Ah, the '80s. Sometimes it's fondly remembered (Blade Runner, Dune, Tron, Blue Velvet) and other times it makes you cringe (Dead Or Alive, Breakfast Club, Ah Ha, Flash Gordon) but the '80s was a deceptive beast. For the most part music of the '80s is always shown on TV using the worst examples of tired and dumbed-down New Wave wannabes (New Wave that started with great bands like Television, The Talking Heads, and The Pretenders was all but dead by '83 when the great synth-pop emptiness took over). What isn't usually highlighted in the media is that the '80s actually wielded more classics than the critically-lauded '90s. So in the wake of certain cable music channel shows and a revival of sorts in current music I've decided to make The Digital Divide's definitive list: 30 bands that made the '80s NOT suck. Each band will be represented by their essential recording of the '80s. This is not a greatest album list, nor are they in any ranking order, it simply shows the best that that group had to offer.
|1. Hüsker Dü -- New Day Rising (1985) Minnesota's Hüsker Dü made a name for themselves with their previous album Zen Arcade but it was New Day Rising that broke '80s American hardcore punk out of the garage and into sonic textures making true on its titles claim of a new day rising. "Celebrated Summer" cranked at the right volume can still induce mosh pits. This is the one where the pop came in and paved the way for bands like Mudhoney and even albums like Oasis' Definitely Maybe.|
|2. XTC -- English Settlement (1982) Before Andy Partridge took his band down Burt Bacharach highway he gave us this neo-folk classic. Its forest green cover only highlights great tracks like the seemingly Straw Dogs-inspired "No Thugs In Our House" which gives one visions of countryside violence brewing, blood on the green waiting to happen, much like the angst bubbling under all these folk rock tunes that just teases to break out, but never does.|
|3. Sonic Youth -- Daydream Nation (1987) From the use of high art on the cover to the "fuck you Reagan America" mood of the album this is the one. "Teenage Riot" is the anthem of a rising underground movement while "Silver Rocket" still rocks it like a hurricane. This is the Led Zeppelin IV of '80s alt-rock and no-wave. Thurston Moore's vocals crafted to fit the songs, Kim Gordon's visceral howl harnessed, and Lee Renaldo's sprawling epic "Eric's Trip" leaves no question, it is the best album of the '80s.|
|4. The Replacements -- Let It Be (1984) The mock Beatles title and the now classic cover were just icing on the cake. Chugging through rock workouts "I Will Dare", punk piss "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out", and even ballads " Sixteen Blue" this is where The 'Mats showed real promise. Influencing everyone from Nirvana (Cobain's vinegar vocals were ripped from Paul Westerberg) to Wilco, they were The Rolling Stones to R.E.M.'s Beatles. If only they had lasted. Still, "Unsatisfied" is THE rock ballad of the '80s.|
|5. Galaxie 500 -- On Fire (1989) Before singer and guitarist Dean Wareham formed Luna he gave us Galaxie 500. On Fire is really the only album they needed to make. Hypnotic and jazzy, its looping drums only added to its dream quality. They called Lush dream pop but to me Galaxie 500 beats them all.|
|6. The Cure -- Pornography (1982) Probably the third best band of the '80s (behind Sonic Youth and The Pixies). With Pornography, Robert Smith steered his band away from sparse keyboard nightmares and into sprawling gothic guitar armageddon. Forming the first part of The Cure's so-called Trilogy (continued off and on through the years with 1989's Disintegration & 2000's Bloodflowers) Pornography cuts through dark rain clouds with jagged guitars and angst-ridden vocals. Who can deny the first lines of the opening track "One Hundred Years" in which Robert Smith finds the final piece of a youth movement and invents goth, "It doesn't matter if we all die......". The finest album to come out of Britain in the 1980s, hands down.|
|7. The Pixies -- Doolittle (1989) What can be said that the music doesn't already tell you. If you pop this one in your CD player and ask someone unfamiliar with it what year did it come out chances are they will 99.5% of the time say the '90s. Black Francis, Kim Deal, Joey Santiago, and David Lovering crafted a sound that was so ahead of its time that it's still being ripped off to this day. With 1989's Doolittle they were at their zenith. From the Buñuel-inspired lyrics of "Debaser", the hardcore "Tame", the surf punk ballad "Wave Of Mutilation", to the final furious "Gouge Away", The Pixies proved they could play it all alternating from acoustic, to punk, to surf guitar, to country, and back to punk again. When in 1991 Nirvana's Nevermind consciously aped the Pixie's previous album Surfer Rosa, Black Francis decided to call it quits with 1991's Trompe Le Monde (made clear in the line "This song has twice occurred/ Now it's time to go away"). But it was Doolittle before The Smashing Pumpkins or Nirvana that got it right first, harnessing the loud /soft equation that became the staple of '90s rock. If it wasn't for Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation this album would be the best of its era, but at least they hold the vote for best band of the '80s. This is the band that the line "this is why I write" is made for.|
|8. Meat Puppets -- II (1983) has anyone ever really copied the Meat Puppets hillbilly punk? Not really, but maybe that's because their slanted view of Americana, as punk as it seemed, was always a bit psychedelic in execution. On II, the band dropped pure punk in favor of country-tinged ballads and sagebrush epics that captured the vast frontier of America like no other. "Lake Of Fire" with its gospel-sinner slant is classic ("where do bad folks go when they die?/ they go to the lake of fire and fry") while "Oh Me" perfectly captures a John Ford frontiersman ballad. The Puppets never again really equaled II and eventually went down bad routes, but with this 1983 landmark they defied convention and came out on top. The punk version of The Grateful Dead's switch from Psych-rock to the roots music of Workingman's Dead.|
|9. The Smiths -- The Queen Is Dead (1986) The Smiths jangly guitar pop oddly highlighted by singer Morrissey's depressing vocals was a breath of fresh air in a synth obsessed 80's. For some it felt like The Beatles all over again, great simple pop songs in a vein of folk, and neo-rockabilly. The Queen Is Dead is their great legacy. Capturing teenage melancholy and depression on record and coming out with the Goth kids coming of age record (who didn't hear this by the time they were 21? Seriously). From the romp of "Frankly, Mr. Shankly" to the classic "Big Mouth Strikes Again" this was The Smiths' defining moment. Two albums later and their differences would split the band into history.|
|10. Echo & the Bunnymen -- Songs To Learn and Sing (1985) How many hits packages could really be fit to put on a list? Not many. But Songs To Learn.... is better than most studio albums the Bunnymen did (they were more of a great singles band anyway) and pretty much shows what the band is all about. The last great New Wave band to use keyboards sparingly before every Keith Emerson wannabe on a Casio destroyed the scene with crappy synthpop. On songs like "The Cutter", the keyboards come in and add emtional depth that very few bands of the era could produce. This also yielded their classic Goth tune "The Killing Moon".
Next Week: 11--20
"The Digital Divide" is ©2004 by Terence Nuzum.. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.