Best Albums of 1980: 71 Records You Need To Hear
Featuring classic albums from Diana Ross, Queen, and more, the year has something for everyone.
The best albums of 1980, like the years around it, reflect wildly varied sounds in full flower. As disco began to ebb, other genres began to flow. Metal, for instance, had a crucial year, with albums by Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, and more. Kurtis Blow made one of the first hip-hop lengths. Diana Ross, Donna Summer, and Grace Jones all turned in great records. And so did Queen, who borrowed sounds from all over the map for one of the biggest-selling albums of the year. We find it hard to believe that you can’t find an album from 1980 that you’d like. It was a year that had something for just about everyone.
Check out the full list of 1980’s best albums below, and listen to our 80s pop playlist on Spotify.
71: The Cramps – Songs the Lord Taught Us
Combining rockabilly with spooky theatrics, the band’s debut album avoids gimmick in its originality and flawless production.
70: UB40 – Signing Off
The multicultural pop-reggae band’s debut album features their sharpest and most political lyricism from the fiery “Little By Little” and its denouncement of class inequality to the MLK tribute, “King.”
69: Devo – Freedom of Choice
Home to the ubiquitous earworm “Whip It,” the band’s third studio album solidified their transition from new wave outfit to synth-pop mainstays.
68: Art Ensemble of Chicago – Full Force
The improvisational jazz group’s 1980 album includes some of their most inviting work – see the touching tribute to Charles Mingus, “Charlie M” – and cemented their place in the mainstream.
67: Black Sabbath – Heaven & Hell
The heavy metal band’s ninth studio album is their first without Ozzy, and while little compares to the early days, the brilliance of this album showed that the band was flexible and dynamic even without their most famous member.
66: Pete Townshend – Empty Glass
The Who co-founder’s solo album is an intimate and revealing portrait of an artist struggling with more questions than answers.
65: Egberto Gismonti – Circense
Taking its inspiration from the both global and local aspect of the circus, the Brazilian composer’s 1980 album brings together traditional Brazilian rhythms with sounds from all over the world.
64: George Jones – I Am What I Am
The country singer’s 1980 album was one of his most commercially successful records and features hits like “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and “I’m Not Ready Yet.”
63: Jon Hassell / Brian Eno – Fourth World Vol. 1 – Possible Musics
Eno’s storied collaboration with Hassell is an ambient record with a global perspective, pre-dating pop music’s eventual love affair with music from Africa and Asia.
62: Harold Budd/Brian Eno – Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror
The second volume of Eno’s series of ambient works weaves together the beautiful piano fragments of Harold Budd with Eno’s electronic tinkering to produce a subtle yet stirring work that still sounds ahead of its time.
61: Ramones – End of the Century
The punk band’s fifth studio album saw them pairing with 1960s pop maestro Phil Spector to create one of their most mainstream albums. While it may have disappointed some of their punk purist fans, it opened them up to more interesting sonic possibilities than the genre ever could.
60: Robert Palmer – Clues
Though brief, Palmer’s sixth solo album is one of his most cohesive projects and expertly blends together rock, new wave and soul music.
59: Rubén Blades – Maestra Vida
Blades’ collaboration with Willie Colon extended the limits of salsa music by creating a salsa opera that spun a descriptive and beautiful tale around two main characters, Carmelo and Manuela.
58: Merle Haggard – Back to the Barrooms
You can almost smell the liquor emanating from the prolific country singer’s 31st studio album, which takes its inspiration from the alcohol-centered comforts one often seeks from a broken heart – it’s a tragic, if not totally believable, account of love and loss.
57: Rolling Stones – Emotional Rescue
By 1980, the band was still riding high off the successes of their albums of the previous decade and their 1980 album is no exception, continuing their streak of stellar songs like the fan-favorite title track.
56: Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – Against the Wind
Coming off a run of successful albums, Seger continues his streak with this record that features a slew of foot-stomping rockers and affecting ballads like fan favorite, “You’ll Accomp’ny Me.”
