The best albums of 1982 feature a unique mix of sounds. The year, overall, felt a bit like a transitional one, as the hangover of punk and post-punk was beginning to wear off and artists looked to new pastures for inspiration. This meant the arrival of some excellent synth pop records, of course. It also meant some of the best rock in the UK was gothic, in look and feel. (Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure). There were also some great singer-songwriters that turned in their finest work (Richard and Linda Thompson, Bruce Springsteen). But the top spots for the year’s finest albums? Two of the biggest pop stars on the planet: Michael Jackson and Prince.
Check out the full list of 1982’s best albums below, and listen to our 80s pop playlist on Spotify.
68: Crosby, Stills & Nash – Daylight Again
A slick exploration of groovy pop rock, Crosby, Stills and Nash’s Daylight Again combines well-crafted songs with the trio’s gorgeous, trademark vocal harmonies.
67: Bengt Berger & Bitter Funeral Beer Band – Bitter Funeral Beer
Bitter Funeral Beer is a meeting of Bengt Berger, Don Cherry, and the Bitter Funeral Beer Band. Fusing together traditional Indian music with folk and jazz, the sound here is reverent, meditative, and beaming with spiritual power.
66: Led Zeppelin – Coda
Compiled from previously unissued tracks recorded during Zeppelin’s stellar career, Coda showcases the band’s power. “Walker’s Walk” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby” stand out in particular as examples of Zeppelin’s electrified blues.
65: Frida – Something’s Going On
An eclectic collection of songs, guided by Frida’s dreamy lead vocal and stacked harmonies, Something’s Going On effortlessly jumps from the dreamy pop-reggae groove of “I See Red” to the sweet pop-rock jam, “Baby Don’t You Cry No More.”
64: Hiroshi Yoshimura - Music For Nine Post Cards
Dreamy, soft, and understated, composer Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Music For Nine Post Cards is an incredible work of evocative ambient music.
63: Squeeze – Sweets from a Stranger
“Black Coffee in Bed” is the undoubted highlight of this New Wave album, but there’s plenty of goodness to be found throughout.
62: David Lynch & Alan R. Splet - Eraserhead Original Soundtrack
The Eraserhead soundtrack is as dark and haunting as the film it’s based on. David Lynch and composer Alan R. Splet use discordant pianos and ambient noise to augment the film’s creepy, paranoid atmosphere.
61: Charanjit Singh – Synthesizing – Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat
Originally recorded in 1982 and reissued many years later, Charanjit Singh’s Synthesizing – Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat drops us into a strange world of electrified Indian classical music.
60: Steve Miller Band – Abracadabra
The Steve Miller Band had been around long enough for a killer greatest hits album by the time of the release of Abracadabra, but the 1982 album proved that the group could still pull rabbits out of their collective hat.
59: Toto – Toto IV
Toto IV has a few smashes on it like “Rosanna” and “I Won’t Hold You Back,” but it will likely always be remembered as the album with the enduring hit “Africa.”
58: Brian Eno - Ambient 4 (On Land)
A master at composing soundscapes that evoke both stillness and fluidity, Brian Eno is the inventor of ambient music as we know it. Eno’s 1982 album Ambient 4 is a dreamy and immersive sonic experience.
57: The Go-Go’s – Vacation
56: Pat Metheny Group – Offramp
Offramp finds guitarist Pat Metheney delivering a tasteful contemporary jazz album that swims in its own dreamy, hazy atmosphere. Metheny’s playing throughout the album is lyrical and imaginative, especially on “James” and “Eighteen.”
55: Kiss – Creatures Of The Night
Big, loud, and powerful, Kiss’ Creatures Of Night comes out swinging with its title track, an absolute scorcher of a song. The band rarely lets up as they crash through riff-heavy hard rock anthems at a furious clip.
54: Madness – The Rise & Fall
British band Madness made waves throughout the 80s with a slick and accessible mixture of pop, rock and Jamaican ska. 1982’s The Rise & Fall soared on the strength of the ubiquitous hit “Our House.”
