To be honest, I didn’t know what the hell was going on in 1983-84, and I was hoping that 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die was going to bring some clarity to my confusion.
Generally speaking, the self-awareness of a 16-year-old boy is limited to his immediate sight and grasp. At least, that’s how it was for me.
What I do know about the period is that music was as much a part of my life as it was my identity. All groups form on a certain commonality, and high school is nothing but a laboratory experiment in social stratification. My school had maybe six main social groups based on music (more or less, for the purpose and definition of this essay).
Gatekeepers – Basically the bulk of the student population, most of whom showed zero inclination toward music, didn’t wear concert t-shirts or claim a strong affiliation with a band, genre, or social clique, and never missed the honor roll. They were heavily involved in academics, sports, clubs, and student government, though you might spot one or two at a weekend party.
Generally speaking, Gatekeepers were all very nice kids who never caused any trouble and got into the college of their choice and went on to be successful in whatever it is they did. I would imagine they are now the same people who pony-up tall cash for special VIP passes to see Fleetwood Mac (which includes a Meet n’ Greet with the band).
Party Monsters aka Jocks – The upper echelon of the high school caste system, these kids were generally but not always from well-to-do families whose parents were out of town all the time and didn’t care if their son threw a keg party or two. Many of these kids were also star athletes and top students. They rocked the mainstream buzz bands: Styx, R.E.O. Speedwagon, Van Halen, the Who, the Police, or just about any rock band in the Top 10 of the album charts; and they went to all the big shows. Music was more part of an event than the event itself, which meant there was a time and place for Kool and the Gang, too. Sporting events, for example. Anyway, PMs were a vain, capricious and selective bunch of characters, but you’d be a fool to bail on an invitation to one of their swingers.
Stoners – These stereotypically peaceful cats had several different but interchangeable factions, depending upon who had the weed. Other than being high 95% of the time, they had a tendency to look down on “the straights,” but didn’t cause much trouble. Generally speaking, these kids were also on the cutting edge of music, because what else was there to do during a Thursday night bong session except listen to the new Grateful Dead bootleg? They also attended shitloads of concerts and concert tees made up a third of their wardrobe. The rest of it was denim – jackets and jeans, sometimes with patches sewn into the pockets. Stoners were notorious for blowing off class and getting high in the parking lot, or walking off campus to someone’s house nearby. They tended toward Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Pink Floyd, but also had a working knowledge of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.
Burnouts – The bad-ass Stoner contingent who had parental permission to puff cigarettes between classes in the outdoor smoking area, also known as “The Cage”, which is partially where the “burnout” reference came from. Many Stoners had this privilege as well, but managed to avoid Burnout status. Anyway, some of these cats were literally scripted from the 1970s, with long hair, driving muscle cars, carrying chain wallets in the back pockets of their bell bottoms, and steel toe boots that would kick your ass all over 75th Street if you crossed them. A whole bunch of these dudes and chicks wound up being incarcerated at some point in their lives. Several while still in high school. Musically, they rep’d for bands like Rainbow, Dio, Krokus, Dokken, and Motorhead, but really, any hard rock would do for them.
Punks – This group encompassed several scenes, particularly the theater kids (read: gays), the art nerds, and the super-genius students who were either having difficulty at home, or came from a broken family. These were generally speaking the bravest kids in school, and they took a lot of shit for showing up with a blue Mohawk or wearing a Dead Kennedys t-shirt. Many of the Punks didn’t actually wear punk fashions or get pummeled in the mosh pit. They lurked on the periphery, but identified nonetheless. Many of them became the original 90s hipsters, and I hope they’re proud of that.
Band Guys – Anyone who was part of the school’s music program. These kids were fiercely loyal to their band associates, but also free to mingle in other groups. Generally straight-laced, a small percentage of Band Guys were also Gatekeepers, Party Monsters, Punks, and Stoners. They could also talk at length about the stylistic differences between Pat Metheny records, as well as the current line-up of Manhattan Transfer.
Outliers – These cats could be part of any one of the above groups at any time, often simultaneously, but never claiming affiliation. Often times, a group of outliers would form and create a sub-clique. Generally speaking, these kids were on par with Stoners in terms of knowledge and appreciation of music. They loved everything from the Stray Cats to Springsteen, and everything in between, including punk, new wave and metal. Most outliers were fairly responsible cats who managed to keep their academics in line, but many were ne’er-do-well, under-achieving potheads who started bands and later dropped out of college to pursue a career in music.
