Home Music Music Lists

100 Best Albums of the Eighties

From synth pop and rap to metal and funk, 100 best albums of the Eighties selected by the editors of Rolling Stone

First 10 entries here span the Clash's polyglot punk, Prince's crossover funkadelica, Afro-bop from Talking Heads and Paul Simon and hymns of innocence and experience by U2 and Tracy Chapman.

This has been the first rock & roll decade without revolution, or true revolutionaries, to call its own. The Fifties witnessed nothing less than the birth of the music. The Sixties were rocked by Beatlemania, Motown, Phil Spector, psychedelia and Bob Dylan. The Seventies gave rise to David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, heavy metal, punk and New Wave.

In comparison, the Eighties have been the decade of, among other things, synth pop, Michael Jackson, the compact disc, Sixties reunion tours, the Beastie Boys and a lot more heavy metal. But if the past 10 years haven’t exactly been the stuff of revolution, they have been a critical time of re-assessment and reconstruction. Musicians and audiences alike have struggled to come to terms with rock’s parameters and possibilities, its emotional resonance and often dormant social consciousness.

The following survey of the 100 best albums of the Eighties, as selected by the editors of Rolling Stone, shows that the music and the values it stands for have been richer for the struggle. Punks got older and more articulate in their frustration and rage, while many veteran artists responded to that movement’s challenge with their most vital work in years. And rap transformed the face — and voice — of popular music.

The first 10 entries here span the Clash’s polyglot punk, Prince’s crossover funkadelica, Afro-bop from Talking Heads and Paul Simon and hymns of innocence and experience by U2 and Tracy Chapman. Further down the list, old-timers like Dylan, the Stones and Lou Reed hit new highs; Public Enemy and Run-D.M.C. kicked out some serious streetwise jams; Metallica and Guns N’ Roses established new hard-rock beachheads; and Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth and the Replacements offered definitive statements of postpunk angst. The embarrassment of riches on this list is all the more remarkable, since arthritic radio programming, corporate sponsorship and outbursts of racism and sexism in rap and metal have complicated rock’s present and raised fears for its future.

Best-of lists such as this one are by nature subjective. But rock in the Eighties was like that — lively, varied, contentious and, to some degree, inconclusive. Looking at the best rock has had to offer in the Eighties, it’s clear that there’s plenty of life left in the old beast yet. The next revolution may be just around the corner.

This feature was originally published in the November 16, 1989 issue of Rolling Stone.

27

Janet Jackson, ‘Control’

“This is a story about control: my control.” So begins Janet Jackson‘s musical diary about her coming of age.

Growing up in America’s first family of pop music, Janet began writing and playing at the age of nine. But Control was her declaration of independence from a family in which a musical career was expected and all business and career decisions were made by an autocratic father. “The Control project represents the first time that I chose to use my ideas on one of my albums,” Jackson says.

Jimmy Jam, who coproduced the album with his partner, Terry Lewis, says that the singer desperately desired to make an album that would demonstrate she was capable of standing on her own.

“She wanted to separate from her past two albums, where she had been a singer with no say-so,” says Jam. “She was also getting out of a bad marriage and about to start living on her own, away from her family. Being a singer and entertainer was something she had been thrust into before she actually knew that was what she wanted to be.”

Working with Jam and Lewis at their Minneapolis studio, Flyte Tyme, provided an excellent environment for such a break. “She came to Minneapolis with just her friend Melanie,” says Jam. “There were no bodyguards, no limos. She drove herself around in my Blazer. She didn’t have people doing things for her.”

Only one of the album’s songs, “He Doesn’t Know I’m Alive,” penned by Flyte Tyme staff writer Spencer Bernard, was in hand when the sessions began. “We worked on the album for two months,” says Jam. “But we spent the first week just talking and getting to know each other.” Those conversations — in which Jackson talked about her desire to be independent — provided the material for the songs on Control, most of which were co-written by Jam, Lewis and Jackson. Actual recording time for the album, which would eventually sell more than 5 million copies in the U.S., was just three weeks.

Jam says he had no idea that Control would find such a broad audience. “We knew it would be a successful black album,” he says. “We tried to make the hardest, funkiest black album — almost a male singer’s album. The edginess that’s evident in the music on Control is her; that’s our interpretation of Janet.”

Although Michael Jackson’s Thriller had sold 40 million copies worldwide just a few years earlier, Jam says they felt little pressure about working in the shadow of Michael’s accomplishment. “Our joke was that we were out to make it so that Janet was no longer Michael’s little sister,” says Jam, “but rather that Michael was Janet’s big brother.”

