Top 20 Best Alternative Rock Albums of the 80s
It was a strange decade. Terrible fashion, walls coming down, Reagan, “greed is good” – it is difficult to define these 10 years, especially in music. Hair metal, new wave, post-disco, rap all came into fashion with varying levels of credibility. It was also the nascent era of “indie” rock or later often termed “alternative”. It is difficult to list a definitive top 20 best alternative rock albums of the 80s, because as a genre alternative is tough to define.
What is alternative rock? Is it a band on an indie label that is only heard on stations “left of the dial”? Is it a new wave band with a synthesizer-heavy sound? Or is it a jangly pop band from Georgia whose lead singer’s lyrics are mumbled and indecipherable? Sure – let’s go with all of the above. But a lot of artists get put into this category that probably shouldn’t – Oasis is not alternative and never was.
As a child of the 80s – I went to high school and college during the decade – my musical education started here. I like to think the very eclectic nature of that era helped broaden my musical tastes. But in the end I prefer bands heavy on guitars and light on flash. So while I think this list should be pretty uncontroversial, I will undoubtedly leave out a lot of deserving records.
There are literally hundreds of records that could be considered important or influential that came out during this time. However, I included ones that had at least some commercial impact, had acknowledged artistic importance, and limited to one album per band. These are not listed in any particular order, as I do not try to define one as more important than another. So here we go.
The Replacements – Tim (1985)
In the chaotic history of The Replacements, 1985 was a pivotal year. As their first major label record, expectations were high for Tim. Their prior release Let It Be, their final record for Twin Tone records, had garnered critical accolades the previous year. Although their live shows continued to typically be sloppy, drunken and inconsistent, their sound was moving on from the early days of bratty punk. Lead singer Paul Westerberg started showcasing more of the songwriting skills that featured a sensitive pop side.
Released by Sire Records in October of 1985, the album showed “The Mats” at their best. Loud rock blasts like “Bastards of Young” and “Left of the Dial” co-existed with a melancholy ballad like “Here Comes a Regular” – my favorite song of this band. Unlike previous records, there were no throwaways here – although a song like “Waitress In the Sky” still exhibited some of their snarky, snotty side. Despite critical acclaim, the record did not chart well, reaching only 183 on the Billboard Top 200.
The band followed up this (relative) success with Please to Meet Me in 1987. The musical blueprint was similar to Tim, and contained classic Replacements songs like “Alex Chilton”, “Can’t Hardly Wait”, “Skyway”, and “The Ledge”. It performed only slightly better than Tim, frustrating the band and the label. Followup albums Don’t Tell a Soul and All Shook Down, although also containing some of Paul Westerberg’s best songs, fared similarly. Heading into the 90’s, the band broke up.
The Replacements legacy goes far beyond commercial success. The bands they influenced are too numerous to mention. Their sometimes self-destructive tendencies and lack of acclaim in their own time does not diminish what they did accomplish – including this classic album. For more detail on their complicated story, consider this excellent read, ‘Trouble Boys : The True Story of the Replacements‘.
Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes (1983)
If any band in the early 80s alternative scene was difficult to define, it was the Wisconsin band Violent Femmes. Formed when leader Gordon Gano was still in his teens, the band may be one of the few pop/rock bands to feature a xylophone. With obvious punk, pop, country, and rockabilly influences, they were a band with a sound all their own. Their debut album, released by Slash Records in the spring of 1983, threw all these ingredients into a pot and came out with a defining album of the era.
The album kicks off with what is still their calling card, a 2 minute 25 second stuttering ode to teenage angst “Blister in the Sun”. Along with songs like “Kiss Off” and “Gone Daddy Gone”, this was a big part of the soundtrack of my youth. It was difficult to go to any college party in the next 5 years without hearing “Blister in the Sun”. Although this was considered a cult classic, the album eventually went gold and remains one of the most distinctive records of the era.
Although the Femmes never quite matched the critical and commercial success on subsequent releases, the band has carried on (with some gaps) to this day. They released their 10th studio album Hotel Last Resort in 2019.
The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989)
The term seen most to describe The Stone Roses debut album is “psychedelic”. Hailing from Manchester, England, the band featured rumbling bass lines mixed with slow building jangly, guitar swirls. Combined with Ian Brown’s cool, disaffected vocals resulted in a sound that was both trippy and classic rock. Released in May of 1989 on Silvertone Records, it original had little initial impact but eventually sold 4 million copies.
