Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

[Note: Every Friday on First Thoughts we host a discussion about some aspect of pop culture. Today’s theme is music from the 1980s. Have a suggestion for a topic? Send them to me at ]

I hail from Generation X while my sixteen-year-old daughter is a member of Generation Y. Yet despite the alphabetical proximity, there is a vast generational chasm between us musically. I came of age in a time of FM radio, cassette tapes, and hoping they showed my favorite artist on Friday Night Videos ; she  grew up in an era of satellite radio, iPods, and when any video can be found on YouTube. To her—a girl who thinks N’Sync is “old school”—the music of my high school years is positively prehistoric.

Perhaps because of a lack of exposure, she isn’t able to grasp the strange and subtle beauty of music from the 1980s. So in order to refine her musical sensibilities, I’ll need to open her ears so that she may hear. Which raises a question that I will put to the collective wisdom of First Thoughts readers:

What handful of essential but non-obvious albums would you recommend to a teen to persuade them that the 1980’s were not a musical wasteland?

The emphasis is on non-obvious . Anything by REM, U2, The Clash, Springsteen, or the soundtracks of any John Hughes movie is automatically disqualified. And be prepared to defend your choices—especially if your selections include hair/glam metal bands.

Also, if you’re your list includes RATT, Culture Club, or Kajagoogoo, please close your browser and never, ever visit this blog again.

Here are a few of my candidates:

The Smiths The Queen is Dead & World Won’t Listen — The soundtracks for the lives of future meterosexuals.
The Tubes Outside/Inside — ‘She’s a Beauty’ was the most played song of my junior year (though ‘Wild Women of Wongo’ came a close second).
Randy Travis Storms of Life — This debut album marked both the birth of neo-traditional country and the peak of Travis’ career.
A-ha Hunting High and Low — But only for the stuff that didn’t make it on the radio (e.g., ‘Sun Always Shines On T.V.’).
The Lost Boys Original Soundtrack — The coolest album of alternative music ever made for alt-wannabes.
Peter Gabriel So — The one with ‘Big Time’ and ‘Sledgehammer’. ‘Nuff said.
Kate Bush The Whole Story - The godmother of Lilith fair-type fem alt-rock.
George Strait Greatest Hits — Even after 50+ albums, Strait has yet to top this collection from 1986.
Luther Vandross The Best of Luther Vandross — Vandross was Johnny Mathis for Generation X.
James Ingram It’s Your Night — This one has been in my tape deck/CD player/iPod since 1986. It never gets old.
Steve Taylor I Predict 1990 — The man who saved us from a lifetime of Amy Grant and Petra clones.
Dire Straits Brothers in Arms — Mark Knopfler isn’t a great singer (he sounds like a coherent Bob Dylan) but this album would make the cut even if had nothing but “Your Latest Trick.”
Garth Brooks Garth Brooks — Difficult as it is to imagine now, Brooks was once a great artist. Sadly, he peaked with his debut album (indeed, peaked with his first single—”Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)”—and all-time greatest song).
Honorable mentions: Crowded House Crowded House

Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent d’Arby

White Heart Greatest Hits

Sade Stronger Than Pride

Duran Duran Rio

Whodini Escape

Squeeze Singles 45’s and Under

What would you add to the list?

00 Days
00 Hours
00 Minutes
00 Seconds
Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before the clock above hits zero.

First Things is proud to be a reader-supported enterprise, and the Spring Campaign is one of only two major reader giving drives each year. It ends on June 30 at 11:59 p.m.

Your gift will fortify First Things to speak boldly on behalf of religious voices in the public square ahead of a pivotal season for our nation and the church.

Please give now.

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles