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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.

42

The Robert Cray Band, ‘Strong Persuader’

"I think that my band was part of a blues-roots movement that included people like the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan, who were coming along at that particular time," says bandleader Robert Cray. While Cray's sense of what was happening on the American rock scene in late 1986 is accurate, it modestly downplays the accomplishments of the singer-guitarist and his backing trio.

In February of that year, Strong Persuader — Cray's fourth album — hit Number Thirteen on the Billboard pop-albums chart, making it the highest-charting blues album since Bobby "Blue" Bland's Call on Me/That's the Way Love Is, which reached Number Eleven some twenty-three years earlier. Strong Persuader, in effect, introduced a new generation of mainstream rock fans to the language and form of the blues.

An army brat who grew up on bases in West Germany and the Pacific Northwest, Cray was introduced to popular black music at home, but he discovered blues artists on his own as a teenager. "I still have a lot of the same influences today," Cray says. "People like Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, O.V. Wright and Sam Cooke."

In his lyric themes, Cray often veers away from the hard-luck road trod by most bluesmen. But his trebly, razor-sharp guitar playing is straight out of the electric blues tradition, and it provides Strong Persuader with a distinctive edge.

Signed to the small High Tone label when work on Strong Persuader began, Cray was hoping to hook up with a larger company. "The production on the first records was too low-budget," he says, "and we were looking for a major label because we want to make a better record every time."

Cray and his band eventually cut a deal with PolyGram, but they continued to work with producers Bruce Bromberg and Dennis Walker, who had produced their High Tone albums. As a result, Strong Persuader was released with a combined High Tone/Mercury imprint. In addition to coproducing the album, Walker contributed "Right Next Door (Because of Me)," a tale of infidelity played out in a motel room. The song, which became the album's centerpiece, also includes the lyrics from which Strong Persuader derived its title.

The song that really drove Strong Persuader up the charts, however, was "Smoking Gun," a smoldering tale of jealousy and murder. Although released two months after the album hit the streets — late for a first single — it became a Top Forty hit, and the video became a staple on MTV.

Strong Persuader ultimately went gold, a feat virtually unheard-of for a blues album. Yet Cray maintains that the album was less a departure from his blues path than a natural evolution. "The recording sessions have been pretty much the same for each of our albums," he says. "I just thought the quality of the music we were making was getting better. It was about the whole band being together."

41

R.E.M., ‘Document’

R.E.M.'s thorniest and most overtly political album, ironically, was the one that brought the band a mass audience, yielding its first bona fide hit single in "The One I Love." After four albums of unique, visionary rock & roll (not counting Dead Letter Office, a collection of B sides), the unconventional Georgians left the alternative-music substrata and entered the mainstream, at least saleswise, with Document as their passport. As Peter Buck put it at the time, "We're the acceptable edge of the unacceptable stuff."

Recorded in Nashville with producer Scott Litt, R.E.M.'s Document is an angry, largely topical look at a world wracked by political and environmental catastrophe. Singing in clear, enunciated syllables, Michael Stipe trains his disapproving lyrics upon despoilers of nature ("Disturbance at the Heron House"), peddlers of right-wing dogma ("Exhuming McCarthy"), warmongers in Latin America ("Welcome to the Occupation") and other abusers of the planet and the public trust. The first side closes with "It's the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)," a nervy pop-music news bulletin about an apocalypse in progress. A rapid-fire spew of pop-culture images leads to the main title and its cryptic tag: "… And I feel fine."

What was going on? "Michael broached the idea that the stuff he was writing was a little more direct politically," says guitarist Peter Buck, "and the stuff we had been writing was a lot more chaotic, too. It kind of came together."

R.E.M.'s politicization on Document, Buck believes, is due to the fact that "your thoughts are obviously different at thirty years old than they are at twenty-three." Even the seeming love song "The One I Love" is far from a fairy-tale view of romance, describing "the one I love" as "a simple prop to occupy my time." "It's definitely not a love song," says Buck. "It's more of a nasty comment about oneself."

Despite its success, "The One I Love" is not one of the band members' favorites. "It's funny that the songs on the radio from us are probably the ones we feel from the heart the least," says Buck. So how did he feel when R.E.M. was proclaimed America's best rock & roll band on the cover of Rolling Stone as Document was ascending the charts? "Embarrassed, like any sensible person would be," he says with a chuckle.

Rolling Stone's Original 1987 Review

R.E.M. Roar Back With 'Collapse Into Now'

40

U2, ‘War’

"Punk had died," says the Edge. "we couldn't believe it had been swept to the side as if it had never happened, and War was designed as a knuckle buster in the face of the new pop."

Indeed, at the time of the album's release in 1983, the anger and anarchy of the late-Seventies punk movement had been replaced by the new romanticism best typified by Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. Into such tepid waters, U2 dropped its bomb: War is a powerful fusion of politics and militant rock & roll, an album that anticipated the political awareness that would come back into vogue as the decade progressed.

