Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Year in my Ipod: 1983 (Part 2)

In the spirit of the "Allmusic Loves" and the AV Club's "My Favorite Music Year" comes the Shaft Went to Africa rip off "A year in my Ipod." Originally this was just going to be a summary of what was on my ipod sorted by any given year but it became much more. I did a lot of research for this and opened myself up to a lot of stuff had never listened to before. Thanks to Spotify, I have accessed an unbelievable amount of new, old music. 

Continued from part 1. Now on to the good stuff.

3 Essential E.P's

3. Billy Bragg: Life's a Riot With Spy Vs Spy

One man, one electric guitar and 7 songs that set the tone for Bragg's entire career. With a balance of songs that are either political ("To Have and To Have Not," "The Busy Girl Buys Beauty") or personal ("The Milkman of Human Kindness," "A New England,"), Bragg puts his heart on his sleeve and makes a great first impression.

2. Hüsker Dü: Metal Circus
This is the point where Hüsker Dü began to evolve from a strictly hardcore outfit to one more focused on melody. This is mostly heard in the songs by Grant Hart. Both "It's Not Funny Anymore" and "Diane" are able to be sung along with (though the lyrical matter makes them both far from joyous) which wasn't possible on previous Hüsker songs. Bob Mould still is in hardcore mode but "Real World," "Deadly Skies" and "First of the Last Calls" all pack a serious punch.

1. Minutemen: Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat
Minutemen made a lot of fine E.P.'s in their day but none are finer than Buzz or Howl. Recorded for $50, it contains several of the bands finest songs. "Cut," "I Felt Like a Gringo," "The Product" and "Little Man With a Gun in His Hand" are all classic Minutemen and pave the way for the greatness that would come the next year.

Top 25

25. Motley Crüe: Shout at the Devil

Shout at the Devil shows very little of the glam and pop influences that would come to define later Motley Crüe albums and sticks to straight forward melodic hard rock. "Looks That Kill," "Too Young To Fall In Love" and the title track were all hits and "Helter Skelter" is a more than adequate Beatles cover. The rest of the album holds up just as well over time even if the bands outfits do not.

24. Richard Thompson: Hand of Kindness

Richard Thompson was not known for rocking out before Hand of Kindness but this album proved he was more than capable of (relatively) doing so. Of course in his case "rocking out" consists of a healthy dose accordions and horns along with Thompson's excellent guitar work. "Tear-Stained Letter" and "Two Left Feet" are a couple of the most upbeat and fun songs of Thompson's career while "Both Ends Burning" and "The Wrong Heartbeat" slow the pace but retain the sense of excitement. It wouldn't be a Richard Thompson album without a bit of depression and "Devonside" covers that in full.

23. The Wipers: Over the Edge

The Wipers third, best and most accessible album doesn't get the attention of so many other influential albums from this time period  but it really should (this stands for the Wipers as a band in general). Greg Sage's droning guitar and rough edged but melodic vocals are in perfect balance thought the album and tracks like "Romeo," "Over the Edge," "Messenger" and "What Is" are practically pop songs and "The Lonely One" is a very good ballad. Over the Edge is definitely worth seeking out.

22. Minor Threat: Out of Step

Minor Threat's only full length release is a landmark hardcore punk album. "Betray," "Look Back & Laugh," "Think Again" and the title track could all be included in a Hardcore 101 manual. Minor Threat had a huge reputation for being overly serious but "Cashing In" shows the band could poke fun at themselves and the scene while effectively slowing down the tempo as well.

21. The Police: Synchronicity

Synchronicity is the Police's most diverse album which is both it's blessing and it's curse. While it features some of the band best and/or most well known songs ("Every Breath You Take," "King of Pain," "Wrapped Around Your Finger," "Synchronicity I and II") it also has the complete waste of wax used up by Andy Summer's "Mother" and to a lesser extent, Stuart Copeland's "Miss Gradenko." The good certainly outweighs the bad and the album sold 8 million copies so it's still a fine record that others may find more endearing than myself.

20. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts: Album

Joan Jett's 3rd album (2nd with the Blackhearts) of straight forward, power chord heavy, no frills rock is the most consistent set of songs of her career. "Fake Friends," "Handyman," "I Love Playing With Fire" and "The French Song" are all among the better songs Jett ever wrote while "Secret Love" and "Why Can't We Be Happy" are both respectable pseudo-ballads. The covers of "Tossin' & Turnin" and "Everyday People" don't best the originals but are of a high quality. If the regular album would have included the infamous cover of the Rolling Stones "Star Star," (it was only released on the first cassette pressing as a hidden track) this would have been bumped up a few spots.

19. Iron Maiden: Piece of Mind

I'm not overly familiar with the Iron Maiden catalog but if Piece of Mind is indicative of the quality I'm gonna have to check out a lot more. "Where Eagles Dare," "Flight of Icarus," "Die With Your Boots On" and "The Trooper" are all fantastic and while "Revelation," "Sun and Steel" and "Still Life" aren't nearly as enjoyable they're hardly bad tracks (the same can't be said about "Quest For Fire," that song sucks). I don't think most people go through a heavy metal phase in their 30's but whatever. This is a cool album.  

18. Bob Dylan: Infidels

Dylan's 80's catalog is much maligned (and rightfully so) but Infidels is a pretty strong work. After a few handfuls of largely Christian music, he returned to the secular world and while it's far from a first rate Dylan album there's plenty to enjoy here. "Neighborhood Bully" and "Union Sundown" are both decent upbeat rockers and "I and I" and "License to Kill" show off the heavy reggae influence that lurks underneath the entire affair. "Jokerman" and "Sweetheart Like You" are two of the best songs Dylan would release in the 80's and the highlights here. If only Dylan would have included "Blind Willie McTell" on the final product, Infidels would almost be considered a triumph.

17. Dio: Holy Diver

DIO WHAT!?!? Not too much to say here. As previously mentioned I'm not a huge metal guy but Holy Diver kicks too much ass to not love. "Stand Up and Shout," "Gypsy" and "Straight From the Heart" are all face melters while "Don't Talk to Strangers" and "Invisible" are quality mixes of power ballad and rocker.. Throughout the album, Dio's voice is amazing and Vivian Campbell is Ronnie's equal on guitar. "Rainbow in the Dark" and "Holy Diver" are two of the most iconic metal songs of all time and while I used to make fun of them, I've grown to appreciate them (and Dio as a whole) a lot more.

16. Social Distortion: Mommy's Little Monster

There isn't a trace of the roots-rock and country influences that Social Distortion would come to be known for on their debut. In it's place is 9 tracks of straight forward punk. "The Creeps (I Just Wanna Give You)," "Another State of Mind," "Telling Them" and the title track are still staples of live Social D concerts and the other 5 tracks hold up well. Social Distortion would go on to make better albums but none of them match Mommy's Little Monster for pure power.

15. Bad Brains: Rock For Light

Rock For Light and Bad Brains' debut are 2 of my favorite hardcore punk albums of all time (Black Flag's Damageis the other). The two share a lot of the same songs so they're kind of hard to separate but I'll give the debut the slight edge. Anyway Rock For Light is a blast of speed, energy and craziness balanced out by the beautifully sublime reggae of "Rally Round Jah Throne," "The Meek" and "I and I Survive." Bad Brains were(are) a lot more skilled as musicians than most hardcore bands were and that adds an additional oomph to the punk tracks( the guitar solo on "Riot Squad is out of this world). Throw in H.R.'s insane vocals and you have a pure hardcore classic.

14. The Suburbs: Love is the Law

 LOCAL MUSIC ALERT!!! Love is the Law is the Suburbs masterpiece. It's alternatingly easily accessible ("Love is the Law" is the most straight forward pop-rock song they ever made, "Rattle My Bones" is a catchy as hell rockabilly tune) and defiantly weird ("Monster Man," "Crazy Job"). There are jagged rhythms and danceable beats on nearly every song. Love is the Law holds it's own against the best that the Twin Cities music scene offered in the 80's.

