but unrecognizable as their former selves… but that’s just the ‘80s for ya, isn’t it.
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57 Fishbone – Truth and Soul
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To be honest I’m not a Fishbone ALBUMS enthusiast, loving the song “Sunless Saturday” and all the greatest hitseseseses, in general, but if I had to pick one I’d probably put my chips on trusty ol’ Truth and Soul, gracer of Travis Morrison’s all-time list (Christ is that two Travis Morrison references on this list), harbinger of one of the best covers of all time, of Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead.” I got yer conversations with the drug-addled ’70s right hee-ah!
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56 Green River – Dry as a Bone/Rehab Doll
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I don’t think it’s possible to write about Mark Arm without being a heroin addict, so ya know what, I’m… gonna try. This is me trying. Eggggghhhh.
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55 Talking Heads – True Stories
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Really, you never hear much about this album, the Chicago Tribune even gave it two stars, but I was in fact blown away about how good it was, as I mention in the introductory blurb to this post.
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54 Mudhoney – Superfuzz Bigmuff (EP)
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This EP was initially released separately from the immortalized singles like “Touch Me I’m Sick” and “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More” — so the first song on this collection would have been “No One Has,” which is definitely no slouch, although no one in their right (or preferably wrong) mind would argue that “Mudride” is the true heavyweight.
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53 Squeeze – Singles — 45’s and Under
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Good ol’ bouncy pop here — perhaps the first “alternative rock” album ever released, more light-hearted than R.E.M. and… earlier in time than Supergrass, otherwise highly similar even both originating in Britain for that matter.
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52 Prince – 1999
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Like seriously, what’s up with everybody not shutting up about “Purple Rain” after Prince died? It’s almost like they all finally realized how stupid “Raspberry Beret” and “Little Red Corvette” are. Well, I can see wanting a sad song for the occasion, but musically speaking Prince was at his best when he was chiming out these perky dance tracks, no doubt.
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51 Pretenders – Learning to Crawl
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I was looking at the story of Chrissie Hynde and stuff and it said the band had taken a “hiatus” before releasing this 1984 album. Um, THEIR FU**ING SECOND ALBUM HAD COME OUT IN 1982. That’s not a hiatus — that’s sexism. “Back on the Chain Gang” is classic amidst the zeitgeist of classic rock, the rest of this album playing as the sort of expedited heavy metal to finally sublimate some of Hynde’s negative feelings of being a rape victim.
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50 Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms
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I doubt I’m the biggest Dire Straits fan on the planet, a-dude, a-dude, so I won’t attempt to claim some especial understanding of them here or anything… why’d they ever go away? Time will tell. It probably had something to do with an ill-fated quest for monetary compensation accompanying a relative functional torpidity, if I had to guess.
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49 U2 – Boy
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Like with The National – High Violet, U2 – Boy would have been an album for which I expressed antipathy if not for a dream which came to me in sleep telling me to purchase and imbibe it… I found it very influenced by Wire/punk, not to mention boasting of the incredible opener “I Will Follow” which I once saw Third Eye Blind cover in concert.
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48 R.E.M. – Reckoning
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I have a great memory of buying this CD in its original master, new, for about 10 bucks at the Pearl Street Boulder, Colorado record store before they closed, from this lovely, droll little smiling fat dude who had the Minutemen playing on the PA… ope I forgot to mention them on this list… ope no I didn’t. “Letter Never Sent” is a highlight, along with all the obvious ones.
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47 Sonic Youth – Sister
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It’s loud rock music with a dude yelling about how he wants to get laid! Let’s crown it the ironic benchmark of hipster counterculture! Hmm… the messiah fools with the worst laid plans. Granted, I have met individuals who are really sick of Sonic Youth, but keep in mind they came around at a tough time for mainstream music, the Cold War, and do manage to construct some considerable stylistic variety here, culminating in the touching and beautiful “Cotton Crown.”
