1. PREFAB SPROUT: "Steve McQueen" a.k.a. "Two Wheels Good"
Topping my list of 1985 is the breakthrough sophomore effort from one of the U.K.'s most prolific songwriters of the 80's, Paddy McAloon and Prefab Sprout. This album was flawlessly produced by Thomas Dolby and features some of the finest moments of the decade.... moments that, to this day, hold up and do not sound dated. Truth be told, this album didn't even really cross my path until early 1986, when I saw the video for the single, "Appetite". I was immediately hooked and purchased the record. Over the coming years, I fell deeper and deeper in love with the beautiful, yet melancholic songs contained within.
2. KATE BUSH: "Hounds of Love"
Yeah, that's Donald Sutherland, yo.
3. MARILLION: "Misplaced Childhood"
My older brother introduced me to this album. While serving his LDS mission in Leeds, England, he was exposed to a band that was taking the United Kingdom by storm... Marillion. I had never heard of them, and was intrigued by their unique sound. While sitting in a University of Utah eatery, I also saw my first glimpse of them, as they played on MTV to a mostly unaware crowd. This album took some getting used to... and whether it was the voice of original vocalist, "Fish", or just the intense Progressive sound of a band that broke during the candy-coated Pop scene of the mid-80's, I'm not really sure why. Over the years, I began to really fall in love with this album, and upon my most recent listen, I was even tempted to put it at number 2....it's THAT good.
4. LEVEL 42: "World Machine"
Level 42 took the United States by storm during the Spring and early Summer of 1986, thanks to a bastardized version of this classic album. For the US release, Polydor Records removed a few songs from the UK version, replacing them with two previous UK hits, hoping that this would add to the commercial potential of the album. In my opinion, that was a bad choice.... because not only were "Hot Water" and "The Chant Has Begun" two of my least favorite songs on the album, but the ones removed are some of my favorite. That said... the hit "Something About You" remains one of my favorite singles of the 80's, as does this album.
5. TEARS FOR FEARS: "Songs From The Big Chair"
There is not a single album on this list that defines my 1985 more than this album. Although this album took the second single "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" to finally take the USA by storm, it remained one of the biggest albums of 1985, well into 1986. My girlfriend of the time was absolutely obsessed with TFF, which only added to my love of them. I was able to see them twice...both before they "broke up" and after...and played the crap out of this record for a year straight. All said, this album actually features some very mature lyrics, and beautifully produced music, thanks to the team of Chris Hughes and Ross Cullum, who had both worked on the first TFF album, THE HURTING.
6. PROPAGANDA: "A Secret Wish"
There is nary a better album to emerge from the 80's "ElectroPop" scene than this masterpiece. Whether I should attribute that to the band, at the time featuring Claudia Brucken, or the producer, who worked under close direction of Trevor Horn, head of ZTT Records. This album is haunting... it's melodic... it's sensual... it's brooding. The cover art alone reveals so much about the music contained therein. Throughout the 80's, Germany had remained a driving force in the ElectroPop scene, and this album can be considered a crown jewel of what they had to offer.
7. MR. MISTER: "Welcome To The Real World"
Mr. Mister had first hit the scene in the early 80's, but had failed to really make much of an impact on the growing New Wave scene. Lead singer, Richard Page had found minor success as a vocalist of PAGES, a late 70's California Pop group. From that, he did a wide range of session work, singing backing vocals for such established acts as REO Speedwagon. With one of his PAGES cohorts, Page formed Mr. Mister, who released their first album in 1984. It wasn't until 1985's WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD that they truly achieved success. Still widely known for their hits, "Kyrie" and "Broken Wings", the thing that truly pulled ME into the album was the consistency of this album. It is solid from start to finish. Energy, melody, posh production are only a few of the great things that can be said about it.
8. CHINA CRISIS: "Flaunt The Imperfection"
Not to ruin anything for new readers/lookers, but China Crisis topped my favorite albums of 1983. Not only that, but the album "WORKING WITH FIRE AND STEEL" is STILL my favorite album of all time. This follow-up to that masterpiece is solid, but veers off in a different direction... one that didn't connect with me the same. I DO love the production of Steely Dan's Walter Becker... I do love the fact that the Classical elements (oboe, trumpet, etc.) are replaced with Jazz staples such as the saxophone. There are moments of this record where you actually think you are listening to a Steely Dan album.... and there are few greater compliments. That said... and is so often the case with the albums I love... singles like "King in a Catholic Style" take away from the overall beauty and grace of this album. It's great... but no WWFAS.
