1980 in Music

My music reviews for music released originally in 1980.

1. Talking Heads: Remain in Light (10/10)

I don’t know anything about “dance” music. Nothing at all, really. At some point (in the ’70s), “dance” music moved away from other popular music and became its own thing.

But given my ignorance, I’m still willing to say that has to be the most artful and accomplished integration of “dance” music into rock music and, in particular, the sound of Talking Heads – a nervy, antsy, arty sound that, in theory, shouldn’t have meshed at all well with dance music.

They had already been heading this direction, but this is complete integration. The music is not only danceable but it’s insanely complex. (There are a lot of overdubs and loops, to put it mildly.) Repetitive backing vocals and the loops make it accessible while Byrne’s idiosyncratic lyrics and Adrian Belew’s brain-destroying guitar solos make it way more artsy fartsy than probably any other record that tried to get people to dance before it.

Even years after first hearing this, I have heard nothing else like this, within their catalogue or without. It remains an absolute classic. One of the few best albums of the ’80s and utterly inimitable.

2. David Bowie: Scary Monsters (10/10)

Full disclosure: this may be my favourite Bowie album, so I have a hard time being objective. (The other contender is Aladdin Sane. Hot take, I know.) I’m not saying it’s his greatest. There are a number of albums that he’s recorded over the ’70s that probably qualify as “greater.” But it’s pretty damn close.

Whether or not the “Berlin Trilogy” was really as ground-breaking as most of us assume, it was certainly the first time a lot of people were exposed to both indeterminacy in music (especially popular music) – rather than just strict “improvisation” – and it was some of the earliest pop music to be so reliant on emerging electronic instruments. Other people may have got there first, but nobody listened to them. Bowie’s great innovation (as always) was bringing this stuff to the masses.

But of course the “Berlin Trilogy” didn’t really sell. And the thing about this record is that it has the hooks that those albums didn’t. Sure, those records had their share of catchy songs, but also their share of confounding impressions and song fragments. Here, Bowie has integrated his deliberate avant gardism of that period with his knack for writing extremely catchy melodies. It’s a marriage made in heaven.

Sometimes the avant gardism is subtle – such as whatever is wrong with his vocals on the title track – and sometimes it’s not – such as with virtually every note Fripp plays on the record. But because it’s all married to strong melodies, we don’t really notice how difficult the record is (in relation to contemporary pop rock, if not in relation to his “Berlin” records).

The other thing that, I think, is worth admiring, is Bowie’s continued relevance in the face of post-punk and new wave, the former which he had a vital hand in the creation of. Listen to other music (made by much younger musicians) from 1980.  This sounds as forward-thinking, as vital and it still sounds good (i.e. it doesn’t sound dated). (That’s because Bowie was a better songwriter than most of the people he influenced.)

Like everyone says, this is Bowie’s last great album. But, for me, it’s also among his very greatest. It’s perhaps the closest he’s ever come to balancing his desire to be both popular and brave at the same time.

3. Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (10/10)

When I first heard this, I acknowledged that it was good – no, great – but something about it didn’t connect. I preferred Black Flag and Minor Threat and didn’t think this was “hardcore” enough or some stupid shit like that.

And, honestly, maybe a decade later, I cannot believe how wrong I was. It was one of those grudging 9/10 ratings I give, where I acknowledge the historical importance of something but don’t like it. I have no idea what I was smoking.

Not only is this record as perfectly “hardcore” as Black Flag or Minor Threat, but it is a lot more purposeful (than Black Flag, anyway). So many of these songs are classics – some of the very best political punk music, nay, political rock music – ever made. “Kill the Poor,” “California Uber Alles,” “Holiday in Cambodia,” and their cover of “Viva Las Vegas” are particular standouts, but the whole record is flawless; one of those records that feels like a “greatest hits” compilation (not that I would know, having never heard another Kennedys record ever).

Reflecting back on the classic hardcore punk records of the early ’80s, I know find myself putting this second only to Minor Threat’s compilation Complete Discography, which shouldn’t really count either.


3. Joy Division: Closer (10/10)

I don’t know what’s happened to me. Usually as you get older, you’re supposed to be less and less able to sympathize with the violent emotions of the teen years and young adulthood.

I can’t say that I liked Joy Division when I first heard them many years ago – a combination of not sympathizing with the lyrics and finding them over-hyped compared to a band like, say, Wire – but I tried to respect them. How things have changed.

This is as classic as any British post punk album can get. It’s more difficult and more ambitious than the debut (who the hell would open with “Atrocity Exhibition”? I mean, seriously…) and, arguably, their sound is more fully formed. Every song here is excellent and manages to combine menace, the philosophical confusion of youth (and punk), danceability, and literacy in a combination perhaps never equaled throughout the post punk movement.

Though far from the first post punk band, this second Joy Division album might be one of the genre’s earliest masterpieces. It certainly contains pretty much everything you’d want from the genre, while remaining distinctly Joy Division-esque, and while being arty as fuck.