With two of U2's best sing-along anthems, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Year's Day," War became something of a Who's Next for the Eighties. The album's aggressive sound is highlighted by what bassist Adam Clayton calls "all those helicopter guitars."

Following U2's first two albums, the delicate and ethereal Boy and the moodier and disjointed October, War arrived with the force of a jackhammer ripping into concrete. Rough, hard and metallic, it remains U2's most overt rock album.

"We loved the Clash's attitude early on," the Edge says. "And Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the Pistols. Guitar bands that didn't use blues clichés. I was listening to Tom Verlaine to figure out how to make tough music."

The title itself was arresting, as were its politically inspired songs. "We wanted a record people couldn't just write off," says Clayton. "It was an unsettled time, a year of conflict. Poland was on the news at the time. You looked around and there were conflicts everywhere. We saw a lot of unrest on TV and in the media. We focused on that."

Still, U2 wanted to leave listeners with a feeling of hope. "We wanted love and anger," says the Edge. "We wanted a protest record, but a positive protest record."

War was recorded in about six weeks at Windmill Lane Studios, in Dublin, with most of the songs written in the studio. Vocalist Bono improvised lyrics to completed tracks, then refined them. "Bono would sing, and whatever came out would be the starting point," says producer Steve Lillywhite.

Completing the songs was difficult. "It's always hard to finish them," says Clayton. "It takes Bono a long time to commit to a lyric. 'New Year's Day' was a tough one. We had arguments over the vocals. At one stage it wasn't even on the record."

The album's final track, "40," which takes its title and lyrics from the Fortieth Psalm, was literally finished at the last moment, even as the next band scheduled to use the studio cooled its heels. "We were trying to get lyrics down and mix it with people pounding on the door," says Clayton.

Rolling Stone's Original 1983 Review

Photos: U2, The Rolling Stone Covers

39

ZZ Top, ‘Eliminator’

ZZ Top's Eliminator was the hands-down party album of the decade, pleasing hard-core boogie freaks and New Wave ironists alike with its bluesy vamping, tawdry lyrics and chic, trashy videos. You practically had to be in a coma not to have found some opportunity to dance to "Legs," "Sharp Dressed Man" and "Gimme All Your Lovin'" in 1983. ZZ Top had enjoyed million-selling albums in the Seventies, but Eliminator outsold all the band's previous releases. Most amazing of all, the album suddenly made the Texas trio with two of the longest beards in Christendom the hippest and hottest thing in rock & roll.

"We still sometimes wonder what exactly did transpire to make those sessions dramatically different," says guitarist Billy Gibbons. "I suppose it might have been a return to playing together as a band in the studio as we did onstage."

Many of the songs were written backstage during the Deguello tour. "Those dressing-room sessions that so many traveling bands talk about really are invaluable to creating a body of studio work," says Gibbons. The band was determined to keep that dressing-room ambience alive when it went in to record. Eliminator was cut at Ardent Recording, in Memphis, a city whose musical heritage of Stax-Volt soul and Beale Street blues rubbed off on ZZ Top. "There was quite a stirring of sentiment around 1983 in Memphis," Gibbons recalls. "The city is steeped in a very time-honored and strong tradition. It's in the air. There was a soulful element in that period of time that affected the way we were playing."

A trip to England prior to the sessions yielded its own influences, with the band taking in synth pop and the intense fashion consciousness of its "new romantic" practitioners. The modern technology inspired the band members to have a go at synths themselves, while the cool threads they had seen on the streets of London inspired them to write "Sharp Dressed Man."

The synthesizers the band began noodling around on at Ardent happened to be primitive analogue models, with lots of wires and dials and no presets. "When we finally did return from England to get our work done, I think curiosity was a real magnet to turning on those things," says Gibbons. "What you got was a bunch of cowpokes on blues twisting knobs from outer space." But it worked: The synthesizers — layered organically amid guitars, bass and drums — contributed to Eliminator's dense, bluesy feel. "Synthesizer meets soul was a good combo," Gibbons says.

Often lyrics were inspired by real-life situations. "Legs," for instance, came about one rainy day on the way to the studio. "There was a young lady dodging the raindrops, and being obliging Southerners, we spun the car around," says Gibbons. "No sooner had we turned around to pick her up — boom! — she'd vanished. And we said, 'That girl's got legs, and she knows how to use them.'"

Another song, "TV Dinners," was inspired by seeing those very words stenciled on the back of a woman's jumpsuit on the dance floor of a funky nightclub on the east side of Memphis. "I was stunned," says Gibbons, deadpan. "It was just that moment — there it is, a gift. I mean why, other than to inspire us, would she have walked past sporting TV Dinners on her jumpsuit?"

