The best albums of 1982

Michael Jackson, looking well in the
Michael Jackson, looking well in the

THIRTY years ago, the English were at war in the Falklands, Prince William was born, the Commodore 64 was released, South Melbourne became the Sydney Swans, and Richmond last played in a grand final.

Also that year, these awesome and influential albums were released:

Nebraska - Bruce Springsteen

THE prevalence of laptops and ProTools means anywhere can be a recording studio, but back in 1982, Bruce Springsteen just had a four-track recorder when he made Nebraska in his New Jersey bedroom. It wasn't intended to be the finished album - the record began as the demos he planned to take to his E Street Band. But after starting recording with the band, he realised it wasn't working and those unsuccessful recordings - dubbed Electric Nebraska - have never been released, with Springsteen and his manager Jon Landau agreeing that the full-band versions didn't touch the same stark emotions The Boss' original demos did. His label wasn't happy about releasing an album of lo-fi, dirge-like folk songs but Springsteen held out (and made up for it by releasing the massively anthemic and highly polished Born In The USA next). Predominantly softly strummed acoustic and haunting harmonica behind The Boss' rough-hewn voice, this is Springsteen finding a lyrical stream that runs through the wrong side of the tracks, where cops let their murdering brothers run free, men lose their jobs and go on drunken shooting sprees, teenagers run off with their girlfriends and kill a bunch of people, fathers fall out with their sons, families can't afford new cars, unlicensed drivers get pulled over, and hard-luck couples head to Atlantic City for one last roll of the dice. There's very little optimism here and Nebraska is rightly regarded as Springsteen's darkest, bleakest album. Even in the final song, Reason To Believe, people have faith despite there being no good reason to, which is either an ode to blind faith or a richly cynical piece depending on which way you want to read it. There are a few too many songs about cars and driving, and the quiet downtrodden tone may be too much for some people, although the placement of solo rockers Johnny 99 and Open All Night help break the album up. But there's no denying the power of Springsteen's imagery or the fact that Nebraska is the album that confirmed his status as an American spokesman for the underdog like Dylan and Guthrie before him. It also showed there was a place for sincere songwriting in the crass commerciality of the '80s and that lo-fi wasn't a synonym for crap.

A suitably bleak-looking clip to go with Atlantic City:

English Settlement - XTC

IT was on the tour for this album - XTC's fifth in five years - that lead singer Andy Partridge suffered a breakdown, spurred by a mixture of a rigourous schedule, the onset of stage-fright and his then-wife throwing out his valium. They never played live again. As a result, English Settlement is the last album geared for XTC as a touring band and as such captures a live spark they would never rekindle, instead replacing it with increasingly superlative songwriting and spectacular production. Having begun their career as a spiky-sounding punk band from Swindon, UK, XTC had evolved into a mature-sounding guitar-pop band by this album. English Settlement was their third album with guitarist Dave Gregory, and his guitar interplay with Partridge reaches lush heights on this record. The big hit on this record was Senses Working Overtime, a song driven by its stepladder dynamics, a stompy pre-chorus and a killer chorus hook. A double album on vinyl, the album finds both Partridge and bassist Colin Moulding at the top of their songwriting game across 15 exemplary tracks. Moulding's contributions are among his best - the boppy 5/4 timing of English Roundabout, the brooding Runaways, the swinging Ball And Chain and the buzzy Big Brother/1984-inspired bopper Fly On The Wall. Partridge, always the predominant brain of XTC, penned the excellent pop hit Senses Working Overtime, the cleverly snide melodrama of No Thugs In Our House, the dreamy downer All Of A Sudden (It's Too Late), the peculiarly maritime Jason And The Argonauts and the stammering Snowman. No Thugs In Our House in particular is a lyrical gem, with its wonderfully drawn tale of a policeman confronting two parents with their son's brutish behaviour, only to have the father turn out to be a judge who lets his son get off scot-free. English Settlement would be the only top 10 album in the UK for the cultish band and one of only three top 50s in the US, while Senses Working Overtime gave them their biggest hit in the UK and Australia, reaching #10 and #12 respectively. The aforementioned end to touring courtesy of Partridge's collapse led drummer Terry Chambers to depart during the recording of the next album Mummer, which featured a more studio-driven approach. But the influence of this album would ring on through the rise of Britpop and the resurgence in post-punk and new wave sounds in England in the '00s.

And I've got 1, 2, 3, 4, 5... Senses Working Overtime:

Milo Goes To College - Descendents

BY 1982, punk music in the US had spawned hardcore - a style that was all about being short, fast and loud while speaking to the alienation and aggression of youth culture. Few bands did it shorter, faster or smarter than Descendents, who released their debut Milo Goes To College after a few years together. Funny, witty and flat-out, the record is one of the more influential US punk albums, inspiring the likes of Green Day, Offspring, NOFX, Blink 182 and dozens of other bands that sprung up in the re-emergence of punk and pop-punk in the '90s. Descendents emerged in the late '70s in Southern California but didn't record this, their first album, until '82, just ahead of lead singer Milo Aukerman going to college (hence the title). Squeezing 15 songs into just 22 minutes, it's a barrage of teen angst that ranges from the juvenile to the insightful as Aukerman spits lyrics about lusting after and loathing girls (Jean Is Dead, Hope, Marriage, Kabuki Girl, Myage), posers and "cool" kids (I'm Not A Loser, Tonyage, Bikeage), and American life and culture (M-16, Suburban Home, Statue Of Liberty). At its best, it's smart, sharp and succinct, like an American version of Wire, such as on the highlight Suburban Home, which features a great melodic chorus and harmonies, and the insightful I'm Not A Punk, which notes that trends are about "(trying) to be different but it's always the same". What's really impressive is the pace and clarity of the band's playing, especially the rhythm section. Tony Lombardo's melodic bass playing carries a lot of the songs while locking in with Bill Stevenson's frantic drumming, setting a blueprint for so much So-Cal punk that followed. Some of it hasn't aged well - I'm Not A Loser manages to skewer the cool kids but features some inexcusable homophobia while Parents feels dated because it has since become a teen-punk cliche to bag out your folks. Bursting with energy and raucous rock power, Milo Goes To College is the epitome of youthful outrage, but with a sense of humour and some smarts about it.

