Initially this was to be an 80’s only list of my personal likes from the 80’s, and it largely is, but I had to include a couple of honourable mentions from the preceding decades.
It should be noted that as a kid of the mid seventies I spent much of the 80’s deciding what I actually like, as opposed to what I was meant to like. In all honesty it was only towards the end of the decade that I think I made finally my mind up, even though my tastes were refined and I guess finalised through the first half of the 90’s.
I have named it my “Best Tapes”, as I’m pretty sure I didn’t buy my first CD until 1990’s, (for the record Living Colour – “Stain” Tour edition!)
And now, on with the story.
None of these crack the Top 10, and many are from the pre 80’s era, but I have to acknowledge each of these artists as they have all released some pretty good choons in their own right.
Jimi Hendrix – You could pick all three albums but when pressed I go with “Axis: Bold as Love” for being more focussed than the predecessors.
Led Zeppelin – IV An easy and perhaps obvious pick, but an amazing selection of tracks nonetheless that holds up 35 + years later.
James Brown – Had so many albums that I can’t pick one, so I’ll take the cop out and say you can’t go wrong with a “Best of”.
Marvin Gaye – Amazing voice, maybe one of the most covered artists in history, “What’s Going On?”, “Sexual Healing”, “I Want You”.
Sam & Dave – After watching the Blues Brothers for the 73rd time sought out a Best of, some of the smoothest soulful stuff around.
Michael Jackson – Pre Wacko MJ dominated the charts in the 80’s. Ignore the “parent scarer” and look up the albums, obviously “Thriller.”
Run DMC – I must admit I missed these guys my first go around, even when I was gaining an appreciation for hip-hop. “Run’s House” rocks!
Public Enemy – Ditto to Run DMC. Once I heard “Apocalypse 91” I went back to the earlier stuff. Great, just not “Apocalypse” great.
INXS – Impossible to be an Aussie in the 80’s without being exposed. A better singles band and peaked quick but had a couple of good tapes.
Eric B & Rakim – Again more a singles group, I love some of the early tracks but Paid In Full is both influential and still holds up.
Young MC – Really you say? Yup, “Stone Cold Rhymin'” has exceptional wordplay, samples that were not yet overdone, all in a tasteful package.
(10 to 1 with 1 being highest ranked.)
10 – Billy Joel / The Bridge
So sue me, I still think Bill was a great songwriter, even though he was roundly scorned towards the end of his career as started to reach more for a hit and became less an artist, more a music machine.
“The Stranger” is more celebrated and “Glasshouses” is probably also better, but “The Bridge” was the first non-compliation tape I ever owned. We had just moved to a new town and I didn’t know anyone, so I stayed home and listened to this album about 42,000 times in a row, with the old “perpetual playback” option on the tape deck (I already said I didn’t have another tape!).
Still now 23 years later I could give you almost every lyric on this album with only a couple instrumental bars notice.
Best bit – Running on Ice. (And the fact that it showed me compilation tapes weren’t that good.)
9 – Hunters and Collectors / Ghost Nation
Doesn’t have the classic songs of “Human Frailty”, but I think a more consistent and stronger overall album. A brave move to lead off with the 2 singles, which could ordinarily result in the album peaking early and fading late. However the lack of filler in the remaining tracks was enough to ward off the risk, with a couple of album tracks that are actually stronger than the singles, namely “Crime of Passion” and “Gut Feeling”.
The follow up to this was “Cut”, and while it was a strong album it sounded just a little too clean and commercial for long time Hunnas fans, which is exactly why it sold a heap of copies and will forever ensure Mark Seymour and crew regular royalties as long as sporting competitions exist thanks to Holy Grail.
Best Bit – The way it takes a good 90 seconds to really get into Crime Of Passion.
8 – John Cougar Mellencamp / The Lonesome Jubilee
At this stage JCM, though over the years he changed his name as often as Diddy, every JCM album of the era was about the small town battler and seemed designed to touch the hearts and wallets of middle America. As such there wasn’t much resonance with me aside from the strength of the songs.
This album had a great start with “Paper in Fire”, then the dual singles “Check it Out” (still one of the great 80’s songs) and “Cherry Bomb” built the album in between the familiar “this poor hard-working bloke”, “big companies don’t care about you” stuff. The album petered out towards the end but is still memorable enough to warrant inclusion here.
Best bit – Check it Out (hands down).
7 – Lenny Kravitz / Let Love Rule
This was Lenny’s “hippie” phase, a singer songwriter before he became a “Rock” cliche, his early career (at least the first three albums) was very strong before descending into a self serious yet indulgent descent into mediocrity.
Actually introduced to me buy a schoolmate of mine with a job who could afford to buy his own stuff, “Let Love Rule” was an eye opener for me, it contained the first in-song F word, spat emphatically on “Mr Cab Driver” and an acoustic bent that I was previously not used to.
I still love “Rosemary”, and the rambling breakdown to “Let Love Rule” is enjoyable. Lenny got better with “Mama Said” and “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” was rock solid, but “Let Love Rule” was a great start.
Best bit – Rosemary and the hilarious way Freedom Train rambles to conclusion.
