150 Best Albums of 1985

The big hard-news music stories of 1985, for those who weren’t there yet or who understandably forgot, were the spate of charity efforts doing their darnedest to stem starvation in Ethiopia and apartheid in South Africa and Senate hearings doing their darnedest to stem what future second lady Tipper Gore’s new Parent Music Resource Council had deemed “porn rock.” But though I’m a big fan of the first couple Boomtown Rats albums, Bob Geldof figures not a lick in the list below; neither does W.A.S.P. (Most obscure entries in the PMRC’s “filthy 15,” 36 years on: songs by the Mary Jane Girls, Mercyful Fate, Vanity and Venom: cool alliteration, huh?) “We Are the World” just sneaks in on the ladder’s bottom rung (hey, that stupid record just maybe gathered the most great American voices together in one place ever, and the album had good Springsteen and Steve Perry songs); “Sun City,” #1 in the Village Voice Pazz & Jop singles poll for being even more well-meaning, doesn’t, though Alpha Blondy’s Apartheid is Nazism winds up one of three reggae albums in my top 25, quickly surpassing 1981‘s three-in-top-30 I predicted just over a week ago would never be matched.

Anyway, the current events don’t end there. Smackdab in the middle of both Reagan’s and Thatcher’s reactionary reigns, with the former honoring dead S.S. Nazis in Bitburg in May after the latter ended a year-long Miners strike in March and while both waged war on poor people not poverty, politically engaged artists below run the gamut from list-topping John Cougar Mellencamp’s center-left heartland populism to Mofungo’s bohemian Lower East Side Marxism in the States and outward toward multi-hued shades of anarchistic alienation in the U.K.: Mekons, Nightingales, Rubella Ballet, Scritti Politti (featuring structuralism junkie Green Gartside), Amebix (apocalyptic crust-punks featuring alleged future crypto-fascist Rob Miller — extreme left politics circling back around to the far right and swallowing their own tail), ex-Pop Grouper Mark Stewart (whose As the Veneer of Democracy Starts to Fade disturbingly wins 1985’s most prescient album title award.) Add Blondy equating Botha with Hitler on the Ivory Coast, the Ex getting cynical about the “Soviet Threat” and “White Liberals” (both song titles) in Amsterdam, and Kölsch-speakers Bap remembering Kristallnacht (album title) in Cologne, and calling 1985 a hot year for protest songs seems somewhat an understatement. Test Dept., British bang-on-steel industrialists who recorded their album with an actual striking miners’ choir from South Wales, didn’t even make the cut, thanks for my low tolerance for not banging on steel but certain kinds of Welsh choirs apparently. But even UB40 were named after a British unemployment benefit form.

Rubella Ballet/Mekons/Mellencamp fan Greil Marcus, in his Pazz & Jop comments, predicted “nothing will connect until both Thatcher and Reagan are gone” since, at least in the States, “Reagan’s domination of American (and by extension Western) cultural life is so complete that his exit will bring about a cultural vacuum — a crisis of moods, images and values — so intense it will force new and conflicting music.” A skeptic when it comes to creative group psychology, I’m not convinced that ever happened, though I’m curious what support evidence people might present — I dunno, Nirvana? (And if it did, what happens now after the exit of Trump’s vastly more pervasive cultural domination?)

Nonetheless, there are ways this list clearly looks to the future. For one thing, I count a staggering 16 EPs — including one by pop-reggae veterans UB40, but mostly by much newer artists, a few of whom (Beastie Boys, Dwight Yoakam, Fishbone, Big Black’s Steve Albini) had long and storied careers ahead of them. Three (one Italo-disco, one a hip-hop deejay mastermix, one “gothic futurist” graffiti-rapper Rammellzee fronting a noise band) make my top 10. The ones from England (London’s Folk Devils, Hebden Bridge’s Bog-Shed, Birmingham’s Pigbros and Nightingales, Greenhouse of Terror who presumably came from somewhere but the Internet is no help) mostly sound more or less like Manchester’s Fall, whose own album lands in the top 20 — Hey, we all have our fetishes.

Add full albums by Leeds’s Mekons and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Birmingham’s Jacobites and London-via-Ireland’s Pogues, and it was a bloody good year for British music; if you prefer the Smiths, Sade, Sting, Simple Minds, Kate Bush, Prefab Sprout, Tears for Fears or Dire Straits going jock-rock, we’ll agree on that point even if our tastes don’t align. Counting the Jesus and Mary Chain who’d get released stateside early in ’86, I even check off 19 British imports, not all by Brits. Add imports from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Mexico, the Netherlands and Switzerland, and you’ve got a whole lot of music Americans almost certainly missed out on.