As an outlier who mixed with all of the above groups, even friendly with some of the Burnouts, I belonged to a very small but changeable clique of like-minded dudes who were into two, call it three things: Music, partying, and chicks. That’s all 1983-84 means to me, mostly the chicks. And if I had to spike my hair, pierce my left ear, and do my best Billy Idol impression in order to make something happen, then so be it.
Strikethrough indicates what you probably think it does
Green indicates highly recommended listening
Underlined indicates questionable but ultimately acceptable record
Blue bold italic indicates ABSOLUTELY MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE
Note: Suggested alternatives are from the same year as the contested entry unless otherwise indicated
Also, anything in Red generally indicates hazardous material
Culture Club – Colour By Numbers (1983)
This is one of those albums you can absolutely judge from its cover. You don’t need to hear Culture Club’s lightweight drag queen pseudo-soul bullshit any longer than absolutely necessary, meaning the six minutes it will take to suffer through their two really big cuts “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” and “Karma Chameleon” while sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. God help you. Capital T-trust me. Or better yet, trust your eyes. Look at that album cover again. If that’s not enough, trust science. Studies have shown that anything beyond the Culture Club two-song threshold may increase your risk of everything bad in the world happening to you and you alone.
Billy Idol – Rebel Yell
Right here is the heartbeat of the average American teenage male. The chicks dug him, too. Everybody wins. What’s more, Rebel Yell is actually a decent new wave hard rock record with a couple of infectious jams; of course, the title track, and the surprisingly tender-turns-tuff “Eyes Without a Face”; both of which were MTV staples.
At the same time, Rebel Yell marks the spot where “punk” became accessible to the mainstream. Billy Idol made it cool for dudes to rock that certain “punky” look, whereas a couple of years ago, you’d have gotten your ass beat for showing up to school looking like this cat on the cover. I’m telling you right now that yours truly got some Scooby Snacks as a direct result of this record.
Def Leppard – Pyromania (1983)
The term “heavy metal” (also stylized as metal) has been around for well over a decade at this point, and up until recently, metal has been nothing more than very hard rock.
The old folks considered Scorpions, Zeppelin and Sabbath to be heavy metal, but anyone under the age of 30 knew better. Motörhead was the first band to bridge the straits of hard rock, punk and metal. In the late 70s, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest led the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), which included relatively unsung groups like Saxon, Tank, Diamond Head, Magnum, Venom, and believe it or not, Def Leppard.
Pyromania was THE hard rock-slash-heavy metal album of 1983, and stands the test of time…kind of, in a way. We’ll get deeper into the question of whether or not this is really a heavy metal record – it’s not – but it’s distinction as the best-selling hard rock record of the year means one thing: MTV had a lot to do with Def Leppard’s success. Honestly, their previous album High n’ Dry (1981) is what I’d be reaching for if someone ever came over and said, “Hey, ya got any Def Leppard?” That has never, not once, ever happened, but I believe I’ve called Pyromania the best AC/DC record since Back in Black (1980). Something like that. Above all, it’s really good at what it does, and contains a couple of sweet cowbell riffs.
I’m not really in the mood to wax poetic about producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, except to say that the man knew how to make a rock n’ roll record, he really did. As I’m scrolling through the 1001 Albums list, it occurs to me that Pyromania is one of two Must Hear hard rock records from the 1983-84 period. Two? That number seems low, because I was there, and I remember several great records, some of which might even be Must Hear. Didn’t anybody else make a killer hard rock/heavy metal record in 1983? Maybe they did. Let’s take a closer look.
Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Albums Released in 1983*
*None of these albums are Must Hear unless otherwise indicated in blue bold italic (for Must Hear) and bold underline (for Maybe Must Hear)
Quiet Riot – Metal Health
The “other” big hard rock/metal record of 1983; unfortunately, Metal Health has NOT stood the test of time. Party Monsters loved this album for a couple of months, and then it was on to better things. The cover of Slade’s “Cum On Feel the Noize” was pretty infectious though, and MTV stuffed Quiet Riot down the gullet of American youth like they were farming us for foie gras.
Dio – Holy Diver
You know, Ronnie James Dio seemed like a straight-up cat, and he gets credit for popularizing the now ubiquitous “Devil horns,” but only Burnouts and Stoners got Holy Diver. The rest of us were like, “Huh?”
Metallica – Kill ’em All
Here’s the first of the Probable Must Hear Albums that didn’t get any love from the coffee table book, and by far the most accessible progressive-thrash metal album of the year. Kill ‘em All had a few of the standard hard rock trappings (long hair, guitar solos, shouted and growled vocals) but Metallica was the first great metal band since Motörhead that doesn’t have a dedicated front man who did nothing but preen, prance and sing. And that’s one of the nicest things I have to say about them.