Control succeeded in establishing Janet Jackson as an artist in her own right. Jam also views the album as a late-Eighties watershed in popular music. “It opened radio to funk,” he says, “and now that has spread into rap. Before Control it wasn’t acceptable to have hard-edged black music on pop radio. Now it’s the norm.”

26

AC/DC, ‘Back in Black’

When AC/DC entered the studio in 1980 to cut Back in Black, its sixth American album, the band was nervous and uncertain about the future. Its longtime lead singer, the notorious Bon Scott, had choked to death in February following a drinking binge. The band members found a replacement in Brian Johnson, but they were still "a bit jittery," according to guitarist Angus Young. The gravel-voiced Johnson immediately clicked with the rest of AC/DC, and Back in Black surpassed all expectations, becoming one of the milestone hard-rock albums of the decade.

From the ominous tolling that opened "Hells Bells" to a closing blast of defiance titled "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution," the ten songs on Back in Black rock out with brute force and raunchy humor. "Let Me Put My Love Into You" and "You Shook Me All Night Long" may seem blasphemous to some, but AC/DC's lascivious frankness was part of a tradition passed down to rock from the blues. Besides, the down-under rockers were only writing about what they'd seen and heard on the road. Angus Young, who formed AC/DC in 1973 at the age of fourteen with older brother Malcolm, got an eyeful at an early age. "We were in Australia, which at that time was still a bit outback," says Young. "It was just a way of life, a way of talking, and that's how we communicated with the audience."

Angus picked up pointers about the guitar from his brother George, a member of the Easy Beats (of "Friday on My Mind" fame), and got the novel idea of performing in a schoolboy's uniform — blazer, short pants and beanie — from his sister Margaret, who for years had watched him run in the house, grab his guitar and run out the door without bothering to change clothes. "At first I thought, 'This is stupid,'" Young recalls. "But the moment I put it on, it was like Clark Kent and Superman. The suit gave me confidence: I could be another person and go, 'Well, it's not me,' you know?"

Back in Black came at a time when the band, through constant touring, had carved out a sizable audience. An instant success, the album entered the British charts at Number One and climbed to Number Four in the States — an exceptional showing for a heavy-metal album — and ultimately went on to sell 5 million copies worldwide. The members of AC/DC saluted Scott, their fallen comrade, by using black in the title and on the album jacket. "We didn't want to put in memory of, because Bon wasn't that sort of person," says Young. His loss inspired AC/DC to rock harder than ever — and to party somewhat more temperately. "I think we calmed down a bit," says Young. "But if there's a party, we can still put on a good show."

AC/DC Photos: Four Decades of Big Riffs and Schoolboy Uniforms

Rolling Stone's Original 1980 Review

25

Bruce Springsteen, ‘Tunnel of Love’

Bruce Springsteen wasn't a romantic young kid anymore. He couldn't write songs about hitting the road with his girl, because as he got into his late thirties, that wasn't the kind of thing that appealed to a married millionaire. So on the heels of his commercial blockbuster Born in the U.S.A. and the ensuing live boxed set that summarized and closed the chapter on the past ten years, Bruce Springsteen made a low-key, intimate record about adult relationships. "It's easy for two people to lose each other in this tunnel of love," he sings ominously in the title track.

"When I wrote the record," he told Rolling Stone after its release, "I wanted to write a different type of romantic song, one that I felt took in the different types of emotional experiences of any real relationship. I guess I wanted to make a record about what I felt. Really letting another person into your life, that's a frightening thing. That's something that's filled with shadows and doubts, and also wonderful things and beautiful things, things you've never experienced before and things you cannot experience alone."

Tunnel of Love deals mostly with shadows and doubts. Ten years after Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen was singing in the voice of a man who, in the words of the remarkable "Brilliant Disguise," is "lost in the darkness of our love." At the center of the album is "Walk Like a Man," an open account of his wedding day. Surrounding the hope at the heart of that song are songs whose characters can barely keep their hopes alive: "Tunnel of Love," "One Step Up," the searing, hard-luck rocker "Spare Parts" and the fearful late-night reverie "Valentine's Day."

"I suppose it doesn't have the physical 'reach out and grab you by the throat and thrash you around' of, say, Born in the U.S.A." said Springsteen. "Tunnel of Love is a rock record, but most of the stuff is midtempo, and it's more rhythm oriented, very different. It was more meticulously arranged than anything I've done since Born to Run. I was into just getting the grooves."

