1984 was a monumental year for classic rock. It’s not just that there were so many great albums released that year, but also that the diversity of sounds that were on display would come to define classic rock for that entire decade. Our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1984 contains a handful of blockbusters, strong efforts by reliable hit-makers and a few bands starting to emerge from the underground on their own road to super-stardom.
For their fifth album, Iron Maiden continued perfecting their blend of metal fireworks with progressive experimentation. The result was 'Powerslave,' which borrowed lyrical ideas from history, literature and fantasy. This ranged from the World War II-set single, 'Aces High,' to the 13-minute closer, 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.' Its other single, '2 Minutes to Midnight,' became a U.S. rock radio hit.
‘Body and Soul’Joe Jackson
Because the year happened to also be the title of George Orwell’s famous novel, a good percentage of the pop culture produced in 1984 focused either on the dystopian future or the idea that the dystopian future was here. But Joe Jackson looked towards the past on ‘Body and Soul,’ a jazz-infused album that featured some of his most adventurous compositions to date. But he was still able to follow up the success he had on ‘Night and Day’ by scoring a Top 20 hit in You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want).’
Many of the Top 10 Albums of 1984 saw many rock acts incorporate synthesizers into their work to great commercial success. The Cars may have brought in producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange to give them a modern, radio-friendly sound on ‘Heartbeat City,’ but it was their knack for well-crafted songs with exceptional pop hooks — such as the hits ‘You Might Think,’ ‘Magic’ and ‘Drive’ — that kept listeners coming back.
On their second album, R.E.M. proved that the left-field success of ‘Murmur’ was no fluke. They avoided the sophomore jinx with improved songwriting and tighter performances. Mainstream success was still a few years away, but ‘Reckoning’ nonetheless had some of their most beloved songs of their early days, including ‘So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry),’ ‘Pretty Persuasion’ and ‘(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville.’
‘Building the Perfect Beast’Don Henley
Don Henley’s 1982 solo debut showed that he could transition easily from the Eagles’ country-rock to a modern sound, but ’Building the Perfect Beast’ is where it fully bloomed. ‘The Boys of Summer’ remains its standout, but the rest of the synth-and-programmed-drum tracks, like ‘Sunset Grill’ and ‘All She Wants to Do Is Dance,’ make this arguably Henley’s most consistent effort.
‘Learning to Crawl’The Pretenders
After their second album, Pretenders suffered two crushing blows in the drug-related deaths of guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and former bassist Pete Farndon. It would have felled lesser bands, but on ‘Learning to Crawl,’ Chrissie Hynde showed that she wasn’t going to give up without a fight. From the blistering ‘Middle of the Road’ to the elegiac ‘Back on the Chain Gang,’ Hynde put all of her thoughts about death, single motherhood, growing older and changing times into her songs to great effect.
‘The Unforgettable Fire’U2
For their fourth release, U2 made a major change. The impassioned lyrics and performances were still there, but the decision to bring in Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno to produce after three albums with Steve Lillywhite affected their music greatly. Under their guidance, they built upon their sparse, angular New Wave sound with expansive atmospherics. It resulted in their biggest hit to date with 'Pride (In the Name of Love)' and set the stage for the global phenomenon of 'The Joshua Tree.'
‘Ride the Lightning’Metallica
Unlike R.E.M. (see above), who merely fine-tuned their sound on their second album, Metallica’s ‘Ride the Lightning’ saw them growing and trying out new ideas. And more importantly, those experiments worked. There was still plenty of thrash, but ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ and ‘Fade to Black’ showed that they were capable of much more, and proved that they were a force to be reckoned with.
For Van Halen, '1984' didn't just mean that Big Brother was watching them. It meant that everybody was watching them. Videos for 'Jump,' 'Panama' and 'Hot for Teacher' were all over MTV and gave them the blockbuster they had been chasing for six years. And while it all looked like a non-stop party from the outside, the truth was that David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen were at each other's throats. Within a year, Roth was out of the band and replaced by Sammy Hagar.
'Born in the U.S.A.'Bruce Springsteen
Our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1984 ends with one of the decade's monolithic records. Bruce Springsteen's 'Born in the U.S.A.' was so massive that both presidential candidates that year tried to co-opt him as their own. The synths and high-gloss production caused its title track to be misinterpreted by many, but the intertwining of personal, political and sexual themes across its 12 songs resonated in a way that no other album did that year, spawning seven Top 10 singles and selling 15 million copies.
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