Top Ten


PMc Magazine’s Editorial Director Looks Back 30 Years On

By Tyler Malone

Winter 2012-2013

It’s the end of 2012, and music critics everywhere–professionals and amateurs alike–are sitting down to make lists of their top ten favorite albums of the year. Exactly thirty years ago, music critics were likewise sitting down to list out their favorite albums of that year, 1982. 1982 was a pretty damn strong year in music, much stronger than 2012, so I decided to take a look back, thirty years on, at some of the top albums of that year. Here are my top ten favorite albums of 1982.

10. Bruce Springsteen: Nebraska
Because I’m not as big of a Boss fan as some, I really wanted to put either ABC’s The Lexicon of Love here, or Berlin’s Pleasure Victim, but when I sat down to write why, I just couldn’t justify it. In two separate songs on Nebraska–”Atlantic City” and “Johnny 99″–Springsteen says the line, “I got debts that no honest man can pay.” And it is in the sparse sonic state that is Nebraska, where Springsteen’s debts to Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie become most apparent. Most people look to one of the big four albums (Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River or Born in the U.S.A.) for a favorite/best Bruce Springsteen LP, but the quieter Nebraska smack-dab in the middle is where I turn. Here is where I think his star shines brightest (ironically in the album’s incessant darkness). Without the E Street Band, with just a four-track recorder, and his own soul to bare, this is the Springsteen I like. From the opening title track sung from the point of view of murderer Charlie Starkweather (also of Malick’s Badlands fame) all the way through, this is a series of dark ditties that offer little respite. Even what could seem like a possible preachy moment of solace at the end, a song titled “Reason to Believe,” doesn’t deliver the pro-faith lyric the title suggests, but instead becomes a sad reflection on how we delude ourselves: “Struck me kinda funny, seemed kind of funny, sir, to me / How at the end of every hard earned day, people find some reason to believe.” Springsteen is not a careless cynic here though, he’s not laughing at the groom stood up by his bride and the other characters that make up the song’s verses, instead he’s a vagabond wandering the country, collecting stories, and laughing at the absurdity of life’s struggles.
Standout Tracks: “Nebraska,” “Atlantic City,” and “Reason to Believe.”
Other Great 1982 Albums You Might Enjoy: John Cougar: American Fool, John Cale: Music for a New Society, or Lou Reed: The Blue Mask.

9. The Cure: Pornography

And if you thought Springsteen’s Nebraska was a dark album…welcome to an even darker place. “It doesn’t matter if we all die” are the first words out of Robert Smith’s mouth on the album’s opener “One Hundred Years,” and as the LP progresses, it only gets more and more bleak. The songs tend to blend together, so that by the end Pornography feels like one draining 45 minute paean to nihilism. If flirting with nihilism sounds terrible, then you lead too privileged a life, and have never been in need of crawling up into a dark aural corner and wallowing in a melancholy mood. Though Pornography doesn’t have the attention-grabbing phenomenal jams protruding from its sonic landscape that some other Cure albums have, in a way that only makes it more coherent as a whole. As the songs fade, let the mood take over. Here, you’re not really listening to a set of songs, nor are you even listening to an album, you’re just feeling a mood. And it’s a dark, depressing, but utterly satisfying mood, so get out the black nail polish and get ready to hate your parents.
Standout Tracks: “One Hundred Years,” “A Strange Day,” and “Cold.”
Other Great 1982 Albums You Might Enjoy: Siouxsie and the Banshees: A Kiss in the Dreamhouse, Bauhaus: The Sky’s Gone Out, or Depeche Mode: A Broken Frame.

8. Mission of Burma: Vs.
Mission of Burma has now been together over twice as long since their reunion in 2002 than they were together in their heyday in the 80s. And though records like ONoffON from 2004 and Unsound from 2012 are great, they’re nothing compared to the band’s first album, the EP, Signals, Calls, and Marches, and Vs., their second album (and first and only full-length studio LP until the 2000s). Vs. showed they weren’t slowing down one bit from Signals, but instead going full bore in new sonic directions. There’s plenty of loud abrasive guitarwork here, but there are also plenty of songs that manage to find more subdued grooves. For example, “Trem Two,” one of the most memorable songs on the album, is crafted from soft-spoken vocals intoned over a rhythmic groove overlaid with an incessant but decidedly mellow guitar riff that repeats to hypnotic effect. Though I remain personally partial to the previous year’s Signals, there’s no denying that Vs. is one of the great post-punk albums.
Standout Tracks: “Trem Two,” “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate,” and “Einstein’s Day.”
Other Great 1982 Albums You Might Enjoy: Gang of Four: Songs of the Free, Sonic Youth: Sonic Youth, or Killing Joke: Revelations.

