The 1980’s were my salad days. It’s the decade in which I grew up and developed my opinions, my belief systems, my political affiliation, my sexuality-pretty much everything that I am today began during some point in time during the 80’s.
Let me clarify something: I still believe that I am a work in progress and there have been noticeable changes that have happened since that time. I don’t believe that I’m one to dwell too much in the past, even though much of this blog is devoted to that very topic-it doesn’t mean that I’m stuck there and longing for something that has passed by. In fact, I can sincerely tell you that the greatest joy I have ever known is happening right now with my two little ones. Watching them grow is something that I’m not really able to put into words at this moment. Who knows? In twenty years, maybe all of this will be about stories that are happening right now.
The point is, music triggers memories for me. I’m creating new ones now, of course, but it’s one of the reasons why I love music the way I do. It’s a soundtrack to life, and when you compare it to the decade where I’ve placed the most notable building blocks of my belief and values systems-you’re bound to get some interesting results.
Which is why I came up with my own Baker’s Dozen of the 1980s. They are albums that promoted monumental changes in the way I ultimately look at music. They’re not “the best albums of the 1980s” and the list is not a “Desert Island Disc” list from that decade either. They are albums that I absolutely love-for sure-but they aren’t the ones that I play the most of or recommend that you seek out first.
They are albums that promoted an internal sea change, ones in which I wasn’t the same after I heard them. Some took a while to grab hold while others were loved from the first moment I heard them. A few even managed to change me as a person in some ways-and that is a rare event indeed.
There are a few on the list where I would definitely tell others to start elsewhere, which is totally ironic because I wouldn’t have even been a fan of the band’s music without beginning with the album listed below.
Yes, it’s true that many on the list feature albums that I first heard-prompting me to look deeper into the band’s catalog. But they also managed to do more than that. They all managed to change me to a point where I looked at life, music, and myself in a much different way than before I heard it.
Feel free to comment on the records from this decade that managed to change your life too.
1.) Black Flag - Damaged
Without question, a game-changing album. It was aggressive enough to speak to my metal side while being dangerous enough to appeal to the live-forever zeal of my teenage years. Damaged was one of the few things that seemed frightening back then. It spoke to the uncertainty of the Reagan era and it was subversive enough to proudly be considered an “anti-parent” record. Not only was that a perfect compliment to any teenager, it was also a record that had me looking beneath the radar of popular culture for more challenging material.
2.) The Smiths - Hatful Of Hollow
I wasn’t very good at communicating feelings as a teenager and wasn’t mature enough to convey emotion either. The Smiths help with that somewhat, or at least they became spokesmen for all of the ridiculous angst that comes with ones teenage years. I’m absolutely convinced that my world was made even more miserable because of Hatful of Hollow. Good thing the compilation is full of nifty, concise guitar patterns that made feeling glum sound so great.
3.) Joy Division - Closer
I only came to know this band halfway through the 80’s thanks to a life-altering record collection of a collegiate friend. The story of Joy Division when matched with their incredible (and brief) output may be as close to perfect misery as music ever gets. It’s a near-literal suicide note that is heavier than most metal albums and more gorgeously morose than anything in its wake.
4.) Sonic Youth - Bad Moon Rising
The first album that made me look at the guitar in a completely new and different way. And it wasn’t until I was comfortable with that notion of alternate tunings and other sonic mistreatments that I came to appreciate Bad Moon Rising. It’s still a little unsettling-which is a good thing, because it demonstrates how far reaching their vision was at that early stage in their career.
5.) R.E.M. - Reckoning
Just when you thought this list would be all bummers, along comes R.E.M. with an obligatory entry. It’s the second one for me-I finally caved from all of the great press that Murmur got and marched down to Disc Jockey and picked up this album on cassette. It worked with late-night driving, underage parties when the parents were away, and as low-volume makeout soundtracks. It made me aware of an alternate universe called “college music,” where people had smart conversations about rock and roll and listened to groovy Byrds-like records from Georgian bands.
6.) Spacemen 3 - The Perfect Prescription
It’s arrival came to me like an artifact. A cassette, in a cheaper-than-generic black case and hard to read album art with two dudes on the cover, both of them seemed to have their eyes closed, like under the influence of either drugs or music. Jesus & Mary Chain may have arrived before, but this mysterious band from England spoke deeper to me. From them began my life-long obsession to form a repetitious, one-chord band that plays the same thing forever. Spacemen 3 reminded me that rock music-at its core-is an attitude more than aptitude. The last time I felt that way is with the Ramones or the Sex Pistols, so Spacemen 3 are in good company in my world.