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46 Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues
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I still have this memory of this dude chilling at my place one time who was like a producer and stuff and we were looking at my hard drive we got to this album I said it was pretty good and he was like, “Uh yeah, EVERY SONG’S THE SH**!”, like as a way of making doubters sound foolish by stating a superlative assessment in a deliberately, ironically simplistic way… keep in mind this was a dude into like Alice in Chains and hip-hop and stuff.
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45 Bad Religion – No Control
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I have no idea why I ranked this ahead of the other Bad Religion albums. I have no idea why LA is so bad that Bad Religion would call one of their albums “How Could He** Be Any Worse?” and another “New Maps of He**.” I’m really not the best at solving the world’s problems, you might conclude.
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44 Bruce Cockburn – World of Wonders
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Bruce Cockburn here expands some of his song palette out — the slow, crooning “Berlin Tonight” takes over seven minutes to conclude, but this project plays as a testament to his performative confidence in that how “Lily of the Midnight Sky” needs barely any percussion or tempo to stand as a potent statement in rock.
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43 Heart – Heart
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Did Heart pander to the wishes of record executive guru, pretty much their whole career, what with starting out as a classic rock band and then gradually cajoling into this sissy pop? I don’t think there’s any question, but there’s also no song like “These Dreams” for those long, cooling Autumn nights, so I guess it looks like we’re back where we started, aren’t we.
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42 The Clash – Combat Rock
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It seems like this album is so divisive as to actually come close to SPAWNING combat betwixt its various discussers, at times, people really hating “Atom Tan” and its catalogue predecessor Sandinista! and stuff — “Should I Stay or Should I Go” probably pulls more than its weight in granting the band this positioning, but let’s not forget it also has “Rock the Casbah,” “Car Jamming” also providing some additional side-A ammo to distinguish the project.
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41 Meat Puppets – Out My Way
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Considering that the first song on this album is called “She’s Hot,” it’s hard to imagine it going much better from where it does — highlights are the track two titled track, “On the Move” and of course, the standout rockabilly cover “Burn the Honky Tonk down.”
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40 Metallica – Ride the Lightning
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Metallica on their second effort Ride the Lightning were obviously catering to a sort of niche audience being basically the first to ever do this “thrash” thing, therefore not necessarily seeing the need to change too much. To this day, not many bands can kick down a better groove than this, undoubtedly informing what Van Halen would go to do on 1984.
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39 Billy Squier – Don’t Say No
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Mainly what I remember about this is “Lonely is the Night” being the absolute classic music for this restaurant and bar I used to work at in South Bend that was right on the river, the Oaken Bucket — “The Stroke” is also a robust vial of early rock, if you’re in the right mood (Saturday, et. al.)
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38 Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing
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Some people really hate Suzanne Vega a lot… was it the black gloves? Or was it “Tom’s Diner”? Refreshingly, I just looked on iTunes and “Tom’s Diner” was only the fourth most popular song from this album, which features the time-stopping gem known as “Luka,” one of the absolute greatest songs of the ‘80s, or ever.
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37 Rapeman – Two Nuns and a Pack Mule
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It’s Steve Albini and… HE’S A GUITAR TECHNICIAN, blabbedy, freakin’ blah, I usually couldn’t care less except that he actually does establish some auspicious songs here on this collection, such as the lengthy, repetitious and unnerving “Trouser Minnow” and the awe-inspiring ZZ Top cover “Just Got Paid” (which I think might have been a cover when the Top did it as well… it’s not that important really).
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36 Madonna – Like a Prayer
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There’s a certain GRITTINESS on this 1989 effort from the holy le Madonna that was lacking on her earlier stuff — I don’t know if it was from hearing Prince’s Sign o’ the Times or what. “Cherish” is a favorite song I can put on any time and really chill out to.
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35 Melvins – Gluey Porch Treatments
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My opinion of this album might be just SLIGHTLY skewed, because the copy I bought was on a CD along with Ozma and for some reason it came AFTER Ozma even though it’s before it chronologically… generally I’m charmed by the lyrics like “Spoken like a dreamer” as well as “Dead Dressed,” which features some amusing gibberish. Great music with which to face rejection in life, no doubt.
