- Still the best-selling album of all time (with world-wide sales of maybe 100 million), Thriller was significant musically, visually, culturally, and in terms of racial equality. Thirty years later, with the fragmentation of contemporary culture, mass media, and methods of musical delivery, there can never be another Thriller. Yet Michael Jackson’s achievement remains secure. This album was released the year before we came to the USA. For a single track, how can one not choose the title track “Thriller?” A great cut, indelibly linked with an innovative video and Michael Jackson’s dancing.
Love Over Gold (1982)
- In 1985, my nephew Mike O’Brien recommended Dire Straits to me, while we were watching Live Aid from Wembley Stadium in London. Brothers in Arms (1985) was my first album, but later I bought this album, less well-known except to Dire Straits fans. I return to Love Over Gold often. It could be described as Dire Straits’ version of progressive rock. My favorites would be the 14′ long track “Telegraph Road” and “Private Investigation,” with its hypnotic blend of a sardonic Philip Marlow voice and a disillusioned lover.
- Sting brought all kinds of literary influences into this Police album, including Carl Jung (synchonicity), W. B. Yeats (Spiritus Mundi), and Paul Bowles’ 1949 post-colonial novel The Sheltering Sky (“Tea in the Sahara”). This could be called intelligent Rock. Yet, apparently members of The Police came to actual blows in the studio: certainly, the psychic tension & musical energy is very evident in this album. The track “Synchonicity I” has one of the most exciting Rock sounds out there, as does “Every Breath You Take.” For all its rough edges, Synchronicity remains a great example of 1980s Rock.
Born in the USA (1984)
- The first CD physically pressed in the USA, this blockbuster album was Springsteen’s magnum opus. Perhaps it still is. Personally, Born in the USA reminds me of our 1983 move to the USA, and our time living in Baton Rouge, LA (1983-87). For me, along with CSN and the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen represents the America of the 1970s & 1980s, the promise of the American Dream, and the later realities of the Reagan presidency (1981-89). Many of the tracks on Born in the USA are superb and memorable, but my favorite track is his “Dancing in the Dark.”
Brothers in Arms (1985)
- The first of several Dire Straits albums that I purchased, this one is indelibly linked in my memory with our son Will. After witnessing his birth on 1st August 1986, I remember driving home late that night along LA Highway 1 and across the Mississippi River Bridge in my T-Bird Turbo, roof open windows down, humidity thick enough to see, with Dire Straits blasting out across the swamp. An suitable anthem for fatherhood! Brothers in Arms is an album full of great music, but for me the standout track is “Your Latest Trick,” with its famous, instantly-recognizable sax introduction, Mark Knofler’s laconic voice, and his beautiful guitar tone.
The Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985)
- Sting’s first album after The Police brought powerful metaphors, intelligent lyrics, and seductive music. The level of Sting’s writing in “Russians” (“there’s no such thing as a winnable war / It’s a lie we don’t believe anymore”), “Children’s Crusade” (linking the poppies memorializing “the lads” of the Great War with the heroin / poppy addiction of today’s lads in London’s Soho), and “We Work the Black Seam” (about the 1984-85 UK Miners Strike) has not been equaled, it seems to me, even by Lennon & McCartney. But my favorite track on The Dream of the Blue Turtles is probably the fascinating “Moon Over Bourbon Street,” inspired evidently by an Ann Rice vampire novel. The fact that we lived only seventy miles from New Orleans at the time may have added some spice.
Negotiations and Love Songs, 1971-1986 (1988)
- In my book, this is the best work of Paul Simon. But I also valued his Graceland (1986), an enormously influential album, marking the birth of World Music. There is not a bad song on the album, and many are masterpieces: “Kodachrome” using music to portray our visual images of the world, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” on the games we play, “Still Crazy After All These Years” on nostalgia, meeting old lovers, and the craziness of life. It is hard to choose one cut, but let me mention the lesser-known “Train in the Distance,” from which the album title comes. The song ends with these words, “What is the point of this story / What information pertains? / The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly / Into our hearts / And our brains.” Paul Simon, wordsmith extraordinary, never wrote more poignantly than on his Negotiations and Love Songs, 1971-1986.
At Their Very Best (1989)
- This is a compilation of re-recorded tracks, and I have to admit that purchasing this album was an exercise in nostalgia. Thirty years before, The Shadows had been my introduction to Rock, and in many ways my first inspiration for my own playing. As I have aged, I realize the simplicity in the work of The Shadows. I say this, not as criticism of Hank Marvin’s playing, but with a pang of appreciation & recognition. I think that my own guitar playing, despite a love of subtle jazz chords like Dm7-5 or Am7-11, increasingly values simplicity. Less really can be more. One track that exhibits that motif is “Theme for Young Lovers,” which speaks of a simpler, less complicated time that the 1960s represented – in our myths if not always in reality. For all of us, music, albeit briefly, may evoke such simpler times.
Raymond M. Vince
My Albums – the 1980s
© 19th September 2012
Notes on these Albums
- This an annotated list of the thirty (30) Rock albums that have meant the most to me over the years. The albums are arranged by decade from the 1960s to the present millennium. In the 1960s & 70s, this music was bought as vinyl LPs (although I also used reel-to-reel tape for some music back then), the middle period were bought as cassettes, the late period were CDs. Virtually all my top music from earlier eras, I now have on CD. I never did get into the strange US format of eight-track tapes, nor into Internet downloads.
- I have used the genre Rock liberally. But this is a very personal list. Many classic albums are not here: no Stones, no Bob Dylan (I knew Dylan via PPM), no Elvis, and so on. I listened to such greats: I often bought them as singles. But, for various reasons, I did not buy their albums. There are no singles here, either, only my top albums are listed. These are mainly Rock Albums, but I have included what some would call outliers – such as The Dixie Chicks, Peter Paul, & Mary, and others. But, whatever the genre, for good or ill, these are the thirty albums that are woven into my timeline, that have interpreted my life.
- Obviously, I have not included classical music or jazz in these selection of albums, though such music has been and still is an important part of my life – both as recorded music & live. I hope that my classical and jazz choices may be for another occasion. But for now, these are my thirty Rock Albums.
Raymond M. Vince