This is somewhat ironic to me.... this particular blog post. I began listing my Top 20 (and previously Top 10) albums of every year of my life, all with the anticipation of making it to 1984. The year 1984 was a pivotal year for me. Of all my adolescent years, it was by far the best.... it brought me my first kiss...and some of the best music of my life. What is ironic is that I posted my Top 20 of 1983 on April 27th............2011. It's been nearly a year and a half since I did a Top 20 list (excluding that of 2011), and it is finally time to buckle down and re-visit the best year of my adolescent life... and the albums that shaped those wonderful memories. So, sit back... relax... and enjoy a piece of my life history.
1. TALK TALK: "It's My Life"
I spent some considerable time debating which album would top this list. It was such a significant, rich year for me... musically speaking... that some truly great albums didn't even make the list. At times I wondered if I would be able to award the top spot without significantly revisiting these albums... and perhaps that is why it took this long to finally do it. The top spot is awarded to Talk Talk, one of my top 3 favorite bands of all time. Echo & The Bunnymen was an extremely close contender, but this album beat it out based on the fact that it features the song "Renee'", one of my favorite songs of all time. This album marked the end of their mainstream music, and hinted of the more ambient sounds to come. Complete with James Marsh artwork, this album was "artistic" in every sense of the word. Definitely worthy of the top spot.
2. ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN: "Ocean Rain"
Number Two on the list goes to those 4 lads from Liverpool. I don't know what it was with Echo & The Bunnymen that struck a nerve with me, but I remember falling in love with them early in the year. The first thing I heard was the 5 track EP that featured "The Cutter", "Never Stop" and "The Back of Love", not to mention one of my all time favorite Bunnymen classics, the live version of "Do It Clean". The album OCEAN RAIN, complete with classics like "Silver", "Seven Seas" and "The Killing Moon", was met with great anticipation.... from me.... and, I can only assume, their legions of fans across the globe. Mature in sound, lyrics and orchestration, this album was unlike any of its predecessors. AND it boasted my favorite album cover of all time.
If there was a single concert of my life that I could choose to relive, it would be the Ocean Rain Tour visit to Kingsbury Hall, on the U of U campus. With opening act The Fleshtones (see 1983) and a then unknown (and unannounced) Billy Bragg (who was essentially booed off the stage), it proved to be one of the best concerts of my life.
3. THOMPSON TWINS: "Into the Gap"
I don't remember the exact date that this album came out, but I clearly remember going to Starbound Records to pick it up... on release day. It was March of 1984, the lead single, "Hold Me Now" was conquering Modern Music airwaves, and I was turgid with anticipation for what was bound to be my favorite album of 1984. The reality is that this album WAS my favorite album of 1984. It was the most significant album to me that year, and for years to come. I think the reason why it has dropped to number 3 is that it is a little too kitschy for my more mature tastes. Yes, I still love the album... it never fails to take me right back to '84... but let's face it... two people without eyebrows? Give me a break.
4. U2: "The Unforgettable Fire"
1984 ended with the power hit, "(Pride) In the Name of Love". It was a song that rocked the end of my favorite year and welcomed me into 1985, the year I would graduate from high school. That said, I didn't even buy this album until years later. And even then, I didn't fully appreciate everything this album had to offer until I was well into my 40's. Which means, if you do your math correctly, it was just recently that I truly gained a deep appreciation for this album. I have loved half of it for years and years, but it's only been over the last year or so that I have fallen in love with the ambient soundscapes that were sculpted by the production team of Eno and Lanois... the songs that are deep album cuts and never find their way to the radio airwaves.
5. R.E.M.: "Reckoning"
Most music snobs will give all praise to R.E.M.'s debut album, "Murmur". Me? I give all mine to their classic sophomore release, "Reckoning". From my first listen to "So. Central Rain" and "Pretty Persuasion", I was finding myself to be a huge fan of these gentlemen from Athens, Georgia... what was once the hotbed of American (Alternative) Rock. The fact of the matter is that this album pleases me from start to finish, and has the ability to rock my socks off, even to this day.
6. AZTEC CAMERA: "Knife"
The success (and overall maturity) of Aztec Camera's debut album, HIGH LAND, HARD RAIN, left a lot of expectation about what these young lads from Scotland would deliver, with on their second release. When it was released, I was immediately taken aback by its deepened maturity, thanks to producer Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits). The title cut alone is worth the price paid for this album.
7. BERLIN: "Love Life"
I know there are probably a few people out there that are openly mocking the inclusion of this album. They probably haven't heard anything deeper than the big single, "No More Words". I still see mental images of Terri Nunn dressed up in attire from the 30's, surrounded by the dapper men of her band... but it was the deeper album cuts that truly captured my attention. Two of the albums songs (the hits "No More Words" and "Dancing in Berlin") were both produced by legendary producer Giorgio Moroder, but it was the rest of the album, all produced by Mike Howlett, that grabbed me. Well.... that and the picture of Ms. Nunn on the cover.
8. LLOYD COLE and the COMMOTIONS: "Rattlesnakes"
There are few debut albums that stand the test of time like this classic from another talented set of Scottish lads. This album is truly deserving of a higher spot on this list, but, after taking all details into consideration, it needs to be happy with number 8. Lyrically, you would be hard pressed to find anything better than what you get on a Lloyd Cole album. Especially this one.
9. THE STYLE COUNCIL: "My Every Changing Moods"
My European friends would probably argue that this isn't really an album... but I would disagree. This, the American version of England's "Cafe Bleu", featured a drastically remixed version of a much slower, piano laden version of the hit, "My Ever Changing Moods". Go figure that the remix would become the first hit single of this band, over here in the States. Another thing I love about this album is the variety of musical styles. Paul Weller (leader and principal songwriter) never showed such diversity with his previous band, THE JAM, or his successful solo career, following the dismantling of The Style Council. The album boasts classic Modern Music sounds, Rap, Jazz, and even a beautiful torch song featuring Everything But The Girl's Tracey Thorn on vocals. And if all THAT weren't enough.... this band heavily influenced my clothing styles from 1985-1986.
