This has been the first rock & roll decade without revolution, or true revolutionaries, to call its own.
The Fifties witnessed nothing
less than the birth of the music.
The Sixties were rocked by
Beatlemania, Motown, Phil Spector, psychedelia and Bob Dylan. The
Seventies gave rise to David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, heavy metal, punk
and New Wave.
In comparison, the Eighties have been the decade of, among other
things, synth pop, Michael Jackson, the compact disc, Sixties reunion
tours, the Beastie Boys and a lot more heavy metal. But if the past ten
years haven't exactly been the stuff of revolution, they have been a
critical time of re-assessment and reconstruction. Musicians and
audiences alike have struggled to come to terms with rock's parameters
and possibilities, its emotional resonance and often dormant social
The following survey of the 100 best albums of the Eighties, as selected by the editors of Rolling Stone, shows that the music and the values it stands for have been richer for the struggle.
10 Tracy Chapman, 'Tracy Chapman'
"There was a set of ideas that we wanted to communicate, and we felt if
we were truthful and loyal to those ideas, then people would pick up on
the emotion and the lyrical content that was there." The stark realism
of Chapman's songwriting, combined with her warm, richly textured
vocals, brought a refreshing integrity to the airwaves.
9 Richard and Linda Thompson, 'Shoot Out the Lights'
8 R.E.M., 'Murmur'
"We were conscious that we were making a record that really wasn't in step with the times," says R.E.M.'s Peter Buck of Murmur,
the group's enchanting first album. "It was an old-fashioned record
that didn't sound too much like what you heard on the radio. We were
expecting the record company to say, 'Sorry, this isn't even a record,
it's a demo tape. Go back and do it again.'"
For the most part, I.R.S. Records liked Murmur a great deal,
and so did an audience that embraced R.E.M. as one of the most
significant new bands of the Eighties. From the mysterious photograph of
a kudzu-covered train station on the jacket to the intriguingly
off-kilter music within, Murmur quietly broke with the status quo and mapped out an enigmatic but rewarding new agenda.
7 Michael Jackson, 'Thriller'
"It felt like entering hyperspace at one point," says Quincy Jones about the phenomenal success of Thriller. "It almost scared me. I thought, 'Maybe this is going too far.'"
With Thriller, Jackson and Jones were aiming for a dynamic,
balanced collection of potential hits. Jackson supplied many of the best
songs on the album, writing "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," "Beat It"
and "Billie Jean" (as well as the slight number "The Girl Is Mine," a
duet with Paul McCartney). Jones went through over 300 songs in search
of additional material. "I was trying to find a group of songs that
complemented each other in their diversity," says Jones. "Give me a
ride, give me some goose bumps. If 'Billie Jean' sounds good, it sounds
even better followed by 'Human Nature.' 'Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' '
into 'Baby Be Mine.' I look at an album as a total piece."
Springsteen and the E Street Band had recorded seven of the songs on Born in the U.S.A. prior to the release of Nebraska
in a three-week blitz in May 1982: "Glory Days," "I'm Goin' Down," "I'm
on Fire," "Darlington County," "Working on the Highway," "Downbound
Train" and — most crucial of all — "Born in the U.S.A."
Springsteen originally recorded the last of these on the acoustic demo tape that became Nebraska,
but he quickly abandoned that version, feeling it didn't really work in
that format. At the start of the May sessions with the full band,
Springsteen revived the song in a new, electric arrangement. "Bruce
started playing this droning guitar sound," says drummer Max Weinberg.
"He threw that lick out to [keyboardists] Roy [Bittan] and Danny
[Federici], and the thing just fell together.
"A lot of people don't realize this, but Remain in Light was the worst-selling Talking Heads record ever," says drummer Chris Frantz.
"Financially, we took a beating on that one," says David Byrne. "At
the time, it was a really hard sell. The reaction that we heard was that
it sounded too black for white radio and too white for black radio."
Remain in Light may have been a commercial disappointment,
but musically, the band's 1980 album — which combines funk, disco and
African rhythms — was years ahead of its time. "It got great critical
acclaim, and we felt that it kind of took popular music to the next
phase," says Frantz, "which is what we always wanted to do."
Bono wanted to explore rock & roll's American roots; the Edge wanted to continue the expressionistic experimentalism of The Unforgettable Fire. The creative tensions between them resulted in U2's
best record, a multifaceted, musically mature work. "Two ideas were
followed simultaneously," says the Edge. "They collided, and this record
"Prince knew this was going to be it," says Susan Rogers, who engineered the 14 million seller Purple Rain. "He was ecstatic when he finished it."
Over five years later, the influence of Prince and Purple Rain is incontestable. He is one of just two artists (along with Bruce Springsteen) to have four albums among Rolling Stone's
100 Best Albums of the Eighties. And perhaps more than any other
artist, Prince called the tune for pop music in the Eighties, imprinting
his Minneapolis sound on an entire generation of musicians, both black
Released in tandem with the film of the same name, Purple Rain was more than simply a soundtrack, and it stands as Prince's most
cohesive and accessible album. "He envisioned the film as he made the
album," says Alan Leeds, vice-president of Paisley Park Records,
1 The Clash, 'London Calling'
London Calling was an emergency broadcast from rock's Last
Angry Band, serving notice that Armageddon was nigh, Western society was
rotten at the core, and rock & roll needed a good boot in the rear.
Kicking and screaming across a nineteen-song double album, skidding
between ska, reggae, R&B, third-world music, power pop and full-tilt
punk, the Clash stormed the gates of rock convention and
single-handedly set the agenda — musically, politically and emotionally —
for the decade to come.
11 Elvis Costello and the Attractions, 'Get Happy!'
13 Midnight Oil, 'Diesel and Dust'
14 Peter Gabriel, 'So'
16 Prince, '1999'
17 The Police, 'Synchronicity'
19 Lou Reed, 'New York'
20 Pretenders, 'Pretenders'