1985 was a blistering year for music and revolutionary artists. This was all fueled by the political climate; Gorbachev had just become the leader of The Soviet Union. This would, however, prove to be a good thing, as Gorbachev had better diplomatic ideas and brought the Soviet Union out of its communist tendencies — the union was dissolved by 1990.
A year passed since 1984, the year and name of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, where he envisioned a society shackled by totalitarianism, censorship, and homogeneity. However, the sense that this could still happen lingered in the air, which only fueled the creative aspirations of artists working within the music industry.
Live Aid took place, which saw Queen reunite for the concert and also steal the show from a cast of countless greats. Live Aid was sparked after more televised cases of famine throughout Africa were broadcast. 1985 also saw the Unabomber, an environmentalist seeking to stop the gears of the destructive spread of technological advancement, take even more extreme measures and bombs his first victim.
Many observed what would become one of the worst advertising blunders when the multi-national corporation announced their coca-cola drink: ‘New Coke’. After throwing this new recipe out the window, ‘Classic Coca-Cola’ would return. The famous Calvin and Hobbes comic made its debut in newspapers. Nintendo, the gaming console, is released in the States — the world was a very different place.
Overall, 1985 was a great year for music; originality could not have been at a higher peak. In addition to the selections we made in our list, the charts that year were dominated by the likes of Madonna, Whitney Houston, who made her debut, A-ha, Simple Minds, Tina Turner, Huey Lewis, Duran Duran, Prince, and many more.
Below, however, you’ll find a list of the ‘coolest’ artists – you won’t be disappointed.
List of the best albums of 1985
Psychocandy – The Jesus and Mary Chain
Psychocandy definitely captures a certain dream-like, moody aesthetic. Perhaps it helps that the most popular track off the album, ‘Just Like Honey’, appears in Sofia Coppola’s film, Lost in Translation featuring Bill Murray. It may take some people a few listens before they realise just how brilliant the record is. What one may have to do, is let go of any expectations you have for music; meet the music — don’t always expect the music to meet you.
Psychocandy is certainly not a commercial record, this is a work of art. Although having said that, the record is very enjoyable in ways that a commercial record is enjoyable; its got catchy hooks, loud guitars, and a general reverb-soaked sound.
Although released in 1985, the album sounds like it belongs in the 60s; today’s age is not the only time that bands looked back in time and saw a better time for art. Began by brothers Jim and William Reid, they formed The Jesus and Mary Chain in the same vein as The Velvet Underground, the German group, Einsturzende Neubauten, and The Shangri-Las. The band and, specifically this album, remains an absolute cult classic.
Low-Life – New Order
It is fervently against rock folklore that bands ever survive the death of their lead singer — this is just one of the many reasons that make New Order an outstanding band.
The way they did survive the death of Ian Curtis, the singer of Joy Division, is because they shed their identity as Joy Division and reinvented themselves as a serious ‘80s pop, dance, but yet intellectually inclined band. Bernard Sumner, initially Joy Division’s guitar player, took on the role as the group’s singer; they recruited an electronic section, Gillian Gilbert on keys, and took a note or two from the disco scene in New York.
Low-Life is a brilliant record from one track to the next, and it doesn’t slow down. It is considered the greatest album New Order ever made; indeed, it shows the band at the height of the powers as they seamlessly created a new brand of ‘80s pop music.
Hounds of Love – Kate Bush
Considered Kate Bush’s best album she ever made, Hounds of Love marked a return to form for Kate Bush, and it spawned three hits for her, especially in ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’. Kate Bush is every bit important in the ‘80s as the big-haired Robert Smith and Euro-centrism, beat-driven New Order.
Kate Bush, a bit of a child prodigy, was discovered by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd at the tender age of 15; this didn’t matter; she was so ahead of her time. She even took time off after her first record to study English literature at university.
In the summer of 1983, Kate Bush built her own studio behind her family’s home, making her creative process seamless and accessible. As it entered the UK charts, it came in at the sixth position and slowly crept up from there, eventually pushing out the immortal Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’; this is a case of quirkiness beating out the tried and true.
Kate Bush forever remains an enigma and rarity within the public’s eye but a genius in the studio.
Head on the Door – The Cure
When Robert Smith spoke about the influences that went into the record, he mentioned some key contemporary records that he wanted to try and emulate at the time.
Two of these records were Kaleidoscope by Siouxsie and the Banshees and Dare by The Human League, both of which, according to Smith, is “the idea of having lots of different sounding things, different colours.”
The album is a great collection of pop songs and proved to be one of The Cure’s most commercially successful albums in the UK. This album marked a temporary shift in The Cure’s sound.
Robert Smith could have easily gone further down a road marked by the kind of characteristics that are found on records like Pornography. Instead, The Cure sought to bring the energy back down to the earth a little more and provide more pronounced and accessible songs.
Rain Dogs – Tom Waits
Tom Waits is a kind of shamanic, demonic, and ancient spirit of music. Equally respected by the highest of high musicians and the lowest of low, Tom Waits has always been a kind of watchful shadow on any city he resides in — soaking in the culture and then distilling the ambience of the city through organic sounds obtained in the city. This is exactly what he did with Rain Dogs.
Tom Waits always liked fighting for his sound; he would much rather hit a 2×4 plank of wood on a closet for drums if the sound isn’t quite right on the actual drumset. Saying about this point, “If I want a sound, I usually feel better if I’ve chased it and killed it, skinned it and cooked it. Most things you can get with a button nowadays. So if I was trying for a certain drum sound, my engineer would say, ‘Oh, for Christ’s sake, why are we wasting our time?” Keith Richards is featured on the record, he plays on three of the tracks.
Waits has described his experience with Richards as such, “I was trying to explain ‘Big Black Mariah’ and finally I started to move in a certain way and he said, ‘Oh, why didn’t you do that to begin with? Now I know what you’re talking about.’”
Rain Dogs, especially on a list like this, stands on its own as a gigantic monument to those who reject the conformities of life; his album is whiskey-soaked jazz, a violent meditation of method-acting and dreaming within one’s imagination. Waits set out to capture the notion of ‘the urban dispossessed’ — he definitely achieved this.
Songs from the Big Chair – Tears For Fears
Songs From The Big Chair, much like The Cure’s Head On The Door, presented a well-polished sound of hit songs, one right after another. Tired of being on the road, Tears For Fears started their band when they realised they wanted to be more of a force for songwriting and hide out in the studio and, much like a crazy chemist, create concoctions of wonderment and larger-than-life gems.
This was Tears For Fears second album, and it propelled the band to astronomical proportions, creating the quintessential ‘80s pop sound that many have come to associate the ‘80s with. Curt Smith of the band described the record as, “The title was my idea. It’s a bit perverse but then you’ve got to understand our sense of humour. The ‘Big Chair’ idea is from this brilliant film called Sybil about a girl with 16 different personalities.
“She’d been tortured incredibly by her mother as a child and the only place she felt safe, the only time she could really be herself was when she was sitting in her analyst’s chair. She felt safe, comfortable and wasn’t using her different faces as a defence. It’s kind of an ‘up yours’ to the English music press who really fucked us up for a while. This is us now – and they can’t get at us anymore.”