It also came quickly. Unlike the modus operandi for most of his albums, Springsteen wrote only three or four extra songs, and he recorded the album swiftly, cutting most of the tracks in a small studio at his home in New Jersey. It was a quintessentially low-tech studio: It wasn't air-conditioned; Springsteen's Corvette had to be moved out of the way to do some piano overdubs; and if a car driving by honked its horn, the take would have to be redone.

Springsteen's first series of demos included nine of the album's twelve songs. "Brilliant Disguise" and "One Step Up" came later, and "Tunnel of Love" was written when Springsteen decided that it would make a good album title and set about composing a song with that name.

Most of the tracks were recorded, instrument by instrument, by Springsteen himself; though he later brought in E Street Band members and the odd outsider to add parts or replace drum machines, other musicians were used sparingly, and the entire band never played together. As a result, Tunnel of Love has an intimacy perfectly suited to the tales being told by a rock star determined to return to a more human scale in his music.

"The way you counteract the size [of stardom] is by becoming more intimate in your work," he said. "And I suppose that's why after I did Born in the U.S.A., I made an intimate record … a record that was really addressed to my core audience, my longtime fans."

Rolling Stone's Original 1987 Review

Photos: Bruce Springsteen, The Vintage Photographs

24

X, ‘Los Angeles’

No album has succeeded better as a snapshot of a city and its punk subculture than X's debut album, boldly titled Los Angeles. From the William Burroughs cut-and-paste sex and violence of "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene" to the Beverly Hills sleaze of "Sex and Dying in High Society," X depicts a morbid, kicks-oriented demimonde going up in flames. "All those songs are from actual incidents," says singer Exene. "They're not just made up."

In all essential respects, X's Los Angeles was not that different from the city Jim Morrison celebrated and damned in his work with the Doors. In fact, the Doors' keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, became X's producer. "I thought Exene was the next step after Patti Smith," Manzarek told writer Richard Cromelin. "She takes it further than any woman has ever taken it."

After being passed over by many major labels, the group signed with the small Slash Records and cut Los Angeles — with Manzarek producing and playing keyboards — for the low-budget sum of $10,000. The musical core of the group was punkabilly guitarist Billy Zoom, powerhouse drummer D.J. Bonebrake and bassist John Doe. Exene's untrained but arresting voice entwined with Doe's pitch-perfect vocals in unique harmonies that veered from normal intervals to dissonance. "We ended up with a reckless, offbeat kind of sound that was pretty at the same time, which is an unusual combination," says Exene. Before long, the same labels that had rejected the band were involved in a bidding war to sign them, and X was on its way to leaving a mark on the Eighties with a string of albums.

Doe and Exene, who had independently migrated to Los Angeles from the East Coast, wrote so compulsively about their adopted city because they had never seen anything quite like Los Angeles or its punk-misfit culture. "Any time you're twenty years old and in a big city for the first time, you're going to be writing up a storm," says Exene. "The thing I found incredible about Los Angeles was the flagrant inequality. You'd be on the Sunset Strip with people dangerously close to attacking you for money while all these Rolls-Royces were going by. You just feel like everybody's insane there. No one really has any values. They just make up a little story to act out, and that's their life."

23

Black Uhuru, ‘Red Island’

Until the late eighties, only one foreign musical culture, Jamaica's reggae and its antecedent ska, had managed to exert a major influence on rock & roll. With the passing of reggae's primary architect and prophet, Bob Marley, the Kingston-based vocal trio Black Uhuru appeared poised to assume the mantle of reggae's leadership. At a moment when the music was in critical need of a strong new voice, Black Uhuru's finest album, Red, shone with all the musical intensity and political fervor of the Rastafarian movement.

Black Uhuru, formed in 1974 by singers Derrick "Duckie" Simpson, Garth Dennis and Don Carlos, took its name from the Swahili word for freedom (uhuru) and cut a handful of Jamaican singles that failed to attract much attention. After several lineup changes, Black Uhuru solidified as a trio consisting of Simpson, fellow Kingstonite Michael Rose and American social worker turned performer Sandra "Puma" Jones.

Along the way, Black Uhuru also replaced its original producer, Jamaican dub master Lee "Scratch" Perry, with the bass and drum battery of Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar. The thunderous drumming of Dunbar and heartbeat bass of Shakespeare were already earning them a reputation as one of the world's finest rhythm sections. Black Uhuru's first collaboration with them — which was also the first recording for Sly and Robbie's Taxi Records label — caught the attention of Island Records president Chris Blackwell (the man who introduced Bob Marley and the Wailers to the world). The group made its debut on Mango/Island in 1980 with Sensimilla. On Red, released the following year, the propulsive, electronic sound of the band solidified.

