Favourite 80s albums

By timhorton69 timhorton69
updated over 4 years ago

Some albums are favourites because they totally engross and encompass you. Some albums are favourites because they just get under your skin, and you play them when they fit a particular mood. This is my 80s list, some brilliant, some not so brilliant, but they all fill a special place.

  1. Cold Chisel - East

    2 For Sale from $9.50

    Some albums have come like a revelation to me. This is one of them. For an Australian teenager in the early 80s, especially one decidedly anti-guitar, this was initially, in a world of sonic creativity, dreary wallpaper redolent of a way of life I'd rather ignore. But one nondescript afternoon in 1986 I picked up my sister's tape of the album while studying, thinking I should give this leviathan of Australian rock at least one hearing, and not expecting much. Pretty much since then this has been in my top 15 or so favourite albums. It's almost shockingly complex and wide-reaching, an example of how flexible and adventurous even the most apparently overworked art can be. Almost every element of this album is teasingly beautiful, with the swooping vocals of Jimmy Barnes, the liquid lyricality of Ian Moss's voice and guitar work, the sprung athleticism of Steve Prestwich's drumming, the exquisite melodies of both Prestwich and Don Walker (2), and Walker's ever-surprising vignettes in verse. I put Walker and Prestwich in my top 10 best songwriters (alongside McCartney, Mitchell, and Armatrading), but all the band contribute songs of the highest order - the song that encapsulates this album most for me is, in fact, Moss's "Never Before". A slippery, jazzy, increasingly and recedingly dark song, given a shape something like a hollow, echoey and poorly lit back alley by the brilliant Australian producer Mark Opitz, it sits in some slightly seedy, obscure netherworld, shaped by frustration and emotional misturnings and dead-ends, signifying for me a broader sense of an Australia that had, at the time, taken a cultural wrong turn. This sense of exhaustion (emotional, physical, sensorial, musical), which infuses the album as a whole, is perfectly captured by the brilliant cover image. Yet the album also has a lightness that carelessly lifts it above depression, with the closing "My Turn To Cry" escaping the weight of its emotional content with a flighty dismissiveness.

  2. Dome - 1 + 2

    3 For Sale from $13.52

  3. Everything But The Girl - Idlewild

    1 For Sale from $13.39

    This is, for me, the perfect Sunday afternoon album. It has a light breeziness, infused with nostalgia (reflected in the cover image), that lifts without demanding. The use of electronic rhythms, in what is otherwise a relatively acoustic-sounding album, gives a sense of security and dependability, compounding the album's yearning for emotional and physical certainty, and the timelessness of the seasonal cycle. It has a seductive introspective indulgence, which is intriguingly offset by moments of outward-looking bravado, best illustrated by "The Night I Heard Caruso Sing". It's whimsical (of course), but also strangely sinewy, so that it neither rests in maudlin sentiment (at least not too long), nor overbalances with the "personal is political".

  4. Heads Up (2) - The Long Shot

    2 For Sale from $29.71

    Because of my taste's art rock beginnings, I'm tempted to say I have a fondness for stadium-oriented rock. However I actually don't - I eschew INXS's Listen Like Thieves and Kick, for example, for their earlier The Swing and Shabooh Shoobah, just as I have no interest in U2's The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree and Rattle And Hum, compared to the sublime War.

    Nonetheless, as far as the 80s go, there's a handful of stadium-oriented highly produced music that I have a weakness for - e.g. Mr. Mister's Kyrie, Starship (2)'s We Built This City, John Farnham's Pressure Down. It's clean, punchy, and has a wonderful sonic projection that conjures spaces that strive celestially. Bob Siebenberg's The Long Shot is in this category for me, and it isn't hampered by its powerful songwriting and singing, and corset-tight arrangements, underpinned by that full, chunky rhythmic (electronic and acoustic) presence of Siebenberg. I still can't understand why, post-Roger Hodgson, Supertramp didn't promote Siebenberg into songwriting duties - his songs have an emotional depth and sense of exploration that seem to work perfectly with Supertramp's characteristic eternal yearning. Even better that, as with almost all my other favourites, this album travels on an emotional journey that settles, in the final "The Son", on an exquisite contradiction - an inability to see a clear direction, sitting over the top of a personal sense of determination, a contradiction that infuses Supertramp's work from its very beginnings. This also seems to me a perfect album for its time - big rock vocal, big electronic rhythms with power guitars, great rock melodic hooks, with a slightly lost and empty production sound that perfectly matches the emotions - and I admit to being sad whenever I listen to it that it never scored commercial success.