7.) Minutemen - Double Nickels On The Dime
I remember once after this record was released, a bunch of friends and I were riding around causing trouble. I suggested this tape and after a couple of songs the driving started protesting, stating that he didn’t like my selection. That guy was dumb. This is a double record of stunningly original material that sounded unlike anything else back then and it sounds that way today. Finger plucked bass lines, solid rhythms, and fluid guitar fills that sound like they’re played through a cheap little combo amp. It works, and with D. Boon’s political bite (“Being bored is power!”) and Mike Watt’s heart on his sleeve (“Punk rock changed our lives!”) it can still change lives today.
8.) Metallica - Master Of Puppets
I thought I hated Metallica before this record. And then on one night, I heard a guy in our dorm at the University of Northern Iowa playing his electric guitar. It was quick, aggressive, and complex to my ears. “What was that?” I asked him. “Damage Inc. by Metallica” is what my long-haired neighbor told me. Master of Puppets not only changed my opinion of Metallica, it changed my opinion of metal as well.
9.) Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us BackWhile Master of Puppets changed my opinion of metal, Public Enemy’s first masterpiece changed my opinion of rap. Prior to it, I had an attraction to rap, but wasn’t sure if it could pack the same emotional punch as my rock counterparts. There is so much unchecked aggression going on in It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back that it’s easy to overlook the impossibly creative sampling and turntable scratching going on with the Bombsquad. Add them both together and you have an album that’s brilliant regardless of what genre you prefer.
10.) Husker Du - Zen Arcade
I got to Husker Du before any other twin cities band, through an uber-aggressive song called “Real World” from one of those SST compilation. A few years later, I heard the band’s first masterpiece and learned of the versatility of this power trio that focused on the power. “Dreams Reoccurring” makes perfect sense under the influence of hallucinagens, but “Never Talking To You Again” sounds beautifully wicked no matter what state you are in. The first record that got me to consider that bands could deliver their own classic double album if they put their mind to it.
11.) The Pixies - Surfer Rosa
It begins with a snarky “This is a song from Hell!” but within moments you begin to understand that The Pixies aren’t just making it up as they’re going along. Hardly. Every measure of dynamic tinkering is fully thought out and every bit of simplistic intent is the record’s ultimate power. They were a smart and intense rock band that should have been larger than they were-but in my sophomore year of college, this record was in the top ten for quite a while.
12.) The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses
I got this as a promotional item from Silvertone Records. It came with a t-shirt, a picture of a sliced lemon, or some other citrus. I wore the t-shirt until it became all stained and grubby, and I played the promotional item (a cassette) until the fidelity dulled. Little did I know, the band was creating a lot of those same traits in their native country. I went around looking for another copy of the debut album after the oxide wore off and found a used one. It was an original pressing as it didn’t have “Fools Gold” tacked on the end of it. I was forced to buy a new copy of the comp Turns Into Stone to get that song. This is the cream of the crop when it comes to shoegazing.
13.) Galaxie 500 - On Fire
True story, I brought this album home to review it over the weekend. That Friday night, a few friends stopped over and before long, the entire living room was moving with pot smoke-the result of an oversized bowl on my leaky bong, a bowl that took at least an eighth of on ounce of marijuana to completely fill. This was the record that played as the bong made its way around the room that evening, and everyone seemed to agree that On Fire was an awesome soundtrack. I’ve never used that bowl since, but I’ve played On Fire numerous times. Galaxie 500 seemed like the perfect band to follow after playing the piss out of Velvet Underground’s VU, the rarities compilation that was released right around the same time that this Boston trio began making inroads in the collegiate radio network. Oh, and the radio station I worked for at the time played “Strange” the following week.
We’ll leave it at that-no “honorable mentions” or anything else to just ease my mind. Some thought went into this, but I would put the list away whenever I did start to think about it too much.
Like with the only rap entry here. I definitely wanted to reward Public Enemy for taking the genre to the next level for me. It was at that moment when I knew rap would be around forever and it would continue to press the rock music into new directions too.
But I was torn between P.E. and Run-DMC, particularly King Of Rock for being the first rap record that changed my opinion of the genre, from being more than just a novelty, turning it into a real art form.
And don’t get me started on Paul’s Boutique and De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising.
So you see, lot’s of head-games and second-guessing going on with my list, but I’m comfortable with what I’ve come up with and would enjoying hearing your life-changing lists too-the albums from your past that changed the way you looked at music,.