7. Oingo Boingo: Nothing to Fear
When the theater troupe The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo morphed into the rock band Oingo Boingo, the sun smiled on Southern California. I suppose that’s not surprising since it’s always sunny in So Cal, but the band’s particular brand of horny and horn-y ska-influenced new wave rock gave the sun a particular reason to smile. After their debut, Only a Lad, with its slightly creepy but entirely catchy pedophiliac anthem “Little Girls,” came this album, Nothing to Fear, which built on their first outing, but utilized various other instruments (including the Rumba-phone, an instrument invented by Boingo member Leon Schneiderman, and featured in the opening track “Grey Matter”) and honed the band’s craft. It’s here where they crystallized the Boingo trademark sound, and arguably here where they sound their best. They never achieved the critical acclaim nor the mainstream success they may have liked, but bandleader Danny Elfman’s got nothing to fear. He composed the scores for six films released in 2012, so I’m sure he’s doing just fine.
Standout Tracks: “Wild Sex (In the Working Class), “Private Life,” and “Running on a Treadmill.”
Other Great 1982 Albums You Might Enjoy:
Berlin: Pleasure Victim, Billy Idol: Billy Idol, or ABC: The Lexicon of Love.

6. Neil Young: Trans
Neil Young’s Trans is the musical equivalent of an 80s sci fi film like Blade Runner. It’s dark, grungy, retro-futuristic, with outdated special effects. Yet, even with those outdated special effects, 80s sci fi films, like Blade Runner, like Aliens, like Total Recall, like Robocop, hold a special place in my heart that their modern equivalents (including their sequels and remakes) just will never be able to inhabit. That’s because those 80s films are not just about state-of-the-art effects, and producing a world which is an accurate portrayal of the future, their focus is instead on producing a world that is a dingy dream, one where ideas of the present can be debated in a fake future. It doesn’t matter that they look and feel of the 80s and not of the future they’re attempting to portray because they’re about the time they come from rather than the quasi-future they posit. That’s how I feel about Neil Young’s Trans as well, which certainly sounds extremely outdated with its overuse of vocoder, and its mix of more straight-forward Neil Young rock with a strange Kraftwerk-infused robo-funkiness. Young has said he used the vocoder (which makes the lyrics almost undecipherable) to mimic the break in communication he was feeling at the time with his disabled son. At its core, Trans is all about communication. So while Trans was, and remains, a much maligned album, I suggest letting it communicate with you through its strange, hypnotic, damned-near indefinable music.
Standout Tracks: “Computer Age,” “We R in Control,” and “Transformer Man.”
Other Great 1982 Albums You Might Enjoy: Mike Oldfield: Fives Miles Out, Thomas Dolby: The Golden Age of Wireless, or Devo: Oh, No! It’s Devo.

5. Kate Bush: The Dreaming
Though this is Kate Bush’s fourth album, it is the first that really shows her as fully herself–likely this is because it’s the first one where she had free reign to produce her own music. She chose to make a strange concept album where in every song she inhabits another dream, and becomes a first person character in each. In “Houdini,” she takes on the role of Houdini’s wife; in “There Goes a Tenner,” she’s a petty thief; and in “Pull Out the Pin,” my personal favorite, she inhabits the body of a Vietnamese soldier, with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour singing background as the voice in the back of the character’s head. At the time of its release most critics were completely baffled; they didn’t quite know what to make of the album, with its dense soundscapes, drastic shifts in genre, and quirky concept, but I think it’s clear now that it marks the beginning of her peak artistic period, hinting at what was to come with the critically acclaimed albums Hounds of Love and The Sensual World.
Standout Tracks: “Pull Out the Pin,” “There Goes a Tenner,” and “Night of the Swallow.”
Other Great 1982 Albums You Might Enjoy:
Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Imperial Bedroom, Peter Gabriel: Peter Gabriel (Security), or Joni Mitchell: Wild Things Run Fast.

4. The Clash: Combat Rock
Though the Clash’s Combat Rock surely shows the band pushing for more pop-friendly mainstream hits (thus giving it the “this is the album where they sold out” label amongst pretentious idiots and deaf pseudo-purists), anyone who listens to the whole album can see the band still doing interesting things musically and pushing the same political buttons lyrically. One of my favorite tracks, “Ghetto Defendant,” includes a spoken word performance from everyone’s favorite NAMBLA-enthusiast Allen Ginsberg (who, though famous, isn’t the kind of “guest vocalist” that you put on your album to sell records). Also, “Straight to Hell,” whose opening guitars would later be sampled by M.I.A., is one the Clash’s greatest politically-aware tracks (and, as we know, it’s not like the band has only a few politically-aware tracks). So, whatever, if you can’t appreciate rocking the Casbah–and by “Casbah” here I mean “dancefloor”–to the two megahits this album spawned then please get someone to pull that enormous stick out of your ass.
Standout Tracks: “Straight to Hell,” “Rock the Casbah,” “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Ghetto Defendant.”
Other Great 1982 Albums You Might Enjoy: Dead Kennedys: Plastic Surgery Disasters, The Jam: The Gift, or The Misfits: Walk Among Us.3. Gary Numan: I, Assassin
Though known primarily in the U.S. as a one hit wonder, thanks to the explosive success of his 1979 hit “Cars,” Gary Numan has steadily released interesting albums since first going solo with “Cars” and the phenomenal album it came from The Pleasure Principle. Though that album remains his greatest album, his later output, especially his early 80s stuff, should by no means be as unfairly dismissed as it has been in this country. Case in point: I, Assassin, which is one of the funkiest albums I can think of released by a white dude. Though he was a synthesizer pioneer in the late 70s, this album sees him moving away from that synth-heavy sound which was everywhere on the pop charts by the early 80s, and towards a sound that emphasized fretless bass grooves. As Prince said to an engineer while they were recording his album Graffiti Bridge, “there are people still trying to work out what a genius Gary Numan is.” Coming from a genius like Prince, that’s high (but, I contend, quite warranted) praise.
Standout Tracks: “We Take Mystery (To Bed),” “White Boys and Heros,” “War Songs,” and “Music for Chameleons.”
Other Great 1982 Albums You Might Enjoy: Visage: The Anvil, Ultravox: Quartet, or Grace Jones: Living My Life.

