Thirty years ago this week, The Smiths released their self-titled debut. It arrived at a time when every bass groove, dissonant guitar and echo-ey drum machine rhythm that would become identified with late '70s and early '80s post-punk music was at its peak. However, this debut also represented a new approach to a genre that The Smiths would eventually became associated with: Their sound still retained the same somber approach, but coupled with jangly rhythms you could dance to. Instead of treading through dark territory already previously established by such notable acts like Siouxsie and the Banshees or Joy Division, The Smiths' presence challenged the limitations of this already progressive genre.
1984 was a big year for debut releases, with the likes of Run D.M.C., The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, all groundbreaking in their respective genres. But The Smiths, with all due respect, may be the only ones whose album still sounds relevant today. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of this post-punk classic, here is a list of the top albums in descending order that have established this genre as our favorite institution for indulging in melancholy grooves.
What would any list of moody post-punk staples be without one of the finest examples of drum machine rhythms, echoey lyricism and mystical atmosphere? Decidedly incomplete. While Public Image Ltd. explored the destruction of pop conventions through clamor and discordance, Cocteau Twins discovered similar pop music deviations, however in different ways, as evident in songs such as other-worldly and heavenly tracks such as "Ivo" and "Lorelei."9. Chairs Missing - Wire Pink Flag
is a quintessential minimalist punk rock standard. If that were Wire's only release, this band would still garner accolades and list-recognition. But when they released an album such asChairs Missing
, Colin Newman and company took the very digestible jagged punk material from their first release and transformed their sound into something enjoyably obscure, adding atmosphere and depth. The album opens with "Practice Makes Perfect," a frightening song that only builds in tension but never to a breaking point. However, you can still find yourself bobbing your head in unison to the jarring rhythms. Then there's the chant-along "I am the Fly," and the pop subtlety of "Heartbeat."Chairs Missing
plays musical chairs with a myriad of post-punk stylizations.8. Rip It Up - Orange Juice
While this album borders on some early new-wave tendencies, Orange Juice still took a different approach to twisting early punk-rock attitude, adding more attention to playful lyricism and a youthful naiveté when it came to their song writing. Post-punk doesn't always have to be outlandishly rebellious, as proven with such songs like "I Can't Help Myself" and the title track, which may be the band's only big hit. That would eventually help pave the way for the dance pop and new wave that was soon to follow. Lead singer Edwyn Colllins retains a soulful formula to his songwriting with his endearing charm and wit. As he sings on "I Can't Help Myself," "Nothing worth finding is easily found, try as one might. That was supposed to sound very profound, it probably sounds trite." Sometimes it doesn't have to be profound, just honest, as is Collins' writing on this stand-out classic.7. S/T - The Raincoats
In 1979, The Raincoats' debut self-titled album took unconventional songwriting and whimsical, nonconforming instrumentation and made it approachable and experimental all at once. There's not one point on the album that can easily be pointed out as measurably consistent with most post-punk albums of the time. Discordant violins, erratic drum pounding, and static guitar playing add layers of depths of innovation contained therein. "Adventures Close to Home," a song that can be labeled as folk-punk to some degree, is a fine example of how adventurous Ana da Silva and Gina Birch could be with chord structure and simple tempo changes, casually arranging them to keep the listener engaged, rather than fitting the need of catchy song-writing.6. S/T - The Smiths
In terms of categorizing The Smiths discography,The Queen is Dead
was the band's career highlight, andMeat is Murder
is the fan favorite, but their self-titled debut reaches post-punk classic status simply by the band's new approach to the guitar-bass-drum rock music standard, one that drew on more emotion as opposed to socio-political awareness and frustration. It was fresh. It was catchy. And it was undeniably without equal at the time. Not to mention "Still Ill" and "This Charming Man," two songs very characteristic of Morrissey's tender and morose lyricism, remain staples of Morrissey's live shows today (when he actually performs shows.)5. Hex Enduction Hour - The Fall
It's a daunting task to pick a favorite Fall album.Hex Enduction Hour
is the perfect album to listen to if you're extremely hungry, stuck in traffic, or just generally irritated. Every track feeds your almost uncomfortable enjoyment, as Mark E. Smith channels heretical frustration through 11 tracks that silence those pesky voices in your head that tell you to "calm down." "The Jawbone + The Air Rifle" is raw and ferocious, whereas "Winter (Hostel-Maxi)" is a steady rising tempo exercise in peculiarity. This album is best consumed all at once, without skipping a track.4. Juju - Siouxsie and the Banshees
Nearly every critical review of this landmark release tosses around the same adjective when painting the overall landscape that is 1981's Juju ... dark. Siouxsie Sioux's refined melodic vocal style, John McGeoch's swirling and intricate guitar work, and primal drum beats that conjures the casual and carefree image of your average war party, this album is indeed dark. But with it's daring venture and enchanting allure, just as the album opener suggests, it is indeed spellbinding, pardon the pun.3. Entertainment! - Gang of Four
Feminism, self-alienation, political discourse and funky rhythyms:Entertainment!
covered all the basics of rebellious and yet world-conscience punk etiquette. But incorporating tumultuous guitar riffs and bass grooves that would later be filed for easy reference for early Fugazi records, this album was set in motion for top album lists for decades, and defined Gang of Four as synonymous to post-punk as Bob Marley is to reggae.2. Unknown Pleasures - Joy Division
Perhaps the most easily accessible album to ever be associated with one genre and one of the most iconic album covers ever, Unknown Pleasures is universally accepted as a classic. That's not so surprising, but oddly enough, not many of the classic Joy Division songs are represented here. Still, this 1979 epic still stands at the forefront of definitive dismal English post-punk.1. Metal Box - Public Image Ltd.
Released in 1980,Metal Box
was a dubby, disharmonious and destructive masterpiece. John Lydon, having left the confines of the three-chord aggression parameters set by the Sex Pistols behind him, took a new band and explored new territory with complete disregard to pop conventions such as choruses and general melody.Low Life
, PIL's first release, profoundly set them apart. And
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established PIL's landmark album as a standard for any record collector's post-punk library. "Albatross," a 10-minute album opener is a bold track based loosely around one constant bass riff and guitars adding only dissonant nuances. This is more or less what makes up each track on this release, but every song seems to bend this formula enough to prevent repetitiveness.