Which might explain the obsession certain U.S. critics had for what was being hyped as a boom in new American bands. Lazybones had been touting this non-story ever since R.E.M.’s emergence a couple years before; X even wrote one of 1983‘s signal songs about it. I mean sure, in ’85, the Meat Puppets and Replacements and Hüsker Dü made decent albums; Dü actually made two, though only the hooks on New Day Rising have stuck enough like glue to me to make my list, much lower than their fans would approve I’m sure. Both that album and Flip Your Wig (the one I voted for at the time) made Pazz & Jop’s top 10; so did the Replacements’ Tim, which I also P&J’d back then but which now mostly hits me as cloying so I ranked it even lower. Sorry, Minnesotans — Was never much a fan of Around the World in a Day in the first place (and I wasn’t alone).

Which isn’t to suggest America was otherwise asleep. In fact, along with corn-fed Indiana Johns Mellencamp and Hiatt, so-called cowpunks in California were sowing seeds for what’d later be dubbed Americana: Kentucky/Ohio émigré Yoakam of course, but also the Rave-Ups, Long Ryders, Lone Justice, Beat Farmers, Blasters, and tipsy Long Ryder/Green on Red/Dream Syndicate guys moonlighting Blonde on Blonde-style as Danny and Dusty. Bands from elsewhere (Nashville’s Jason and Scorchers, Connecticut’s Reducers, Arizona’s Meat Puppets) cowpunked too, and other Los Angelenos (Helios Creed from Chrome, D.C.3, Zarkons, Fishbone, Raszebrae) colored with a wider and darker box of crayons. But the noisiest and most experimental decibels seemed to emanate from the Midwest (Big Black, Breaking Circus and exurban doom-metal Christians Trouble in Chicago, BPA in Cincinnati, Death of Samantha in Cleveland, Couch Flambeau in Milwaukee) and especially New York (Sonic Youth, Rat At Rat R, Ut, Mofungo, The Scene is Now, my friend Frank Kogan with and without his already defunct combos Red Dark Sweet and the Pillowmakers: “I’ve spent the last year and a half working on this tape and failing to put a band together.”)

Other rock hotspots atop Reagan’s shining city on a hill included Rhode Island (shaggy three-guitar garage revisionists Plan 9 and sub-Coug E Street wannabees John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band who I bet never met each other), Portland (wrestler punks Rancid Vat and stewardess poppers Quarterflash who ditto) and above all for some zany reason the great Catholic state of Maryland, whose Uniontown gave us dada naifs Half Japanese and whose under-40,000-populated mid-state hamlet Hagerstown placed not one but two records (by trolling Stooge-punks the Left and Nerf-metal rubber-layers Kix) in the top 25. Kix, Detroit’s Seduce, L.A.’s Precious Metal, Ontario’s Helix and Finland’s Hanoi Rocks were teaching the world how to turn heavy music into chewy bubblegum while Amebix, San Francisco’s Drunk Injuns, Italy’s Raw Power and Switzerland’s Celtic Frost taught the world how to turn it into ferocious nuclear thrash.

And of course, that’s all just guitar rock — unlike the four (!) various-artist compilations in my top 10, for starters. Three of those are Italo-disco or in the vicinity, joined further down the chart by more Euro and/or Hi-NRG cheese from the Flirts, Boney M, poor-spelling Polish new wavers Lady Pank, early Pet Shop pal Bobby “O” (twice), Falco, Boney M wannabees Curtie and the Boombox, Tarzan boy Baltimora, Captain of Swiss hearts Double and a Belgian new wave sampler. I count 19 r&b albums (excluding Boney and Curtie but including court jester Bobby Jimmy and Polynesian family act the Jets) — 18 more than I like from 1998/’99, hmmm. And in addition to those three aforementioned top-25 reggae albums, there’s one more in the top 50, plus two dub discs from Adrian Sherwood’s On-U stable before the inventory ends. (“Reggae merely teetered on, maintaining the state of ennui that’s existed since the death of Marley,” somebody at NME wrote in the intro to their best-of-’85 lists. In retrospect at least, I beg to differ.)

What else? Five or so hip-hop-associated albums in the top 30, including two long-journey-launching metal compounds produced by Rick Rubin. Six jazz albums (top two prominently featuring Lester Bowie) and six Nashville country albums. A couple ’70s dinosaurs (Aerosmith rocking harder than they ever would again while selling less than they ever would again, Robert Plant at his most hippity-hoppity) and the best AOR-hack film soundtrack of the decade (Vision Quest.) Five all-woman rock bands (Shonen Knife, Ut, Precious Metal, Chin-Chin, Raszebrae) and three female folk artists (Roches, Ferron, Suzanne Vega.) Two early rock en español LPs from Mexico and two avant-prog LPs from France and a tribute album proving Kurt Weill invented art-rock in the Weimar Republic. One each Christian pop, French Caribbean zouk, Antigua socalypso, South African mbaqanga and Panamanian cumbia-etc. album. The soca one says Greenbay WI on the back, and it took me a while to realize that stands for West Indies, not Wisconsin. Which explains why, unlike Lil Wayne, King Obstinate never did a Packers theme song.

