Designated by the UN as “International Youth Year,” 1985 certainly proved the power of youth culture – specifically when it came to musicians using albums and their voices for change. Throughout the year, musicians gathered en-masse to show their support for a variety of global causes through collaborative singles (“Sun City,” “We Are the World”) and concerts (Live Aid, Farm Aid). In addition to raising vital funds, these songs and events resulted in some of music’s most iconic moments – from Queen’s career-altering performance at Live Aid to the star-filled music video for “We Are the World,” featuring everyone from Paul McCartney and Diana Ross to Willie Nelson and Lionel Richie (who co-wrote the song with Michael Jackson).
But while youth culture reigned supreme on MTV, with newer acts like Madonna, Whitney Houston, Tears for Fears, and Duran Duran ruling the airwaves, established artists like Phil Collins, George Strait, and Luther Vandross proved their staying power on the charts. It was also a year in which a variety of well-known bandleaders embarked on solo careers, including Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry and The Police’s Sting.
Check out the full list of 1985’s best albums below, and listen to our 80s pop playlist on Spotify.
59: Bryan Ferry – Boys And Girls
Home to the hit single, “Slave To Love,” Ferry’s first solo effort after disbanding Roxy Music is cool, calm, and collected sophistipop that marks his evolution from fiery rock to elegant songcraft.
58: George Thorogood & The Destroyers – Maverick
With covers of Johnny Otis, Chuck Berry and John Lee Hooker, the group makes their influences clear on this album that takes the bluesy sound of early rock and roll sound and makes it sound modern.
57: Hüsker Dü – Flip Your Wig
The band’s first self-produced album is remarkably lighter than their previous work without ever sacrificing the punk edge that made them so popular.
56: Celtic Frost – To Mega Therion
With its apocalyptic fervor and assaulting rhythms, the Swiss metal band’s 1985 album cleared the way for death metal as a distinct genre.
55: Commodores – Nightshift
The Motown group’s 11th studio album is buoyed by the title song, a heartfelt tribute to the late Marvin Gaye which earned them a Grammy Award.
54: George Strait – Something Special
This album earned George Strait his first award at the CMA’s for “Male Vocalist of the Year” and continued his streak of chart-topping country albums.
53: Jason & The Scorchers – Lost & Found
The Nashville rockers hit the ground running on their debut album which masterfully blends country music traditions with modern punk and hard rock.
52: Possessed – Seven Churches
Fiery, passionate, and unsparingly bleak, the death metal band’s debut album set the pace for the genre by being harder, faster, and better than anything before it.
51: Exodus – Bonded By Blood
Thrash metal might not exist without this album which took the genre to new extremes, with nothing off limits in sound or in content.
50: Freddie Jackson – Rock Me Tonight
Home to the title track and hit singles like “You Are My Lady” and “He’ll Never Love You (Like I Do),” the R&B singer’s debut album made him a star and one of the most memorable voices of the decade.
49: Hombres G – Hombres G
The Spanish rock band’s debut album is home to the hit single, “Devuelveme A Mi Chica,” and propelled them to international success.
48: Hüsker Dü – New Day Rising
The band’s third studio album, and the first of two releases in 1985, shows signs of their new direction – a brighter, poppier punk sound.
47: Killing Joke – Night Time
Featuring fan favorites like “Love Like Blood” and “Eighties,” the post-punk’s 1985 album balances experimental production with accessible melodies.
46: Legião Urbana – Legião Urbana
The Brazilian band’s debut album is a hallmark of the country’s rock scene and spawned the hits, “Ainda É Cedo” and “Será.”
45: INXS – Listen Like Thieves
Home to hits like the title track and ”What You Need,” the pop-rock band’s 1985 album anticipated the massive success they would achieve in later years.
44: Lone Justice – Lone Justice
The rock band’s highly anticipated debut pairs high-end production with roots music to create a technically brilliant and soulful record.
43: Miami Sound Machine – Primitive Love
The Latin pop group’s English-language album cemented their foothold in the American pop scene due to the success of lead single “Conga.”
42: RPM – Revoluções por Minuto
The Brazilian band’s album takes inspiration from synth-pop and rock and helped solidify their place as one of the top bands in the country.
41: Slayer – Hell Awaits
The thrash metal titans came into their own on their 1985 album which is as loud and dissonant as it is technical and complex – it established them as not just great players but innovators of the genre.
40: Sonic Youth – Bad Moon Rising
The noise rock band’s second album showed they had real chops when it comes to writing catchy tunes and inviting melodies.
39: Rush – Power Windows
Featuring hits like “The Big Money” and “Marathon,” the rock band’s 11th studio album took prog rock to new and exciting heights.
38: Sumo – Divididos Por La Felicidad
The Argentinian rock band’s debut album is a delightful blend of punk, reggae, ska, and rock that still sounds as adventurous today as it did in ‘85.
37 Talking Heads – Little Creatures
While preserving their African and funk roots, the band’s 1985 leans into country and roots music to celebrate the joys of life’s simplest pleasures.
36: The Cure – The Head On The Door
Robert Smith changed course on this album, abandoning the darkness and embracing the light to produce one of the band’s most pop-oriented albums to date.
35: Meat Puppets – Up on the Sun
Punk meets psychedelia on the band’s third studio album making for a thrilling full-body journey that’s as heady as it is foot-stomping.
34: Mantronix – Mantronix: The Album
The genre-blending group’s classic debut proved that there is fertile ground in the mash-up of hip-hop, electronic music, and funk. Decades after its release, it still sounds like the future.
33: Megadeth – Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good
The thrash metal band’s debut album presents them at their essence – brash, energetic, and relentlessly dark.
