If Kanye West’s repeated interrupting act has taught us anything, it is that the Grammy’s (and nearly every other source for such kind of praise) often get the Album of the Year wrong in many of our estimations. But what exactly does make something the Album of the Year? The best album? Most popular? Most meaningful? Some combination of those?
Its all pretty subjective. Sure Kanye, we get it– you always think Beyonce had the best album/video/song. But most of us have varying tastes (Taylor Swift yes, Beck not so much). So I have decided to go through my entire life and declare my own album of the year.
This won’t be a consensus best album, or rated on anything save my own enjoyment of and experience with the album. I’ll hit on some of the anecdotes of my reasons and do a general once over the nominees. The selection committee and the voting body are both numbered in the singular. This is my list after all.
So, as in most cases I prefer to start, at the beginning, which in this case is 1982 the year of my birth. The early years I didn’t encounter these albums until much later
Album of the Year: 1982
Forever Now The Psychedelic Furs– slick, talky album features great 80s synths, cool syncopated mallet sounds, and Richard Butler’s cooing growl. The title track and lead single “Love My Way” start the album off with a blast, and the second side is headline by “President Gas” a subversive saxophone fueled anti-President Reagan anthem. “Run and Run” follows it up with another strong effort. I discovered this gem on vinyl at Goodwill sometime in my late junior high/ early high school years. Its not coincidental that the four best songs are 1-2 on each side respectively, while the other 6 tracks somewhat flounder or fail to impress, and I’m not sure that finding this album on spotify or CD would have had as profound an effect as it did in its original vinyl glory. Forever Now showed me what synths were before the digital age, and the Psychodelic Furs are one of the lost gems of the late 70s/early 80s that don’t get the credit or the listening time they truly deserve.
Runner Up: Rio Duran Duran– peak Duran Duran with both the title track and “Hungry Like the Wolf”, my second hand copy of this CD got a lot of play. Through a lot of my life Duran Duran has been seen as somewhat of a punchline, but they had a lot of hits– great catchy songs and whether you realize it or not if you are around my age you probably know at least three of their songs. (Some combination of “Rio”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, “The Reflex”, “Ordinary World”, and “Notorious”) But Duran Duran was always more of a singles band, and Rio falls just short for my 1982 spot.
Album of the year 1983:
Violent Femmes Violent Femmes– The Violent Femmes debut is a seminal album for me and a lot of others I’m sure. My best friend Devin and I listened to the CD version of this for hours while playing Killer Instinct Gold on the Nintendo 64 and hanging out at the park for hours on end. The simplicity of the guitar/snare/vocals combination, the nasally intonation of Gordan Gano’s lyrics, and above all else the songwriting– “Blister in the Sun”, “Kiss Off”, and “Add it Up” still stand as three of the best songs I’ve ever heard. The album was pure ecstasy for pre-teen angst– just edgy enough to excite, but just acceptable enough to be picked up at a time when we still needed our parents to buy the records. Violent Femmes is one of the albums that I credit with my deep dive into true music nerd territory that lasted through at least all of high school and persists in small part to this day.
Runner up: Power, Corruption, and Lies New Order– drippy new age synth instrumentals dominate this early New Order album– not their pinnacle but a strong effort from the long lived band that is highlighted by the original version of “Blue Monday”.
Album of the Year 1984:
Ride the Lightning Metallica: One of the very early forays I made into heavy music came in the form of this early Metallica album. The fact that I discovered this in the mid 90s, just in time for Load, Reload, and then Garage Inc to come out meant that this was also one of my very early forays into watching the pathetic decline of artists who I had a certain fondness for. The staccato screams of “Fight Fire With Fire” are the pinnacle of this band for me, and this album marks the clear line of demarcation– Metallica before Ride the Lightning? Good. Metallica after Ride the Lightning? Bad. Well, 2/10 isn’t bad, right?
Runner Up: Purple Rain Prince and the Revolution: The classic Prince movie soundtrack gets some points knocked off in the final estimation because I’ve to this day never listened to this album. But I had a copy of the movie I recorded off Starz complete with introduction by Leonard Maltin that I would watch on my VCR and 13 inch TV in my bedroom at home. None of the words in that last sentence make sense to half of you right now, so I think its time to quit while I’m ahead.
I am putting up a spotify playlist to go along with each of these, feel free to listen to my selections at your own leisure, comment, pick apart my bizarre combination of choices, or suggest what albums were meaningful to you.