150 Best Albums of 1982

Go ahead, call me a Teutonophile — You wouldn’t be the first, and I’ll readily admit to a fondness for jagerschnitzel, currywurst, spaetzle, oompah accordions, lederhosen, drndls and dachshunds, not to mention a nostalgia for all the imbißes, rathskellars, gasthäuser, bierhallen, bahnhöfe and (most obviously for our purposes) plattenläden I once whiled away my time off from military duty in. The year I got to Bad Kreuznach was 1982, a peak moment for Kraut-rock sequel Neue Deutsche Welle not to mention seven years before the Berlin Wall came down, signaling German reunification and the end of the Cold War that brought me there. So maybe the dozen-at-least German albums among the 150 below — all from the west half I believe including Kölsch-singing Cologners Bap and not even counting Austria’s Falco, the Netherlands’ Ex, Belgium’s Two Man Sound, or Switerland’s Liliput — should come as no groß surprise.

Of course, to even get to the definitive NDW compilation at #4 (and okay, after the Fall’s either best or second-best album), you have to pay your respects to two guys born in Indiana in the ’50s — one from Gary in the north early in the decade, one from Seymour in the south later — accumulating the most platinum they, or almost anybody else especially in the Gary guy’s case, ever would. As for the Seymour guy, some might think it perverse that I take him at his most commercial so drastically over the New Jersey guy he was regularly dismissed at the time as an inept imitator of at said Jersey guy’s least commercial. But while I respect-on-paper Nebraska‘s probably prescient no-man’s-land deaths-of-despair Reaganomics tour (or whatever) in a way I don’t really respect-on-paper, say, the fussbudget-ornate Elvis Costello magnum opus that dominated 1982 music critic polls, both albums bore me now in ways they didn’t even bore me then. I swear I tried. Gang of Four’s Songs of the Free and English Beat’s Special Beat Service — both third albums by British bands originally steeped in rhythm — sounded even thinner than I remembered as well.

In Robert Christgau’s formulation, 1982 was a year for white rock critics to figure out funk, to “learn how to hear how lead basslines and quintuple rhythms and cartoon chants and harmolodic abrasions and party rhetoric can make meaning and reshape time.” Half my top 20 qualifies, I think, including two albums by Material because we are spirits in the Material world and I am a Material girl. (1981 and 1984 references respectively, but you get the idea.) At least half my top 50 as well, if four jazz albums and either King Sunny Adé or Yaz(oo) count.

Per usual, critics went for immortals (Prince, Michael Jackson whose Thriller would go on to top ’83’s Pazz & Jop thanks to the year-of-impact rule), legends (Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin), geniuses (Ornette Coleman, George Clinton) and exotics (Adé, August Darnell, Ronald Shannon Jackson), while leaving mere professional entertainers in the lurch: Zapp, Skyy, Ray Parker Jr., D Train, Stacy Lattisaw, One Way, Gap Band, DeBarge, Cameo, Richard “Dimples” Fields (whose “If It Ain’t One Thing It’s Another” placed behind only Flash the the Furious Five’s poll-champion “The Message” on my personal second-ever P&J singles ballot that year), on and on. By 1982, maybe even Chic fits in this latter category — both for their own low-Billboarding Tongue in Chic (“shut out” by P&J voters Xgau lamented) and their oddball soundtrack to the box-office flop Soup for One, which I actually prefer, ultimately Tribe Called Quest-sampled Carly Simon single and all. Rap music, meanwhile, was just getting its album legs; Trouble Funk put out Washington D.C. go-go’s best LP ever; and Top-50-on-my-list British r&b acts the Quick, Imagination and Junior bridged late organic disco and the West Indies diaspora with a layover at the UK’s MTV-ready so-called “New Pop” (see: ABC, Yazoo, maybe A Flock of Seagulls, too-spotty-for-me Culture Club).

Underground (post-punk, post-hardcore, etc.) rock had its own trends, not all of them German and some involving artists who didn’t even make my Top 150, to wit: (1) Accidentally sounding or purposely trying to sound like Captain Beefheart (free jazz + Delta blues = skronk rock), perhaps in honor of his own final album: Birthday Party, Blurt, George Brigman, Fall, Flesheaters, Gun Club, Richard Hell, Hi Sheriffs of Blue, Motor Boys Motor (featuring two future Screaming Blue Messiahs), James Blood Ulmer. (2) New Wave girlz basking in the sunshine: Toni Basil, Flirts, Bonnie Hayes, Dallas-born Julie Jigsaw in the graffiti-rapping Dusseldorf trio Ja Ja Ja, Liliput, Bow Wow Wower Annabella Lwin, Neo Boys, Waitress Patty Donahue, nine 12-year-olds in Die Doraus Und Die Marinas. (3) Urban street toughs and thugs you wouldn’t want to run into down in the tube station at midnight (even if Girlschool could probably kick all their arses): Anti-Nowhere League , Cold Chisel, 4 Skins, High Speed and the Afflicted Man, Rose Tattoo.(4) Proto-industrial bands sampling pornography where women wind up screaming in terror: Der Plan, SPK, Tuxedomoon, and I think maybe Cabaret Voltaire but honestly who needs that stupid sexist shit?

Not to mention (5) Noise pitchers from the Pacific Coast League, upper coastals generally more off-kilter, lower coastals generally funnier: Angry Samoans with L.A. hardcore’s best LP-or-EP ever, Chrome, Flipper, Meat Puppets when they still played at hardcore velocity and brevity, Nervous Gender, Red Cross when they still played at hardcore etc (and before Geneva-based nonprofit humanitarians made them change their name), Toiling Midgets, Voice Farm, Vox Pop. (6) On the opposite coast, meanwhile, Sonic Youth debuted with an EP to the beat of a different drummer, Half Japanese made a goofy EP about scary movies, Bad Brains showcased D.C. hardcore that halfway managed to swing, and the aforeshoutedout Hi Sheriffs of Blue (instructively named for a Charley Patton song) put out a pair of EPs and anchored the Peripheral Vision comp along with Lower East Side post-no-wave fellow travelers Mofungo and The Scene is Now.

Those detours are barely remembered; in fact, most were barely even noted at the time. Neither, on American shores at least, was the Neue Deutsche Welle. But a now-forgotten blip that did get at least a Smith Corona ribbon’s worth of ink was a brief a capella doo-wop revival, represented in the list below by Eugene Pitt’s reformed Jive Five, who’d had a #3 pop hit with “My True Story” in 1961, and the four other reformed Black or Italian-American groups on Ambient Sound’s Everything New is Old, Everything Old is New anthology, on which they each perform an original and interpret with ’50s-to-early ’60s streetcorner harmonies a song by a modern-day artist — Steely Dan via Pitt’s Brooklyn quintet, R.E.O. Speedwagon via Queens’ Randy and the Rainbows, John Lennon via Philly’s Capris, Jackson Browne via Manhattan’s Harptones, the Ramones via Brooklyn’s Mystics. If you really want to deep-dive, each group made its own album. I didn’t; not that much, anyway. But I can vouch regardless for the Persuasions’ no-instrument-backed four-part soul singing and for the gospel shouting, testifying, sermonizing, Sunday School teaching and birthday wishing on the University of North Carolina Press‘s northern Virginia Powerhouse for God field recording, close doo-wop cousins for sure.

I hear residual remnants of doo-wop as well in 1982 albums by David Lasley (not to be confused with David Lindley, who finishes quite a bit lower), Was (Not Was) associate Sweet Pea Atkinson (covering the Tymes’ “So Much in Love”), Donald Fagen (covering the Drifters’ “Ruby Baby”) and Richard “Dimples” Fields. Maybe even the prettier parts of a louder-than-usual album from Dion disciple Lou Reed (not to be confused with neck-and-neck Jerry Reed), Warren Zevon’s “Let Nothing Come Between You,” or Robert Wyatt’s heavenly remake of Chic’s already otherworldly “At Last I Am Free,” which helps his two odes to Stalin go down easier. And I haven’t even mentioned the jazz LPs; there must be doo-wop echoes in a few of those too, right? But even out here under the street lights, where as the Coug would say everybody needs a hand to hold onto, I’m not gonna hold your hand.

