Given my predilection for synth-pop, and my belief that the 1980s are often unfairly lambasted, especially among classic/progressive rock listeners, it’s surprising to me how few full albums I actually own from the mid-80s. “Greatest hits” packages and individual tracks, sure, but precious few full albums. And then I look at lists of the so-called “great albums” of the mid-80s and realize that, with a handful of exceptions, few of them even appeal to me all that much. Hüsker Dü? The Cure? The Jesus & Mary Chain? Even the Pogues, who by rights ought to jive at least with my deeply-ingrained trad-Irish streak, leave me cold. Oh well. Things pick back up in ’86.
5. STRANGE ANIMAL (Gowan)
Lawrence Gowan has evidently stood in for Dennis DeYoung in Styx since 1999, and you can sort of hear why in his emotive vocals and keyboard prowess on Strange Animal. But this album is significantly quirkier than what you’d typically expect from Styx. “A Criminal Mind” and “(You’re a) Strange Animal” found success as singles in Canada, though you’d be unlikely to hear them stateside. A shame, really – it’s better than much of what was dominating the charts in ’85.
4. TWO WHEELS GOOD [STEVE MCQUEEN] (Prefab Sprout)
Two Wheels Good was an accidental discovery for me – it was one of many records from the mid-to-late-80s in my father-in-law’s sizable collection, and I liked the band’s unusual name. When I put it on, I didn’t expect to find a jazz-pop gem like this. The clean, radio-ready production belies the considerable sophistication of Paddy McAloon’s songwriting – I’d describe it as a blend of Steely Dan and Joe Jackson, but that doesn’t quite do it justice.
3. NO JACKET REQUIRED (Phil Collins)
Because I have very little “street cred” left at this point, I think it’s okay to come right out and say that I love Phil Collins, and no amount of overplaying on 80s radio is going to change my mind. No Jacket Required was almost obscenely successful, yielding no fewer than four Top 10 hits (and two #1’s) in the U.S. alone. But every track is a winner, from the Prince soundalike opener “Sussudio” to the Beatles-esque closer “We Said Hello Goodbye.”
2. MISPLACED CHILDHOOD (Marillion)
Marillion train their neo-prog ambitions on a full-fledged concept album and hit the bull’s eye with the strongest record of their career. Exactly what that concept is isn’t entirely clear – lost love and lost innocence seem to figure heavily in Fish’s surreal, poetic narrative. But the music, which moves seamlessly between time signatures and moods without sacrificing emotional depth, is some of the best progressive rock of the 1980s. AND you get a pair of great singles (“Kayleigh,” “Lavender”) to boot.
1. BROTHERS IN ARMS (Dire Straits)
I recently heard someone refer to Dire Straits as “dad rock.” And if you’re of my generation (i.e., between the ages of about 20 and 30), you know EXACTLY what that means. And you know that Dire Straits is pretty much the ultimate “dad rock” band. But hey, my dad introduced me to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd too, so it’s not as if that’s a bad thing. In any event, between making me glad to be alive with “Walk of Life,” rocking my socks off with one of the all-time great riffs with “Money for Nothing,” comforting me in my distress with “Why Worry,” and reducing me to a puddle with “Brothers in Arms,” Mark Knopfler is the best damn guitarist on the face of the earth as far as I’m concerned – “dad rock” or no.
- Styx singer Lawrence Gowan is still a strange animal (arts.nationalpost.com)
- HISTORIC ENGLISH CITY “TAKEN OFF THE MAP” – Prefab Sprout Blamed (thriftyvinyl.wordpress.com)
- Brothers in Arms – Dire Straits (shireensingh.wordpress.com)
- Happy Phil Collins Day! Yes, that’s a thing (sidetwo.wordpress.com)
- Album Review – Marillion, “Misplaced Childhood” (tylerwoodbridge.wordpress.com)