Oh no! It’s happening! My music collection is bursting at the seams. I don’t want to bring it up with my beautiful and long-suffering wife, but I think I need to add third album AND CD cabinets, respectively, to my cramped music room. I mean, it should not come as a surprise since I was barely fitting my collection in the cabinets when I first bought them. But, now, when she wants to buy all kinds of stuff for our first granddaughter, who just turned two months old this past weekend. Shoot, I don’t think the little one can even begin to appreciate all that her grandparents want to get her.
So, in a futile attempt to stuff my albums into the two cabinets I presently have, I attempted to rearranged the albums in the bins. Unfortunately, some albums had to be taken out to increase space. Couple those albums laying around the room with the couple hundred CDs stacked in the room, and you can see I have a bit of a storage issue. Oh well, I think our marriage will outlast this impending discussion.
But, what happened while going through the album is that I found several albums from the Eighties, which I thought were awesome, that I decided to give a re-listen. You know what I discovered? I really do have good taste in music. Much of this stuff has aged very well, even though some of them may have an over-reliance on 80s production techniques and technology. Sometimes, synthesizers and drum machines get a little over-used. But, generally speaking, these twenty albums have stood the test of time.
On my list are established artists like Warren Zevon and Rickie Lee Jones or musicians from famous groups doing solo albums, such as Keith Richards from the Stones and Jerry Harrison from Talking Heads. Then, there are the artists who seem to be one-hit wonders with Aldo Nova and Jesse Johnson’s Revue. Some of these musicians you will recognize, like Kiss, while others you may not have even heard of before, like Game Theory. In any event, these twenty albums are what I consider to be Underrated Classic Albums of the Eighties. I have the listed in alphabetical order by artist name.
1. ABC – How to Be a Zillionaire (1985). This new wave/soul band broke in 1982 with two hit songs, “The Look of Love” and “Poison Arrow.” When this album came out three years later, everyone had forgotten about them. Then, we heard “Be Near Me” on Top 40 radio and discovered this album is stuffed full of mid-80s sophisticated dance/pop hits.
2. Aldo Nova – Aldo Nova (1982). In the early Eighties, Canada was sending us some great AOR artists like Loverboy, Triumph and Red Rider. Guitarist/singer Aldo Nova was another winning combination in the AOR sweepstakes with his hit “Fantasy.” The rest of the album would sound great on Classic Rock radio as well.
3. Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Session (1989). In 1989, critics everywhere were taken with the haunting sound of the Cowboy Junkies on this album. With each song recorded with one microphone in one take in a church, the album has a country noir sound to it. Highlight is their cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.”
4. David + David – Boomtown (1986). When this album dropped, critics drooled over the great sound of a smartly written classic rock album. The problem was that the lyrics were clearly Gen X in nature, meaning they were studying the dark underbelly of Reaganomics which did not sit well with the Boomers. So, this album became something of a cult album. Holds up much better than the Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe or Poison albums that outsold this one.
5. Game Theory – The Big Shot Chronicles (1986). For some reason, bands that play smart, power pop music rarely make a dent on America’s music charts. This two-females, three-males band came from the same scene that produced The Bangles. Unfortunately, their take on an updated Beatles/Beach Boys sophisticated sound fell on deaf ears. Game Theory should be mentioned in the same breath as Elvis Costello, Squeeze and Marshall Crenshaw when it comes to that Beatlesque sound.
6. Jerry Harrison – Casual Gods (1988). Just as David Byrne was becoming bored playing with Talking Heads, keyboardist/guitarist/singer Jerry Harrison quietly created a great album that mined some of the same musical soundscapes as the early Heads did in their CBGBs days. This album was huge on college rock radio back in the day.
7. Jesse Johnson’s Revue – Jesse Johnson’s Revue (1985). The former guitarist of The Time, Johnson formed his own band during the height of Prince-mania. This album allowed Johnson to continue mining the same soundscapes as The Time, but being a solo artist allowed Johnson to show off his guitar pyrotechnics. This, along with his sophomore record Shockadelica, is a lost classic of the Minneapolis sound of the Eighties.
8. Keith Richards – Talk Is Cheap (1988). One half of The Rolling Stones famous Glimmer Twins, Richards, who was fighting with his twin Mick Jagger, decided he could show off his songwriting by making his first solo album. This album would have made a terrific Stones album, but, instead of thinking about what could have been, let’s focus on what it is. And what it is one helluva rock album, the down and dirty kind Stones fans have always loved. At least we found out that a moderately sober Richards could still sing.
9. King’s X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989). Just as hair metal was running out of steam, along comes a trio with obvious Rush/Triumph fans as member who coupled art metal with soaring vocal harmonies, not unlike those found on power pop albums, to create a distinctive sound that blew the critics’ collective minds. Everyone from metal-guru Eddie Trunk to the metal-hating Rolling Stone magazine at the time were singing the praises of this album. And, it does not disappoint.
10. Kiss – Creatures of the Night (1982). Okay, back in 1982, Kiss was at its lowest ebb. Drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist Ace Frehley had done the unthinkable and left the band. In comes replacements with weird make-up. Kiss had just release some rock opera, which was totally outside their wheelhouse called Music from “The Elder.” The public rejected that album. So, with their backs against the wall, they rediscovered their songwriting skills from the Destroyer/Rock and Roll Over/Love Gun heyday and created the rocking Creatures of the Night. Unfortunately, only members of the Kiss Army bought it since everyone was going crazy for Duran Duran and Adam Ant at the time. We sure missed out on a Kiss Klassic. This is everything a Kiss fan would want in a Kiss album. Unfortunately, the album did not sell, and Kiss subsequently got rid of the make-up, ruining everything during the hair metal run.