53: Supertramp – Famous Last Words
The final album to be released with the group’s classic lineup, Famous Last Words was a fitting send-off to Roger Hodgson.
52: Talk Talk – The Party’s Over
Full of chugging synth pop gems, The Party’s Over sees Talk Talk starting to perfect their early sound.
51: The Gun Club – Miami
The unique Los Angeles punk blues band returned for this, their second album, in 1982. Listen closely to “Mother of Earth” and you might hear what became the inspiration for Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.”
50: Various Artists – The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Featuring “I Will Always Love You” (a song that would go on to become a mega-hit for Whitney Houston), the soundtrack to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas showcased Dolly Parton at her best.
49: Adam Ant – Friend or Foe
As compelling as it is unhinged, Friend or Foe is the (slightly) pop solo debut of Adam Ant, former vocalist for post-punkers Adam & The Ants.
48: Rush – Signals
Combining 80s synth-rock with the musical ambition and technical virtuosity of prog, Rush’s Signals sounds like a dramatic rock opera set in outer space.
47: Phil Collins – Hello – I Must Be Going!
For the follow-up to his smash solo debut Face Value, Phil Collins expands on his progressive pop sound by leaning heavily into R&B and soul music.
46: John Cougar – American Fool
Full of big, brassy guitar rock jams, American Fool is a gem. The album famously contains the rock radio staple, “Jack And Diane.”
45: Flipper – Album/Generic Flipper (Subterranean)
Brutal, noisy, and wholly unique, Bay Area punk legends Flipper laid important groundwork for the grunge and American underground revolution that would follow them. Album/Generic Flipper is as noisy and grimy as anything released in 1982.
44: Dexys Midnight Runners – Too-Rye-Ay
Upbeat, anthemic, and celebratory, Too-Rye-Ay blended pop, rock, and soul for a fun, raucous sound. The entire album is enjoyable, but the obvious highlight was, of course, “Come On Eileen,” a massive, inescapable hit in 1982.
43: The Birthday Party – Junkyard
Housed in one of the gnarliest record covers of the decade, Junkyard sounds as deliciously ramshackle as Ed Roth and Dave Christensen’s sleeve design.
42: Van Halen – Diver Down
Another album of pyrotechnic guitar playing and preening frontman theatrics, Van Halen’s Diver Down was another worthy addition to the rock band’s vaunted discography.
41: Fleetwood Mac – Mirage
A solid entry in the band’s celebrated catalog, Mirage is indicative of Fleetwood Mac’s unique brand of ebullient pop-rock. “Book Of Love” and the glowing soul-inspired cut “Only Over You” are wonderful standouts.
40: Kid Creole And The Coconuts – Tropical Gangsters
Mixing up everything from funk to jazz and disco with absurdist humor, Kid Creole And The Coconuts was one of the most unique bands of the 80s. Their album Tropical Gangsters is a shining jewel in the group’s catalog with ecstatic, ear-catching songs like “Stool Pigeon” and “I’m A Wonderful Thing Baby.”
39: Simple Minds – New Gold Dream
Propelled by Jim Kerr’s booming, reverberating voice, Scottish rockers Simple Minds were wildly popular in the 80s. New Gold Dream is one of the band’s highpoints, anchored by lush and anthemic songs like ”Hunter And The Hunted” and the classic “Promised You A Miracle.”
38: Judas Priest – Screaming For Vengeance
“You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and “Electric Eye” are the two standout tracks that helped make Screaming for Vengeance one of this metal group’s finest albums.
37: Billy Idol – Billy Idol
Punk with a slightly pop and hard rock edge, Billy Idol’s debut was destined to hit big. “Come On Come On” and “Hot In the City” are energetic anthems, while “White Wedding” remains a staple of mainstream rock radio.
36: The Fall – Hex Enduction Hour
In a discography that is almost impossible to parse for newcomers, Hex Enduction Hour is one of the better starting points for the wholly unique post-punk group.