13. Peter Tosh: Mama Africa

Mama Africa is Peter Tosh's most easily accessible album. This is still very dense, politically charged roots reggae but there are far more obvious hooks on "Glass House," "Not Gonna Give It Up,""Where You Gonna Run" and the title track than on most of Tosh's solo work. Throw in reworkings of the Wailers "Stop That Train," Tosh's own "Maga Dog" and a glorious cover of "Johhny B Goode" and you get an excellent reggae album that's both passionate and memorable.

12. ZZ Top: Eliminator

Eliminator is an album completely stamped in the 80's but whereas that is a huge hindrance for most music, it is what gives ZZ Top's biggest seller it's most endearing quality. Sure there are synthesizers all over the place but songs like "Legs," "Sharp Dressed Man," and "Gimmie All Your Lovin" would be incomplete without them. There's still plenty of Billy Gibbons guitar work scattered throughout the album to make it a pure ZZ Top album and "TV Dinners," "Dirty Dog" and "I Got the Six" show off the bands humor and lust at it's finest. Eliminator is the perfect balance between ZZ Top's commercial aspirations and their classic boogie rock that they would try (and fail miserably) to duplicate the rest of their career.

11. Talking Heads: Speaking in Tongues

Speaking in Tongues is the Talking Heads full funk masterpiece. They had always been a funky band but their sound had never been as full fledged as it is on "Burning Down the House," "Making Flippy Floppy," "Girlfriend is Better" and "Slippery People." "Swamp" is a bit slower and well swampy but no less effective and the closing "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" is one of the most beautiful songs the band ever recorded. It speaks to the greatness of the band that this is not generally considered one of their finest albums.

10. Marshall Crenshaw: Field Day

Marshall Crenshaw's second album Field Day falls just short of his superb debut due to a bit of overproduction and a slightly lesser set of songs but it's still a great set of power pop. "Whenever You're On My Mind," "One More Reason" "Monday Morning Rock," and "One Day With You" all have huge hooks while the one's in "Our Town" and "This Time" are a bit more subtle but still fantastic. These songs may not sound like much at first but they will stick in your head for days. There's nothing fancy going on here, just highly enjoyable, guitar pop at (close to) it's finest.

9. Tom Waits: Swordfishtrombones

Swordfishtrombones marked the point where Tom Waits fully turned from a piano balladeer into the avant-garde surrealist we know today. This (and all of Waits subsequent work) is very hard to describe without hearing the album. There are bare bone's stompers ("Underground," "16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought Six," "Down, Down, Down"), blues-rock ("Gin Soaked Boy") balladry done both weird ("Shore Leave" ) and traditionally ("Johnsberg, Illinois," "Town With No Cheer," "In the Neighborhood") off beat instrumentals ("Dave the Butcher," "Just Another Sucker on the Vine," "Rainbirds") and spoken word tales ("Frank's Wild Years," "Troubles Braids"). The end result is a startling reinvention for Waits that he would go on to pursue for the rest of career and while it's not the best album he would make in this vein, it's a very interesting one.

8. Violent Femmes: Violent Femmes

Violent Femmes is still one of the most unique albums in rock and roll history. The bands mix of folky guitars, punk energy and a boatload of teenage angst makes for a still unique listening experience. "Blister in the Sun" is the frat party anthem but "Add It Up," "Gone Daddy Gone," "Prove My Love" and "Kiss Off" are all at least it's equal. "Please Don't Go" and "Confessions" balance out the more frantic tunes remarkably well and show off Gordon Gano's excellent songwriting. This is one of the best debuts in alternative rock history and it's a shame the Femmes never reached this level again.

7. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: Texas Flood

By the early 80's the blues were widely considered an afterthought or a relic before Texas Flood came along and sparked a new interest in the genre. Vaughan certainly wasn't an original at this point in his career as he borrowed liberally from many older blues artists but that has little to no impact on songs like "Love Struck Baby," "Pride and Joy" "Lenny" and the title track. Vaughan's guitar playing is understandably the star but his soulful vocals and Double Trouble's capable backing help make this a landmark blues album.

6. Huey Lewis & the News: Sports!

Goodbye music snob card!! I've written about my (unhealthy?) love for Huey Lewis in general and Sports in particular in the past. This albums signifies so much of what I hate about most 80's mainstream pop music but I love it all the same. There's just a indescribable quality to "Heart of Rock and Roll," "Heart and Soul," "I Want a New Drug," "Walking on a Thin Line" and "If This is It" that gets to me in spite of the albums cheesiness. This is a good time waiting to happen and I make no apologies.

5. Metallica: Kill 'Em All

More Metal!! Metallica is the only metal band I had a strong familiarity with before researching 1983 so maybe that's why I think their debut is the best metal album of the year but Kill 'Em All is really, really good so maybe not. There's little diversification going on here, just straightforward speed metal. Killer riffs, amazing solos and propulsive rhythms cover up Hetfield's early weaknesses as a vocalist (he's not really singing here, just monotone yelling) but tracks like "Seek and Destroy," "Hit the Light's," "The Four Horsemen" and "Jump in the Fire" don't need strong vocals anyway. The band would go on to make bigger and better albums but Kill 'Em All established Metallica as a force to be reckoned with and set the stage for the most famed career in all of heavy metal.

4. X: More Fun in the New World

X was always the most diverse and commercial sounding of the late 70's L.A. punks. Their commercial aspects came to a head on More Fun in the New World. There's still plenty of rage on display as the tempo's are upbeat, Billy Zoom's guitar still buzzes and howls. "True Love" "Make the Music Go Bang," "Devil Doll" and "I See Red" would easily fit on previous X releases while "Hot House," "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts" and the title track are slower but no less effective. Exene Cervenka and John Doe still showcase the best harmonies any early punks offered up. After this album X's would start to go downhill but More Fun in the New World certainly lives up to it's title.

3. The Replacements: Hootenanny

Hootenanny isn't the Replacments best work but for the uninitiated it does represent the finest essence of what the band was all about. There are throwaway tracks ("Hootenanny," "Lovelines"), pseudo hardcore ("Run It," "Heyday") drunk fueled tales of life ("Treatment Bound," "Mr. Whirly") and the first two full fledged classic songs that Paul Westerberg wrote ("Color Me Impressed," "Within' Your Reach"). The album may be a mess but it's a beautiful mess that encompasses everything the Replacements stood for and why they mean so much to so many.  

2. U2: War

This is the album where U2 really became U2. Their first 2 albums were solid post-punk works but nothing could have prepared listeners in '83 for "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "Two Hearts Beat as One" or "New Years Day." Even after hearing both hundreds of times over the years they all seem fresh and relevant. At this point Bono didn't appear to have the weight of the world on his shoulders (just the weight of Ireland) and the Edge's guitar work was both creative and unique The rest of the album isn't up to the level of those 3 tracks but "Surrender," "Surrender," "40" and "Like a Song....." are all great songs. U2 doesn't do much for me nowadays but War is still a fantastic testament to how great of a band they used to be.

1. R.E.M: Murmer

It's certainly not accurate to pinpoint Murmer's release as the beginning of alternative rock but it's certainly one of the defining albums of the genre (whatever the hell that is considered these days). It would be impossible to choose which is the more defining sound, Peter Buck's jangly guitar or Michael Stipe's mumbly vocals (Mike Mills melodic basslines are also great) but it really doesn't matter. "Radio Free Europe" and "Talk About the Passion" are the most well known tracks but really every song is a classic. "Pilgrimage," "Catapult," "Sitting Still" and "Shaking Through" are all fantastic upbeat rockers while "Perfect Circle" is the bands first great beautiful song. Murmer isn't quite the greatest R.E.M. album of all time but it set the stage for a phenomenal career and is the best album that was released in 1983.