A true classic. (Young me was an idiot.)

5. Bauhaus: In the Flat Field (10/10)

I wrote this about five years ago and I’m not entirely satisfied:

It might be thought of as “goth” now but this is very clearly post-punk, and excellent post-punk at that.  Much creepier/moodier than much of the other 80s stuff labelled goth and a lot more interesting.  Some of the experiments are clearly just things young kids would do but they manage to work despite this.  Great stuff.

I don’t think that really captures this record.
Sure, these guys are indebted to Joy Division; which moody British post punk band wasn’t? But, by harnessing religious imagery as they did, they clearly distinguished themselves from the Joy Division-following heard. And not only that, their approach is significantly more “punk” than so many of these other post punk bands. This is rock music, folks, and that’s not something you can say for all post punk, for sure.

And this is self-produced! And yet, despite that, the little production quirks fit the music perfectly, which is a rare thing for a bunch of kids.

Maybe this will sound crazy to you, but I think this is one of the most perfectly formed debut albums ever. That’s right, ever.

6. Henryk Gorecki: Harpsichord Concerto Op. 40 (10/10)

The Harpsichord Concerto is really neat. Two things about it I love: The strings (orchestra as a whole actually) sound like they are a mellotron, practically. I don’t know how they did that but it’s really cool. It practically sounds like a duet between the harpsichord and a cheesy keyboard. (This isn’t true for the entire piece, by any means, but it is true much of the time.) The second thing is how, when the shifts occur (the bars end, or what have you) sometimes either the harpsichord or orchestra is out of time. It’s like a comment on minimalism, or some kind of attempt at moving beyond it. I’m not sure which (maybe it’s both). But it’s cool and it makes it sound like one of the speakers is lagging behind (if the concerto were being broadcast). And it manages to do this while still sounding like part of the tradition – at least in the second unit, which sounds at times, both like classical music and Bernard Herrmann.

Great stuff.

7. The Ganelin Trio: Ancora Da Capo (10/10)

Free jazz can seem a little directionless even at the best of times. Now, I realize that is indeed a huge part of the point of being “free” but, in the wrong hands, it can just be hours of seemingly purposeless noodling. That being said, sometimes the very anarchy of free jazz is what is so appealing about it.

On this recording, the Ganelin Trio achieve the remarkable accomplishment of making their free jazz sound directed. In fact this is one of the few times I have listened to a post-1960s free set – a pure one, not one influenced by it – and felt like it was indeed at least partially composed by the credited composer. It feels like there is indeed a direction, an intention; i.e. there is movement towards something. That sense of direction, which is fairly unique within free jazz, combined with the rather non-traditional influences on this particular set – European folk music, I think! – makes this one of the truly great free jazz recordings after what you might call the revolution had basically passed.

Just incredible stuff.

8. Siouxsie and the Banshees: Kaleidoscope (9/10)

In 2012 or so I wrote the following:

I have no idea what kind of departure this record was for the band, as its the first Banshees record I’ve heard. So even though I read that this was a big departure, I don’t have any idea.

What I hear is well-executed UK post punk with “brighter” arrangements (for lack of a better word) than normal, and certainly that should not be a surprise, given the presence of a member of Magazine.

Siouxsie Sioux has been incredibly influential on female vocalists, especially in the world of Indie Rock. That’s readily apparent here. And I figure that should be acknowledge. But, to me, the real interest here in the (relatively) unconventional arrangements/production, which distinguishes this record from so much other UK post punk, which can get rather dour and somewhat repetitive in terms of sounds utilized.

I’m not sure I’ve had enough listens to fully digest the songs themselves, but they strike me as better than average for this genre. Again, it’s more the way they are performed which is of interest, because there’s a lot going on.

Pretty good stuff, though I feel like maybe I need a little more time to fully appreciate it.

Suffice it to say, I’ve had plenty more listens since and I’ve upped my rating. This is one of the biggest early post punk records, helping to both define the Banshees’ mature sound and move the genre out from under the shadows of Joy Division.

9. The Feelies: Crazy Rhythms (9/10)

I wrote the following in 2010:

I’m not sure that these are particularly crazy rhythms – though I guess they are for 70s white guys not named Eno and Byrne – but this is great stuff. The songs are memorable (so is the cover) and the band is on. To paraphrase somebody famous (I can’t remember who) it sounds complicated but it really is pretty simple. I’m sure I should say something else but there isn’t much to say.

It’s great.

10. Motorhead: Ace of Spades (9/10)

Motorhead is the one NWOBHM well you’re not sure whether it’s punk or metal. And though I may prefer Iron Maiden, for example, and have never found myself thinking Motorhead were anywhere near as awesome as so many other people seem to think, it’s impossible to deny this record’s influence on so much (Thrash more than anything, obviously).

