10. Rio (Duran Duran, released 5/10/83)
Was Duran Duran the best male pop band of the 1980s? Probably not. But they were the best looking, their videos were the most adventurous and they had the catchiest songs -- even if none of them made any sense. I have just described everything that mattered in the '80s. The three-headed Taylor crew (drummer Roger, guitarists Andy and John), androgynous synth wiz Nick Rhodes, and charismatic front man Simon LeBon were focused and ready to take over the world. This album launched their superstardom and is the solitary reason why everytime I find myself sitting at the front of a boat, I feel compelled to yell, "HER NAME IS RIO AND SHE DANCES ON THE SAND!" Seriously.
Songs you should know: Rio, Hungry Like the Wolf, Save A Prayer
9. Raising Hell (Run-DMC, rel. 7/18/86)
Sometimes it's best to have your back placed firmly against the wall. After two pretty successful albums, childhood friends Joseph "Run" Simmons and Darryl "DMC" McDaniels had reached a pivotal crossroad: commercialize their music by merging further with rock, or stay true to the hip-hop culture of the streets of New York. What resulted was enough of both to make everyone happy, and arguably the most important album in rap history. They singlehandedly made a conservative MTV (yeah, I know) open the doors to rap music and set a bar for cohesion that even they couldn't live up to. There is nothing on this album to add or subtract. It is, as one of the songs on the album states, perfection. RIP Jam Master Jay.
Songs you should know: Walk This Way, My Adidas, Peter Piper
8. It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Public Enemy, rel. 4/19/88)
You will never understand how much I needed this album. The Bomb Squad's production, layered with multiple samples per song in the days before you had to pay for them, was fiery, relentless and unprecedented. ("Rebel Without A Pause" is the dopest beat ever made, period.) Chuck D wasn't even the best rapper on his own label (scroll down to album #5), but his threats felt like promises and his arguments were indisputable. And long before he became better known as the buffoonish headliner of several VH-1 dating reality shows, Flavor Flav was the buffoonish sidekick to the most influential rap group of its' time. But Flav never changed, the times changed. Without his mercurial court jester, the whole thing would've never worked.
Songs you should know: Don't Believe the Hype, Bring the Noise, Night of the Living Bassheads
7. Abbey Road (The Beatles, rel. 9/26/69)
The last Beatles album recorded (though not the last released), the bickering Fab Four had agreed to play nice long enough to end on a positive note. This is their funkiest album and also their most sublime. Abbey Road is the CD I play for my Beatle-hating friends without telling them who it is. Inexplicably, after nodding their head in agreement for minutes, they will ask who's playing, at which point, I will smack them over the head with a picture of Paul McCartney and storm out of the room. "Because" has some of their best harmonies ever. "You Never Give Me Your Money" is just amazing. I liked "Something" enough to put it on my wedding favor mix CD. And I liked the album enough to parody its famous cover on our wedding CD's cover.
Songs you should know: Come Together, Something, Here Comes the Sun
6. Purple Rain (Prince & the Revolution, rel. 6/25/84)
Despite my constant, romanticized comments about the greatness of the 1970s, so far we are seeing where my heart really lies. We will never see the likes of Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson again: part Hendrix, part James Brown, part Dylan, part Sly Stone, and still somehow completely, unabashedly original. I was more a Michael kid than a Prince kid, but the power of this soundtrack (and the accompaying movie, which still moves me despite its glaring flaws) was undeniable. The seamless blend of rock, soul, power ballads and synthesizers was mind blowing then, as it is still is today.
Songs you should know: Let's Go Crazy, Purple Rain, When Doves Cry
5. Bigger and Deffer (LL Cool J, rel. 7/1/87)
"I don't run from the cops/Makin' suckers jock/And I'm only 18/Makin' more than your pops."
Like OutKast's ATLiens, this was the risky sophomore album that could've killed his career. But the gamble paid off and it paid off so violently, that 19-year-old James Todd Smith became the reason I wrote my first rap. I've heard quotes from Bob Dylan fans who say that his songs were clues on how to live your life. Yeah, that's pretty much what happened to me with Bigger and Deffer.
On the very first song, "I'm Bad", his confidence is so adamant, it's infectious. What other song begins with "No rapper can rap quite like I can/I'll take a musclebound man and put his face in the sand?" He delivers well-written, imaginative tale after the other: the all-purpose girlfriend of our dreams in "Kanday," the ins and outs of a run-down local haunt ("The Bristol Hotel"), a vain but witty day-in-the-life excerpt ("The Do Wop"). We all know that rap and testosterone are nearly inseparable. But on track 9, he did the unthinkable. He made a soft rap love song (the legendary "I Need Love") with such gravity that even the haters had to sing along. It was a difficult balance. Go back and listen to Big Daddy Kane's attempts to cover similar ground. They sounded ridiculous, even back then, and precipitated his demise. LL's wild brashness made you want to reach the moon as well. Still does, in fact, 20 years later.