Spotify Playlist

Shaft Went to Africa 1983 Playlist

A Year in my Ipod: 1983 (Part 1)

In the spirit of the "Allmusic Loves" and the AV Club's "My Favorite Music Year" comes the Shaft Went to Africa rip off "A year in my Ipod." Originally this was just going to be a summary of what was on my ipod sorted by any given year but it became much more. I did a lot of research for this and opened myself up to a lot of stuff had never listened to before. Thanks to Spotify, I have accessed an unbelievable amount of new, old music. 

1983 was not a great year for music but there were certainly some fine albums released as well. New Wave had run it's course and had basically become crappy pop (unless you're really into synth-pop then this might be a fantastic year for you). The overproduction that plagues much of the decade was in full force and many iconic artists released records that, while having good songs, sound completely dated and overblown now. On the plus side, punk had gone almost entirely underground and the hardcore movement was at it's zenith. There were also some great debuts by soon to be legendary artists and there were a number of great metal (not my forte) albums released before the hair bands took over in the next few years.

Part 1 will feature a bunch of notable stuff that didn't make the top 25, grouped by made up categories. Part 2 will be the top 25.


Depeche Mode: Construction Time Again

Duran Duran: Seven and the Ragged Tiger

Eurythmics: Sweet Dreams (are Made of This)

Eurythmics: Touch

Ministry: With Symphany

New Order: Power, Corruption and Lies

Tears For Fears: The Hurting

I think Synth-Pop is pretty terrible. There are some classics of the genre listed here but it just does nothing for me as a genre. The Ministry album is the weirdest one here just because they would become so important to industrial metal but their debut is pretty terrible.


Alabama: The Closer You Get

George Strait: Right or Wrong

Johnny Cash: Johnny 99

Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson: Pancho and Lefty

Willie Nelson: Tougher than Leather

Finding 5 country albums worth including even on a pseudo honorable mentions list is tough for me any given year. I grew up on Alabama and it's got a couple notable singles, Right or Wrong and Tougher Than Leather were close to the top 30. Pancho and Lefty has the classic title track followed by a disappointing album and Johnny 99 is a good latter day Cash record boosted by a couple Springsteen covers.

Metal and Hard Rock

KISS: Lick It Up

Molly Hatchet: No Guts, No Glory

Def Leppard: Pyromania

Motorhead: Another Perfect Day

Ozzy Osbourne: Bark at the Moon

Quiet Riot: Metal Health

Suicidal Tendencies: Suicidal Tendencies

Twisted Sister: Can't Stop Rock 'N' Roll

Pyromania sold a ton of records but Def Leppard is just not my thing I and I find it only listenable (pretty sure I won a vinyl copy though). Suicidal Tendencies is just as influenced by punk as by metal and contains "Institutionalized" making it my favorite Suicidal Tendencies album by far. Lick It Up is more notable for KISS shedding their makeup than the music on the album. Bark at the Moon is just an average Ozzy album. Metal Health is pretty much the first hair band album. Twisted Sister was still playing a harder brand of rock here than they would become and the less said about the Motorhead and Molly Hatchet albums the better.


Bad Religion: Into the Unknown

Circle Jerks: Golden Shower of Hits

Fang: Landshark!

The Misfits: Earth A.D.

Negative Approach: Tied Down

 The Ramones: Subterranean Jungle

Golden Shower of Hits and Earth A.D. are both excellent 80's hardcore albums but neither represent the best work of the Circle Jerks or the Misfits. Tied Down is just a notch below them but not quite first rate. Fang was a big influence on Kurt Cobain and Nirvana covered "The Money Will Roll Right In" early in their career. Into the Unknown is a total oddball in Bad Religion's catalog with lots of synthesizers and pop leaning. Certainly not a great record but very interesting. Subterranean Jungle is a very enjoyable Ramones album though far from a classic.