Sometimes the punk influence in NWOBHM feels like a marketing gimmick or a fad. Not here. Despite Lemmy’s heritage in a prog rock band, this is a band that sounds exactly like you think NWOBHM should sound like: metal musicians playing punk…or is it punk musicians playing metal? Regardless, it’s rock and roll. And it’s one of the best rock and roll records of its era.

11. Young Marble Giants: Colossal Youth (9/10)

It’s incredible what space can do.

Musical space was not something present in a lot the popular music of the 1970s, though the DIY spirit of punk brought a lot of it back. Young Marble Giants take it all further, with just voice, guitar or organ, bass and a drum machine. (And I think there might be an overdub in there somewhere.)

With such a minimal sound, Moxham’s songs sound purer than most pop music, though Statton’s voice helps with this sense of innocence. They are all strong melodies but hardly all examples of excellent songwriting. But the arrangements make all of them sound fantastic. “Brand – New – Life” is the best, in my eyes, and really deserving of a quality cover.

It’s kind of a miracle Phillip’s bass is so active as it’s hard to imagine this music sounding even more minimalist but it would if a conventional bassist were playing in his stead.

Proof that pop music can be played in a unique and captivating way without resorting to orchestras and overdubs.

12. Jack DeJohnette: Special Edition (9/10)

There is stigma against drummers-as-composers in rock for good reason; rarely is there a drummer who can actually write good songs (Grant Hart is probably the notable exception), at least without help. I can’t say that I have listened to enough drummer / composers in jazz to know if that is true there as well, but most music I have heard written by drummers in jazz is absurdly drum-focused. So it is more than a little refreshing to be exposed to a drummer who writes really compelling music. His compositions appear to be a compelling mix of free and Raymond Scott (at least “Zoot Suite” does), so that makes me happy. And he is ably supported by a band I am totally unfamiliar with but who seem to be more than merely average jazz sidemen, capable of some really great lines. The Coltrane covers are good too.

13. Iron Maiden (9/10)

My knowledge of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal has been confined to Motorhead and the genre’s influences (primarily Thrash) for most of my metal-listening life. I was aware of its importance but never really had the time to give it much of a chance.

The joke in the older metal camp is that Maiden is just faster “Achilles Last Stand” ad nauseum. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I barely hear the gallop here.

Instead what I hear is a band that has managed to almost perfectly united the conventions of mid ’70s metal – especially the guitar and vocal lines – with the pace, aggression and grit of first wave punk. In fact, Maiden sound, at times, even more dangerous than first wave punk. (And would all the time if their lyrics were political.)

And whereas Motorhead definitely lean on the punk influence perhaps to the detriment of their metal side, it’s obvious this is still a metal band.

A great record.

14. The Cramps: Songs the Lord Taught Us (9/10)

I always thought the Cramps invented Psychobilly. But I was reading an AV Club primer the other month and it implied that the Cramps are not pure enough to really be Psychobilly, i.e. they’re too diverse. I find this extraordinarily odd. Not only did the writer (and presumably other people) believe that the Cramps are diverse, but he seemed to believe (along with others) that the best Psychobilly is even less diverse than this record. Bizarre, no?

Anyway, let’s just pretend/assume they did invent Psychobilly. To the best of my knowledge, their approach was pretty unique at the time: way more rockabilly influenced than any other contemporary punk band, but with enough punk (and glam) influences to very distinguishable from the rockabilly revival that emerged after the first wave of punk. Far as I know, what they did here was utterly unique: rockabilly paired with punk and glam, and lyrics from horror movies. They created something utterly unique – again, to the best of my knowledge. And that’s why this record should be celebrated. That, and if you cared to, you can dance to it.

Also, this is one of my favourite album titles of all time.

15. Circle Jerks: Group Sex (9/10)

A super brief record that distills hardcore down to its essence. Read the review of Group Sex.

16. Peter Gabriel [Melt] (9/10)

On December 31, 2008, I wrote the following:

This may sound stupid, but this sounds little too much like 1980. They had a good thing going, those Genesis guys…and while I know that version of the band could never have topped The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, neither Gabriel nor the rest of the band ever demonstrated that kind of creativity again. That being said, this record is fine. There are some fine moments. However, the “world music” feels almost flown in compared to everything else. Both Bowie and the Discipline version of Crimson do aspects of this better. I will probably like it more in time. but it just seems somewhat underwhelming at this point.

Read the new review of Peter Gabriel [Melt].

17. The Police: Zenyatta Mondatta (9/10)

This has fast become my favourite Police album. It’s more sophisticated than their earliest work and it also avoids the whole “Sting’s backing band” of the last stuff. There was some filler on first listen (mostly the instrumentals) but these have grown on me along with the rest. For one thing I think this album proves, as much as any of their albums, that they were perhaps the most literate (without being indecipherable) band – at least the most literate mainstream band – of their era. This music has the energy of their earliest music with the interesting musical ideas which would continue fairly unabated through the remaining albums. And of course they were still a band, which is nice. Pretty classic.