  1. John Cougar Mellencamp Scarecrow (Riva)
  2. Fuzz Dance (Sire EP)
  3. Mekons Fear and Whiskey (Sin UK)
  4. The Pogues Rum Sodomy and the Lash (Stiff/MCA)
  5. Double Dee & Steinski The Payoff Mix/Lesson 2/Lesson 3 (Tommy Boy promo EP)
  6. Sztárok A Gyermekekért (Gong Hungary)
  7. Greatest Beats (Tommy Boy)
  8. The Best of Italo Disco Hits Vol. III (ZYX)
  9. Art Ensemble of Chicago The Third Decade (ECM)
  10. Death Comet Crew At the Marble Bar (Beggars Banquet UK EP)
  11. The Flirts Blondes Brunettes & Redheads (CBS Associated)
  12. Shonen Knife Burning Farm (K)
  13. Boney M Eye Dance (Atlantic Canada)
  14. The Left Last Train to Hagerstown (Bona Fide EP)
  15. Kleeer Seeekret (Atlantic)
  16. Maze featuring Frankie Beverly Can’t Stop the Love (Capitol)
  17. The Fall This Nation’s Saving Grace (PVC/Beggars Banquet) 
  18. Ras Michael & the Sons of Negus Rally Round (Shanachie)
  19. Isley Jasper Isley Caravan of Love (Epic)
  20. Womack & Womack Radio M.U.S.C. Man (Elektra)
  21. Alpha Blondy Apartheid is Nazism (Pathé France)
  22. Mofungo Frederick Douglas (Twin/Tone//Coyote)
  23. L.L. Cool J Radio (Def Jam)
  24. Kix Midnite Dynamite (Atlantic)
  25. Yabby You Fleeing From the City (Shanachie)
  26. Beastie Boys Rock Hard (Def Jam EP)
  27. Bobby “O” Bobby “O” and his Banana Republic (Metronome Germany)
  28. Lady Pank Drop Everything (MCA)
  29. Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy I Only Have Eyes for You (ECM)
  30. Street Music of Panama: Cumbias, Tamboritos, Mejorans (Original Music)
  31. Danny & Dusty The Lost Weekend (A&M)
  32. The Best of Disco/Dance Music 7 (Rams Horn Netherlands)
  33. Big Black Racer X (Homestead EP)
  34. John Anderson Tokyo, Oklahoma (Warner Bros.)
  35. Ut Conviction (Out UK)
  36. The Indestructible Beat of Soweto (Shanachie)
  37. Propaganda A Secret Wish (Ariola Germany)
  38. Falco Falco 3 (A&M)
  39. James Newton The African Flower (Blue Note)
  40. Steve Arrington Dancin’ In the Key of Life (Atlantic)
  41. Vision Quest (Geffen)
  42. Mark Stewart As the Veneer of Democracy Starts to Fade (Mute UK)
  43. Bobby “O” Have Fun: Greatest Hits (ARS Belgium)
  44. Frank Kogan/Red Dark Sweet/The Pillowmakers Stars Vomit Coffee Shop (Stereo)
  45. Paul Bley Trio Questions (SteepleChase Denmark)
  46. Curtie and the Boombox Black Kisses (RCA)
  47. Barrington Levy Here I Come (Time 1 UK)
  48. Drunk Injuns Crimes Against Humanity (Deluxe EP)
  49. Bog-Shed Let Them Eat Bog-Shed (Vinyl Drip UK EP)
  50. Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill (A&M)
  51. Luther Vandross The Night I Fell in Love (Epic)
  52. The Scene is Now Burn All Your Records (Lost)
  53. Quarterflash Back Into Blue (Geffen) 
  54. The Rave-Ups Town + Country (Fun Stuff)
  55. The Reducers Cruise to Nowhere (Rave On)
  56. Plan 9 Keep Your Cool and Read the Rules (Pink Dust)
  57. Freddie Jackson Rock Me Tonight  (Capitol)
  58. The Zarkons Riders in the Long Black Parade (Enigma)
  59. Pigbros The Blubberhouses (Vinyl Drip UK EP)
  60. John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band Tough All Over (Geffen)
  61. Einstürzende Neubauten Halber Mensch (Some Bizarre UK)
  62. Aerosmith Done With Mirrors (Geffen)
  63. Meat Puppets Up On the Sun (SST)
  64. Baltimora Living in the Background (Manhattan)
  65. Precious Metal Right Here, Right Now (Mercury)
  66. Folk Devils Fire and Chrome (Karbon UK EP)
  67. Nikki Sudden & Dave Kusworth Jacobites Robespierre’s Velvet Basement (Glass UK)
  68. Scientists Atom Bomb Baby (Au Go Go Australia EP)
  69. Half Japanese Sing No Evil (Iridescence)
  70. BPA Moving and Storage (Hospital)
  71. Seduce Seduce (Psycho-Mania)
  72. The Ex Pokkeherie (Pockabilly Netherlands)
  73. Rancid Vat Burger Belsen (Brilliancy Prize)
  74. Greenhouse of Terror Greenhouse of Terror (Racket UK EP)
