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Secret '80s album covers


hile no decade can touch the 1970s for the sheer number of strong and interesting albums, the 1980s had a respectable share. Established artists like Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel continued their streak of successful albums, while newcomers like Guns N' Roses and A Flock of Seagulls took rock in new directions.

Below are brief reviews of 100 of our favorite '80s albums. As always, just follow the convenient direct links at the end of the review for more information about the album and/or how to order it from Amazon.com, CD Universe or GEMM.

P.S. - Since this is a '70s site, keep this '80s page a SECRET, okay?  Smiley Icon

AC/DC - Back In Black (1980) By rising out of heavy metal's calculated image while maintaining the genre's basic philosophies of what rock should sound like and talk about, AC/DC proves its superiority within this league on its latest outing. This Australian quintet, now fronted by vocalist Brian Johnson, expands on heavy metal's proverbial storm of guitars and macho lyrics. Interjected in this 10-song collection are bold percussive and bass elements, blessing the riotous music with some excellent dance rhythms. "Hell's Bells," "Back In Black" and "You Shook Me All Night Long" are samplings of this delicious recipe. There's even healthy helpings of lyrics with originality and imagery. Best cuts: Those mentioned plus "Have A Drink On Me," "Shake A Leg."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

AMERICA - View From The Ground (1982) In 1979 America switched labels and forged ahead with a new Adult Contemporary sound, replacing the faux folk-pop of its past with overproduced Eagles-lite rockers. The new America fit well into early-'80s MOR playlists, and in 1982 the group scored their first Top 10 hit since 1975 with View From The Ground's "You Can Do Magic." The album also features contributions from Christopher Cross, Beach Boy Carl Wilson, Timothy B. Schmit of the Eagles, and Jeff Porcaro and Steve Lukather of Toto.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

ASIA - Asia (1982) Asia could very well be the first "supergroup" of the '80s seeing how it's comprised of guitarist Steve Howe, formerly of Yes; drummer Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer; keyboardist Geoffrey Downes of The Buggles; and vocalist/bassist John Wetton of U.K., King Crimson, Uriah Heep, Roxy Music. Together, the foursome play the kind of progressive rock one would expect, considering their past affiliations. The caliber of the playing is superb and the music sounds fresh. Best cuts: "Heat Of The Moment," "Sole Survivor," "Wildest Dreams."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE B-52's - Cosmic Thing (1989) Funkateer producers Don Was and Nile Rodgers prod the Georgia quartet heartily here, resulting in the most listenable and perky B52's issue since "Rock Lobster" days. Title track, while thoroughly reminiscent of that original new wave hit, could renew some interest in this wacky, dance-oriented crew. Belatedly, and despite the death of their musical leader Ricky Wilson, the band found enormous commercial success with this album, which effectively recapitulates their zany virtues, especially on the two Top 10 hits "Love Shack" and "Roam.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

BON JOVI - Slippery When Wet (1986) Hard-working, hard-touring pop/metal outfit has built a strong core audience and now has a breakthrough album in "Slippery" and career-making single in "You Give Love A Bad Name." An exceptionally strong album of competent contemporary pop/rock, from its Eddie Van Halen-inspired guitar solos to the singer's enthusiastic, husky wail (which owes a lot to Bruce Springsteen). Should take the band all the way.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

DAVID BOWIE - Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980) Though the LP begins with a song in Japanese, this should be the most accessible and commercially successful Bowie LP in years. Bowie has synthesized and made his own recent musical developments while at the same time recalling his own early '70s man from outer space persona. Gone are the long, dark, electronic passages that have characterized recent Bowie LPs. They are replaced by short, comparatively uptempo tunes that are melodic though no less sophisticated. Helping out on guitars on many of the songs is Robert Flipp and Peter Townshend on "Because You're Young." Best cuts: "Ashes To Ashes," "Scary Monsters," "Scream Like A Baby," "Because You're Young," "It's No Game."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

DAVID BOWIE - Let's Dance (1983) Bowie's debut for EMI lives up to the tantalizing promise of the title single, already a deserved smash with multiformat muscle: In teaming with co-producer Nile Rodgers, the influential stylist restores the directness of his mid-'70s plunge into richly R&B-inflected dance music without abandoning the textural subtlety of his subsequent pioneering swing into electronic pop. Here, that visionary stance brings authority to Bowie's most accessible music in years, pared with propulsive economy by Rodgers' own arranging contributions and liquid, insistent guitar. Whether tender ("China Girl"), tough ("Richochet," "Criminal World"), or in between, the music is bracing, state-of-the-art urban dance rock. Bowie's first tour in five years will only enhance sales fire.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

JACKSON BROWNE - Hold Out (1980) Jackson Browne had convincingly lowered the bar set by his first three albums on his fourth and fifth ones, his sixth, Hold Out, found him once again seeking some measure of satisfaction, albeit in reduced circumstances. His songs were less philosophical, but they were also more personal. In "Of Missing Persons," he once again took on a eulogy as his subject, but unlike "Song To Adam" or "For A Dancer," here the song was directed to his late friend's daughter and encouraged her recovery: it was more a song for the living than for the dead. Newly aware of the world around him ("Boulevard"), he was also newly sensitive to others, notably on the mutual dependency song "Call It A Loan."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

JACKSON BROWNE - Lawyers In Love (1983) Browne here continues in the highly commercial, accessible mode of his 1980 album "Hold Out" and '82 single "Somebody's Baby." This will probably disappoint his early fans who favor the thoughtful introspection of "Late For The Sky" and "The Pretender," though it will just as likely please younger pop/rock audiences more interested in a record's texture than its lyrics. Browne is backed on these songs by longtime colleagues Russell Kunkel, Craig Doerge and Rick Vito, among others. The title track was a top 25 single.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE CARS - Heartbeat City (1984) The Boston based band shoots for another platinum album with this set of distinctive uptempo pop/rock. Several of the cuts have the quirky technopop sound of Styx's "Mr. Roboto" and should make strong singles. But the group also stretches on two softer ballads, "Drive" and "Why Can't I Have You." The title track is already shaping up as a smash single, and the Cars have hit platinum with every album since their 1978 debut.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE CHURCH - Starfish (1988) Australian outfit rewards Arista's intrepidness in signing it after no-gos at two other majors by delivering a shimmering, thoroughly satisfying album sure to win the hearts and playlists of college programmers; rarely is band's proclivity for rambling in evidence here. Engaging alternative rock, appealing to a wider range of listeners than their previous output. This album crystallizes the intensely atmospheric layers of bassist Steve Kilbey's lead vocals with swirling guitar work from Peter Koppes and Marty Wilson-Piper, yielding a Top 40 US hit with "Under the Milky Way."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