18. Diamond Head: Lightning to the Nations [White Album] (9/10)

Grittier than the biggest NWOBHM bands. Read the review of Lightning to the Nations aka the White Album.

19. Swells Maps in “Jane from Occupied Europe” (9/10)

In 2012 I absolutely loved this:

This is the kind of thing that reminds you why “post-punk” was initially such a wonderful thing. Much like psychedelia a decade before – albeit in a totally different way – post-punk meant “no rules,” at least before it became conventionalized.

Swell Maps manage to become avant garde by not being anything in the first place. This is a glorious racket full of ideas that sensible people would have thrown away.

Ridiculous and lots of fun.

As I get older, I have less and less tolerance for undisciplined craziness. I’ve softened on it in the meantime, just a bit, and I kind of think I overrated it back then. I’m not 100% sure I want to drop it down to an 8/10 though, which is why it’s in this spot.

20. Kurtis Blow (8/10)

A landmark but a flawed one. (See the tracks where he sings.) Read the review of Kurtis Blow’s debut album.

21. Dexys Midnight Runner: Searching for the Young Soul Rebels (8/10)

Now this is a soul record. Read the review of Searching for the Young Soul Rebels.

22. The Psychedelic Furs (8/10)

Catchier songs than most post punk. And a saxophone. Read the review of the Psychedelic Furs’ debut.

23. Kate Bush: Never for Ever (8/10)

Great as always. Read the review of Never for Ever.

24. Killing Joke (8/10)

What I said in 2012:

I feel like this is what would happen to Joy Division if they were aware of Throbbing Gristle and wanted to dance…more.  It’s a really bizarre hybrid that somehow manages to work (though it has dated somewhat). If the songwriting was slightly stronger it would be an absolute classic. Still remarkable for its time.

I feel like maybe I overstated the industrial influence just a little bit (though it’s very much there). In fact, this time around, I think I detect more of a hard rock influence in addition to the obvious industrial one and the extraordinarily overpowering Joy Division influence.

This is sort of the missing link between Post Punk (and early industrial) and the noise rock of bands like Big Black. It’s hard to imagine a whole realm of more extreme “heavy” music existing without this record. It’s also hilariously dancy for such an extreme-sounding record.

That being said, it’s still very, very indebted to Joy Division, which is, I guess, why I’m okay with only giving it an 8/10.

25. Prince: Dirty Mind (8/10)

A fusion like nobody else but Prince could pull off. But it lacks the self-assurance of his later performances. And the incest song is a little much for me. Read the review of Dirty Mind.

26. Echo and the Bunnymen: Crocodiles (8/10)

I think I underrate this band but it’s because they sound like so many other bands. Read the review of Crocodiles.

27. The Teardrop Explodes: Kilimanjaro (8/10)

Supposedly the birth of neo psychedelia, this record is really just well done post punk with the odd unconventional touch (horns, psychedelic effects, an organ). Read the review of Kilimanjaro.

28. The Comsat Angels: Waiting for a Miracle (8/10)

I wrote this absurd review back in 2012 or something:

To my ears, the debut of The Comsat Angels marks the point where post punk tried to reconcile itself with more conventional rock music. Though there are still hallmarks of the post punk sound, there’s also much more of a focus on conventional songwriting. It helps that the songs are mostly excellent and so it doesn’t sound like the sound has been watered down for commercial viability or other ideas of accessibility. (Is this the birth of Alternative Rock?)

One thing, though: listening to the expanded edition I cannot help but like the demos a little more than the finished products. It sounds, at least a little bit, like someone – the band? the producer? the label? – made them a little less interesting and a little more accessible in the finished product, which is unfortunate.

But that is a small nitpick. This is a pretty great debut record, combining excellent songwriting with most of the hallmarks of English post punk, if not at its most extreme.

I don’t know what I was thinking: this record is super post punky. That doesn’t mean I dislike it, I quite like it. But the “birth of alternative rock” it is absolutely not.

29. The Monochrome Set: Love Zombies (8/10)

An excellent, quirky new wave record. Read the review of Love Zombies.

30. Aqsak Maboul: Un peu de l’âme des bandits (8/10)

Fun avant rock. Read the review of Un peu de l’ame des bandits.

31. Rush: Permanent Waves (8/10)

This is the beginning of Rush’s bizarre pivot from prog to new wave and synthpop (“synth rock”?). People probably didn’t realize it at the time, as all of Rush’s trademarks are still here, including one song that is nearly 8 minutes long and one that is over 9.

Though I struggle with some of Peart’s lyrics as an adult – though he has distanced himself from libertarianism in recent years – There are a lot of my favourite Rush tracks here. But there are also two ballads, which feels like a lot for Rush. I will note, however, that one of those ballads has my favourite moment in a Rush ballad, when Lifeson strays into fairly strange territory for him at the end of “Different Strings” – it’s an ending so cool it deserves a better song.