As Eliminator gathered steam, Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill's flowing, belt-length beards became a visual symbol of ZZ Top. At one point, the Gillette company actually offered to pay them to shave off their beards on national television. "Our reply was 'Can't do it, simply because underneath 'em is too ugly,'" says Gibbons, guffawing.

Photos: Taylor Swift, ZZ Top, Tim McGraw and More Rock for Flood Relief

38

Elvis Costello and the Attractions, ‘Imperial Bedroom’

When Columbia records released Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom — the angry young Brit's seventh album in six years — the company took out ads that read, Masterpiece? Without question, Imperial Bedroom is one of Costello's major artistic statements — and arguably the high point in the career of a prolific musician who has consistently delivered impressive work.

Perhaps reacting to the creative limitations of his preceding album, Almost Blue — a disappointing collection of country covers recorded in Nashville with the veteran producer Billy Sherill — Costello returned to form on Imperial Bedroom. It is a far-ranging gem that finds him moving all over the musical map, from the ominous, jazzy "Shabby Doll" to the Sgt. Pepper-esque pop of "… And in Every Home." Reviewing the album in Rolling Stone, Parke Puterbaugh wrote, "Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom is really a mansion, each of whose rooms is decorated with painstaking care and detail by the artist."

When it comes to Imperial Bedroom, Costello is its harshest — and maybe its only — critic. "In retrospect, I feel some of the songs are just not well written enough," he said in an interview with Rolling Stone earlier this year. "Some of them were attempts to create a little mystery room the listener could go into. And in some cases, the subject matter is maybe too large for the song's own good. 'The Loved Ones' is about the trap of playing to posterity, and it's just too vague a subject for a song. It's too theoretical."

Asked about the Columbia ad, Costello grimaced and said, "There were some ludicrous things claimed on behalf of that record." Some reviewers compared Costello to John Lennon and Paul McCartney (Costello would later collaborate with McCartney), as well as Tin Pan Alley immortals like Cole Porter and George Gershwin.

"It could be momentarily flattering," Costello said of the praise. "But then you realize that, strange as it may seem, some people don't like Cole Porter, you know? It made me very perverse on that tour. I'd be playing amphitheaters in the Midwest, and I'd do eight ballads in a row, only two of which would be mine. In the end, all those comparisons just made things more difficult."

According to Geoff Emerick — the veteran recording engineer for the Beatles and the producer of Imperial Bedroom — his approach to recording the artfully crafted album was actually quite simple. "We were trying to capture Elvis's spontaneity, because he's a first-take kind of guy," says Emerick. "We wanted to get back to basics." Work at AIR Studios in London proceeded quickly. "Elvis is very fast," Emerick says. "When we did the first session, there was an onslaught of something like eighteen songs, which we cut in fast takes. It took me quite by surprise. From then on, it was a matter of thinking which ones should we record."

The savage guitar and wordless screaming that link three of the songs on the album's first side — "The Long Honeymoon," "Man Out of Time," "Almost Blue" — was something of an afterthought. "That may have been part of a song we didn't use," says Emerick. "We just faded it in and out." Considerable thought, however, went into keyboardist Steve Nieve's inventive orchestrations for many of the album tracks. "Steve didn't want the standard orchestration — first and second violins, cellos and so on — on 'Town Cryer' and some of the other songs. So we used, I think, eighteen violas, which was really unique."

Despite the rave reviews, Imperial Bedroom yielded no hit singles, and the album peaked at Number Thirty in the United States. Still, it is a favorite of many Costello fans, as well as producer Emerick's. "Elvis is a major songwriter," he says. "He just oozes talent. And we captured Elvis then and there. It was easy — I pulled up the fader, and away we went."

Rolling Stone's Original 1982 Review

Video: Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes Play the New York Public Library

37

Marvin Gaye, ‘Midnight Love’

It was conceived as an album about spiritual and sexual salvation titled Sexual Healing, after the song that eventually became one of the biggest hits of Marvin Gaye's three-decade-long career. But the singer's new record company, Columbia, wasn't thrilled with the title, and ultimately neither was Gaye, who worried that such a provocative title would spoil what he hoped would be his comeback.

Gaye dropped the idea but kept the song "Sexual Healing," which he correctly believed from the start would be a hit (it reached Number Three on the Billboard pop charts). "They'll be jamming all over the world to this," he told his biographer David Ritz, who collaborated with him on the lyrics of the song.

While Midnight Love is not Gaye's masterpiece — that honor goes to the landmark album What's Going On — it is an inspired, mature work from one of the greatest soul singers, and it is certainly one of the best soul albums of the Eighties. Loaded with infectious dance-floor grooves, sophisticated guitar work, third-world rhythms and seductive vocals, Midnight Love did indeed prove to be Gaye's comeback. Sadly, it was also the last album he made before he was shot to death by his father in April of 1984.

"Marvin had been living in Europe, and he was influenced by both reggae and the synthesizer work of groups like Kraftwerk," recalls Larkin Arnold, a former CBS Records vice-president who was the executive producer of Midnight Love. "He took the rhythm of reggae, the new technology and American soul and came up with something fresh and unique."