9. THE DREAM ACADEMY
For all those that wondered what Pink Floyd's David Gilmour was up to, between 1984's THE FINAL CUT and the re-emergence of Floyd in 1987, he was producing a little UK outfit called, THE DREAM ACADEMY. This band, featuring Nick Laird-Clowes (later to be a lyricist on Pink Floyd's THE DIVISION BELL) and Kate St. John (a regular 80's session musician, responsible for some of the most beautiful Oboe this side of China Crisis' WORKING WITH FIRE AND STEEL -no, she didn't play on that), The Dream Academy were at the forefront of the mid-80's "neo-hippie" movement. If you didn't run out and buy a paisley shirt after hearing this album, you had no fashion sense...or desire to be considered trendy. This album is best known for the long-running staple, "Life in a Northern Town", but has so much more to offer.
10. STING: "The Dream Of The Blue Turtles"
The true irony of this album is that I loved it back in '85, but after hearing so much of it being beaten to death, I've largely ignored it for the past 20 years. I pulled out my LP and fired it up the other day and was not only surprised to find out how much I loved not just the hits... but all the other cuts. The lineup of Jazz musicians on this album only adds to the overall maturity and complexity of what is to be found. Daggum if it isn't better now than it was way back when.
11. THE ADVENTURES
What can I say about THE ADVENTURES? For starters, if every track were as tight as the first two on side two, this album would quite possibly be my favorite album of all time. It is THAT good. I first heard The Adventures in my cousin's basement. It must have been on MTV, and was probably the lead single, "Send My Heart"... however, as you delve into this album and hear the songs, "Feel the Raindrops" and "Two Rivers", you are not only blown away by the musical and emotional maturity of this band, but by the overall package. I saw them open for Tears For Fears in the Fall of 1985 and, frankly, they put TFF to absolute shame. There was so much energy... beauty...harmony coming from this band that it would have been impossible for the still somewhat insecure TFF to compete. Sadly, this album has never seen the light of day on CD... and probably never will.
12. SIMPLE MINDS: "Once Upon a Time"
Yet another album that really fell into my life in 1986, but released at the end of 1985. I was well aware of Simple Minds before this, as SPARKLE IN THE RAIN and NEW GOLD DREAM were both favorite albums of mine. This album seemed to be the perfect blend of their earlier (not to be confused with earliest) work, but also featuring (and polishing) a more energetic sound, found on its predecessor, SPARKLE IN THE RAIN. All you need to do is listen to "Ghostdancing" and you know you are in for an absolute treat, with this record.
13. ORCHESTRAL MANEUVERS IN THE DARK: "Crush"
1985's CRUSH brought OMD into the a more mainstream light, although that wouldn't completely happen until the song, "If You Leave" that would be released on the soundtrack of 1986's PRETTY IN PINK film and soundtrack. The hits "Secret" and "So In Love" are two of my favorite OMD songs, in addition to several other treasures hidden deep in this record. Like most OMD records, there are dark, non-commercial moments.... some of which prevent the record from being higher on the list.
14. CLANNAD: "Macalla"
Clannad had formed early in the 70's and had ventured through a career of mostly traditional Celtic music. With this album, the band had continued into a more mainstream Pop light (started by early recordings like MAGICAL RING). Also included on this album is my first exposure to the band, the beautiful duet between Maire Brennan (she's Enya's sister, yo) and Bono (U2 frontman, yo), "In a Lifetime". Featuring some absolutely stunning sounds, as well as some traditional sounding Irish instrumentation, this album is different enough to remain interesting (even after 25 years) as well as easy enough to digest, even if you are a casual music fan.