10. BRUCE COCKBURN: "Stealing Fire"
This one is a very interesting inclusion in this list. If, for no other reason, the fact that I hadn't even listened to it until well into the 90's... if not even the past 10 years. My best friend growing up, (now Austin-based singer/songwriter Kim Simpson) was always an avid fan of Bruce Cockburn. I could never figure out why, especially considering the only thing remotely New Wave looking about Mr. Cockburn were his round glasses. After all... it was all about the image... right? That's a story I'll save for 1985... and it has nothing to do with Bruce Cockburn.
This album is also immensely mature... riddled with clever songwriting and some of the most biting lyrics ever to cross my aural cavities. Do yourself a favor and just give "Nicaragua" a listen.... you'll see what I mean.
11. DIFFORD & TILLBROOK
So.... did you know that Squeeze broke up during the early 80's? Well.... they did. And I'm glad they did. If, for no other reason, it gave the two songwriters Difford & Tillbrook (think Lennon & McCartney of the 80's) the chance to record this stunning release. I may be biased, but I actually prefer this album to ANY Squeeze album in it's entirety. Featuring the minor hit, "Love's Crashing Waves", not to mention a plethora of other gems, this album is loaded with catchy Pop hooks. Let's face it....that's what these boys do best.
12. RANK and FILE: "Long Gone Dead"
When two brothers (Chip and Tony Kinman) launched the band, Rank and File, they were set to take the world by storm. It just so happened that the world was not yet ready to receive this eclectic mix of Texas Honky Tonk and Post Punk goodness. They did, however, take MY world by storm. Call it "Cow Punk"... call it "Skiffle".... call it whatever you want.... I'll simply call it "damned good".
13. JOE JACKSON: "Body and Soul"
In 1984, I was not fully appreciative of the talents of Joe Jackson. I had heard his big hit "Steppin' Out"... I had purchased the album NIGHT AND DAY... but, I had not been exposed to the plethora of sounds he was known for. From his early Punk-ish days, to the Big Band sounds of JUMPIN' JIVE, Joe was a man about change. This particular release didn't venture too far from NIGHT AND DAY, but, in my opinion, seemed to embrace the sound and take it one step further. A classic album... a classic sound... classic Joe Jackson.
14. DEPECHE MODE: "Some Great Reward"
This was another classic example of an album that was embraced more fully, later in life. The first and biggest hit was "People Are People", which had already appeared on an earlier compilation album. Another significant hit, "Somebody", is one of my least favorite Depeche Mode songs of all time (I am neither a girl.. nor gay, hence I don't care for it... oh... and I wasn't in a relationship back then that warranted the song to be used as "our song"), so I found no reason for it. It was whiny and gross. It still is, for that matter.
That said.... listen to the opening cut, "Something to Do", followed by "Lie To Me", and tell me this isn't some of the most powerful music produced by these boys in the mid-80's. I DARE YOU!!
15. THE BLUEBELLS: "Sisters"
What is my 15th favorite album of 1984 was actually one of my favorite albums of 1985.... but don't check back for it there.... it won't be on that list. Another GREAT album by another GREAT Scottish band. This group'o'lads never really did crack into the mainstream, but they left us with one of the tastiest albums of the mid-80's. Mixing Folk and some of the catchiest melodies of the time, they were able to catch the ear of Elvis Costello, who really became their champion over the course of their all-too-brief career. Some of you may remember the song, "Cath"..... some of you may remember the "hit", "I'm Falling".... but I'm willing to bet not.
16. ANDREAS VOLLENWEIDER: "White Winds"
Some of you may be asking, "what in the Sam Hell is a Swedish harpist doing on Zeke's Top 20 List?" To you, I say....... good question.
I have fallen in love with this album over time... and it has only become more endearing over time. I challenge you to take 90% of the albums here and say the same thing about them. I DARE YOU!!
18. THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS: "Mirror Moves"
Four words: "THE GHOST IN YOU". 'Nuff said. Which is unfortunately not this song... although IT is good, too.
19. FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD
Is anyone else having trouble figuring out where the border of this album is? Forget the semi-naked Picasso-esque boys on the cover... I need some outlines!
Two words for this album: TREVOR HORN. If you need to see what I think about Trevor Horn, do a search of his name in this blog. He could polish a turd, if he set out to do it.... honest.... he's done it. "T.a.T.u" comes to mind, if you don't believe me. I honestly feel that Trevor is 80% responsible for the impressive nature of this album, versus 20% for the actual band members. Regardless of which version you own.... and believe you me.... there are at least two, if not three different versions. And I'm talking the album, NOT the video of "Relax".... I believe there were five of those.
17. ULTRAVOX: "Lament"
As IF the Scots were not represented enough on this list, along comes Ultravox. Really, this album should be higher.... it really should. Perhaps it should be 17. Yeah.... it should be. I'm gonna be too lazy to rearrange it all. So, kudos to anyone that caught the discrepancy in numbers before getting down here.
Daggum, can Midge Ure do wrong? He rocked this album out (with the capable help of his band mates) during the early to mid part of 1984, and finished up the year co-writing one of the biggest songs of the year, BAND-AID's "Do They Know It's Christmas?".
20. PSEUDO ECHO
These boys from Australia never did release the same albums in the United States, compared to the releases to grace the shores of their native southern land. I think the songs from this album were identical to what was featured in their Aussie debut, although the artwork and title were different. As for me and my house.... we're happy with exactly what EMI America had to offer us.