55: The Blues Brothers – The Blues Brothers: Music From The Soundtrack
The soundtrack to the beloved film introduced a younger generation to the foundational work of blues and R&B legends like Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, and Cab Calloway.
54: Adam and the Ants – Kings of the Wild Frontier
Like their earlier work, the new wave band’s sophomore album is indebted to percussion from Burundi and uses this formidable foundation to build an album of audacious pop tunes.
53: Tom Waits – Heartattack and Vine
Ever innovative, Waits’ seventh studio album pulls from R&B, the blues, rock and jazz on paper, but to hear the extremes to which he takes those genres on this record will change your mind about what they each sound like.
52: Brothers Johnson – Light Up the Night
The pop R&B duo’s fourth studio album was the last they would record with Quincy Jones and is an optimistic, bouncy, and relentlessly irresistible conclusion to the iconic pairing.
51: J. Geils Band – Love Stinks
The band’s only number one album to date became a hit off the catchiness of its love-stung title track and took them from decently popular rockers to radio staples.
50: Steve Winwood – Arc of a Diver
Featuring the hit song, “While You See a Chance,” the multi-instrumentalist’s 1980 album set the stage for his slate of runaway successes to come in the decade.
49: Laurie Spiegel – The Expanding Universe
The avant-garde composer’s debut album is a pioneering work in the genre of computer music and proved that the most human emotions could be elicited from machines.
48: Kate Bush – Never For Ever
The enigmatic singer-songwriter’s 1980 album was her first to top the charts and proved that her attention to detail, however elusive it might be to the average listener, as well as her penchant for theatricality had mass appeal.
47: Stevie Wonder – Hotter than July
Home to favorites like “All I Do,” and “”Master Blaster (Jammin),” the pop R&B king’s 1980 album strikes the balance between feel-good jams and politically conscious ballads.
46: The Clash – Sandinista!
The iconic rock band’s fourth studio album took the approach they perfected on London Calling and exploded it, bringing together even more disparate genres like gospel and punk – the result is a brilliant cacophony of sound.
45: Ryuichi Sakamoto – B-2 Unit
The singular Japanese composer’s second solo album includes the electronic classic, “Riot In Lagos,” and saw Sakamoto experimenting with sound and texture.
44: Siouxsie and the Banshees – Kaleidoscope
The rock band’s third studio album was recorded in the wake of not one, but two band member departures, so it’s remarkable to hear how versatile and innovative they managed to sound on the brink of collapse.
43: XTC – Black Sea
Including fan favorites like “Respectable Street” and “Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me),” the niche rock band’s 1980 album incorporated new wave to create one of their most accessible records.
42: The Cure – Seventeen Seconds
The English rock band’s spacious sophomore album is widely considered to be the first of a loose trilogy that explored existential questions about life, loss, and mental instability.
41: The Feelies – Crazy Rhythms
The Jersey band’s debut album takes an experimental approach to rhythm that classes it out of standard rock and into a league of its own.
40: The Human League – Travelogue
The synth pop band’s 1980 album is the last to feature the original line-up and also their last before they embraced a more mainstream pop sound.
39: Bob Marley & The Wailers – Uprising
The reggae giant’s 1980 album was the last to be recorded while he was alive, but aside from that devastating fact, it’s among their most spiritual and rousing works and includes the forever classic, “Redemption Song.”
38: David Bowie – Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
Bowie’s 14th studio album is sometimes referred to as his “last great album” due to its perfect blend of experimental music with accessible rock. Whether or not you agree with the claim, it’s an excellent album that wonderfully closes the chapter on his 70s era.
37: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Get Happy!!
Costello’s encyclopedic approach to music-making is in full effect on this record where he tackles soul music in all its variations – from the sheen of Motown to the grit of Southern soul.
