While 1984 was rich with synth-driven pop albums (think Madonna’s Like a Virgin, New Edition’s self-titled LP, and Wham!’s Make It Big), it was also a watershed year for punk, hardcore, and metal, with bands like Black Flag, Bathory, Hüsker Dü, the Minutemen, and Metallica releasing landmark albums. In New York, meanwhile, a new school of hip-hop would set the tone for the decade, thanks in particular to Run D.M.C. and their pioneering sounds.
Indeed, it was far from the dystopian year that George Orwell predicted (thankfully). Instead, it featured iconic moments like the inaugural MTV Video Music Awards, “Frankie Say Relax” t-shirts, and the formation of the charitable supergroup, Band Aid. Oh. And it was also the year of Born in the USA, Thriller, and Purple Rain – three enduring titles that need no introduction.
From titles by Echo & The Bunnymen to Los Lobos and the Smiths, here are the best albums of 1984.
Check out the full list of 1984’s best albums below, and listen to our 80s pop playlist on Spotify.
64: Charly García – Piano Bar
García’s 1984 album is an Argentine rock classic and includes beloved songs like, “Demoliendo Hoteles” and “Raros Peinados Nuevos.”
63: Rubén Blades – Buscando América
Blades’ first album without Fania offers a clear glimpse into the socially conscious and sonically curious artist he would become in later years.
62: Alaska y Dinarama – Deseo Carnal
The seminal Spanish rock album pulls from new wave, punk, and pop to explore the extremes of human relationships.
61: The Waterboys – A Pagan Place
Featuring the fan-favorite, “Red Army Blues,” the band’s 1984 album took Celtic rock to new heights with lofty lyricism and a big sound.
60: The Blue Nile – A Walk Across the Rooftops
The Glaswegian band’s debut album is renowned for both its high production value and innovative songs that bring together the grounded lyricism of pop with the majestic heights of an orchestral arrangement.
59: Shannon – Let The Music Play
Home to the beloved title track, the pop singer’s debut album reached number one on the Billboard dance charts and established Shannon as a club staple.
58: David Sylvian – Brilliant Trees
The British singer’s debut solo album is a brief yet expressive body of work that fuses funk, experimental music, and jazz to stirring effect.
57: Robert Earl Keen – No Kinda Dancer
The singer-songwriter’s 1984 album is a charming and down-to-earth portrait of life in Texas, full of vivid characters and detailed narratives.
56: Marillion – Fugazi
The rock band’s second studio album is not often lauded among their top records but it’s full of hidden gems including the classics “Assassing,” “Incubus,” and the unforgettable title track
55: Judas Priest – Defenders Of The Faith
The heavy metal band’s ninth studio album may not boast the same radio hits as their previous records but it is full of easter eggs like “Freewheel Burning” and “Rock Hard Ride Free.”
54: Jean-Michel Jarre – Zoolook
The influential French composer’s seventh album uses vocal samples in over 20 different languages and a funky backup band to create an eclectic yet groovy record.
53: INXS – The Swing
The Australian rock band embraced funk and pop on their breakthrough record that also became their first record to reach number one in Australia.
52: David Bowie – Tonight
Trying to follow up the huge success of an album like Let’s Dance was difficult for David Bowie. But while this record may not hold the same magic as its predecessor, you can’t deny that it’s still an excellent pop record.
51: Bathory – Bathory
The Swedish metal band’s debut album is not for the faint of heart; widely considered to be the first black metal album, it’s full of myth, disturbing lyrics, and gritty production.
50: Billy Ocean – Suddenly
Featuring the number one hit, “Caribbean Queen,” Ocean’s 1984 album catapulted him from British R&B star to international pop star.
49: Kathy Mattea – Kathy Mattea
The country singer’s eponymous debut features favorites like “Street Talk” and “Someone Is Falling in Love” and allowed the West Virginia native to leave behind waitressing for stardom.
48: Iron Maiden – Powerslave
If you’ve never listened to Iron Maiden, this record might be the best place to start as it has everything in it that the band came to be known for – memorable melodies, stunning instrumentals, and high-concept anthems.
47: Kurtis Blow – Ego Trip
Featuring the rap classic “Basketball,” the hip-hop OG’s 1984 album may not have been the most hip rap album at the time, but it showed why Kurtis Blow is such an important figure in the genre’s development.
