10. The Cars, Shake It Up
The Cars are really the emblematic band for this moment in music history. They bridged the divide between the arena rock world and new wave, getting played both on the local rawk station and on MTV. The beat is all new wave nerves and the synths sound like they would be at home on a Human League record. This is not one of their stronger albums, it sort of sits between their early rocking high points and their pop takeover on Heartbeat City.
9. The Police, Ghost In The Machine
I've always loved the cover to this album, which speaks to a time when digital technology was new and cutting edge. My dad got a digital watch in 1982 that made all kinds of bleeps and bloops. I really thought we were living in the future. The album seems to reflect a certain fear of this new frontier, especially songs like "Spirits in the Material World" and Invisible Sun." The dark noises give way to a slight break in the clouds on "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," perhaps the best pure pop song the Police ever released.
8. Hall and Oates, Private Eyes
One shocking thing about this countdown is the lack of soul music. Hall and Oates are really the only vaguely soul music act in this top ten. In recent years Hall and Oates have had their reputations justifiably revived. Their music is long on craft with all kinds of subtle touches. "Private Eyes" might be one of their most straight-ahead hits, but "I Can't Go For That" has a sultry slink to it that sounded great coming out of the speakers of my parents' Chevy Malibu.
7. AC/DC, For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)
This album has got to rank among rock history's biggest disappointments. When AC/DC frontman Bon Scott died in the late 70s it seemed like the band was doomed. Then, in 1980, they dropped Back in Black, one of the top-selling albums of all time and a stone cold killer from top to bottom. As far as I am concerned, it's the only really good album the band was able to release after Scott's demise. This may have been a case of AC/DC's formula only yielding so much before the well ran dry. Where they were once supple, they are now flabby. Where they were once sly, they are now overblown.
6. Stevie Nicks, Bella Donna
Fleetwood Mac were THE definitive band of the late 1970s decadent cocaine malaise. It was only fitting that Stevie Nicks would go off on her own and have bigger hits outside of the band in a new decade with a New Objectivity driving culture, rather than the hair shaggy 70s aesthetic. In that respect it was perfect for her to team up with Tom Petty, who was a forward-looking rocker more in tune with the new wave than others. "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" is one of the great male-female duets of the decade. "Edge of Seventeen" has a high energy intensity lacking from her Fleetwood Mac tunes that's better suited to the new, go go decade.
5. Rolling Stones, Tattoo You
The last classic Stones record? Strange to say for an album made up of outtakes. It's kind of sad that the Stones have not managed to top it in the 37 years since. Their freshest stuff could not longer measure up to what they had tossed off in the 70s. There are some great songs on this album, and not just the hits. Of course, everyone mostly remembers "Start Me Up," one of their best all time songs and a real hip shaker. That kind of rhythm had all but disappeared from mainstream rock music by this point, and its absence has been a true loss. "Waiting On A Friend" is among their best ballads.
4. Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Hooked On Classics
OK, this one totally flummoxed me. I had no clue that an orchestral album hit the top ten in the 1980s. This is not a Mantovani record like the ones that charted back in the day, it's got an uptempo disco beat behind it. Strings had always been big in pop music, including in the aforementioned disco genre. The 80s would bring an end to that trend with the almighty synthesizer. While there's a touch of disco to this music, it sounds ideal for aerobics class, and thus very much of the new cultural turn.
3. Foreigner, 4
I have often thought of 1981-1982 as the last gasp of classic rock. Was MTV the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs? I am not sure, but cock rockers like Foreigner sounded increasingly out of step with the times. However, on this record Foreigner managed to hold onto relevance by incorporating the harder, straighter, less shaggy sounds of the new decade. "Urgent" has an eletro-groove, as well as an all-time sax solo by the great Junior Walker. In this era the saxophone was ubiquitous and even the arena acts couldn't exist. Thomas Dolby, who had yet to blind anyone with science, was on the synths.
2. Journey, Escape
Journey's Escape album might be the magnum opus of classic rock's early 80s swan song. (It's either that or Rush's Moving Pictures.) Journey maintained the bard rock bedrock of the late 70s with the slick pop sheen necessary for the Reagan years. The power ballad had announced its world conquering presence with REO Speedwagon's "Keep On Loving You," and Journey made it sweeter with "Open Arms." Add to that the beautifully moody "Who's Crying Now" and the hit "Still They Ride" and you've got a good record. When you factor in "Don't Stop Believing," one of the most blissful songs you can still hear on a classic rock station, you've got a stone cold classic. Play that song at midnight in a crowded bar and the punters will still belt it out.
1. J. Geils Band, Freeze Frame
Okay, now THIS makes me feel sentimental. "Centerfold" is the first pop song I remember hearing on the radio and loving. As a wee kindergartener I had no clue of its naughty nature. I could not get enough of the bouncy beat and catchy riff. The J Geils Band were a fun rock and roll band (as opposed to rock band), and so ideal for kids who liked to run around the basement with too much energy to spare. Like the other rock bands on the countdown, the group had adapted their sound in a more new wave direction, putting the keyboards front and center and the nervy beats beneath. While the sound (and album cover) is unmistakably of its time, put "Centerfold" or "Freeze Frame" on at a wedding and people will be on the dance floor.