36: Japan – Gentlemen Take Polaroids
The English band’s fourth studio album combines experimental flourishes of genres like glam rock with the sheen of pop to create one of their best records.
35: John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy
Music’s most famous couple’s fifth studio album together was John Lennon’s first since a self-imposed hiatus and his last record before his untimely passing, serving as both a comeback and farewell.
34: Judas Priest – British Steel
The heavy metal band’s 1980 album created a sub-genre in its wake and off the strength of singles like “”Breaking the Law,” paved the way for heavy metal to become mainstream.
33: Killing Joke – Killing Joke
The English band’s self-titled and self-produced debut album is a disturbing, heady and fast ride through the depths of hardcore and post-punk, that influenced countless bands in the ensuing years.
32: Kurtis Blow – Kurtis Blow
Featuring the hip-hop classic “The Breaks,” Blow’s debut album is required listening for any hip-hop scholar as it is among the earliest major hip-hop albums to be released.
31: Pat Benatar – Crimes of Passion
Featuring the blockbuster hit, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” and a fantastic cover of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights,” the singer’s 1980 album is a blast of pop rock that is undeniably fun.
30: Linton Kwesi Johnson – Bass Culture
The quintessential dub poet’s 1980 album delivers when it comes to the rhythmic, the incendiary (see “Inglan is a Bitch”) and the spiritual force that is dub music.
29: Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden
Featuring the wildly ambitious, “Phantom Of The Opera,” the heavy metal band’s debut album changed the face of metal music bringing in more creativity and a harder and faster sound, akin to punk music.
28: Dexys Midnight Runners – Searching for the Young Soul Rebels
The British group’s debut album is celebrated for its application of R&B’s warmth to the tough textures of rock, a feat few bands were able to execute well at the time.
27: Dire Straits – Making Movies
Following the departure of David Knopfler, Mark Knopfler transformed the band to achieve his singular vision. This album is the result and using film as an inspiration, Knopfler stretched his compositions into cinematic experiences.
26: Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel (AKA Melt AKA III)
The album’s nickname comes from its cover art which shows Gabriel with half of his face melting. Theatrics aside, Gabriel’s third solo album would prove to be his breakthrough, establishing him as one of the most creative artists of the decade.
25: X – Los Angeles
Featuring the anthemic title track, the punk band’s debut album is a key entry point into the thriving West Coast punk scene of the late 70s and early 80s.
24: U2 – Boy
The world-famous rock band’s debut album set the stage for the sing-along stadium anthems that would become their trademark in later years.
23: The Jam – Sound Affects
The rock band’s successful 1980 album saw them embracing more abstract themes over straight-ahead lyricism and in terms of pop appeal it paid off as it debuted at No.2.
22: Donna Summer – The Wanderer
Featuring the hit title track, the disco maven’s eighth studio album completed her shift from dancefloor queen to a radio-friendly fusion artist, expertly bringing together R&B, rock and dance pop.
21: Echo & The Bunnymen – Crocodiles
The English band’s energetic debut features some of the decade’s best guitar playing and is home to fan favorites like “Rescue” and “Happy Death Men.”
20: George Benson – Give Me the Night
The jazz guitarist turned pop star’s 1980 album is a wonderful bridge between the two genres and includes the unforgettable title track.
19: John Foxx – Metamatic
Foxx’s solo debut is a high watermark of synth pop that transforms the synthesizer from tool into muse and blurs the lines between man and machine.
18: REO Speedwagon – Hi Infidelity
The band’s chart-topping album took the electricity of their live shows and successfully translated it to the controlled environs of a recording studio, taking them from arenas to the radio.
17: Squeeze – Argybargy
The British band’s breakthrough album is explosive, bright, and unpredictable, catapulting the band from decent rock and rollers to edgy new wave outfit.
16: Steely Dan – Gaucho
The enigmatic band’s 1980 album is perhaps as Steely Dan as it gets, melding squeaky clean production with content that unflinchingly examines the dirt and slime of humanity.