ERIC CLAPTON - Behind The Sun (1985) The veteran British rock stylist hasn't captured platinum since 1978, and his well-received last set failed to match sales to critical response. How can this sequel hope to enter the winner's circle? For starters, with a fast breaking first single, "Forever Man," that's already rivaling Clapton's biggest single hits in terms of station response. Add in a clutch of even stronger followup candidates that stretch further beyond his familiar pop/rock base to tap newer dance and techno-pop details, and "Behind The Sun" could trigger another upturn in a career noteworthy for at least two previous comeback triumphs. In particular, "She's Waiting," "Something's Happening" and a gruffly joyful cover of "Knock On Wood" offer double-threat pop and AOR potential.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

PHIL COLLINS - No Jacket Required (1985) No Jacket Required finds Collins in highly commercial form, spinning his trademark ballads and uptempo pop for surefire dividends. A brace of stars (Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, David Crosby, Stephen Bishop) add marquee value. "Another Day In Paradise" is already conquering top 40, album rock, AC. Best follow-up pick from this often issue-oriented collection is anybody's guess, so let's just say that "Hang In Long Enough," "Something Happened On The Way To Heaven," and "Do You Remember?" sound particularly strong.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

MARSHALL CRENSHAW - Marshall Crenshaw (1982) Already a critic's darling in the Big Apple, Crenshaw is a pop/rock classicist who plies early and mid-'60s musical motifs and their familiar romantic concerns as if he'd found them for the first time. With producer Gottehrer providing an apt bridge between that era and the '80s, Crenshaw and his lean but melodic rock trio manage to deliver peppy but precise readings of teen anthems for the new age, celebrating the big city ("Rockin' Around In N.Y.C.), hip non-conformity ("Cynical Girl"), rock itself ("She Can't Dance") and, naturally, girls. Also included is a fine cover of "Soldier of Love," recorded originally by Arthur Alexander and later by The Beatles.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

MARSHALL CRENSHAW - Field Day (1983) Crenshaw's second album hews to the lean and hungry trio settings used on his debut, while opting for an updated production polish courtesy of producer Lillywhite. There's still a classic feel to the layered, echo-laden vocals and Crenshaw's jangling guitars, both befitting his penchant for writing short, smart anthems faced with melodic honks. The set's only possible drawback: the dominance of too many midtempo tunes. Whenever You're on My Mind" (a great single), "Our Town," "All I Know Right Now," and "Monday Morning Rock" are highlights.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

MARSHALL CRENSHAW - Downtown (1985) With the help of producer T-Bone Burnette and a handful of session sidemen, Crenshaw delivered a strong collection of originals and covers. Highlights include a version of Ben Vaughn's "I'm Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)" and Crenshaw's own "The Distance Between." This set of straightforward American rock, brightened with touches of wit and whimsy, is one of Crenshaw's best efforts. One of the best songs, "Blues Is King," was co-produced by Crenshaw and Mitch Easter.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE CURE - Disintegration (1989) Pouty U.K. band led by Robert Smith returns stripped down to the bone on this melancholic, moody, and occasionally psychedelic 10-song collection. Album leans toward the act's sparse sound of the early '80's and has already found a hit with the forceful "Fascination Street," which has clicked outside the traditional college and alternative perimeters. "Lullaby," "Love Song," or the brilliant "Pictures Of You" are easy single contenders. The band became a top-selling group in the U.S. with this album, which sold a million copies and contains their #2 hit, "Love Song."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

DEF LEPPARD - Pyromania (1983) Of all the new generation of heavy metal bands, Def Leppard has been one of the most approachable because of the sense of melody behind the mandatory heavy riffing. Obviously, many hard rock fans agree as the first two Def Leppard albums went into the U.S. top 50 and subsequent touring has earned the British band a solid reputation. This album continues the formula which has worked so well contrasting hook-laden rockers ("Die Hard The Hunter," "Rock! Rock!") with punchy midtempo numbers and ballads ("Photograph," "Foolin'").   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

DEF LEPPARD - Hysteria (1987) If Pyromania was great pop-metal, Hysteria upped the ante a few more notches. With dense, elaborate instrumental layering and meticulous engineering, the album became known almost as much for its production values as for its terrific music. Drummer Rick Allen, who lost an arm in an automobile accident, adds an even harder core of bottom end with his specially rigged drum kit. As hardhitting as it is slicksounding, Hysteria became the standard-bearer for pop metal with anthemic tracks like "Rocket" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me." One of the masterpieces of the '80s that renewed the faith, for many, in sensible hard rock.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

DIRE STRAITS - Brothers In Arms (1985) Band's first studio album since 1982's exquisite Love Over Gold features an expanded lineup and a shift toward keyboards, but more than ever it's leader Mark Knopler's vision shaping the music. Evocative story songs ("Ride Across The River" and the title song), droll rockers ("Money For Nothing," "One World") and sultry ballads ("So Far Away") offer a slightly broader mix of commercial prospects. Immaculate digital production and, on CD and cassette, extended versions of four tracks.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

DAVE EDMUNDS - Twangin' (1981) Edmunds' passion for early rock'n'roll is given full rein here. Whether the songs are new or old, the spirit of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers lives in each composition. All the songs, except one, were recorded recently, but even the production sounds pretransistor, when vacuum tubes imparted a more hollow, more thumpy song. Playing on this LP is old Rockpile mate Nick Lowe. Altogether it's a good fun-time LP. Best cuts: "Baby Let's Play House," "I'm Only Human," "Living Again If It Kills Me."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

ELO - Secret Messages (1983) After the disappointing response to Time, which interrupted ELO's long string of radio-active, platinum-edged albums, this new set will be watched closely. Producer/songwriter Jeff Lynne has thus shrewdly side-stepped any lofty unifying concepts to concentrate on a set of generally strong songs that can stand on their own. In style and substance, the music rests squarely within the band's previous work, while adding a few new synthesizer twists to mesh more easily with the work of younger techno-pop successors. That should help tracks like the title song (inspired by the "backward masking" furor) and "Rock'n'roll Is King" bridge pop and AOR.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

DONALD FAGEN - The Nightfly (1982) The late great Steely Dan survives in both style and substance through this stunning debut for its keyboard player and chief vocalist. Fagen brings more than those musical signatures to bear on this loose concept set, however, using a typically blue-chip crew of crack players and crisp digital production to highlight songs steeped in the same mix of pop, blues and jazz perfected on Aja and Gaucho. As before, there's rich, ironic wit as he glimpses the "future" as envisioned in the '50s ("I.G.Y."), parties in a fallout shelter ("The New Frontier"), ducks Caribbean revolutionaries ("The Goodbye Look") or just waves soulfully (on a remake of Lieber/Stoller's "Ruby Baby," originally a hit for Gino). Expect pop, urban/contemporary, and even jazz formats to relish these songs.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