Meanwhile, they were the Led Zeppelin of metal. Whereas Zeppelin flat-out poached riffs from blues cats and gave them a hard rock spin, Metallica stole riffs from proto-metal bands and gave them a punky twist.
Loudness – The Law of Devil’s Land
They were loud, for sure, and almost every song contains the phrases “rock n’ roll”, “go crazy” and “evil in the night.” Honestly, I’ve no fucking clue what these cats were on about – it’s mostly in Japanese. But I’ve grown to like them a whole bunch. The Law is not a solid Must Hear, but it is light years ahead of most metal records from the period.
Triumph – Never Surrender
Streetheart – Dancing With Danger
Oh Canada. Sigh.
UFO – Making Contact
Thin Lizzy – Thunder and Lightning
Europe – Europe
Marillion – Script for a Jester’s Tear
Saxon – Power & the Glory
Molly Hatchet – No Guts…No Glory
Krokus – Headhunter
Fastway – Fastway
Foghat – Zig-Zag Walk
Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind
Kix – Cool Kids
Magnum – The Eleventh Hour
The only album of this bunch that even comes close to a Must Hear is Peace of Mind, but it’s not. On the other hand, Magnum is funny as shit.
Uriah Heep – Head First
Blackfoot – Siogo
Motörhead – Another Perfect Day
Tank – This Means War
Tank was formed in 1980 by bassist Algy Ward, formerly of The Damned. The band’s jumbly, punk-ish metal was often compared to Motörhead. This Means War is pretty funny, too, but unlike Magnum, in a good way.
Twisted Sister – You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll
Nazareth – Sound Elixir
Kansas – Drastic Measures
Black Sabbath – Born Again
Another Perfect Day more or less marks the spot where Motörhead crossed over into speed metal. Born Again is Sabbath’s only album with Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) on vocals, and an Album I Wish I’d Never Heard Before I Died.
Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche
AC/DC – Flick of the Switch
Ratt – Ratt
Rainbow – Bent Out of Shape
Raven – All for One
Saga – Heads or Tales
Dokken – Breaking the Chains
Kiss – Lick It Up
Mötley Crüe – Shout at the Devil
Shout at the Devil has a couple of fun jams. Those guys make me laugh, though I’m pretty sure that wasn’t their objective. If there is a Must Hear album in the Mötley Crüe catalog, this might be it. As for the rest of these albums, I’m not telling you how to live your life, but if you’re looking for listening magic, you aren’t going to find any here.
Brian May + Friends – Star Fleet Project
If I can’t find anything nice to say about a record that features Brian May and Eddie Van Halen exchanging guitar solos for half of the total time, then it’s got to be an exceptional record. This joins the list of Albums I Wish I’d Never Heard Before I Died.
Michael Schenker Group – Built to Destroy
Diamond Head – Canterbury
Y & T – Mean Streak
The Joe Perry Project – Once a Rocker, Always a Rocker
Aldo Nova – Subject: Aldo Nova
It’s always a challenge to find new ways of saying these records suck. The title of the Joe Perry LP is awful on its own; you don’t even need to see the track list. I mean, I want to be nice here. Diamond Head? If you’re curious, sure, go ahead, knock yourself out. Might as well give ‘em all a quick spin. But be forewarned, Subject: Aldo Nova does not contain “Fantasy”.
Mercyful Fate – Melissa
Probably Most Definitely a Must Hear…maybe…I dunno. This is heavy metal music. And they’re upstaging Metallica, I’ll tell you what. King Diamond wasn’t messing around. At the very least, if you were browsing in a record store and picked up Melissa, flipped it over and read the track list, there would not be a single DOUBT in your mind that this was a metal record.
- “Curse of the Pharaohs”
- “Into the Coven”
- “At the Sound of the Demon Bell”
- “Black Funeral”
- “Satan’s Fall”
Alcatrazz – No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll
Girlschool – Play Dirty
Blue Öyster Cult – The Revölution by Night
Hawkwind – Zones
Loverboy – Keep it Up
Haha, Loverboy was never anything more than third-rate Canadian rock, but they did give us “Workin’ For the Weekend.” Just wanted to remind everybody to say, “Thanks, Canada.” Otherwise, the Alcatrazz LP features Yngwie Malmsteen on guitar, and if light-speed guitar solos are your thing, here ya go.
