Last week, we counted down FACT’s 100 Best Albums of the 1980s.
For those of you who haven’t read the piece, what are you waiting for? It features guest contributions from Carl Craig, Shackleton, Jackmaster, Fuck Buttons and more alongside FACT’s writers, and we guarantee you’ll find a record that you haven’t heard of before in there. Go read it over here, now.
For those of you who have read it, we thought it would be interesting to break down the list a little. No act appears twice in the top 100, but there are several musicians, artists, producers and engineers who contributed to several records on it – in this article, we pay tribute to the likes of Marley Marl, Digby Pearson and Fred Frith, whose contributions to some of the decade’s best albums can’t be overstated. There’s also some interesting facts we found out – who knew that the guitarist from our #97 pick designed the artwork for our #23? – and we weigh up which record labels, cities and genres scored highest in the top 100.
Elsewhere, we look into how many albums on the list were debuts (and how many of those bands stuck around to record a second album), how many acts have hit the reunion trail since, and play Six Degrees of Separation from our list’s #100 to #1. Read on for all that and more, and be warned: this article does feature spoilers.
Want to hear what FACT’s 100 Best Albums of the 1980s sounds like? We’ve posted five mixes, each taking 20 slots from the 100. Stream and download them here.
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Although no one act appeared twice on the list, there were several musicians and engineers who appeared on more than one record:
– A regular John Zorn (whose Naked City featured low in the top 100) collaborator, Howie Weinberg mastered Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs, Glenn Branca’s The Ascension, Sonic Youth’s Sister and ESG’s first EP, which contained ‘UFO’, a track featured on Ultimate Breaks & Beats.
– Ultramagnetic MCs’ Ced-Gee had a hand in the production of not only Critical Beatdown, but also Boogie Down Productions’ Criminal Minded.
– Hip-hop originator Marley Marl produced both Big Daddy Kane’s scene-steering Long Live the Kane and Kool G Rap & DJ Polo’s Road to the Riches.
– Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo [right] plays guitar on Glenn Branca’s The Ascension, and Branca’s early ensemble included Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore and Swans’ Michael Gira, who produced Skin’s Blood, Women, Roses (Swans and Sonic Youth also frequently played shows together in the groups’ early years).
– Danny Thompson plays double bass on Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, and also on David Sylvian’s Secrets of the Beehive.
– British music producer and engineer John Fryer worked on a handful of records for the Cocteau Twins, including Head Over Heels, and he also engineered Skin’s Blood, Women, Roses.
– Earache boss Digby Pearson (better known as Dig) produced a number of his label’s records, including Napalm Death’s Scum, Carcass’s Reek of Putrefaction and Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness. Carcass founding member Bill Steer played guitar on the B-side of Napalm Death’s Scum, which also featured Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick on its A-side, and sported cover art designed by Carcass’s Jeffrey Walker.
– Legendary guitarist Fred Frith [above] is another Zorn associated name in the list, and indeed he pops up as a member of Zorn’s Naked City on Torture Garden. Despite occasionally collaborating with Half Japanese, he doesn’t appear on their 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts opus, but he is a part of Massacre, and a major fixture of their Killing Time LP. He has also been spotted collaborating with Robert Wyatt from time to time.
– Steve Albini is a producer and musician whose name is almost synonymous with a certain kind of raw energy, and while his production talents have seen him featured on a nearly unfathomable amount of records, his run on our list is surprisingly modest. There’s his key part in Rapeman, both performing and producing Two Nuns and a Pack Mule, but he also put his sonic fingerprints all over The Pixies’ Surfer Rosa.
– Another NYC legend was Martin Bisi, whose BC Studio (which was set up with Bill Laswell) became a focal point for the flourishing avant rock scene. Bisi had a hand in engineering Massacre’s Killing Time, Naked City’s Torture Garden, and also Brian Eno’s On Land.
– He would later go on to become part of Half Japanese, but Mark Kramer (known simply as Kramer) produced Bongwater’s Double Bummer and Galaxie 500’s On Fire.
– Sterling Smith might not have much to do with electro pop outfit The Units, but his first album Ready for the House was released under that very moniker, before he switched to the much more recognizable Jandek.
– David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto [left]’s creative collaboration has been long and fruitful, and here they both contribute to each other’s entries. Sakamoto adds string arrangements and keys to Sylvian’s Secrets of the Beehive and Sylvian adds vocals to Sakamoto’s career-defining ‘Forbidden Colours’, which closes out Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.
– Gilles Martin engineered Colin Newman’s Commercial Suicide, Zazou/Bikaye/CY 1’s Noir Et Blanc, and Antena’s Camino Del Sol.
– American recording engineer Dominick Maita worked on Polyrock’s self-titled album as well as on Philip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi. No doubt this was down to Philip Glass being a member of Polyrock.
– Kevin Metcalfe mastered Lustmord’s dark-ambient masterpiece Paradise Disowned, and also the Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.
– A member of Marc and the Mambas, Martin McCarrick played cello not only on the band’s Torment and Torreros, but also on Skin’s Blood, Women, Roses.