FLEETWOOD MAC - Mirage (1982) The platinum quintet's first studio album since 1979's ambitious Tusk initially invites comparisons to Rumours for the newest songs' trim pop/rock arrangements and classic melodic flow. Subsequent listens should make it clear this is anything but a step backward, however: as the production credit reveals, principal Tusk architect Lindsey Buckingham shows his evolving skill as arranger and instrumentalist, especially in the gloriously lush vocal charts, which recall the Beach Boys at their most expansive. With "Hold Me" already climbing fast, followup singles futures are also bright, with Christine McVie, Buckingham and Stevie Nicks all contributing some of their strongest songs yet, and a major tour augurs added momentum for late summer and fall.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS - A Flock Of Seagulls (1982) A Flock Of Seagulls create a layered and textured orchestral sound, which gives the band a haunting if high-glossed sound, in their basic techno-pop efforts. The band creates a pop cathedral of sound, which appears very impressive, even it it rings a bit hollow inside. They scored one big hit, "I Ran," in the driving, quick-tempo dance style that characterized most of their work. It's here, along with several similar tracks.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

DAN FOGELBERG - The Innocent Age (1981) This two-record conceptional LP marks a turning point in Fogelberg's career. Not only is it the singer/writer's most ambitious project, it also signals a newfound maturity. Though each song stands on its own, together the "song cycle" relates to the years of one's youth or the "innocent years," chronicled through poignant narratives. Though a majority of the songs are delivered in Fogelberg's melancholy often syrupy style, there are songs that rock and rock well at that. An impressive cast of players makes a sizeable contribution to the LP's success. An eight-page libretto is enclosed. Best cuts: "Hard To Say," "The Innocent Age," "Same Old Lang Syne," "Run For The Roses," "Stolen Moments."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

JOHN FOGERTY - Centerfield (1985) How can the former Creedence leader snare a hit after a nine-year hiatus? In this case, with a bracing return to form as a confident, uncompromised rocker who can convey youthful exuberance and mature introspection with equal conviction. Radio's building response to the first single, "The Old Man Down The Road," already portends his biggest post-Creedence hit, with strong sequels on hand in ample supply, including "Rock And Roll Girls," the country-edged "Big Train (From Memphis)" and the wistful "I Saw It On T.V.," a bittersweet capsule history of the last three decades. Mainstream pop and even country will make room for this music, which carries trace elements from recent pop without masking Fogerty's timeless, guitar-powered style.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

FOREIGNER - 4 (1981) Foreigner is back after more than a year's layoff with what might eventually develop into a classic. The group is spearheaded by new producer Lange and the recording debut of a streamlined Foreigner, reduced to a quartet consisting of guitarist Mick Jones, vocalist Lou Gramm, bassist Rick Wills and drummer Dennis Elliott. Rounding out the sound are such guest musicians as saxman Jr. Walker ("Urgent"), guitarist Hugh McCracken, synthesists Larry Fast and Tom Dolby, among others. The music is filled with tasty, full-bodied rockers ("Don't Let Go," "Night Life," "Urgent") and a change of pace ballad or two like "Waiting For A Girl Like You" and "Girl On The Moon."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

GLENN FREY - No Fun Aloud (1982) Glenn Frey's debut solo album following the breakup of The Eagles was a modest pop/rock effort with none of the ambitiousness of his former group. Frey introduced a light tone in a series of songs, many of them co-written with Jack Tempchin and punctuated by Al Garth's tenor sax work. "I Found Somebody" and "The One You Love" became Top 40 single hits, and the album went gold, but anyone expecting Frey to shoulder the mantle of The Eagles was bound to be disappointed.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

PETER GABRIEL - So (1986) His first formal studio set since 1982's Security does for Peter Gabriel what "Let's Dance" did for Bowie: By summing up and simplifying themes from his earlier work, "So" presents Gabriel with a warmth and directness almost certain to broaden his audience beyond the platinum mark. The first single, the sly and slinky "Sledgehammer," is already pounding onto mainstream turf with its Muscle Shoals-to-Mars synthesis of classic R&B moves, while AOR will find enough depth for heavy play. Add the soaring "In Your Eyes" and the haunting "Don't Give Up," a ballad pairing Gabriel with Kate Bush, and the odds tip toward a commercial breakthrough.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

GENESIS - Abacab (1981) Even though Genesis has been a consistently selling act over the years, their popularity should be further enhanced by the phenomenal success of drummer Phil Collins' solo LP Face Value, which spent 10 weeks in the top 10. The trio, comprised of Collins, bassist Mike Rutherford, and Tony Banks on Keyboards, maintains its progressive leanings on AOR-oriented tracks like "Abacab" clocking in at just over seven minutes, "Dodo/Lurker" at 7:30 and "Me And Sara Jane"; all showcase a fulsome, intricately arranged sound. Best cuts: "No Reply At All," "Abacab," "Dodo/Lurker," "Man On The Corner."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

GENESIS - Genesis (1983) The veteran rock trio's star is already aloft, thanks to the momentum afforded by Phil Collins' interim solo albums and the one-two punch of this set's first single and video, the smoldering "Mama." Their ensemble style continues to refine the more straightforward pop/rock slant developed since the late '70s, one straddling classic song form and atmospheric electronics. They still find room for more epic pieces (the two-part "Home By The Sea"), but it's tracks like "Illegal Alien," "Taking It All Too Hard" and "That's All" that will sustain their broader pop credentials. Co-producer Hugh Padgham's crisp sonic finish will further clinch broad AOR and CHR action here.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

GENESIS - Invisible Touch (1986) Despite their longevity and appeal as a touring band, Genesis has yet to enjoy the massive album sales achieved by group member Phil Collins. All that should change this time around, though, as the band enjoys a tremendous amount of momentum from the market strength of solo projects from Collins and Mike Rutherford. First single, "Invisible Touch," has a fast start, and "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" and "Land Of Confusion" sound like strong followup releases.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

GUNS N' ROSES - Appetite For Destruction (1987) Reigning terrors of the new L,A. hard rock/metal scene carve their first major-label notch with one of the finest examples of late-'80s hard rock. GNR's Aerosmith-derived sound has some fresh melodic wrinkles, while raw lyrics (album is stickered) play the bad-boy image to the hilt. Radio will have to select carefully, with "Paradise City" a fine bet. Once the kids get an earful, they should snap it up.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

GEORGE HARRISON - Cloud Nine (1987) Beatle's first solo in some time will benefit from unprecedented press fanfare and 20-years-ago-today nostalgia wave. But the music is pretty wonderful, too. Glittering assemblage of backup talent, including Eric Clapton, Elton John, Gary Wright, and Ringo Starr, powers this classily produced outing. Catchy single "Got My Mind Set On You" will deliver; album is deep in follow-up hits. Cloud Nine looms as Harrison's biggest since All Things Must Pass.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

HEART - Heart (1985) A move to a new label is the only change from the band's earlier work. The hard-driving rock of the Wilson sisters survives the move intact, and the power ballad "What About Love" should push them back into the upper reaches of the singles chart. Also strong: "If Looks Could Kill," "Nothing At All," "Never," "These Dreams."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