Status Quo – Back to Back
Ozzy Osbourne – Bark at the Moon
Unfortunately, Jake E. Lee could never fill the shoes of Randy Rhodes, and thus, Bark at the Moon is yet another Album I Wish I’d Never Heard Before I Died.
Witchfynde – Cloak and Dagger
Night Ranger – Midnight Madness
Slade – The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome
Slayer – Show No Mercy
Accept – Balls to the Wall
Witchfynde is considered one of the pioneers of NWOBHM. I made it about two minutes into the first track of Cloak and Dagger before bailing out. Night Ranger? Fuck off. I like Slade a whole bunch but there’s nothing about The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome that makes me want to hear it again. Slayer is just getting started on their debut album, and thus, Show No Mercy is amateur night. Balls to the Wall is straight-up AC/DC. But let’s get one thing straight: AC/DC was never heavy metal music.
Pyromania marks the spot where the concept of heavy metal went mainstream, but the music didn’t necessarily follow. Metal splintered in several different directions: progressive, thrash, and hair metal to name a few. That’s right, hair metal. Def Leppard signaled the arrival of a potentially toxic type of pop metal, which is a nice way of saying hair metal (also known as glam metal, but I think that’s giving bands like Poison and Warrant far too much credit).
I’m actually listening to Pyromania for the first time in probably 25 years or more, and I’m dumbstruck by how “poppy” it is, meaning, the sophistication of the songwriting and production is off the charts. And it instantly brings me back to 1983, when this album specifically turned me against mainstream hard rock.
Duran Duran – Rio (1983)
This is mainstream new wave; nothing more than well-crafted pop music with a beat and a saxophone solo here and there to remind you where you are. It’s 1983. What Duran Duran looked like was as important as what they sounded like, which was post-modern pop. Without the videos in heavy rotation on MTV, nobody would have cared, and by nobody I mean all the chicks, cuz these cats were as big back then as One Direction is now. These dudes soiled panties at the drop of their name. The jams are negligible new wave exercises in writing a pop song. Sometimes it works.
Bad Brains – Rock for Light
Produced by Rick Ocasek (the Cars), Rock for Light is an incomparable smorgasbord of reggae jazz punk metal. DO NOT sleep on Bad Brains.
Echo & The Bunnymen – Porcupine (1983)
Some people think this is an influential record. On the other hand, I think.
Tears For Fears – The Hurting
It boggles my mind that the genius team behind 1001 Albums would leave The Hurting off the list while jamming us with another LP from a band that was simply Not. That. Influential. The Hurting is by far the best new wave album released in 1983, and reached number one on the UK Albums Charts.
Drum machines and MIDI sequencers were two big things that happened to music in the early 1980s. Otherwise known as rhythm programming, all of a sudden you didn’t necessarily need a drummer in the studio, and if you were a songwriter, drummers tended to be the bane of your existence. Plus, MIDI allowed for a baffling amount of complexity within song structure and instrumentation.
I hate programmed music in general, but The Hurting is one of maybe a dozen “drum machine” records that I can love without prejudice. Furthermore, Roland Orzabal is terribly under-rated as a songwriter and guitar player.
Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (1983)
Sigh. I’m not happy about it for a couple of reasons, even though once upon a time ten years ago, I recorded a home demo version of “Here Comes the Rain Again”. But man, I was fucking full-time sky high. This record reminds me of being a sophomore in high school, which probably says more about me than Sweet Dreams, but wouldn’t you expect something better than that? You should.
Hanoi Rocks – Back To Mystery City (1983)
Malcolm McLaren – Duck Rock (1983)
Neither of these two records deserves an explanation for why they are not Must Hear albums. Plus, I detailed my views on Hanoi Rocks during the introduction.
Shonen Knife – Burning Farm
Christ, I didn’t stumble upon this record until 30 years after its release, and now I’m really kicking myself for snoozing on Shonen Knife and Cibo Matto for all these years. I adore this album and if you were to check my browser history, you would find that I have listened to this record more than any other in the last 12 months. Whenever I find myself between artists and albums, for instance, having ripped through all those metal records, and I need something to refresh my ears, I click over to Burning Farm. It never fails to reset my listening parameters and at the same time, put me in a good mood.
Meat Puppets – Meat Puppets II (1983)
Minor Threat – Out Of Step (1983)
Well, hello there! I do believe we’ve met the future of indie rock.
