1984 in Music

Music reviews I’ve written for music released in 1984.

1. Run-D.M.C. (10/10)

I have no idea, but I think this might be one of the most important records of the entire decade. Read the review of Run-D.M.C.’s debut album.

2. Husker Du: Zen Arcade (10/10)

Another classic, do-everything double album in the tradition of do-everything double-albums.

3. R.E.M.: Reckoning (9/10)

This was the first ’80s REM record I think I ever heard, certainly it was the first of their records I heard from when before Stipe learned to sing. I might have heard Eponymous before it, so I technically heard “Chronic Town” first, but in terms of LPs, it was this one. So this one is the one I like the most.

I’ve heard it so many times, it’s really, really hard to be objective about it. But I think it’s a little more self-assured and a little more diverse than Murmur. It’s also less mysterious, but that’s the trade off you get when you get better (and make a better sounding record).

I could basically listen to every record of theirs from “Chronic Town” to Document over and over and over again, so I’m not sure I have anything to say that could convince anyone who doesn’t think much of REM to check this one out, but it’s probably their most accessible of their early records, while still containing everything about the band that made them special.

I love it. I cannot be objective.

4. This is Spinal Tap (9/10)

I love this record and know all the words to all the songs that were actually in the film. My favourite is probably “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight,” which contains my favourite lines but also has my favourite title, one of the all time best mocking song titles in the English language.

But I must say that the impact of this album is not the same as the movie. The movie is the complete experience and the album doesn’t capture everything that the movie does.

Also, this album is lacking a couple tracks, none more important than “Jazz Odyssey” (which may not have actually been written beyond a few bars when this album was recorded), which I would just really like to hear in its entirety.

This is one of the great comedy rock albums of all time but it could be more complete and it just doesn’t quite measure up to the movie. It’s much better to see the movie first, and then listen to this. If this album could somehow capture the essence of the film, I would give it full marks.

5. Meat Puppets II (9/10)

Don’t let the label “cowpunk” fool you, this is one of the great early alternative rock records. Read the review of Meat Puppets II.

6. Venom: At War With Satan (8/10)

The beginnings of black metal??? Read the review of At War With Satan.

7. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: From Her to Eternity (8/10)

The covers are great and the originals are mostly great. They were almost there.

8. The Replacements: Let it Be (8/10)

This is done so well, I can’t resist it, even though I normally don’t like this kind of thing.

9. Philip Glass: Akhnaten (8/10)

This is a significantly more traditional piece of music than Einstein on the Beach. (I have not heard the second opera in this so-called trilogy.) Not being super familiar with Glass, I’m not sure when this change happened, but this is a lot closer to traditional opera (there is evidence, albeit minor, of a plot) than his first effort. And that’s both a good thing (if you care about such things) and a bad thing (if you enjoyed the more radical approach).

I like this – I am generally very intrigued by works that clearly mix traditions as this does with minimalism and traditional opera – but it’s hardly a landmark. Enjoyable for sure, though.

10. Fred Anderson: The Missing Link [recorded in 1979] (8/10)

Anderson apparently got lots of exposure in the ’60s as part of the AACM but never got an album as leader until this one, and then this wasn’t released for five years. Listening to this music, it’s hard to understand why that was.

Anderson plays relatively straight-forward (and often slower) lines for a “free jazz” saxophonist, and the title appears to allude to the space he seems to have found between traditional blues saxophone and free jazz. Like a number of free players, he seems interested in connecting free with tradition, rather than just trying to explode are traditions.

But the lack of a second horn, and the substitution of a percussionist in place of the trumpet, makes the record sound more radical. It’s an unusual combination that both gives more prominence to Anderson’s role and also forces the bass to play a little more of a melodic role.

It’s good stuff. It’s certainly not as far out as some free, but it’s also “catchier” for lack of a better word, despite the slightly impenetrable rhythms.

It’s really hard to understand why this man was pretty much unknown when he recorded this.

