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Top 10 Albums of 1980

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In 1980, during the transitional period between punk rock and new wave, the best music tended to feature sweeping arena rock styles or some kind of early alternative rock, as the video age had yet to bring forth the new wave explosion of pop and dance music. Some of these albums have built their reputations slowly over the years as almost cult favorites, while others drew immediate critical and commercial acclaim upon release. All were essential records of the time.

1. AC/DC - Back in Black

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Sony
As one of rock music's biggest-selling albums of all time, this record has achieved legendary status by virtue of its enormous, enduring popularity alone. However, the remarkable amount of perseverance displayed by AC/DC to return so quickly to the studio after the untimely death of frontman Bon Scott may be the truly amazing aspect of this release, aided by its legitimate reputation as a hard rock masterpiece. Replacement Brian Johnson may be a mere shadow of Scott as both a vocalist and frontman, but Angus Young's songwriting and guitar work remain as solid as ever from start to finish on this classic.
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2. Joy Division - Closer

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Qwest/WEA
Though it is far from one of the most listenable albums of the '80s, this utterly unique wall of foreboding sound from Britain's post-punk legends cements the forcefully influential sound of the band. The late Ian Curtis sings as if every track is a funeral dirge (which it pretty much is), and the band creates a trudging blend of electronics and angular guitars that no artists have replicated since no matter how hard they've tried. Although the band was no more prior to this album's release (as the result of Curtis' May 18 suicide), Joy Division's very brief life span produced an intense body of work and lasting legacy.
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3. The Pretenders - Pretenders

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Sire
The Pretenders were more of a true rock band than perhaps any new artist to emerge during the '80s. That is, each member offered striking, independent contributions that helped forge an impressive whole that was far more than the sum of the group's parts. While the legendary Chrissie Hynde already had the role of primary songwriter, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott was highly responsible for the band's jagged but precise attack. "Precious", "Tattooed Love Boys", and "Mystery Achievement" didn't even make the cut for the band's greatest hits release, which indicates just how solid this album is from start to finish.
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4. Bruce Springsteen - The River

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia

Though utterly insulated from '80s trends, this double-album masterpiece undoubtedly represents some of the best music released during the '80s or any period of the rock era. The consistent quality of Bruce Springsteen's albums always makes them candidates for best-of lists, but this record is particularly a tour de force. Whether through the romantic if melancholy longing of the title track, the tense family dynamic of "Independence Day", or the surging optimism of "Out in the Street", Springsteen creates vivid portraits of blue-collar struggles and triumphs here as engaging as any from his long and storied career.

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5. The Police - Zenyatta Mondatta

Album Cover Image Courtesy of A&M

One of the few '80s acts to release music at the album level as seriously as at the single level, the Police stand as one of rock's undisputed leaders in spite of the band's cruelly short life span. This album most definitely represented its breakthrough, delivering shimmering pop singles like "Don't Stand So Close to Me" and "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" as well as solid, influential album tracks like "Driven to Tears" and "Canary in a Coalmine." What's more, the album was probably rushed for release to meet the growing demand for the Police on tour, which makes the record's excellence all the more impressive.

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6. Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Alternative Tentacles

The good thing about judging albums is not having to rely very much at all on chart performance or mainstream popularity, as the impact of full-length releases can be best evaluated through influence and staying power. But it really doesn't matter what criteria are used to consider this album, the blistering, brilliant debut from San Francisco's champions of political hardcore. The biting vocal and sonic attack of Jello Biafra & Co. may have seemed extreme at the time, but the consistently high-quality songwriting and playing make this release one of the finest of the rock area, genre distinctions aside.

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7. The Clash - London Calling

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Sony

While it's true that releasing a double album presupposes a release of importance, such ambition makes no difference if the music fails to sustain excellence. Good thing, then, that the Clash took this opportunity to record one of rock's all-time finest albums, unleashing a flurry of classics that tread ably in an array of musical styles. The band's already well-established, revolutionary politics certainly takes aim on such classics as "London Calling" and "Spanish Bombs," but the astonishing levels of personal and political intimacy on such tracks as "Death or Glory" and "Lost in the Supermarket"

are jaw-dropping.

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8. Pink Floyd - The Wall

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

Sprawling though it may be, and dictated by Roger Waters' megalomania though it probably is, this massive double concept album contains some undeniably striking music that still holds up incredibly well three decades later. And really, the only reason some may fail to see this truth is that almost all of us have gone through a substantial Pink Floyd phase that could have rendered this album overkill. Nonetheless, tracks like "Mother," "Hey You," and "Comfortably Numb" persist as hauntingly claustrophobic classics that spotlight Waters' dense songwriting and David Gilmour's soaring guitar.

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9. Queen - The Game

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Hollywood Records

Whatever one may think of Queen's '70s excesses, the highly prolific and unforgettable British rock band met the advent of the '80s with its most eclectic effort yet. After all, how many bands of any era could as convincingly traverse the expanse between its two No. 1 pop singles from this record, the wonderfully simplistic disco anthem "Another One Bites the Dust" and the brilliant rockabilly of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love"? But such has always been the majesty of not only the supremely talented Freddie Mercury but also the other three, often underrated members of this quartet.

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10. X - Los Angeles

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino/WEA

Look no further than this debut album from the title city's signature punk roots rockers for evidence of the lasting influence of Southern California's late-'70s punk scene. Somewhat unfairly pigeonholed as punk artists, the quartet actually drew from a variety of influences and inspirations, especially rockabilly guitar perfected so sublimely by Billy Zoom as well as folk, country and singer-songwriter traditions explored by lead singers John Doe and Exene Cervenka. "Your Phone's off the Hook, but You're Not" and "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene" are undeniable in their unflinching immediacy and pure energy.

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