Music

These Are Powers

Music (from the ’80s and beyond) to fuel you through a battle, a challenge, a triumph, your whole damn year.

Germfree Adolescents
X-Ray Spex
1978, EMI

While I had a weency bit of a shoplifting problem as a teenager, I never stole from other people. Except once. Only once. And I had to. Well, I felt compelled to. I was at a party that my adult-age band mates had brought me to and there it was on the stereo—the debut album by X-Ray Spex. I worked at a record store; I could have surely gotten it another way. I had heard of them but I thought they sounded like something else. Not like this, not like pure teen-girl fireball energy. I needed the CD and I needed to go home and listen to it right now. WHY? Well, to start, the singer, Poly Styrene, had braces. BRACES. I felt enthralled and connected by my years of orthodonture, in love with her fury and her voice and her confidence, leading this taut punk band WITH HER BRACES ON. She sounded like her aim was to terrorize, screaming, “Oh bondage, up yours!” WHAT DID THAT EVEN MEAN?! I wondered. Did she literally have a problem with people tying each other up? Was she a real prude? When I got home I just listened to this one song over and over, neglecting the rest of the album. I lived for that scream of hers, right where her scream meets the sax solo. I want to do that, be that, be her, ignite the world with braces and a saxophone. —Jessica

Zen Arcade
Hüsker Dü
1984, SST

Concept albums are cursed with the corny stamp because of terms like “rock opera” and bands like the Who (DAD!) and Green Day (guyliner!). But Hüsker Dü did it totally right on their record-long tale of a troubled runaway. Thankfully the story isn’t too obvious, so you can either spend listen after listen trying to decode the lyrics, or just tune out and bask in the blissful messiness of the music. Sometimes it sounds like you’re standing outside listening to the garage band next door right when they hit their groove, and sometimes it’s like they’re singing directly to you—alternate air guitar and misty-eyed introspection accordingly. —Joe

The Smiths
The Smiths
1984, Rough Trade/Sire

I know a lot of people disagree, but I think the best Smiths album is their self-titled 1984 debut. From the simple heartbeat percussion that opens “Reel Around the Fountain” to the gorgeous final track, “Suffer Little Children,” the band is at its most sincere, simple, and lovely on this record. Their later stuff might have more technical production or whatever, but I don’t think people really listen to the Smiths for that kind of thing. What’s more important is Morrissey’s signature soar-then-falter croon and the amazing, amazing musicianship of the other band members, and those things shine here. —Amy Rose

Rattlesnakes
Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
1984, Geffen

Isn’t it weird that both of my favorite albums were released in 1984? Lloyd Cole and the Commotions is without a doubt the most underrated band of the decade. Just listen to the title track of this album if you don’t believe me. It’s my favorite song of all time, and here are some lyrics from the chorus that explain why: “She looks like Eva Marie Saint / In On the Waterfront / She reads Simone de Beauvoir / In her American circumstance.” Add that to some other stuff about a girl needing a gun and the jangliest guitar line ever, and you have a perfect song. This album also has the mega-jams “Are You Ready to be Heartbroken?” and “Perfect Skin,” which are nearly as good. —Amy Rose

Loveless
My Bloody Valentine
1991, Creation

The constant fuzz on Loveless wraps around you like a blanket made of best friend hugs, setting your brain static to maximum levels of warmth and dreaminess. Underneath, Kevin Shields is cooing sweet nothings, and the whole thing lulls you to a place of peace, despite being occasionally ear-splitting. Somehow the louder it goes, the more soothing it gets. —Joe

Pretty on the Inside
Hole
1991, Caroline

Ever since eighth grade, Pretty on the Inside has been my go-to album when someone or something is trying to make me feel stupid or ugly or weak. Hole’s first and most raw-sounding record opens with Courtney Love scream-singing, “When I was a teenage whore…” over a cacophony of guitars and drums. You can just picture her sneering, and as you listen, your lip will curl a little bit, too. The lyrics are angry and brash and they make no apologies. Even when Courtney is howling that she wishes she could die, you know she has no intention of doing so. She and her band will claw their way through this bloody landscape filled with garbage men and knives that stab baby angels. If you choose to accompany them, you will emerge knowing that you are million times more powerful than, say, that stupid kid in your gym class who calls you names. Next time you’re taunted by them or anyone else, you’ll hear Courtney’s voice in your head, chanting, “There is no power like my pretty power, like my pretty power, like my UGLY!” Bonus info: this gorgeous thrashfest was produced by Kim Gordon. —Stephanie