Songs you should know: I'm Bad, I Need Love, Go Cut Creator Go
4. Off the Wall (Michael Jackson, rel. 8/10/79)
It seems funny to say it now, but his career was thought to be dead. Even more dead that it appears to be at the moment, with his face all chopped and bleached, with child molestation charges as plentiful as the Los Angeles air has smog. He was going to be another Leif Garrett, probably, or Shaun Cassidy, a footnote. Whatever happened to whats his name from the Jackson 5? The critical and financial failure of The Wiz -- in which he'd appeared the year before as the Scarecrow -- didn't help. Enter Quincy Jones, the disco era, and one pissed off 20-year-old Virgo. What results is a masterpiece. Dude had Stevie, McCartney and David Foster writing songs for him. It is impossible to leave this album in a bad mood.
Songs you should know: Rock With You, Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough, I Can't Help It
3. Midnight Marauders (A Tribe Called Quest, rel. 11/9/93)
Things I remember as clearly as I remember anything: The day I bought the cassette. The first time I heard it in its entirety. Tripping off the bass kicks on "We Can Get Down." Buying it on CD a few months later. Listening to "Electric Relaxation" for hours at a time. Staring at the cover for days, trying to name every rapper featured. The first time I saw the video for "Award Tour." Arguing with some crazy girl over the dilemma posed in "Sucka Nigga." Hoping that one day I'd grow up to be as cool as Q-Tip. Digging through my parents' vinyl, trying to find the original samples. Spending a late night out with my boy Shawn that was eerily similar to the scenario described in "Midnight." Being amazed at the effortless chemistry between Tip and scrappy co-star Phife Dawg. Many people prefer their previous album, The Low End Theory, but to me, it's no contest. Marauders is more assured, hits harder, and, along with The Chronic, is possibly the most universally respected rap production made in the last twenty years. It gave me permission to be me.
Songs you should know: Award Tour, Electric Relaxation, Oh My God
2. Thriller (Michael Jackson, rel. 12/1/82)
This is like describing the merits of oxygen. I know my limitations.
Songs you should know: Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean
1. Talking Book (Stevie Wonder, rel. 10/27/72)
C'mon, now. How did you not know that Stevie Wonder would find his way to the top of this list? This is the only album that I own on cassette, vinyl, and CD, as well as the internet. I discovered it sometime in high school and it seems to follow me wherever I go. I directed one of my own plays as a freshman in college and closed it with "Blame It on the Sun." Made it through a disappointing relationship thanks to "Looking for Another Pure Love." (Jeff Beck's guitar solo here is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard in my life.) Wooed my wife with "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." And I refuse to die until I learn how to play "You and I (We Can Conquer the World)" on piano.
Over Thriller, you say? Better than the album you compared to oxygen, you say? Well, Thriller makes me appreciate greatness, but Talking Book makes me want to do something great. It, like many of the works listed here, was the work of someone who finally burst through after knocking on the door so long. And that encourages me. Because I'm still knocking.
Songs you should know: You Are the Sunshine of My Life, Superstition, I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)
The next 10 (for those who care): ATLiens, OutKast; The Beatles (The White Album), The Beatles; Late Registration, Kanye West; Licensed to Ill, The Beastie Boys; The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill; New Edition, New Edition; Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Raekwon the Chef; Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., The Monkees; The Revival, Tony! Toni! Tone; Speakerboxx/The Love Below, OutKast.
Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
12.21.07 @ 12:46a
This is a great top ten. I'm losing you a little on the next 10, but that's okay. However, the subtitle: r.i.p. albums through 2009? - man, the next big thing might hit in the next 2 years!
12.21.07 @ 7:13a
Dude. What a fantastic perspective.
I agree with Walker. Either one of you could be the next big thing by 2009!
12.21.07 @ 9:03a
As an oft-maligned male fan of Duran Duran, I must express my happiness at seeing the boys among your top ten. Also agree with Abbey Road and Thriller making the cut. I mean, what kid between the ages of 10 and 20 didn't have Thriller in 1983? Purple Rain was extremely influential as well. Nice list!
12.21.07 @ 1:20p
Purple Rain ONLY # 6??!?!?! Where's Marvin?? You have compiled a great list. I know this was a daunting task to narrow it down to only 10 and then to rank them too. Looking forward to the next 10.
12.23.07 @ 2:29a
Nice 10 man, they were all significant to my life as well:
10. Rio - Proved to me that white guys from England could no longer rock.
9. Raising Hell - Proved to me that black guys from the U.S. could.
8. It Takes a Nation - Proved that black guys could rock ANGRY!
7. Abbey Road - Proved that white guys from England could rock, but only when their girlfriends were pissing each other off enough to make going to the studio look like healthy fun.
6. Purple Rain - Proved that wicked guitarists, when clad in certain shades of velvet, can never rock no matter how hard they try. Also proved that dressing in certain shades of velvet always gets the chicks in the end.
5. Bigger and Deffer - Proved that being DEF was a good thing.
4. Off the Wall - Proved that white girls could dance.
3. Midnight Marauders - Proved that hip/hop actually had some soul.
2. Thriller - Proved that white zombies could dance better than white girls.
1. Talking Book - Proved that true soul is blind and true funk is in the ear of the beholder!
1.2.08 @ 10:40a
Based on the general tenor of this list, it's hard to believe "Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space)" by the Digable Planets didn't make the cut.