Critical and commercial success came slowly as the sound was not easy to initially define. Although considered an initiator of the UK drug driven rave culture, this was not really a dance record with the possible exception of the song “I Wanna Be Adored”. Band members have been quoted as not particularly liking the album, and there have been a wide range of opinions on the importance of the record, from one of the greatest British rock albums ever, to over-indulgent with pedestrian lyrics. It is difficult however to dispute it’s influence, as it is credited as an originator of the “Madchester” scene that included Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and many others.
The band only released one other album before breaking up in 1996 – the harder edged, commercially and critically disappointing Second Coming. Personally, I liked this record as it featured guitarist John Squire’s heavier blues rock side. But it was a significant departure from their debut’s signature sound and did not resonate as well with the fans. The band members had successful careers following the breakup, and have reformed a few times over the years for short periods. In 2019 John Squire announced a final breakup of the band.
The Pixies – Doolittle (1989)
Very few bands have been as influential as the Pixies while still being mostly obscure to the majority of music fans. Nirvana may have still existed without the Pixies – but would they have sounded the same? While not a “grunge” band by any means, they certainly set the stage for the success of bands that came after them. They helped to pioneer the “loud-quiet” dynamic that bands like Smashing Pumpkins turned into more commercial success in the 90s.
With influences as disparate as folk and Hüsker Dü, the band’s eclectic sound never fully broke into the mainstream, although they were a college radio staple. The surreal lyrics written by lead singer Black Francis didn’t fit any genre either, and their sound was only really appreciated many years later. Their debut album in 1988, Surfer Rosa, was a raw blast of rock aggression mixed with pop melody. They followed that up in 1989 with the more refined, and slightly more accessible, Doolittle. The band’s first international release on Elektra Records was a critical and commercial success, with two charting singles “Here Comes Your Man” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven”.
While there may be some disagreement on whether Surfer Rosa or Doolittle is the band’s peak, the impact of both of these albums on the musical decade to follow is indisputable. Although they could both be in any best alternative rock albums of the 80s list, Doolittle is my choice here. The band’s mix of melody and bombast, coupled with dark lyrics on offbeat subject matter, was arguably the very definition of “alternative” rock for the next decade. The band released two more albums in 1990 and 1991. Both were moderately successful, but tensions in the band led to a breakup in 1993. They have since reformed (again) and released their 7th album Beneath the Eyrie.
The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986)
The Smiths had a very brief career, releasing four studio albums between 1984 and 1987. Despite this, they are considered one of the most influential British pop/rock bands of the era. Released by Sire Records in the US, The Queen is Dead was considered by NME to be the greatest album of all time (controversially), and it has consistently ranked as one of the most consequential releases of the 80s, leading to the “Britpop” movement.
The combination of lead singer Morrissey’s histrionic and somewhat narcissistic vocals, along with guitarist Johnny Marr’s understated virtuosity, resulted in a sound that was both spare and bombastic. The anti-establishment lyrical message, while often being darkly humorous, resonated with many of the disaffected youth of the time. The Smiths were fairly commercially successful – The Queen is Dead reached number 70 on the Billboard Top 200 and was certified gold in 1990. The only single from the album was “Bigmouth Strikes Again”.
The band released one more album in 1987, the commercial and critical success Strangeways, Here We Come. However, the infamous “creative differences” between Johnny Marr and Morrissey led to Marr leaving the band and they broke up in 1989. Despite many rumors of a reunion over the years, the members have continually denied any wish for this to happen.
Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade (1984)
This is another band whose career arc was short but had a large impact on music to follow. They released two albums and an EP on Reflex Records, before signing with SST in 1984 and releasing Zen Arcade as a double album. The record was an aggressive punk opera, with a hint of the more melodic structures to come later. It was a major success for an album on an independent label and is credited as being one of the key influences of punk rock and grunge bands that came along in the next decade.
Covering 23 songs, most of which didn’t break the 3 minute mark, it veers from slashing punk to hints of classic and pop rock, ending with a 14 minute instrumental. It is essentially a story album, following the trials of a young man who eventually finds it was his subconscious talking to him. Although the album wasn’t a big sales success, partly due to mismanagement by SST, it received many accolades upon release and in subsequent years as one of the best albums of the 80s.
