Def Leppard, Pyromania
They didn’t start the fire — but Pyromania did begin the burning with a fresh British invasion, this time powered by muscular metal riffs (see early hits ”Photograph” and ”Rock of Ages”) and working class mullets. Soon enough, it would all lead to the full on sugar-pouring, Armageddon-it blaze of 1987’s multiplatinum smash Hysteria.
Eurythmics, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) & Touch
Androgyny, proto-EDM beats, and most of all, massive hits — in their two ’83 releases, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart used those tools to become superstars of the early MTV era with indelible songs like Sweet Dreams‘ title track, ”Who’s That Girl,” and ”Here Comes the Rain Again.”
In which Bono elevates himself from reasonably charismatic post-punk frontman to messianic stadium-filler. And yet, early singles ”Sunday Bloody Sunday” and ”New Years Day” still only hinted at the Joshua Tree/Achtung Baby domination to come.
America’s greatest indie legacy shook off its first jangles and mumbles on their confident debut, sending out a signal to ”Radio Free Europe” (and all points west, too) from Athens, Ga.
David Bowie, Let's Dance
The Thin White Duke conquers the ’80s, this time as a Nile Rogers-powered post-disco neutron bomb (see ”China Girl,” ”Modern Love” and yes, even this camp feline dark-side gem).
New Order, Power, Corruption & Lies
In order to shake off the post-Ian Curtis sadness, the surviving members of Joy Division indulged in dark dancing. Mondays, blue and otherwise, would never be the same.
The Police, Synchronicity
The band’s swan song was also their biggest success, a wellspring of sharp, sticky hooks — ”King of Pain,” ”Every Breath You Take” — and indelible videos (cue the fantastic fire hazard that was Sting romping through a candle maze in ”Wrapped Around Your Finger”).
Metallica, Kill'Em All
Who would have thought these hesher-haired San Francisco shredders would grow into the definitive American hard rock band?
Melodically sweet and unshakably excellent, Madonna set the tone for pop radio for decades — well after Madonna herself had moved on to other, more outrageous modes.
Huey Lewis & the News, Sports
Patrick Bateman is right: They really did come into their own both artistically and commercially. When four of your album’s nine tracks are top-10 smashes (”the Heart of Rock & Roll,” ”I Want a New Drug,” ”If This Is It,” ”Heart and Soul”), the news is, you’re killing it (though not, like Patrick, actually killing it).
Mötley Crüe, Shout at the Devil
Before hair metal became a cartoon, the Crüe gave birth to the hellspawn of evil riffage (”Looks That Kill,” ”Ten Seconds to Love”) and Sunset Strip glamour.
Tom Waits, Swordfishtrombones
The troubadour’s great leap forward from after-hours songwriter to professional weirdo, and coolest proto fedora wearer in the business.
New Edition, Candy Girl
R&B’s great youth makeover kicks off the rise of the boy band — which eventually splintered to give us the subsequent careers of Bobby Brown, Bell Biv Devoe, Johnny Gill, and Ralph Tresvant (if you only hazily remember those last two, please Youtube ”Rub You the Right Way” and ”Sensitivity” immediately).
Cyndi Lauper, She's So Unusual
A sugar-smacked debut from the other ’80s-defining pop queen. She sang about masturbation (”She Bop”) and feminism (”Girls Just Want to Have Fun”) like it was no big thing — and became the flame-haired heroine of a new generation.
Billy Idol, Rebel Yell
For a certain segment of the population, punk was already dead by ’83. But Idol’s leather-clad buzz saw snarl, paired with crazily accessible hooks (”Eyes Without a Face,” ”Flesh for Fantasy”) were a huge crossover moment for British three-chord malcontentedness.
Duran Duran, Seven and the Ragged Tiger
The ultimate ’80s Brit-pop pinups’ wackily named post-Rio outing is a fascinating look at the fame-fueled world-weariness that only ridiculously good-looking twentysomething millionaires can affect.