Although Midnight Love has an urbane, high-gloss feel, the album was actually conceived and created while Gaye was living in Ostend, a quiet seaside town in Belgium, where he had retreated to escape the excesses of Hollywood and London. At first he worked with his brother-in-law the multi-instrumentalist Gordon Banks, at Studio Katy, in Ohaine, a small town not far from Brussels. Later the veteran Motown producer Harvey Fuqua (who had discovered Gaye and added him to the historic doo-wop group the Moonglows in 1958] was brought in to keep things on track.

Gaye worked sporadically on the album over a nine-month period. "He was stubborn," says Arnold. "He enjoyed the role of the tortured and spurned artist. He would pout and go off. Two or three times he stopped working on the album. It was nerve-racking." Columbia's financial cost for getting Gaye into the studio and keeping him there was high — more than $1.5 million to buy his contract from Motown, a $600,000 advance for the singer and more than $1.5 million in recording costs, according to Curtis Shaw, Gaye's attorney at the time. But Arnold, who masterminded the deal, puts the cost of recording Midnight Love closer to $2 million.

Whatever the cost, the album was a hit, selling 2.7 million copies worldwide, more than 2 million of them in the United States. Gaye saw his album — which followed two unsuccessful records for Motown — as a commercial endeavor designed to win back a mass audience. In a typically frank interview, he even dismissed a couple of the album's songs as "contrived."

Although he told the writer Nelson George in 1983 that his "mission" was to "tell the world and the people about the upcoming holocaust and to find all of those of higher consciousness who can be saved," Gaye felt the need to draw everybody's attention with a hit before returning to message music. "For legitimacy, I need worldwide exposure," he said. "This is a chance for the world to recognize Marvin Gaye, so that ultimately I can get my message across."

Rolling Stone's Original 1983 Review

Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Marvin Gaye

36

Anita Baker, ‘Rapture’

Although Anita Baker's Rapture exudes an aura of dimmed lights and romantic introspection, the album was, in fact, a product of hard times and difficult decisions. Baker had previously cut a funk record with a band called Chapter 8 and a solo album called The Songstress, which was released on the Beverly Glen label in 1983. When she moved to Elektra, a legal battle ensued that threatened to block the release of Rapture.

"You don't see any of that turmoil in the music," says Baker. "It's as if it were an outlet for more beautiful things." Baker moved to Elektra because she was looking for creative freedom. "I knew what I wanted to sing, and I knew what kind of production I wanted, which was a minimalist approach," Baker says. "The dilemma was choosing a producer."

Baker turned to Michael J. Powell, the former keyboardist in Chapter 8, who produced seven of the eight tracks on Rapture. Baker herself is credited as executive producer. Elektra, meanwhile, let Baker make the record her way. "They just gave me my budget and left me the hell alone," she says, appreciatively.

Rapture, which was released in 1986, is an emotionally rich, subtly restrained suite of songs that merge elements of jazz and soul, with an emphasis on ballads like "Sweet Love," "You Bring Me Joy" and "Been So Long." It is bold in its very conservatism, and it evokes favorable comparisons to the work of some of Baker's idols, such as Sarah Vaughan and Nancy Wilson. Baker says she was not concerned about how different Rapture seemed from much of the music out at the time. "It didn't cause me any apprehension," she says with a laugh, "because I didn't think anybody was gonna hear it!"

Rapture was recorded in a couple of months, with a good deal of time spent selecting material and working out arrangements. Baker still finds the album's depth of feeling satisfying. "I was very pleased," she says. "I didn't know I had that in me. I wanted a smooth product with energy and heart, but I surprised myself. There's passion there. I knew I could pop a note, but the nuances, I think, are what's important on that album."

Interestingly, despite its torch songs and paeans to love, Rapture ends with the edgy "Watch Your Step" — one of three songs Baker wrote or co-wrote. It's a relatively uptempo R&B number that warns an inconstant lover, "You better watch your step/You'll fall and hurt yourself one day." Baker says: "The last thing that people hear from you should be something to stir your emotions, to shake you up. I don't like to leave people relaxed. I like to start off relaxing them and then build up to some sort of crescendo."

Despite her regard for the album, Baker did not anticipate the multiplatinum sales Rapture earned. "Nobody did," she says, laughing. "Nobody. It was like a music-industry fairy tale. I've heard people speak of things like that happening; I've seen it happen to other people. I'll tell you, though, it took a hell of a lot of work."

35

Metallica, ‘Kill ‘Em All’

With their 1983 debut, Kill 'Em All, Metallica rose up from the heavy-metal underground to establish a vital new subgenre, known as speed metal or thrash metal. As pioneered by Metallica, it was a hybrid of punk and metal, distinguished by lightning speed, manic rhythm changes and a thoughtful if outraged approach to lyrics about suicide, religion, war and nuclear holocaust.