  75. Ronald Shannon Jackson Decode Yourself (Island)
  76. Celibate Rifles Quintessentially Yours (What Goes On)
  77. King Obstinate On Guard (Greenbay)
  78. B-Side Cairo Nights (Celluloid)
  79. Death of Samantha Strungout on Jargon (Homestead)
  80. Rosanne Cash Rhythm & Romance (Columbia)
  81. Rat At Rat R Ameri$ide Rock & Roll is Dead Long Live Rat At Rat R (Neutral)
  82. John Hiatt Warming Up to the Ice Age (Geffen)
  83. Sonic Youth Bad Moon Rising (Homestead)
  84. Executive Slacks Nausea (Fundamental)
  85. Helios Creed X-Rated Fairy Tales (Subterranean)
  86. Bap Kristallnacht (Capitol)
  87. Rubella Ballet At Last It’s Playtime (Ubiquitous UK)
  88. Art Zoyd Le Mariage Du Ciel Et D L’Enfer (Cyronic France)
  89. Krystol Talk of the Town (Epic)
  90. Camper Van Beethoven Telephone Free Landslide Victory (Independent Project)
  91. Celtic Frost To Mega Therion (Combat/Noise)
  92. Etron Fou Leloublan Face Aux Elements Dechaines (RecRec/AYAA France)
  93. Amy Grant Unguarded (Myrrh)
  94. Amebix Arise! (Alternative Tentacles UK)
  95. The Roches Another World (Warner Bros.)
  96. Fatback So Delicious (Cotillion)
  97. D.C.3 This is the Dream (SST)
  98. Cameo Single Life (Atlanta Artists)
  99. Mel McDaniel Let it Roll (Capitol)
  100. Raw Power Screams from the Gutter (Toxic Shock)
  101. Reba McEntire Have I Got a Deal for You (MCA)
  102. Dwight Yoakam Cigars Cadillacs Etc. Etc. (Oak EP)
  103. Ferron Shadows on a Dime (Lucy)
  104. Alexander O’Neal Alexander O’Neal (Tabu)
  105. Psyclones Psyclones (Subterranean)
  106. Chin-Chin Sound of the West Way (Farmer Switzerland)
  107. Dub Syndicate Tunes from the Missing Channel (On-U Sound UK)
  108. Katrina and the Waves Katrina and the Waves (Capitol)
  109. The Leather Nun Alive (Wire UK)
  110. Loose Ends A Little Spice (MCA)
  111. Long Ryders State of Our Union (Island)
  112. Bobby Womack So Many Rivers (MCA)
  113. The Nightingales What a Carry On (Vindaloo UK EP)
  114. Lone Justice Lone Justice (Geffen) 
  115. Double Double (Metronome)
  116. Debarge Rhythm of the Night (Gordy)
  117. Couch Flambeau The Day the Music Died (It’s Only a Record)
  118. Fishbone Fishbone (Columbia EP)
  119. Bobby Jimmy and the Critters Ugly Knuckle Butt (Rapsur)
  120. Hanoi Rocks All Those Wasted Years (Lick UK)
  121. Jason and the Scorchers Lost and Found (EMI America)
  122. Suzanne Vega Suzanne Vega (A&M)
  123. Hüsker Dü New Day Rising (SST)
  124. UB40 Little Baggariddim  (A&M EP)
  125. George Strait Something Special (MCA)
  126. African Head Charge Off the Beaten Track (On-U Sound UK)
  127. Red Lorry Yellow Lorry Talk About the Weather (Red Rhino UK)
  128. Lo Mejor Del Rock En Español (WEA Mexico)
  129. Shirley Murdock Shirley Murdock! (Elektra)
  130. Kassav’ Kassav’ (GD Productions France)
  131. Scritti Politti Cupid & Psyche 85 (Virgin)
  132. René and Angela Street Called Desire (Mercury)
  133. The Jesus and Mary Chain Psychocandy (Blanco Y Negro UK)
  134. The Forester Sisters The Forester Sisters (Warner Bros.)
  135. Beat Farmers Tales of the New West (Rhino)
  136. Ready for the World RFTW (MCA)
  137. Trouble The Skull (Combat/Metal Blade)
  138. The Jets The Jets (MCA)
  139. Breaking Circus The Very Long Fuse (Homestead EP)
  140. Robert Plant Shaken ’N’ Stirred (Es Paranza/Atlantic)
  141. Raszebrae Cheap Happiness or Lofty Suffering (Unseen Hand)
  142. It’s Belgian (Dites 33 Belgium)
  143. The Tubes Love Bomb (Capitol)
  144. Miles Davis You’re Under Arrest (Columbia)
  145. The Replacements Tim (Sire)
  146. The Blasters Hard Line (Slash)
  147. Jean Knight My Toot Toot (Mirage)
  148. Helix Long Way to Heaven (Capitol)
  149. Bötellita De Jerez La Venganza Del Hijo Del Guaca Rock (Polydor Mexico)
  150. We Are the World: USA for Africa (Columbia)

