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Top 100 Albums of the 1980s
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Pitchfork: Top 100 Albums of the 1980s

It's said that the 1980s are responsible for the worst fashion, fads, and music of any decade of the 20th century. But as we see the decade recycled and updated with post-millennial minimalism, it's becoming clear that the 1980s had more to offer than we've given them credit for. As the calendar left the classless earthtones and polyester of the 1970s behind, musicians looked to the future for inspiration in new genres. With this feature, Pitchfork seeks to prove that, amidst the smooth-jazz of Kenny G, the vanilla soul of Hall & Oates, and the white-trash hair-rock of Warrant, lay a revolution in sound. It is to the vision and perseverance of many of these artists that we owe the roots of hip-hop, synth-pop, and most notably for this publication, alternative and indie rock. Respect is due.

[NOTE: You are looking at the second and final installment of Pitchfork's Top 100 Albums of the 1980s. Daily reviews and music news will return tomorrow. In the meantime, if you'd like to access the rest of our site, click here.]


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100: Minor Threat
Out of Step
[Dischord; 1984]

Reagan's future-blind ass was deregulating everything and cocaine had our parents in its blurry grasp. These District of Columbia reactionaries strove to set the record straight. "Betray", "Look Back & Laugh", and "Out of Step" still stomp, and Ian MacKaye's scorching, rebellious screams still make the deaf deafer. How were Minor Threat this fast and this tight, this judgmental and this inviting, this minimal and this expansive? This album can serve as lesson #1 when your kids get old enough to wonder, "Daddy, what's a Fugazi?" --William Bowers


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099: Gang of Four
Songs of the Free
[Warner Bros; 1982]

Gang of Four's third full-length left behind the dry, unaffected sound that made their first two records so immediate and bracing, instead taking textural cues from modern R&B and pulling most of the tempos back for a more overtly danceable brand of funk-rock. Andy Gill's guitar was more controlled, though it still sears on opener "Call Me Up", and he lays down some of his trademark scratchy riffs on "It Is Not Enough". The band's shift to a more produced sound was most apparent on the immortal "I Love a Man in Uniform", with its female backing vocals, while "We Live as We Dream, Alone" found them writing an actual pop song, albeit one about the emptiness of material pursuit. Unfortunately, Gang of Four waned terribly after this album, but as last hurrahs go, Songs of the Free is outstanding. --Joe Tangari


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098: Cocteau Twins
[4AD; 1984]

The Cocteau Twins' third album was titled simply enough. Treasure was an adjective for the endlessly inventive melodic lines you'd find buried in these songs, and a verb for what you'd do with them for years to come. With the addition of Simon Raymonde on guitar, the Twins had moved beyond the moody, bass-driven sound of Garlands and come into their signature ethereality. The drum machine tracks added a sharp edge to some songs, especially the 80s dancefloor mini-hit "Lorelei". But as always, it was Elisabeth Fraser's angelic vocals that managed to comfort, confound and mystify in the end, perfectly matching the song titles. Affixing words to the Cocteau Twins often seems pointless; in its own unique way, Fraser's streaming glossolalia speaks for itself. --Christopher Dare


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097: Mekons
The Mekons Rock 'N' Roll
[A&M; 1989]

This album is nothing more or less than its title claims. Basically their only major label release, it's their piss-take/tribute to rock and roll, and they attack it from every direction: as icon (the Elvis image embedded in the cover), as commodity (from the slave trade in "Amnesia" to Sally Timms' correlation of sex and rock as salable items), as the lowest moment of a dark night ("Only Darkness Has The Power")-- but best of all, as raw rock squall that's just fucking volcanic. --Chris Dahlen


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096: Rites of Spring
Rites of Spring
[Dischord; 1985]

Besides being, along with Minor Threat, one of the Lions of what would eventually become the mighty Voltron of Fugazi, Rites of Spring were also, a while back, slapped with the now-dubious title "fathers of emo". Back then, of course, there was no need to be ashamed of punk's whiny, besweatered stepchild; even before the horn-rimmed glasses crowd started buying into the torn larynx = sincerity equation, Guy Picciotto and the rest of the band were just letting it histrionically rip. Minor Threat might have been the conscience of the DC scene, but Rites of Spring were its secret, spurting, and beating heart. --Brendan Reid


