Friday, February 12, 2016

Best Albums of the Decades lists Part IV: The '80s

Even though my wife Denise is the same age as I am, the musical decade she most identifies with is the '80s.

I can understand why. The '80s was the decade where she came of age. She was a young woman in her 20s, going to clubs like Malibu, dancing all night and listening to WLIR during the day. It was a fun time in her life, and '80s music was the soundtrack to that time.

For me, as much as I love the music of the '70s, I enjoy '80s music too. I like the pop hooks, and I like the frequent emphasis on keyboards and synthesizers. I miss some of the ambition and complexity of '70s progressive rock, but it's a little like ice cream -- chocolate might be my favorite, but sometimes mocha really hits the spot too.

I also feel like female lead singers came more into their own in the '80s. The '60s and '70s had their share of female singers, but most of them scored a little higher on the vocal power spectrum than on the vocal beauty scale.  Singers like Grace Slick, Ann Wilson and even Patti Smith could blast it pretty good, but many of the most beautiful voices of these decades, such as those of Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins, were more folkie than rocker. (I'm not sure how I'd characterize Stevie Nicks -- her voice is very beautiful to me, but I can't deny it's also pretty raspy).

In the '80s, though, it seemed like female lead singers and even all-grrl bands became more prevalent, as bands like Blondie, The Go-Go's, The Bangles, and 'Til Tuesday elbowed their way onto the charts.

For years, my Runner-up album of the decade was U2's The Unforgettable Fire. Even though The Joshua Tree was the band's first Number One album in most countries, I find the heights of Unforgettable Fire to be much greater than those of any of the several singles produced by Joshua Tree. I'm particularly partial to "A Sort of Homecoming" -- I love the way the song builds. And I'm also fond of "Pride (In the Name of Love)," which is certainly one of U2's most powerful singles.

In recent years, though, I've come to consider Unforgettable Fire as an "Honorable Mention" (which really only means I consider it my third favorite record of the '80s), as another album has wormed its way up in my heart to the second position.

1980s

Runner-up: Synchronicity by The Police

I liked The Police from "Roxanne" on, but for years I would have told you Zenyatta Mondatta was my favorite Police album.  Only with the passage of time have I been able to see Synchronicity for what it was -- a "perfect album" by a band at the height of their powers.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure it out. It might have been that I was in shock when I realized that Synchronicity was the last album they'd ever make together. More probably, it was because the first single and the big commercial hit from the record was "Every Breath You Take," which I consider to be a fine example of stalker song but just a so-so single.

It was only later, in looking back on the band's career that I fully realized that Synchronicity was their masterpiece, and I was able to look past "Every Breath" to appreciate that any album that included three songs such as "King of Pain," "Wrapped Around Your Finger" and "Synchronicity II" and topped them off with some quirky treats like "Tea in the Sahara" and "Murder by Numbers," was an extraordinary record.

It's a shame that The Police never made another album together. But at least they went out at the top of their game.


Best Album: Talk Show by The Go-Go's.

From a subtle album like Synchronicity which blended songs from a variety of different styles, we move to some good driving pop-punk, and here's where I think probably people are scratching their heads and saying "Really?" (Or they would be if I anyone actually read my blog. Oh well, maybe someday...)

Talk Show wasn't a huge commercial success. I remember reading somewhere that the band found it a difficult album to make (much like Pink Floyd did with Wish You Were Here), which is maybe why they didn't make another one for 17 years. Wikipedia even points out that after the band got back together in the '90s, they never bothered to play many of the songs from this record in concert.

Well screw you, Wikipedia!

All I can tell you is that the first time I listened to Talk Show, it put a big smile on my face, and it still does.  "Head Over Heels" is my favorite Go-Go's song, even though it was never as big a hit as "We've Got the Beat" or "Vacation." It has a driving quality that gets you going right away, which I imagine is why the band used it as the opening number of their concerts so often. And "I'm With You" features what is perhaps Belinda Carlisle's best throaty vocal.

Obviously, I think Talk Show is a way underrated record. And even if no one else on the planet, maybe even including the band themselves, thinks it's the album of the decade, too bad! It's my list, after all.

Next Post: The '90s