32: New Edition – All for Love
Their transition from cute kids to teenage heartthrobs can be heard on the R&B boy band’s third studio album where they dabble in more risque material and harder beats.
31: R.E.M. – Fables Of The Reconstruction
Recorded during a winter in London, the band’s third album overcame harsh weather conditions and creative differences to become one of their most celebrated records to date.
30: The Highwaymen – Highwayman
Made up of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson, the country music supergroup’s debut album is home to the unforgettable title track and other fan favorites like “Desperados Waiting for a Train” and “Deportee.”
29: Robert Palmer – Riptide
Featuring hits like ”I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” and “Addicted to Love,” Robert Palmer’s 1985 album is full of irresistibly fun pop rock.
28: Run DMC – King of Rock
The pioneering hip-hop group’s sophomore album ramped up the group’s rock influences, proving that there is remarkable synergy between rap and guitars.
27: Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85
Including the hit songs, “Perfect Way” and “Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin),” the synth pop group’s second album is full of gorgeous melodies and abstract lyricism.
26: Sting – The Dream of the Blue Turtles
The English star’s first solo album stepped away from the pop rock sound of The Police and embraced jazz instead, recruiting the Marsalis brothers as collaborators.
25: Wynton Marsalis – Black Codes (from the Underground)
The jazz titan’s Grammy award-winning album is an homage to the Miles Davis Quintet of the 1960s with Wynton on trumpet and his brother Brandford on saxophone.
24: Yello – Stella
The electronic band’s fourth studio album includes their most popular song, “Oh Yeah,” and includes some of their best vocal work.
23: Various Artists – Miami Vice
With contributions from Chaka Khan, Phil Collins, Tina Turner, and Glenn Frey the iconic television show’s first soundtrack album feels as thrilling as its visual component.
22: The Replacements – Tim
With the help of Tommy Ramone, the band reached new heights on their 1985 album which uses louder guitars and bigger drums to highlight their growth as songwriters.
21: Grace Jones – Slave To The Rhythm
You can’t put Grace Jones in a box and that’s evidenced by her 1985 album which is as personal as it is groovy as it is experimental. It still sounds as fresh today as it did then.
20: Heart – Heart
The band struck gold on their 1985 album which finally brought them mainstream success thanks to hits like “These Dreams” and “What About Love?”
19: John Cougar Mellencamp – Scarecrow
The small town champion’s 1985 album shines a light on the struggles that consume everyday people from middle America with stunning grace and clarity.
18: John Fogerty – Centerfield
Fogerty’s first album in nearly a decade is home to hits like “The Old Man Down the Road” and “Rock and Roll Girls” and reintroduced his unique brand of Americana to the world.
17: The Fall – This Nation’s Saving Grace
The English band’s eighth studio album is as uncategorizable as all their other work, spanning electronica, post-punk, and much more to create one of their most beloved albums.
16: The Jesus & Mary Chain – Psychocandy
The Scottish band’s debut album brings together dream pop and noise rock for an eclectic offering that would go on to influence numerous genres in its wake.
15: The Pogues – Rum, Sodomy & The Lash
Produced by Elvis Costello, the rock group’s sophomore album fuses together Irish folk and raw punk, bringing out the best in each genre while also creating something new.
14: The Smiths – Meat Is Murder
The band’s second album went straight to the top of the UK charts and introduced a more aggressive side to the band as they incorporated darker and political lyrics into their sound.
13: Tom Waits – Rain Dogs
The singer-songwriter’s 1985 album is full of experimental rhythms and obscure lyricism, but if you can push past the barriers to entry, you’re in for an incredible ride.
12: Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston
The pop R&B diva’s self-titled debut introduced her once-in-a-lifetime voice to the world and produced the instant classics “Saving All My Love for You” and “How Will I Know.”
11: Kate Bush – Hounds Of Love
The enigmatic singer-songwriter had something of a comeback with this album which produced one of her biggest hits to date, “Running Up That Hill,” and became her first big hit in America.
10: Luther Vandross – The Night I Fell in Love
Luther’s 1985 masterpiece earned him a Grammy nomination and includes inimitable favorites like “If Only For One Night” and “Wait For Love.”
9: Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms
Taking cues from blues and jazz, the band’s 5th studio album is known for the reflective title track and “Money For Nothing,” an especially satirical look at the music industry which became a smash hit.
8: New Order – Low-Life
The band’s 1985 record made official the shift from the darkness of their Joy Division past to the sunshine of their dance-pop future.
7: Patti LaBelle – Patti
Featuring her iconic live performance of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” the R&B queen’s 1985 solo album shows off a seasoned singer basking in the glow of a successful comeback.
6: Prefab Sprout – Steve McQueen
Blending together catchy hooks with the softer edges of jazz, the English band’s landmark record came to represent the upper echelon of sophisti-pop.
5: LL Cool J – Radio
The New York rapper’s Rick Rubin-produced debut was Def Jam’s first full-length release and became a hallmark of the legendary label’s discography.
4: Prince and the Revolution – Around the World in a Day
Home to the smash hit “Raspberry Beret,” Prince took a psychedelic turn on his 1985 album which leans into cryptic lyricism and layered instrumentation without ever sacrificing its groove.
3: Sade – Promise
The beloved English band’s second album gave us timeless tunes like “The Sweetest Taboo,” “Is It A Crime,” and “Jezebel.”
2: Tears For Fears – Songs From The Big Chair
The pop rock band’s chart-topping album is home to the global smash, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” and helped expand the limits of synth-pop.
1: Phil Collins – No Jacket Required
Collins reached a commercial and critical peak on this record which bagged the Grammy for Album of the Year, making him a global superstar and radio staple for decades.
Looking for more? Listen to our 80s pop playlist on Spotify.