11. Little Steven – Voice of America (1984). Where his former boss, Bruce Springsteen, had just created the subtly politicized Born in the USA, Little Steven came out and made an album that left no doubts about his disdain for Reagan and his brand of economics. No one could misinterpret Van Zandt’s meanings in these heated liberal rantings. This gives the true side of the American working class that few seem to understand, yet many exploit.
12. Los Lobos – By the Light of the Moon (1987). This lost classic got buried in the avalanche of great albums released in 1987. While many thought this would be the album to break these proud Mexican-Americans, that break waited a year until they covered “La Bamba” for the movie of the same name about their Latino rock hero Richie Valens. But, this album is a mix of early rock and roll, traditional Mexican music and country in this true melting pot of an album.
13. Rickie Lee Jones – Pirates (1981). This female version of Tom Waits’ late-night jazz club personae won all kinds of critical praise on her sophomore album. But, for some reason, people have forgotten all about her work while her mentor, Waits himself, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This album, along with her debut, gives the listener a similar trip through the late-night Bohemia made famous in the musical RENT. Too bad there was not a hit song to push this album further into our conscientiousness.
14. Robbie Nevil – Robbie Nevil (1986). This guy had it all for an artist in the Eighties: great songwriting ability, great looks and great hair. Oh, man, his hair was way better than Bon Jovi’s. He even had a big hit song that people have forgotten, “C’est La Vie.” This album was so full of great songs that my wife played it to death. Yet, for some reason, the album and all of the other songs never caught on. I will never understand this cruel game of pop music. Nevil should have been as big as George Michael.
15. Robert Cray – Strong Persuader (1986). Everyone rightfully remembers Stevie Ray Vaughan, but, for reasons I will NEVER understand, few remember that Cray was equally talented as a blues and R&B guitar virtuoso, especially on his hit “Smokin’ Gun.” But, the man had it all, the guitar licks, the voice and the looks. Still, he’s a forgotten blues guitarist who deserves much more recognition.
16. Terence Trent D’Arby – The Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby (1987). D’Arby was arrogant, telling the press that his debut album was the greatest album since Sgt. Pepper. Well, this man with a voice not unlike Otis Redding, the writing chops in the vein of Prince and a confidence bigger than Michael Jordan’s created one awesome album that had two hit songs, “Sign Your Name” and the immortal “Wishing Well.” But, when he tried to move away from the 60s/70s soul sound of this album for a more eclectic Brian Wilson-influenced sound on his next two albums, he lost his audience. Yet, the high quality of this album endures, even if it never was as good as most of The Beatles’ LPs, let along Sgt. Pepper.
17. The Outfield – Play Deep (1986). This was American power pop at its finest. The only problem, much like The Records before them, The Outfield was English. So, they were ignored in the UK, even while finding success in the States. Unfortunately, they forgot how to be exuberant on subsequent albums as they were on their debut. They should have taken a closer look at Cheap Trick at how to incorporate cynicism with such a happy sound. This is a power pop classic for the ages.
18. The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues (1988). This Scottish band was marketed as the second coming of U2 because of their soaring anthems on their first couple of albums. But, much like Dexys Midnight Runners before them, the lead Waterboy, Mike Scott, loved to incorporate other sounds into his mix. When he involved Scottish Folk sounds, he came up with a great album in 1988 Fisherman’s Blues. Once again, because the band was not all AquaNet and bombast, their videos did not get much run on MTV, although the band was huge on college rock radio. This is a great UK version of folk rock.
19. Toni Childs – Union (1988). When I heard Childs’ HUGE voice on her minor hit “Walk Away,” I thought there was NO WAY this woman was not going to be a big rock star. Boy, was I wrong. Blessed with a voice that falls between Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin, she must have been the wrong voice at the wrong time, whatever that means. I don’t care, Toni Childs is one of the lost rock stars that we sure missed out on. Her music was too sophisticated and smart for pop radio, too organic for Urban Radio and to pop for rock radio. But, she should have transcended all of those formats. Instead, few remember her, and that’s our loss.
20. Warren Zevon – Sentimental Hygiene (1987). Man, Zevon could NOT catch a break! His best-known song, “Werewolves of London,” was never a Top 20 hit on its own. His versions of songs were never hits, then someone else would make hits out of them (thanks Linda Ronstadt and Randy Newman!). So, when Zevon asked a hot young alternative band called R.E.M. to back him on this album, everyone thought this would be his moment. And as great as songs like the tile song and “Boom Boom Mancini” were, I thought Warren Zevon would finally get the respect he deserved. Unfortunately, the gods of music played another cruel trick on Zevon, and this album went nowhere. As far as I am concerned, this was his finest moment.
Sure, these are just a small sampling of the eclectic music in my collection, but they do give you an idea from where I am coming when I write my reviews. These are the types of music that I enjoy the most, although many of them you probably never heard of. Just give them a try. If I am not correct, quit listening to them. But, if I’m right, just go buy them. And, I prefer them on vinyl myself.