Essential ’80s Albums

Last year I embarked on a project to fill out my collection of ’90s music, with the help of your recommendations. This was quite successful, and I will post my list of favorites eventually. But recently I have posted a lot of top music lists, and am a bit burned out, so I’m going to put it off. Instead, I will move on to this year’s project, which is to fill out my collection of ’80s music.
So: what are the essential albums of 1980-1989? Essential either as a consensus classic or a personal favorite; all genres are open. Here are a few I hear mentioned a lot, just to get things started (inclusion in this list does not constitute endorsement):

  • Michael Jackson, Thriller (1982)

  • Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska (1982)
  • New Order, Power, Corruption, & Lies (1983)
  • The Police, Syncronicity (1983)
  • Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain (1984)
  • Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense (1984)
  • The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead (1986)
  • Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction (1987)
  • R.E.M., Document (1987)
  • U2, The Joshua Tree (1987)
  • Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation (1988)
  • The Cure, Disintegration (1989)
  • Pixies, Doolittle (1989)

29 thoughts on “Essential ’80s Albums

  1. Mason

    So I’m exhausted at the moment and am not going to get into a long comment now.
    Because I didn’t buy any CDs for myself until almost 1990, most of the 80s albums I bought legally were greatist hits CDs, so I won’t be mentioning too many albums aside from ones which have individual songs I particularly like. (Many of these I ended up downloading.)
    In terms of greatist hits stuff (where the greatest hits album is allowed to come out after the 80s, but the content must include the 80s songs I have in mind), let me start (in no particularly order) with Catching up With Depeche Mode (though really, you want DM Singles 81-85 because that one has People are People on it and Catching Up doesn’t), Erasure’s greatist hits album, Tears Roll Down (Tears for Fears) [which reminds me I think I forgot to mention TFF’s album Elemental for the 90s music suggestions], Substance (New Order), and Sand in the Vasseline (Talking Heads). I am sure I’ll have plenty more to mention (and some of them may be ones I like better than I what I just wrote), but for individual albums, DM’s Music for the Masses (which I don’t own legally, but I do have the whole album) is key because any album that has “Strangelove” (perhaps the best DM song ever, and that’s a very strong statement when I say it) has to be on the list.
    More later. I need to get away from this computer screen.

  2. JSpur

    I would have to add the Boss’s “Born in the USA” to the list. And a Don Henly album- the one with “Boys of Summer” on it. It’s one of mama-san’s favorites. And you probably need a Garth Brooks. Not that I can help you there much. Oh, and Genesis- what was the one? “Invisible Touch.” That’s it. And maybe a Phil Collins solo album. And the guy who used to be with Chicago, Peter somebody, I forget just now.
    In Casablanca they’re grooving to KT Tunstall and enough gangsta to keep Eminem in bling ’til the coming of the Hidden Imam.

  3. shellock

    I beleive these are 80s
    Paul Simon – Graceland
    Billy Joel – Songs in the attic (highly reccommend), Glass Houses, Inocent Man, Storm Front
    Phil Collins – Hello I Must be going, But Seriously, No Jackett Required
    Gensis – Invisble Touch
    Beach Boys – Still Crusin
    Breakfast club soundtrack (has dont you forget about me)
    Tears for fears – Songs from teh big chair (has everybody want to rule the world)
    probably somethign from queen
    REM – green

  4. Lemming

    Garth Brooks only released on album in the 80s — In Pieces and No Fences, my favorites, were both in the 90s (just barely).
    Of course, it’s still gonna take me a bit to think of my recommendations. Back yonder in the 80s, I wasn’t particularly aware of music, at least not in terms of when it came out, so this’ll take me a bit.

  5. Arcane Gazebo

    I limited my original list to one album per artist, but certainly Born in the USA is as worthy (if not more so) as Nebraska. Likewise the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa in addition to Doolittle, and probably multiple R.E.M. albums—Shellock mentioned Green, I also hear Murmur cited frequently.

  6. JSpur

    That would be the one. Thanks.
    I was in a place associated with ’40s music tonight-Rick’s Cafe. But that’s a whole other story.