At a time when most young metal bands still slavishly imitated aging or absent gods like Ozzy Osbourne and Led Zeppelin, such songs as "Whiplash," "Hit the Lights" and "Seek and Destroy" were refreshing and revelatory. The no-sellout attitude of the band — singer-guitarist James Hetfield, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, bassist Cliff Burton and drummer Lars Ulrich — inspired metal fans seeking new thrills and heroes.

Kill 'Em All, originally released on Megaforce and later reissued on Elektra, was the product of what the band calls "riff tapes." Riffs that emerged during practice or jam sessions were committed to tape. Then Ulrich and Hetfield constructed songs from the best riffs. "You start at the top and figure what vibe the song has," Ulrich told Rolling Stone last year. "The general tempo, where you want to take it all. Get an opening. And at one point soon after the opening, you enter into the Mighty Main Riff."

Hetfield's lyrics, by comparison, were the result of "drinking and thinking, seeing what's going on around me." He tackled weighty subjects like spiritual isolation ("No Remorse") and bloody apocalypse ("The Four Horsemen"). The title of the album certainly captures the adversarial tone of the record, although not as graphically as the name the band originally proposed: Metal up Your Ass.

At the time, Metallica had temporarily relocated from California to New York City, where, according to Hammett, they lived on bologna sandwiches and Schlitz Malt Liquor while rehearsing and recording. "When we started out, it seemed like all the odds were against us," says Hammett. "The sound we had was so different, other people didn't know what to do with us." When Megaforce told the band that distributors wouldn't go for an album called Metal up Your Ass, Hammett says, "we were so pissed off that one day Cliff just went, 'Aw, why don't we just kill 'em all?' And we went, 'Yeah, that's it!'"

Metallica Photos: Three Decades of Metal Mayhem

Video: On The Road to the Rock Hall: Metallica

34

The Rolling Stones, ‘Tattoo You’

"Tattoo You wasn't really an eighties album," says Mick Jagger, and in a sense he's right. The decision to launch a Rolling Stones tour in 1981 left the band with little time to write new songs and prompted what Keith Richards calls "a frantic search through the can" to come up with material for an album — a search that produced some ironic results.

"The album came out and everybody said, 'It's the freshest-sounding Stones album in years,'" says Richards, laughing. "We all had a good chuckle."

"Oh, that made me really laugh," Jagger says in agreement. "But now all can be revealed. I was actually rather scared at times. I thought, 'They're bound to notice. The critics can't not notice that this is from here and that's from there.'"

As it turns out, the band reached back nearly a decade for material. The ballads "Waiting on a Friend" and "Tops" were begun in Jamaica in 1972 during work on Goats Head Soup. "Worried About You" and "Slave" dated back to some 1975 rehearsals in Holland for Black and Blue. Early versions of "Start Me Up" were worked up during the Some Girls sessions in 1978. Finally, "Neighbors," "Heaven," "No Use in Crying," "Little T&A," "Hang Fire" and "Black Limousine" were initially recorded during the 1979 sessions for Emotional Rescue.

Of course, the varied origins of the songs on Tattoo You do not detract from the album's power and thematic richness. As Richards points out, having a stockpile of worthwhile material is "one of the advantages of being around for a while." Both Jagger and Richards estimate that forty or more takes exist of "Start Me Up" — one of the Stones' best singles — all but one of which treat the song as a reggae number. "We'd obviously gotten pissed off with reggae," says Richards with a laugh. "We just hit it that one time — rock & roll — and there it was lying there, like a little gem."

In addition to unearthing a single that would burn Tattoo You into the memory of their fans, the Stones pushed the boundaries of their music by bringing in jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins to play on three tracks of the album. "Instead of having all these rock players, I thought we'd go a bit more off the wall and ask him to do some solos," says Jagger. "You can't beat using the best people." In addition, Jagger credits Bob Clearmountain, who mixed the record, for the cohesiveness of Tattoo You. "He did a great job of making it all a rather more homogeneous sound," Jagger says. "It sounds crisp, like it was recorded only yesterday."

For Jagger, Tattoo You provided a valuable lesson in the uses of the past. "It just shows what you can do," he says. "Just bring the tracks out, and start doing vocals and the odd guitar bit and saxophones, and then, hey, you've got an album. And it does actually hold up quite well."

Rolling Stone's Original 1981 Review

Photos: Mick Jagger

33

Hüsker Dü, ‘Zen Arcade’

With this landmark 1984 album, the Minneapolis trio Hüsker Dü picked hardcore punk up out of its monotonous rut and drop-kicked it into the future. Structurally, Zen Arcade is defiantly anti-punk — a double album with an operatic narrative and unorthodox segments of acoustic folk, backward tape effects and psychedelicized guitar à la the Beatles' White Album. Yet in challenging the rigid hardcore aesthetic of "loud 'n' fast rules," Hüsker Dü created a brave new music that was true to punk's raging energy while articulating the anger, confusion and fear of a generation that had outgrown "Blitzkrieg Bop." The result was Tommy by way of CBGB.

