A list of classic and influential albums from the 1980s first published for GIITTV’s 80s week in 2010. It’s by no means definitive but gives a hint of the albums that shaped the decade.
Joy Division- Closer
As the punk explosion of 1977 died down, and the filth and the fury became little more than a distant memory, Joy Division emerged with something far more sublime and sophisticated. Indeed, to call music of this quality ‘post-punk’ does not do it justice. Perhaps Lydon, Strummer and co. should be referred to as ‘pre-Joy Division’.
‘Closer’ was Joy Division’s second album, and their final release prior to the demise of vocalist Ian Curtis. The morbid atmosphere which dominates throughout could be seen as his last will and testament, yet this record is so much more than a musical suicide note.
Despite their tragically short career, Joy Division proved to be a formative influence upon many bands, such as Interpol and Manic Street Preachers. Final song ‘Decades’ betrays a striking (albeit unlikely) resemblance to The Stranglers’ ‘Golden Brown’, proving that Joy Division themselves were not without their influences. ‘Closer’ features neither of their biggest hits, ‘Transmission’ or ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Yet it is still by far their definitive record, and one of the finest to emerge from the 1980s.(Benjamin Short)
Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
While today’s hip hop scene has been subsumed into r & b to make commercial “urban” music, full of rhymes about crystal sipping, Bentleys, and bitches, the 80s was a naive time for the burgeoning form, which was considered a subversive, anti-establishment force by mainstream US society, not dissimilar to the role punk played in the Great Britain during the 70s.
At the heart of rap as a political force were Public Enemy. Formed in Long Island, New York in 1982, the band’s sound was characterised by lead rapper Chuck D’s authoritative baritone, and the accompaniment of crazed hype man Flavour Flav, as well as the production of maverick duo Eric Sadler and Hank Shocklee, aka The Bomb Squad, who gave the crew their distinctive mixture of off-kilter jazz samples, white noise and raw funk beats.
Whereas todays’ rappers consider themselves a brand to be marketed, Public Enemy were more than the sum of their parts, and ITANMTHUB communicated their message of black empowerment against a brutal white system in a racially divided country with anger and urgency. With standout cuts including ‘Rebel Without A Pause’, ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’, and ‘Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos’, the record is PE’s finest work, and one of the most important albums of the decade.
Blood and Chocolate
In 1986, it looked as though Elvis Costello was basically irrelevant. His last effort, Goodbye Cruel World, had been universally panned as a self-indulgent, tuneless wreck, and he’d been keeping a low profile ever since. After less than a decade as an artist, he seemed to be out of momentum. But if Goodbye Cruel World was a record of self-loathing, Blood & Chocolate was about turning that rage outward. Coming off an acrimonious divorce and nearly driven to blows with The Attractions, Costello was bursting with anger, frustration, and resentment – and he poured it all into his songwriting. Blood & Chocolate ranks among the most vicious albums ever made; the most virulent heavy metal seems like James Blunt by comparison.
Costello has never really found a niche – when he burst onto the scene in 1977, he was lumped in with the punks. Despite being pre-new-wave, he was later consigned to the Blondie scene. As a songwriter, he’s handled nearly every genre imaginable – rock, country, pop, blues, soul, jazz, classical – it’s all been done before. But somehow, Costello still sounds the best when he cuts loose of his pretensions and embraces the true rock ethic. After Blood & Chocolate, he’d go on a relentless journey of exploration and creativity. But he’d never sound this free, this exuberant, this wonderfully nasty again.(Emily Tarantella)
The Smiths- The Queen Is Dead
Without doubt the most complete album in the Smiths cannon, off the pack of the musically eclectic and personal political lyrics of ‘Meat Is Murder. ‘The Queen is Dead’ it sees the Manchester outfit at a creative pinnacle, a height they never quite touched again as they disintegrated during the patchy last record ‘Strangeways here we come’ that was dogged by infighting. The Queen is Dead is a vivid document of why the Smiths are etched on the heart of every miserable teenager, and everyone looking for music that took a step out of its comfort zone and tackled subjects in an emotive yet intelligent way, influencing countless acts since its release a quick scan of the independent scene and one can see the traces of Morrissey, Marr & Co on everyone from the Arctic Monkeys and Interpol to The Heartbreaks.
Musically there’s not a note out of place Johnny Marr’s pristine 60s jangle pop is matched by and dexterous basslines, and insistent solid thud, whilst Stephen Patrick Morrissey delivers perhaps his boldest set of vocals to date, no longer fey or shy his tone consumed by a yearning and underlying sexual tension and defiance that’s whilst obviously melancholic is dripping in irony and pathos. From the utter absurdity of opener ‘The Queen is Dead’ with its very British type of ridiculous rebellion (), to the label baiting ‘Frankly Mr Shankly’ and ‘Vicar in a Tutu’ there’s a thread of humour that’s oft overlooked in the Smiths work.