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Architecture And Morality (1983)
Paul Simon – Hearts and Bones (1983)
Another surprising but welcome relief is that the 1001 Albums list so far hasn’t included any Paul Simon records except for his first eponymous solo album (1972). This means Dimery & Co. agree that you don’t need to hear There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (1973), Still Crazy After All These Years (1975), or One Trick Pony (1980).
Even though some of Simon’s solo work tasted the rainbow of critical praise, it’s still not Must Hear stuff. You’ve heard Simon & Garfunkel. Look, Paul Simon is a fantastic songwriter and a monster on finger-picked acoustic guitar. But his post S&Garf work is soft, shitty, soft rock. To spare you the clicking and searching, here’s what I said about Paul Simon’s solo work (from 1972-1974):
I think you’ll find that I’m going to be exceedingly harsh on Paul Simon’s solo career, not only because I have always been an Artie vs. Paul guy. In my mind, for a big chunk of Simon’s post-Garfunkel career, up to One Trick Pony or so, he wasn’t doing anything he couldn’t have done with S&Garf. When they spilt, Simon took the songs and Garfunkel left with the heavenly voice and redeeming qualities.
That said, Hearts and Bones has an interesting back story. The album was written and recorded following the S&G Concert in Central Park in 1981, and the world tour of 1982-83. Some of the songs to be included on Hearts and Bones were previewed on tour, and Garfunkel worked on some of the songs with Simon in the studio. The finished product was intended to be a S&G album. Ultimately, Garfunkel left the project, and none of his contributions were included in the final mix.
So Hearts and Bones was supposed to be my personal dream record: the S&G studio album that never happened.
The Glove – Blue Sunshine
The Cure – Japanese Whispers
Why the hell not? And I’m speaking more toward Architecture And Morality. If you really want to hear some freaky fucking new wave music, Blue Sunshine will deliver the goods. If you want to hear some pissy, inconsequential techno, then you reach for OMD. Besides, pretty much anything with Robert Smith in 1983 is going to be listenable.
R.E.M. – Murmur (1983)
As mentioned in 1981-82, I didn’t dig this record the first few times I heard it, mainly because I never liked the opening track “Radio Free Europe” until maybe two or three years ago when I sat down and dissected the song. Hearing and seeing them play it live was different story. R.E.M. was one of the most believable live rock bands I’ve ever seen. Their lack of pretense was refreshing and unquestioned. Anyway, eventually I came around to Murmur, and even though I tend to skip the first track, this album is, as many critics have said, timeless. You would have no idea it was recorded in 1982-83 unless you read the liner notes.
The Police – Synchronicity (1983)
THIS is their darkest album if you ask me.
The The – Soul Mining (1983)
Why do you need to hear The The? I dunno. Maybe you’re not sure what post-punk new wave synth-pop is supposed to sound like. Soul Mining contains a track that more or less sums up the disposable state of alternative music, “This Is the Day”.
Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones (1983)
If I was a deckhand on a clipper ship captained by Tom Waits in the late 19th century, I’m pretty sure that the last thing I’d want to hear is a bunch of sea shanties. Most of all, I’d get real tired of Tom Waits’ voice, which is good-to-awesome for one or two jams in a row, and then I need to hear somebody who can sing. Spoken word is great, but I don’t want a short story on Track 2. Hasn’t anybody heard of Jim Carroll? Tom Waits has.
Besides, you’ve already heard two Tom Waits records and you’re gonna hear one more. Chill out.
Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues
The Fixx – Reach the Beach
The Stray Cats – Rant N’ Rave with the Stray Cats
John Cougar Mellencamp – Uh-Huh
All four of these records deserved consideration for Must Hear status. And all four were on the turntable (or in the cassette deck) at my crib in 1983. Rant N’ Rave is probably my pick of the litter.
U2 – War (1983)
Finally, a band that brings an infectious broth of self-important, preachy, post-punk, new wave, and over-the-top rock histrionics to the mainstream. War redesigned the rock n’ roll landscape. Everybody get down on your knees and worship the cult of U2.
I haven’t heard this album in at least 25 years and I’m cool with that.
ZZ Top – Eliminator (1983)
ZZ Top went from heroes to zeroes within the first four bars of the drum intro to “Gimme All Your Lovin’”. It always bothered me, why would these guys resort to using drum machines and sequencers when they had a perfectly rock-solid drummer in Frank Beard? Sure, they used synths on El Loco (1981), but this…this is just…
And then…the Internet. Now I can tell you why. They wanted to make the most radio and consumer-friendly album possible, which is why ALMOST EVERY SONG’S TEMPO IS SET AT 120 BPM (beats per minute). Meanwhile, they made a series of cartoonish videos for MTV and the story is over. Goodbye, ZZ Top, we hardly knew ye.
