It had to happen eventually. I mean, it was inevitable that I would run out of years from which to compile a list of ten great alternative albums. Most people tend to be like me, I think. We have a window of time when we pay close attention to the new and exciting music, but then we get older and our attention gets pulled in other directions. Oh, sure, there are a few people out there who are able to keep their fingers on the pulse. I’m not one of them. My window began to close in the late 80s.
Looking back over the lists I have done in this series (1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, and the combined years of 1986-1989), I can see that I have my favorite artists. XTC, Husker Du, The Church, Buzzcocks, and The Replacements all have multiple entries. What can I say? I like what I like. I also like jangly guitars as this list will attest.
I might do a list of 10 albums from the 90s, but I’m certain I won’t be able to muster this sort of list for any more individual years. So, here are my choices for the ten greatest alternative albums from 1984.
It’s my list, your results may vary.
10) Stop Making Sense – Talking Heads I haven’t listed a live album before on any of these lists, but this one, along with the film, is so good. I never did get to see Talked Heads live, so having this album and the video made for a decent substitute. Once In A Lifetime, Psycho Killer, and Burning Down The House are standout versions of those classic songs. However, my favorite track is a from a David Byrne solo project, The Catherine Wheel, with a new arrangement for Talking Heads.
Favorite track: What A Day That Was
9) The Smiths – The Smiths There’s loads of melancholy and moaning Morrissey on this debut album by the quintessential 80s UK alternative band, The Smiths. There’s also plenty of excellent guitar work (some of it jangly) by the fantastic Johnny Marr. The darkness of Morrissey’s lyrics is nicely balanced by Marr’s light touch on the guitar. OK, Miserable Lie does tend to get on my nerves as the second half of the song has Morrissey wailing all falsetto to the point of making me say, “Next song!”
Favorite track: What Difference Does It Make?
8) The Big Express – XTC This album is a little bit of a miss from my number two most favoritest band. I think that’s mostly due to the production. The album is filled with that big, big, BIG 80s drum sound and it’s a little distracting. However, there is plenty of good stuff on here, including You’re The Wish You Are I Had, I Remember The Sun, and the Police-like (and relevant again given today’s political climate) This World Over.
Favorite track: Wake Up
7) Like This – The dBs A little power pop, a little country. The dB’s had that jangly guitar sound I like so much. There’s some good lyrics, too. Especially on my favorite track, a macabre but catchy tune about suicide. Love Is For Lovers is an excellent opening track for an album filled with excellent songs.
Favorite track: Amplifier
6) Mirror Moves – The Psychedelic Furs This album demonstrates just how open a friend and I were to new music in 1984. I don’t recall if my friend had heard anything about the band before we bought tickets to see them in concert. I do remember we’d never heard any of their music. We really liked the band name, so we took a chance. Just after buying the tickets, my friend picked up this album. When we listened to it we knew we made the right concert-going decision. It is a terrific album.
Favorite track: The Ghost In You
5) Zen Arcade – Husker Du This is the magnum opus for these originators of alternative rock from Minnesota. It’s hardcore, but it’s more than that. This is a big record (released as a double album) with the loose concept of following a kid heading out on his own into the big, bad world. It’s brilliant. Half of the songs come in at two minutes or less, but still pack a wallop. The final track, however, is an instrumental that lasts more than 15 minutes.
Favorite track: Newest Industry
4) Learning To Crawl – The Pretenders This is the album that saw The Pretenders truly break into the mainstream, but their strong sense of independence kept their alternative cred alive. They continued their tough (I Hurt You, My City Was Gone) and tender (Thin Line Between Love And Hate, Show Me) song pattern and scored a couple radio hits (Middle Of The Road and my jangly guitar-laden favorite track). It’s a solid album by a band learning to crawl after the deaths of two of its original members.
Favorite track: Back On The Chain Gang
3) Remote Luxury – The Church Shortly after signing with Warner Bros. in the US, their new label compiled the songs from two EPs released in their home country Australia, retaining the title of one of them, for this album release in the States. There’s more of a synth pop sound combined with the jangly guitars (I really like those) than on their previous efforts. And it works for the most part. Maybe These Boys is a little much and wasn’t a favorite of the band. Oh, and it took more than 30 years for me to realize the pun title of my favorite track. How embarrassing.
Favorite track: Constant In Opal
2) Reckoning – REM Depending on when you ask me, this is usually the one I name when I’m asked which is my favorite REM album. And I’m asked constantly. It’s getting a little weird, actually. Anyway, this sophomore effort is crammed with jangly guitars. Have I mentioned I like jangly guitars? Because I really like jangly guitars. Standout tracks include: Pretty Persuasion, Harborcoat, So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry), and Second Guessing.
Favorite track: (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville
1) Let It Be – The Replacements This is the critic’s darlings from Minneapolis’ last release on the independent label Twin/Tone before going to the major leagues and it just might be their best. The songwriting of Paul Westerberg had become even stronger, clearer, and more heartfelt. He was cooking with gas! Great songs such as Sixteen Blue, Answering Machine, and Unsatisfied showed that Westerberg was a major songwriting talent. Still the band retained its sense of humor and irreverence with a cover of Kiss’ Black Diamond, Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out and Gary’s Got A Boner. Peter Buck of REM appears to lend a little jangly guitar (how I love it so) to my favorite track. And what a great photo on the album cover!
Favorite track: I Will Dare
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