Whilst the achingly sad ‘I Know its Over’ that details the death of love, the literary metaphors of the prosaic rockabilly of ‘Cemetry Gates’ the shimmying grace of “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” one of the greatest expressions of hiding forbidden love ‘under a bushel’ ever executed in pop music. Climaxing with the unspeakably tragic/romantic imagery of ‘There Is A Light That Will Never Go Out’ it’s arcing melody balanced gracefully upon a bed of twisting rhythms, and elegant strings it’s one of the greatest songs ever committed to tape. The Queen is dead is that rare thing, an album without a bad moment, a snapshot of a time when startling original voice and combined musical force are in complete synergy, it has only been fully appreciated with the passing of time.(Bill Cummings)
The Wedding Present- George Best(1987)
The Wedding Present truly have their place cemented in the history of indie guitar music. Their 1987 debut “George Best” is held in the highest regard as classics by many, while John Peel championed their gritty rock and observational wit to the point of exhaustion. This summer, in recent years David Gedge and his troupe of ‘Weddos’ reformed. (Daniel
“The boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Era. You may dispute this, but I’m right and you’re wrong!” – John Peel.(Daniel Round)
Sonic Youth- Daydream Nation
It takes a particular kind of psychotic audio pyromaniac to consider playing the guitar like Sonic Youth. Daydream Nation is proof that with a enough creativity, an unhinged mindset, and more drugs than you can possibly believe, the electric guitar can become a living, breathing organism, a work of art in the original sense of the word.
Providence. A beautifully sparse, and spine tingling two minute interlude. A few distant and meandering piano chords are layered over a rich gust of crackling white noise which sounds like the hum of a blowtorch magnified to a deafening scale. A deliciously vague sample of what could be a police radio, or the correspondence between two criminals communicating on a walkie talkie (its actually two wonderfully strange answer phone messages left by the band members on tour) cuts through this texture like a breadknife. “Its 10:30” this echoing ethereal voice slurs “we’re calling from Providence Rhode Island”. As soon as I first finished listening to this piece of music, I must confess to looking up the word “providence” in a dictionary. It means God.If you cock your head in a certain way, and squint very hard, you may notice that the first seven tracks of this album influenced the next ten years of rock music. The fleeting ghost of “Silver Rocket” haunts every track on Definitely Maybe, “Teen Age Riot” is a shadowy figure lurking behind The Bends smoking a cigarette and looking bored, Loveless has been dipped head first in Daydream Nation, and left to soak for 4-6 years.
From the fizzling and ephemeral first thirty seconds of “Teen Age Riot”, before that riff kicks in and the song rips a whole in the fabric of time and steps gingerly through it, to the final jarring notes of the last act of “Trilogy”, this album is a special kind of masterpiece. “The Sprawl” is an epic twisted anthem of consumerism, prostitution and urban alienation, with fleeting glimpses of chilling lyricism – “I grew up in a shotgun row, sliding down the hill, out front were the big machines, steel and rusty now I guess” – placed either side of two monstrously huge instrumentals.
“Total Trash”, at a particular time of day, in particular circumstances could well be my favourite song of all time. Then again there’s probably a particular set of extrodinary circumstances under which “The year 3000” by Busted would be my favourite song of all time, so it might not be saying much. The whole track is based on a fantastically infectious and terrifyingly fuzzy guitar riff. About half way in, the track stumbles into a jaw-droppingly insane instrumental.
“Total Trash”, at a particular time of day, in particular circumstances could well be my favourite song of all time.
I could go on for a thousand words. I could extol the beauty of “Candle”, a love-song to mentholated spirits “I can’t stay a candle, Gotta change my mind before it burns out” the stomach churning pulses of “Rain King” and “Kissability”, and the final screeching and crumbling sign off of “Trilogy”.It is a piece of pure guitar art, guitar sex and guitar punishment. …Listen to that class!(Liam McGrady)
This album has more room to breathe than the noise swell compression of Psychocandy. One thing a lot of musicians can easily forget is the effect that silence and the ease to breathe can have. Darklands might be a calmer, subtler beast, but it is on a par with its predecessor in its songwriting strengths. No chaos here, just fluid, lyrical, and melody-heavy indie pop. Shiny, pretty, rather than the often all-out attack of that debut album. The optimism is a release and relief too. There are many dated 80s drumbeats to dance away with too – it could easily fill indie dance floors.(Fliss Collier)
The Triffids- Calenture
Like Born Sandy Devotional, Calenture is similar to how we imagine the landscape of Australia: nothing for miles, sparse, empty and lonely. It’s perhaps a little more accessible than their debut with a much poppier overall sound, in fact so much so that opener Bury Me Deep In Love was used in a wedding sequence in Neighbours. In many ways this perfectly displays how Calenture can be misunderstood. Lyrically obsessed with the pain and loneliness of unrequited love, it shouldn’t be something that lends itself to be a cheesy soundtrack to soap based nuptials, but due to being fairly light power pop it’s far too positive to really give the lyrics the right context.
