10 Glaring Omissions from Rolling Stone’s Top Albums of the ’80s

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Rolling Stone, bless them, republished their list of “The 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s” on their website this week. The feature – originally published in 1989 – makes for strange and occasionally bewildering reading. For a start, it’s topped by The Clash’s London Calling, which is undeniably a masterwork but also was undeniably released in 1979 (and no, we’re not buying the January 1980 US release date as an excuse here). Now, we know better than anyone that lists are always subjective, and whatever you include people are going to complain (hey, it’s actually nice to be complaining about someone else’s lists for once). And admittedly, we’re evaluating this list with the benefit of 20 years of hindsight. But even so, there are some glaring omissions from RS’s selection – here are 10 records that really should have featured somewhere near the top, but didn’t feature at all.

Pixies – Surfer Rosa (1988)

In Rolling Stone’s defense, Surfer Rosa was only a year old when this list was made. But then, the magazine clearly wasn’t really down with what was happening in the late 1980s indie scene – there’s no mention in the Top 100 for Dinosaur Jr’s You’re Living All Over Me or Bug, or for any of Throwing Muses’ records, or Jane’s Addiction’s killer 1988 debut Nothing’s Shocking, or anything by the Gun Club. We can just about forgive them for not including Nirvana’s Bleach or Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff, which probably hadn’t made their way to the magazine’s office by the time this list as compiled. But no Pixies? Really?

David Byrne and Brian Eno My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)

There’s no claiming the “it only just came out” defense as far as this album goes, though. Rolling Stone did get it right by including Talking Heads’ Remain In Light in their Top 10, but we’re not quite sure how, with the benefit of eight years’ worth of hindsight, they managed to miss Byrne and Eno’s hugely important 1981 collaboration. Apart from anything else, it basically invented sampling – or, at least, brought the idea of using samples to popular attention. The use of samples delayed the album’s release because of the necessity to clear their use, a problem that would become a familiar one for hip hop artists as the 1980s went on. Speaking of which…

NWA Straight Outta Compton (1988)

NWA’s debut album detonated like a bomb when it dropped in late 1988. By November 1989, when Rolling Stone’s list went to print, the album had broken into the Billboard charts – peaking at #37 – and “Fuck Tha Police” had become one of the most controversial tracks ever recorded, outraging conservative commentators, starting all sorts of arguments about First Amendment rights, and even getting the FBI hot under the collar. It was, in short, the sort of thing an ostensibly progressive and liberal music magazine should have been all over like a rash. But neither the controversy nor the fact that this was a genuinely revolutionary record, introducing the world to the production talents of Dr. Dre and the unapologetic social realism of Ice Cube and MC Ren’s lyrics, seem to have convinced RS that it was better than the Travelling Wilburys album.

Beastie Boys Paul’s Boutique (1989)

As a matter of fact, hip hop and 1980s Rolling Stone don’t seem to have played well at all. Other notable hip hop albums that you could make an argument for including in an 1980s Top 100 include De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, EPMD’s Strictly Business, and Afrika Bambaata’s marvellous and influential Planet Rock. (In fairness, both the first Run DMC record and Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions… do feature in the RS list.) But the most glaring hip hop omission apart from Straight Outta Compton is the Beastie Boys’ kaleidoscopic second album Paul’s Boutique. It was released in mid-1989 and should have been nice and fresh in the minds of RS’s writers when they were compiling this list.

Black Flag Damaged (1981)

Another genre that Rolling Stone obviously wasn’t particularly interested in was hardcore. It doesn’t rate at all in the 1989 list – no Minor Threat, no Big Black, no Minutemen, no Bad Religion. Their perspective seems to have changed with hindsight – this album was included in the magazine’s 2003 list of the 500 best albums of all time – but really, it should have been a lock-in for their best of the 1980s, given that it was one of the earliest and most formative examples of a genre that continues to thrive some 30 years later. Again, the fact that it doesn’t even earn a mention doesn’t really speak volumes for the magazine’s writers’ inclination to get out and see what was actually going on.

The Cure Pornography (1982)

And another ignored genre: goth. There’s nothing remotely gothic on Rolling Stone’s list (no Siouxsie and the Banshees, no Sisters of Mercy, no Killing Joke). But most astonishingly, there’s nothing by The Cure. At all. Virtually all the records that The Cure made during the 1980s could arguably be included in a best-of-the-decade round-up – the majestically mournful Disintegration, the relatively upbeat The Top, the globe-conquering Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me – but our vote goes to their 1982 masterpiece Pornography. In any case, The Cure were one of the 1980s’ most consistently innovative and well-respected bands, and quite how they fell off RS’s radar is anyone’s guess.