After two more studio releases for SST, the band signed with Warner Brothers and released Candy Apple Grey in 1986. The band had evolved significantly by then, as band leaders Grant Hart (drums) and Bob Mould (guitar) mixed in more pop influences to the slower tempo songs. Although both this album and the next, Warehouse Songs and Stories, had only moderate commercial results, they were also critically acclaimed. Tensions between Mould and Hart led to their breakup in 1989. They both went on to successful solo careers. Hart passed in 2017 of liver cancer.
In the end, it is difficult to choose the “best” album from Hüsker Dü – they were all outstanding in their own way. Personally I most enjoy Candy Apple Grey for it’s more accessible approach, but from the standpoint of make a statement about the band’s style and intentions, Zen Arcade stands out.
Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense (1984)
For some artists, a live performance recording is a defining moment. So it was for Talking Heads, an eclectic New York group who formed in the 1970s but reached a peak in the early 80s. They released their fifth studio album Speaking In Tongues in 1983, which contained their biggest hit “Burning Down the House”. The following year they released Stop Making Sense, a live album accompanying the Jonathan Demme movie of their performance. It was an enormous success, showcasing their visual and musical versatility. It is personally my favorite concert movie of all time.
Though Talking Heads were often described as one of the early “New Wave” bands, they were much more musically. With influences such as funk, rock and world styles, they melded all this into a unique style, with David Byne’s staccato, offbeat lyrics riding over the beat. Stop Making Sense demonstrates all these characteristics throughout, with extended versions in the movie showing the power of the nine member group.
The group released three more studio albums in the 80s before breaking up in 1991. All the members have gone on to have musical success, with Byrne in particular having a very notable solo career. In 2002 Talking Heads were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Cure – The Head on the Door (1985)
The first incarnations of what became The Cure was formed in the early 1970s by leader and singer Robert Smith. The early sound was more of a minimalist pop punk, a more lightweight version of what was to come. As Smith gained more control of the sound, it evolved into a darker, more atmospheric sound and look. This “goth” genre associated The Cure with groups like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division, although they often displayed a more pop influenced sound.
Although they had experienced significant success with their first 4 albums in the 80s, the release of The Head on the Door in 1985 raised them to a new level of artistic and commercial success. It was their first album to have widespread appeal in the US, spawning two singles “In Between Days” and “Close to Me”. The album showcased Smith and the band’s ability to effectively straddle the dark, morose goth influences with a lighter poppy sound. Throughout their career they demonstrated an ability to both create cohesive albums while having a continuous flow of hit singles.
Although Smith is the only core member that has been in place throughout their history, the band has persevered through lineup changes to this day. Their awards and accolades are too numerous to mention, and the influence they had on the musical landscape of the 80s and 90s cannot be over-estimated. The Cure was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.
R.E.M. – Life’s Rich Pageant (1986)
Arguments could be made for several of R.E.M.s 1980’s releases as one of the best of the decade. But Life’s Rich Pageant stands out as a turning point from their earlier more folk, gothic southern influenced work to a more rock influenced more-accessible sound. Personally I really liked their early Murmer and Reckoning releases – singer Michael Stipe’s mumbled vocals and all. However, their commercial success in the following decades did not significantly change their ethos as a band. The continued as a socially conscious, musically ethical band until their breakup in 2011.
Up until the release of this album, the band from Athens, Georgia was primarily known as an alt-rock pioneer with a signature sound based on Peter Buck’s jangly, Byrds influenced style of minimalist guitar textures. With the improved sales success of this and following releases, their stature and influence only grew. The way they went about their business was an inspiration to many bands – unlike many bands their core never changed except for drummer Bill Berry’s departure in 1998. They were a successful singles band, with one of the first being “Fall on Me” from this album.
They released 15 studio albums in their almost 30 year career, and sold many millions of records. But besides their musical legacy, they will always be remembered for their integrity and ethical stances. In 2007 R.E.M was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation (1988)
Formed in New York in 1981 by founding members Thurston Moore (guitar), Lee Renaldo (guitar), and Kim Gordon (bass), Sonic Youth is credited with being a founding member of the avent-garde “noise rock” scene. Their early work was very experimental and though it met with critical acclaim (mostly), it wasn’t until they refined their signature discordant rock sound that the band had more success in the alternative genre.
