Thursday, October 27, 2005

The 80's Really Didn't Suck Musically

Now PC's done gone and pissed me off and he probably did it on purpose. He posted his Top 10 Albums of the 80's on his journal and he HAS NO DAMN WAY TO COMMENT! I'm sure he did it on purpose - I can just see him now, thinking as he types:
I'll start off with a couple that I know Tony'll like to lull him into a false sense of complacency then I'll zing a couple in there out of left field that'll get his fingers itching to type and then he'll realize... HEY, NO COMMENTS! Hee-hee!! It'll be great!
Bastard. And yeah, we DO live in a Plutonium-centric universe. He's taunting me, I tellya!

So... The Pretenders? Booyah!! He takes the opening tip down the court for a slam dunk! Not just one of the top 10 of the 80's - one of the top 10 ever. Whether you give me 10, 5 or just 3 albums to take with me into exile on a desert island, this one's coming.

XTC-Black Sea? Absolutely!! No question they're in the Top 10 for the decade. Peter Gabriel's 3rd album titled "Peter Gabriel"? Yeah, I think so.... I think. Maybe. Or would I go with So? Let's see what else...

R.E.M.'s Murmur and U2's Joshua Tree - well, actually I'd reverse those and go later into R.E.M. 's catalog with Life's Rich Pageant and earlier with U2's War, but certainly valid choices. Ah, now here's where it gets interesting. First he bends the no-two-albums-by-the-same-band rule by having both a Robyn Hitchcock AND a Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians disk on the list. Sorry, I don't share Peter's love of Mr. Hitchcock - I actually think (and I know PC thinks I'll burn in hell for this) that he's boring. Off the list. Pixies? Frankly (get it?!) I can't stand 'em. No kidding - never got 'em. That leaves Elvis Costello's King of America, an absolutely stellar album but I think I'd go with Trust instead. Or maybe Get Happy!. No, Trust. And I have to say that it's interesting that neither of us picked Imperial Bedroom...

I skipped the Billy Bragg. I like Billy Bragg. But I can't see any of his albums in my top 10.

So where I thought we'd be in agreement on a good chunk of these, we're actually together on just 20%.

So here's mine:

The Pretenders - The Pretenders (1980)
XTC - Black Sea (1980)
R. E. M. - Life's Rich Pageant (1986)
Elvis Costello - Trust (1981)
U2 - War (1983)
and here's where we start to diverge...

The Clash - London Calling (1980)
So PC is probably sputtering that LC was actually released in mid-December 1979. Well, so what? Nobody really heard it until 1980 (and I don't think it was released in the States until 1980 anyway). If he gets two Robyn Hitchcock entries, I get this one - one of the greatest rock and roll albums of any time.

X - Los Angeles (1980)
Continuing on the rock and roll trend, this album (and the previous one) gave lie to the idea that punk bands were full of talentless shouters. Both X and the Clash very quickly transcended any sort of boundaries anyone wanted to set around them but this one is straight ahead sonic ecstasy.

The Replacements - Let It Be (1984)
I'll admit to being late to the 'Mats bandwagon - band guys at the club were raving about them before I'd heard them, but one listen to I Will Dare and I was hooked but good. Sure there's some crap on the disc (that's part of it's charm) but Unsatisfied and Answering Machine are two of the most emotionally wrenching rock songs ever written. Defiantly trashy but brilliantly written.

David Bowie - Scary Monsters (1980)
This is just a stellar album - the last great disc from the Thin White Duke. It rocks hard, it holds its own with anything from the punks and new wavers of the time and it's more thoroughly listenable than most of his earlier discs without resorting to the less challenging, more pop sounds of his next few releases. One of the tests of any great album is how it sounds later and 25 years on, this one still sounds fucking awesome.

Talking Heads - Remain in Light (1980)
I started to leave this one in the honorable mention list just because I seem to be focused on 1980 (this is number 6) but I realized a) it really is a small cut above the others I'm about to list and b) I could actually put together a credible Top 10 of the 80's with ONLY albums from 1980 (add the Peter Gabriel album from PCs list, Devo's Freedom of Choice, Pete Townshend's Empty Glass and Squeeze's Argybargy). Like the Bowie album, Remain in Light was really a bridge between the earlier, more experimental music of More Songs and Fear of Music and the more pop sounds of later Talking Heads releases (that's not to take anything away from brilliant later albums like Little Creatures). Once in a Lifetime spoke of an uneasiness with, if not alienation from, the suburbs that most of us were headed for and did so with lines that have become part of our popular culture. But the first side of the album (with only three songs) was a masterpiece by itself. Same as it ever was.