  7. Mason

    As I mentioned (or at least strongly implied) earlier, I think of 80s in terms of individual songs (and occasionally artists) rather than albums. This is basically true of the 90s and 00s as well, but while I love 80s music beyond belief (especially other people’s beliefs), I have little knowledge of which songs are on which precise albums. I do tend to remember which year they came out, so one can reconstruct the album.
    Other greatest hits albums to make sure to check out to get important 80s songs:
    Human League
    Howard Jones (though really only for a couple specific songs)
    Shaking the Tree (Peter Gabriel)
    Pet Shop Boys (Please and Actually would be their two definitive albums from the 80s, but they have a couple important 80s songs that are not on either of those albums … in this case, both of those albums are specifically fantastic)
    Invisible Touch is indeed an important album. “Land of Confusion” is also on it.
    Many of the definitive 80s songs are one-hit wonders. I don’t want to go through the list of those I think are awesome (as it’s a very long one), but let me name one unsurprising song on the list: Tarzan Boy by Baltimora. (Baltimora technically had one more song, “Living in the Background”, in the top 100 but it only reached 96, so it’s fair to call him [Baltimora = Jimmy McShane {sp?}] an OHW.) The album on which Tarzan Boy appears is Living in the Background (that was the title song), and if you can find a copy, please let me know… The thing has been out of print forever, and I have only managed to find a subset of the songs from it online. I’ve been looking for it in used record stores and can never find it. Granted, I should search in appropriate online venues for it.
    I’m sure a good bit more will come to mind.

  8. Josh

    I’m actually in the same boat as Mason for the most part, but hopefully I’ll be able to upload a decent list of suggestions for the good old 80’s. I know several albums that I adore or like very much.

  9. JSpur

    Lidarose, I was indeed, just last night. It’s a knock-off, of course, but a very well done one indeed. Like walking on to the set of the movie. Check ’em out at
    Didn’t get the piano player’s name, I’m sorry to say. He was part of a nice little four-piece combo, though.

  10. JSpur

    Lidarose, I was indeed, just last night. It’s a knock-off, of course, but a very well done one indeed. Like walking on to the set of the movie. Check ’em out at
    Didn’t get the piano player’s name, I’m sorry to say. He was part of a nice little four-piece combo, though.

  11. Josh

    80’s Music recommendations:
    Metallica: (in this order) Ride the Lightning,
    Master of Puppets, …And Justice For All
    AC/DC: Back in Black
    Ozzy Osbourne: Blizzard of Oz
    The Cure: Disintegration, Pornography, and though it’s not 80’s, Bloodflowers (2000), which they say finishes out that trilogy
    Devo: I don’t know a good album but you can’t do 80’s music without them.
    David Bowie: Let’s Dance
    The Violent Femmes: The Violent Femmes
    Queen: Once again I don’t know albums but some research should surely reveal a few suggestions.
    That’s all I have for now. I’ll see if I can think of some more.

  12. Mason

    Here are a couple I think I forgot to mention:
    Madonna: Like a Virgin, whichever album (True Blue?) has La Isla Bonita on it. Several of her other songs are also essential for the 80s.
    Yaz: Upstairs at Erics. (This time, I’m evening mentioning the actual album. Ooh.)
    Also, certain songs by A-Ha need to be there (their album cuts are actually very good too). Duran Duran should be there. Rio is a title track, right? So I guess “Rio” but there are songs other than that album that need to be included.
    Certain songs by Information Society also need to be there, and I’ll concur with Stormfront and Graceland. Those are both excellent albums.
    And don’t forget Falco’s posthumous greatest hits album. (He actually had two very big hits even though most people only remember one. The other is “Vienna Calling.” And he sang the German version of “Der Komissar” although I greatly prefer After The Fire’s version.) Not to mention Trio and Taco. And Murray Head — “I get my kicks above the waistline, Sunshine!”

