As a Beatles fan, perhaps 1980’s primary musical significance for me is that it was the year we lost John Lennon. Which would be awful no matter the circumstances, but it’s especially tragic seeing as how John had just returned to making music and finally seemed to be sorting through a lot of his personal and family issues. It’s become a kind of a holiday tradition for me at this point to commemorate his life every December 8th by listening to nothing but John’s music that day. As it turns out, Double Fantasy doesn’t quite crack my Top 5 – though if the songs from Milk & Honey had been completed and the lot released as a single John Lennon solo album, it’d easily rank #1 or #2 (sorry Yoko!). But I figured Dr. Winston O’Boogie required commemoration, and this seemed the space to do it.
Now, on to the Top 5 proper…
5. DUKE (Genesis)
You can rag on Phil Collins all you like; you can say that Genesis took a nosedive as soon as he came to prominence following Steve Hackett’s departure, turning the quintessential prog band into an outlet for his own 80s pop aspirations. You’d be wrong. Duke may not look or sound much like classic 70s Genesis. But barring “Misunderstanding” and “Turn It On Again” (which is, itself, a remarkably complex little song), this is still, by and large, highly progressive music. Need convincing? Listen to “Heathaze,” “Cul-de-Sac,” or “Duke’s Travels/Duke’s End” and get back to me.
4. TURN OF A FRIENDLY CARD (Alan Parsons Project)
If there’s any value to distinguishing between art rock and progressive rock, it’s in describing the Alan Parsons Project. The Turn of a Friendly Card is too poppy to fit most listeners’ definition of prog, too enamored of verse-chorus-verse song structures and straightforward time signatures. But it’s also highly conceptual, both musically and thematically, and, a pair of singles notwithstanding, decidedly non-commercial. In the end, though, labeling is a futile exercise; whatever you call it, The Turn of a Friendly Card is a great record, and that’s that.
3. GAUCHO (Steely Dan)
After Aja, Gaucho is often considered something of a letdown. I’m not entirely sure why. While the songs may be a little more streamlined, with more sequenced, electronic touches (here come the 80s), you still get “Babylon Sisters” and “Hey Nineteen” and “Time Out of Mind.” My only real complaint is that Becker & Fagen never saw fit to properly rerecord “The Second Arrangement” after an engineer accidentally wiped it from the Gaucho tapes. It would’ve been a standout on an already outstanding album.
2. SUPER TROUPER (ABBA)
I’ll come right out and say it: ABBA were amazing. Ulvaeus-Andersson was one of the mightiest pop partnerships of all time, married (both artistically and, for a while, romantically) to two of the finest voices of their generation. Granted, they generally made better singles than albums, but that’s a relative thing: many of their album cuts were every bit as good as the ones that conquered the airwaves. And Super Trouper is a case where even the “lesser songs” were top-notch. As for the “greater songs” (title track, “Our Last Summer,” “Andante Andante,” “The Winner Takes It All”)… wowza.
1. MAKING MOVIES (Dire Straits)
As it turns out, a keyboardist was the missing piece to Dire Straits’ puzzle. And not just any keyboardist, but Prof. Roy Bittan himself. It’s not only Bittan’s presence that lends Making Movies a sense of Springsteenian grandeur, however; it’s also Mark Knopfler’s increased confidence as a songwriter. He was always good. But on Making Movies he ascends to greatness. The characters are more richly imagined and the stakes are higher, as Knopfler cranks up his amplifier for the epic “Tunnel of Love,” trades in his Strat for a National Style “O” for the heartbreaking “Romeo & Juliet,” and teams up with producer Jimmy Iovine for a sound as big as his ambitions.
- Steely Dan – The Lost Gaucho & Outtakes (bbchron.blogspot.com)
- Video Classics: “Expresso Love” – Dire Straits (kearth101.cbslocal.com)
- CD Review: The Alan Parsons Project (newbeats.com)
- An Album for the Weekend: Duke, Genesis (1980) (brainsplatterkeyboard.wordpress.com)
- Super Trouper – ABBA (300albums.wordpress.com)