DON HENLEY - I Can't Stand Still (1982) Henley's post-Eagles solo bow stands in dark contrast to the generally upbeat mood of former partner Glenn Frey's recent album, but that's largely a plus: laced with edgy new rock elements and shadowed by a sense of social and political unrest untouched since the Eagles' Hotel California, Henley's new songs live up to the oft-mentioned but seldom earned notion of new creative growth. It's a leap from the romantic obsessions of his old band to his new concern for lost national purpose ("Long Way Home"), TV journalism ("Dirty Laundry"), illiteracy ("Johnny Can't Read," the deceptively perky single) and the threat of nuclear annihilation ("Them And Us"), but Henley makes that leap with aplomb. With radio finally making room for new rock, his intelligent synthesis of melodic pop and forceful rock could bridge his giant pop past and rock's newest constituency.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

DON HENLEY - Building The Perfect Beast (1984) Henley will likely be the Boy of Summer again this year with this solid release, his first in five years. Titular single has already become a No.1 album rock track, and there is no shortage of other potent material here. Certain to get further airplay exposure is "I Will Not Go Quietly," Henley's duet with Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses. Producer Danny Kortchmar, Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Stan Lynch, Edie Brickell, and Melissa Etheridge are among the guests providing strong support for Henley's distinctive voice.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

BILLY IDOL - Rebel Yell (1983) Tight rock arrangements featuring Steve Stevens's slashing guitar playing and Idol's vocal sneer. Idol has had two semi-hits with "Dancing With Myself" and "White Wedding," on this solo album he has found a collaborator in Stevens, and together they have forged some memorable and haunting rock with strong commercial potential. The title track, at least, deserves to be a hit.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

MICHAEL JACKSON - Thriller (1982) Jackson's second Epic album has the same mix of rhythmic dance tracks and plush midtempo ballads that made 1979's Off The Wall one of the most acclaimed albums of recent years. The lead-off single, a duet with Paul McCartney, is already in the top five, and there are several strong followup candidates here, suggesting that this album could repeat the four-single attack which led "Off The Wall" to its multi-platinum heights. The title track has the eerie, macabre touches that distinguished "Heartbreak Hotel," a hit from the Jacksons' last studio album, while "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin" has Jackson tackling a bolder reggae rhythm. Still other cuts have the irresistible pulse and energy that most memorably characterized the last album. That LP spent the better part of nine months in the top 10; you can bet this one will waste no time getting there.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

BILLY JOEL - Glass Houses (1980) Released on the heels of Joel's best album Grammy for 52nd Street, the singer/songwriter rocks out more than on previous albums. The material is more biting and harder-edged, punctuated by the effervescent playing of Joel's band. Joel's writing still leans towards the mainstream with plenty of hooks and memorable melodies, although he leans more towards the progressive (at least for him) on several cuts. His vocals also take on different tones, sounding very similar to Paul McCartney on "Don't Ask Me Why" and then changes gears to sound more in line with contemporary new wave singers. While there aren't as many slick and sweet ballads as on 52nd Street and The Stranger, it is to Joel's benefit that he has altered his successful style and dared to try something out of the norm. There's even one tune in which Joel dazzles with French verse. Superb guitar and sax work cushion Joel's piano.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

BILLY JOEL - The Nylon Curtain (1982) Joel's first studio album since the No. 1 Glass Houses 2 years ago is most notable for the strength and conviction of its lyrics, including those to "Allentown" and "Goodnight Saigon." The music again reflects the well-crafted pop/rock fusion that Joel honed in The Stranger and 52nd Street, two of the best-selling albums of the late '70s. While most of the songs have punch and bite, there are also some striking softer cuts, including the hushed, dramatic "Where's The Orchestra?," which closes the LP. "Pressure" is already shaping up as a major pop single, which will give this set its first sales impetus.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

BILLY JOEL - An Innocent Man (1983) Joel follows the thematically probing The Nylon Curtain with a deliberately lighthearted album based on the themes of dance and romance. The songs capture the innocence and charm of late '50s and early '60s pop while still sounding fresh and vital. The first single, "Tell Her About It," is mainstream pop at its most exuberant as is the sax-driven rocker "Christie Lee." The album is balanced by a series of midtempo doo-wop ballads which are ideal background for sharing sweet talk on the stoop.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

BILLY JOEL - The Bridge (1986) With the quadruple-platinum An Innocent Man just behind him, Joel is a likely top-of-the-chart repeater with this soulful pop collection. "A Matter Of Trust" leads the album, but other worthy tracks should score. Contenders include a duet with Cyndi Lauper, the co-composed "Code Of Silence"; the rhythmically leap-frogging "Getting Closer," with organ contributions by Steve Winwood and "Baby Grand," a blues-drenched duet with Ray Charles. Expect a hearty radio and retail welcome.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

JOURNEY - Escape (1981) Whether you love them or hate them, the members of Journey continue to make music that is right in the groove of AOR and mass-appeal playlists. With each LP, the San Francisco group gains more momentum and Escape continues that trend. The initial single, "Who's Crying Now," is arguably the best thing they've done both artistically and commercially. Not only is it one of the classiest love songs in some time, it shows there is more to the band than recycled guitar and keyboard riffs. The overall tone of the LP is one of creamy layered textures, poignant writing and well-constructed songs, both rockers and ballads. Steve Perry's vocals are at their best while Jonathan Cain on keyboards, Ross Valory on bass, Steve Smith on drums and Neal Schon on guitar supply the sock. Best cuts: "Who's Crying Now," "Still They Ride," "Escape," "Don't Stop Believin'," "Stone In Love."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

JOHN LENNON/YOKO ONO - Double Fantasy (1980) The five-year layoff has mellowed John and Yoko, evidenced in this collection of 14 songs, seven by Lennon and seven by Ono, in which the central theme is based on love and their enduring relationship. The album's sequencing alternates between each other's songs, making it almost a dialogue with Yoko responding to John's love songs. Yet it is also the sequencing that is the most disturbing part of the album. Even though Yoko's vocals no longer screech like in the past and are even in the mainstream of today's new wave, they nonetheless distract from Lennon's powerful material. The LP even ends with two Yoko compositions. "Watching the Wheels" is Lennon's answer to those wondering what he's been doing during his recording absence, "Woman," is one of his most poignant love songs, "Losing You," followed by Yoko's "I'm Moving On" both deal with one-time strife in their relationship while "Starting Over" is a memorable piece of '50s influenced rock. The playing of the band is crisp and the production flawless. With no offense to Yoko, more of Lennon would have made this a stronger effort.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

JOHN LENNON/YOKO ONO - Milk And Honey (1984) The long-awaited release of the slain artist's final collaboration with his musical and marital partner employs the same "dialogue" sequence and topical concerns as the duo's triumphant Double Fantasy set. If Lennon's vocals appear unfinished in spots, the collection's best tracks, including the current single, "Nobody Told Me," and the rough-hewn but touching "Grow Old With Me" from a cassette demo, will be embraced by fans and radio alike.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