  13. Lidarose

    Arlo Guthrie’s album Someday and his album with Pete Seeger, Precious Friend, came out in the 80’s, and for some of us that defined 80’s music…when we had time to stop and listen. (That was before iPods…)

  14. Zifnab

    I’ll agree with Lidarose here – Someday is one of the only Arlo Guthrie albums I went out of my way to find and I stil enjoy it.
    I have similar endorsements for other albums mentioned in this thread, but on the whole no original ones to add. Oh, except my usual one for TMBG, which I don’t think has been mentioned here.
    They Might Be Giants first two albums were released in the 80’s. They Might Be Giants in 1986, and Lincoln in 1988. Both albums have several songs I especially like. In particular from the first album, “She’s an Angel” is perhaps my favorite TMBG song, and “Rhythm Section Want Ad”, “Everything Right is Wrong Again” and “Don’t Let’s Start” off the same album were all favorites. Lincoln had “Ana Ng”, “Pencil Rain”, “The World’s Address” and several others I really liked.
    Now if you’ll excuse me, time to go find my Arlo Guthrie and TMBG albums and listen to them.

  15. Lemming

    Ooh, TMBG. I have a sudden urge to listen to “She’s an Angel.” I must come and steal your CDs.
    Alright, digging around a bit to find some suggestions.
    Back in Black — if there’s one AC/DC album you can’t live without, this is it. It’s almost like a greatest hits, only it isn’t. Some people say that can live without AC/DC, but I’m not sure if you can really call that “living”.
    I’ll second Violent Femmes — I thought they were early 90s, but it doesn’t really matter *when* they kicked as, so much as *that* they kicked ass.
    Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits 1 & 2 contain a mix of his hits from the 70s and 80s — all worthwhile, even if only about half of it counts. The albums were released in the 80s, at least.
    I want to include some Aerosmith, but their best work was mostly in the 70s and 90s — at least to my ears. That being said, Permanent Vacation is still pretty good. Big Ones has most of the relevant hits from their 80s albums, but was released later, and is probably a better bet, even if it kinda misses on a technicality.
    I’m sure there’s more I would recommend, but I’m doing this by random sampling, and everything I think of is either 70s or 90s, naturally.

  16. Josh

    Lemming: Violent Femmes did most of their latter stuff in the 90’s… but they did a few in the 80’s too. Their first album, which I still consider their best, was 1983, the year after I was born.
    Interesting note, Gordon Gano was doing VFemmes back in college and wrote lyrics in detention in 10th grade. One night he managed to book a show at a Christian fraternity. He told them it was inspirational music. They opened with “Gimme the Car”. Thus, the Violent Femmes were banned from the premises.

  17. shellock

    Violent femmes a definate must.
    Also Indigo Girl – Indigo girls album
    other 80’s artist who i have no clue what album but have hit songs and should have a album on the list:
    Paula Abdul
    Bon Jovi
    Cutting Crew
    Cyndi Lauper
    Fine Young Canibles
    Tina Turner
    The artist you may yet agian one be know as “Prince”
    The Clash
    Janett Jackson
    Milli Vanilli – given all th controverse a definate must
    Peter Gabrial
    Dire Straits
    10,000 Maniacs
    Van Halen
    John (cougar) Melloncamp
    Coulter club

  18. Arcane Gazebo

    Shellock: Coulter Club? Wasn’t that the band composed of conservative female pundits, with such hits as “Do You Really Want To Tax Me?” and “Karma Republican”?
    (Sorry, that typo was too funny to pass up. And Ann Coulter did graduate from our high school in 1980, shortly before the advent of Culture Club.)

  19. Wren

    “She’s So Unusual” and “True Colors” are the Cyndi Lauper albums of the 80s. The hits are pretty much split between them, though.
    Will you be acquiring a copy of “We Are the World”?

