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The Best Albums of 1989: 57 Full-Lengths Worth Your Time

From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the premiere of Seinfeld, 1989 was a year of significant cultural shifts. Musically, the tides were also turning.

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Janet Jackson, artist behind one of the best 1989 albums
Janet Jackson - Photo: Michel Linssen/Redferns

From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the premiere of Seinfeld, 1989 was a year of significant cultural shifts. Musically, the tides were also turning. As hair metal acts enjoyed their final years of glory, a new wave of rock was poised to take over. Hip-hop was exploding into the mainstream and electronic music was becoming more prevalent. It was the year that introduced many to such pioneering groups like Nirvana and De La Soul, while acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nine Inch Nails released their breakthrough albums. The album charts, meanwhile, were ruled by a diverse array of artists that spanned genres and generations – from Bonnie Raitt, Don Henley, and Aerosmith to Janet Jackson, Madonna, and the Beastie Boys. Below are some of the best albums of 1989.

Check out the full list of 1989’s best albums below, and listen to our 80s pop playlist on Spotify.

57: Barry White – The Man Is Back!

The R&B powerhouse’s 17th studio album is a perfect blend of sophistipop and soul and would set the stage for his great comeback in the 1990s.

L.A. My Kinda Place

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56: Lisa Stansfield – Affection

The British singer’s debut solo album beautifully revived the soul music of an earlier decade with the sleek production of the late ‘80s and touches of hip-hop and dance music.

55: Meat Beat Manifesto ‎- Storm The Studio

The electronic group’s powerful debut pulls from dub, rock and hip-hop to create a sample-filled stew of politically charged dance music that was completely unique at the time of its release.

54: Dolly Parton – White Limozeen

The country maven’s twenty-ninth solo album proved that the country star could bounce back with grace and includes some of her most fun material.

53: Naked City – Torture Garden

The unlikely musical synergy of John Zorn and Yamatsuka Eye yielded a still unlikelier mash-up of grindcore and jazz for this one-of-a-kind record that burns bright and fast.

52: Paul McCartney ‎- Flowers in the Dirt

With some help from Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney’s eighth solo album is an ambitious and earnest comeback record that re-established the ex-Beatle as a pop titan.

Paul McCartney - My Brave Face

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51: Branford Marsalis – Trio Jeepy

Accompanied by alternating bassists Milt Hinton and Delbert Felix and drummer Jeff Watts, the jazz saxophonist’s 1989 album is among his most exuberant and inviting.

50: Ice-T – The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech… Just Watch What You Say

The Los Angeles rapper’s 1989 album offers a dystopian take on society and produced some of his most incisive and dark tracks.

49: Marisa Monte – MM

Featuring the hit single, “Bem Que Se Quis,” the classically trained singer’s debut live album took Brazil by storm and set her on the path to being recognized as one of the greatest singers of her generation.

48: Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness

The Florida metal band’s debut album shook up the scene by showing that there were even darker themes to explore and even faster guitar riffs to play, thus changing the sound of death metal forever.

47: Virgo ‎- Virgo

The Chicago house duo’s debut album still sounds as mysterious, reflective, and misty today as it did in 1989, proving that good music is timeless.

46: Rolling Stones ‎- Steel Wheels

After some time apart, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards reunited for this Rolling Stones album which is full of crowd-pleasing hits like “Sad Sad Sad” and “Rock and a Hard Place.”

Sad Sad Sad (Remastered)

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45: The Cult ‎- Sonic Temple

From psychedelia to hard rock, the band’s 1989 album saw them experimenting with different styles to stunning effect.

44: Fine Young Cannibals – The Raw & The Cooked

The rock band’s final masterpiece saw them extending their genre blend approach to incorporate even more styles like Northern Soul and disco and produced a slew of hit singles including “Good Thing” and “She Drives Me Crazy.”

43: Technotronic – Pump Up The Jam: The Album

The Belgian dance group’s debut album includes the ubiquitous title track and put hip-house on a global stage.

42: Babyface – Tender Lover

The R&B powerhouse’s sophomore album includes hits like “Whip Appeal,” “It’s No Crime,” and the title track and made him a name to watch in contemporary R&B.