The Psychedelic Furs – Forever Now (1982)
OK, I admit it; I missed this one. For whatever reason, maybe because I didn’t own this record until 1983, I didn’t bother to check its release date. Sucks to be me. Seriously, that’s like the worst feeling, when I’ve spent more than a hundred words bitching about the exact same issue with the official 1001 Albums list. And so when it comes time to puff up this album, bam! I check the details, and guess what, fucker? You’re wrong.
Anyway, Forever Now is IMHO (in my humble opinion) the best Furs record and one of the best new wave albums ever made. Produced by Todd Rundgren, featuring background vocals from Flo & Eddie (The Turtles, Frank Zappa), Forever Now is the rare top-to-bottom listening experience. There isn’t a stinker on either side of this disc. Every song is a keeper, including one of if not their biggest hit(s): “Love My Way”, which I can still hear today and think, “Man, that’s really good.”
Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan)
If these guys are guest starring on your album, the chances of it being a decent album just tipped in your favor. In addition to Zappa and the Turtles, they appeared on records for an impressive roster of artists including John Lennon, T.Rex, Roger McGuinn, Hoyt Axton, Ray Manzarek, Stephen Stills, Keith Moon, David Cassidy, Alice Cooper, Blondie, Bruce Springsteen, The Knack, The Psychedelic Furs, Sammy Hagar, Burton Cummings, Paul Kantner, Duran Duran, and the Ramones.
The History of Flo & Eddie and the Turtles (1983) is a Must Hear only for serious students, aficionados and so forth, mainly because the three-LP box set has never been reissued on CD, thus, it’s only available on vinyl ($33.99) from Amazon. It’s not on iTunes.
UNSCHEDULED PIT STOP
Before we even get started on 1984, there are three major, critical rock albums that you Must Hear Before You Die that didn’t make the book, and I’m here to tell you that any discussion of 1984 in music has to include these three records.
U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
Coming off the breakthrough success of War, the band could have made More War, or try something new, go forward, expand their horizons, E-T-C. They chose the latter, and what you’re hearing is probably the best record the band ever made.
At the same time, The Unforgettable Fire is the record that pushed them over the edge of commercial success. At this point in time, they were the biggest band on the planet, and this was the most anticipated record of the year. And because it defied a lot of expectations, a lot of people panned The Unforgettable Fire; they didn’t get it. “Too experimental. Unfocused.” People can be wrong sometimes.
Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade
If you’ve never wondered what an album might sound like if it was made by a formerly hardcore punk band under the influence of LSD, you haven’t been pondering the greater questions of life. What do you get when you cross the Monkees with Motörhead? Hüsker Dü, that’s what.
I’m going to let Wikipedia take over for a second.
“Originally released as a double album on two vinyl LPs, Zen Arcade tells the story of a young boy who runs away from an unfulfilling home life, only to find the world outside is even worse. The album incorporates elements of jazz, psychedelia, acoustic folk, pop, and piano interludes, concepts rarely touched on in the world of hardcore punk.
Zen Arcade and subsequent Hüsker Dü albums were instrumental in the creation of the alternative rock genre; the band would later abandon the hardcore aesthetic entirely in favor of a post-hardcore style of melodic, guitar-driven alternative rock. While not commercially successful, the influence of Zen Arcade has stretched beyond the underground music sphere. It is frequently included on lists of the all-time best rock and roll albums and it continues to have a cult following.”
Couldn’t and wouldn’t have said it better myself. Go on, please.
“The band began rehearsing in preparation for the album during the summer of 1983, in a church-turned-punk squat in St. Paul, Minnesota. The band entered the Total Access studio in Redondo Beach, California to record with SST producer Spot. The band recorded 25 tracks, with all but two songs (“Something I Learned Today” and “Newest Industry”) being first takes, in 40 hours. The entire album was then mixed in one 40-hour session; the entire album took 85 hours to record and produce and cost $3,200. The band collaborated with underground contemporaries during recording; “What’s Going On” contains guest vocals from ex-Black Flag vocalist Dez Cadena.”
Now, about the urban legends that this record was recorded in one 40-hour session, and under the influence of LSD and amphetamines… Unfortunately, both turn out to be myths. First, they recorded in two 24-hour sessions. Second, Grant Hart has repeatedly dispelled the rumor that LSD was involved, telling a writer from Gadfly Magazine that he’d never known Bob Mould to admit taking hallucinogens. “So that’s obviously a myth,” Hart said. But it sure as hell sounds like they’re tripping, that’s for sure.