Red is a plea for cultural revolution and religious faith. From the opening "Youth of Eglington," a call not to arms but to thought and clean living for Rastafarians, through the closing "Carbine," which counsels patience to Rastas in the diaspora, Red strives to send a message of hope to a people in cultural exile. Along the way, Black Uhuru celebrates the naturalist and nationalist roots of its lifestyle.

Despite critical raves for both Red and for Black Uhuru's live shows, American audiences proved largely indifferent to a seemingly impenetrable foreign culture. The lack of success, coupled with business squabbles, led to the dissolution of what is considered Black Uhuru's definitive lineup. "We'd be one of the strongest reggae bands ever if we could have avoided the jealousies," says Simpson.

the smiths album cover
22

The Smiths, ‘The Smiths’

Without the help of a major label, a video or any real promotion, the Smiths‘ 1984 debut entered the U.K. charts at Number Two and became an alternative-radio favorite in the U.S. “We were incredibly sure of ourselves at the time,” says guitarist Johnny Marr of himself and singer-lyricist Morrissey.

The band’s single “This Charming Man” filled a gap on the radio. “Up until then, either you were a chart group with no substance or you were kind of an indie group who nobody ever got to hear,” says Marr. “‘This Charming Man’ found a happy compromise. It brought a real commercial kind of sound together with interesting lyrics and a good groove concept.”

Morrissey, the brooding lead singer, wrote provocative, literate lyrics to accompany Marr’s haunting melodies.

“I went specifically to Morrissey’s house because I knew he was a singer and a great writer, and I was desperate to pull a group together,” says Marr. “I’d had enough of a bland music scene in England, and I felt like the time was absolutely right for us. On the face of it, it wasn’t the most original thing to just get a four-piece band — guitar, bass, drums and a voice — but at the time, there was a move in England towards synthesizer music and duos. And lyrically, no one was dealing with the things that Morrissey was.”

The first two songs the pair wrote together (before bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce joined the band) were the melancholic “Hand That Rocks the Cradle” and the bittersweet “Suffer Little Children.”

“We just kind of built from there,” says Marr. “I’d put all of the stuff on cassette and give it to Morrissey. We wrote so quickly that it didn’t take us long to write the entire first LP — four weeks from start to finish. And that kind of kept that intensity up. We had a really close relationship that was really difficult for most people to penetrate.”

Although the album was eventually recorded at Manchester’s Pluto recording studio, the Smiths originally tried to cut it in London. “We recorded a whole load of tracks in London and it just didn’t feel right,” says Marr.

The band hooked up with producer John Porter during a Radio One session for the BBC. “We were actually waiting to be produced by somebody else, and John just happened to wander through the studio when we were setting up our equipment. We realized he was ex-Roxy Music and so on, and within about ten minutes of talking to him, we decided to sack the other producer. For me, as a guitarist, it was one of the best things that ever happened. I was starting to develop my style, and he saw something in my playing that he really felt he could work on.”

Things were a little more strained between Marr and Morrissey. “There were one or two fights,” Marr admits. “We had a very intense relationship. It wasn’t exactly a laugh a minute.” While the creative friction between Marr and Morrissey propelled them through future albums, that same intensity led to the band’s eventual dissolution in 1987.

21

Tom Waits, ‘Rain Dogs’

With Closing Time, released in 1973, Tom Waits staked out a rock & roll gutter all his own, gruffly crooning beat-poet tales of drifters over R&B and jazz-tinged accompaniment. With the 1983 release Swordfishtrombones, his vocals turned more ragged, his songwriting more eclectic and his orchestrations more "junkyard."

His noisome world was never so beautiful as on his tenth album, Rain Dogs — his first self-production and the first time he recorded in his new hometown of New York City. The album is "a little more developed and more ethnic feeling," he said at the time. "Kind of an interaction between Appalachia and Nigeria."

The title, Waits said, referred to the fact that "dogs in the rain lose their way home, [because] after it rains, every place they peed on has been washed out…. They go to sleep thinking the world is one way, and they wake up and somebody moved the furniture."

The cover photo depicts a prostitute comforting a sailor who looks disconcertingly like Waits. From the first clanking strains of "Singapore" ("We're all as mad as hatters here") to the closing New Orleans-style spiritual, "Anywhere I Lay My Head," the nineteen songs on Rain Dogs are peopled by such lost souls.