Daydream Nation was their fifth studio album, released on Enigma records as a double disc record. It was highly acclaimed, making many lists of 1988’s best albums. The group’s musical themes of alternate tunings and dissonant textures created a unique musical landscape over which one of the members would “sing” – vocals prowess was not a critical element. The album did not chart in the US, but the single “Teen Age Riot” was popular on alternative radio.
Although the group would achieve more commercial success with followup major label releases in the early 90s, Daydream Nation may be considered the band’s artistic peak, at the very least a unique and important touchstone for the decade. They were a clear influence on the grunge era that came shortly after, although their complex guitar signatures were unique to their sound. The band disbanded in 2011, all the members moving on to new projects.
The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psycho Candy (1985)
My introduction to The Jesus and Mary Chain was their third album Automatic and the singles “Blues from a Gun” and “Head On”. But it was their debut album Psycho Candy that set the stage for a tidal shift in rock style in the following decade. The industrial style grinding guitars, heavy drum sound and nasal, deadpan vocals was a blueprint for other noise rock bands like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine.
Founded by Scottish brothers Jim and William Reid, the early incarnations of the band leaned heavily on the influences of bands like the Stooges and Velvet Underground, a punk-tinged pop aesthetic. They became known for short chaotic live performances, back to the audience, often marred by violence. Despite this reputation, they released the album Psycho Candy on Blanco y Negro records in 1985 to mostly positive critical acclaim. Its feedback drenched textures over more conventional rock song structures resulted in concise concentrations of white noise and pop sensibility.
The album had three single releases, “Never Understand”, “You Trip Me Up”, and “Just Like Honey”. The album did well in the UK charts and cracked the US Top 200, reaching 188. This is another band who’s legacy outpaced it’s sales success. They are often credited as a progenitor of the “shoe-gazer” bands to follow, and their punky ethos put a stamp on the change in the musical landscape coming at the end of the decade.
Dinosaur Jr. – You’re Living All Over Me (1987)
Nobody can claim that Dinosaur Jr. doesn’t have their own distinct sound. From guitarist J Mascis’ feedback and distortion drenched guitar, to his laconic, often off-key vocals, they were unique. Although they have many disparate influences, from classic guitar rock, psychedelic pop, even country – they mash it all together into a massive, lo-fi wall of sound.
While still known as Dinosaur, the band released their sophomore album, You’re Living All Over Me, on SST records in December 1987. The album was re-released in 1988 after the band was required to change their name to Dinosaur Jr. With it’s massive, distorted guitar heroics riding over a rumbling beat, with occasional quiet interludes, the blueprint was set for their subsequent albums. Highly critically acclaimed, they set a power trio standard for heavy indie rock bands to follow.
After another SST release in 1988, Bug, the band signed to major label Sire Records in 1990. Although it mostly became the J Mascis show in the 90s, the band soldiered on through the grunge years, and continues to release records to this day. In 2009 they went back to an indie label, signing to Jagjagwar records. They have released three critically acclaimed albums since then, with all three original members from the You’re Living All Over Me group back on-board.
Meat Puppets – Meat Puppets II (1984)
From their name to their acquired-taste sound, the Meat Puppets epitomized western American indie rock in the 80s. They are often described as part of the “cow-punk” scene, although originally they were primarily a punk rock band in the early days. However, the sound morphed into a pastiche of psychedelic country and distorted rock, while retaining some of their early punk edge.
Their sophomore album Meat Puppets II was released by SST records in 1984. It was a departure from 1982’s Meat Puppets as much of the hardcore punk sound was replaced by a more nuanced country influenced sound, including a couple acoustic tracks. While not a sales success, and critical acclaim was not universal at the time, the album and band is often cited as a major influence of many of the alternative acts of the 90s.
The band released four more albums in the 80s on the SST label. They moved to London Records in the 90s and have recorded nine albums since, with two hiatus periods. The core members, brothers Curt (guitar, vocals) and Cris Kirkwood (bass, vocals), as well as drummer Derrick Bostrom remain together as a band and continue to record and perform.
The Cocteau Twins – Treasure (1984)
In many ways, The Cocteau Twins are an oddity. With a signature sound that incorporates indecipherable lyrics sung with odd hiccups and trills, and a heavy effects driven guitar texture, the band was unlike anything at the time. Singer Elizabeth Fraser’s atmospheric vocal style has been often been described as “ethereal”, and it certainly describes it well. The effect is emotional more than message driven, as the lyrics are often not in any recognizable language.