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34 Bad Brains – Bad Brains
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Oh yeah… we’re in the hey day of fast rock and roll here and it doesn’t get much faster than Bad Brains, who could seem to play a rendition of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and it would still come across as memorable as it was charming as it was intimidating.
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33 Pretenders – Pretenders II
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Da**, have you ever LISTENED to this album? I don’t think there are any successful singles off of it, the way there are from the debut (“Brass in Pocket”) and Learning to Crawl (“Back on the Chain Gang”), but there’s an incessant petulant cry about these songs, and the anti-men “Bad Boys Get Spanked” even carries the same galloping beat as the similarly anti-rape “Tattooed Love Boys,” the same one at that as the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” and Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” — this is the sound of an innocent woman running for her life. Poignant stuff, none would deny.
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32 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe
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As a child of the ‘90s, I can’t really gauge how popular this album was when it came out, despite Michael Stipe’s being on it (granted, even they weren’t really megastars yet by 1987), but the sheer mass of classic songs which seem so effortlessly fragile but memorable within pop constructs is utterly astonishing, from the crispness of “Like the Weather” to the excellent Cat Stevens cover “Peace Train” to the unforgettable piano closeur “Verdi Cries.”
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31 Wayne Smith – Under Me Sleng Teng
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For Americans, it’s always sort of a perilous exercise examining an artistically invincible, weed-smoking Jamaican who even “give it to me next door neighbor”… it’s like how much do you want to know about not being a greedy a**hole? Titled track put him on the map, whole album is droll reggae-pop.
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30 The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy
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Somewhere in the process of making this list, it becomes overwhelming (as I knew it would be) and you realize that the entire existence of the ‘80s, even more so than the ‘90s (which is an astonishing fact in and of itself), is predicated on conflict and criticism — just utterly despising the status quo, and stopping at nothing to make the overarching statement that I AM DIFFERENT: and so we have a veritable bubble gum pop album so drenched in pointless feedback noise it could give a yak a headache. “Cut Dead,” “The Hardest Walk” and “Inside Me” are highlights.
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29 Nirvana – Bleach
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Obviously, there are fewer great songs on Bleach than on Nevermind and In Utero, but still there are enough hooks and melodies and what I maintain over all is that this album is simply a landmark statement in SOUND — Sub Pop engineer and general grunge god Jack Endino pumping the whole thing out for, that’s right, a grand total of $606.
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28 U2 – The Joshua Tree
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I know what’cher thinkin’: I better have some classics cooked up for the rest of this list, to be ranking The Joshua Tree only 28th. And I do, I promise: it’s a testament to the wealth of talent at work here, because as I make a regular habit of saying on this blog, My Morning Jacket’s song “Gideon” is a dead-on ripoff of “One Tree Hill,” which didn’t even make it off of The Joshua Tree as a single, mind you.
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27 Mudhoney – Mudhoney
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This album is basically exactly like the one that came before it. Well, there’s a reason for that: it’s easy to forget, but Superfuzz Bigmuff was actually an EP, thereby making this the self-titled debut, officially speaking. Part of why it’s so easy to forget, of course, is that “Touch Me I’m Sick” tends to be the band’s archetypal song, but the last two cuts on this album more than go toe to toe with the last two on the aforementioned.
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26 Bad Brains – I Against I
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Lots is similar here to what the band had been doing, the primary achievement of progress then coming in “Reignition,” a slowed-down grunge-esque sort of dirge which would indeed make it onto Banned in D.C.: Greatest Riffs, and with every reason.
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25 Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation
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It’s funny how a classic album like this can raise as many questions as it does answers: what’s the best format for listening to it? Is it feminist? What’s the best song on it? Could it be that the found art spoken word sound bite of a non-band-member “Providence” could actually be the best song on it? Whoa, that’s going a little far. But then, going a little far is sort of Sonic Youth’s thing.