  20. Mason

    Cyndi Lauper’s greatest hits album has a lot of great stuff, so you could always buy that and get the singles.
    Make sure to get a bunch of songs by The Church and The Call (ok, now I’ve gotten into a more obscure mode), and the safest bet is to get a greatest hits album. Also Midnight Oil, OMD (did I already mention them?), Echo & The Bunnymen, etc.
    Oh, and Queen intersected with the 80s a bit (Another One Bites the Dust) and so did The Clash. I believe the album London Calling came out in the early 80s, and that has some good stuff. On that note, there is also BAD.
    I could go on forever about 80s stuff you shouldn’t miss. :)
    I would be ashamed of having Coulter from my high school, but sadly I can trump you on high school embarrassments. (Monica transferred out before she graduated, but Jack Abramoff is a Beverly High alum. Ahem.) And I already have no chance of being the best mathematician my high school ever produced. (Serge Lang went to my high school.) Which brings me back to “Shattered Dreams” and 80s music (in this case, a song by Johnny Hates Jazz).

  21. Lemming

    I’ll second OMD, and I can vouch for Midnight Oil (but only that one song).
    London Calling came out in ’79 — it’s one that occured to me so I checked, and was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to recommend it. Aw, screw that, go ahead and listen to The Clash anyway, and follow it up with both iterations of Big Audio. atmosphere~~~~eeere~~~~~eere~~~~~eere~~~~*horrible warbling*
    Mason, can you help me out as to which Oingo Boingo to recommend? They’re great, but I’m not familiar with them at all on a per-album basis.

  22. Mason

    Ah, well I can’t recommend a specific album because I have their greatest hits album. I’d recommend that except that it doesn’t have my favorite song of theirs on it (“We Close Our Eyes”). There is some unofficial greatest hits album you could get, but you can always get the regular one and download “We Close Our Eyes,” “Grey Matter”, “Little Girls”, and other important songs by them (such as their cover of “I am the Walrus”).
    “Beds are Burning” (which is the song you have in mind) is not as good as several other Midnight Oil songs (especially “Blue Sky Mine”).
    Hmmm… I was thinking London Calling might have been 1980. That’s too bad. Well, I’ll save the recommendation for next year.
    That was a horrible omission on my part for neglecting Boingo. I’m sure there are numerous others I haven’t remembered, so how about starting to fix that with the Scorpions greatest hits album. (Though my two favorite songs by them may well be 1990 rather than 1989. These are “Winds of Change” and “Send Me an Angel,” and they’re even on the same album.)
    Note that this “Send Me An Angel” should not be confused with the song of the same title by Real Life (which is also awesome). Real Life is an OHW, so you’ll have to get that song on an 80s collection.

  23. Lemming

    I need to listen to “We Close Our Eyes”, Mason — the clip on iTMS does it no justice. Also, leaving “Little Girls” off of the Greatest Hits is a crime.
    Oh, and I don’t know how I missed this — Jane’s Addiction released Nothing’s Shocking in ’88. “Jane Says” is one of my long-forgotten favorite songs that I recently rediscovered, and “Mountain Song” kicks a ton of ass (and I don’t know why!).
    If you like their style, the whole album is enjoyable, but those two tracks (especially “Jane Says”) really stand out.
    Ritual de la Habitual is also quite good, but released in the 90s. It has “Stop” — you’d be guessing correctly if you thought that’s what triggered my remembering about them (yay GH2!).

  24. Mason

    I was never a fan of Jane’s Addiction.
    Lemming: I’m glad to hear you are also a fan of the song “Little Girls.” Boingo is awesome.

  25. Lemming

    That just sounds wrong. Apparently I’m a dirty, dirty man.
    Jane’s Addiction has a very strong and distinctive style — and it’s certainly not to everyone’s taste. Simply listen to “Jane Says” (which is the easiest to swallow), and if it sounds intriguing check out more.
    The thing about “Mountain Song” is that it sounds like it should sound awful, but instead it sounds great. The rest of my brain kind of squints, looks at my ears and says, “wait, you like this shit?”

  26. Mason

    Oh, I can’t stand the song “Jane Says.” I’m not familiar with the rest of their works based on title, though I assume I’ve heard one or two of the songs before.
    As for things sounding wrong, it was either phrase it that way or provide a spoiler (which I may have just done). Well, I could have not commented at all, but what would be the fun in that?

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