The band had released two studio albums and several EPs by the time Treasure was released in 1984 on 4AD Records. The album solidified their unique sound, although the band felt the production was rushed. However, it was considered a critical success and an essential part of the 80s “dream pop” genre. They were also credited with being a progenitor of the “shoe gazer” movement, bands that valued lush soundscapes over literal-ism and flash.
They released five more studio albums through the 80s and 90s, including their most successful Heaven or Las Vegas, with a single of the same name reaching No. 9 on the Modern Rock charts. The band broke up following the dissolution of the relationship of Fraser and guitarist Robin Guthrie.
Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking (1988)
Los Angeles band Jane’s Addiction released their debut album on Warner Bros. records in the fall of 1988. The sound of the record was an essential definition of “alt-rock” and a blueprint for bands to come in the grunge 90s. Crunching rock guitar, heavy bottom end, and nasal, strident vocals from leader Perry Farrell created a distinctive sound with roots in Led Zeppelin and other classic rock. Although initially the album didn’t have a strong chart impact, the record eventually went gold and is acknowledged as a classic of the era.
It is hard to pigeon-hole Jane’s sound, as the influences were many and varied. Heavy-metal, punk, folk, funk, arty psychedelic – you name it, it could be found on Nothing’s Shocking and the 1990 followup Ritual de lo Habitual. “Jane Says”, the initial single, was a slower, steel-drum inflected ode to the impact of drug addiction. “Mountain Song” was the second single, a huge crunching guitar rides over a galloping bass line, with Farrell’s howling vocals on top. A third single “Ocean Side” was released in 1989. As the decade ended, Jane’s Addiction could be credited with signalling the end of the hair metal era, although their music actually contained elements of the flashy rock genre.
Jane’s Addiction only released two more studio albums after Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual, as the members split off into other projects. Perry Ferrell experience moderate success with Porno for Pyros, while guitarist Dave Navarro had a short stint with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and had other projects with the other members of the band. This is another story of a band who made a big impact in a short span of time, helping to usher in a new era of rock music.
U2 – War (1983)
Although it would be hard to define U2 as an “alternative” band after the 80s, in the early part of the decade they were definitely at a different place than now, albeit a band with big aspirations. Their first two albums, Boy and October, established the core of their sound. Defined by The Edge’s searing and soaring guitar riffs, Bono’s forceful and heart-felt vocals, the band incorporated classic rock elements with a spiritual themes. However, by 1983 the band was at a turning point, as personal doubts and lack of career progress almost led to a breakup.
War was released by Island records in early 1983. It quickly became their biggest commercial success, going to #1 in the UK, and reaching #12 in the US. Its theme of the tragic effects of conflict was a change from the first two records, and incorporated less of the guitar effects used on those albums. It was a hard-hitting political statement, with martial drums and strident vocals that couldn’t be ignored. The album translated well to the stage, as U2’s live show became an event to rival bigger bands of the time.
There doesn’t need to be much said about U2’s career after this point, as they became arguably the biggest band in the world at the end of the 80s and into the 90s. While their greatest album was undoubtedly The Joshua Tree, released in 1987, I could not consider them an alternative band by this time. Though others may dispute this, at that point they were well into the mainstream, although their political consciousness remained intact. Regardless, War still definitely belongs in any list of best alternative rock albums of the 80s.
New Order – Low-Life (1985)
The English group New Order rose from the ashes of Joy Division after the death of lead singer Ian Curtis. Their initial work was clearly patterned after that group’s sound but developed into a more electronic synth-pop dance rock sound. They were considered a part of the “new wave” genre of the mid and late 80s, a post-punk ethos which retained some of the spiky anarchic elements of punk with a cooler, beat driven dance sound.
After the initial two studio releases after the end of Joy Division, Low-Life was released on Factory Records in 1985. The album demonstrated the continued departure from the harder, guitar driven sound into the synth-dance mix that would continue to be their signature from that point. Their unique style, with Peter Hook’s bass often used as a lead instrument over the cool synth atmospherics and electronic drum rhythms, complimented Bernard Sumner’s somewhat monotone vocals.
The band has remained relevant up to the present day, with seven more studio albums since Low-Life, including the followup album Brotherhood, which contained one of their biggest singles “Bizarre Love Triangle”. Although there have been a couple breakups, the band latest album was released in 2015 and they continue to tour to this day – minus bassist Peter Hook who left the band in 2007.