"We started out as a punk band," said Bob Mould, the band's singer and guitarist, in 1985. "We had a real garage mentality about everything. We'd get pumped up, and a song that was generally midtempo would come on full throttle. We didn't have a lot of control over that sort of thing." Indeed, the Hüskers' 1981 debut album, Land Speed Record, set the thrash-rock standard. But, as Mould pointed out, "hardcore is basically music for young people. We were growing up, and [Zen Arcade] showed a lot of that."

Hüsker Dü's coming of age took place during the summer of 1983 in an empty church in St. Paul, where the band created Zen Arcade's twenty-three songs. "There was so much change," drummer Grant Hart said in 1986. "We were constantly jamming. We'd pick a chord, any chord, and then go for it. 'Reoccurring Dreams' [Zen's frenzied instrumental climax] would go on for an hour."

The album, primarily written by Mould and Hart, was recorded the following October in a mere eighty-five hours. All but two songs were first takes, and the mixing was done during forty straight hours of work. Total cost: $4000. Yet the depth and detail of the story belied the economy with which it had been committed to tape.

According to Mould, Zen Arcade is about a young computer hack from a broken home who dreams about killing himself after his girlfriend dies of a drug overdose. Instead, he lands in a mental hospital where he meets the head of a computer company who hires him to design video games. "Then he wakes up and goes to school," Mould said. "The only thing we never agreed on was the name of the video game. We thought it was Search."

While the story is fictional, Mould allowed that the songs contain elements of autobiography. "Some of us are from broken homes, some of us have had friends die," he said. "I don't think that's anything new."

But the power and imagination with which Hüsker Dü married fact and fantasy on Zen Arcade, and the album's subtext of striving and hope, helped elevate punk to a higher, more expressive plane. "It's an admission of humanity," said Mould, who has gone solo since the band's breakup in early 1988. "You can't just scream and holler all your life. You have to step back a minute, look at yourself and say, 'Yeah, I am fucked.' And try to change it."

Rolling Stone's Original 1985 Review

32

John Cougar Mellencamp, ‘Uh-Huh’

By 1983, John Cougar was a smash with the public — his multiplatinum American Fool, the biggest-selling album of 1982, saw to that — but was still scorned by critics. With Uh-huh, he turned a corner, winning over even hardened skeptics who thought he would never escape the shadow of the heartland-rocker triumvirate of Seger, Springsteen and Petty. Not only did he surmount his influences, he upped the ante with insightful and incisive songs about life in working-class America such as "Pink Houses" and "Authority Song." And, in a move consistent with the no-nonsense, back-to-the-roots flavor of Uh-huh, he even reclaimed his real surname, becoming John Cougar Mellencamp. Suddenly other artists were being compared to him.

A rough-hewn gem, Uh-huh was "written, arranged and recorded during a sixteen-day blowout at the Shack," according to the liner notes. The Shack, in fact, wasn't a studio at all but a half-finished house standing in the middle of Indiana farmland. It belonged to a friend who couldn't afford to finish building it, so Mellencamp agreed to do so for him — provided Mellencamp could rehearse and record there for a year.

Before recording Uh-huh, Mellencamp produced a Mitch Ryder record, Never Kick a Sleeping Dog, at the Shack. Working with a Sixties icon like Ryder helped gear Mellencamp and company for a leaner, more aggressive sound when it came time to do their own record.

Ironically, one of Uh-huh's most memorable songs, "Pink Houses," isn't a rocker at all but a ballad about the contentment to be found in leading a modest life. Inspiration struck Mellencamp on a highway overpass. "I looked down and saw this old man, early in the morning, sitting on the porch of his pink shack with a cat in his arms," he says. "He waved, and I waved back. That's how the song started."

"The first time we ever played it is the way it stayed," says guitarist Larry Crane. "We said, 'Well, we got that one,' and we didn't bother it after that."

Rolling Stone's Original 1983 Review

31

Roxy Music, ‘Avalon’

The soft, dreamlike scope of Roxy Music's 1982 release Avalon was a far cry from the stark abrasiveness of the band's Seventies albums. But with its haunting melodies and hypnotic rhythms, Avalon was the logical extension of a style that Roxy Music had begun dabbling in on Flesh and Blood, released in 1980.

"If you want to come up with something new, you have to change your methods of working," says former Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera. "Avalon was the culmination of a method that was started halfway through Flesh and Blood." The band holed up in Manzanera's newly built Gallery Studio, in Surrey, southwest of London, and began to experiment.

