Sometime last year, I was surfing AllMusic.com when I found a series of articles in which their editorial staff penned a mass retrospective for a particular year in music. This inspired me to write my own lists of albums and songs from back in the day, and it generated enough positive feedback to become a monthly feature.
This month's musical spotlight is set on 1984, and this time I opted to do a smidgen of research rather than slap together a list of albums and songs from a particular year. (I'm bound to accidentally overlook something from these lists; after all, I tossed up a best-of list for 1971 not too long ago and somehow omitted Pearl, The Yes Album, and Nilsson Schmilsson.) Nonetheless, the year that inspired a dystopian George Orwell novel does have resonance with me, since it was the year I was born. I found it hard to believe that all of the music listed below is already a quarter-century old, but existentially it made me realize I'll be 25 myself in August. As for the music, I wasn't quite sure where to place film soundtracks (especially This is Spinal Tap and Stop Making Sense, and you can't deny the brilliance of either) but other prominent movie songs are mentioned below.
Here's my ten favorite albums:
1. Purple Rain, Prince & The Revolution. It must've been pretty cool to be living in Minneapolis in the mid-1980s, if only for the bounty of great music that was coming out of the Twin Cities. (The Vikings fans and eight months of snow per year, I can do without.) Leading the pack was the former Prince Rogers Nelson, whose sixth album was not only the soundtrack to a hit movie, but the most experimental pop record of its time. It works as a rock, R&B, and dance album, and metalheads and guitar-god worshippers won't feel left out, either.
2. Zen Arcade, Hüsker Dü. Minneapolis Was Cool In The 80s, Part 2: a hardcore-punk magnum opus about teenage alienation. "Turn On The News" alone probably inspired every other Foo Fighters song ever written.
3. Let It Be, The Replacements. Minneapolis Was Cool In The 80s, Part 3: sensational garage-rock from Paul Westerberg and company, though far more complex than their first two albums. "I Will Dare" and "Unsatisfied" are the go-to tracks.
4. Double Nickels on the Dime, The Minutemen
5. Reckoning, R.E.M.
6. The Smiths, The Smiths
7. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen
8. II, Meat Puppets
9. Ride The Lightning, Metallica
10. I Often Dream of Trains, Robyn Hitchcock. Robyn's third solo album is
a cathartic, mostly acoustic affair, putting his odd stream-of-consciousness lyrics front and center with sparse backing arrangements. It's hard to write a song as wonderfully zany as "Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl" or "Uncorrected Personality Traits," but even harder to pen a haunting ballad like "Autumn Is Your Last Chance."
Honorable Mentions: Building the Perfect Beast, Don Henley; Learning to Crawl, The Pretenders; From Her to Eternity, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds; Run-DMC, Run-DMC; 1984, Van Halen
Excluding songs from the aforementioned albums, here's my favorite singles from 1984:
"Pride (In the Name of Love)," U2
"Like a Virgin," Madonna
"This Glamorous Life," Sheila E.
"Hold Me Now," Thompson Twins
"What's Love Got to Do With It," Tina Turner
"Caribbean Queen," Billy Ocean
"One Thing Leads to Another," The Fixx
"99 Luftballons" (aka "99 Red Balloons"), Nena
"Drive," The Cars
"Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," The Smiths
1984 was also a banner year for music videos, as you can see from the links I've embedded. The innovations that these five clips brought to the table will probably be lost to a younger generation, especially anyone who associates MTV with reality shows, but I'll let the videos speak for themselves:
"You Might Think," The Cars
"Hot for Teacher," Van Halen (Yes, that is Phil Hartman's voice on the PA system)
"Time After Time," Cyndi Lauper
"Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," Eurythmics
"We're Not Gonna Take It," Twisted Sister
Invariably, most of the songs and albums I've mentioned will probably earn a 25th anniversary reissue (the remastered versions of Let It Be and I Only Dream of Trains were released late last year), and I highly suggest checking them out if you're not familiar with a particular artist on these lists.