Camper Van Beethoven – Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (1988)
Hailing from Redlands, California, Camper Van Beethovan’s music was an eclectic mix of pop, rock and “alt-country” (before that really existed). A true indie rock pioneer, they hit the alternative rock consciousness in 1985 with their single “Take the Skinheads Bowling”, a song singer David Lowery would basically describe as a “nonsense” track. It’s surprise success featured one of the key ingredients to their sound, a sense of the absurd.
After their three independent label releases, the group signed to Virgin Records in 1987. Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart was released in 1988 to positive critical review and modest sales. There were no hits, surprise or otherwise, like “Take the Skinheads Bowling”. However, the album was a strong showcase of the band’s signature mashup of Americana, Middle Eastern, country-tinged psychedelic rock. It was a creative high point and influenced many other indie bands of the time.
After one more album in the 80s, Key Lime Pie, the band disbanded in 1990. David Lowery formed the successful band Cracker, while the other members moved on to other projects. In 1999 the band regrouped and has released four more studio albums.
Siouxsie and the Banshees – Juju (1981)
Formed in the late 70s by singer Siouxsie Sioux and bass guitarist Steven Severin, Siouxsie and the Banshees released their first album The Scream in 1978. Through the 80s they released seven studio albums. It is difficult to pinpoint the best of these since elements of new wave, punk, synth pop, guitar rock and gothic rock came through in different degrees on different releases. Much depended on the preference of the listening audience. However, it can’t be disputed that the band is one of the pioneers of the alt-rock scene of the 80s.
Although 1986’s Tinderbox and 1988’s Peepshow are often mentioned as highlights of the band’s career, it was 1981’s Juju that solidified their standing as an indie rock heavyweight. Released on the Polydor label, it was a clear demonstration of the band’s ability to utilize eclectic sounds within a framework of somewhat dark post-punk rock. The record garnered positive critical acclaim and although it didn’t have an impact on the US charts it was their highest UK ranking record of their career.
This record set the stage for continued success throughout 80s and early 90s. As with many of the alt-rock bands of the era, their influence and musical impact outweighed their sales numbers. Artists such as The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Radiohead spoke of the band’s influence over their sound. The band broke up in 1996 after 20 years and 11 studio albums.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Mother’s Mik (1989)
Much like U2, you would be hard-pressed to list the Red Hot Chili Peppers as an alternative band now, but in the late 80s they were something new and unique. Fusing funk, punk, psychedelia and hard rock guitar, they created a sound that helped lay the path for funk and nu metal bands to follow. They also incorporated elements of hip-hop into the sound, not as a novelty as by some previous rock bands, but as a key feature of their songs.
Formed by four high school friends in California in the early 80s, their initial releases, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Freaky Styley, were not huge successes. However, they set the stage for what was to come, as the band refined their style. Heroin addiction of lead singer Anthony Kiedis and guitarist Hillel Slovak threatened to derail the bands next album, and in fact Slovak died of a heroin overdose after recording the third album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan in 1988.
1989 was a turning point, as Slovak’s death lead to Kiedis going to rehab, and guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith joined the group. With this new lineup, Mother’s Milk was recorded for EMI Records in that year. It become their biggest international success to date, being certified gold in 1990. The addition of Frusciante added melodic elements not previously seen in their work, and laid the groundwork for bigger successes in the 90s. They are now superstars in the rock world, but it may not have come about without the changes in 1989 and the success of this album.
As a side note, I highly recommend the book by RHCP bassist Flea “Acid for the Children“.
For those of us who survived the 80s, there was a lot to like in music, and so much else that was….not. While it is difficult to define what are the best alternative rock albums of the 80s, the albums and bands listed above helped save us from another decade of vapid hair metal, mainstream pop dreck, and disco. Although, full disclosure, I didn’t hate disco. Don’t judge me.
While there may be some argument about what constitutes “alternative”, the albums I have listed (and many more) laid the path for what I will the call “world conquering” genre shifts in the 90s (see : grunge). These bands demonstrated there was gold in them thar hills outside the confines of mainstream rock and pop. Much as gansta rap shifted the needle on hip-hop to a more genuine version of the medium, these first alternative bands took the path less taken, to the benefit of all who followed that path later.
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