JULIAN LENNON - Valotte (1984) This strong debut showcases Julian's remarkable vocal resemblance to his father, and Julian does so, eerily, on the not-bad title ballad. The album gave Julian his only two Top 10 hits, "Valotte" and "Too Late For Goodbyes."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

JULIAN LENNON - The Secret Value Of Daydreaming (1986) Second-generation rocker's followup to his highly successful debut looks to repeat his commercial conquests via a reteaming with producer Phil Ramone. Like its predecessor, Daydreaming mines a genial vein with a collection of mostly mid-tempo rockers that have appeal for both AOR and AC formats. Best bets for airplay are "Stick Around" and "You Get What You Want." Lennon's immediate acceptance by listeners was a pleasant surprise; this album should provide the proving ground for examining Julian Lennon on his own -- rather than on sentimental merits.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS - Sports (1983) Do You Believe In Love" proved that Lewis' gruff but friendly persona could click with both pop and rock fans when coupled with the right song. Here, his Bay Area sextet buttresses that prospect with several viable single contenders, starting with "Heart And Soul" and continuing through "The Heart Of Rock & Roll," which nods to new music styles without changing the News' own. Expect both mainstream pop and old guard AOR to take notice, and hope they respond to Lewis' secret weapon, a wry sense of humor ("Bad Is Bad" and "I Want A New Drug").   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

PAUL McCARTNEY - Tug Of War (1982) By reuniting with producer Martin and using a rotating cast of musicians, McCartney scores one of his most varied and satisfying albums in a decade. "Ebony And Ivory" is here, of course, but a second collaboration with Stevie Wonder ("What's That You're Doing") in even better and a more equal effort, while the lyrics throughout suggest a more thoughtful, even serious McCartney. Add his affectingly intimate tribute to the slain John Lennon ("Here Today"), and this is a stunning work auguring wide appeal.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

MICHAEL McDONALD - No Lookin' Back (1985) A long hiatus since McDonald's gold solo debut for the label should work largely to the former Doobie Brother's advantage, abetted by the more urgent, soulful pop that dominates this seamlessly produced sequel. Apart from a more bullish market likely to elevate its sales base, the set builds on the restless, even desperate energy that drives most of the first side, led by the title single and sustained by the ominous "Bad Times" and the lilting, propulsive "(I'll Be Your) Angel," a worthy black/pop crossover contender. Affairs of the heart dominate, but McDonald's courtly stance and open-ended imagery imparts spiritual tang.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM





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JOHN COUGAR (MELLENCAMP) - American Fool (1982) John Cougar has a rough and gravelly voice that he uses to good effect on well-written and thought-out pop/rock songs. The production here is crisp and to the point, with no fancy tricks. Everything is in its place. The music is spare and economical but it can reach the heart.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP - Uh-Huh (1983) His reversion to his real name won't eclipse Mellencamp's now familiar brand of heartlands rock, which kicks off here with a driving, Stones-styled corker, "Crumblin' Down," already out as a single. That song is only one of many here recalling the Glimmer Twins' heartiest work, but the effect is more homage than rip-off, thanks to the songs' emphatic Yankee self-image, which reaches a sardonic peak on "Pink Houses." His writing overall continues to improve, and shrewd collaborations (such as "Jackie 0," written with John Prine) are enabling Mellencamp to broaden his style without sacrificing his bedrock vigor. An AOR automatic.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP - Scarecrow (1985) Mellencamp follows a pair of double platinum albums, American Fool and Uh-Huh, with a set again focusing on the hopes, aspirations and fears of everyday people in his native Midwest. The first single from the set, "Lonely Ol' Night," is already in the top 25, snd at least two additional singles, "Small Town" and "Rain On The Scarecrow," wait in the wings. Other key cuts include "R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A.," a bristling salute to '60s rock, and "Between A Laugh And A Tear," which features vocals by Rickie Lee Jones.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP - The Lonesome Jubilee (1987) Here Mellencamp infused his Heartland rock with a strong dose of acoustic and country instrumentation in the form of fiddle, accordion, hammer dulcimer, dobro, banjo, and pedal steel. Thematically, he attempted to flesh out the big statements that predominated his previous album Scarecrow. In spite of the fact that Mellencamp's admonishments (with almost Biblical undertones) are delivered with the proselytizing earnestness of the recently converted, Jubilee's spirited performances and memorable melodies make this one of his best efforts. Highlights include "Check It Out," "Paper in Fire," "Rooty Toot Toot," and "Cherry Bomb."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

MEN AT WORK - Business As Usual (1981) This was one of the top albums in Australia last year and it's easy to see why. Easygoing without being punchless, smooth without being saccharine, this pop/rock band neatly straddles the line between the so-called old and new waves. "Who Can It Be Now?" and "People Just Love To Play With Words" are especially effective.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

GEORGE MICHAEL - Faith (1987) Though the rock intelligentsia routinely dismiss Michael's material as fluff, it's often weighty enough to hold down the top slot on the charts. Michael seems to have a broad understanding of all aspects of pop, from the rockabilly of the title track and the heartfelt ballad "Father Figure" to the R&B dance grooves of the megahit "I Want Your Sex." With the rhapsodic ballad "One More Try," and especially the current single, "Faith," an extraordinary piece of pop, how can Michael's first Wham-less album do anything less?   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE MOODY BLUES - Long Distance Voyager (1981) It's been more than three years since the group's Octave reunion LP. While that was a rather uneven package, the group is in prime form here with a knockout collection of gorgeous melodies, harmonies and poetic lyrics. This is the kind of music that made the Moody Blues perennial favorites during the heydays in the late '60s and early '70s. The material is evenly divided among writers Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Ray Thomas and Graeme Edge with the LP maintaining a consistent flow. Patrick Moraz, who played keyboards on the group's "Octave" tour, remains with the group in place of original member Mike Pinder. Best cuts: "Gemini Dream," "The Voice," "22,000 Days," "Meanwhile."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

MR. MISTER - Welcome To The Real World (1985) Fans of obsessively elaborated studio baroque -- of constructs masquerading as songs, virtuasity attempting to pass for excitement, hair styles parading as brains -- loved this record. "Broken Wings" and "Kyrie" were massive hits. Those who prize spontaneity, idiosyncracy, high spirits or any of the other qualities commonly associated with rock & roll loathed the sucker. There is no arguing with either side. You know who you are; if this record reflects your world, welcome to it.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

NEW ORDER - Technique (1989) Reigning English synth/dance unit is back with another well-honed outing that should please devoted acolytes. Ex-Joy Divisioners already have a modern rock hit happening with "Fine Time," which could be followed up neatly by the incessantly rhythmic "Round And Round." Expands the band's trademark sound by adding elements of dense acid house rhythms, the occasional acoustic guitar, and a greater reliance on pop melody. All of the subtle experimentation makes Technique one of their most intriguing and successful records. A worthy follow-up to last year's 12-inch-hits package Substance.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