The impressive thing about Rush at the time and on this record is how they were able to change their sound gradually, but enough so that they wouldn’t sound like dinosaurs in a few years. Basically no other progressive rock bands were able to do that while maintaining their musical bonafides.

32. The Associates: The Affectionate Punch (8/10)

An excellent, if slightly derivative, debut. Read the review of The Affectionate Punch.

33. John Foxx: Metamatic (8/10)

Very austere, downbeat synthpop. Read the review of Metamatic.

34. AC/DC: Back in Black (8/10)

When I was younger I would have described this as the epitome of big dumb rock, and meant it as a compliment. I felt like never before or since had so much good big dumb rock been assembled in one place. Though the album lacks my favourite AC/DC song (“Ride On”) I still feel like it is practically a Greatest Hits record. Add “Dirty Deeds,” “Highway to Hell,” “Thunderstruck,” “Ride On” and maybe a few other songs and you don’t really need to hear any other AC/DC. And really, you don’t need to listen to much other big dumb rock. That’s how I felt. Maybe I still feel that way about the music.

When I was 19, I participated in frosh week when I went to university, like so many other people. Unlike (male) students today, I was lucky that social media didn’t exist. So I chanted lots of sexual innuendo, much of it misogynist, and I got drunk and yelled terrible things at CIS refs. And I meant none of it. And I don’t think I thought anyone did.

In the last few years, a number of very brave women (and some less brave men, I suppose) have helped expose what they call “rape culture,” a male mindset where women are implicitly asking for sex even when (especially when?) they are explicitly saying they do not want sex.

I always thought the misogynist frosh chants were funny. I didn’t see the harm. I couldn’t imagine anyone could possibly take them seriously. Unfortunately, knowing what I know now about how human behaviour is shaped, I know this is actually not true. The things people say indeed have an affect on us. (Do not, for a moment, take this as some kind of anti-free speech rant, please. I am a borderline free speech absolutist and would not, for one second, suggest, that the government should end misogyny through legislation such as the highly problematic “hate speech” legislation we have in Canada.)

And though I am nearly 100% sure these chants had virtually zero affect on me they probably had an affect on others. Rather, they probably compounded various other lessons learned earlier in life. I was raised by a feminist single mother and so have certain ideas about how to treat women ingrained in me since childhood. Not every male in Canada was so lucky.

I cannot prove that the chants we yelled and sang at my school promoted “rape culture.” But one of my roommates in second year probably raped a woman – I say ‘probably’ because I can never know, it’s not like I was present – and there was more than one other accusation I was aware of while I was at the school. None of these were handled well, by the school or the community at large.

What the hell does any of this have to do with AC/DC?

Well, these are some misogynist lyrics. And not only that, they are lyrics that could very fairly be perceived as promoting “rape culture,” particularly “Let Me Put My Love Into You.” Even though Johnson sings that he is asking her for permission, he also sings the following:

Don’t you struggle

Don’t you fight

Don’t you worry cause it’s your turn tonight.

It’s not subtle.

Other songs imply women are dogs and whores. There are, of course, a few songs that aren’t about having (possibly non-consensual) sex with women, and those are fine. But the ones that are about sex are alarming. When I was 19, they were funny, albeit dumb funny. Example:

She’s using her head again

She’s using her head

She’s using her head again

I’m justa giving the dog a bone.

But as an adult, they are a lot harder to take.

So I’ve been doing this podcast for a nearly half a year now, and it’s been my first real exposure to hip hop. And the misogyny of hip hop really bothers me. And I’m left asking myself a second question about these lyrics? Why do I think it’s okay for AC/DC to sing about the subjugation of women but I don’t think it’s okay for Ice Cube? (That’s a rhetorical question. I am a white male.)

All of this is to say that, though I feel like this album is, musically, the epitome of big dumb hard rock – and I unconditionally love the break in “Shoot to Thrill” – I don’t feel like I can enjoy this record in good conscience any more. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy it – though you might want to think about why you do – and that doesn’t mean that anything should be done to prevent others from enjoying it, but I’m done with it. Listening to it for the podcast should be my last experience of it. (If I can stick to my principles.)

35. Magazine: The Correct Use of Soap (8/10)

Even though Devoto wasn’t in the Buzzcocks for very long, the association isn’t surprising once you hear Magazine. Though one of the original post punk bands (perhaps, because of this), they are considerably more accessible than the other post-punk bands. And at least on this album, considerably closer to punk. They sort of strike me as more American-style New Wave than their British Post Punk contemporaries.

And that’s why I don’t think this is quite as amazing as I want it to be. I mean, I like the songs a lot – they do a lot better job of writing catchy songs than most other British Post Punk bands – but there were a number of other Post Punk bands making much more daring music at the same time. So this is good, but not a classic.