"Tango Till They're Sore" was written about a friend who jumped out of a window; "9th & Hennepin" recalled the time Waits was stuck in the middle of a pimp war at a Minneapolis doughnut shop. But for the most part, while writing songs for Rain Dogs, Waits said he "was thinking of the guy going back to Philadelphia from Manhattan on the Metroliner with the New York Times, looking out the window in New York as he pulls out of the station, imagining all the terrible things he doesn't have to be a part of."

Despite impressive walk-ons from Keith Richards, Robert Quine and John Lurie, it was the band Waits patched together that bravely followed him down every skanky alley. Guitarist Marc Robot lent his oddball twang to "Jockey Full of Bourbon" and the title cut; bassist Larry Taylor provided an ominous underpinning; and percussionist Michael Blair filled in the gaps with marimba, bowed saw, parade drum and anything that wasn't nailed down.

"If I couldn't get the right sound out of the drum set," Waits said, "we'd get a chest of drawers in the bathroom and hit it real hard with a two-by-four." In that way, he explained, "the sounds become your own."

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Playlist: Tom Waits

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Video: Tom Waits and Neil Young, Darlene Love and Bruce Springsteen, All Star Jam

Rolling Stone's Original 1985 Review

20

Pretenders, ‘Pretenders’

"To summarize the Pretenders, says Chrissie Hynde, the band's vocalist, songwriter and founder, "all I can say is that we were the genuine article. In fact, we were so genuine we killed ourselves." She is referring to the drug-related deaths of original band members James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon in the early Eighties. "We never had any pretensions," she continues. "If it sounded dangerous, it was because it was dangerous."

Indeed, on Pretenders, the band backs Hynde's potent vocals with fast, aggressive playing. She wastes no time on politeness or protocol; her songs are blunt, hard-nosed treatises on social and sexual politics, such as the dark, carnal "Tattooed Love Boys." A sense of defiant self-worth emerges in the soulful, chugging "Brass in Pocket," in which Hynde sings, "I'm special, so special/I've got to have some of your attention/Give it to me!"

As Ken Tucker wrote in a Rolling Stone review, Pretenders tells stories "about how good, tempestuous sex can be redemptive; how bad relationships thrive on degrees of contempt; how passionate self-absorption can sometimes open up into a greater understanding of the people with whom you're involved."

By 1980, Hynde — who grew up in Akron, Ohio — had been living in England for the better part of a decade. As a part-time writer for the British music weekly New Musical Express, she'd found herself sometimes questioning the validity of that line of work. "In 1973, I realized that there was no point in being a journalist and just knocking everything that was going on at the time," Hynde says. "Then it occurred to me, 'What the hell, why not me?' About 1976, I saw that the moment was coming when I could get away with it. It's all about timing, you see. If you wait long enough, your number comes up."

She met three musicians from Hereford, near Wales — guitarist Honeyman-Scott, bass player Farndon and drummer Martin Chambers — and they formed the Pretenders. Their music was more diverse than the machine-gun rhythms of punk, because the three Britons were accomplished musicians and Hynde had grown up on a diet of AM radio. "I didn't quite fit into the London punk scene because I'd been listening to too many Bobby Womack albums, you know?" says Hynde. "My musical background was a little too rich for the punk thing."

The Pretenders did share with punk an outsider's contempt for society, however. The debut album was an uncensored expression of the motivations that drew Hynde and the others to rock & roll in the first place. "I thought being in a band was an antiestablishment lifestyle," he says. "It's only ever been my interest to maintain that, and to maintain my freedom as a bum. I don't want to be recognized; I don't want to be hassled. I just want to play guitar in a rock & roll band."

19

Lou Reed, ‘New York’

"Faulkner had the South; Joyce had Dublin; I've got New York — and the environs," said Lou Reed this past spring, and he was not being immodest. The Big Apple, rotten or otherwise, has been both the setting for and subject of Reed's ongoing novel-in-music since the mid-Sixties, when he penned his first chapters on drugs, sex and desperation in the urban shadows and set them to the primal beat of the Velvet Underground.

But on his 1989 installment, New York, Reed took Manhattan and turned it inside out with a vengeance fueled by moral outrage. In a carefully scripted fourteen-song suite, he addressed the plight of the homeless, the hopeless and victims of AIDS and racial prejudice with the same clenched, bristling imagery and acidic wit he'd once applied to the city's uptown glitterati and downtown bohemians.

Reed then scored his libretto for two guitars (Reed and Mike Rathke), bass (Rob Wasserman) and drums (Fred Maher, who coproduced with Reed). The sound of New York is rooted in the brute metallic attack of the original Velvets; drummer Maureen Tucker even played on two songs, including the Andy Warhol tribute "Dime Store Mystery."