41: Gloria Estefan – Cuts Both Ways

The Latin pop queen’s solo debut did precisely as the title suggests, offering dancefloor stompers and affecting ballads as well as establishing her as a global pop star who could appeal to both Spanish and non-Spanish speakers alike.

40: Soundgarden – Louder Than Love

The grunge band’s second studio album cemented their transformation from local heroes to global ambassadors, putting the Pacific Northwest at the forefront of rock music.

Soundgarden - Loud Love (Official Video)

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39: Inner City – Paradise

Paris Gray and Kevin Saunderson’s debut album as Inner City spun the best elements of Detroit’s electronic scene into dance-pop gold as evidenced by the everlasting hit “Big Fun.”

38: UB40 – Labour of Love II

The pop-reggae group’s 1989 album is comprised exclusively of covers, including from the likes of Al Green, The Temptations, The Chi-Lites, and much more, adding new colors and textures to the originals.

37: 808 State – Ninety

The British group’s second album helped guide the direction of the following decade’s electronic music boom and marked the UK as a major player in the scene.

36: Big Daddy Kane – It’s a Big Daddy Thing

The rap pioneer’s second album is Kane at his creative peak as he expands his sound to include New Jack Swing and tackles topics from his sexual prowess to the benefits of staying in school.

35: XTC ‎- Oranges & Lemons

The band’s 1989 album is a psychedelic pop extravaganza full of off-kilter details, expansive arrangements, and kooky sound effects.

Mayor Of Simpleton (2001 Remaster)

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34: Sepultura – Beneath The Remains

The Brazilian heavy metal band’s third studio album launched them onto the international stage and introduced more accessible grooves into the genre.

33: Skid Row – Skid Row

Featuring an unforgettable vocal performance by Sebastian Bach, the metal band’s debut album was a commercial success due in no small part to hit songs “18 and Life” and “I Remember You.”

32: Titas – O Blesq Blom

The Brazilian rock band’s fifth studio album is as eclectic as art rock gets – from a serious contemplation of camel humps to paranoia and everything in between.

31: Bob Dylan – Oh Mercy

Thanks to excellent production by Daniel Lanois, Bob Dylan’s 1989 album reinvigorated his career and produced some of his most beloved work including songs like “Most Of The Time” and “Everything Is Broken.”

30: John Cougar Mellencamp – Big Daddy

Mellencamp’s reflective 1989 album takes the truth-telling of folk music and amplifies it into his most honest and pained record to date.

John Mellencamp - Jackie Brown

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29: Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – Road to the Riches

The hip-hop duo’s debut album is a perfect marriage of leftfield sampling, rapid-fire lyrics, and booming percussion and established the group as a force to be reckoned with.

28: Nirvana – Bleach

The famed grunge band’s debut album is a window into the culture-shifting force they would become years later and is among their grittiest and angstiest records.

27: Boogie Down Productions – Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip-Hop

BDP’s 1989 album is an anti-commercial, hip-hop purist’s dream, bolstered by the searing lyricism of KRS-One over bare-bones production.

26: Don Henley – The End Of The Innocence

The Eagles’ drummer’s solo outing was a major commercial success, selling six million copies in the US, and showed a more mature side of the artist.

25: George Strait – Beyond the Blue Neon

The country singer’s ninth studio album includes three number one singles and has something for everyone, from foot-stomping dance songs to mournful ballads.

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24: Faith No More – The Real Thing

The innovative rock band’s first album without Chuck Mosely was a risky gamble that paid off big time thanks to an amazing last-minute performance by Mike Patton.

23: EPMD – Unfinished Business

Featuring the hit single “So Wat Cha Sayin’,” the hip-hop duo’s second album refined their breezy approach to rap that would influence countless acts to come.

22: Godflesh – Streetcleaner

The metal band’s debut album is as doom-filled and industrial as it gets, with hair-raising lyrics and menacing production.

21: Jody Watley – Larger Than Life

The pop singer’s sophomore album includes the hit single, “Real Love” and the stellar R&B and hip-hop mash-up “Friends” with Eric B & Rakim.

