30 years on, what albums from 1985 still pack a punch? From ‘Hounds Of Love’ to ‘Psychocandy’ via some lesser known gems, here’s 50 that have stood the test of time. Even if those artists’ haircuts haven’t…
Kate Bush – Hounds Of Love: Previous album, 1982’s ‘The Dreaming’ hadn’t really done the business, so ‘Hounds Of Love’ was painted as a bit of a comeback. And how. The quality of the songs – including the staggering ‘Ninth Wave’ suite, performed at Bush’s London gigs last year – aside, tangible in-roads were made in the shops, where ‘Hounds Of Love’ shifted more than 1m copies worldwide.
Tom Waits – Rain Dogs: Tom Waits was in a rich vein of form in the mid-’80s, putting out career highlight ‘Rain Dogs’ between equivalent masterpieces ‘Swordfishtrombones’ and ‘Frank’s Wild Years’, and even inadvertently serving up a smash hit for Rod Stewart with ‘Downtown Train’. Oh, and ‘Anywhere I Lay My Head’ ended up providing an LP title for Scarlett Johansson. Mysterious ways.
The Waterboys – This Is The Sea: “Big music,” Mike Scott called it. ‘This Is The Sea’ recast the kind of celtic soul that made Van Morrison everyone’s favourite curmudgeonly bluesman as thunderous raggle-taggle hellfire – and ‘The Whole Of The Moon’ was its skyscraping pearler. The single later enjoyed a renaissance when it was relaunched it as a rave anthem for the E generation.
Talking Heads – Little Creatures: Suddenly, in 1985, Talking Heads could do hits again. They’d not had a sniff of one, over here at least, since 1981’s career-high ‘Once In A Lifetime’, but the resolutely pop ‘Little Creatures’ was brimming with the things. ‘Road To Nowhere’ took them into the top 10 for the first time, while ‘And She Was’ turned out to be the sweetest they’d ever sounded.
Madness – Mad Not Mad: Nutty Boys no more, Madness went all grown-up for ‘Mad Not Mad’. It effectively destroyed their incredible chart career, but there’s still excellent value here. The gorgeously reflective ‘Yesterday’s Men’ is a jazz-tinged jewel, ‘Uncle Sam’ bares its teeth under heavy disguise and Scritti Politti cover ‘Sweetest Girl’ is intriguing at least.
Prefab Sprout – Steve McQueen: Prefab Sprout were carving out a nice little niche for themselves, sculpting ‘perfect pop’ with intelligence and heartstopping melodies. Their second LP is crowned by ‘When Love Breaks Down’ – never quite the hit it should’ve been despite incessant re-releases – but it’s almost matched by ‘Goodbye Lucille #1’, ‘Bonny’ and the mesmerising ‘Appetite’.
Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Easy Pieces: After namechecks for Norman Mailer and Eve Marie Saint on 1984 debut ‘Rattlesnakes’, Lloyd Cole delved further into US popular culture by naming his second LP after a Jack Nicholson film. While not eulogised quite as warmly as ‘Rattlesnakes’, ‘Easy Pieces’ dished up Commotions faves in ‘Brand New Friend’, ‘Lost Weekend’ and ‘Cut Me Down’.
REM – Fables Of The Reconstruction: It’s 1985 and within five short years this lot are going to be the biggest band on the planet. For all its brilliance, there’s not much sign of all that on the heavily Byrds influenced ‘Fables Of The Reconstruction’, but there are traces of muscle in ‘Can’t Get There From Here’ – hints of greater triumphs to come.
Microdisney – The Clock Comes Down The Stairs: Irish R&B political firebrands Microdisney had already turned heads with ‘Everybody’s Fantastic’ and compilation ‘We Hate You South African Bastards’ before making their great statement. ‘The Clock Comes Down The Stairs’ featured alterno-universe smashes ‘Birthday Girl’ and ‘Horse Overboard’ and set them on the path to a megabucks Virgin deal.
The Jesus & Mary Chain – Psychocandy: East Kilbride bros Jim and William Reid (and a gawky Bobby Gillespie on drums) hit upon a magic formula: swamp a punky, Phil Spector-ish Wall of Sound in squalls of feedback and hey presto! You’ve got something no one’s heard before. Album highpoints are ‘Just Like Honey’ and ‘Never Understand’ but it’s almost churlish to pick apart the LP of the year.
Felt – Ignite The Seven Cannons: Produced by Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie, Felt’s fourth album shares the same woozy dream-pop template as the Cocteaus’ finest work, and features another Twin on ‘Primitive Painters’: a guest spot from Elizabeth Fraser. The hazy, fuzzy jangle all over tracks like ‘My Darkest Light Will Shine’ surely inspired Real Estate, Ringo Deathstarr and like minds.