Except for an occasional overdub, New York was recorded live in the studio. Indeed, the false start at the beginning of "Romeo Had Juliette," the album's opening track, is exactly as Reed and crew flubbed it on the first day of recording. "It was the first song I had written," Reed told Rolling Stone shortly after the album's release. "We went in and did it in a day. And that's the take, the one you hear."

Prior to recording, Reed put the songs through an intense three-month bout of editing and rewriting at his home in New Jersey. "Even before pen hits paper, I really self-edit a lot," he explained. "So when I go to write something, it's pretty close, even just the first draft But it's way better by the sixth."

When a song started to take shape. Reed would bring in Rathke to play along on guitar, "because I couldn't play my part and sing at the same time," said Reed. "It was too new. Mike played my guitar part, and I would sing, for real. And where it didn't work, I rewrote it there, rewrote it and rewrote it until every word was exact."

While Reed insisted in New York's liner notes that the album was designed to be listened to in a single sitting, "as though it were a book or a movie," he admitted in conversation that the songs were not sequenced in any particular dramatic order.

"We had tried to put the songs in order, to tell the story moodwise and emotionally," said Reed. "And when it didn't work, it was so bad it was unbelievable. Then Victor [Deyglio], one of the engineers, said, 'There's a trick I've learned over the years. Why not put it in the order that it was recorded in?' And there it was. Wow!"

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Lou Reed

Rolling Stone's Original 1989 Review

18

Prince, ‘Dirty Mind’

Dirty Mind marked Prince's coming of age. It was the first album on which he successfully synthesized the rock and soul he had grown up on into a vibrant, strikingly original sound, at the same time turning his own sexuality and flamboyance into a clear-cut style and stance. His vocals — including crystal-clear falsettos — established Prince as one of the preeminent pop singers of the Eighties.

If Marvin Gaye had opened the bedroom door a crack nearly a decade earlier with sexually frank songs like "You Sure Love to Ball," Prince ripped that door right off its hinges. Dirty Mind's lyrics cover oral sex ("Head"), incest ("Sister") and a ménage à trois gone bad ("When You Were Mine") and set a new standard for mainstream pop music, paving the way for tamer tracks like George Michael's "I Want Your Sex."

Then there is the music: a daring mix of modern technology, raw rock & roll and irresistible funk. Prince's keyboard-dominated "Minneapolis sound" became the blueprint for a generation of soul, funk and pop groups. His influence is evident in songs ranging from Ready for the World's "Oh Sheila" to Fine Young Cannibals' "She Drives Me Crazy."

Working mostly alone in a cramped, makeshift sixteen-track basement studio in his Minneapolis home on Lake Minnetonka, Prince created Dirty Mind in a few months. Many of the songs were cut quickly — often in one night. He took engineering credit under the pseudonym Jamie Starr. "Maybe he didn't want it to seem like he did everything," says keyboardist Matt Fink, who helped write the album's title track and played on both "Head" and "Do It All Night." About half of the material was written during a tour that found Prince and his band opening for soul star Rick James; Prince whipped up "When You Were Mine" in a Florida hotel room. "It was probably inspired by an old girlfriend," says Fink.

The title track was based on a jam riff Fink created that Prince took a fancy to when he heard the band playing it one day during rehearsal. "He asked me to come over to his house," says Fink. "I left at 2:00 a.m. after we cut basic tracks. By the next morning he'd finished it."

Although Prince's sexuality was apparent on his first two albums, it came to the forefront on Dirty Mind. "He really found himself with that album," says Bobby Z, who was the drummer in Prince's band at the time. "I think he wrote better songs. And the roughness of it gave it an edge — it was a little more garage sounding."

"That really was him at the time," says Fink. "He was rejoicing in his own sexuality. He was saying, 'Sex is a reality, don't be afraid of it.'"

Prince naturally expected the album to be controversial. "He knew he was entering some hot soup," says Bobby Z. "Any time you do anything where you're pushing the envelope, you know?"

But Prince's father wasn't impressed. "When I first played Dirty Mind for him," Prince once told a reporter, "he said, 'You're swearing on the record. Why do you have to do that?' And I said, 'Because I swear.'"

Rolling Stone's Original 1981 Review

17

The Police, ‘Synchronicity’

The last Police album was the best Police album — musically and thematically. Synchronicity was as good as thinking man's New Wave ever got. On it, singer, bassist and chief songwriter Sting applied Swiss psychologist Carl Jung's theories of the collective unconsciousness and mystical coincidence (a.k.a. synchronicity) to personal, embittered studies of pain, vengeance and the agony of love's labors lost.