"We constructed a lot of tracks out of improvisations," he says. "In the studio, you can head off into very strange territories by artificial means. By accident, you can plug something into the wrong place on the desk and something amazing happens that you could never have dreamed of. The combination of writing in the studio while using the studio as an instrument had evolved halfway through Flesh and Blood and on into Avalon. It was this soundscape to which Bryan would then write his sort of dreamy lyrics."

The album contained some of vocalist Bryan Ferry's strongest songwriting to date. "I think Bryan decided he wanted a more adult type of lyric," says Manzanera. "We were making music that was a bit rockier, but then we decided — in light of the way Bryan was thinking lyrically — that we should tone it down, so it ended up having a more constant sort of mood. And although that mood wasn't very up and rocky, it was positive."

Ferry's lyrics expressed a marked openness and vulnerability. "It was just before he got married," says Manzanera. "It was a period when he was searching."

The title track commences with a subtle reggae lilt. "When we were recording the third or fourth album in London," says Manzanera, "we'd often be working in the same studio as Bob Marley, who'd be downstairs doing all of those famous albums. It just had to rub off somewhere." Singer Yanick Etienne, recruited while the band was overdubbing in New York, added soaring vocals to "Avalon."

"More Than This," the opening song, was initially poppier, according to Manzanera. "Halfway through, Bryan rebelled, and it was all scrapped and simplified incredibly," he says. "I must say, I was concerned that we weren't going to have a hit single from that album. And obviously, wanting to make it in America, we needed to have a single to break us. But in the context of the whole album, Bryan obviously had a broader view in the back of his mind. By the time it was done, it fit in much better with everything."

The atmosphere in the studio was charged, as was usually the case at Roxy's sessions. "Roxy Music was a series of complex personalities, and inevitably there would be ups and downs," says Manzanera. "Any sort of creative force that's worth its while has to exist in a sort of state of conflict. So it's absolutely amazing that we managed to do seven or eight albums."

His fondest memory of recording Avalon? "The day it was finished."

Rolling Stone's Original 1982 Review

Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Roxy Music

30

Los Lobos, ‘How Will the Wolf Survive?’

 "The Wolf record was very pivotal for us," says Louie Perez, one of the four East L.A. high-school buddies who started Los Lobos in 1973. "We decided to take a responsible look at what we represented and where we came from as Mexican Americans. Was this band going to be a fun, sock-hop party band or actually show they're of reasonable intelligence and concern?"

The answer turned out to be both. On How Will the Wolf Survive?, Los Lobos — Perez on drums, guitar and requinto; David Hidalgo on vocals, accordion and guitar; Cesar Rosas on vocals, guitar and mandolin; and Conrad Lozano on bass and guitarron — played with crisp exuberance. They adroitly mixed blues rave-ups like "Don't Worry Baby" with traditional numbers such as "Serenata Nortena" and personal songs by Perez and Hidalgo about the band's quest to retain its Mexican American heritage while working within a glossy pop-star industry.

Los Lobos (Spanish for "the wolves") had quit various local cover bands, bought traditional Mexican instruments at pawnshops and learned the norteño music of their forefathers. They eventually incorporated electric instruments and in 1983 with the Blasters' saxophonist, Steve Berlin (who soon joined the band), recorded an EP called … And a Time to Dance. It sold only 50,000 copies but won many critics' awards and enabled the band members to buy a beat-up Dodge van in which they toured America for the first time.

Hidalgo and Perez worked on songs for their first full-length album at the home of Perez's brother-in-law. "We'd sit down with a guitar, a tape recorder and a jar of Tasters Choice, and we were coffee achievers all afternoon," says Perez. One result of these sessions was "A Matter of Time," a touching ballad about a Mexican crossing the border, looking for a better world.

They entered the studio early in the summer of 1984 with T-Bone Burnett, who had coproduced the previous EP with Berlin. Basic tracks were recorded at the Capitol studio in L.A., with overdubs and vocals done at a garage studio belonging to a friend of Burnett's. Additional tracks were cut at the Warner Bros. studios, because "every time it looked like we were done, something else would come up," says Perez.

When the record was nearly finished, Los Lobos hit on its tide track. Perez found inspiration in an old issue of National Geographic with a story entitled "Where Can the Wolf Survive?" "It was like our group, our story: What is this beast, this animal that the record companies can't figure out?" says Perez. "Will we be given the opportunity to make it or not?"

On the way home from the studio late one night, Perez and Hidalgo began writing the song, which was speedily recorded with Weather Report's Alex Acuna sitting in on percussion. In it, Hidalgo sings, "It's the truth that they all look for/Something they must keep alive/Will the wolf survive?"

The grace note that pulled the album together was an instrumental of Hidalgo's performed on Mexican instruments. Perez named it "Lil' King of Everything," he says, because "it sounded to me like this hobo who wakes up in the morning, sees the world and feels good about himself. He doesn't own anything, but he's the 'Lil' King of Everything.'" The seventy-nine-second song was spliced into the intro of "How Will the Wolf Survive?" — linking Los Lobos's Mexican roots, their rocking present and their stellar future.