Billy Joel, An Innocent Man
Each track on Joel’s ninth album pays tribute to one of his favorite ’50s and ’60s radio staples, and not only did he successfully execute the gimmick (”This Night” is the best Little Anthony and the Imperials song that band never wrote), he also filled it with smash singles like ”Tell Her About It” and ”Uptown Girl.”
Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Punch the Clock
Already a favorite among literate pop and glasses enthusiasts, Costello met the rest of the world via the radio hit ”Every Day I Write The Book.” Punch The Clock was Costello’s great Trojan Horse: He used glossy New Wave frippery to cover up the pathos in tracks like ”Shipbuilding” and ”Pills and Soap.”
Dio, Holy Diver
Both Black Sabbath (with Deep Purple’s Ian Gillian on vocals) and Ozzy Osbourne released albums in ’83, but the best Sabbath-related metal to emerge was the debut from Dio, fronted by former Sabbath singer Ronnie James Dio — a triumph of raw riffage and Ronnie’s signature end-of-days roar.
A decade-defining moment for Jennifer Beals, Michael Sembello, Giorgio Moroder, Irene Cara, Phil Ramone, welding enthusiasts, and lovers of artfully destroyed sweatshirts.
Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes
This Milwaukee-based trio’s debut introduced the world to folk-punk classics like ”Blister in the Sun” and ”Gone Daddy Gone” — tip-toeing the narrow wire between teenage petulance and sweetness.
Culture Club, Colour By Numbers
Though not as densely hit-filled as their debut, Culture Club’s second outing does find Boy George fully realizing the definitive New Romantic persona. Plus, this has ”Karma Chameleon.”
Donna Summer, She Works Hard for the Money
Sure, it’s sort of a one-song album, but what a song! The Queen of Disco got her greatest ’80s reprieve with this set of confident, club-ready R&B — plus one epic working-class anthem.
John Cougar Mellencamp, Uh-Huh
His previous album American Fool has the bigger hits (”Jack & Diane,” ”Hurts So Good”), but Uh-Huh is the most satisfying listen of Mellencamp’s career, from the surreal Americana anthem ”Pink Houses” to the lament-for-phonies ”Jackie O.”
Quiet Riot, Metal Health
If Pyromania was a well-heeled alumnus of Metal University, Metal Health ran the fraternity that got thrown off campus. Quiet Riot’s debut is all sloppy riffs and feel good hooks, with their cover of Slade’s ”Cum On Feel the Noize” providing the theme of the year’s headbanger’s ball.
Lionel Richie, Can't Slow Down
One word: ”Hello.” (and a few more words, if you insist: ”Running with the Night,” ”All Night Long (All Night),” ”Stuck On You.”)
Spandau Ballet, True
The British New Romantics’ third album was a massive worldwide hit thanks to the Nabakov-quoting title track, which set the template for New Wave’s weird second life as the most subversive entries on the lite-favorites playlist.
ZZ Top, Eliminator
Honestly, if you’ve heard one ZZ Top album, you’ve heard them all, but Eliminator found Texas’s biggest beards transformed into early MTV staples. Both ”Legs” and ”Sharp Dressed Man” were in heavy rotation, and turned Eliminator into a diamond-selling juggernaut.
Bryan Adams, Cuts Like a Knife
Poke as much fun at the Canadian rocker as you like, but before he became a ”Summer of ’69”-singing avatar, he dropped this impressive slab of blue collar riffs that saw him score his first big hits in ”Cuts Like a Knife” and ”Straight From the Heart.”
Styx, Kilroy Was Here
This was the beginning of the end for Styx (core member Dennis DeYoung split from guitarists Tommy Shaw and James Young a year later), and the band has mostly written it off. That’s a mistake, as it includes both the charmingly weird ”Mr. Roboto” (which had to have inspired Daft Punk at some point) and the darkly campy ”Heavy Metal Poisoning.”