R.E.M. – Reckoning
Reckoning is the second of what will turn out to be a total of six fantastic records from a group that will eventually be America’s best rock band prior to 1988-89-ish. For my money, Reckoning is a much more enjoyable record than Murmur, and even though it didn’t top the charts or get played anywhere but on college radio and a few alternative stations, it was probably the most listened-to record at home.
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not: 1983-84 Resumed
Blue Nile – A Walk Across the Rooftops (1984)
Haha, Blue Nile. Too little, too late, fuckers. Your brand of post-Bowie spacey lounge jazz-wave didn’t cut it in the marketplace, and it won’t stand the test of time, either. You want to know why? Your bass player was a funky slapper, and your singer had too much of an ego to double-track his vocals.
Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense
You know, I almost included Stop Making Sense as the fourth big record of 1984 that has to be part of any topical discussion. In the end, I decided against it on the strength of the concert film this album was based on, making it somewhat more of a total audio/visual experience than strictly musical, which is what 1001 Albums is all about. We’ve got to stay true to our roots. That said, it’s a great semi-live album.
Bruce Springsteen – Born In The USA (1984)
My absolute favorite thing about this record is that the majority of “people” bought into the reverse jingoism of the title track, i.e. they thought it was a strong patriotic statement. My absolute least favorite thing about this record is also its biggest hit, “Dancing In the Dark.”
My good pal Cheech Beldone summed it up quite nicely during one of our 20 Question sessions.
I spent many many years worshipping at the Altar of The Boss, Bruce Springsteen. There was a while where I would have told you in dead seriousness that if I couldn’t be Springsteen, I didn’t want to be anything. Along came Born in the U.S.A. And, specifically, “Dancing in the Dark.”
In Canada, the song was premiered on MTV with the video, on a Friday night. Watching that abomination unfold before my eyes, it was like walking into the skankiest, grottiest, most depraved snakepit of a club in an alley off Patpong, and seeing your little sister up on the stage juggling ping pong balls with her hoo-haa.
The worst part was that the Boss’ People mobilized such a pervasive campaign to convince the world that the new record was The Best Work He’s Ever Done.
A guy like me felt like it was my fault; that the revulsion and horror I felt was the result of something lacking in my perception or appreciation.
Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual (1984)
Cocteau Twins – Treasure (1984)
Fuck Cyndi Lauper and her one-hit-wonder.
Cocteau Twins are the Siouxsie Lite Presidential Package. You know that fucking massive hit song “Zombie” by the Cranberries? It’s on here! It’s called “Every Song on the Album.” This band made interesting records that I have no interest in ever hearing again. Your mileage may vary.
Simple Minds – Sparkle in the Rain
Big Country – Steeltown
Slow down there, Speed Racer. We’re not getting out of here without a jawbone about Simple Minds and Big Country. I’m going to keep it as brief as possible. How about in bullet format? A lil sumthin diff’nt:
Both records were produced by Steve Lilywhite, who produced a staggering number of great records. He’s on par with Roy Thomas Baker and Mutt Lange.
Sparkle in the Rain is one major stepping stone between alternative and stadium rock.
Steeltown may be the most under-rated guitar record of the era, and the songwriting is pretty damn good, too.
Echo & The Bunnymen – Ocean Rain (1984)
Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Welcome To The Pleasuredome (1984)
Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Rattlesnakes (1984)
My vocabulary may be too limited to accurately describe the pure quality of contempt that I have for Frankie Goes to Hollywood and everything they stand for. First, the band is named after Frank Sinatra, the anti-Christ. Next, disco has been dead for at least five years, but these people either didn’t get the message, or they figured now was as good a time as any for a disco revival. You couldn’t pay me to sit through Welcome to the Pleasuredome, but I am now accepting bids.
Lloyd Cole is the Aussie version of John Cougar, who made far better records.
The Smiths – The Smiths
Once again, I’m shocked that The Smiths doesn’t rate as Must Hear but Lloyd fucking Cole does? Frankie Goes to Hollywood!?!?! There really shouldn’t be a need for me to argue this one. Anybody in their right mind knows the Smiths are at the pinnacle of mid 80s alternative music, and this album is as good if not better than Murmur, or any other record of the genre.
Minutemen – Double Nickels On The Dime (1984)
I don’t know of a band to which the term “independent” or “indie” ever applied with more veracity than the Minutemen.