9 comments

    1. Thought Culturcide were annoying and way too obvious back in the ’80s, though I’ve not tried listening to them since. Thought Jon Wayne’s album was annoying and way too obvious when I streamed it last week, though I’m not sure I ever even heard of them back in the ’80s!

      Like

  1. via facebook:

    Phil Overeem
    Restless Solipsism…that’s somebody’s album title–or someone’s “summing-up”…

    Kevin Bozelka
    “creative group psychology” is Greil’s flagship product.

    Alfred Soto
    For Holy Greil to wear a t-shirt would represent for him a permanent decline of American values.

    Kevin Bozelka
    Was/is *anyone* much a fan of Around the World in a Day?

    Chuck Eddy
    I tried to make that point, parenthetically — one of the biggest P&J flops ever. People were fans of “Raspberry Beret” though, obviously.

    Sara Quell
    I love it

    ****

    Peter Stenhouse
    Happy to see my two most-played albums of ‘85 (Danny & Dusty and the Rave-Ups) so high on the list.

    Kevin Bozelka
    Still don’t get Maze. Still would put quite a few albums above Scarecrow but think it’s his best. Still hate those Raszebrae and Precious Metal album. Still think Green made the best album of 1985 (p.s. he was a POST-structuralism junkie).

    Chuck Eddy
    I’ll take your word on that! (Wonder if I should correct it.)

    Kevin Bozelka
    Chuck Eddy haha no! I doubt even Green himself knew what he was on about much of the time.

    Clifford Ocheltree
    Kevin, I was with you on Maze, certainly the albums remain a bit bland, but I’ve seen them several times in the last 20 years at Mardi Gras balls and the live show is fantastic.

    Edd Hurt
    I do like “Fear and Whiskey” but never want to listen to it. I dunno. My favorite ’85 is “Cupid & Psyche” and I also love Marti Jones’ “Unsophisticated Time.” Both great pop records. Xgau overrated “Omona Wapi,” Franco and Rochereau. But really good. Ground zero year for Americana, Dwight, Blasters, Green on Red, Silos, Alex Chilton, and the Mekons

    Kevin Bozelka
    I can buy Omona Wapi as an overrated album. But “Kabassele in Memoriam” is the most transporting African song I’ve ever heard.

    Edd Hurt
    It’s A minus.

    Kevin Bozelka
    Edd Hurt uh oh. The Xgauvians would like a word with you.

    ****

    Steve Pick
    I remember 1985 as a transitional year – I was big on the SST wave at the time, and eagerly gobbling up the Americana in utero out of LA’s Paisley Underground remnants and cohorts. At Vintage Vinyl, where I worked, reggae was huge, and hip hop was starting to make inroads beyond the early singles fad we thought it had been. So – let’s see what I thought of your faves.

    Chuck Eddy
    Edd, no offense, but you think *every* year is transitional!

    Steve Pick
    Chuck Eddy Hey, I’m Steve, not Edd.

    Edd Hurt
    Only years divisible by 7…ha.

    Edd Hurt
    I probably do tend to think in transitional terms…

    Chuck Eddy
    Author
    Oh wait, I misread this — All apologies, Steve, You guys were both posting like crazy, all on top of each other. But yeah, Edd’s the transitional guy.

    ****

    Edd Hurt
    I liked Mofungo better with Elliott Sharp, Bugged” and “Work,” and the Scene Is Now was pretty annoying (like some of their stuff OK). Same singer, I think.

    Steve Pick
    I doubt Scarecow would be my number one for that year, but top ten for sure. I remember (wrongly) hating Johnny Cougar in ’79 when he wound up opening for three of the dozen or so concerts I attended that year. But once he added the Mellencamp to his name, I was on-board, and I could make a case for him being among my fave artists of the decade between 1983 and 92. Fear and Whiskey – I hated in 1985, and have gone back and forth between loving it and rejecting it ever since. I’ve been pro-Mekons for the last year or so – wonder how it would sound to me now. I like Rum Sodomy, but not nearly as much as the next two Pogues records. Still hate that my band got replaced two days before opening for the Pogues in ’88. Art Ensemble of Chicago – I’m pretty sure I first saw them around ’85, and they never made a record that captured that experience, but I still love them to death.

    Chuck Eddy
    Second-to-last Mellencamp LP I care about, and maybe not even my favorite of his. (That’d be American Fool, probably — I haven’t done 1982 yet, I don’t think.) VASTLY prefer his Johnny Cougar stuff to his post-Jubilee stuff (which I’d boil down to an okay 10-song best-of maybe.)

    Sara Quell
    1) Hurts So Good 2) Jack and Diane 3) ROCK in the USA 4) Authority Song 5) Can You Take It 6) Crumblin Down 7) Play Guitar 8) Jackie O* 9) Love and Happiness 10) Get A Leg Up (*Petty parody?)

    Zac Harmon
    Sara Quell make room for “Cherry Bomb,” a song I played so compulsively in the summer of 2015 that my boyfriend threatened to leave me

    Chuck Eddy
    Rum Sodomy’s easily my favorite Pogues, then their punk-rocking debut, then their third one, mainly for the Xmas song. After that, I lost interest.

