10 Albums From The ’80s That Didn’t Totally Suck

by Chaz on June 18, 2011

No decade since rock and roll began has been more maligned than the ‘80s. From the “skinny tie” New Romantic bands that dominated early on, to the hair-metal groups that prevailed later, the most successful artists of that era have largely been consigned to the backwaters of rock history. Rising from the muck, however, are handful of ‘80s albums that have stood the test of time. Below are 10 of the very best.

Lou Reed – The Blue Mask

“Nothing beats two guitars, a bass and drums,” Lou Reed astutely observed not long after recording this 1982 masterpiece. Easily his best album since 1972’s Transformer, The Blue Mask saw Reed and the late Robert Quine offer up a dual-guitar sound that framed Reed’s songs in slashing chords and dense sonic textures. The ballads (“The Day John Kennedy Died”) and the full-on rockers (“Heavenly Arms”) were imbued with all the passion Reed could muster.

The Clash – London Calling

Everyone knew The Clash were a great punk band, but few understood the songwriting greatness that lay within Joe Strummer and Mick Jones until this double-album masterpiece was released. Spiced with horns and other non-punk-like flourishes, the songs veered from straight-up rockers (“The Right Profile”) to skewed reggae (“Guns of Brixton”) to hard-coated pop-rock (“Train in Vain”). Woven into the melodies was a sense of unbridled euphoria, making this two-disc set the best double album since The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street.

The Replacements – Let It Be

Obstinate, self-destructive and built to implode, The Replacements were too late for punk rock and too early for the alternative explosion. With Let It Be, however, the group showed why many consider the hapless ‘Mats to be the best band of the ‘80s. Rife with searing rockers (“We’re Comin’ Out”), gut-wrenching balladry (“Unsatisfied”) and misfit oddities (“Androgynous”), the disc served notice of frontman Paul Westerberg’s emergence as one of the decade’s most formidable songwriters. No group came closer to capturing the elusive essence of rock and roll.

AC/DC – Back in Black

Few bands have shown greater resilience in the wake of tragedy than AC/DC did with this classic album. With Brian Johnson stepping in to fill the void left by Bon Scott, who had died weeks earlier following a drinking binge, AC/DC honored their late singer by delivering a riff-driven masterpiece. Simply put, “Hells Bells,” “You Shook Me All Night Long” and the title track are time-capsule rock and roll.

U2 – The Joshua Tree

Previous albums had seen U2 hovering at the edge of greatness, but with The Joshua Tree, the band put all the ingredients of their burgeoning artistry together. With his trademark riffing honed to finely-tooled perfection, The Edge propelled such songs as “In God’s Country” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” into the stratosphere. U2 went on to make more ambitious albums, but none have matched the passion emanating from this singular effort.

ZZ Top – Eliminator

The idea of pairing synthesizers with hard-driving boogie riffs was utterly new when ZZ Top forged that concept on this spectacular album. Released at the dawn of the MTV era and helped along by some playfully sexy videos, the album embraced modern technology while sacrificing none of the raw guitar bluster showcased on the Texas trio’s previous albums. “Legs,” “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’” sound as fresh today as they did nearly 30 years ago.

Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction

Pop-metal groups and hair bands were gaining a subversive foothold when Guns N’ Roses came along and restored rock and roll with its primal ingredients. Slash’s sensational riffs and lead work, along with Izzy Stradlin’s superb rhythm playing, fell squarely in a lineage that included such iconic predecessors as The Rolling Stones and The New York Dolls. Nearly a quarter century after its release, the album still thrills.

The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You

It’s amazing to consider that Tattoo You did not consist of newly-written songs but, rather, was assembled from rough demos the Stones had accumulated in the vaults. Kickstarted by “Start Me Up” and its unforgettable opening riff, the album was a model of high-level consistency. “Neighbors,” “Hang Fire” and the Keith Richards-sung “Little T&A” rank among the band’s most punkish rockers, while the ballad “Waiting On A Friend” (a song dating back to the 1972 Goats Head Soup sessions) celebrated one of rock’s most enduring songwriting partnerships.

Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation

Ringing harmonics, molten distortion and unorthodox tunings dominated this landmark album from Sonic Youth. Propelled by the dual-guitar thrust of Lee Renaldo and Thurston Moore, the disc split the difference between urgent punk-rock and avant-garde experimentation. Not since The Velvet Underground recorded White Light/White Heat had a band maneuvered as deftly between art and chaos.

Roxy Music – Avalon

Throughout the ‘70s, Roxy Music’s brilliantly twisted glam rock gradually gave way to a more sophisticated sound, the culmination of which was reached with this 1982 album. A landmark disc in the New Romantic movement, Avalon exuded elegance without lapsing into the schmaltzy pop of, say, Spandau Ballet. Guitarist Phil Manzanera underpinned singer Bryan Ferry’s stylized croon with brilliantly subtle six-string work.

Article by Russell Hall from Gibson.com

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