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Year of Release
Although 1986 had the least albums in the top 100, it did have the lists number one – Arthur Russell’s World of Echo. 1984 and 1989 both had multiple entries in the top 10 (E2-E4 and Structures from Silence; Streetcleaner and Virgo).
Unsurprisingly, given the birth of hip-hop and the influence of the no wave underground, New York had more acts than anybody in the top 100 (24), with London following on 21. Los Angeles clocked in at a surprisingly low four, just one more than Birmingham, who were repped by Napalm Death, Godflesh and Felt. Although Carcass’s Reek of Putrefaction was recorded in Birmingham’s Rich Bitch studios, the band themselves were from Liverpool.
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Without splitting too many hairs about what record fell under what genre, there were more records we considered “indie” than any other style on the list. The top 100 featured four soundtracks: Vangelis’s Blade Runner, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, Fabio Frizzi’s City Of The Living Dead and Philip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi.
Unsurprisingly, Rough Trade had more records than any other label on the list, including three in the top 20 (The Smiths, World of Echo, Colossal Youth). Underdog metallers Earache pushed them close however, with four albums ranking on the list including Godflesh’s Streetcleaner at number three. Virgin also had four spots in the top 100.
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48 records in the top 100 were debut albums, with eight of those (Young Marble Giants’ Colossal Youth, Gareth Williams and Mary Currie’s Flaming Tunes, Virgo’s Virgo, Rapeman’s Two Nuns and a Pack Mule, Rites of Spring’s Rites of Spring, The Units’ Digital Stimulation, Charinjit Singh’s Synthesizing: 10 Ragas to a Disco Beat and Zazou / Bikaye / CYI’s Noir Et Blanc) also marking the last album that the act would release.
A significant number of groups featured in the top 100 have reunited post-1980s, some with more success than others. Godflesh, Virgo, Pixies [above], Young Marble Giants, Marc and the Mambas, Soft Boys, My Bloody Valentine, Monochrome Set, Dead Kennedys, Eurythmics, Carcass and Naked City have all returned to the live circuit, while 2005’s Cocteau Twins reunion was cancelled just two months after it was announced. N.W.A. reunions have been attempted in the past, but always seem to end in a combination of tears and apathy.
Six Degrees of Separation (#100-#1)
The Ultimate Breaks and Beats series (#100) included Funk Inc.’s ‘Kool is Back’, which was sampled on ‘Heavy Weights’ by DJ Muggs. His group, Cypress Hill, recently released a collaborative EP with Rusko, who fell out with Diplo’s Mad Decent label. Diplo produced Robyn’s ‘Dancehall Queen’ [above], who featured on This is How We Walk on the Moon, a tribute album to Arthur Russell (whose World of Echo was our #1 album of the 1980s).
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The List in Full (Plain Text):
01. Arthur Russell – World Of Echo (Upside/Rough Trade, 1986)
02. Virgo – Virgo (Radical, 1989)
03. Godflesh – Streetcleaner (Earache, 1989)
04. Manuel Gottsching – E2-E4 (Inteam GmbH, 1984)
05. Kate Bush – The Hounds Of Love (EMI, 1985)
06. Monoton – Monotonprodukt07 (Monoton, 1982)
07. Minor Threat – Out Of Step (Dischord, 1983)
08. Kraftwerk – Computer World (EMI/Kling Kland, 1981)
09. Too $hort – Born To Mack (Sire, 1987)
10. Steve Roach – Structures From Silence (Fortuna, 1984)
11. Cocteau Twins – Head Over Heels (4AD, 1983)
12. Alexander Robotnick – Ce N’est Qu’Un Debut (Materiali Sonori, 1984)
13. Coil – Horse Rotivator (Force & Form, 1988)
14. Tom Waits – Rain Dogs (Island, 1985)
15. 808 State – Newbuild (Creed, 1988)
16. Ultramagnetic MCs – Critical Beatdown (Next Plateaux, 1988)
17. Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth (Rough Trade, 1980)
18. Glenn Branca – The Ascension (99 Records, 1981)
19. Mr Fingers – Ammnesia (Jack Trax, 1989)
20. The Smiths – The Smiths (Rough Trade, 1984)
21. Boogie Down Productions – Criminal Minded (B-Boy Records, 1987)
22. Desmond Simmons – Alone On Penguin Island (Dome Records, 1980)
23. Napalm Death – Scum (Earache, 1987)
24. Julee Cruise – Floating Into The Night (Warner Bros, 1989)
25. Muslimgauze – Coup D’Etat (Permis de Construire, 1987)
26. Massacre – Killing Time (Celluloid, 1981)