Honorable Mention (and I wouldn't object if anyone else had these in their top 10):
Squeeze - Argybargy (1980)
English Beat - Special Beat Service (1982)
The Pogues - Rum, Sodomy and the Lash (1985)
Drivin' n' Cryin' - Scarred But Smarter (1986)
Joe Jackson - Night and Day (1982)
Roxy Music - Avalon (1982) - the best make-out album of the decade
The Rolling Stones - Tattoo You (1981) - little special mention of the Stones here - when this album came out, people had been writing the Stones off as geezers who were all washed up (despite the brilliant Some Girls having just come out a couple of years before). It should be noted that in fact Jagger hadn't turned 40 at that time and the Stones had been together only 18 years. U2 has now been together almost 30 years - hell, Green Day put out American Idiot in their 16th year as a band. Our perceptions of rock and roll longevity have changed dramatically, eh?

Almost but no cigar - gave serious consideration to these but each is missing some little something:
Devo - Freedom of Choice (1980)
Pete Townshend - Empty Glass (1980)
ZZ Top - Eliminator (1983)
Psychedelic Furs - Pretty in Pink (1981)
Thomas Dolby - The Golden Age of Wireless (1982)
The Cramps - Songs the Lord Taught Us (1980)
Prince - 1999 (1983) / Springsteen - The River (1980) - I put these two together as they were both double albums that had single disc best-albums-ever-recorded hiding inside them.

So, PC, I hope you're satisfied - this has taken me two nights, many walks through my vinyl/CD collections and numerous searches through to compile. I will find a way to get you back...


At 6:44 AM, Blogger Lex said...

Man, I'd have to think a lot longer than you did before coming up with an '80s Top 10. The era's music definitely did not suck, particularly in the first half of the decade. And I think you are correct: If memory serves, "London Calling" wasn't released here until March 1980.

At 6:49 AM, Blogger Lex said...

And now *I* have to kill PC: He says Peter Buck's Rickenbacker was the first such jangly instrument to make a big splash in rock since The Byrds. But Tom Petty wielded a Rick to similar effect, did he not?

At 9:17 AM, Blogger jw said...

What? No list is complete without Michael Jackson's Thriller!

At 9:42 AM, Blogger Tony Plutonium said...

Lex - /* shuffling through CD rack */ hey, that IS a Ricky on the cover of Damn the Torpedoes! You make a fine point.

jw - Thriller get consideration and probably should have been on my almost but not quite - it really was a fine album. Also The Smith's The Queen is Dead and The Cure's Disintegration were up there as well.

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah... my work here is done...

At 9:42 AM, Blogger Tony Plutonium said...

Boy, THAT was crappy English (or crappy typing).

At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few points:

1) I'm trying to think of a Petty tune where I can HEAR a Rickenbacker, as opposed to seeing one used as a prop, and the first one that comes to mind is "The Waiting" off Hard Promises in '81. Even then, I don't think it was really a signature part of the band's sound. By contrast, it's hard to find an R.E.M. tune where Buck's not jangling until "Can't Get There from Here."

2) Yeah, London Calling is on my 70s list; I'd rather have it bump a 70s album off the list than one of these.

3) I spent a long time deliberating over the King of America vs. Trust issue. The latter is probably more consistent from song to song--no weak sisters there. The former, though, has higher high points, which overcome weaker (relatively) cuts like "Eisenhower Blues" or "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."

4) Lifes Rich Pageant was another close call for me. It's all fairly academic, as the best R.E.M. album is clearly Automatic for the People, but that's on my 90s list.

5) There's not really a U2 album that's strong from start to finish; I love Boy and still think "Gloria" and "Two Hearts Beat As One" are criminally underrated in the band's catalogue, but there's always more filler--"Stories for Boys," "Scarlet," "Like a Song"--than I'd like. The Joshua Tree comes closest to being fillerless--only "Exit" leaves me unimpressed.

6) Remain in Light was the hardest album to leave off the list. And Scary Monsters really ought to be there somewhere, too. But I'll be damned if I can figure out what I'd cut.

7) Your honorable mentions almost all work for me, but I'd go with If I Should Fall from Grace with God and Mystery Road if I were picking Pogues and drivin' n' cryin' albums. And Dolby's first two records are far better than their reputation suggests--good ears there.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Lex said...

PC: Go back and listen to Petty's "Listen to her Heart." Not quite the same tone, but definitely jangly.


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