The material was dark but well suited to the group's method of interaction in the studio: "violence," according to Sting in a 1983 interview. "I'll argue till the cows come home about something I believe in, and so will Andy and Stewart," he said, referring to guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland. "Synchronicity went through all kinds of horrendous cogs and gears to come out, emotionally and technically, the way it did."

It was the last album by the fractious Police, who quietly dissolved after a half-hearted and unsuccessful attempt to reunite in the studio three years later. Yet there was little evidence of battle on Synchronicity. Sting's bracing tenor was dramatically framed by the subtle third-world inflections in Copeland's drumming and Summers's delicately serrated guitar. The band displayed a refined sense of pop drama in "Every Breath You Take" — a chilling ode to obsession heightened by a haunting guitar riff — and the gothic strains of "King of Pain."

Closer to the surface were Sting's own wounds suffered during a messy divorce in 1982 from actress Frances Tomelty, his wife of seven years. Afterward, he went to Jamaica, staying at novelist Ian Fleming's old house and writing a large chunk of Synchronicity — including "Every Breath You Take," "King of Pain" and "Wrapped Around Your Finger" — at the same desk Fleming had written his James Bond novels. The recurring images of entrapment and pain in Sting's lyrics dovetailed with his interest in Jungian theory, which he set to music in "Synchronicity I" and "Synchronicity II."

"The title of the album refers to coincidence and things being connected without there being a logical link," he said. Sting has continued to psychoanalyze himself in song as a solo artist, but Synchronicity captured him at a particularly vulnerable and eloquent juncture in his career. As he himself said, "I do my best work when I'm in pain and turmoil."

Rolling Stone's Original 1983 Review

Photos: Hot Rock Offspring featuring Madonna, Sting and More Stars' Famous Kids

16

Prince, ‘1999’

Recording a two-record set at a time when he had yet to become a major star was a risky thing for Prince to do — but the risk paid off. Upon its release. 1999 became Prince's biggest seller; two singles, "Little Red Corvette" and "Delirious," went Top Ten, while the title track reached Number Twelve. Although it contained only eleven songs, clocking in at nearly seventy minutes, 1999 gave Prince the room he needed to address some of his favorite topics: sex, romance, freedom and even rock critics, who were toyed with in "All the Critics Love U in New York."

The album was at once both Prince's most experimental and his most commercial. Three of the songs were each more than eight minutes in length, including "Lady Cab Driver," which features one of his most danceable grooves. The title track is a prime example of Prince's pop craftsmanship, utilizing multiple lead vocals. The striking lyrics — about dancing the night away in the face of Armageddon — remain the perfect metaphor for the modern age. While "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)" found him working with synthesizers and drum machines, creating disturbingly ominous textures, "Little Red Corvette" was a straightforward, infectious rocker that leaped onto pop radio.

"I think he was trying to become as mainstream as possible, without violating his own philosophy, without having to compromise any of his ideas," says keyboardist Matt Fink, who was a member of Prince's band the Revolution at the time. "To some extent, he was trying to make the music sound nice, something that would be pleasing to the ear of the average person who listens to the radio, yet send a message. I mean, '1999' was pretty different for a message. Not your average bubblegum hit."

Prince recorded much of the album at Uptown, his name for the basement studio he had built in his infamous purple house, located in a suburb of Minneapolis. The basement studio was more sophisticated than the one he had used for Dirty Mind and included a twenty-four-track recorder. "The groove got settled," says drummer Bobby Z. "He knew it was back to dance. There wasn't anymore of the 'Ronnie Talk to Russia' kind of songs. There was some weird stuff, like 'Something in the Water,' but it was still very funky. I think he found his groove, and the groove never left."

Although only Prince was billed on 1999 — like the three releases that preceded it — the album portended the integration of his band into future recording projects. He shared some of the lead vocal spots with keyboardist Lisa Coleman and guitarist Dez Dickerson, and Dickerson contributed the searing solos on "Little Red Corvette." On the psychedelic purple album cover, in small, backward lettering that partially obscures the i in "Prince" are the words "and the Revolution." "He was setting the public up for something that was yet to come," says Bobby Z.

