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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.

13

Midnight Oil, ‘Diesel and Dust’

The next time you hear some rock star moaning about life on the road, think of this album and the remarkable tour that inspired it. In the summer of 1986 — which is actually winter down under — the Australian rockers and political activists of Midnight Oil packed amplifiers, sleeping bags and good intentions into a caravan of four-wheel-drive vehicles and embarked on a concert tour of remote Aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory.

The members of the band ate grubs and wallaby meat and played on makeshift stages under chilly night skies for audiences huddled around campfires. They also witnessed firsthand the extreme poverty, cultural devastation and spiritual resilience of the island continent's original settlers. The Oils' awe and anger came pouring out in Diesel and Dust, an album caked with outback grit and charged with hard-rock moxie and melodic savvy. Contrasting images of Aboriginal desperation and determination with the ruins of white manifest destiny, Diesel and Dust is a site-specific document rooted in a basic theme of man's inhumanity to man.

The Oils' odyssey had started a couple of years earlier, when at the request of a teacher friend, they played to 300 Aborigines at a settlement near Darwin. "It made a greater impact on us than playing in New York . . . or to audiences of 30,000 anywhere," lead singer Peter Garrett told an Australian reporter in 1986. "The more we toured overseas, the more the desire grew to get out with the Aborigines and learn more about our own country."

Shortly before the tour, Midnight Oil was commissioned to write a song for a documentary about the return of a sacred tribal site, Ayers Rock — or Uluru, the Aboriginal name &#