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25 Best Albums of the Year (1988)

November 5, 2013

’80s college rock website Slicing Up Eyeballs has spent the past year creating lists of the best 100 albums for each year in the 1980s. Their method is to have readers spend a month selecting their favorite albums and then tally up the choices, posting the winners at the end of each month. Even if this is more of a contest of which albums are the most popular, as ooposed to truly the best (whatever that actually means), I love ’80s college rock (and everyone loves lists) so I can’t resist looking at the results at the end of each month. Last month the site covered arguably the best year of the decade, 1988. For 1988, the quality at the top of the list is simply incredible. Several of the albums on this list rank among my favorite all-time, while others still are excellent offerings by bands I love.

One thing to note is that I was but a child in 1988. My musical tastes at the time were not what they are now.  My favorite album from 1988 in 1988 was, not coincidentally, the best selling album of 1988, George Michael’s Faith. It would be a year or two before I developed a taste for good music. As a result, there are many critically acclaimed albums from that year that I just haven’t listened to just yet. I plan to get around to most of them … eventually. For now, that means my list is split into two parts: First, ten albums that I believe might be very good that I want to get around to listening to at some point in the next hundred years. Then, my 15 favorite albums from 1988, as of this moment.

The Slicing Up Eyeballs results can be found here. As promised, here are ten albums from 1988 that I believe might be very good, but I just don’t know:

25.          Danzig – Danzig

I’ve never listened to a single song from Danzig, at least not as far as I know. If I was going to start it would be with their self-titled debut. Honestly, I may need all of those hundred years to get to this one.

24.          The Fall – The Frenz Experiment

A Manchester post-punk band, The Fall should be right in my wheelhouse. Nevertheless, despite crossing their paths now and again when devouring myself in bands like Joy Division, I never made the proper effort to listen to this band. To be fair, I probably wouldn’t start with this, their 10th album. I could see falling in love with the Fall though, if I only gave them the time of day.

23.          The Feelies – Only Life

The third album and major label debut from this influential band, this record sits on a shelf in my home waiting to be listened to. Of note, it contains a Velvet Underground cover, “What Goes On”.

22.          Butthole Surfers – Hairway to Steven

For the longest time all I ever knew about this foul-named band was their 1996 hit single “Pepper”. Man did I ever love the song Pepper in 1996. I learned so much more about this disturbing band that set out to frighten, alienate and gross people out by way of Michael Azerrad’s brilliant book, where they were one of the 13 indie bands featured. Interesting tidbit about Hairway to Steven (from Wikipedia): The album did not have song titles when first released, and instead represented each track with an absurdist, often scatological, cartoon. Now that sounds like the band Azerrad was talking about.

21.         Siouxsie and the Banshees – Peepshow

“Peek-a-Boo” is a huge hit single, but I don’t otherwise know the album that Eyeballs readers had at #6 on their list. For that reason alone, Peepshow is worth a listen or three.

20.         The Sugarcubes –  Life’s Too Good

The coming out party for Björk, The Sugarcubes are just your everyday Icelandic alternative rock band. No wonder I missed them.

19.          James – Strip-mine

James’ 1993 Brian Eno produced album Laid is probably one of my ten favorite albums of all time. Still, I’ve never once gotten my hands on a copy of their second album, 1988’s Strip-mine. If one of you loyal readers has a copy for me – in any format – I’d be forever grateful. (At a minimum, I’ll trade you one of my extra copies of Laid on CD. Somehow I own three.)

18.         Ciccone Youth – The Whitey Album

Before we get to Sonic Youth’s 1988 masterpiece, we have to stop and consider The Whitey Album, a side project by the members of Sonic Youth (plus the Minutemen’s Mike Watt) meant to poke fun at late-’80s pop music. How strange it must be to listen to these indie rock stars cover (sort of) Madonna and Robert Palmer. For the sheer novelty of it, and as a Sonic Youth completist, I will get here.

17.         N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton

And also …

16.         Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

How I read this book without having listened to either of these two albums is a mystery. I’m convinced that It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is one of the greatest albums of all time, solely from having read about it. That shows how passionately some people feel about it. It currently sits on my mp3 player, the next ’80s album I plan to devour.

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Now, my 15 favorite albums from 1988, as of this moment:

15.          Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock – It Takes Two

And here’s the hip-hop album that I actually did listen to in 1988. Novelty act? Absolutely. But I got more enjoyment out to these two than I ever could have imagined.

14.         Fine Young Cannibals – The Raw & The Cooked

The Raw & The Cooked contains two huge hit singles that are forgotten today, but were popular for a solid ten year run that began when this album was released. “She Drives Me Crazy” and “Good Thing” may both seem dated now, but give them a listen and I’m sure you’ll agree that they’re better than you remembered.

