The Petty Archives

The 10 Best Rock and Roll Albums of the '80s
By Kevin Knopf
Synapse - January 18, 1990

The '80s were a very important period in rock music with the emergence of many new and exciting groups. In the late '70s punk rock shook the musical foundation and paved the way for a new wave of musical groups from both Britain and the United States. Groups like Husker Du, X, the Minutemen, and the Replacements retained strong ties to punk and produced great music in the '80s. Rap music came on the scene and continues to exert a heavy influence.

Established musicians like David Byrne and Paul Simon turned to new rhythms to add variety to their music, with wonderful results. Led Zeppelin's commanding presence in the '70s was taken over by a wide range of heavy metal bands in the 80s. A host of new wave groups produced interesting albums in the late '70s and early '80s -- the Cars, and the Police being noteworthy. A wide range of new artists such as the Sugarcubes, 10,000 Maniacs, Prince, and Camper Van Beethoven made their presence known. And for what it was worth, the '80s also had Madonna.

But my top 10 list does not include any of these artists.

Observant readers will note my extreme bias in these selections -- all the albums are relatively mainstream and almost all of them were produced by well established groups. The criteria for the list is pretty simple; it includes albums that I think one could listen to into the '90s and still enjoy. And that is what makes an album a classic.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Long After Dark"
Bob Dylan called this band "one of the last great American rock and roll bands," and he meant it. Never in the '80s was a group more musically matched than Petty and his backup band. Benmont Tench (keyboards), Mike Campbell (lead guitar), Ron Blair (Bass) and Stan Lynch (on drums) playing as a unit put out an incredible rock and roll sound to back up Tom's look-how-you-hurt-me lyrics. The album is perhaps the most hard-edged the band has produced but songs like "Change of Heart" and "Straight into Darkness" were instant Petty classics.