2. Michael Jackson: Thriller
Seven of the nine songs on Thriller became top ten hits (and one of the two remaining songs was later sampled extensively by LL Cool J and Boyz II Men in their top ten hit “Hey Lover”). In a time when most pop albums had a couple great singles and then a bunch of filler, Thriller was basically a greatest hits album–just made up of hits no one had heard yet, hits that hadn’t been hits yet, but soon would be. From the monster-disco (in more ways than one) of the title track, to the aggressive rock-infused (thanks in part to a face-melting solo courtesy of Eddie Van Halen) dance jam “Beat It,” from the soulful swagger of “Billie Jean” with its iconic infectious bassline, to the killer “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” with its hilarious “you’re a vegetable” taunt, Thriller is full of some of the simultaneously oddest and greatest pop songs to ever hit the airwaves. Even the more generic disco of “Baby Be Mine” and “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” are far-above-average slices of danceable funkiness. In fact, a true testament to the greatness of this album is that if “Baby Be Mine” had been on any other R&B act’s album, it could have been, and likely would have been, the lead single–but, tellingly, for MJ it wasn’t even one of the seven singles released. Thriller is my second favorite album of all time. “So then how is it #2 of ’82?” I hear you asking. Well, my favorite album of all time also happened to be released the same year…
Standout Tracks: The whole damn album is one big standout track.
Other Great 1982 Albums You Might Enjoy: Queen: Hot Space, Duran Duran: Rio, or Hall & Oates: H2O.

1. Prince and the Revolution: 1999
The only pop album that could possibly outdo the weird greatness that is Michael Jackson’s Thriller is the even weirder greatness of 1999 by multi-talented musical prodigy Prince. The hits on 1999 are odd enough–the title track is a funky-as-shit barnburner in the form of an apocalyptic dream of the future that includes a baby voice asking “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?”; “Little Red Corvette” takes the car-as-stand-in-for-sex metaphor song to new heights; and “Delirious” isn’t so much Prince doing rockabilly as Prince inventing digibilly–but after those, the first three tracks, things only get crazier, and much, much funkier. “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” sees Prince candidly saying “I sincerely wanna fuck the taste outta your mouth, can you relate?” over hypnotic funk stabs. “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” is a little slice of industrial computer jazz where Prince assumes that there must be something in the water women drink or else they wouldn’t treat him so damned bad. It includes one of my favorite Prince opening lyrics: “Some people tell me I got great legs, can’t figure out why you’re making me beg.” He purrs that line and the subsequent lyrics until he goes into a full growl about two and a half minutes in. “Lady Cab Driver,” one of ?uestlove’s fav Prince tunes, is a pure funk exercise about rolling around town in the back of a taxi when he doesn’t know where he’s going cuz he doesn’t know where he’s been. It builds to a crescendo, where he seems to be sexually thrusting to some background moans and calling out who each thrust is for: everyone from Yosemite Sam to “the creator of man” gets a shout-out. With Prince, love, sex, religion, philosophy, politics, all bleed into one another; binaries are not just flipped or overturned, but tossed out the damned window. On his previous album, Controversy, he posited: “People call me rude, I wish we all were nude, I wish there was no black or white, I wish there was no rules.” 1999 is the logical extension of that Controvers-ial mantra. This is Prince at his most pure–not black or white, not male or female, not straight or gay, and definitely not yet a Jehovah’s Witness–just looking out at the world and being both confused and delighted by what he finds. It’s hard not to be confused and delighted with him.
Standout Tracks: Like Thriller, the whole thing is a standout.
Other Great 1982 Albums You Might Enjoy: Rick James: Throwin’ Down, The Time: What Time Is It?, or Vanity 6: Vanity 6.

Tyler Malone writes for various publications, runs Reading Markson Reading, and is working on a forthcoming novel. He is the Editorial Director of PMc Magazine. He lives and works in New York City.


1982 in Music on Wikipedia

Written and Compiled by Tyler Malone

Photography by Melissa Tierney

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Tyler Malone and Thriller, Photography by Melissa Tierney

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