STEVIE NICKS - Bella Donna (1981) Fleetwood Mac's in-house poet goes solo with a collection of atmospheric short stories that continue in the tradition of "Rhiannon," "Sara" and "Dreams." The material ranges from thought-provoking tales like the country-tinged "After The Glitter Fades" and "Bella Donna" to the high energy of "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," performed with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Two tracks, "Leather And Lace" and "The Highwayman" were cut with Eagle Don Henley. Yet underlying each track is Nicks' haunting vocal style and a lyrical quality that has developed into a style all her own. Best cuts: "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," "Bella Donna," "How Still My Love," "After The Glitter Fades."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT - The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980) The Turn of a Friendly Card was The Alan Parson Project's second straight number 13 album, but it proved more successful than either Pyramid or Eve, going platinum and spending over a year on the charts. Musically, the group had matured, offering intricate, carefully crafted pop songs that were exacting in detail. Thematically, the record seemed to be their slightest effort to date, as it superficially explored the medieval ramifications of a card game. Dig a little deeper, however, and the record reveals itself to be a rumination about destiny versus the choice of self-determination. It features the hit, "Games People Play."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT - Ammonia Avenue (1984) Parsons and partner Eric Woolfson have already burnished their production style to a point where only minor revisions can be detected with each new set: while the cast of vocalists and players may change slightly, the overall style is now fully established. Here, that means new exercises in the stately, soft-rock vein that has brought widespread pop acceptance and platinum sales, including several strong singles contenders, "Prime Time" and "Don't Answer Me" dominant among them. Add an arresting new video, which could supply additional familiarity for the non-touring act, and this could breed one of their strongest radio and sales sets yet.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT - Vulture Culture (1985) Parsons' clean yet driving studio creations remain the ultimate in radio fare, while affording softer mainstream options as well. Musically, it's a bit tougher and more ambitious than Ammonia Avenue, though it basically reiterates the same themes as its predecessor, only in a more abstract way. Expect strong exposure to core rock fans, who've enabled Parsons to cross the platinum threshold in the past. Best tracks: "Let's Talk About Me," "Days Are Numbers" and "Separate Lives."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

PET SHOP BOYS - Please (1986) The American debut for this British duo is an atmospheric synth/pop collage with rich electronic orchestrations and troubled themes on its mind. "West End Girls" typifies their charm. At first listen, most of the songs come off as mere excuses for the dance floor, driven by cold, melodic keyboard riffs and pulsing drum machines. However, the songcraft that the beats support is surprisingly strong, featuring catchy melodies that appear slight because of Neil Tennant's thin voice. The crass "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)," the lulling "Suburbia," and the hypnotic "West End Girls" are not only classic dance singles, they're classic pop singles.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS - Hard Promises (1981) This LP bristles with passion, something that the competition never manages to convey with the exception of a few artists. This is what rock'n'rolI should be -- convincing, emotion-laden vocals, blazing instrumentals, melody, and above all a true sense and command of the rock language. Petty's influences are still noticeable, i.e. the Byrds, yet he's managed to integrate those styles into a unique brand of rock. "The Waiting," "A Woman In Love (It's Not Me)," "You Can Still Change Your Mind," and "Kings Road" convey power, romanticism and all the thrills that make rock still exciting. The Heartbreakers are in all their glory. Best cuts: those mentioned, plus "Something Big," "Insider."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS - Long After Dark (1982) The highlights of this album, "Straight into Darkness," "Change of Heart," "Deliver Me," and "You Got Lucky," may be some of Petty's best, but much of Long After Dark suffers from weak melodies and flat-sounding production.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

TOM PETTY - Full Moon Fever (1989) This album could appropriately be titled "Tom Petty & the Traveling Heartbreakers." Though this is his first solo effort, Petty has plenty of company with three of the Heartbreakers and all of the Wilburys except Bob Dylan stopping by. The result is a stunning blend of the HeartBreakers' rock and the Wilburys' country roll. First single, "I Won't Back Down," has already topped the album rock tracks chart and is moving up the Hot 100. There's plenty more where that came from, including the Byrds' Feel A Whole Lot Better," "Free Fallin'," and the beautifully simple "Alright For Now."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

PINK FLOYD - A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (1987) Most commercial Pink Floyd effort since The Wall despite absence of that album's main writer, Roger Waters, now a solo artist after an extended wrangle over rights to group's name. Featuring longtime members David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Rick Wright, the album recalls Gilmour's solo projects, with typical Floydian female chorus tacked on. Accessible, airworthy, and the lucrative answer to "What's in a name?   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE POLICE - Ghost In The Machine (1981) Their fourth album marks subtle but ultimately potent shifts in style for the platinum trio, until now plying their reggae inflections and the imaginative interplay of rhythm section and Andy summers' atmospheric guitar effects as signatures. New here is a more forthright pop verve, previewed on the set's first single, "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," which reveals vocalist/writer Sting's willingness to drop his stylized Trenchtown accent when the material dictates it. Other added twists include the addition of synthesizer and keyboard textures that bring a new sweep to the playing. Still, the band's determination to balance romantic pop conventions with social consciousness remains very much in evidence. In short, this is smart, stylish and infectious modern pop of the first order. Best cuts: "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," "Spirits In The Material World," "Invisible Sun," "Hungry For You," "Too Much Information," "One World."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE POLICE - Synchronicity (1983) "Every Breath You Take" is already a big hit, and radio programmers are going to find that they can drop the needle just about anywhere on this disk and come up with an airworthy cut. The nervous "Mother" here is a bit of a departure for the Police, sounding a little like King Crimson on a bad trip, but "Wrapped Around Your Finger," "Miss Gradenko," and the two title tracks are vintage Police stuff, at the same time melodic, simple, but lyrically complex and maintaining a depth of sound belying the band's relatively straightforward instrumentation. This may be the Police's biggest.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

PRINCE & THE REVOLUTION - Purple Rain (1984) This cinematic companion stands on its own as a potent spring-board to a vastly broader audience for the saucy pop'n'funker, sustaining the surging, dance-ready thrust of his seminal Dirty Mind and 1999 sets while toning down lyric content. Less explicit proves no less sensuous, however, as the smash single, "When Doves Cry," and a clutch of the album's slower, sultrier numbers testify; at the other end of the spectrum, new, fevered uptempo workouts like "Let's Go Crazy" strike irresistable energy peaks that should translate to multi-format radio clout.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

R.E.M. - Murmur (1983) The R.E.M. four create a well-crafted new-music environment for their literate, sometimes Beatle-ish tune magic. "Radio Free Europe," "Pilgrimage," "Laughing" and "Talk About The Passion" are works of mature minds in a still-growing musical search. Quality songs in a young band make for interesting listening and high hopes. Out of all of their albums, none have the mood this one has -- it's the aural equivalent of the creeping kudzu on the cover.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