    Steve Pick
    Chuck Eddy Peace and Love might be their best album, possibly because Shane MacGowan lost interest, and thus forced his bandmates to reach deep inside themselves and pull out songs remarkable for their depth and power. Best record ever by a band that you’d think should have been in shambles at the time.

    ***

    Steve Pick
    I never understood Shonen Knife, and you know what I think of the Fall. The former might be a cutesy version of the latter. I saw Maze featuring Frankie Beverly the year before this, and heard them on the radio just this morning. I should check out their albums once of these days, as I have always thought of them fondly. I’m sure I heard that Ras Michael album but don’t remember it. I do remember liking Womack & Womack, but haven’t heard them in 30 plus years.

    Steve Pick
    I didn’t appreciate Alpha Blondy when I was hearing that record twice a day for months on end, but did eventually come to enjoy the sweetness contrasted to the heaviness of the words. That first LL Cool J album was a watershed – that year’s tour featured a gigantic boombox set on stage. The Yabby You is another I don’t remember – and yet I heard so much reggae in those days. Didn’t hear the Beastie Boys until they got their License. Brass Fantasy was Lester Bowie’s best project, though again, the good records only hinted at the majestic live shows.

    Steve Pick
    Danny & Dusty was a very good record that held up when I revisited it a couple years back. I’ve long been ambivalent about Big Black, though I do think I wrote some really good reviews of them, which are sadly not in my archives. I should have gotten that John Anderson album, as I did love him in prior years, but I don’t think I heard that one. Indestructible Beat of Soweto was a masterpiece introduction to South African music. Every cut is killer.
    h
    Edd Hurt
    Fwiw, I think “Fear and Whiskey” is kind of brilliant, more or less really disruptive of “country” and all that. It shouldn’t work or even exist. But it’s still pale beer compared to “Like Flies on Sherbert.” But that was the ’80s, these versions of roots music that had to be filtered thru, uh, anarchy and so forth. Early Americana. I guess it was necessary, but I’m a fan of country music, not someone who necessarily believes it has to go thru all that process, Euro or American. The fucking ’80s. I never liked John Cougar at all, boy, he really tried hard to convince me and it just leaves me cold, and annoyed.

    Chuck Eddy
    Still not convinced Chilton didn’t peak in the Box Tops.

    Steve Pick
    Chuck Eddy I am a huge Big Star fan, but I got off the ship when he went solo – my gosh, the ramshackle concerts I sat through trying hard to find something to love about somebody I once worshipped.

    Edd Hurt
    Sherbert was made in a rockabilly spirit but in tune with ’70s experimental. A truly great album. Alex peaked…ah, certainly on Radio City and Sister Lovers, I guess. I always thought he was mannered and so forth when I saw him in the ’80s, but these days I have figured out how great he was minus the usual roots apparatus. He’s an exception to a lot of so-called rules. Never made an album that didn’t sort of falter or turn into a kind of retro, but albums don’t always matter so much, maybe. Almost always when I saw him he was a stone-cold post-R&B guitarist, great, and not ramshackle at all. Absolutely more interesting and pop and better thsn Tom Petty or whatever.

    ****

    Steve Pick
    I don’t know much of your picks in the 40s, but Lost in the Stars remains one of my all-time fave tribute records, from the time when they were still somewhat rare and almost always produced by Hal Willner. I saw Luther Vandross in either ’85 or ’86 – another guy I liked live better than on record, but he made good records.

    Chuck Eddy
    Damn you saw a lot of concerts, Steve! Way more than me.

    Steve Pick
    Chuck Eddy being a daily paper critic had its advantages – plus, between the paper, Jet Lag, record store work, and eventually radio, I was able to get in free to almost anything I ever wanted.

    Steve Pick
    You’re right about the Aerosmith, but Up on the Sun would be in my top ten for 1985. The finest album ever from one of my fave bands who are still making good music today. Jacobites – I did not like them at the time, but my future wife was a huge fan. Decode Yourself was a very good record, and I would rank Rhythm and Romance much higher, for that version of “Pink Bedroom” alone.That year’s John Hiatt album was one of the few he ever did that I never played obsessively. And Camper Van Beethoven’s debut was huge for me, though they were three years away from a brief spell of being one of the best bands I ever saw live.

    Chuck Eddy
    Last Hiatt I care about. (Also like Slug Line and Two Bit Monsters, earlier — basically, like him when he’s America’s answer to early Costello.)

