I could have titled this post a lot of things. I could have titled it “12 Important Records of the 80s” or “12 of the Best Records of the 80s.” It really doesn’t matter. This list, like just about any other list I make, is subjective. A lot of you will probably agree with what I’ve got to say about most of the records here. There will be some disagreement as well. In that case, you can always make your own list. The records here are not only some of my favorite pop records of the 80s, I think they stand as some of the most iconic, and yeah, even best, of the 80s. Agree or disagree, these should bring back some memories. Here they are in no particular order.
Madonna/First Album (Madonna) – The very first Madonna album, self titled but sometimes referred to as “First Album,” is a classic from the 80s. Madonna set some standards with this record, and while everybody else tried to mimic her, she was on to the next thing. Songs like “Lucky Star,” “Borderline,” “Burning Up,” and “Holiday” almost personified the 80s. The lesser-known tracks on the album are pretty damn good too. This record still sounds good today. It’s a must for any 80s fan.
She’s So Unusual (Cyndi Lauper) – Cyndi was a poster child for individuality in the 80s for sure. Her first album “She’s So Unusual” pretty much said it all. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Time After Time,” “Money Changes Everything,” and the naughty “She-Bop,” plus a cool cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine” are just a couple of highlights. There’s also a killer 30th anniversary edition available with lots of goodies.
Private Dancer (Tina Turner) – Already established as the queen of R&B in the 70s with Ike Turner, and as a solo act after splitting with Ike, Tina hit the 80s running. This pop-infused classic showcases “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” “Better Be Good to Me,” and the title track, along with some other goodies. Not only was the album a big success, it helped set Tina on a path that made the 80s very good for her, and it helped solidify her as a strong solo performer. This is a really good album.
No Jacket Required (Phil Collins) – Phil has always been associated with hits. Even in Genesis, when he took over as lead singer, the sound of the band changed. It became more of a commercial band. This solo effort is one of his best. Seriously, I’m not sure there’s a song on it that wasn’t a hit. I dare you not to sing “Sussudio.” Tracks like that one as well as “Take Me Home,” “Don’t Lose My Number,” “Who said I Would,” and “One More Night” are 80s staples. Hell, Phil is an 80s staple, and the good thing is, he transcended the 80s and went on to do some cool stuff. He retired, but he came back with some killer remasters of his solo work, including this gem.
Back in the High Life (Steve Winwood) – Steve Winwood may be best known to some for his work in Blind Faith, Traffic, and The Spencer-Davis Group, but to others it’s all about his career as a solo artist. Although one of his best tunes, “Valerie,” is on his previous album “Talking back to the Night,” it was this album that really set Steve Winwood up. “Back in the High Life Again,” Higher Love,” and “The Finer Things” are all great songs and were massive hits. You couldn’t listen to the radio without hearing them. I’ve never tired of these songs (or “Valerie” for that matter). A really good album.
1999 (Prince) – The first couple of Prince albums set him up as a controversial and talented artist. “Purple Rain,” which came after this one, was huge, but “Little Red Corvette,” “Delirious,” and the title track from this album solidified Prince’s standing as a performer and writer. Unfortunately, Prince recently passed away, but his musical legacy is, and will remain, intact.
Thriller (Michael Jackson) – Not sure much explanation is necessary here. Besides the huge amount of money this album generated, the songs were ever present and the videos for them were groundbreaking. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” (with Eddie Van Halen on guitar), and “Thriller” are all 80s monuments.
Faith (George Michael) – While George Michael saw a bit of success with Wham, his real success came as a solo performer. Even this success was short lived, but his album “Faith” was highly successful and spawned some pretty good stuff, which is why I include it here. I’m not particularly a fan of George Michael’s, and I certainly didn’t dig Wham, but I liked this album a lot.
Look Sharp (Roxette) – This is a bad ass album. Roxette never achieved this level of success again, but “Look Sharp” is certainly one of the more memorable albums of the 80s. “The Look,” “Dressed for Success,” “Dangerous,” and “Listen to Your Heart” are all masterfully crafted tunes that sound great still.
Heaven on Earth (Belinda Carlisle) – Belinda’s previous band The Go-Gos are iconic to the 80s, but I believe Belinda didn’t really start to shine until she went out on her own. She is a staple of the 80s and still playing today. Belinda has a knack for picking the greatest songs and delivering them with style. I could pick any one of her albums for this slot, but this particular album, I believe, sums it all up nicely. “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” “Circle in the Sand,” and “I Get Weak” are all brilliant. The deep cuts shine too. Belinda has released expanded editions of all her albums that include great bonus material. If you’re a fan, you need them.
Business as Usual (Men at Work) – This is a really fine album. “Who Can It Be Now?” “I Can See It in Your Eyes,” “Down Under,” and “Be Good Johnny” are just a few of the stand out tracks. The whole album sounds great. It’s a happy sounding album that never fails to put a smile on my face.
Invisible Touch (Genesis) – Okay, so maybe this is cheating a little bit. I get that Genesis is classic rock, but this is an album that transcends the classic rock sound. It feels more like a Phil Collins album to me. The whole album was a hit, period. Call it rock, call it pop, call it pop rock, who cares? The point is, these are killer songs. It’s my favorite album by Genesis, though maybe not as popular with early fans of the band. “Invisible Touch,” “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight,” “Land of Confusion,” “In Too Deep,” and “Throwing It All Away” are all on this album, along with a couple more really cool numbers. I never tire of listening to this one.
That’s it. Twelve albums from the 80s I think are pretty awesome. Read my Totally 80s post if you haven’t already. It’s sort of a companion piece to this one.