36. X: Los Angeles (8/10)

On the whole this is a pretty great record and Xene is pretty damn alluring. There is a little too much Manzarek here for my liking. From the liner notes it sounds like the Doors cover and, perhaps, by extension, his involvement, was somehow a condition of the release, which is annoying and also not very “punk.” His organ adds something to their sound which was missing from most punk music of the era, but it is still a little odd that they didn’t seem to know “Soul Kitchen” before they did it.

Read the new review.

37. The Return of The Durutti Column (8/10)

In 2012 I wrote the following:

This is a really unique take on Post Punk, if it can even be called that, featuring expressive guitar playing over some pretty minimalist bass and drums (sometimes not even that). In fact, it’s more the era it was made in and the legendary post punk producer who supervised it that mark it out as post punk; I’m not sure it really qualifies.

But regardless of what it is, the music is lovely and really stands out from the other British bands of the era, though the production is kind of dated.
Pretty interesting.

Some people label this the beginning of post rock, which feels like a very odd thing to say. It’s certainly on that spectrum a little bit but it has more in common with jazz guitar, to my ears, than it does with what we now call post rock. Not to say that it’s jazz, but only to say that just because instrumental guitar music exists doesn’t mean it’s proto post rock.

Also: it’s a drum machine, not drums. My mistake.

38. The Cure: Seventeen Seconds (8/10)

I liked this a lot more than Faith for some reason. Read the review of Seventeen Seconds.

39. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (8/10)

A pretty great synthpop debut. Read the review of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s debut album.

40. Simple Minds: Empires and Dance (8/10)

That first track feels almost like a revolution. The rest of the album is a lot more conventional. Read the review of Empires and Dance.

41. Colin Newman: A-Z (8/10)

Wire without quite as good songwriting. Read the review of A-Z.

42. The db’s: Stands for Decibels (8/10)

Years ago (2007?) I wrote the following:

This is kooky power pop record with so many weird detours that it’s borderline new wave. Individual verses and choruses (and, occasionally, whole songs) sound like they belong to a typical power pop group, but then there’s a weird effect, or weird, unpredictable time change or left turn. It’s no wonder it wasn’t a big success at the time, as it’s rather weird. But the idiosyncrasy helps a lot. It’s wacky, in a good way.

Listening to it in 2021, I had forgotten I had ever heard it before but had a sneaking suspicion that I had hear these songs. So that got me thinking that their catchiest songs must have been covered by other acts, and I was going to look them up on Second Hand Songs. And I was thinking how insanely catchy they must be to sound so familiar to me. Turns out, I knew them already.

Anyway, as power pop goes, I like this much more than most, because of the quirks.

43. Pretenders (8/10)

A good set of songs played well. No, this is not what New Wave actually sounds like. Read the review of the Pretenders’ debut album.

44. Wipers: Is This Real? (8/10)

In 2009 I wrote the following “review”:

It’s pretty great stuff.  You can hear that he’s already doing different things than the other hardcore bands. Not quite as out there as Youth of America but getting there.

So this is very well done but pretty straight-forward American punk music clearly much closer to first wave punk than hardcore, despite the year it came out. (Christgau calls it “one hook” music, which isn’t far off.) But the band has a distinctive sound and, if you squint really hard, you can see the origins of grunge in how Sage sings and plays guitar.

45. The Sound: Jeopardy (8/10)

A classic post punk record (with touches of punk and new wave) that was released just a little too late to be a big deal. Read the review of Jeopardy.

46. Burning Spear: Hail H.I.M. (8?/10)

Pretty good dubby reggae. Read the review of Hail H.I.M.

47. Ultravox: Vienna (7/10)

Good, relatively diverse songs. Read the review of Vienna.

48. Tuxedomoon: Half-Mute (7/10)

Borderline ambient post punk! Except when it’s not! Read the review of Half-Mute.

49. Buggles: The Age of Plastic (7/10)

Really well done but a little too derivative. Read the review of The Age of Plastic.

50. The Soft Boys: Underwater Moonlight (7/10)

A super influential album that I just wasn’t feeling for some reason. Read the review of Underwater Moonlight.

51. The B-52’s: Wild Planet (7/10)

B-52’s Debut Part 2. Read the review of Wild Planet.

52. Judas Priest: British Steel (7/10)

I hae heard that this was sort of the Black Album of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal – the genre’s more popular and most accessible record to date. I don’t know Judas Priest, and I have no idea how much of a departure this was from earlier Priest albums, but it’s certainly significantly more accessible than Maiden or Motorhead. (Also, obviously far more “metal” than the latter.)

Read the rest of the review.

53. Elvis Costello & the Attractions: Get Happy!! (7/10)

A decent set of songs as part of a fairly radical change in direction. Read the review of Get Happy!!

54. Devo: Freedom of Choice (7/10)

Devolved Devo is still Devo. Read the review of Freedom of Choice.