Prince – Around The World In A Day: Forever giving the public and the critics the right old run-around, Prince cut his contrary teeth on the follow-up to 1984’s mega-selling ‘Purple Rain’. ‘Around The World In A Day’ was a comparatively soft-edged, quirky slice of psychedelia, conjuring rainbows and butterflies on ‘Raspberry Beret’ and naming Prince’s own studio complex on ‘Paisley Park’.
Sisters Of Mercy – First And Last And Always: Goths par excellence, Andrew Eldritch’s Sisters Of Mercy created a swirling, witchy rock that can hardly be heard through the trowels of kohl eyeliner. Their debut album has a surprising amount of bite to it, Eldritch growling fruitily over jagged guitars and sharp grooves, most spectacularly on the stalking ‘Black Planet’.
Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms: The album CDs were invented for. Dire Straits’ fifth album hauled in the GDP of most countries of the western world and became synonymous with a certain breed of Sierra-driving yuppie, but it’s not without merit. ‘Money For Nothing’ relegates Sting to hired session singer and takes a grumpy swipe at MTV, ‘Your Latest Trick’ almost makes the sax acceptable.
Tears For Fears – Songs From The Big Chair: Now the beneficiary of an enormous Super Deluxe Edition, Tears For Fears’ second album was on the large side anyway. Mammoth hits included ‘Shout’ and ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, and the LP sailed to No.1 in the States. Success was so unwieldy that it almost split the band, who took four years over follow-up ‘The Seeds Of Love’.
Killing Joke – Night Time: Anarcho mystical punks Killing Joke scoring hits? Are you, um, joking? But there indeed was ‘Love Like Blood’ hunkering down in the top 20, giving them an incongruous Top Of The Pops appearance. It was all a long way from their punk-metal roots, but ‘Night Time’ doesn’t compromise entirely. ‘Eighties’ still packs a punch.
Loose Ends – So Where Are You?: Loose Ends were a rare type in the 80s – a British R&B group who could seemingly hold their own with their traditionally more accomplished American counterparts. Their biggest hit, ‘Hangin’ On A String (Contemplating)’, a pin-sharp prod of electro-soul, is included here along with a cracking cover of David Bowie’s ‘Golden Years’.
Everything But The Girl – Love Not Money: Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt’s second album failed to eke out a hit like Eden”s ‘Each And Every One’, but it confirmed the duo as one of our nation’s little treasures as it gave mournful country a whirl on ‘Ugly Little Dreams’, plugged into jangly anorak indie on ‘Are You Trying To Be Funny?’ and dabbled in dream-pop textures on ‘Ballad Of The Times’.
The Colourfield – Virgins And Philistines: The restless Terry Hall had done the ska thing in The Specials, then the hopping about in tatty clothes in the Fun Boy Three and now planned to embark on his opulent twee-pop phase in The Colourfield. They were a short-lived outfit but managed one gorgeous hit with ‘Thinking Of You’, the opening track here.
Simple Minds – Once Upon A Time: For a brief period in the mid-’80s, Simple Minds were vying with U2 for stadium supremacy. The Scots had cracked that tough nut America, with the help of ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)”s slot in The Breakfast Club soundtrack, and they followed it with this beast, featuring ‘Sanctify Yourself’, ‘Alive And Kicking’ and all huge rock bluster.
Grace Jones – Slave To The Rhythm: Post-Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Trevor Horn needed something else to unleash his visionary production skills upon and obviously supermodel, actress and austere electro-pop singer Jones was the only candidate. ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ is a concept piece, interspersed with spoken-word interludes, but that title track is a sleek, immaculate Ferrari of a song.
a–ha – Hunting High And Low: It took the Norwegians about 35 reissues of signature hit ‘Take On Me’ to finally break through, but when they did they did so in style. ‘Hunting High And Low’ belied the band’s teeny bop reputation with songs of depth and took Morten Harket and his rippling biceps to the top of the charts, in Scandinavia at least.
Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston: Whitters’ debut album introduced a singular talent, the first new soul star in years to rank with the greats. R&B production heavyweight Narada Michael Walden pitched in, along with US royalty Jermaine Jackson, and the album turned out No.1 hit ‘Saving All My Love For You’, ‘How Will I Know’ and evergreen schmaltzfest ‘The Greatest Love Of All’.
10,000 Maniacs – The Wishing Chair: Led by Natalie Merchant, New York’s 10,000 Maniacs would have brighter times with 1987’s ‘In My Tribe’ and 1989’s ‘Blind Man’s Zoo’, but ‘The Wishing Chair’ minted their literate, crystalline style. Merchant and Michael Stipe were pals, and 10,000 Maniacs formed a soft counterpoint to REM’s rougher but no less smart college rock.