Devo Freedom of Choice (1980)

As we mentioned at the start of this feature, we’re looking at Rolling Stone’s list with the benefit of 20 years’ worth of hindsight, and as such, there are some omissions that are at least understandable, given the time at which it was compiled. But there are also some omissions that are flat-out inexplicable. The Cure are one, and this is another: how could Devo’s wonderful and unique 1980 masterpiece Freedom of Choice not be included? It was that rarest of albums, one with a singular and uncompromising artistic vision that also connected with the public consciousness. Who’d ever have thought that four men with a strange philosophy of de-evolution and flowerpots on their head could release an album that spawned four hit singles and reached the US Top 30?

The Stone Roses The Stone Roses (1989)

Something that stands out about Rolling Stone’s list is how US-centric it is. For a start, there’s the inclusion of London Calling as #1 on the basis of its January 1980 US release date, despite the fact that the rest of the world got it in December 1979. Obviously, this is to be expected to an extent, as RS was and is a US-based magazine. But rock ’n’ roll isn’t solely a US-based phenomenon, and there are a number of massively important ’80s UK albums that don’t make the list – Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain and Crocodiles, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Psychocandy. And we won’t even get started on the Australian albums that don’t feature (well, OK, we’ll just mention Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Tender Prey, INXS’s Kick and The Triffids’ Born Sandy Devotional). But the one album that really should have made the list is the first Stone Roses record, which pretty much single-handedly dragged the British indie scene out of its post-Smiths funk. And the US version even got a bonus track (“Elephant Stone”).

Mötörhead Ace of Spades (1980)

It’s been quite amusing to read through all the comments on Rolling Stone’s website about its choices. Quibblers seem to fall into three camps – the indie types (what, no Pixies?), the prog lovers (what, no Rush?)… and the metalheads, who are all up in arms about the exclusion of Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Slayer’s Reign in Blood and Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast. They’ve all got a point. But if there’s one metal album we’d plump for, it’d be this one, on the basis that it pretty much invented the entire genre. The title track is a 24-carat classic for the ages, and the album as a whole is as solid as Lemmy’s bass sound.

Depeche Mode Music for the Masses (1987)

“This has been the first rock ‘n’ roll decade without revolution, or true revolutionaries, to call its own,” quoth Rolling Stone in the intro to its 1989 feature. Bollocks, quoth Flavorpill. There were several musical revolutions in the 1980s – Detroit techno, acid house, the commercial emergence of hip hop. But if the ‘80s is identified with any single sound, it’s synthpop. RS did make the occasional concession to this fact in its list – The Human League’s Dare, for instance, sneaks in #78. But largely, it pretends the synth never happened – so there’s no place for Soft Cell’s Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, no Gary Numan, no Yazoo, no Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream, no Eurythmics… and no Depeche Mode! This album was their crowning pre-Violator glory, a record that captured their transition from the synth-based pop of their early records to the portentous guitar-laden stadium sound that would characterize their work during the ‘90s. It was accompanied by a sold-out US tour, but clearly no one from Rolling Stone made the guestlist.

Those omissions in full: Pixies – Surfer Rosa Dinosaur Jr – You’re Living All Over Me / Bug Nirvana – Bleach Mudhoney – Superfuzz Bigmuff INXS – Kick Throwing Muses – Throwing Muses Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Tender Prey Big Black – Songs About Fucking David Byrne and Brian Eno – My Life in the Bush of Ghosts The Cure – Disintegration / Pornography Devo – Freedom of Choice Black Flag – Damaged Sonic Youth – Sister Minor Threat – Out of Step Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking Simple Minds – New Gold Dream Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique The Smiths – The Queen is Dead Galaxie 500 – On Fire Kate Bush – Hounds of Love Spacemen 3 – The Perfect Prescription Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Sessions Killing Joke – Brighter than 1000 Suns The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy Echo & The Bunnymen – Ocean Rain / Crocodiles The Triffids – Born Sandy Devotional David Bowie – Scary Monsters and Super Creeps Mötörhead – Ace of Spades The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising Metallica – Master of Puppets NWA – Straight Outta Compton Depeche Mode – Music for the Masses Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes Soft Cell – Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret The Gun Club – Fire of Love Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man Grace Jones – Nightclubbing Cocteau Twins – Treasure EPMD – Strictly Business This Mortal Coil – This Mortal Coil

… but hey, we’re glad they included John Fogerty. And Sting!