A friend recently remarked that, with many of my Top 5’s for the 1980s, I had been relying largely on artists to whom I already felt a connection in order to fill out my lists. He was spot-on: because I simply haven’t heard that many records from the 1980s (compared to the 1960s/70s at least), I have in many cases been limited to the oeuvres of artists with whom I am already familiar from the 70s. And to be fair, I was certainly tempted to include Robert Plant’s Now & Zen and Brian Wilson’s self-titled comeback to my 1988 list. But this year represents something of a departure insofar as fully four of these five albums are by artists whose professional recording careers began in the 1980s (I mean, fine, Neil Finn had been hanging around Split Enz for years, but Crowded House’s debut is from ’86). On the flip side, though, as long as you know that I’m a huge Beatles/ELO/Bob Dylan fan, it shouldn’t take too much detective work to guess at least one album that will rank highly in ’88.
5. TEMPLE OF LOW MEN (Crowded House)
More subdued than either what came before (Crowded House) or what came after (Woodface), Temple of Low Men contains no obvious single like “Don’t Dream It’s Over” or “Weather with You.” But for all their classic pop-rock melodicism, Crowded House aren’t really about singles anyway. They’re about tracks like “I Feel Possessed” and “Kill Eye” and “When You Come” – relentlessly tuneful, yes, but also smart and mature, revealing more and more of their considerable charm with each subsequent listen.
4. TRACY CHAPMAN (Tracy Chapman)
I remarked of 10,000 Maniacs yesterday that a really good topical song can be difficult to pull off convincingly. Well, on her debut, Tracy Chapman pulls off eleven of them, painting a scathing-yet-hopeful portrait of America at the end of the Reagan era. Actually, the sound isn’t that far off from 10,000 Maniacs’ jangly soul-folk either, alternating the intensely political with the intensely personal – which, when you’re a young Black woman from Cleveland, come out to about the same thing.
3. SUNSHINE ON LEITH (The Proclaimers)
The Proclaimers are most frequently described as a kind of Edinburghian Everley Brothers, and let’s face it, that’s pretty damn accurate – listen to those fraternal harmonies! But it’s also a little too facile. You’ve heard “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” and very possibly “I’m On My Way,” and that’s all well and good. Now hear “Sunshine on Leith” or “Then I Met You” or “Come On Nature” and you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for twins Charlie and Craig Reid’s Caledonian soul.
2. EVERYTHING (The Bangles)
Everything is a little less commercially-minded than Different Light, though it still finds the mod/girl group revivalism of the Bangles’ debut filtered through a Top 40 lens. So saying, it’s a touch uneven, branching out into heavy hard rock (“Watching the Sky”) and power balladry (“Eternal Flame”). But for all that, I think it just might be my favorite Bangles album. It contains two strong contenders for my flat-out favorite Bangles song anyway: “Complicated Girl” and “I’ll Set You Free.”
1. TRAVELING WILBURYS, VOL. 1 (The Traveling Wilburys)
Wrangling Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison into the same studio sounds like a recipe for either mind-boggling brilliance or unmitigated disaster. The Traveling Wilburys give us neither; what they do give us is one of the most downright fun albums I’ve ever heard. Between the free-association ad-libs that conclude “Dirty World,” Dylan’s Springsteen parody-cum-homage “Tweeter & the Monkey Man,” and the relentlessly joyous group showcase “End of the Line,” I can only imagine that Traveling Wilburys, Vol.1 must’ve been an absolute blast to record, because it’s an absolute blast to listen to.
- Some Dreams Come True: Bangles’ “Everything” to Be Expanded by Cherry Pop (theseconddisc.com)
- Review: Sunshine on Leith [2013 Musical] (thepopcornmuncher.wordpress.com)
- Fast Car – Tracy Chapman (song) (thecuriousastronomer.wordpress.com)
- Paul Hester & Neil Finn (proudlybipolar.wordpress.com)
- CK Retro Review: The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 by the Traveling Wilburys (countdownkid.wordpress.com)