My Top 10 Albums of the 1980s

A fool’s errand, I pick the top ten records from my teenage years

The Compilation Caveat

Before we start the list proper, a word about previously released music…

When I dove into my collection, I found that many of my “80s favorites” were, in fact, compilations of previous work.

1. The Queen Is Dead — The Smiths (1986)

I wish everybody could be 16-years-old when they first hear this album. I mean, it’s just about perfect no matter when you first hear it, but when it hits your 16-year-old eardrums, it sears itself into your DNA in some sort of primal way.

2. Some Great Reward — Depeche Mode (1984)

Depeche Mode was my favorite band of the 80s. Period.

3. Skylarking — XTC (1986)

For my money, this is the closest any band ever got to Sgt. Pepper’s (and I realize that’s saying something.) My love of the Beatles certainly influenced my affinity for this album, but I also loved it because it didn’t sound like anything else that was out at the time.

The lush string and horn arrangements, the complicated lyrical structures, and the tight harmonies all seemed super ambitious to me, and unlike anything else that I was hearing in the guitar- and synth-driven albums that ruled the day.

4. Nothing to Fear — Oingo Boingo (1982)

Oingo Boingo was the first real rock concert I ever attended. At the Bakersfield Convention Center in, I want to say, 1983 or 1984?

You probably remember your first concert fondly, no matter who it was, but I can safely say these guys kicked ass. The songs that I loved from this album sounded even better live and including funky bangers like “Private Life,” “Wild Sex (In the Working Class),” and “Nothing to Fear (but Fear Itself).”

5. Little Creatures — Talking Heads (1985)

This (and O.M.D.’s Crush) was one of the first CDs I ever bought. When I got my first real hi-fi system and first CD player when, um, CD players first came out. (Told you I was old.)

6. The Joshua Tree — U2 (1987)

I mean, c’mon, right? It has to be on the list. One of the great albums of all time.

7. In My Tribe — 10,000 Maniacs (1987)

My older self is a little embarrassed that my 80s collection was so dude-centric. There aren’t a lot of female musicians on this list. Maybe that makes sense — narcissistic teens are looking for music that gives voice to their feelings and so that’s the bands that I gravitated toward.

8. Especially for You — The Smithereens (1986)

I’m gonna be honest: I didn’t appreciate how great this album was when it first came out.

9. Special Beat Service — The English Beat (1982)

When I first thought about my top 10 from the decade, this one wasn’t on my radar. But on my re-listening tour down memory lane, I was gobsmacked by how terrific and fresh this album sounded.

10. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me — The Cure (1987)

You have no idea how many different albums popped in and out of this tenth spot as I was writing this thing. (It’s weird how much agony goes into a ranking that, let’s be honest, nobody really cares about. 😉)

Honorable Mentions

There were a bunch of albums I really thought would make the list before I did my re-listen and they deserve a special shout out. Either Document (1987) or Fables of the Reconstruction (1985) by R.E.M. should probably be represented on the list above and I’m going to regret not including them as soon as I hit “publish.” Crowded House (1986) and Temple of Low Men (1988) by Crowded House are both still great, but just missed the cut. So (1986) by Peter Gabriel is a classic, of course, but felt a little dated to me. Junk Culture (1984) and Crush (1985) by O.M.D. and Wonderland (1986) by Erasure were all at the top of my list in the 80s, but felt a little thin to my 40-something ears. Soul Mining (1983) and Infected (1986) by The The were on and off and then on this list and one of them would probably be on again if I finished this on a different day. And the three-pack from Tears for Fears — The Hurting (1983), Songs From the Big Chair (1985), and Seeds of Love (1989) — are all still terrific and didn’t make the list because I couldn’t pick just one.

Hey, if you liked this, hit that hand-clappy-thing-y below, will ya?



husband, father, writer, ad man, occasional actor

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