So that can only mean that it’s time for me to do another Tuesday Ten – I haven’t done one in a while. And this week’s is all the fault of Infest, really – and more to the point their announcements last week.
So what am I looking at this week? My favourite 80s albums. When I started thinking about this one, I wasn’t sure that I had enough 80s albums to be able to decide, but as it turns out I have far more than I first thought – and indeed I had to whittle this list down to have just ten. I’m going to be crossing genres more than usual perhaps, here…
Front By Front
I’ll start with the obvious, perhaps. It’s amazing, really. This album is now twenty years old, and still sounds like the future. Legions of EBM/industrial acts have tried to follow this, and no-one has really come that close. It is stuffed with storming dancefloor tracks (the evergreen Headhunter [video], obviously and Im Rhythmus Bleiben, for starters) and electronic experimentation (things like Never Stop), and the whole thing is bulletproof. Let’s just hope that the 20th anniversary doesn’t mean more remixes – I already have about 20 of Headhunter alone!
The Circle and The Square
There are times when I like what is essentially pop music. And this is one of them, from a long-forgotten mid-80s band who mixed pop and some world music themes, as well as politics. My dad had the album from when it was first released, and it is so long out of print that it is kinda tough to find nowadays. Why do I like it? It has a wonderfully anthemic quality to it – the album is half single material, the other half rather more experimental – and it reminds me of more innocent times past, too. My favourite track by some distance is the first single from it: Lean on Me (Ah-Li-Ayo) [video].
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Rather than glorifying guns, violence and misogny, there were rappers way back when who actually had something to say. This album is still fucking brilliant, even as it reaches it’s twentieth birthday this year (and yes, I’m intending on going to see this performed live in a couple of months. I’d be insane not to) – it’s bristling mix of hell-raising political comment, lighter moments and an extraordinary use of sampling and mixing has never been topped by any rap act. It’s really quite hard to pick one track of particular note, but Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos [video] still packs an enormous emotional punch. This track was later radically reworked to spectacular effect by Tricky, of course [video].
Reign In Blood
The other thing that PE did, of course, on …Nation of Millions… was to sample Slayer’s meisterwerk (on the track She Watch Channel Zero?!), so this nicely links in. RiB is an album that casts an enormous shadow, both over much of Slayer’s subsequent work and over a lot of death/thrash that follows it. There is not a second wasted on this album – the original ten tracks are over in less than half-an-hour, even the re-release with two additional tracks is only five minutes longer. Most people remember the tracks that bookend the album, of course – the brutal metal anthem Angel of Death [live video] and the equally vicious Raining Blood.
Talking of vicious…Steve Albini’s work – both as a recording artist and as a producer – has always had something of a nasty edge to it, and for me this is demonstrated most strongly on this album. It’s not only the savage guitars and the mechanised drum beats, either – the lyrics detailing much of his life growing up in Montana are just as full of hate. Kerosene [old live video] remains the best track here, somehow combining the ideas of teenage sex and…self immolation.
Also with a particularly violent edge – although maybe that was just their live performances – were this lot. One of the first words in hardcore, really, they are yet another band to cast a long shadow over an entire genre. I was lucky enough to see Rollins bringing the old songs back in ’03 as part of the WM3 benefit tour, and even then was brilliant. Picking songs is difficult, seeing as just about every song here is a stone-cold classic, but two stick in my mind: the anthemic opener Rise Above [video: live in ’81], and the gonzoid fun of TV Party [video], a brilliant dig at getting drunk and watching TV…
Time to change tack a little again, with another album my dad got me into. I’ve never been a fan of Peter Gabriel’s previous band Genesis, but for some reason his solo output has always intrigued me, and none more so than this album. Yes, it has the blockbuster hit Sledgehammer, but the rest of the album is much more interesting, especially in it’s more introspective moments. The highlight of the album for me is the eerie Mercy Street [video, or at least a video, if not an official one], about Anne Sexton.
Another my dad got me into, although it was years after I first heard Tom Waits that I learnt to appreciate his, er, different style. His music is often a playful mix of jazz and blues, telling stories in his gravelly, whiskey-soaked voice. This album is the second in a quasi-trilogy of albums (Frank’s Wild Years and Swordfishtrombones are the other two), but for me this is the best of them. Probably the most accessible track here is the yearning Downtrain Train [you may have heard Rod Stewart’s version of it. Well, here’s the original video, which is much better].
My dad was also an avid fan of REM’s earlier, more college-rock orientated output in the eighties, and Green was the album where they began the transformation from being this small rock band to being superstars. This is still my favourite REM album, too, for many, many reasons, not least for the awesome Orange Crush [video] and the slightly silly Stand [video]…
Sign ‘O’ The Times
Finally, it’s time to mention a true musical genius. Prince is one of three musical titans of the 80s to turn 50 this year (the other two are Michael Jackson and Madonna, of course), and while the others have either long-since headed into the realms of parody (MJ) or resorted to latching onto the latest musical fashions (Madonna), Prince has somehow continued along his own unique furrow, surprising everyone with a great new album (3121) last year and then all those gigs at the o2 Arena too.I’m hardly short of brilliant Prince albums to pick from the 80s, either – he hardly did a single bad album in that period – but this sprawling double album is certainly his best. It doesn’t have the greatest singles – well, except for the eerie state-of-the-world address that is the title track [video] – but the album as a whole is probably the most ambitious that Prince ever attempted, and somehow, he pulls it off.