  1. The Fall Hex Enduction Hour (Kamera UK)
  2. John Cougar American Fool (Riva)
  3. Michael Jackson Thriller (Epic)
  4. Deutschland Deutschland: A Compilation of “New” German Music (Das Büro/Cachalot)
  5. Two Man Sound Capital Tropical (TSR)
  6. 98.7 Kiss-FM Presents Shep Pettibone’s Mastermixes (Prelude)
  7. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five The Message (Sugarhill)
  8. Angry Samoans Back From Samoa (Bad Trip EP)
  9. Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle/FSK Stürmer (Zickzack Germany)
  10. Material One Down (Celluloid/Elektra)
  11. Girlschool Screaming Blue Murder (Bronze)
  12. Richard & Linda Thompson Shoot Out the Lights (Hannibal)
  13. The Quick One Light in a Blackout (Epic)
  14. Live Convention ’82 (Disco-O-Wax)
  15. Lime Lime II (Prism)
  16. Flipper Album Generic Flipper (Subterranean)
  17. David Lasley Missin’ Twenty Grand (EMI)
  18. Material Memory Serves (Elektra Musician)
  19. Trouble Funk Drop the Bomb (Sugarhill)
  20. John Carter Quartet Dauwhe (Black Saint Italy)
  21. X Under the Big Black Sun (Elektra)
  22. Virgin Prunes …If I Die, I Die (Rough Trade UK)
  23. Everything New is Old, Everything Old is New (Ambient Sound)
  24. Neil Young Trans (Geffen)
  25. Zapp Zapp II (Warner Bros.)
  26. The Mekons The Mekons Story (CNT Productions UK)
  27. Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society Mandance (Antilles)
  28. Ornette Coleman Of Human Feelings (Antilles)
  29. Yaz(oo) Upstairs at Eric’s (Mute/Sire)
  30. Skyy Skyyjammer (Salsoul)
  31. Prince 1999 (Warner Bros.)
  32. Ray Parker Jr. The Other Woman (Arista)
  33. Art Ensemble of Chicago Urban Bushmen (ECM)
  34. Warren Zevon The Envoy (Asylum)
  35. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band Ice Cream for Crow (Epic)
  36. Imagination In the Heat of the Night (MCA)
  37. King Sunny Adé and his African Beats Juju Music (Mango)
  38. Bap Vūn Drinne Noh Drūsse (Musikant/EMI Electrola Germany)
  39. D Train You’re the One for Me (Prelude)
  40. The Late Bronze Age Isles of Langerhans (Landslide)
  41. Soup For One (Mirage)
  42. Riot Restless Breed (Elektra) 
  43. A Flock of Seagulls A Flock of Seagulls (Jive/Arista)
  44. Laurie Anderson Big Science (Warner Bros.)
  45. David Johansen Live It Up (Blue Sky)
  46. Falco Einzelhaft (A&M)
  47. Junior Ji (Mercury)
  48. Stacy Lattisaw Sneakin’ Out (Cotillion) 
  49. One Way Who’s Foolin’ Who? (MCA)
  50. Dangerous Dance Music (Jive)
  51. Hi Sheriffs of Blue Hi Sheriffs of Blue (Jimboco 6L EP)
  52. The Gap Band Gap Band IV (Total Experience)
  53. Donald Fagen The Nightfly (Warner Bros.)
  54. DeBarge All This Love (Gordy)
  55. Ja Ja Ja Ja Ja Ja (Ata Tak Germany)
  56. Meat Puppets Meat Puppets (SST/Thermidor EP)
  57. The Flirts 10 Cents a Dance (“O”)
  58. Mekanik Destrüktiw Komandöh Der Tag Schlägt Zu/Berlin (Zensor Germany EP)
  59. Motor Boys Motor Motor Boys Motor (Aldion UK)
  60. George Brigman & Split I Can Hear the Ants Dancin’ (Solid)
  61. Peripheral Vision (Zoar)
  62. Waitresses I Could Rule the World if I Could Only Get the Parts (Polydor EP)
  63. Chic Tongue in Chic (Atlantic)
  64. Rose Tattoo Scarred for Life (Mirage)
  65. Kid Creole and the Coconuts Wise Guy/Tropical Gangsters (Sire)
  66. 4 Skins The Good, the Bad and the 4 Skins (Secret UK)
  67. Carla Bley Live! (ECM)
  68. Trio The Album/Da Da Da (Mercury Canada)
  69. Lou Reed The Blue Mask (RCA)
  70. Let Them Eat Jellybeans! (Alternative Tentacles)
  71. The Ex History is What’s Happening (More D.P.M.-Dirt Per Minute Netherlands)
  72. Jerry Reed The Bird (RCA Victor)
  73. Cameo Alligator Woman (Chocolate City)
  74. Chico Freeman Tradition in Transition (Elektra Musician)
  75. The Nightingales Pigs on Purpose (Cherry Red UK)