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095: Duran Duran
[Capitol; 1982]

When I first heard the term "electroclash", I thought it would sound like evil Duran Duran. Now I know that it doesn't sound enough like evil Duran Duran. Duran Duran perfected what a lot of boring, obscure British bands had been doing before them: mixing colonialist rhythms with sapphire-bullet synths and surly brass. The band peppered the 80s with a number of hot singles (most of which can be found on the unstoppable side A of Rio) before departing for MOR country. You'll most readily recall the Simon LeBon jungle adventures of the title track and "Hungry Like the Wolf", but dig "My Own Way" and "Hold Back the Rain" outta your subconscious as well. Praising this album might be like giving the nod to N'Sync ten years from now, but until then, MY NAME IS RIO AND I'M DANCING ON THE FUCKING SAND. --Rob Mitchum


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094: Meat Puppets
[SST; 1983]

Like apple and pie, like bass and balls, country n' hardcore just go together in that all-American way. Though the Meat Puppets' second record is often filed under this fusion (and credited as the first to make the connection), there was really a lot more going on here than the "cowpunk" label can account for. The main thrust of the album was more psychedelic, using the claustrophobic tightness of punk and the vastness of Americana as head-metaphors, analogies for two distinct states of being really goddamn freaked out. And, while many of their heirs got the punk part right, few could approximate the huge, haunted spaces that lurk in the darker corners of this album, threatening to swallow even the most manic of the band's outbursts. --Brendan Reid


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093: David Bowie
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
[RCA; 1980]

By 1980, critics were already chomping at the bit to declare David Bowie D.O.A. Where, they wondered, could he possibly go after his spectacular, antiseptic Berlin trilogy (which, it was suspected, Brian Eno was really the genius behind)? Certainly, he couldn't get any more avant-garde! All it took was a few steps back from the musical fringe and the nervy, sweeping rock opus Scary Monsters to shut them up. One of Bowie's more uncharacteristically backward looking records, the guitar-driven edge of Monsters gave a brief nod to the artier end of the passing punk movement (including "Kingdom Come", written by Television frontman Tom Verlaine), but coupled it with Bowie's infallible pop acumen. The result is an record of startling emotion, tension, and simplicity, and the last of the truly excellent Bowie albums. --Eric Carr


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092: Kate Bush
Hounds of Love
[EMI; 1985]

Discovered in 1975 by Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, Kate Bush began and ended her career with sappy sentimentality bathed in new age-isms and unicorn fantasies. Yet, at the heart of her discography lies this uncharacteristically forward-looking full-length, whose striking arrangements are aided by her Fairlight synthesizer/sampler and dipped in mind-blowing, crystalline production. Side one begins with "Running Up That Hill", setting the scene with tension and galloping programmed percussion, and ends with the government conspiracy ballad "Cloudbusting", which pours on strings like liquid nylon. But it's the suite on side two that's hauntingly inexplicable, comprised of dissimilar songs tied together by a dreamlike pall. Her singing is seductive and wraithlike, especially when joined by disembodied voices, and a distant, watery choral group. --Chris Dahlen


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091: X
Los Angeles
[Slash; 1980]

I dare anyone to listen to the nightmarish tale of "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene", let it really sink in, and not be at least a little bit disturbed by X's nihilistic masterpiece. The Stooges, The Dolls, and Richard Hell (among others) gave a voice to the "no future, no problem" mindset of the States' burgeoning East Coast punk movement, but it took a half-decade and a West Coast band to really nail it. The whispered wailing of John Doe and Exene Cervenka spoke of desperation, but Billy Zoom's guitar churned out punk-warped versions of feelgood 50s rock riffs; Los Angeles was the sound of youth culture gleefully racing toward oblivion. At the time of this album's release, Richard Meltzer called X, "the only punk band with half a chance at commercial success in America today." Truth is, they never had a prayer; they were better than that. --Eric Carr