35: Laurie Anderson – Big Science
Futuristic and experimental, Laurie Anderson’s Big Science combines quirky electronic sounds with lyrics that wrestle with everything from American idealism, nostalgia, and war. Come for the left-field hit “O Superman” and stay for Anderson’s distinctive avant-garde pop.
34: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – The Message
One of the earliest and most influential rap crews, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are solidified in the annals of hip-hop history. Melle Mel’s lyrics on the classic tune “The Message” displayed rap’s ability to illustrate the complexities and frustrations of modern life in the city.
33: Orange Juice – You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever / Rip It Up
In 1982, Scottish post-punk band Orange Juice released You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever and Rip It Up, with both albums expanding on the band’s colorful, accessible sound. From the bouncy disco-inspired groove of “Flesh Of My Flesh” to the brassy funk of “Satellite City,” Orange Juice’s songs are as well-crafted as they are eclectic.
32: Culture Club – Kissing To Be Clever
Throughout the 80s, Culture Club crafted their own distinctive mixture of pop, rock, and reggae. Kissing To Be Clever is the band’s outstanding debut, full of great songs like ”I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” and “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?”
31: Lester Bowie – The Great Pretender
Whether it was through his work with the Art Ensemble Of Chicago or Sun Ra’s Arkestra, trumpeter Lester Bowie was one of the most consistently innovative voices in jazz. The Great Pretender allows Bowie to show off his versatility with stylistic shifts between swinging Latin jazz (“Rios Negroes”) and blistering free-funk (“When The Doom (Moon) Comes Over The Mountain”).
30: The Jam – The Gift
29: The Alan Parsons Project – Eye in the Sky
Best known by some for its opening song (which soundtracked the Chicago Bulls during the 90s), Eye in the Sky showcases Alan Parsons at his finest.
28: Descendants – Milo Goes to College
Loud, snotty, and bursting with youthful energy, Milo Goes to College is an 80s punk classic.
27: Donald Fagen – The Nightfly
26: Marvin Gaye – Midnight Love
With Midnight Love, Marvin Gaye took an interesting stylistic turn that paid off. Armed with a Roland TR-808 drum machine, Marvin crafted an album full of cool, electronic soul songs like “Sexual Healing,” “Turn On Some Music,” and “My Love Is Waiting.”
25: XTC – English Settlement
Often regarded as one of XTC’s finest albums, 1982’s English Settlement is also one of their most English.
24: The Gap Band – The Gap Band IV
Featuring the two mega-hits from the funk group – “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” and “Outstanding” – The Gap Band IV is the ideal starting place to get started.
23: The Cure – Pornography
The Cure’s provocatively titled 1982 album was the last of its kind for the group, with “The Hanging Garden” and “One Hundred Years” serving as Goth rock milestones. In a few years, they’d be back with a brighter, pop-inclined sound that took them to greater commercial heights.
22: George Clinton – Computer Games
George Clinton’s 1982 solo debut Computer Games is as funky as it is bizarre and futuristic. The entire album is a gem, but the album would go down as an all-time classic solely on the strength of “Atomic Dog.”
21: Joe Jackson – Night and Day
As catchy as it is unique, Joe Jackson’s Night And Day is bursting with sharp and slightly off-kilter pop songs.
20: Venom – Black Metal
One of the most influential metal albums ever made, Venom’s Black Metal pointed the way for countless groups that would come in their wake.
19: Yazoo – Upstairs At Eric’s
Synth pop of the highest order, Upstairs at Eric’s matched keening theatrics to cold electronics on “Don’t Go” and “Only You.”
18: Haruomi Hosono – Philharmony
A masterpiece of futuristic Japanese synth pop, Haruomi Hosono’s Philharmony is novel but the album’s sheer sonic complexity makes it more than interesting and worthwhile.
17: Luther Vandross – Forever – For Always – For Love
One of the great vocalists and balladeers of his generation, Luther Vandross’ sophomore album Forever – For Always – For Love is full of bittersweet love songs. Luther also throws a curveball with the joyous party/cookout classic, “Bad Boy/Having A Party.”