Jody Watley - Real Love

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20: Kate Bush ‎- The Sensual World

Home to the iconic track, “This Woman’s Work,” Kate Bush’s sixth studio album leaves no stone unturned in its examination of love and avoids schmaltz by taking an expansive view of the topic.

19: Lou Reed ‎- New York

Lou Reed’s 15th solo studio album is one of the greatest albums about the city to ever be recorded. Filled with details and distinct characters, it’s a bittersweet tribute to the city that never sleeps.

18: New Order – Technique

Partly inspired by the hedonistic pleasures of Ibiza’s party scene, the dance-rock band’s fifth studio album offers unique takes on acid house, Balearic beat, and more without ever sacrificing their trademark introspection.

17: Red Hot Chili Peppers ‎- Mother’s Milk

The rock band’s funk-rap breakthrough catapulted from the underground to the mainstream and helped carve out the singular path that the group has been on ever since.

16: Tom Petty – Full Moon Fever

Tom Petty teamed up with Jeff Lynne for his solo debut, taking the sound he had perfected with the Heartbreakers to new and exciting heights.

Tom Petty - Free Fallin'

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15: Neil Young – Freedom

After several years of mixed success, Neil Young came back in full force with this album that reestablished him as the generation’s fiercely principled folk-rock legend.

14: Motley Crue – Dr. Feelgood

After kicking drugs and alcohol, the heavy metal band came back stronger on their fifth studio album which is among their most successful to date.

13: Neneh Cherry – Raw Like Sushi

The singular Swedish artist’s debut album includes the hit “Buffalo Stance” and introduced her unapologetically feminist lyrics and fiery pop meets punk meets hip-hop sound to the world.

12: The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses

The rock band’s debut is an excellent mashup of the rock, pop and dance music that defined the music scene in Manchester at the time.

11: Aerosmith – Pump

With hits like “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” and “Janie’s Got A Gun,” the established rock band’s 1989 album cemented their comeback and proved that some bands can age like fine wine.

Aerosmith - Janie's Got A Gun (Official Music Video)

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10: Bonnie Raitt ‎- Nick of Time

With the help of producer Don Was, Bonnie Raitt’s comeback album features some of her best storytelling, including the title hit.

09: Madonna – Like a Prayer

The pop queen’s stylistically diverse fourth studio album includes the smash hit, “Like A Prayer,” and established her as a creator of trends and not a follower.

08: Nine Inch Nails ‎- Pretty Hate Machine

Though it didn’t make much of an impact when it was released, Trent Reznor’s 1989 album has become something of a slow burn, gathering more and more devoted listeners over the years due to its innovative use of guitars and synthesizers.

07: Pixies – Doolittle

The rock band’s quirky and at times chilling sophomore album would go on to influence a legion of future rockstars like Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.

06: Soul II Soul – Keep On Movin

The influential British group’s debut album blended hip-hop, funk, R&B, and more to create a hybrid pop sound that would go on to define Black British music in the early 1990s.

Soul II Soul - Keep On Movin' (Official Video)

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05: The B-52s ‎- Cosmic Thing

Home to smash hit, “Love Shack” the new wave group’s enlisted producers Don Was and Nile Rodgers for an excellent comeback record that’s all killer, no filler.

04: Janet Jackson – Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814

The pop icon’s politically charged concept album proved that you didn’t have to compromise your morals on the dancefloor.

03: De La Soul ‎- 3 Feet High and Rising

The alt hip-hop pioneers’ debut album arguably created a genre in its wake, embracing whimsy and dreamy introspection in a way never before seen in commercially successful hip-hop.

02: The Cure – Disintegration

Inspired by a difficult bout with depression, the band’s 1989 album took the darkness of their previous work and exploded it into a completely realized album full of honesty and heart.

01: Beastie Boys ‎- Paul’s Boutique

A sampledelia favorite, the hip-hop group’s second album is an innovative treasure trove of sound that exploded the limits of hip-hop production and has inspired countless producers to date.

Beastie Boys - Hey Ladies

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Looking for more? Listen to our 80s pop playlist on Spotify.

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