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24 R.E.M. – Life’s Rich Pageant
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I have a memory of reading the old journal cokemachineglow.com and seeing the review for Accelerate: this dude was talking about his bit**y a** fiancee (bit**y in a cool way, if you’re a music nerd), saying that Accelerate was congenitally “good, but immaterial,” and referring simply to “Pageant” as the undoubted elder statesman of R.E.M. albums… interesting in that it’s in no way a commercial blockbuster. “Fall on Me” is a standout.
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23 Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love
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Again, The Boss (probably a nickname he earned for a reason) seems to always bang out exactly one timeless, ultimate blockbuster single per album (here it’s “Brilliant Disguise”), but getting down the brass tacks here you do notice this album to be full of gritty, mortar and pestle rock and roll, full of rich rhythm and texture, “Spare Parts” being a fine example.
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22 Bruce Cockburn – Humans
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Again, as a ‘90s kid I feel incredibly weird about all the zeitgeist-eschewing psychedelic rock I in large part missed out on having gone on in the late-‘80s (though I got a nice drift of it from my dad with this album and Lou Reed – New York)… “Rumours of Glory” is a song you never forget, once you first hear it.
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21 Michael Jackson – Bad
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If America were a toilet, Gary, Indiana would literally be the, uh, whatever you call the bottom of the toilet — and along these lines we basically have pop music, and pop culture, manifest as a direct conflictive paradigm, full of banal physical competition and the unabashed desire on the part of the artist himself, even, to sell a veritable butt-ton of albums. But then, there’s enough pliable genius here to work with, much with the help of Spike Jonze, and Kanye’s favorite track, “Leave Me Alone.”
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20 Bob Marley and the Wailers – Legend
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It’s hard to believe that this album came in the same decade as Bad (it could very be well called “good” and nobody would bat an eyelash)… but keep in mind it is a collection of what’s largely older tunes: I think these all come from albums of the late-‘70s, roughly. Really, I’ve never heard a bad Marley song except maybe “Jammin’,” and that one’s at least got good subject matter.
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19 R.E.M. – Murmur
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R.E.M… what is it? Does Murmur DEFINE them? I’ve gone on the record on this blog as touting “Tongue” from the otherwise pretty detestable Monster as their finest moment and in a way this track is the actual physical manifestation of what they were in ideal the entire time — they’re like the virtue of being stuck in second gear, a little temperance, a little sanity in an insane world, noteworthy for their everyday aspects, cosmic for their very approachability.
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18 Metallica – Master of Puppets
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God da**.. the more I think about it the ‘80s were just a head-scratching decade, because for how pigeonholed and streamlined pop music was, even within metal there was the ostensible mainstream (Van Halen, Poison, Motley Crue) and the underground (Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer), the latter of which Metallica was still by this point a member to where when they finally craft their concept album and take things down a notch, they’re still stylistically slaying like they always did and not getting TOO cutesy with it, by any friggin’ stretch.
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17 Mad Professor – Dub Me Crazy!!
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Every July this is my summer music big time — nice and languorous and glorious, taking many of the rudiments of reggae but incorporating extensive sampling and rendering it all over beats which would come to inform founding hip-hop, all dispatching from the birthplace thereof, New York.
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16 Pixies – Doolittle
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We’re clearly at the “classic” segment of this list now: what this band did for rock song structures cannot be overstated. Really, at the end of the day, that’s what pop music is: a refreshing shortcut, where there wasn’t one. I highly recommend Pixies at the BBC as a companion piece, even over all of their other studio albums.
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15 U-Men – Step on a Bug
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Again here we have repeated themes: conflict. Superlatives. Ridiculousness. We’re talking here about a founding Seattle grunge band which at their farewell show in the late-‘80s set an entire stage on fire (they were supposed to have a controlled blaze, which then ignited into an inferno)… apparently Mark Arm was at the show and all that jazz… you could listen to this guy’s First Communion and it would be a classic album (I happen to own the career-spanning collection Solid Action and am not overly familiar with this particular compilation).