55. U2: Boy (7/10)

Years ago, I wrote this “review”:

Too many songs about shadows. The best part about this is Larry Mullen’s choice of percussion. You can hear the basic ingredients but it’s pretty raw.

I think that U2 does emerge fully formed here, at least in terms of their core sound, though their songwriting would get better and their arrangements would obviously get far more elaborate.

My biggest problem with early U2 is how it’s clearly just arena post punk. And I like the genuine article – which is weirder and far more interesting – a lot more.

That’s not to say they’re bad, though. They clearly know what they are doing, and they have two things most of their contemporaries don’t: extremely catchy songs and a sense of grandeur. (A third: the best singer in the genre. That helps.)

But if I have to choose to listen to U2 or basically any other major UK post punk band, that choice is an obvious one for me, and it’s not U2.

56. Queen: The Game (7/10)

Queen can play any style they want. But their songs are never consistent. Read the review of The Game.

57. The Jam: Sound Affects (7/10)

In 2012 I wrote:

From the opening bass line of “Pretty Green” the shift in The Jam’s sound is obvious. Yes, there are still Mod traces and Weller’s songs are still recognizable as Weller songs, but it’s clear that the UK post punk obsession with reggae, funk and David Bowie has found its way to The Jam.

On the one hand, that’s a good thing – one thing I don’t love about The Jam is how relatively indistinguishable each of the first four records is from one another. (That’s not to say some aren’t better than others…) With Sound Affects this ends.

But This feels derivative to a greater extent than their blatant Who (and Kinks) worship did. I actually thought David Bowie was singing guest vocals on “Monday.”

It’s still very much recognizable as The Jam but it sounds of its time as much as any record since their debut.

I mostly agree with that now.

58. Adam and the Ants: Kings of the Wild Frontier (7/10)

Quirky arrangements don’t necessarily make you a new wave band. Read the review of Kings of the Wild Frontier.

59. Bruce Cockburn: Humans (7/10)

I don’t mind his songs but I don’t like his arrangement decisions. Read the review of Humans.

60. Hall & Oates: Voices (7/10)

Better than expected. Read the review of Voices.

61. Diana Ross: diana (7/10)

I don’t like disco but this is a pretty good example. Read the review of Diana Ross’ self-title disco album.

62. Weather Report: Night Passage (7*/10)

63. Bruce Springsteen: The River (6/10)

I just don’t like his aesthetic. There is nothing wrong with this – it’s got a lot of strong material for a double album – but I just don’t like the way he chooses to perform his songs. Read the review of The River.

64. Bob Marley & the Wailers: Uprising (6/10)

A little too much religion for me. Read the review of Uprising.

65. The [English] Beat: I Just Can’t Stop It (6/10)

I’m not really into 2 Tone. Read the review of I Just Can’t Stop It.

66. Pete Townshend: Empty Glass (6/10)

I wish a certain band were performing the songs instead. Read the review of Empty Glass.

67. Buzzcocks: A Different Kind of Tension (6/10)

68. The Clash: Sandinista! (6/10)

If London Calling is the punk White Album then Sandinista! is the even more of a kitchen album that the Beatles were too smart (or too mad at each other) to make. Whereas London Calling is a tour de force of some of the best Strummer/Jones material, spanning more genres than any punk band had ever contemplated before, Sandinista! is far more material, far more inconsistent, with way more ambition. (Or, at the very least, an ability to edit.)

This record is somehow is somehow almost 40 minutes longer than All Things Must Pass. It’s about 5 minutes shorter than Use Your Illusion (if you combine both records) but it’s over 20 minutes longer than Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. That is, it’s one of the longest records ever released by a major artist. And there’s a lot of filler.

That filler includes children singing a song from The Clash and multiple dub versions of songs on earlier parts of the record. (One weird sequencing decision has the dub version of “One More Time” following it immediately, which is even more bizarre than just including them all on Side 6/F.)

But this was the first Clash record I ever had and made me a fan of the band. At this point, I know every track and like more of them than I should. And there is some material on here that would probably make the cut on London Calling (or Combat Rock at least). My problem is that there isn’t enough of it, especially compared to those two ’90s behemoths I mentioned.

For anyone who is not a big Clash fan, is there any reason to wade through nearly 2 and a half hours of music to find the 10-15 good or great Clash songs on this record? I don’t think so.

69. Genesis: Duke (6/10)

Many, many years ago I did a run through all the post-Gabriel Genesis records and rated most of them 4/10 because I was just determined to insist that prog genesis > pop genesis. I don’t know how much thought I gave this one, or any of them, really, nor how many listens. I just said “This sucks!” and moved on.

Well, that wasn’t fair. Whatever I might think of pop Genesis, they wrote catchy songs and they thought at lot about production (even if I don’t like where they went).