15. THE KANE GANG: "The Bad and Lowdown World of The Kane Gang"
What can I say about the band you've never heard of? LOTS. First off, some of my music enthusiast friends and followers may question the absence of ABC's "How To Be A Zillionaire", especially considering the solid show that their first two albums made on my earlier lists. On that particular album, fans noticed an absence of most of the serious musicians, and the presence of a short bald man and a woman. If you were like me and chose to scour your liner notes, you noticed that, apart from spoken vocals on one of the tracks, those two did nothing. They didn't play any instruments... they didn't sing. In an interview with Martin Fry (singer and main songwriter), I remember Mr. Fry stating that it was "all about the image" and that the music really didn't matter. That appalled me. I loved a great amount of the album, especially the main single, "Be Near Me", but I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that one of my musical heroes would say such things.
What does this have to do with The Kane Gang? Nothing.... or everything. I also remember reading an interview with one of the Kane Gang members and hearing him say that he wanted to be remembered years down the road because of the songs that he'd written, NOT to be remembered as a pin-up star. Whoa. Really? The music MATTERS? Not just that, but this album culls from many styles of music.... American Blues.... Soul..... Pop..... Rock. The Kane Gang was oft referred to as "Blue Eyed Soul".... and regardless of what you call them... they were a band that deserved more attention than they received.
16. BLANCMANGE: "Believe You Me"
I was shocked when I found that MANGE TOUT, the predecessor to Blancmange's 1985 album, BELIEVE YOU ME, didn't make the 1984 list. MANGE TOUT was one of my favorite albums of '84, but upon more recent listens, it hasn't held up to the others that made the list. In all fairness, it probably would have been number 21. That said, BELIEVE YOU ME (which, until researching this blog post, I thought was a 1986 release) makes the list, featuring some truly compelling material. My least favorite song was the initial American single release, "What's Your Problem". Featuring songs that borrow from Classical music, their traditional Electro-Pop, and everything in between, this album proved that Blancmange wasn't just another Depeche Mode imitation... they truly strove to incorporate elements of World music, in addition to many other genres.
17. DIRE STRAITS: "Brothers In Arms"
Many of my music lovin' associates would probably ask, WHY IN THE SAM HELL IS THIS ALBUM NOT ANY HIGHER?!? Well.... truth be told, this album has never been a mainstay on my turntable, CD player or iPod. As I listen to it, I feel a sense of nostalgia when I hear the hit singles, but am truly lit up by more melancholy sounds found therein. That is what I love most about Dire Straits.... it isn't the "Walk of Life"s... it's the "Your Latest Trick"s. Stay tuned, however... their last album will most definitely earn itself a single digit spot on it's respective Top 20 list..... just you wait and see.
18. SQUEEZE: "Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti"
Right now, my friend Cari is saying, "WHAT?!? THIS ISN'T NUMBER ONE?!?" Actually, Cari probably isn't even paying attention to this. This album... the first from the "reunited" Squeeze (remember, they broke up for a couple of years) features some of my favorite Squeeze material, including the single, "Last Time Forever". And, if that isn't enough.... you got some Bob-bitchin' piano stylings from the legendary Jools Holland. What more could you ask for?
19. GOLDEN PALOMINOS: "Visions of Excess"
Funny story: I heard the song "Boy (Go)"... either on MTV or the radio... and I was immediately blown away. The vocalist sounded like Michael Stipe (he's the awkward and sometimes eccentric vocalist of REM, yo), but it definitely was NOT REM. I went to my local store and described the song to them and was only treated with a look of confusion. I then proceeded (with the help of Starbound Records, their fine clerks and their telephone) to call a local Alternative radio station and sing what I remembered of the song, to a confused and befuddled DJ. Confused and befuddled right up until the time that he actually recognized the song and told me, "It sounds like GOLDEN PALOMINOS". It turned out that Starbound had the LP, and minutes later it turned out that I had the LP. I was not really surprised to see that Michael Stipe not only sang on the song in question, but several others... as did John Lydon (he's Johnny Rotten, yo) of PIL and up and coming Folk singer, Syd Straw. A guitarist by the name of Richard Thompson also played on the record. Oh... and a guy named Jack Bruce. He played with this little band called CREAM, yo.
It turns out that Golden Palominos is a project by FEELIES drummer, Anton Fier. That cat is a mad genius, as every couple of albums he would take the sound of the Palominos and turn it into something completely different. I have nothing but wonder and amazement about the imagination and talent behind this collective. How the drummer of The Feelies could come up with such diverse and inventive music. 'Nuff said.
20. THE FARMER'S BOYS: "With These Hands"