5 Memorable Albums that Turn 40 This Month

The year 1984 is often cited as one of the most memorable in music history. Megastars mixed with up-and-comers to make for an enticing blend you could hear on the radio at any time. And, of course, MTV was at its peak, as artists realized what an important tool it was for breaking singles to a mass audience.

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But while much attention was paid to individual singles, artists were still making important album-length statements as well. Here are five LPs that debuted in April 1984 that are still worth a spin today.

Reckoning by R.E.M.

On their second album, the Georgia quartet smoothed out some of the rougher edges of their acclaimed 1983 debut Murmur. But R.E.M. lost none of the stellar instrumental chemistry that made them seem so fresh amidst the manufactured sounds that ruled the radio. As they slowed the pace ever so slightly, it allowed their grasp of melody to shine. In fact, the slow songs are what push this album into classic territory. “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry”) and “Camera” are brooding showcases for Michael Stipe’s vocals, while “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” is wonderfully shaggy alternative country.

New Sensations by Lou Reed

Many artists who first scored big in the ’60s seemed at a loss in the early part of the ’80s. Lou Reed just put his head down and his antennae up and churned out some of the most subtly affecting work of his career, including the 1984 release New Sensations. What’s striking about the record is how at ease Reed sounds through it all, sticking to arrangements that hew closer to the dawn of rock and roll than anything that was au courant at the time. The title track is particularly affecting, as Reed opines on getting older without getting dull.

Grace Under Pressure by Rush

The Canadian trio continued to adapt on this record, leaning more heavily on synths and largely producing the album themselves instead of using longtime collaborator Terry Brown. Of course, casual fans might not notice the subtle shifts that much on Grace Under Pressure, as the band’s strengths were still intact. The racket that Rush worked up was as dynamic as ever, as they swooped in and around each other in eight elongated compositions. It’s a record that’s best at its bookends, with opener “Distant Early Warning” and closer “Between the Wheels” delivering majestically.

The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking by Roger Waters

At the point Roger Waters released this solo record, there wasn’t yet any indication he was done with Pink Floyd. Because he had become such a dominant artistic force in the band by that time, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking certainly sounds like Floyd of that era, with special guest Eric Clapton playing the David Gilmour role of providing tasteful guitar in between Waters’ rants. The story about a man’s midlife crisis is near-impossible to follow, however, and one wishes there were more inviting melodies, such as on “5:06 AM (Every Stranger’s Eyes).”

Street Talk by Steve Perry

Unlike Roger Waters, Steve Perry would indeed return to his old band (Journey) after making a 1984 solo album. (Although the reunion wouldn’t last that long). Perry’s first solo album likely could have benefited from some of the high-wire instrumental excitement Journey could produce. Street Talk succeeds most when it doesn’t try to ape former triumphs and instead focuses on letting Perry wail. The big hit was “Oh Sherrie,” but there are other nice numbers sprinkled throughout, such as the Motown-ish “I Believe” and the soulful ballad “Foolish Heart.”

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