Taking a glance at the American Culture today, it feels as if the thumbprint from the 80s never really went away. As a matter of fact, it added to define the culture’s aestheticism. From TV series to print communication, today’s mass media production structures itself on the very grounds of the last decade. Likewise, the best music albums from the 80s planted the seeds of great novelty and innovation, inspiring what people hear these days.
It’s time to crank up the tunes and reminisce about our favorite 1980s albums. There’s rap, folk, country, jazz, pop, and rock-‘n’-roll in diverse collections. We’ve got the top ones here on this list of 10 best albums from the ’80s.
10. Prince – Purple Rain (1984)
It can take ample time for numerous artists to reach their peak in both music production and popularity. Yet, it could take a year or two of hard work to refine their craft for others. However, in the case of Purple Rain, Prince presented his best songs in a fashion that raised him to undoubted stardom.
The 1984 American musical drama film presents a fusion of metal-funk-rock and synth-soul-pop. This theme runs from “Let’s Go Crazy” to “I Would Die 4 U” songs from the album. Finally, Prince closes the collection with possibly his greatest 9-minute ground-defying track. Rightfully so, Purple Rain showcases Prince’s ability to combine any music and make it his own. It’s a combo that clearly demonstrates a unique career that no one has managed to replicate or surpass since then.
9. U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987)
Let’s agree on one thing: The Joshua Tree is, without a doubt U2’s best music albums from the 80s, or perhaps of all time. Not saying this out of proportion, but Bono actually became a rock icon after this album rolled out.
The inspiration relates to U2’s momentous trip to the US, taking the American Dream inspiration that fueled The Joshua Tree. True music lovers can feel Bono being sober in the album’s hit songs: “Where The Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “With Or Without You.” The album itself depicts one of the most iconic music bands struggling to climb the ladder of success and unaware of what lies ahead of them.
8. Talking Heads – Remain in Light (1980)
“Remain In Light ” is an album that deserves the title of Talking Head’s greatest work. It was notably ambitious on every level, with Talking Heads partnering up with Brian Eno and incorporating input from David Gans. The final creation is indeed their most masterfully made record yet.
The album takes a cue from African music as well as the natural sounds of New York City. It’s designed as an eclectic and rhythmically diverse record that blends genres effortlessly. “Once In A Lifetime” is arguably the band’s most recognized song, but every track on this ambitious release will leave you wanting more.
7. Paul Simon – Graceland (1986)
Paul Simon’s Graceland has touched the lives of people all over the world. The album is a global success, recognized worldwide for its integration of American pop and folk songwriting. In addition, the South African musical styles create an undeniably unique sound that defies boundaries between cultures across borders.
Graceland is a watershed moment in the history of world music. Simon manages to introduce listeners towards the point of convergence between Western and Non-Western cultures.
6. R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)
Lifes Rich Pageant is R.E.M.’s first album that made it past the college audience. Their sound developed into something new with the album’s release. Discordant guitars gave way to a more fully-developed sound which was uniquely different from Fables Of The Reconstruction’s Southern gothic vibes but equally heartbreaking.
Album songs “Begin the Begin” and “These Days” became staples in live performances for college students. However, Lifes Rich Pageant was more of a political album that highlighted the ecological dilemma of the Cuyahoga River fire. Moreover, it also shed light on Guatemalan villages and the reigning military dictatorship from 1954 to 1996. The dissidents were often held without trial for long periods before being killed by security forces. Even though these topics are only subtly dealt with within this record, it did not stop critics from lauding it as more political.
5. The Clash – London Calling (1980)
What the audience enjoys as Clash’s greatest album was essentially inspired by their 70’s record. The album features 19 punk, rock, and reggae music that spansthat spans over 65 minutes of run time. Possibly, the ’80s would never have been quite as interesting if it wasn’t for this record.
London Calling is a double-record spanning many different styles. However, it has political intensity with songs like “Guns of Brixton” and “Spanish Bombs.” It demands listeners to heed its anti-establishment calls while being a commercial success. The album impeccably reworks the classic Vince Taylor song “Brand New Cadillac.” In London Calling Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon created quintessential punk at its finest for politics-minded people everywhere.
4. Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A. (1984)
With Born In U.S.A, Bruce Springsteen proves that he is a true master of pop songs. The songs start with the strongest lyrics and bring them to their most mature conclusion combining both periods: 1973-77 and 1978-82. The result is an incredible journey through one man’s life story over 10 tracks on side 1 alone. Side 2 explores these same themes but presents them as more nuanced thoughts rather than full stories.
We get to see glimpses into what Bruce might have been without all the pressures of fame weighing him down so heavily. Meanwhile, he can still really feel what it was like for someone living under those circumstances at various points throughout time (1973-1977).
3. Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)
It’s often impossible to find one album that everyone can agree on. However, there are some records out there that transcend genres and appeal to fans of all demographics. The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, tops our list with his 1982 classic release, Thriller. The album has since sold 110 million copies and remains number 1 in best-selling music albums since the 80s.
The legacy of Jackson’s masterpiece, Thriller, cannot go out of sight. Millions have tried to replicate its pop perfection, but no one can touch his killer bassline on “Billie Jean.” The same goes for the impassioned snarl in “Beat It,” or Vincent Price’s campy spoken-word part on the omnipresent title track. Nevertheless, the album produced a whopping seven Top 10 hits for Jackson. Even though it doesn’t measure artistic merit, his fan popularity defined his work in the 1980s.
2. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986)
The Smiths took a darker turn with their album, The Queen Is Dead. It begins in earnest with the title track, “How Soon is Now,” from their previous release. The song was a warning shot for where they would be going next, chartering into darker domains. In fact, it’s possible that many of these songs were written as rebuttals against people who had crossed the apathetic mope, Morrissey, while he recorded his solo work.
It is easy to see why The Queen Is Dead comes under the best music albums from the 80s. It marks the end of synth music and the second coming of the British Invasion. Johnny Marr’s penchant for high-timbre guitar riffs and sonic urgency is evident on tracks like “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” This literary homage from Morrissey and ironic swoon elevates The Queen Is Dead into an eternal pantheon. It’s truly a classic album competing with Radiohead’s OK Computer or Prince’s Purple Rain.
1. The Pixies – Doolittle (1989)
The Pixies released an album in 1988 that would go on to influence rock music for decades. Doolittle’s electric masterpiece begins with beautiful melodies before building up to a crescendo of loud guitars and furious screams. It can be hard not to get swept away by the album’s invigorating energy as songs dart between genres seamlessly. This style has influenced many grunge bands in the later decade, such as Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain or Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. It may come off sounding like one extreme moment followed quickly by another, but Doolittle never failed at delivering both beauty and power simultaneously, making it our top pick.
Well, here ends our list of the 10 best music albums from the 80s. Let us know in the comments about your favorite picks!