    Like

    1. via facebook:

      Zac Harmon
      Sara Quell make room for “Cherry Bomb,” a song I played so compulsively in the summer of 2015 that my boyfriend threatened to leave me

      Sara Quell
      Zac Harmon Good points: ‘Cherry Bomb’ (by ‘Jonny Chronic’) is a real sweet locally-available pre-roll, Kenny Fuckin Aronoff. Issues: Always hated ‘Americana’ (to misquote P. Simenon, “I’m not even talking about the music, just the album title was enough to make me vomit”), as I prefer things that go (to directly quote R. McGuinn) “krrrsshhh” to “honk”/“blat”/“squeak”, such as the guest vocalist on “CB” who reminds me of v. disappointing linked cover version. (Seeing the followup cover art I felt like Lester Bangs after having failed to kill Rod McKuen. IDGAF whatever crisis is happening, AFAIC 1988 was the worst year in history for everything ever. [Uh-Huh/Scarecrow/Jubilee = Clash/Rope/London Calling]) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c-VkFpg1yk&feature=youtu.be

      Zac Harmon
      I hear ya re: the cornpone “Americana” signifiers. I have trouble hearing “Pink Houses” fresh for that very reason (even though I, like many middle American tweens, *was* the young man with the t-shirt, listening to the rock & roll station with greasy hair and a sleazy smile, etc etc)

      Like

  2. via facebook:

    Steve Pick
    I tried hard to act like I liked Sonic Youth back in those days, but eventually I realized they were not worth taking seriously aside from two songs (Tom Violence, and the one about the power of the word fuck. I don’t think either one was on their album in ’85. The Roches Another World has some great songs, but it was a disappontment after their brilliant Keep On Doing. Still, I will gladly play anything any of them ever recorded.

    Chuck Eddy
    I’m not sure how “seriously” I took Sonic Youth — made fun of them a LOT back in the ’80s. But I do still like a lot of noise they made back then.
    h
    William Boyd
    Steve Pick The CD of The Roches’ Another World goes for astronomical prices on Amazon; I don’t know why.

    Steve Pick
    William Boyd probably because it’s been or if print for ages and it never sold that much. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it on CD and over worked in used record stores since before it was new.

    William Boyd
    Steve Pick According to Allmusic, the CD of Another World wasn’t issued until 1988. They must not have pressed many copies. I’ve never seen it in a store.

    ******
    Steve Pick
    D.C. 3 – I don’t really remember what they sounded like, but if it weren’t for the future Rene Saller, their in-store at Vintage Vinyl would have had zero attendees instead of one. Dez Cadena was a nice guy to hang with that day. I can’t remember what was on that Cameo album, but I always liked them. Raw Power was a hardcore band I didn’t get even when I was listening to a lot of hardcore – heck, they may have been the one that got me to stop listening to much of it. The Dwight Yoakam EP was a major revelation to me. The Katrina and the Waves American album only hinted at how good those songs sounded on their two Canadian original mixed records from which they were taken. Still I love that band. The Long Ryders and Lone Justice were both faves of mine in ’85, and I would rank them probably in the 20s somewhere. I love the song “Rhythm of the Night,” don’t know why I didn’t hear the album by DeBarge, especially after liking their previous ones.

    Eric Johnson
    Steve Pick DC3 played our little southern college town in Arkansas at a kind of hippie/biker bar we’d moved our bookings to after being shut down at our rented warehouse-space club. They were fun, with kind of a 70s hard rock + punk thing going on.

    Alfred Soto
    I’ve written about said critical fascination with American music; it fascinates me reading Marsh, DeCurtis, etc. yawn on Lone Justice, the Blasters, and so on. We tell ourselves stories in order to live, etc.

    Alfred Soto
    btw, Chuck, I’ve played FLIP YOUR WIG way more than NDR precisely because it’s all hooks, bam bam bam, especially on Side One. Maybe NDR has the benefit of an earlier release.

    Chuck Eddy
    Again, I preferred FYR at the time — P&J’d that one, not NDR. But NDR has the songs I remember when the record’s not on. (Not all of them by a long shot, but a few.) FYR has always struck me more as a groove album, a sound album, whatever. Relistening last week to both confirmed this for me.

    Eric Johnson
    I liked Flip Your Wig a lot when it came out, but it didn’t move my head and heart around nearly as much as New Day Rising, and I’ve never gone back to it or the later Husker Du as much as I have to NDR, the Eight Miles High single, and the best parts of Zen Arcade.

    *****

    Steve Pick
    Fishbone seemed fun at the time, but man, that record did not sound good to me when I listened again last year. Jason & the Scorchers were on the downward slope at that time, chasing radio play. I loved Suzanne Vega’s debut, never wanted to hear it again maybe two years later. I can always listen to Husker Du’s two records that year (and Tim by the Replacements, though I can be very ambivalent about that band.) UB40 had been a fave for a long time but I wasn’t crazy about that EP. I enjoy Cupid and Psyche well enough now but at the time wanted an album that sounded like “Asylums in Jerusalem,” something they never gave me. Psychocandy is always a good listen but not something I seek out. There it is, at 135, probably my fave album of 1985 – the Beat Farmers Tales of the New West. Certainly among the greatest three song opening tracks ever.