Alternative and New Wave

The Waterboys: The Waterboys

The FIXX: Reach the Beach

XTC: Mummer

Echo & the Bunnymen: Porcupine

Jonathan Richman: Jonathan Sings!

The Stray Cats: Rant 'N' Rave

The Fall: Perverted by Language

Fun Boy Three: Waiting

Big Country: The Crossing

Some pretty good stuff here. The Waterboys and Echo & The Bunnymen really wanted to be U2 at this stage in their careers and the results are fairly uneven. Jonathan Richman ditched the Modern Lovers and does actually attempt to sing. Big Country's debut contains their most well known song ("In a Big Country") and is a interesting album. Fun Boy Three is nowhere near as good as the members previous band, The Specials, but is a decent slab of pop. XTC and The Fall are both bands with such expansive discographys they're tough to get into and I probably didn't give either album the time it deserves. The FIXX album is OK but it has "One Thing Leads to Another" on it. Same with Rant 'N' Rave featuring "(She's) Sexy and 17." 

Mainstream Pop and Rock

The Rolling Stones: Undercover

Billy Idol: Rebel Yell

Billy Joel: An Innocent Man 

Cheap Trick: Next Position Please

Eric Clapton: Money and Cigarettes

Madonna: Madonna

Pink Floyd: The Final Cut 

Romantics: In Heat

Todd Rundgren: The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect

"Weird Al" Yankovic: "Weird Al" Yankovic

Yes: 90125

Bryan Adams: Cuts Like a Knife

David Bowie: Let's Dance

Elton John: Too Low For Zero

Genesis: Genesis

John Cougar Mellencamp: Uh Huh

Rick Springfield: Living in Oz

The Tubes: Outside Inside

Bob Marley & the Wailers: Confrontation

UB40: Labour of Love

There are some real popular albums lumped together in this category. Most have at least 1 giant hit single ("Rebel Yell," "Cuts Like a Knife," "Let's Dance," "That's All," "Holiday," "Pink Houses," Talking in Your Sleep," Bang on the Drum all Day," I'm Still Standing" "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and "She's a Beauty") but don't hold up as completed works. Idol, Adams, Madonna, Mellencamp and Genesis probably count for a bout a third of all albums sold in the 80's and others may think much higher of them than I do. I have a soft spot for doo-wop and also for Billy Joel so I rather like An Innocent Man.  Undercover finds the Rolling Stones in experimental mode and the results are generally successful. Bowie, John and Clapton don't fall total victim to the curse of 80's production but none are overly strong albums. Next Position Please, Living in Oz and In Heat are actually pretty good slabs of power-pop. Weird Al's debut is nowhere near as strong as some of his later work but lays out his career blueprint fairly well. Confrontation is a fine collection of unreleased Marley songs. Labour of Love is exactly what you would expect from UB40. The Final Cut is a completely unmemorable Pink Floyd album. Yes sucks, don't know why I'm even including them.

Rock Gone Wrong, 80's Style

Graham Parker: The Real Macaw

Jackson Browne: Lawyers in Love

Lou Reed: Legendary Hearts

Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Punch the Clock 

The Kinks: State of Confusion

Neil Young: Everybody's Rockin'

Nick Lowe: The Abominable Showman

Paul McCartney: Pipes of Peace

Robert Plant: The Principle of Moments

Randy Newman: Trouble in Paradise

These albums all range from the terribly overproduced (Punch the Clock, The Real Macaw, Trouble in Paradise, The Principle of Moments, Lawyers in Love, Legendary Hearts) to the terribly bland (Everybody's Rockin,' The Abominable Showman, State of Confusion) with a dash of just terrible (Pipes of Peace) thrown in for good measure. There are some seriously talented musicians on this list who, for whatever reason, came up very short in their efforts of 1983.