Losing Love is Like a Window in Your Heart: My Favorite Albums 1980-1989

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I can’t believe we’re in the 80’s already. It seems like just yesterday that I was delving into my picks from the 1960’s (It was like three days ago).

I suppose that the trauma of eliminating some of my favorite albums in order to get this list down to five items made the time fly by, for better or worse.

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For an “I’m Sorry” list, see the end of this article.

My Favorite Albums from 1980-1989

 

5. The Replacements – Let it Be (1984)

The Replacements, despite their own best efforts, eventually became one of the most important groups to come out of the 80’s. Though the drunken band of semi-delinquents never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity (once playing an entire set of poorly rehearsed cover songs at a crucial record company audition), the brilliance of Paul Westerberg’s teenage anthems transcended even the most cutting of self-sabotage. Let it Be (brattily ripping off a Beatles title without a trace of self-consciousness) captures the group at the transitional point between their hardcore roots and jangly future. It would soon become clear that the Replacements owed more of a debt to Big Star than to the Ramones, but Let it Be gleefully mashes both halves together. We veer from “Gary’s Got a Boner” to “Androgynous” to “Sixteen Blue” and witness a group growing up on vinyl. There’s even a KISS cover (“Black Diamond”) that improves upon the original.

 

To be fair, I’d rather listen to my dog dry-heaving than most of KISS’s catalog, but I suppose that’s beside the point.

4. Husker Du – Flip Your Wig  (1985)

For those of you keeping score at home, this was the moment the formerly inscrutable hardcore trio finally let their pop roots shine through. By slowing down the tempo just a little bit and letting the songs breathe and accumulate a sort of weight and presence, Husker Du created a masterpiece. Their ambitious double album Zen Arcade may have the thematic edge, but Wig is the group’s best album song-for-song, containing outstanding showcases for both Bob Mould (“Makes No Sense at All,” “Divide and Conquer) and Grant Hart (“Green Eyes,” “Keep Hanging On.” It’s no accident that this was Husker Du’s last album on an indie label. After Flip Your Wig, the band was poised to make it big. They fell apart soon after instead.

Whoops.

3. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation  (1988)

New York’s Sonic Youth, by this point, had been kicking around the art-rock scene for a while, playing with counterculture icon Glenn Branca and hanging out with no-wave scenester Lydia Lunch. It’s not as if Daydream Nation came out of nowhere. The group had been progressively getting better with every album, and their previous record (1987’s Sister) was rightly hailed by critics upon its release. But with Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth outdid themselves yet again, seemingly accomplishing the impossible: they’ve created a noise-rock album that works as a regular rock album. You don’t have to be an insufferable hipster to find the hooks amid the (admittedly impressive) wall of noise. Though main noise-makers Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo traffic in odd tunings and unorthodox methods of guitar-playing, they do so with an ear toward proto-punk groups like The Stooges, The MC5 and especially the Velvet Underground. “Teenage Riot” and “Total Trash” are infinitely hummable, reminding the listener that none of this would even be worth a damn if the songs weren’t good. Bonus points for a cameo by the Minutemen’s Mike Watt (on an answering machine message).

2. Paul Simon – Graceland  (1986)

Where do I even start? This album is all over the place, chock-full of Simon’s trademark magical realism and interesting time signatures. The politics within certain countries in Africa notwithstanding, I think we can all agree that the musicians recruited for the recording of this album really added something substantial. No “rock” album before or since has sounded quite like this, and I could fill an entire article with the highlights. How about the paralyzing beauty of “Under African Skies” or the matter-of-fact road trip of the title track for starters? This is a truly unique record, anchored by Simon’s gift for conversational quirk.

1. Pixies – Doolittle  (1989)

Man, this album is good. Black Francis (pictured) specializes in vaguely Latin-tinged outer space weirdness, which is perfectly tempered by Kim Deal’s deadpan backing vocals and metronomic bass. Lead guitarist Joey Santiago brings an unmistakable surf-rock influence to his searing lines, and drummer David Lovering keeps things relentlessly moving. Surrealistic (check out the Salvador Dali reference in “Debaser,”), ugly (“Tame”) and beautiful (“I Bleed”), Doolittle showcases the young Boston group stretching their limits and emerging better for it. “Here Comes Your Man” is a pop dream, while “La La Love You” is a nightmare, the absolute flip side. Francis writes brutal, almost biblical lyrics, and the power of Pixies at their loudest is only reinforced by the somehow equivalent power of Pixies at their quietest. Many budding rockers (Kurt Cobain, I’m looking in your general direction) took this as gospel, incorporating and expanding on some of these ideas in their own music later on. Pixies are one of those groups that every modern act can cite as an influence, whether they know it or not. Doolittle is simply their finest piece of recording, a vital snapshot of a band that still matters almost 30 years later.

Holy shit, we’re almost in the 90’s! Only ten(?) more lists to go! I don’t know what year it is.

What year is it?

 

I’m Sorry List:

This Heat – Deceit

The Cure – Disintegration

dB’s – Stands for Decibels

Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime

Rush – Moving Pictures

Violent Femmes – Self Titled

Meat Puppets – II

Fugazi – 13 Songs (not sure if this counts as an album, as it is technically 3 EPs smashed together)

 

Photo: Black Francis; credit: By Aurelien Guichard (aurélien) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/aguichard/4669950567/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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One comment on “Losing Love is Like a Window in Your Heart: My Favorite Albums 1980-1989
  1. Some that jumped to mind for me:

    Tom Petty, Full Moon Fever
    U2, The Joshua Tree
    Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A.

    Damn, I forgot the Femmes, too. Love them.

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