16: ABC – The Lexicon of Love
Sophisticated, catchy, and dramatic, The Lexicon of Love is the brilliant debut of UK synth pop stalwarts ABC.
15: Roxy Music – Avalon
Roxy Music’s Avalon is a masterwork of grandiose electronic art-pop. “The Space Between,” “The Main Thing,” and “True To Life” are clear standouts but the entire record possesses an atmosphere and sound that is enveloping.
14: Gregory Isaacs – Night Nurse
With his sweet and richly textured voice, Gregory Issac is a legend in reggae circles. Night Nurse is one of his finest, full of gorgeous, understated songs like “Sad To Know (You’re Leaving)” and “Cool Down Place.”
13: Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast
Singer Bruce Dickinson’s operatic vocals rarely sounded better than on this 1982 album from Iron Maiden, which saw the group topping the UK albums chart.
12: Kate Bush – The Dreaming
The Dreaming not only showcases some of Kate Bush’s finest moments as a vocalist, the album is as musically ornate and thematically dramatic as anything released in 1982.
11: Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Imperial Bedroom
10: Mission of Burma – Vs.
Boston Punk legends Mission Of Burma pushed the genre to noisier, more experimental heights. Their debut full-length, Vs. is a masterpiece that is as complex and vicious as anything of its time.
09: Siouxsie and the Banshees – A Kiss in the Dreamhouse
Arguably one of the most influential bands to come out of the UK punk revolution of the 1970s, by 1982 Siouxsie and the Banshees had carved out their own uniquely dark form of gothic pop rock. “Cascade,” “Obsession,” and “Painted Bird” immerse the listener in a dreamlike ocean of sound.
08: King Sunny Adé & His African Beats – Juju Music
Combining intricate Afrobeat rhythms with ghostly, enrapturing melodies, Nigeria’s King Sunny Adé is one of the great names in West African music. With a band as nimble as they are rock solid, Adé’s 1982 album JuJu Music is a work of magic.
07: Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
Dark, stripped-down, and poetic, Nebraska is one of Springsteen’s finest moments. The standout songs, “Mansion On the Hill,” “Atlantic City,” and “Highway Patrolman” are all haunting, introspective portraits of contemporary life in America.
06: Bad Brains – Bad Brains
By combining the instrumental virtuosity of jazz with the fury of punk and the spiritual foundation of reggae, D.C quartet created something completely new. Songs like “Banned In D.C,” “Pay to Cum,” and “Fearless Vampire Killers” burn with an intensity that is unlike anything that came before them.
05: The Clash – Combat Rock
The Clash’s best-selling album, Combat Rock contains the iconic singles “Should I Stay or Go” and “Rock the Casbah.”
04: Duran Duran – Rio
Featuring hits like “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Save a Prayer,” Duran Duran’s 1982 album Rio was one of the biggest of the year.
03: Richard and Linda Thompson – Shoot Out the Lights
For the duo of Richard and Linda Thomspon, Shoot Out the Lights represented an artistic high point in their discography. From bluesy rockers like “Walking on a Wire” to the loose and upbeat “Man in Need,” the album is beautifully sung, played, and performed.
02: Prince – 1999
With his daring public persona and caustic mixture of rock, R&B, and synth pop, Prince dominated the 1980s. His album 1999 was not only a smash hit, it was a high artistic achievement on the strength of songs like “Little Red Corvette,” “Lady Cab Driver,” and the anthemic title track.
01: Michael Jackson – Thriller
Hands down the biggest album of 1982, Michael Jackson’s Thriller not only tapped into the cultural zeitgeist, it reshaped it. Loaded with hits like “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Beat It,” “Human Nature,” and the title track, Thriller was inescapable in 1982 and its impact endures.
Think we missed one of the best albums from 1982? Let us know in the comments below and check out our 80s pop playlist on Spotify.