Bobby Z. remembers the months Prince spent on 1999 as a period of intense creativity, when Prince's credo was "Anything goes." "A lot of experimental sound and backwards stuff was tried," says the drummer. "'Lady Cab Driver' was very innovative with the street sounds and almost a kind of rap. 'Something in the Water' was definitely using the Linn drum machine to its fullest. Prince was experimenting to get to something like the next album [Purple Rain]; 1999 gave him the keys to a lot of doors."

Photos: Prince's Welcome 2 America Tour at MSG

Rolling Stone's Original 1982 Review

15

The Replacements, ‘Let It Be’

After three albums of endearingly loud, fast rock & roll, the Replacements took a giant step forward without surrendering their raucous edge on Let It Be. By then, leader Paul Westerberg had developed into a first-rate songwriter, capable of soul-baring introspection ("Unsatisfied"), wry character studies ("Androgynous") and frenzied, go-for-broke rock ("We're Coming Out"). Let It Be caught one of America's most promising bands at an early creative peak, straddling the line between inspired amateurism and accomplished, deliberate craftsmanship.

For Westerberg, Let It Be was a break with the Replacements' punk aesthetic. "Playing that kind of noisy, fake hardcore rock was getting us nowhere, and it wasn't a lot of fun," he says. "This was the first time I had songs that we arranged, rather than just banging out riffs and giving them titles." The anthemic opening number, "I Will Dare," was written on acoustic guitar — a first for Westerberg.

Constrained by what people wanted the group to be — the loud, sloppy and lovable Mats, as they were known to fans — Westerberg let his feelings out on Let It Be with songs like "Unsatisfied." "I was not terribly happy," admits Westerberg. "It was just the feeling that we're never going anywhere and the music we're playing is not the music I feel and I don't know what to do and I don't know how to express myself. I felt that one to the absolute bone when I did it."

Let It Be, cut at a small Minneapolis studio, Blackberry Way, was the final album in which the Replacements' hell-raising lead guitarist, Bob Stinson, had a key role, and blowouts like "We're Coming Out" were written with him in mind. Stinson was present but not really accounted for on the next studio album, Tim, and was out of the band by the time Pleased to Meet Me was recorded. His younger brother, Tommy, remains the band's bassist, and Chris Mars the drummer.

The title Let It Be, of course, came from the Beatles. Appropriating it, says Westerberg, "was our way of saying that nothing is sacred, that the Beatles were just a damn fine rock & roll band. We seriously were gonna call the next record Let It Bleed." The songs on Let It Be were cut quickly and crudely. "We didn't have a producer looking over our shoulder, saying, 'This isn't done, boys,'" Westerberg says. Yet Let It Be has a solid emotional core, and the Replacements' evolution was fitting. "The jump from a wild punk band to one that actually plays songs and has some interesting stuff came at the right time," says Westerberg.

Rolling Stone's Original 1985 Review

14

Peter Gabriel, ‘So’

"I was thinking of doing a blues and soul album," says Peter Gabriel about the origins of So, his multiplatinum 1986 album. "I was going to do half existing songs — favorite songs from my teenage years — and half new stuff. 'Sledgehammer' was the first song I developed for that project."

It was also the first single from So. Propelled by a powerful groove and a groundbreaking Claymation video, "Sledgehammer" went to Number One, opening the door for the album's commercial success. Daniel Lanois, who coproduced Gabriel's instrumental soundtrack for the film Birdy and then was invited back to work on So, says he and Gabriel wanted the album to be engaging and accessible.

"We had mutually decided on a philosophy for the record — that we would incorporate a playfulness and a humanness," says Lanois. "I thought it was important for Peter to be very clear with some of these songs. I wanted the listener to be able to touch the voice. I was definitely looking to bring Peter to the foreground."

Despite its mass appeal, however, So also presented compelling challenges. "Mercy Street" draws on the work of the influential American poet Anne Sexton, who committed suicide in 1974. Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour wails a spectacular background vocal on "In Your Eyes." A Depression-era shot by the American photographer Dorothea Lange and Gabriel's concern about the miners on strike in England inspired Gabriel to write "Don't Give Up."

The cartoonish rocker "Big Time" harpoons the excesses of Eighties-style ambition, while the haunting "We Do What We're Told" derives from a university experiment in which test subjects were asked to administer what they believed were injury-inducing electric shocks to others and complied, in the majority of cases, rather than disobey the authority figure giving them instructions. Addressing Gabriel's recurrent theme of control — "One is ego dominant, and the other is ego submissive," he says — these two songs define extremes that must be avoided.

Given the album's thematic reach, why the seemingly offhand title? "I liked the shape and the fact that it didn't have too much meaning," Gabriel says in his elliptical way.

Rolling Stone's Original 1986 Review