Here's 101 seconds you won't regret:

Thriller - Michael Jackson

DESPITE selling 15 million copies, Jackson thought Off The Wall was a failure and vowed to become the biggest pop star on the planet. With his follow-up Thriller, he did just that. It's the most popular album ever, with sales estimates ranging from 47 million to 109 million copies. It's been said that if you stacked every copy that was sold end-to-end, it would reach to the moon and back. Despite having only nine tracks, it yielded seven singles, including the rock-crossover Beat It (which featured some blistering guitar work from Eddie Van Halen), the infectious grooves and stunning melodies of Billie Jean and the killer opener Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'. Jackson and producer Qunicy Jones were determined for there to be no filler on the record - Baby Be Mine and The Lady In My Life are the two non-singles and both are better than the schmaltz of Jackson's ballad-battle with Paul McCartney (The Girl Is Mine). With so little fat on the album, it's easy to see why Thriller is regularly regarded as one of the greatest records ever - not only did it set commercial and musical benchmarks, but it also changed the world of music videos. The 14-minute short film released to promote Thriller - which featured Vincent Price, werecats and those iconic zombie dance moves - was the most expensive music video ever made at the time and remains one of the most spectacular examples of the medium. The video sold nine million copies on VHS alone. It was this marriage of the visual and the musical that helped make this so huge, meaning that Jackson didn't just dominate radio but also TV, where people could see that he had the awesome dance moves to match the impossible vocal range, making Jackson not only the first black superstar but also the first superstar of the MTV generation. According to, another part of the success was Thriller "had something for everybody, building on the basic blueprint of Off the Wall by adding harder funk, hard rock, softer ballads, and smoother soul". Jackson was always going to struggle to match Thriller (Bad comes close) and sadly the first cracks in his life can be seen here in the fear, paranoia and anger in Billie Jean and Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'. But if his desire was to be the King of Pop, then this was the record that did it.

MTV had never seen anything like this before:

1999 - Prince

APOLOGIES if you read this recently in Musicology's Prince tribute, but it was impossible to leave this record out of the top five. Prince already had four albums under his belt (including three top 50 records in the US) by the time he unleashed 1999. It was a step up from its predecessor Controversy - the sexiness was sexier (and sillier), the non-sexual songs were smarter, the jams were longer, and the hooks were stronger. Like a lot of great albums, it's front loaded with gold. "If there is an opening salvo in rock 'n' soul stronger than 1999, Little Red Corvette and Delirious, it is locked in a leopard-guarded filing cabinet," 1001 Albums You Must Listen To Before You Die declared. "Rock 'n' soul" is an interesting way to describe Prince's sound on 1999. His is certainly a distinctive sonic mix, with his influences having coalesced over the previous four albums to create an exciting synth-heavy amalgam of pop, funk, and disco. Songs such as Automatic sound like the place where Nile Rodgers and Gary Numan meet, the basslines, sonic trickery and spoken word of All The Critics Love U In New York would have impressed Bootsy Collins, Something In The Water (Does Not Compute) is Kraftwerk gone sexy, while Delirious is a bunch of classic blues riffs filtered through his futuristic keyboards. While D.M.S.R. sets out his agenda - dance, music, sex, romance - the best song is the title track, one of the least sexified on the record. Having feared the end of the world in Controversy's silly little ditty Ronnie, Talk To Russia, Prince gives up on doing anything about the end of the world in 1999, when everybody has a bomb and we could all die any day, and just kicks up his heels and parties. It's a great sentiment, even if it's one that is now sadly out of date and indirectly responsible for 1999 being the most over-hyped and disappointing New Year's Eve of all time. The flip-side to 1999's fun-in-the-face-of-armageddon attitude and Free's "be glad for what you've got" sincerity are the unsubtle sex-soaked lyrics of the rest of the album, including when he gets it on with a female taxi driver (Lady Cab Driver), his airline passengers (International Lover), a girl with an "ass like I've never seen" (Little Red Corvette), and as for Let's Pretend We're Married... well, some things can't be repeated on a family newspaper website. It all set Prince on his way to becoming a global star - 1999 was his first top 10 album in the US and his first to make a dent in Europe, reaching #30 in the UK. It was also his first top 40 album in Australia (it got to #6 in New Zealand too), while the singles 1999, Little Red Corvette and Delirious were all hits around the world.

Here's a blistering live recording of Delirious:

Honourable mentions: The Number Of The Beast – Iron Maiden, Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes, Avalon – Roxy Music, Pornography – The Cure, Rio – Duran Duran, Imperial Bedroom – Elvis Costello, Night And Day – Joe Jackson, Coda – Led Zeppelin, Tug Of War – Paul McCartney, Toto IV – Toto, The Gift – The Jam, The Message – Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five.

Coming soon: The best Aussie albums of 1982.