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14 Metallica – …And Justice for All
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It would be easy to cite this as the band’s defining statement because we really get a little more intricacy here than we do on Mr. Debut but definitely the same TIGHTNESS, perhaps even stepped up a notch.
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13 John Prine – Aimless Love
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John Prine happens to be a sort of a special person in my music listening, for just his undeniable genuineness and originality in realms of folk music. What’s more, he seemed to give us an installment just when we needed it always, as music was surely suffering in 1987 by way of corporate, streamlined culture (there were essentially only four viable mainstream artists in the 1980s). “Only Love” is a beaute.
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12 Pretenders – Pretenders
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I had this professor in college (yes this is the kind of classes I took at IU) BOISTEROUSLY praise the self-titled debut by the Pretenders as their best album… at the time it was inconceivable to me that their crowning achievement wouldn’t be “Back on the Chain Gang,” but this was a frontwoman who by this time had certainly seen a lot, as “Tattooed Love Boys” will certainly corroborate, her FIRST anti-rape song. “Brass in Pocket” comes in tow.
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11 Van Halen – 1984
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I had a sort of religious experience, more or less, listening to this entire album in one sitting on Spotify at the end of one of my work weeks a month or so ago. Lots of times at the end of the week I need something incredibly physical, or visceral, to wash out of my mouth the taste of work — like I’ll put in a pinch of mint Grizzly, or I’ll drink 10 beers on the eighth of which I finally start getting a tingling buzzing which is mental as well as physical, and even now, I can’t help but think, when will I again need rock music that is that hard and that fast, and that genuine, if ever? I guess there’s always Metallica.
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10 Metallica – Kill ’em All
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Like a deep, dark crypt where few dare to look, there is early Metallica, which were the harbinger of thrash metal before they ever had a radio single, a drummer who can play any beat while smoking, and a collection of guys with the guts to have an image that was this dark and imposing. Killing is all relative, you might say.
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9 Bruce Cockburn – Waiting for a Miracle
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Just absolutely an epic collection of music here: a double album full of this incredibly purposeful and deliberate folk-rock, music that doesn’t have to up the volume in order to make a strong statement, and clusters of songs each of which differs markedly in style from the one before it. Waiting for a Miracle features Canadian idyll after Canadian idyll from a true lover of music and life.
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8 Lou Reed – New York
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I used to know the absolute snobbiest of the music snobs in college, but I remember getting a BOISTEROUS approval of this album from one of them, when I loaned it. Right away on the first track, you get the sense that Reed isn’t fu**ing around: with the simplest chord progression possible, the great coolness auteur belts out a throbbing anthem for urban muscle and grit, taking into account all the depravity and calamity of the city streets and making it sing in rhythmic, uproarious unison.
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7 Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A.
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I really hadn’t unturned this stone until recently, being sort of adverse to that ‘80s snare sound (yeah I had to pop an extra Percoset to do this whole list in general), but… da** this album really has “Glory Days,” “Dancing in the Dark” and “I’m Goin’ down,” eh? This is the type of album I’m almost too astonished to put on to often, and to which I’d always want to be doing something meaningful, or at least in some way self-defining.
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6 The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
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The influences here, primarily, are probably the Beatles and Squeeze, and then to be honest, in Oasis, I hear a distinct Stone Roses resonation, which to be sure, is one reason why I find them listenable in any way. My sister was a fan of this band and would play them growing up and without question, the timeless “She Bangs the Drums” became embedded into my psyche as much as “The Ants Come Marching in,” or a Shel Silverstein poem. “Waterfall” is another ringer.
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5 XTC – English Settlement
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Here we have another album by a British band with bona fide pop credentials but which is also just so RHYTHMIC as to make for an extra exciting, innovative and funky listen. Right from awesome opener “Runaway,” the mood is set in terms of the crystalline production, the eclectic sound and the band’s undeniable tightness for a true feast of pop rock. Along the way, we get myriad social commentary in the form of “Jason and the Argonauts” and “Melt the Guns,” et. al., but the band can also take it down a notch and lighten the mood, as in the case of the beautiful “Yacht Dance” and “English Roundabout.”