    Chuck Eddy
    UB40 longer than EP length was always too much for me (though not sure I ever heard their early unemployment card LP[s].) Agree the Scorchers had already peaked — slammed them as sellouts in Creem an album after this, I think. (Used to own their debut SEVEN-inch EP, a couple generations ago.) Fishbone struck me as a fun novelty at first; got old fast though. (“Voyage to Land of the Freeze Dried Gorilla Farts” or whatever was good heavy ‘delic funk. Appreciated their Devo influence early on as well I guess.)

    Eric Johnson
    Chuck Eddy I liked early Fishbone songs that I heard, but lost interest in them on record pretty quick. I saw them live (actually was mixing monitors, not just watching) in the mid-90s and they were fucking incredible.

    Chuck Eddy
    Pretty sure I’ve heard people call them the best live band ever. On the other hand, pretty sure Joe Carducci quoted somebody as calling them “like having a band with seven Zappas.” For whatever that’s worth.

    Steve Pick
    Chuck Eddy they were way better live and probably when better if you were ten years younger than I was and willing to slam dance

    *****

    Edd Hurt
    I mean, blame or credit Nick Tosches for the roots-beats-rock stuff, who was into Wanda Jackson or hillbilly boogie before he did his book about unsung heroes, right around 1985. I have a thing about all that hepcat early rock revisionist shit and colliding with punk, by 1985–ouch.

    Kevin Bozelka
    Edd Hurt I read that as Nik Cohn and thought you lost your mind for a moment.

    Edd Hurt
    It’s possible yet

    ****

    Brad Morosan
    3-5 were tops of the year for me. But your love for JCM has made me go back and re-listen. I think I like 87’s Lonesome Jubilee best.

    Eric Johnson
    I’m happy to see Telephone Free Landslide Victory in the top 100 at least. Camper was a revelation at the time because of their playfulness & they’re one of my favorite bands of the era.
    From the point of view of someone who wasn’t working as a critic but was starting to play in bands and put on shows with other folks fed up with our sleepy little southern college town, the explosion of new American bands (not necessarily “Americana” or what have you bands) seemed very real and lasted for the next 2-3 years.

    Chuck Eddy
    Author
    Played the Camper Van album last week, first time in decades (wasn’t a fan in the ’80s) — enjoyed most of their “world music” attempts, more than the jokes anyway, but talk about turning “eclecticism” into pure schtick.

    Eric Johnson
    I think the “world music attempts” are also jokes, or part of the larger joke. They’re definitely stuff they were having fun with much more than they were trying to actually play any kind of “world music.” There’s a real “lets try this” to the first three records. I feel like that band was good laughing at things they were also enjoying doing themselves. I think they’re albums get better as they go along, although I like the 3rd album as much as the two major label ones, but for different reasons.

    ******

    Sara Quell
    Amebix except not poseurs

    ****

    Patrick Hould
    Today I learned that Boney M’s rendition of “Dreadlock Holiday” goes “I don’t like cricket, I love it”. I’m not sure what to make of that.

    Chuck Eddy
    But wait, aren’t those the real (10cc) words? Or have I always misheard it?
    (I mean, don’t they maybe say “reggae” then change it to “cricket” later?)

    Patrick Hould
    I looked it up, and you’re right, 10cc use both words! Now I’m even more troubled – I had always heard it as “reggae” every single time.

    ***

    John Ned
    Chuck Eddy love it! Keep’em coming!

    Jake Alrich
    If there is a more lamentably underrated and forgotten band than Death of Samantha I’m hard pressed to think of it.

    Jake Alrich
    Btw this blog post could not have come at a better time as I am currently in the middle of Michaelangelo Matos’ new book. More Geldof, not less!

    Like

  3. via facebook:

    Jaz Jacobi
    And my favorite LP of all time just squeaks by, making the list at #145! 🙂

    Jaz Jacobi
    I jumped out of my seat upon spying Half Japanese on this list–just the sort of music I never expected Chuck Eddy to go for?!

    Jaz Jacobi
    Because I am the laziest, least productive “music writer” EVER: page 1 of the ONLY music article I have finished so far..[was about Half Japanese].

    Chuck Eddy
    Might be the only album I ever really liked by them (though I tried — even owned that Half Gentlemen/Not Beasts box , way way way back in the day.)

    Jaz Jacobi
    I think I like the other Half Japanese album that year, OUR SOLAR SYSTEM, even more–but then, I’m the only person who thinks FLIP YOUR WIG is twenty times better than NEW DAY RISING…

    Chuck Eddy
    Actually, you’re not! (Read the previous comments.)

    Jake Alrich
    I scared the shit outta Jad Fair at a show once.

    Chuck Eddy
    I hope it was Halloween!

    Like

    1. via facebook:

      Jake Alrich
      It was close. It wasn’t even a Half Japanese show it was Jad Fair and Phono Comb, which was JF and the members of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. Anyway, I gave him a totally unsolicited hug and gushed about how much his music meant to me and he could not have been more terrified. (This is like 1995 or 96 so my celebrity interactions have improved vastly since then. You should have seen me when I met Ricky Gervais. Cool as a fucking cucumber.)

      Like

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