This article is part of Electronic Musician's special 30th Anniversary issue. To read more commemorative content, visit www.emusician.com/30thAnniversary.
At the astronomical height of his popularity, the artist formerly, and again, known as Prince was a movie star as well as a rockstar in the year that Electronic Musician debuted. Guitarist, composer, arranger, producer... His Purpleness deftly blended the synthy and snare-heavy sounds of the day with rock guitars, soul singing, and tasteful orchestration to create an unforgettable soundtrack to his film of the same name. The album yielded two Number One singles (“When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy”) as well as the Number 2 title track. Purple Rain regularly rates high on any list of greatest albums of the ’80s, and it’s on the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry of culturally and historically important sound recordings.
BORN IN THE USA
The Boss followed his acoustic masterpiece Nebraska with his most commercial album ever. Though the songwriting was just as arty-everyman as on earlier classics, the bright sounds of BITUSA seemed to pander to then-current trends, and the look of the album and associated videos (inseparable from music at the time) had longtime fans kinda worried. However, the artist’s refusal to perform the anti-war title anthem in Reagan’s White House reassured the faithful, who just needed to wait out the rest of the ’80s for their hero’s return to form.
WHO’S ZOOMIN’ WHO
Speaking of Springsteen, E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemens played a trademark raunchy solo on the Queen of Soul’s Number One and Grammy-winning R&B single “Freeway of Love.” With production by Narada Michael Walden, the Clemens solo serves to bridge the gap between classic ’60s soul and ’80s pop. But the coolest song that Franklin put out during this period was not originally on WZW: Her inspiring duet with Annie Lennox, “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” was added to later versions of the album.
NO JACKET REQUIRED
The 1986 Album of the Year Grammy winner was released in 1985 to critical acclaim, impressing listeners with its unique synthand horn-centric production by Collins and Hugh Padgham. The singer/drummer composed some of the songs, including the hit “Sussudio,” using beats that he developed while experimenting with a drum machine. But some of the drier and more subtle drumming, and some vocal harmonies on the album (with guests Sting and Peter Gabriel), more closely resemble Collins’ prog-rock days with Genesis.
BROTHERS IN ARMS
One of the first albums to be geared toward CD (vs. vinyl) sales, Brothers in Arms was a massive, surprising hit—one of those albums that makes a huge impact because it doesn’t sound like other records of the time. Old-school organ, smooth-jazz horns, and virtuosic but laid-back guitar work provided the perfect framework for Mark Knopfler’s warm, timeless voice. And, of course, the guitar sound on the iconic MTV-era smash “Money for Nothing” made an indelible impression on a generation of fans and guitar players.
LIKE A VIRGIN
Disproving the sophomore slump rule, Madonna’s second album was her big breakthrough, thanks to its infectious, groove-driven production by Nile Rodgers and hit music videos that played up the pop star’s style and sensuality. Decked out one minute in sort of punk lingerie (“Like a Virgin”), and the next in Marilyn Monroe’s iconic form-fitting pink satin (“Material Girl”), Madonna proved herself a fashion chameleon with great moves—so compelling to watch that her lovely voice quickly became beside the point.
USA FOR AFRICA
WE ARE THE WORLD
Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Billy Joel, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, Cyndi Lauper, Ray freaking Charles, etc., etc.... The biggest pop stars of the day united to record one benefit song, to feed the hungry in Africa. This brilliant collection of voices turned a pretty average song into the fastest-selling single of all time. Further tracks on the Number One WATW album were donated by the artists, who proved that a song doesn’t need Dylan-esque eloquence to change lives.