Playing With a Different Sex
Au Pairs
1981, Human

Before there was Riot Grrrl, there were Au Pairs, who sang about sex and gender equality on songs like “It’s Obvious,” where Lesley Woods sarcastically sings, “You’re equal / But different”; and “Love Song,” where she thinks about marriage: “Take out the ring / Two fates sealed / Negotiated a business deal / Is this true romance?” The Au Pairs were political, but they were also about damn good music. This is British post-punk at its angriest, most rebellious, and best. —Hazel

A New Morning, Changing Weather
The (International) Noise Conspiracy
2001, Epitaph

I am never into music WITH A MESSAGE, but the (International) Noise Conspiracy managed to completely win me over with this record. The thing about them is that even though their lyrics are all about activism and taking action and other super punk-rock shit, their songs are really dance-y and they go on weird horn or percussive tangents that are beyond any other punk band. My favorite song here, “Bigger Cages, Longer Chains,” has a sick breakdown with keyboard and horns and the best weirdo Middle Eastern-tinged jam EVER at the end. On “Breakout 2001,” front man Dennis Lyxzen sings stuff like “Hey sister, we know you wanna dance too / Without gender hanging over you / Said just wanna be free / Not some billboard advertising dream,” and you’ll be all like, YEAH! It’s an excellent record to sing at the top of your lungs. All the songs have a million quotable parts, and they all adorned my drawing portfolio freshman year of college, when this record took up 50% of my life (the other 50% went to the Strokes’ Is This It?). If there was any piece of music that was ever gonna get me off my ass and to do something, it would be this record. —Laia

Power, Corruption & Lies
New Order
1983, Factory Recordings

There’s never a time when I DON’T feel like listening to New Order, especially Power, Corruption & Lies. The guitar that opens “Age of Consent” will make you stop what you’re doing and dance; “Your Silent Face” is good for those days when you want everyone to leave you alone (but you’ll still be swaying your head to the beat). It’s pure synth-pop poetry and one of the best albums of all time. Your life will be changed, I promise! —Marie

Crocodiles
Echo & the Bunnymen
1980, Korova

Echo & the Bunnymen specialize in a specific kind of musical brooding filled with hypnotizing guitars, wailing vocals, and angsty lyrics—you’ve probably heard their music in movies like Pretty in Pink and Donnie Darko. The star song on this, their debut album, is “Do It Clean,” a total dance song complete with a dramatic opening and tambourine! If you like Crocodiles, you’ll love everything Echo & the Bunnymen does, because they only got better after this. —Hazel

Very Necessary
Salt-N-Pepa
1993, Next Plateau Records

You could go the rest of your life without hearing this album, but it wouldn’t be much of a life. Salt-N-Pepa make fun, danceable music with the greatest lyrics. For example, “None of Your Business,” a diatribe against slut-shaming, goes: “If I wanna take a guy home with me tonight…and if she wanna be a freak and sell it on the weekend…you shouldn’t even get into who I’m givin’ skins to…so don’t try to change my mind, I’ll tell you one more time: it’s none of your business!” Hear the whole song, and watch the video, here. —Anna

Strawberry Switchblade
Strawberry Switchblade
1985, Korova/WEA

With a name like Strawberry Switchblade, you’d expect this duo to be sassy and sweet. Well, they totally are! And not nearly well enough known. These Scottish ladies only really had one album release in the U.S., though they became slightly famous in Japan. Their self-titled LP is one of my favorites, filled with sugary synth-pop songs about being moodily in love. The best song is “Secrets,” a cheeky tune about getting boys to spill theirs. Also, have you seen these girls? Probably the most stylish humans of the whole 1980s. —Hazel

Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
The Cure
1987, Elektra

The first poster I ever got was this one of Cure singer/songwriter Robert Smith. I bought it shortly after I bought Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, which was my very first Cure album, because I just wanted to stare at Robert’s slightly parted lips and imagine myself sliding through them into his brain while the opening riff of “The Kiss” played in the background. I know that’s weird, but somehow it explains this album. Listening to it, I imagine that visiting Robert Smith’s mind is a lot like falling down a rabbit hole to Wonderland. There are moments of pure delight and pleasure, like the album’s best known song, “Just Like Heaven,” and “Why Can’t I Be You?” which has that totally bizarre video where Robert dances around in…what’s that? A fuzzy bear outfit and white high-tops? Next thing you know he’s telling a girl that he hates her in “How Beautiful You Are” because of the way she reacted when a poor family in Paris was staring at her. I almost broke up with a guy (and should have!) because he didn’t understand the sheer power and beauty of that song. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me spins you dizzy through love and hate, but cushions the ride in a perfect web of guitars and synthesizers. Trust me, it’s epic. —Stephanie

True Blue
Madonna
1986, Sire

Don’t let anyone tell you that Madonna’s not awesome, because those people are WRONG. A great way to prove this is by pointing to one of her records—they’re so chockfull of hits that even Rihanna is all, “Wait, what?” This, Madonna’s third album, is a great example, because I think it’s a little underrated even though all the important songs are on it! It starts with “Papa Don’t Preach,” which is kind of like a song version of Juno with a slightly different outcome, and then goes into “Open Your Heart”—I love this song a bunch but also the video, where she’s dancing in the peepshow and then at the end she runs away with the young boy and she steals his hat or something and it’s adorable because you realize that Madonna is HUMAN! Anyways, back to the record: “Live to Tell” is also a killer song, even though it bums me out times infinity, and I remember slow-dancing to it in elementary and middle-school dances. Nobody did a heart-wrenching ballad like Madonna! She was also SO good at really cute songs—“True Blue” is totally in that camp. When I was little I thought “La Isla Bonita” was about Puerto Rico, then I found out that it wasn’t and I was like eh whatever, but I still dig the Spanish guitar. The rest of the songs on here are incredibly ’80s, but you forgive her for it because #1 it WAS the ’80s, and #2 she’s Madonna and she can do no wrong. —Laia

She’s So Unusual
Cyndi Lauper
1983, Portrait

Cyndi Lauper is a legend. She has perfect pitch and a four-octave range, and always looks amazing. She is the queen and the godmother of all the “unusual” girls, ever (that includes you, Lady Gaga). This album had so many hits on it: “Time After Time,” “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (which should just be the anthem of the universe), “All Through the Night,” And “She Bop,” an ode to female masturbation. For a brief moment there in the early ’80s, I swear to you, it was like, “Madonna who?” Cyndi is a miracle. She had a baby when she was 44. She is like a rainbow. —Sonja

I Could Be Happy: The Best of Altered Images
Altered Images
1997, Sony

I love love love the early-’80s Scottish New Wave band Altered Images. Such cute music! The lead singer, Clare Grogan, has a voice so high it sounds like she’s on helium, and an adorable stage presence (this Top of the Pops video makes me really happy). Their super-twee pop songs, like “Happy Birthday” and “Funny Funny Me,” are perfect for when you’re walking on sunshine. My ultimate feel-good album. —Hazel

33 Comments

  • katrinaexplainsitall May 3rd, 2012 11:19 PM

    Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is one of my favorite albums! Just the name of the album is enough to make me swoon.

    http://www.abysms.tumblr.com

  • prettyontheinside May 3rd, 2012 11:59 PM

    woah what a great list some of my favorite records are on here!!! loveless, playing with a different sex, germ-free adolescence, and of course pretty on the inside!!! I’m even listening to au pairs right now. all around a+ i really will have to give strawberry switchblade a listen i am intrigued….

  • bethleeroth May 4th, 2012 12:31 AM

    X-RAY SPEX!!!!! RIP Poly Styrene. Who knew the sax could be so badass.

  • burn-your-flesh May 4th, 2012 1:09 AM

    i would recommend the songs Berry, Mrs. Jones and Garbadge Man off of the album Pretty on the Inside.

  • RachelTri May 4th, 2012 1:11 AM

    I haven’t heard a few of these artists, but I’m really liking the sound of Hüsker Dü and Au Pairs. ’80s music is the best; I am very convinced of this.

  • poppunkgurrrlx May 4th, 2012 1:16 AM

    salt-n-pepa are my girlzzz :3

  • ghostlightshow May 4th, 2012 1:38 AM

    Power, Corruption & Lies is awesome! I love New Order.