This record finds them somewhere in between the early post-Gabriel prog stuff and their ’80s pop peak – it’s clear they are still on the fence as to how commercial they should get. There are some songs that feel like they are borderline shooting for the pop charts and there are plenty of pieces – and often intros to pieces – which see them trying to find some kind of less ambitious, ’80s version of their old sound, where the influence isn’t so much Romantic music as something much less ambitious and dramatic (which I cannot place right now).

The one advantage this relative lack of ambition has is that the band no longer sounds like Gabriel-era Genesis. Something you can criticize their first few post-Gabriel albums for is how much they are trying to sound like some kind of idealized, Gabriel-sanitzed version of the band and that is very much not true here, which is to their credit.

I am a prog rock fan, even at this late date, and just don’t particularly like these pop prog records, so this doesn’t do much for me. But I will admit that it’s much better than I remember it being, and I can see why lots of people think it’s the last good Genesis record (from the point of few of the fans of the earlier version of the band).

70. Black Sabbath: Heaven and Hell (6/10)

I’m struggling here, really struggling.

Read the review of Heaven and Hell.

71. Billy Joel: Glass Houses (6/10)

Someone called this Billy Joel’s “punk album” which is really funny, but not entirely false. Read the review of Glass Houses.

72. Chic: Real People (6/10)

Well made but not my thing. Read the review of Real People.

73. Joan Jett aka Bad Reputation (6/10)

Heavy on the ’60s nostalgia. Read the review of Joan Jett’s debut album which was eventually renamed Bad Reputation.

74. Ozzy Osbourne: Blizzard of Ozz (5/10)

Slicker, more commercial Ozzy is not better than Sabbath Ozzy. Read the review of Blizzard of Ozz.

75. Blondie: Autoamerican (5/10)

A bizarre turn into retro pop music. You know, just pared with the first ever rap hit. Because that makes sense. Read the review of Autoamerican.

76. John Lennon, Yoko Ono: Double Fantasy (5/10)

Not a good John Lennon album, not a good Yoko Ono album. Read the review of Double Fantasy.

77. Pat Benatar: Crimes of Passion (5/10)

Blah. Read the review of Crimes of Passion.

78. R.E.O Speedwagon: Hi Infidelity (5/10)

Not quite as bad as expected. Read the review of Hi Infidelity.

79. Sugarhill Gang (5/10)

The producer did everything she could to not make this the first hip hop album. Read the review of Sugarhill Gang’s “debut” album.

80. Barbra Streisand: Guilty (5/10)

Who likes this stuff? Read the review of Guilty.

81. Van Halen: Women and Children First (4/10)

I do not like Van Halen. Read the review of Women and Children First.

82. ABBA: Super Trouper (4/10)

Less catchy than their earlier albums. And I really hate one of the songs. Read the review of Super Trouper.

83. The Rolling Stones: Emotional Rescue (4/10)

I don’t know what to do with my first impressions.

Read the review of Emotional Rescue.

84. George Benson: Give Me the Night (4/10)

Smooth soul and smooth jazz combined to give me nightmares. Read the review of Give Me the Night.

Not ranked:

Grant Green: Gooden’s Corner (9/10)

Gooden’s Corner treads pretty familiar territory as well. But there are unique enough takes on this to make it worthwhile. Green’s playing is consistently inventive (for the time) but perhaps Clark is even more impressive with his off-beat support. And I agree that the sequencing on this set is a little smarter than on Nigeria. Had these albums been released at the time, I would be tempted to rate this highest since it was first, but I have a hard time figuring out which of these two I like better.

Grant Green: Nigeria (9/10)

Nigeria is outstanding stuff, despite being full of standards, and makes me rethink everything I’ve previous thought about Green vs. Montgomery. Their version of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” is particularly great and I want to say is the definitive version (I’ve heard). (Green is practically Youngian on it.) It’s shocking to me that this music wasn’t deemed important enough to release at the time. I can’t really figure out why. I’m guessing contract disputes or obscure marketing reasons. This is really great mainstream guitar jazz.

Grant Green: Oleo (8/10)

Oleo is probably the weakest of the three Sonny Clark quartet albums, but it’s still pretty great. At first I was tempted to dislike their version of “My Favorite Things” because it wasn’t Coltrane, but I got over that. Green makes it his own. Green also contributes a tune this time (imagine!) and it is one of the highlights.

Slapp Happy: Acnalbasac Noom (8/10)

This was recorded in 1973 but wasn’t released until 1980. Read the review.


1. Discharge: “Realities of War”

This is hilariously brief EP (barely the length of a single, really) that tells you everything you need to know about this band: they are fast, angry, loud and brief. I can imagine that someone hearing this for the first time in 1980 might have been a bit bowled over by everything about this.

1. Discharge: “Fight Back”

Another EP barely the length of a single, this is more of the same brief intensity: super fast, loud, angry and brief songs that make the punk that came before sound like it wasn’t punk at all.