27. Robert Wyatt – Old Rottenhat (Rough Trade, 1985)
28. Rapeman – Two Nuns And A Pack Mule (Touch & Go, 1988)
29. Minutemen – Double Nickels On The Dime (SST, 1984)
30. Brian Eno – Ambient 4: On Land (EG, 1982)
31. Half Japanese – 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts (Armageddon, 1980)
32. Pixies – Surfer Rosa (4AD, 1988)
33. N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton (Ruthless, 1988)
34. Felt – Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty (Cherry Red, 1982)
35. Whitehouse – Great White Death (Come Organisation, 1985)
36. Bernard Szajner – Some Deaths Last Forever (Pathe, 1980)
37. Cleaners From Venus – Any Normal Monday (Man at the Off License, 1982)
38. Big Daddy Kane – Long Live The Kane (Cold Chillin’, 1988)
39. Rites Of Spring – Rites Of Spring (Dischord, 1985)
40. Jungle Brothers- Straight Out The Jungle (Warlock, 1988)
41. Sonic Youth – Sister (Blast First, 1987)
42. The Arabian Prince – Brother Arab (Orpheus, 1989)
43. Marc and The Mambas – Torment and Toreros (Some Bizarre, 1983)
44. Suzanne Ciani – Seven Waves (Finnadar, 1982)
45. Gareth Williams and Mary Currie – Flaming Tunes (Not on Label, 1985)
46. Prince – Sign O’ The Times (Paisley Park, 1987)
47. The Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight (Armageddon, 1980)
48. Mayhem – Deathcrush (Posercorpse Music, 1987)
49. The Units – Digital Stimulation (415, 1980)
50. My Bloody Valentine – You Made Me Realise (Creation, 1988)
51. Galaxie 500 – On Fire (Rough Trade, 1989)
52. Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness (Earache, 1989)
53. Sade – Diamond Life (Epic, 1984)
54. Nurse with Wound – Soliloquy For Lilith (Idle Hole, 1988)
55. Final Cut – Deep In 2 The Cut (Final Cut, 1989)
56. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – Road to the Riches (Cold Chillin’, 1989)
57. Vangelis – Blade Runner OST (Audio Fidelity, 2013)
58. Nocturnal Emissions – Drowning in a Sea of Bliss (Sterile, 1983)
59. Just-Ice – Back To The Old School (Fresh, 1986)
60. John Foxx – Metamatic (Virgin, 1980)
61. Jandek – Six and Six (Corwood, 1981)
62. Various – Street Sounds Electro 1 (Streetsounds, 1984)
63. Bongwater – Double Bummer (Shimmy Disc, 1988)
64. David Sylvian – Secrets Of The Beehive (Virgin, 1987)
65. Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation… (Def Jam, 1988)
66. Ministry – The Land Of Rape And Honey (Sire, 1988)
67. The Monochrome Set – Strange Boutique (Din Disc, 1980)
68. Geto Boys – Grip It! On that Other Level (Rap-a-lot, 1989)
69. Colin Newman – Commercial Suicide (Crammed Discs, 1986)
70. Scientist – Rids The World Of The Evil Curse Of The Vampires (Greensleeves, 1981)
71. Fabio Frizzi – City Of The Living Dead (Beat Records, 1982)
72. Ramleh – Hole in the Heart (Broken Flag, 1987)
73. Zazou/Bikaye/CY 1 – Noir Et Blanc (Crammed Discs, 1983)
74. Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (Cherry Red, 1980)
75. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (Virgin, 1983)
76. Polyrock – Polyrock (RCA, 1980)
77. Inner City – Paradise (Virgin, 1989)
78. Tackhead – Tackhead Tape Time (Nettwerk, 1987)
79. Suicide – Second Album (Ze, 1980)
80. Antena – Camino Del Sol (Les Disques Du Crépuscule, 1982)
81. Momus – The Poison Boyfriend (Creation, 1987)
82. Lustmord – Paradise Disowned (Side Effects, 1986)
83. Tantra – The Double Album (Importe, 1980)
84. Naked City – Torture Garden (Shimmy Disc, 1989)
85. Virginia Astley – From Gardens Where We Feel Secure (Rough Trade, 1983)
86. Bathory – Under the Sign of the Black Mark (New Renaissance, 1987)
87. Mad Professor – Mad Professor Captures Pato Banton (Ariwa, 1985)
88. Eurhythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (RCA, 1983)
89. Scraping Foetus off the Wheel – Nail (Self Immolation / Some Bizarre, 1985)
90. Jack The Tab – Acid Tablets Vol. 1 (Castalia, 1988)
91. Charinjit Singh – Synthesizing: 10 Ragas to a Disco Beat (The Gramaphone Company Of India Ltd., 1983)
92. Einsturzende Neubauten – Kollaps (Zickzack, 1981)
93. Aztec Camera – High Land, Hard Rain (Sire, 1983)
94. Skin – Blood, Women, Roses (Product, Inc., 1987)
95. Soul II Soul – Club Classics Vol. 1 (10 Records, 1989)
96. Philip Glass – Koyaanisqatsi (Island, 1983)
97. Carcass – Reek Of Putrefaction (Earache, 1988)
98. Whodini – Escape (Jive, 1984)
99. Hans Joachim Roedelius – Wenn Der Sudwind Weht (Sky, 1981)
100. Various – Ultimate Breaks and Beats (Street Beat, 1986)