Let the Poppy Bush Interzone begin! The P&J chart will look different starting next year as boomers regnant and a thousand college radio bands blooming take over the chart. This year’s breakthroughs didn’t: I don’t understand Michelle Shocked, ditto Tracy Chapman with the obvious exception. Readers will object to my dismissal of Lovesexy, much of which is watery post-Around the World in a Day psychedelica; “Alphabet St.” is okay, the extended remix of “I Wish U Heaven” where it’s at.
On the boomer-beloved singer-songwriter side of the ledger, Richard Thompson released his strongest album since Linda left him, Randy Newman discovered hip-hop and showed Mark Knopfler what he was good for, and John Hiatt, who sings as if he’s calling upon Yahweh to bless him with a hernia, cranked out a followup to 1987’s breakthrough. Years of toiling gave Graham Parker a college radio hit.
1986 gets off to a fabulous start with the decade’s coldest, most muscular and influential R&B album, surpassed only her brother’s 1982 mega-seller, yet I almost let The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto top the list, for no one has imitated its hurdy-gurdy rhythm, loping gait, and vocals, sweet and menacing.
Yet it was a good year for guitar rock: Elvis Costello’s, sure, even though King of America has more rubber donuts than I’d allow from a good-to great album; R.E.M.’s breakthrough into clarity; Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly trading spidery lines on a harrowing debut; and The Feelies treating acoustic guitar strumming as if “What Goes On” were a pastoral lyric.
About So my readers know what I think.
Boy, P&J voters loved T. Bone, eh?
I ranked the first thirty albums.
Mentioned by acclamation the best pop year since 1964, the third year of the Reagan presidency brought peak SST bands, peak New Wave-gone-pop, Prince going all over the place, Springsteen allowing dance remixes. I’ll let soberer heads treat this year with the scrutiny it deserves, but let me spare a moment for King Sunny Ade’s best album and for Double Nickels on the Dime, an album full of Wire-length squiggles with epic-sized emotions.
The Smiths – The Smiths
Neville Brothers – Neville-ization
Los Lobos – How Will the Wolf Survive
Van Halen – 1984
The dB’s – Like This
Laurie Anderson – Mister Heartbreak
Tom Verlaine – Cover
Ramones – Too Tough to Die
U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
Good to Great
Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A.
Prince and the Revolution – Purple Rain
King Sunny Ade and His African Beats – Aura
Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime
Womack & Womack – Love Wars
Linton Kwesi Johnson – Making History
The Replacements – Let It Be
Run D.M.C. – Run-D.M.C.
Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual
The Pretenders – Learning to Crawl
Lou Reed – New Sensations
The Meat Puppets – Meat Puppets II
R.E.M. – Reckoning
Bangles – All Over the Place
George Clinton – You Shouldn’t-Nuf Bit Fish
Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade
Laurie Anderson – United States Live
The Jury’s Out
Rubén Blades y Seis del Solar – Buscando America
At last we get resistance: the first list of Meh entries, populated by a rogues gallery of bizzer vets, one of whom scored his best-selling album in seven years. Although I love Murmur and Power, Corruption and Lies, I’m not enraptured, making 1983 the weakest year I’ve ranked to date. It will worsen. I would’ve included Kashif, Womack & Womack’s Love Wars , and John Anderson’s All the People are Talkin‘
Peak post-punk, peak rock-influenced-by-post-punk, 1980 represents another P&J apex. At least a dozen of the best category are culminations, unsurpassed debuts, and miracles of sleekness and rhythmic smarts.
I won’t say much because the albums speak for themselves. Listening to Bill Callahan’s Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest and his delight that he married a Good Woman, though, I thought, “Fucking John Lennon.”
In the year when New Wave started crossing over The Clash, Elvis Costello, and Talking Heads created the holy-shit-the-second-album template whereby a band realizes on the promises of a debut, often with songs written at the same time as the debut’s. This puts them in a most uncomfortable position the third go-round, although The Clash and Talking Heads didn’t suffer (Costello did).
To quash the croakings of despair from my readers, I’ll repeat that Street Hassle boasts a magnificent title tune and a lot of oh sweet nothings.
In the 2010s, during the waning of my fourth decade, the self-representation of female R&B and country artists fascinated me. The honesty of the posing interested me more than the sincere sincerity of their male peers. Facts are facts, as I show. I hope this explains the top thirty, arranged like my singles list by criteria determined by play, wanting to play it, and how often I recommended it to others. When possible I tried avoiding redundancies with my singles list.
Although these one hundred-twenty albums overlap with more famous lists posted, I hope context will clarify. The highest ranking queer album is also my favorite album of the decade: the album whose vaporous textures, there/not there vocals, and discrete instrumental filigrees adduced a sensibility that queries itself without succumbing to self-regard; its queerness depends on its curiosity. What Contra and Hell on Heels share is a commitment to the dictum that we tell ourselves stories in order to live, no less true for Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batmanglij, Miranada Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley than for Joan Didion.
Less than a handful of artists played twice. Young Thug I found better represented by a CD-R (remember those?) I burned in summer 2015 for the car, but as a concession I included his most acclaimed regular release.