Bryan Ferry – Boys And Girls: The old lounge lizard, our very own Byron Ferrari, had no right to be making decent albums by this point, but on the other hand the decade was made for him – a period of oily sophistication characterised by all the finer, showy things in life. ‘Slave To Love’ and ‘Don’t Stop The Dance’ were the paragons of the form, productions that just oozed money.
The Smiths – Meat Is Murder: The Smiths’ only No.1 album saw them hitting their stride, collecting some of their most lasting songs. That acoustic barb of ‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’, the rockabilly pelt of ‘Rusholme Ruffians’, the bruising opener ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ – all spoke of a band in bullish form, certain of their place at the top of the pile.
Suzanne Vega – Suzanne Vega: The folkie singer-songwriter tradition was hopelessly out of fashion when Suzanne Vega came strumming out of Santa Monica, but somehow she cut through. Lead single ‘Marlene On The Wall’ was the hook, a circular melody playing over and over as Dietrich watches our heroine from her poster, her position endlessly unattainable.
David Sylvian – Alchemy: An Index Of Possibilities: Japan were never the most straightforward of New Romantics, what with their (inevitable) obsession with the Far East and stylistic switches between glam and avant-garde torch song, but singer David Sylvian still surprised when he went solo. His second album is a beautiful, essentially instrumental dabble in jazz and ambient soundscapes.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Firstborn Is Dead: The Bad Seeds’ second LP found Cave not yet in his imperious stride, but well on the way. Casting off the Birthday Party’s ramshackle punk skin, it sees him finding new respite in the blues and traditional American music, covering Bob Dylan on ‘Wanted Man’. A useful springboard to a mighty future.
The Cult – Love: Chopping the “Southern Death” from their name, The Cult tightened up their sound too and managed a top 10 album in the process. They were goth but knew how to rock the mainstream as well, and ‘Love”s standout track ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ became a bona fide hit and indie disco staple to boot. Then they met Rick Rubin and turned into Led Zeppelin.
The Cure – The Head On The Door: Great days for The Cure, who enjoyed their biggest hit album to date with this one, welcomed back guitarist Simon Gallup after a three-year split and popped up with two light-as-air singles in ‘Close To Me’ and ‘In Between Days’ that remain perennial faves. That album title came from a nightmare Robert Smith had about, well, a head on a door.
The Pogues – Rum, Sodomy & The Lash: The Pogues’ second album found them honing their own identity after the more rough-hewn debut ‘Red Roses For Me’. With Elvis Costello in the producer’s chair, and cracking originals like ‘A Pair Of Brown Eyes’ rubbing shoulders with traditional interpretations like ‘Sally MacLennane’, they marked their territory as maverick renovators of Irish song.
Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85: ‘Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)’, ‘Perfect Way’ and ‘The Word Girl’ were the hits, but they were just the tip of Green Gartside’s pristine pop iceberg. ‘Cupid & Psyche 85’ is an exemplar of precision 80s production, a seamless fusion of pop and soul that made Gartside a huge star and songwriter to the great and good (Chaka Khan for starters).
Propaganda – A Secret Wish: Trevor Horn wasn’t just creating grand conceptual follies with Grace Jones, he was also building huge synthy sonic structures with Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s German Zang Tumb Tuum labelmates Propaganda. Graced with Claudia Brucken’s fruity vocals, ‘Dr Mabuse’ and ‘Duel’ were electronic pop with operatic power, soul in the machine.
The Fall – This Nation’s Saving Grace: The eighth album in The Fall’s relentless career is very possibly their best, with the brittle ‘Bombast’ and near free-jazz ‘I Am Damo Suzuki’ providing polar-opposite proof of the band’s frightening versatility. Mark E Smith is the alternately yelping and slurring hip priest, spilling his inspired gobbledigook all over a spooky and vital record.
Bobby Womack – So Many Rivers: Apparently forming a trilogy with classic sets ‘The Poet’ and ‘The Poet II’, ‘So Many Rivers’ finds Bobby Womack trying to get a grip with 80s soul. Crisp production, clipped beats, slapped bass and silky electric piano provide the polish; Womack brings the raw, testifying authenticity.
Hüsker Dü – New Day Rising: Minnesota’s Hüsker Dü were popping out amazing albums every few months at this point, so it’s a tough call to pick a standout. The equally sharp ‘Flip Your Wig’ would follow later in the year, but ‘New Day Rising’ takes it for the freewheeling power-pop of ‘Terms Of Psychic Warfare’, giving a flavour of what Bob Mould would later achieve with Sugar.
