Although new wave and its related genres began to gain steam in 1982 with the aid of flashy music videos on the fledgling cable network MTV, the year actually displayed a tremendous amount of diversity in musical styles. In the year just before Michael Jackson and Prince became megastars and ushered in a new era for urban and dance music, rock music featuring keyboards and guitars still ruled the day. Here's a look at 10 of the best albums that gained critical or commercial prominence in 1982.
During the '80s, some probably considered the Human League to be merely a glossy pop band with a brief cultural shelf life, but with the passage of time this album has built a solid reputation as a major prototype for the synth pop that dominated the first half of the decade. With the ascendancy of lead singer Philip Oakey to the band's creative forefront, the group's elegant pop reached new heights. Still, the touch that arguably gave the band its greatest distinction was the addition of Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall as vocalists and dramatic foils for Oakey, especially on the smash "Don't You Want Me."
Debut records aren't always the best place to find consistency or albums destined to become classics, but in the case of Detroit singer-songwriter Crenshaw, we could be talking about one of the best albums of the the last quarter-century. Tracks like "There She Goes Again," "Someday, Someway," "Cynical Girl" and "Mary Anne" may be the most familiar, but in true rock classic fashion, this album is chock-full of similarly melodic tunes glistening with songwriting quality. Some tried to fashion Crenshaw the American Elvis Costello, but this album proved immediately that he stood proudly on his own merit.
Previously a full-tilt, free-form bar band, J. Geils and cohorts transformed completely and vibrantly into an '80s pop band on this album, which spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982. Even so, the band conducted this shift on its own singular terms, delivering a number of stunning pop classics ("Centerfold" and the title track) alongside instrumentally adventurous tracks like "Flamethrower" and "River Blindness" as well as throwback folk rock gems like "Do You Remember When?" and, especially, the wistfully beautiful "Angel in Blue." This is a rare pop classic with basically no filler material.
Though this now-legendary album was released at about the time the artists' marriage was coming to a somewhat bitter end, its content doesn't provide an intimate, first-hand view into the dissolution of a romantic relationship, contrary to popular belief. However, even without such a mystique, this record is simply one of the best of the last 25 years, a deeply felt collaboration between talented and well-matched musical partners. Tracks such as "Walking on a Wire," "Just the Motion" and "Wall of Death" are merely the tip of the iceberg of the vast talents of Linda as a singer and Richard as a songwriter and guitar player.
This band of L.A. session legends has never received much credit for being a real band or for even being capable of producing enough strong music to constitute a genuine album release, but this 1982 blockbuster at least severely challenged such attitudes. So what if not very many of us know or treasure the entire album track for track; it's still a major accomplishment for the record's three hit singles ("Rosanna," "I Won't Hold You Back" and "Africa") to have kept the group and its full-length release on the minds of music fans for more than a year after it initially emerged. Never critical darlings, Toto simply squeezed the maximum juice out of this album's fruit.
It wasn't even hip to say it then, so it certainly isn't now, but this album, John Mellencamp's last release attributed to the stage name he hated, still holds up as one of the decade's most consistent long players. Buoyed, obviously, by the smash hit singles "Hurts So Good" and "Jack & Diane," the record also benefits from a solid mid-tempo number for balance, "Hand to Hold on To," which made the Top 20. But, as with any album that deserves distinction, it's the deeper album tracks that keep the effort grounded and lend a continuing relevance, namely the rocker "Can You Take It" and "China Girl."
As the flashiest representatives of the burgeoning, early-'80s New Romantic, new wave and synth pop scenes, Britain's Fab Five made quite a splash on American shores with this semi-nautical release. Although the brilliant singles "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Rio" certainly anchored the record with pop panache, there was no mistaking that this was a rich album in every sense of the word. Other well-known tracks like the shimmering "Save a Prayer" and the sexually charged "The Chauffeur" helped the album maintain its legs and continue to grow the bands popularity in America throughout 1983.
The inclusion of this album may seem like a surprise for this list, but it shouldn't. Though known mostly for a handful of Top 10 singles, including two No. 1 hits from this album in "Who Can It Be Now?" and "Down Under," the Australian quintet Men at Work was always a band committed to making great music. Aside from spending some time in the No. 1 spot on the album charts, this record flaunts consistently intelligent, eclectic pop/rock throughout its 10-track, 38-minute running time. Unlike much '80s pop, there is no filler here, so give it a fresh listen if you'd like to experience a sleeper '80s delight.
OK, so the geographical name is utterly obscure, and the band didn't have the same originality for naming its breakthrough album as, say, Men at Work, but this prog/arena rock supergroup's 1982 release was a tremendous commercial success that year. Of course, critical acclaim did not follow, and the bandmembers, who hailed from progressive rock legends such as Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, certainly disappointed many of their former fans with their new, accessible sound. Still, "Heat of the Moment" and "Only Time Will Tell" are great rock songs, while "Sole Survivor" and "Here Comes the Feeling" are solid album cuts.
So, who's up for a little curveball direct from the den of Satan? Yeah, who knew the dude could pitch? Anyway, forgetting for a moment the controversy generated by this album among uptight authority figures, this record represents an important facet of early-'80s pop music. One of the signature exports of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement, Iron Maiden began to come into its own with new lead singer Bruce Dickinson at this point, developing a pattern of historical and pop culture-influenced material. Standouts include the "threatening" title track and the brilliantly rhythmic stomp of "Run to the Hills."