The 25 Best Albums of the 1980s

Many fans and philistines pilloried the 1980s as a low point in popular music. Why the hate? Probably because 1980 to 1989 was a time of such accelerated, disturbing change.

This was the era when electronic equipment and synthesizers transformed rock and soul into New Wave and Hip Hop. The radio became an alienating wonderland of cheesy alien newness.

This list tries to capture some of the proliferating genres and weirdness that made purists gasp and the future sit up in its spaceship.

Fair Warning: Van Halen (1981)

On the Fair Warning sessions, guitarist Eddie Van Halen snuck into the studio to do overdubs. In the night, he added weird synthesizer interludes without the rest of the band knowing. They all wanted another big hit via their signature sound.

The Visitors: ABBA (1981)

ABBA famously recorded The Visitors after Agnetha Fältskog divorced Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson divorced Anni-Frid Lyngstad. The album is still a sugar bomb of twee pop. But the hyper-pristine 80s synth sheen is also suffused with melancholy.

Djam Leelii (The Adventurers): Baaba Maal & Mansour Seck (1989)

On Djam Leelii, he and his teacher, Mansour Seck burrow deep into the musical traditions of the Pulaar-speaking people.

Sister: Sonic Youth (1986)

Everything melts and shatters in a calculated rage for chaos. It's the sound of musicians not quite ready to pull themselves from the howling void.

Control: Janet Jackson (1986)

“Give me a beat!” Janet Jackson demands. Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam complied with some of the most brutal machined funk ever laid to wax. Jackson herself is hardly any less tough.

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