13.         Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Session

I picked up this album recently, simply to have a vinyl copy of their beautiful cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane”. I don’t know which is better – the original or the Cowboy Junkies version. Considering this is the Velvet Underground I’m talking about, that’s really saying something.

12.         Soundgarden – Ultramega OK

Pre-Nirvana, pre-grunge, Seattle music. This debut album doesn’t sound like the Soundgarden you’re probably familiar with – it’s far more hard rock, and much much louder – but I think it’s as good as anything they’ve done. It’s too bad this album is often overlooked (as most pre-Nirvana grunge albums are).

11.          U2 – Rattle and Hum

A great example of why I think 1988 was so amazing. In any other year this album would certainly crack the top 10. In my opinion, this was U2 at their finest. “All Along the Watchtower”. “Helter Skelter”. “Pride (In the Name of Love)”. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. Hard as he tries, Bono can’t (completely) ruin this album for me.

10.         Pet Shop Boys – Introspective

I didn’t expect to have a Pet Shop Boys album anywhere on my list, let alone in the top 10, but Introspective is deserving. This album isn’t boring pop/dance music – it’s long, complex, interesting dance songs. In their album versions, “Left to My Own Devices”, “Domino Dancing”, “Always on My Mind” and “It’s Alright” are each at least seven minutes long. The radio versions are very good; the album is better.

9.            Mudhoney – Superfuzz Bigmuff

Sure it’s an EP, but it’s the best work that Mudhoney ever did. And since I can’t think of anything better to say, how about I direct you to my review of the Mudhoney show at Bowery Ballroom earlier this year?

8.            Talking Heads – Naked

Talking Heads’ final studio album is, like all of their albums, still a great listen over 20 years later. It makes you wonder how much more they could have accomplished had they stayed together. The band had a really great run – Naked was their eighth album – yet for some reason I can’t help but think that David Byrne could have kept the Heads going for another decade without a dropoff in quality.

7.           They Might Be Giants – Lincoln

Go to as many TMBG shows as I have and it’s easy to fall in love with any of their albums. Lincoln has fan favorites “Ana Ng”, Mr. Me” and “They’ll Need a Crane” among other TMBG classics. You could see in Lincoln the quirky brilliance that was about to explode with 1990’s Flood.

6.           Dinosaur Jr – Bug

A classic They Might Be Giants album at #7? Bug at #6? Yes, 1988 was that good.

5.            R.E.M. – Green

The major-label debut for the one alt rock band that was destined all along to be major label darlings. This album is so good that it holds up despite one its hit songs being the theme song to a Chris Elliot sitcom.

4.            Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking

For many years this album would have been either #1 or #2 on my list. It’s hard not to see Perry Farrell perform now though without liking Jane’s ever so slightly less. The man, like the music, hasn’t held up as well as I would have thought. That said, it’s hard to rate this album, that I thought so highly of for so many years, any lower than #4.

3.            Morrissey – Viva Hate

I went back and forth on the final three albums more times than I care to admit. How could any of them not be #1? Viva Hate has my two favorite solo Morrissey songs, “Suedehead” and “Every Day Is Like Sunday”. From 1990 – 2010 I probably would have put this album at #1 on this list. But right now – at this moment  in time – I find myself thinking that if given the choice to listen to only one of my top three albums, I’d choose either of the next two over Viva Hate. In this case, it has nothing to do with the album not aging well (it has) or the man performing badly live in concert in recent years (he hasn’t). This is purely about coming to the realization that these next two albums are just that good.

2.            Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation

I listened to over and over again while reading Matthew Stearns’ 33-1/3 entry about the album. And maybe Stearns’ over-effusive praised swayed me just a little bit. I don’t care. That just shows the power of the written word to enhance music. Daydream Nation may very well be the perfect album … yet I still don’t have it at #1.

1.            Pixies – Surfer Rosa

Oh Pixies, how much do I love thee? Enough that my second favorite Pixies album comes in ahead of my favorite Sonic Youth and Morrissey albums. Nirvana may have perfected loud-quiet-loud, but the Pixies invented it, and it’s pretty damn near perfect on Surfer Rosa. Please, someone, talk some sense into Kim Deal so that we can hear “Gigantic” performed live again.

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So there you have it. 1988, the greatest year in music ever. Maybe. How one really judge? It comes down to this for me: If forced to take only one year’s worth of music on a desert island, I think I’d choose 1988. The perfect blend of rock, alternative rock, indie, rap/hip-hop, Madchester, post-punk, and even a great They Might Be Giants album. 1988, you win.

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