Prince & The Revolution – Purple Rain (1984)
Run-DMC – Run-DMC (1984)
Sade – Diamond Life (1984)
The Replacements – Let It Be (1984)
I don’t have anything to say about Purple Rain except you must purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, and that ain’t Lake Minnetonka.
Run-DMC brought rap to the mainstream rock and pop market, i.e. white people. They made hip-hop just white enough while maintaining its integrity. You can’t go wrong with their debut album.
If you’re asking me personally if you need to hear Shar-day’s Diamond Life, I’m gonna say no fucking way, man. Tell you what, have a listen to “Smooth Operator” and tell me whether or not it’s Must Hear material.
Let It Be is by far my favorite Replacements record and contains three of my all-time favorite songs from the period, “I Will Dare”, “Androgynous” and “Sixteen Blue”. Their version of Kiss’ “Black Diamond” is probably the Number One Rock n’ Roll Cover Version That Crushes the Original Like a Grape. If that wasn’t enough, it contains my favorite broken-hearted-boy lyric of the era: “How do you say goodnight to an answering machine?” Let’s hear it for Paul Westerburg, ladies and gentlemen!
The Style Council – Café Bleu (1984)
Tina Turner – Private Dancer (1984)
You’ve already heard the Jam, so you’ve already heard the best of what Paul Weller has to offer. Besides, this isn’t even the Style Council record You Might Want to Hear.
I’ve got nothing but love for Tina Turner, and I’m glad she finally got away from Ike and found success on her own. But this is capital P-pussy adult contemporary soft rock bullshit.
The Cure – The Top
Siouxsie and the Banshees – Hyæna
Robert Smith is the Cure, and he deserves every bit of credit he gets for defining certain aspects of alternative rock, and transcending those aspects at a later date. The Top is my favorite album recorded under the documented influence of LSD, my favorite Cure album, and a complete turnaround from the synth-pop new wave of Japanese Whispers (1983), which was another 180 from Pornography (1982).
When John McGeoch left Siouxsie and the Banshees, they asked Robert Smith to take over on guitar. Hyæna is one of two Siouxsie recordings with Smith in the band which are as close to Must Hear as anything else.
Van Halen – 1984 (1984)
Let’s say this about Van Halen albums; they never lingered. Their longest LP since the debut happens to be 1984, which clocks in at 33:17, about 10 minutes shorter than the average album of the day, and only 2 minutes short of Van Halen I’s running time. To be fair, they pack a lot of fucking jams into a half hour of music. Very little VH time is wasted.
Drummer Alex Van Halen doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being a “guitar drummer” and I’ve put the phrase in quotations because I’ve never heard it before. Alex VH plays drums to whatever his brother is playing. It’s clear that he’s not setting the tone or the tempo. He’s listening to what EVH is doing, and everything is based off that. Most drummers in rock should be listening to the bass player, I mean, that’s the rhythm section, right? Those two should be in sync. Not so with VH. I’m guessing that AVH didn’t even have Michael Anthony in his monitor mix.
Anyway, other than the only number one single of the DLR era (“Jump”), 1984 is hard rock ambrosia, and made last year’s top-selling LP, Pyromania, obsolete.
Youssou N’Dour – Immigres (1984)
Wham! – Make It Big
Yeah, I said it. Make It Big is easily more of a Must Hear before Youssou N’Dour, and not because it’s good. No, this record is a far more accurate representation of pop music in 1984 than any of the above records. This is the shit you heard everywhere you went; it was inescapable. You couldn’t turn on MTV without these two cats prancing and mincing across the screen like it was one long chewing gum commercial. So I reckon that if I had to sit through this entire album more times than I can count, you should, too. Feel my pain, kids. Feel it.
2 replies on “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not: 1983 – 1984”
Pretty sound article, but I’m surprised OMD’s ‘Architecture & Morality’ was struck. A terrific combination of songwriting and first wave experimentation.
Sorry for the late reply here, Jim. Thanks for reading and commenting. OMD is probably underrated in terms of its influence on the next wave of electro synth pop artists. It’s been suggested they paved the way for bands like Depeche Mode, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, etc. I dunno about that for sure, but after scrolling back through the list, you’re getting Duran Duran, TFF, and Eurythmics. Also, I’m writing from a particularly North American angle; OMD was far more popular in the UK. Over the pond they were essentially nobody until “If You Leave”, which stands today as the only OMD I personally need to hear. Meanwhile, I remember having the cassette of Organisation, and would more than likely recommend Dazzle Ships as THE record to sit through. Anyway, thanks again. Rock on.