REO SPEEDWAGON - Hi-Infidelity (1980) REO Speedwagon has been lumped together with all the other Midwestern heavy metal bands for so long, it may be hard to break the stereotype. But this album though just may do it for them. While Gary Richrath's guitar is still prominent, The quintet forges a lighter pop sound this time around. The single, "Keep On Loving You," which is already charting, is a ballad and "I Wish You Were There" has an R&B/gospel touch. Thanks to the backing vocals, "In Your Letter" has the spunky charm of a 1950s pop song. Still, there is enough rock here to keep their many fans satisfied.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE ROLLING STONES - Tattoo You (1981) Beginning with the jump rock single "Start Me Up," the first side of the new Stones LP is a return to early '70s rock basics. "Neighbors," the final cut on the side, may allude to the more recent Stones' sound of "Send Her To Me," but the side is most memorable for the reintroduction of the sax into the groups sound, especially in "Slave." The band is as raunchy as ever in "Little T & A." The second side should be a favorite for lovers, fans of Stones' ballads and A/C programmers. All the songs here are slow to midtempo, and the band explores the various vocal and instrumental permutations of the ballad form, while retaining the quintessential Stones soul. Best cuts: those mentioned above, and "No Use In Crying," "Waiting For A Friend," "Worried About You."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

LINDA RONSTADT - Get Closer (1982) The songstress returns from a lengthy hiatus for stage and film work via this well-rounded pop/rock project, possibly her strongest since Simple Dreams. This time out, she balances uptempo rock (the arresting first single, a cover of the knickerbockers' "Lies" and a high-octane turn with the Exciters' "Tell Him") and ballads in equal measure, delving frequently into the early 60s for material from Lee Dorsey, Smokey Stoner and various country and R&B sources. Add a midtempo pop/soul duet with James Taylor (on "I Think It's Gonna Work Out Fine") and another selection from the famous trio sessions with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton (on Parton's "My Blue Tears"), and this is a multi-format charmer.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

BOB SEGER & THE SILVER BULLET BAND - Against The Wind (1980) Seger has become a master at delivering those smoky blues-tinged ballads and there's plenty of those here that have memorable melodies and hooks. Seger's gritty vocal style, especially on "Fire Lake" and the title cut, makes the songs unfold like stories with emphasis on lyrics as well as musicianship, similar to "Night Moves" and "Still the Same." While there's enough boogie music to keep the action hot, the majority of tracks, especially on side two are more in the uptempo ballad form, a style that Seger has sharpened to perfection. And while Seger is in the spotlight, he couldn't have pulled it off without the incredible playing of his band. Alto Reed's sax solos are superb as are the guitar solos by Seger, Drew Abbott and Pete Carr. Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Tim Schmitt contribute harmony on "Fire Lake."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

PAUL SIMON - Graceland (1986) This risky, quite brilliant work by the veteran songwriter is a true outside shot for chart success, but it is undeniably among the best and most ambitious albums of the year. Simon lays some expert compositions against shimmering instrumental backdrops by a host of great African musicians and East Los Angeles' Los Lobos. Superb.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - The River (1980) Rarely do albums with great expectations live up to their pre-release anticipation, yet Springsteen's doulble-album set puts to rest any doubt that the man is contemporary music's greatest rock'n'roller. There is no other recording artist who puts as much passion into his music, pouring his heart into songs about adolescence, cars (a favorite subject matter), growing up, romance, and desolation, all written with a probing pen and a sense of melody. Springsteen unveils more of a melodic side, evidenced in the moving ballads and rockers. Reliable Clarence Clemons on sax enhances the majesty of Springsteen's music while the impeccable playing of his E Street Band supports the Boss with a feisty rock punch. The intense energy level gives much of the material a live feel, Springsteen is on tour promoting the LP.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - Nebraska (1982) The big one for Christmas, and rightfully so. Only a popular artist of Springsteen's stature could assemble 10 exciting, listenable sides of live performances. This career retrospective charts the Boss' progress from the ebullient urban romanticism of "Rosalita" to the furious social commentary of "Born In The U.S.A." and the biting new "Seeds." Superior in every respect and a commercial KO to boot.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - Born In The U.S.A. (1984) Bruce Springsteen wasn't just born to run from one stage to the next. He was born in the U.S.A., and his sense of pride permeates this blockbuster release. Writing like the William Faulkner of Monmouth County, Springsteen is still searching for the right exit from the post-industrial wilderness. His voice sounds like a new instrument, and nothing beats the guitar raunch of "I'm Going Down." The Arthur Baker remix of the "Dancing In The Dark" single, coupled with a summer tour, will pave the way for the chilling title song, an uplifting nod to the Vietnam vet, to rock the nation's election-year airwaves as surely as the sun shines on the Jersey shore.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - Tunnel Of Love (1987) Brooding, often musically spare album shows yet another side of this protean artist, as he probes the darker corridors of romance. While not as lean or harrowing as Nebraska, album does display similarly uncompromising vision that may not be embraced by recently recruited fans. But hard-hitting "Brilliant Disguise" is finding commercial acceptance, and title tune and "One Step Up" loom as potential follow-ups. Marketplace considerations aside, this is masterful work.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

STEELY DAN - Gaucho (1980) Three years after Aja, Becker and Fagen returned with the obsessively streamlined Gaucho. This impeccably recorded set contained two fine hits, "Hey Nineteen" and "Time out of Mind." "Babylon Sisters" was another memorable highlight, while the title track sported one of the most entrancingly convoluted melodies of their career. However, "Glamour Profession," with its sophisticated disco feel, seemed tailor-made for the perpetual happy hour.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

STING - The Dream Of The Blue Turtles (1985) Perhaps the most anticipated release of the summer, and the wait proves well worth it: Police vocalist/bassist's solo collection features 10 tunes, and not a throwaway in the batch. First single, "If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free," is already a hit, and "Fortress Around Your Heart" appears to be lined up as the second single. But aside from raising an eyebrow towards the charts, ting's album has to be admired for its strong identity and wealth of ideas. The Monk-ish title tune and ambitious compositions like "We Work The Black Seam" and "Moon Over Bourbon Street" are the work of an original artist. First class.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

STING - Nothing Like The Sun (1987) Second solo album by the Policeman is an exceptionally rich two-record set that shows Mr. Sumner expanding musically, emotionally, and politically. Not as lively and concise as Dream due to the heavy, political lyrics (on such songs as "They Dance Alone" and "Fragile"), this is a good album, nevertheless. Funky first single, "We'll Be Together," will get the ball rolling commercially. Sting excels here on vocals and bass; he's backed by a corps of fine sidemen, including Branford Marsalis, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Ruben Blades, and the Gil Evans Orchestra (on Hendrix's "Little Wing").   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