15: Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard Of Ozz
With its increased attention to guitar and melody, the rock star’s debut studio album took metal in a new direction and showed that while he may be too volatile for Black Sabbath, solo Ozzy can very much hold his own.
14: The Police – Zenyatta Mondatta
Home to the Grammy award-winning “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” the pop-rock group’s third studio album set them on the path for superstardom.
13: Neil Diamond – The Jazz Singer
Although the movie flopped, Diamond’s soundtrack to the 1980 film of the same name became a success and confirmed that he had a much more fruitful path as a singer rather than an actor.
12: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
The electronic group’s debut is full of inventive melodies and dance-worthy grooves that never fail to surprise and delight.
11: Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables
The punk rock band’s debut album is a forceful and unabashedly political statement that would go on to influence countless hardcore bands.
10: Roberta Flack – Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway
The dynamic duo’s 1980 album is bittersweet in that it was released following the tragic passing of Hathaway in 1970, but ever so sweet in the magic that these two spectacular voices can do together.
09: Motörhead – Ace of Spades
The rock band’s fourth studio album is arguably the album that made them the highly respected band they are today, in no small part to the anthemic title track.
08: Bruce Springsteen – The River
Never one afraid to grow up, Springsteen’s 1980 album expands on the grown up themes of its predecessor as it makes more room for the dark truths that usher us out of adolescence and into adulthood.
07: Grace Jones – Warm Leatherette
The fashion and music legend’s first album to be recorded at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, was a turning point for her career as she shed the disco gloss of her previous albums and embraced the radical edge of new wave, reggae and punk music.
06: Joy Division – Closer
The rock band’s last studio album was released just after the suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis and thus is easy to be read as a relentlessly dark album but it’s much more that, it’s also the product of a band at their creative peak.
05: Queen – The Game
Home to the chart-topping hits, “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” the group’s 1980 album saw them experimenting with their sound and using synthesizers for the first time.
04: Talking Heads – Remain In Light
David Byrne’s fascination with the rhythms of Africa took full shape on this landmark release, so much so that nearly 40 years later Beninoise Afropop queen Angelique Kidjo released a cover of the entire album, literally taking it back to its roots.
03: Prince – Dirty Mind
Prince’s third album was leaps and bounds from his earlier records (which is saying a lot, cause they were great too) and catapulted him from budding pop star to pop auteur.
02: Diana Ross – Diana
The production of the pop legend’s 1980 album was helmed by disco band Chic, produced one of her most beloved hits, “I’m Coming Out,” and facilitated her graceful transition from disco to pop R&B.
01: AC/DC – Back In Black
The band’s first album with Brian Johnson singing lead is a remarkable successor to its predecessor in how much Johnson manages to match the inimitable energy of Bon Scott while still signaling the beginning of a new chapter for the band.
Think we missed one of the best albums from 1980? Let us know in the comments below and check out our 80s pop playlist on Spotify.
February 2, 2022 at 3:34 pm
RUSH PERMANENT WAVES SHOULD BE HIGH ON THIS LIST
February 2, 2022 at 3:51 pm
The Jacksons Triumph missed this list? You need to listen to that album.
February 2, 2022 at 10:00 pm
I agree the Rush Permanent Waves needs to be on this list. The other album that’s not on the list from 1980 is Ultravox Vienna. That album ushered in a whole new style of synthetic music.
February 3, 2022 at 2:30 am
Agree with both Permanent Waves and Vienna. Missing Vienna is even worse due to John Foxx being on this list.
Otherwise, an impressive list.
February 24, 2022 at 3:29 pm
GUILTY- Barbra Streisand. A fine piece of ear candy.
November 15, 2022 at 12:48 am
I came to the comments to say, Where’s Guilty? An absolute masterpiece.
April 4, 2023 at 2:50 pm
talking heads, remain in light. big miss.