  • mayaautumn May 4th, 2012 2:07 AM

    strawberry switchblade is just the BEST of the best.

    http://cottonmixblog.blogspot.com

  • rubyhobbit May 4th, 2012 2:43 AM

    Power, Corruption & Lies is one of my favorite albums and they have the sickest album art cover. Overall, I love New Order… and The Cure, The Smiths, and Echo and the Bunnymen!!!

  • Serena.K May 4th, 2012 5:51 AM

    Power, Corruption & Lies?! Apart from the fact that this is one of the best albums of the 80′s, for the past week I’ve been listening to it non-stop and recommending it to all my friends (none of whom listened to me -sadface-) to get us through finals i.e. A CHALLENGE. It’s funny how Rookie always works in parallel with what’s going on in my life.
    Anyway, another great list guys!

  • eggzonable May 4th, 2012 6:36 AM

    too much awesomeness in one post ;_______________;

  • Caden May 4th, 2012 6:59 AM

    How do you keep coming up with so many awesome playlists?!?

    Caden x
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/pinkpoppies1991

  • espressoslut May 4th, 2012 7:43 AM

    PERFECT FOR SAT WEEKEND

  • chicanery May 4th, 2012 8:09 AM

    It’s great to see The (International) Noise Conspiracy on here, they were sort of the band that got me into politics! My favorite song is probably Capitalism Stole My Virginity. They are also the most fun live band ever.

  • mayamayaya May 4th, 2012 8:28 AM

    Strawberry Switchblade! They’re the BEST!!

  • Abby May 4th, 2012 10:03 AM

    I kind of want to have crazy, angry make-up sex to “The Kiss”……….

  • all-art-is-quite-useless May 4th, 2012 12:01 PM

    X-Ray Spex!!! Germ Free Adolescence is one of my favourite albums EVERRRRRRRR.

  • Toria Crux May 4th, 2012 1:56 PM

    Did Joe call Greenday corny? >:(

  • Ellie May 4th, 2012 3:37 PM

    GAAAHHHHH YES PERFECTION EVERYWHERE MY EYES BURN

  • caro nation May 4th, 2012 4:06 PM

    Rookie, Husker Du was MY thing.

    Joe, come on.

  • Anaheed May 4th, 2012 4:10 PM

    haha so much love for Joe in the comments today

  • hcirlu May 4th, 2012 5:02 PM

    Playing With a Different Sex is gorgeous! Thank you! :)

  • coralgirl May 4th, 2012 9:58 PM

    It feels wrong that Static Age isn’t here. The Misfits always make me feel like a bad ass.

  • myy May 4th, 2012 11:00 PM

    Lovvvvvveeeee

    http://mygenerationmusic.blogspot.com/

  • NotReallyChristian May 6th, 2012 8:04 PM

    Appreciating the love for Scottish women here. If you like Clare Grogan, you should watch Gregory’s Girl – a seriously funny 80s comedy about a skinny Scottish schoolboy trying to find love and all the amazing girls who totally outsmart him. Featuring ridiculous chat-up attempts (‘do you know how they make veal?’), girls on the boys’ football team and an unexpected – and very persistent – penguin.

  • EveyMarrie May 7th, 2012 12:23 PM

    EVERYTHING on this list makes my colon turn into a ‘semi-colon parenthesis’ = ;) <3

  • nyxet May 7th, 2012 6:08 PM

    yessssss to all of this; I would also humbly suggest some Marnie Stern, especially This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That (she totally pulled a Fiona Apple with that album title amirite)

  • erin May 8th, 2012 12:29 AM

    oh rookie!… kiss me, kiss me, kiss me! The Cure! Honestly, ugh, to hear someone talk about my deep lurves on the internet is so heart-wrenchingly wonderful.
    http://keepingupwithunstuck.blogspot.com/

  • MechaMech May 8th, 2012 1:23 PM

    I LOVE the Smiths’ first album. Every song is perfect, and it’s really surprising how developed their sound is, being, you know, THEIR FIRST ALBUM.
    One of my favourite records ever.

  • pantslessbeauty May 19th, 2012 4:37 PM

    I am totally listening to New Order already askjhsjdfhkdjs It made me really happy to see them on here!!!