STYX - Paradise Theater (1980) Styx is one of those groups that just when you think they've peaked come back with an equally if not more impressive outing. This new concept LP centers around Chicago's Paradise Theatre, which was demolished in 1958. Perhaps more than on any previous Styx album, the vocals, lyrics and playing merge into a cohesive whole with plenty of emphasis on striking melodies and disciplined vocal delivery. The instrumental passages are supported with horns that compliment the taut guitar, keyborad, bass and drums parts. The lyrics unfold in story form until it climaxes with the theatre's destruction (due to a lack of funds to keep it open). Check out the smooth harmonies since they are among the most fluid of all rock acts. The label is mounting a well-constructed marketing campaign to support both the LP and Styx tour.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE THOMPSON TWINS - Into The Gap (1984) The techno-pop trio is already off to a running start, thanks to the dreamy "Hold Me Now," which leads off this latest slice of evocative pop. Solid production, rich arranging details should help clinch the album's reception. Featuring the hits "Doctor, Doctor" and "Hold Me Now," this is the best single album.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE THOMPSON TWINS - Here's To Future Days (1985) On their follow-up to the commercial breakthrough Into the Gap, The Thompson Twins attempt to toughen up their sound, but the results are only partially successful. In fact, the most infectious number, "Lay Your Hands on Me," sounds like it could have been an outtake from the previous album.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE TUBES - The Completion Backward Principle (1981) This first set for Capitol continues the Tubes' recent emphasis on music first, satire second, with enough sturdy pop and rock hooks to seduce AOR listeners otherwise indifferent to the Bay Area troupe's caustic world view. If David Foster's sleek production points up danceability, the topical barbs are still in evidence, ranging from Japanese food ("Sushi Girl") and horror movies ("Attack Of The Fifty Foot Woman") to mass murderers ("Mr. Hate"). Best cuts: "Talk To Ya Later," "Let's Make Some Noise" and those mentioned above.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

TINA TURNER - Private Dancer (1984) The one that won her a pile of awards, and rightly so, because it's simply her finest solo album. Using a multitude of producers and cut in a variety of locations, Private Dancer still sounds amazingly unified. Includes the title cut, "What's Love Got to Do with It," "Let's Stay Together," "Better Be Good to Me," and a blistering Jeff Beck solo on "Steel Claw."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

U2 - War (1983) This album was a major turning point for U2 -- the band went from being a minor Irish band to being a world-renowned rock group. War retains some of the anger that is found on Boy, but it is more subtle and mature. This album features some of U2's best-known songs -- "New Year's Day," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "Seconds," and "Two Hearts Beat as One." In spite of all the protest, aggression, and outrage in these songs, the album ends with the optimistic "40," a song that sets the uplifting words of Psalm 40 to music. With such spectacular songs and emotion, War is a must for any fan of rock music.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

U2 - The Joshua Tree (1987) No change in formula -- almost every song is a thought-provoking piece of rock that slowly builds to a crescendo -- but here it is carried out to near perfection with the help of producers Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and Steve Lillywhite, who mixed three songs. First single, "With Or Without You," flew out of the box, picking up top 40 adds right and left as well as rock play, and the album reportedly shipped platinum; seven-month world tour and second Amnesty International benefit should push sales far beyond that.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

VAN HALEN - 1984 (1984) Pasadena's platinum quartet strikes again in a market riper than ever for their raucous hard rock. Funnier and more versatile than most of their metal brethren, they add traces of modern rock -- notably Eddie Van Halen's prominent use of synthesizers for the title overture and chordal dressing elsewhere -- without diluting the classic guitar focus of the band. David Lee Roth's vocal mien remains as salacious as ever, even without the off-the-wall cover tune usually included, and production is typically strong. "Jump" is already off to a strong start, and this set will follow suit.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

VAN HALEN - 5150 (1988) Sammy Hagar steps confidently into the frontman slot left by David Lee Roth, while the brothers Van Halen and Michael Anthony bring reliable pyrotechnics to this latest batch of songs. First single, "Why Can't This Be Love," already augurs a top 10 hit and another platinum album for the quartet, although Hagar trades some of the band's comic smarts for a more straightforward rock sensibility. Other singles prospects are capped by the driving "Best Of Both Worlds" and "Higher."   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

THE WHO - Face Dances (1981) Pete Townshend's hit solo album hinted last year, this venerable quartet is closing in on its second decade with renewed vitality -- a formidable prospect, given their consistent strengths. With a new label, a new producer and Kenney Jones making his "Face Dances," this is nothing less than the strongest Who album in a decade, propelled by the classic guitar phrasing and soaring synthesizer textures that last peaked on Who's Next in 1971. From an extended version of the stunning new single, "You Better You Bet," to the final bars of "Another Tricky Day," the set balances its uptempo pace against some of Townshend's strongest melodies and lyrics yet. Szmczyk's full, clean production is added airplay insurance, and dealers will love the display potential of the cover art, included as a poster.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

STEVE WINWOOD - Back In The High Life (1986) Winwood's return is worth the wait: dropping his largely self-contained production style to tap a first-rate supporting cast, he delivers vivid, rhythmic pop with spicy R&B accents while flexing his indelible vocal stamp. "Higher Love," the lively first single, is only the start of what should be one of the summer's most visible successes as well as the latest chapter in Winwood's always-fascinating evolution. Expect mainstream pop, black, AC, and AOR options.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

YES - 90125 (1983) Now that Asia has purloined its old instrumental attack, this reformed Yes lineup has shrewdly opted for a sonic update, reinforced here by producer Trevor Horn. New guitarist Trevor Rabin brings more restrained rhythm work and simpler, high-register solos to replace Steve Howe's more rococo style, while keyboardist Tony Kaye sculpts thick synthesizer backdrops. Jon Anderson's lead vocals provide the link to the band's past, and the songs are well-crafted pop/rock that should appease both old fans and potential new ones.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

ZZ TOP - Eliminator (1983) The raucous Texas rockers do add some electronic twists on side two, in an obligatory nod toward synthesizer rock, but have no fear: the main suit remains Billy Gibbons' snarling guitar, rhythm section Dusty Hill and Frank Beard plying their arsenal of foursqaure boogie vamps, and original songs that continue to mix good-humored macho with a generous shot of wry modern folklore. Metal-minded AOR programmers will find that equation refreshing but still forceful.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM

ZZ TOP - Afterburner (1985) The Lone Star blues rockers clinch their platinum breakout on Eliminator with this solid followup, which probably cuts its predecessor in terms of material. By now, the trio's stripped-down, guitar-driven rock is comfortably familiar, with high-tech embellishments held to an undercurrent of synthesizer tones and percussion effects that never rival Billy Gibbons' hot guitars or Frank Beard's loping backbeat. As always, though, it's the band's loopy, tongue'n'cheek lyrics that deliver the coups de grace: whether meditating on life in outer space ("Planet Of Women"), extolling the virtues of the great outdoors ("Sleeping Bag") or creating a new "dance" craze ("Velcro Fly"), they excel at sly fun.   Amazon.com  CD Universe  GEMM








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