  76. Hi Sheriffs of Blue Ain’t But Sweet 16/My Big Vacation/Cold Chills (Jimboco 5L EP)
  77. Chrome 3rd From the Sun (Siren)
  78. Jeff Todd Titon/Fellowship Independent Baptist Church of Stanley, Virginia Powerhouse For God (University of North Carolina Press)
  79. Rheingold Fan Fan Fanatic (Harvest EP)
  80. Bonnie Hayes with the Wild Combo Good Clean Fun (Slash)
  81. Gil Scott-Heron Moving Target (Arista)
  82. Bow Wow Wow Original Recordings (Harvest)
  83. Richard Hell Destiny Street (Red Star)
  84. Kevin Coyne PØliticz (Cherry Red UK)
  85. Robert Wyatt Nothing Can Stop Us (Gramavision)
  86. Killing Joke Revelations (Editions EG)
  87. Snakefinger Manual of Errors (Ralph)
  88. Die Doraus Und Die Marinas Blumen Und Narzissen (Ata Tak Germany)
  89. Gilberto Gil Um Banda Um (WEA Latina)
  90. Winterhawk Revival (Lambda)
  91. ABC The Lexicon of Love (Mercury)
  92. Singers & Players Revenge of the Underdog (On-U Sound UK)
  93. Marvin Gaye Midnight Love (Columbia)
  94. Cold Chisel Circus Animals (Elektra)
  95. The B-52s Mesopotamia (Warner Bros. EP)
  96. The Dream Syndicate The Days of Wine and Roses (Ruby/Slash)
  97. Der Plan Normalette Surprise (Optional)
  98. Richard Dimples Fields Mr. Look So Good (Epic)
  99. Neo Boys Crumbling Myths (Neo Boys EP)
  100. Anti-Nowhere League We Are the League (Faulty Products)
  101. Spliff 8555 (CBS Schallplaten Germany)
  102. The Persuasions Good News (Rounder)
  103. Voice Farm The World We Live In (Optional)
  104. Sweet Pea Atkinson Don’t Walk Away (Island)
  105. Papa Michigan & General Smiley Downpression (Greensleeves UK)
  106. Cheap Trick One On One (Epic)
  107. Hanoi Rocks Self Destruction Blues (Johanna Finland)
  108. Men At Work Business As Usual (Columbia)
  109. Toni Basil Word of Mouth (Chrysalis)
  110. The Neats The Monkey’s Head in the Corner of the Room (Ace of Hearts EP)
  111. James Blood Ulmer Black Rock (Columbia)
  112. Sonic Youth Sonic Youth (Neutral EP)
  113. Pop-O-Pies The White EP (415 EP)
  114. Rush Signals (Mercury)
  115. Cool It Reba Money Fall Out of the Sky (Hannibal EP)
  116. The Jive Five Featuring Eugene Pitt Here We Are! (Ambient Sound)
  117. Liliput Lilliput (Rough Trade UK)
  118. Vox Pop The Band, the Myth, the Volume (Goldar/Mystic EP)
  119. Zolar X Timeless (Pyramid)
  120. Earl Thomas Conley Somewhere Between Right and Wrong (RCA)
  121. Zinc Zinc (Arista)
  122. Vandenberg Vandenberg (Atco)
  123. Nichts Tango 2000 (WEA/Schallmauer Germany)
  124. After The Fire ATF (Epic)
  125. Ted Hawkins Watch Your Step (Rounder)
  126. Bad Brains Bad Brains (ROIR)
  127. George Clinton Computer Games (Capitol)
  128. Don Henley I Can’t Stand Still (Asylum)
  129. High Speed and the Afflicted Man Get Stoned EZ (Bonk UK)
  130. Huey Lewis and the News Picture This (Chrysalis)
  131. Nervous Gender Music From Hell (Subterranean)
  132. Raven Wiped Out (Neat UK)
  133. Tonio K La Bomba (Capitol EP)
  134. Red Cross Born Innocent (Smoke 7)
  135. Rank and File Sundown (Slash/Warner Bros.)
  136. Lacy J. Dalton 16th Avenue (Columbia)
  137. Swollen Monkeys On Vacation! (Cachalot EP)
  138. Half Japanese Horrible (Press EP)
  139. The Birthday Party Junkyard (4AD UK)
  140. Ricky Skaggs Highways and Heartaches (Epic)
  141. Blurt Blurt (Red Flame UK)
  142. Xavier Point of Pleasure (Liberty)
  143. David Lindley and El Rayo-X Win This Record! (Elektra/Asylum)
  144. Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band The Distance (Capitol)
  145. The Rods Wild Dogs (Arista)
  146. Jerusalem Warrior (Lamb & Lion)
  147. Certain General Holiday of Love (Labor EP)
  148. Kim Larsen and Jungledreams Sitting on a Time Bomb (Epic)
  149. The Twins Modern Lifestyle (Hansa Germany)
  150. Toiling Midgets Sea of Unrest (Instant/Rough Trade)

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