11. Hans Werner Henze: Symphony No. 7 (8/10)

Henze’s first symphony in twenty years, the seventh, is a markedly more traditional piece. (And admittedly so, apparently, as Henze claimed he was trying to write in the tradition of Beethoven.) The work is is very pleasing and, as these things go, is something I enjoy listening to, but I cannot shake the conservativeness of it. Certainly it is more daring than most Neo-Classical / Neo-Romantic works, and it breaks more traditions, but it is, at bottom, a far more conservative piece than what he used to write. And so I struggle with it. But, I cannot deny how compelling it is.

12. The Blue Nile: A Walk Across the Rooftops (8/10)

A refreshingly arty sophisti-pop record. Read the review of A Walk Across the Rooftops.

13. Felt: The Splendour of Fear (7/10)

Instrumental jangle pop that’s unique enough to make it interesting. Read the review of The Splendour of Fear.

14. Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (7/10)

I love the film. I got a copy of it not that long after I saw it – in a theatre! though one with only about 6 people in it – and it’s become one of only a few staple rock concert films I have.

But half the appeal of this movie is that it’s a movie. The Heads’ show is unique and is literally half the fun.

Divorced from the film the performances are alright, but most Heads fans agree that the earlier official live album is better. And I can personally attest that there are better performances available on Youtube.

This is still great stuff, it’s just that the visuals are really key and they’re missing when you just listen to the soundtrack.

Also, somehow listening to “Genius of Love” on its own, without the visuals, makes me dislike the Tom Tom Club even more, if that was possible.

15. Black Flag: My War (7/10)

Two drastic left-turns in one. Read the review of My War.

16. Pretenders: Learning to Crawl (7/10)

Hynde is a good songwriter. Dammit. Read the review of Learning to Crawl.

17. Judas Priest: Defenders of the Faith (7/10)

I like this fine for a Judas Priest record. Read the review of Defenders of the Faith.

18. Warlock: Burning the Witches (7/10)

This might be a landmark. Read the review of Burning the Witches.

19. King Crimson: Three of a Perfect Pair (6/10)

Listening to this record, it’s no wonder they broke up for nearly a decade. I can hear the strain.

On the one hand we have Belew songs, one of which is alright, but most of which are really subpar, and on the other hand we have the improvisations. They are at war. Worse, they are mostly divided by side, so that we start with what feels like a borderline Belew solo album as performed by ’80s King Crimson, followed by what we think Crimson might actually want to sound like.

These competing tendencies were well combined on Discipline and Beat (and when they reunited in the 1990s) but here they don’t work.

My favourite song is literally the joke barbershop quartet bonus track. Everything else feels like a pale imitation of a formerly great band.

That being said: would I rather listen to this than Hair Metal or Synth Pop or the New Romantics or Yacht Rock? You’re damn right I would.

20. The Smiths (6/10)

They are fine. They are not one of the greatest bands of this or any other decade. Read the review of The Smiths’ debut record.

21. Simple Minds: Sparkle in the Rain (6/10)

I cannot get over how much these guys sound like a less good U2. Read the review of Sparkle in the Rain.

22. Lou Reed: New Sensations (6/10)

What’s new about it is Reed’s concessions to ’80s production. Read the review of New Sensations.

22. Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark: Junk Culture (6/10)

I guess it’s relatively interesting for synthpop. Read the review of Junk Culture.

23. Mauricio Kagel: Der Eid des Hippokrates (5/10)

Der Eid des Hippokrates is one of those piano pieces where the piano is used in unconventional ways. It requires three hands and one of them must be doing that knocking. It’s not something that’s going to stay with me.

24. Scorpions: Love at First Sting (5/10)

Not my thing at all. Read the review of Love at First Sting.

25. Van Halen: 1984 (5/10)

Big, dumb. Read the review of the creatively titled 1984 album.

26. Various Artists: Footloose Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (5/10)

Well, it’s not terrible. And it goes by quickly. Read the review of the soundtrack to Footloose.

Not Ranked: English Baroque Soloists et al.: Solomon by Georg Friedrich Handel (9/10)

Read the review.

Not Ranked: Nigel Kennedy et al: Violin Concerto by Edward Elgar (7/10)

Read the review.

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