Dexys Midnight Runners – Don’t Stand Me Down: Global success took its toll on Kevin Rowland, who shrank from the chart-topping glory of 1982’s ‘Come On Eileen’ and had a bit of a rethink. When Dexys returned, they’d ditched the dungarees for accountants’ suits but still whipped up music of astonishing ambition, most notably in the 12-minute maelstrom of ‘This Is What She’s Like’.
Sonic Youth – Bad Moon Rising: No-wave scene rulers Sonic Youth’s second album is a pretty glum affair from the normally, um, happy-go-lucky noiseniks, with the industrial clatter of ‘Ghost Bitch’ in particular plumbing terrifying drone depths. But it’s all brightened up when Lydia Lunch pops in for the forbidding, thunderous ‘Death Valley ’69’.
The Style Council – Our Favourite Shop: Paul Weller was still a big noise in the 80s, doing his jazz thing, noodling around with keysman Mick Talbot. Much more of a singles band, The Style Council still managed some decent albums and this, their second, squeezed out hits in the shape of ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’, ‘The Lodgers’ and the sneering state-of-the-decade ‘Come To Milton Keynes’.
Robert Wyatt – Old Rottenhat: Ex-Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt had steered his good ship near the mainstream with his haunting 1983 version of Costello’s ‘Shipbuilding’, but by the time of this fifth LP, he was staunchly avoiding the commercial. It’s an entirely self-played, bleak, sometimes impenetrable mix of jazz and avant-garde.
New Order – Low-Life: This’ll be where New Order started cheating by releasing singles off their albums. ‘The Perfect Kiss’ and ‘Sub-culture’ were the offending 45s, but the real standout is the harmonica-honked ‘Love Vigilantes’, the touching tale of a soldier’s return from the front. The album’s low-key, but a perfectly formed miniature that ranks high in their catalogue.
Cameo – Single Life: It would be another year before Cameo’s Larry Blackmon started larking about in a neon pink codpiece for deathless spaghetti-hip-hop masterpiece ‘Word Up’, but he and his pals were already veterans of the US funk scene. ‘Single Life’ had a more synthy R&B approach, with Cameo’s customary brass relegated to the sidelines.
Run–DMC – King Of Rock: Run-DMC’s self-titled 1984 debut – one of hip-hop’s lasting classics – was a tougher than leather act to follow, but ‘King Of Rock’ stepped up to the plate. If anything, it’s a harder proposition, the title track and single ‘Can You Rock It Like This’ adding crunching guitars to cracking beats to presage the later rock/rap hybrid of ‘Walk This Way’.
The Replacements – Tim: Minneapolitan punk power-poppers The Replacements are back, back, BACK!!! So, no time like the present to acquaint yourself with their breakneck, ragged rock. There’s a country roll about ‘Waitress In The Sky’, but ‘Hold My Life’ is a hurtling thrash – the kind of juxtaposition that would inspire bands like Wilco and The Lemonheads.
George Clinton – Some Of My Best Jokes Are Friends: Taking time out of the Mothership to do his own thang, Clinton released his third album in 1985. ‘Some Of My Best Jokes…’ might suffer a little from some peculiarly 80s tropes – queasy, zappy synths, rice paper beats – but it still finds its own fearsome groove on the electro breaks of ‘Pleasures Of Exhaustion (Do It Till I Drop)’.
Alex Chilton – Feudalist Tarts: Well, strictly, it’s an EP, but Big Star frontman Alex Chilton had waited five years to put out these six tracks and they’ve enough heft and cohesion to qualify as an album. With that settled, ‘Feudalist Tarts’ is a somewhat subdued affair but bristles with an unlikely soul power as Chilton whiles away his wilderness years as a convincing crooner.
Sheila E – Romance 1600: The Revolution’s drummer had served notice of a talent in her own right with weepy pop beauty ‘The Belle Of St Mark’ and its parent album ‘The Glamorous Life’ in 1984, and her second record confirms her skills. Or someone’s skills anyway. Her old boss Prince is all over this, writing the whole shebang and putting in a guest appearance on ‘A Love Bizarre’.
Sade – Promise: Jazz-soul singer Sade had already claimed hegemony over the nation’s coffee tables with 1984 debut album ‘Diamond Life’, but she was soon back to make sure. If anything, ‘Promise’ is an even smoother offering, creating a perfectly still, lights-dimmed ambience with the impeccable ‘Is It A Crime?’ and ‘The Sweetest Taboo’.
ABC – How To Be A Zillionaire: For reasons best known to themselves, former big-pop Trevor Horn-driven stylists ABC decided to reinvent themselves as cartoon characters (eat your heart out, Albarn) with a penchant for crisp funk – on near-title track ‘(How To Be A) Millionaire’ anyway. But they could still do those big smooth tunes, as ‘Ocean Blue’ and ‘Be Near Me’ amply proved.