In complete contrast to Calenture, In The Pines is a raw, organic record which lacks the glossy edge that holds Calenture back. Recorded on an eight track in a shearing shed over four days, this would never be used as the soundtrack to Madge and Harold’s wedding, more the soundtrack of slow, bitter death from heartbreak. In The Pines significantly benefits from it’s simplicity: the vocals have all the more power, each strum of the guitar and every beat of the drum is there resulting in an album that could easily be called a classic.(Daniel Round)
Galaxie 500- Today
Debut album Today is probably Galaxie 500’s finest collection of songs. The listener is spared no introductory niceties being thrown straight into “Flowers” – the archetypal Galaxie 500 elegy and an ode to lunacy – and is edged out uncompromisingly with closer “Tugboat”, the bands’ first single and the lovelorn highlight of their first long-player. In between the two standard bearers of their back catalogue, Galaxie 500 reveal a troupe of songs that, against all odds, manage to stand in equal stead with the brilliant first and final songs. Calmly schizo-circulating from the dourly sweet (“Pictures”, “It’s Getting Late”) to the upbeat (“Parking Lot”) and through to melodious downcast pop (“Oblivious”, “Temperature’s Rising”), Today is a cacophonous patchwork of rough gems, yet it possesses an accomplished and distinctive identity that holds it all together. Though primitive (perhaps even more so than their second and third albums) the scope of their creativity seems completely unrestrained by their apparent musical limitations – their instrumental (which goes by the name “Instrumental”) showcases the wistful Galaxie 500 sound at its most innovative and achingly beautiful, while their cover of Jonathan Richman’s “Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste” is completely invigorating with scathing guitars and a grippingly rhythmic, almost tribal backing. Just as most great covers reinvent the original, here Galaxie 500 manage to do so by firmly stamping their own sound in place. Across the record, Galaxie 500 introduce the key basic ingredients of what remains so stridently in place along the course of their catalogue – Wareham’s vocal steady yet maddening, his guitar raw and free, his lyrics firmly rooted in the disconsolate and the absurd; Yang’s bass as elegiac as her vocal would later prove to be; Krukowski’s drumming visceral, percussive, commanding. Complemented by the compulsory bonus track, a lulling and downright mesmeric song called “King Of Spain” which sees Wareham’s vocal at its dissonant best, Today is as inescapably brilliant and vital now in 2010 as it was in 1988.(Daniel Round)
The Stone Roses- S/T(1989)
The Stone Roses debut is an album of ephinanies, a piece of art, that escews the modern trend for single tracks and itunes, each song bleeds into the next (rather like the colours of guitarist John Squire’s Pollack like artwork) creating a glorious, joyous, unstoppable whole, the soundtrack to 1989, the end of the decade and the heralding of a bright, shiny new one the colliding of rave and independent guitar music. From the rocket ship take off of opener ‘I wana be Adored’ that subtlely builds through Mani’s rumbling bass, dappling jazz like riffs of Squire, Reni’s rhythmic beat is both solid yet infinately more playful than any drum machine, while Ian Brown’s half whispiered melody literally grows in confidence until his repetition of the title line becomes a chest beasting statement of intent, carralloed by John Squire’s now lasooing guitar figures that are writ large in the sun blushed sky. ‘She Bangs the dum’ is absolutely infectours, rushing, spriaralling melodies are powered Squire’s insistant jagged notes and Reni’s clambering drums, it’s the euphoric sound of the first flush of indescribable love, and the sound of a new beginning(“the past is yours but the futures mine”). It’s echoe’d by the joyous pysch-jangle of ‘My Sugar Spun sister’ Brown’s swagger detailing his persuit of a lover in sweltering heat, and intercut by half remembered bizarre political imagery (“until every member of parliment trips over”) and the catherine wheel guitars, drum and basslines of ‘This is the one’ that’s pressure rises to a cicophjonic emploring chorus line, bringing to mind a club full of revellers hands in air, literally off their heads on esctacy.
The Roses debut wasn’t all sunshine melodies though, ‘Made of Stone’ is dripping with melancholia and fantasy, driven by a menacing bass line, Reni’s expert drum fills and Squire’s appedgisos hen three minutes the flanged guitars ride a wave of producer John Leckie’s making. While the sparse funk of ‘Shoot you down’ is littered with aserbic put downs,.to the messianhic power of closer ‘I Am The Ressurection’ that is the final pinnacle of the album, built on Reni’s trademark beat, it builds from melodic whisper to skyscraping chorus, and then into a psychedelic jam that’s rippled with the kind of twistes and turns more associated with dance music, bright imaginative, and empowering, its final refrain of ‘I am the Ressurection and I am the light’ belies Brown’s almost superhuman confidence in his band of brothers and defines the sheer transformational quality of this record. So despite the cocaine breakdowns of their ‘Second Coming’, The Stone Roses peerless unforgettable debut is seared onto the subconsciousness of every music fan, distlling the sound of one summer, the end of the 80s, bright, hopeful and coming up, the melding of two until now opposing cultures, for one brief unattainable moment anything seemed possible.(Bill Cummings)