6 – Hoodoo Gurus / Stoneage Romeos
INXS has greater international success, but the Hoodoos owned the 80’s. Absolute masters of the catchy single, every Hoodoos album guaranteed 40+ minutes of strong songs and singalong choruses. Their Best Of was released in 1992 and initially had a companion piece of B-Sides and out-takes that would make other bands green with envy.
I could have included this or “Mars Needs Guitars”, with the other two 80’s albums not far behind, but I went with “Stoneage Romeos” as it was the beginning and has some of the best singles and catchiest songs in Australian rock history, “Tojo”, “My Girl”, “Leilani” and “My Girl” form a core of absolute quality.
Best Bit – “She was brown, her hair was black, her eyes were blue….” Leilani.
5 – Noiseworks / Noiseworks & Touch
Forgive me, I couldn’t split ’em. They were released a year apart, were almost equally good and I found both at the same time when I was about 14 or 15 and most impressionable. If you put a gun to my head I would go with “Touch” but I love them both.
In 1992 I was driving 50 km daily to and from work, between these tapes, Boom Crash Opera, The Cult Best Of and Massive Attack “Blue Lines” I had some of the best 40 minute commutes that I can recall.
This is straight ahead pub rock, but there are a myriad of examples of bad pub rock and precious few classics. Exceptional singles, strong filler and a clean sound that separated these albums from the Choirboys and The Models of the era.
Best Bit(s) – If you host a party of people in their 30’s you can almost ensure a singalong just by whacking in one of these “tapes”.
Boom Crash Opera / These Here are Crazy Times
A late inclusion after I realised it was released in 1989, this is the prime example of a band just “clicking” as never before. The previous album was only OK, as was “Fabulous Beast” that followed, neither was a crime against humanity, but neither was half as strong as this.
This was the epitome of what a tape should be, strong Track 1 on both sides, with the last track of side A a fast one, and the last track a great closer. There was a 10 minute space in time where Boom Crash Opera took the mantle of most promising Aussie band, INXS and Noiseworks had paved the way, Midnight Oil had yet to release “Blue Sky Mining” and everyone else who had put up their hand had failed. Thankfully everything went right and while they never again scaled these heights this album stands tall when compared to other “pub rock” albums in the era.
Dale Ryder was the Corey Glover style frontman, meaning he was a strong singer who didn’t do much else, but the strength of the band was Richard Pleasance’ guitar playing and songwriting, as evidenced by his subsequent solo album “Galleon”.
When Pleasance was forced to leave the band with an ear condition, bad if you are the guitar player in a rock band, the group never again scaled these heights, luckily this was already in the can.
Best Bit – ‘Side 1’, not a bad song on it.
3 – De La Soul / Three Feet High And Rising
An album I didn’t discover until the 90’s but one I still listen to today. I could now do without the skits that don’t improve with age (but seem mandatory for 90% of hip hop albums since) but the songs speak for themselves.
De La had masterful singles through their first 3 albums and are definitely the only hip hop group spanning three decades that preserved their credibility, (sorry Beasties and Public Enemy).
I would put this up a notch if they ever released a “just the songs” album, but with the throwaways lie “Can U Keep a Secret?” and “Take It Off” this is where it must remain.
Best Bit – The frenetic scratching at the start of “Jenifa Taught Me”.
2 – The Church / Starfish
I knew this was good when I bought it but it has only improved with age and can now rightfully be seen as an all-time classic.
The best 1-2 punch on this list, “Destination” opnes th album in magnificent fashion and ordinarily would be the strongest song on the album, were it not for one of the top 5 songs of the 80’s in “Under The Milky Way” coming up second. Really the only sub-par track on the album is “Spark” and only because it is the most straightforward song on it.
Brilliant songs on a album that holds tone throughout, and it never hurts to have an absolute classic near the start.
Best Bit – I love “Under The Milky Way” and “Hotel Womb” is a more subtle but still great album closer.
1 – Beastie Boys / Paul’s Boutique
I spent a little while on the order of the albums, and really on another day you could reorder 2 through 10 and I wouldn’t complain too much, but number 1 was the first selected and the easiest personally to justify.
After “Fight For Your Right” I wrote the early Beasties off as a joke band, think Morris Minor and the Majors or Right Said Fred, and in fact the first Beasties album I owned was Ill Communication. But once I realised they were the real deal I grabbed Paul’s Boutique and to this day I argue internally between this album and Check Your Head as the finest Beastie moment, (I usually plump for CYH).
Starts strong after the wishy washy opening “To All The Girls” with “Shake Your Rump”, a song we played in the car on the way out on a Friday for about 2 years straight! That is followed by great song after great song until the awesome “Shadrach” and the almost 13 minute shambles that is “B-Boy Bouillabaisse”.
Realistically the only album in this 10 that I would consider for my Top 10 All Time, it would definitely be in the 8 – 15 range.
Best Bit – The drum roll to start Shake Your Rump that lets you know what album you are listening to, (as I have a CD stacker and To All The Girls is sometimes inaudible).
Right that’s the 80’s stay tuned for the 90’s in the near future.