Rolling Stone's Original 1985 Review

29

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, ‘Double Fantasy’

It is, of course, impossible to separate the album from what happened immediately after it was released. In late November 1980, John Lennon made his musical return after five years of self-imposed retirement with Double Fantasy, a full-fledged collaboration with his wife, Yoko Ono; on December 8th of that year, he was murdered on his way home from a recording studio. Rather than being his comeback, Double Fantasy became Lennon's sweet, gentle farewell.

But it would have been a rock & roll event regardless. After a self-indulgent, eighteen-month "lost weekend," a separation from Ono and a few disappointing albums, Lennon had retreated into a life of domesticity in late 1975, devoting himself to being a househusband and a father to his son Sean.

In the spring of 1980, Lennon and Sean sailed to Bermuda for a brief vacation; there Lennon became intrigued by New Wave musicians like the Pretenders, Lene Lovich and Madness. And when he heard the B-52's song "Rock Lobster," he was spurred to action. "It sounds just like Ono's music," he told Rolling Stone, "so I said to myself, 'It's time to get out the old axe and wake the wife up!'"

Lennon would write a song, call Ono in New York and sing it to her; she would answer with a new tune she had written. They wrote more than two dozen songs in three weeks, then recorded two albums' worth of material at the Hit Factory, in New York City. He went into the studio, Lennon later said, "not to prove anything but just to enjoy it."

The result was structured as a dialogue — one song by Lennon, then one by Ono — dealing with their trials, their separation and, above all, their love. Despite the tensions brought to the surface in songs like Lennon's "I'm Losing You" and Ono's "I'm Moving On," most of the album deals with the contentment Lennon enjoyed once he had left the music business behind. "No longer riding on the merry-go-round," he sings in the marvelous, contemplative "Watching the Wheels," "I just had to let it go."

Initial critical reaction was not unanimously favorable. Some early reviewers attacked Double Fantasy for its cozy domesticity, and several other prominent pans were written but withdrawn from publication after Lennon's death. But in the end the album proved to be durable not just as — in the words of Rolling Stone contributor Stephen Holden — "an exemplary portrait of a perfect heterosexual union" but as a lovely picture of the happiness two artists had found in each other. "I cannot be a punk in Hamburg and Liverpool anymore," said Lennon three days before his murder. "I'm older now. I see the world through different eyes. I still believe in love, peace and understanding, as Elvis Costello said, and what's so funny about love, peace and understanding?"

Photos: John Lennon and Yoko Ono in New York: The Last Years

Special Tribute: John Lennon's Last Days

28

Guns n’ Roses, ‘Appetite for Destruction’

"Who would have ever thought that the least likely to succeed would make it onto the Top 100 of the decade?" says Slash, the lead guitarist of the Los Angeles renegades Guns n' Roses. He has every right to savor the irony: Only a few short years before their debut album was recorded, the members of the band were living in well-documented druggy squalor, just one among many hard-rock bands looking to get a break on the competitive Los Angeles club scene.

But Guns n' Roses — a shotgun marriage between two bands, L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose — have an edgy dynamism that sets them apart from the pack. Led by a tattooed former delinquent named Axl Rose, Guns n' Roses play not so much pure metal as unalloyed hard rock that listeners who cut their teeth on the Rolling Stones and the New York Dolls can appreciate.

The dozen songs on Appetite for Destruction embrace contradictions in the band members' still-evolving characters, some aspects of which are none too pleasant to contemplate — e.g., the mounting drug habit described with indifference in the matter-of-fact "Mr. Brownstone." The opening number, "Welcome to the Jungle," describes the god-awful Pandora's box of street life for urban runaways with a cynical, scarifying leer. Numbers such as "It's So Easy," with its offhand decadence and driving beat, are real crowd arousers, releasing the venomous rage toward society — and toward themselves — that Guns n' Roses feel they have in common with their fans. During a performance in England at an outdoor heavy-metal festival, two audience members were stomped to death in a mass slam dance while Guns n' Roses played "It's So Easy." "The sincerity of the band shows," Slash told Rolling Stone in 1988. "That's why the crowds are so fuckin' violent. Not that I condone crowd violence and riots, but it's part of the energy that we put out."

The other side of Guns n' Roses is the unabashed sentimentality of "Sweet Child o' Mine," a ballad about a girlfriend sung by Rose with undisguised emotion. Appetite for Destruction is five talented misfits' way of coming to terms with the world — shouting, screaming and playing as hard as is humanly possible. The fact that it found a sizable and rabidly enthusiastic audience so quickly — the album has gone platinum eight times over — says that there are many, many kids out there who feel disenfranchised, disillusioned and confused about life in the Eighties. Guns n' Roses are singing their song.

Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: 'Appetite for Destruction' by Guns n' Roses

Photos: Guns n' Roses Bring "Chinese Democracy" to North America

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