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4 Talking Heads – Remain in Light
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It’s funny: ya know I’m not gonna lie… doing a list like this isn’t 100% ingenuous… this wasn’t all music I’d listened to before.. I did see fit to do some research and in examining the later Talking Heads stuff I was struck by a certain marked simplicity and I got to thinking, sh**, did simplicity plague this entire decade? And then I remembered Remain in Light, what with the polyrhythms and African bulbousness inspired, as Wikipedia states, by the Nigerian musician Fela Kuti (that’s hardly your reductive Fleetwood Mac-approximating). The physical accomplishment of this music is undeniable, but what makes the strongest impression to me is the mind-blowing lyric in album closeur “The Overload”: “The center is missing / They question how the future lies / In someone’s eyes”.
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3 Michael Jackson – Thriller
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Surprisingly, more of these songs haven’t been covered extensively, although I do remember an Umphrey’s McGee version of “The Girl is Mine” at a free show one time and our local “Mr. Food” guy changing “Beat it” to “Eat it” for this one commercial (sort of like a Weird Al type thing except allegedly for educational purposes… actually the guy even kind of looked like Weird Al too). Obviously, with everything that has happened with the King of Pop, both to him and surrounding him, it’s increasingly harder to analyze these songs, not that it was ever easy, but what you can’t deny is how they seem to all interplay with each other in one swirling vortex, and how continually listenable the album is from front to back, every bit in rhythmic lockstep with the times we’re now in, to this day.
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2 Grateful Dead – Dead Set
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To the extent that “Touch of Grey” is an important song in American culture, the ‘80s were more or less the Grateful Dead’s decade (I would obviously respect opinions to the contrary)… I happen to be a big fan of the Arista Years best-of which happened to issue in the ‘90s hence disqualifying from this list, but what we have in Dead Set is just a masterfully sequenced and produced live album capturing a band in its prime. There’s the slowed-down version of “Friend of the Devil,” typifying the band’s knack for constant improvement and progress (apparently Garcia had witnessed someone covering the song in slow time and liked what he heard), as well as other striking classics like “Franklin’s Tower” with the simple repeated chorus: “Roll away the dew / Roll away the dew”. Not least, Dead Set features one of my favorite lyrics ever, within the song “Passenger”: “What is a man / Deep down inside / But a raging beast / With nothing to hide”. At the end of psychedelia, in this way, we have inescapable disillusion… well, we did.
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1 Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
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Apparently an album like this couldn’t exist in today’s day and age because of increased rates for sample clearance… Paul’s Boutique by way of expert beat masters the Dust Brothers contains over 100 samples, according to Wikipedia, most of which contrary to popular belief were actually used legally, and not “pirated,” so to speak (although such a thing would almost be appropriate for the group who had already by this time brought us “Rhymin’ & Stealin’”). Now, you might say, it’s the emcees’ flowing that’s important, and not those pip-squeak beats in the background, but without the brilliantly rendered Beatles – “The End” sample laid down on album centerpiece “The Sounds of Science” (which would go on to spawn the title of the Beasties’ anthology), it’s arguable as to whether we’d be talking about this album to this day (although credit those silver-tongued scoundrels Mike, Adam and Adam for apparently having suckered the Dust Brothers in to using some beats for the album they’d erstwhile planned to keep stockpiled… hey it ended up being a worthy investment). Dancing is an important element with the Beasties all the way to this day, manifest in lyrics of songs like “Body Movin’,” “Intergalactic” and “All Lifestyles,” traceable back to their employment as busboys at one Danceteria night club in New York, at which Madonna was a regular (keep in mind she took them on the Like a Virgin tour, allegedly making out with one of them on the tour bus one time).
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[1] “Ellen and Ben” is also an interesting Change closeur for having a title not listed on the original CD track list.

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