46: Laurie Anderson – Mister Heartbreak
Released on Valentine’s Day, the avant-garde artist’s sophomore album may or may not be about heartbreak – the lyrics are hard to decipher – yet it remains one of her most inviting records.
45: XTC – The Big Express
The rock band’s seventh studio album is full of details and refinement that never impedes on the unbridled energy that characterized the band’s earlier albums.
44: The Judds – Why Not Me
The mother-daughter duo’s second album is an excellent primer on the various flavors of country music from rockabilly to genre-blending ballads and includes favorites like “Drops of Water” and “Mr. Pain.”
43: Teena Marie – Starchild
The former Motown star’s comeback album includes the hit “Lovergirl,” and became her most successful record to date.
42: Rush – Grace Under Pressure
The Canadian band’s 10th studio album is one of their most accessible projects musically but continues to ask hard questions lyrically, as it examines all sides of Cold War paranoia.
41: Cocteau Twins – Treasure
There are so many beautiful details in the Scottish rock band’s third studio album, you would need hours, if not years, to fully appreciate them all.
40: Ashford & Simpson – Solid
The famous songwriters-turned-pop stars’ 11th studio album features the incredible title track and is a defining marker of the synth-laden and drum machine-heavy sound of 80s R&B.
39: Kool & the Gang – Emergency
The funk group’s 1984 is chock full of hit singles from “Misled” to “Cherish” to the title track – it’s a must-listen for any fan of the band.
38: Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Rattlesnakes
Combining folk rock and sharp lyricism, the British band’s debut album is considered to be a signature of the UK’s jangle pop scene.
37: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – From Her to Eternity
Featuring a chilling cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche,” Cave’s solo debut is a dark and dramatic record that set the tone for his singular career.
36: Ratt – Out Of The Cellar
Home to the hit single, “Round and Round,” the band’s debut album helped shine a spotlight on the Los Angeles glam metal scene which spawned other well-known bands like Mötley Crüe.
35: Simple Minds – Sparkle in the Rain
The Scottish band found their stride in their 1984 album which marked their career shift from filling art house venues to selling out arenas alongside the likes of U2.
34: The Art Of Noise – Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise
The synth-pop group’s debut album features the eclectic classic, “Close (To the Edit),” and showed that some of the weirdest and creepiest sounds could still classify as pop.
33: The Pogues – Red Roses for Me
The Irish band’s debut album is one of their most raw albums and beautifully captures the raucous and explosive energy that made them so popular.
32: Scorpions – Love At First Sting
The German heavy metal band’s ninth studio includes the massive hit singles, “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” “Still Loving You” and “Big City Nights” and remains one of their most successful albums to date.
31: Various Artists – Footloose
The soundtrack to one of the most defining movies of the 1980s lived on the charts for over two months and spawned a number of radio hits including the infectious title track.
30: George Strait – Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind
Including hits like “The Cowboy Rides Away,” the country music legend’s fourth studio album rightfully won album of the year at the Country Music Awards.
29: Black Flag – My War
The punk band’s 1984 is controversial due to the band’s choice to divert from their trademark speed and include almost exhaustingly slow tracks on the B-side. But can you really hate a band that takes risks?
28: Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Welcome to the Pleasuredome
The synth-pop band’s debut album is deliciously kitsch and irresistibly fun, even decades after the distinctly 80s sound has gone out of style.
27: Bryan Adams – Reckless
The Canadian singer-songwriter expanded his sound significantly on his 1984 album, spinning small-town stories into arena-sized rock anthems and creating one of his most successful albums to date in the process.
26: Diana Ross – Swept Away
The pop diva’s 15th studio album features production from greats like Lionel Richie and includes the hit songs, “Missing You” and the Julio Iglesias duet “All of You.”
25: Echo & The Bunnymen – Ocean Rain
Home to some of Ian McCulloch’s best songwriting, the band’s 1984 album includes the stunner “The Killing Moon,” which was also featured in the soundtrack for Donnie Darko.
24: Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade
The punk band’s sophomore album is a landmark album for the rock underground because it proved that hardcore music could break with the formula, incorporating other genres, and not lose its edginess.
23: Harold Budd / Brian Eno With Daniel Lanois – The Pearl
The ambient duo’s 1984 album is a study in subtlety that shows that time, space, and quiet can evoke strong emotions.
22: Joe Hisaishi – Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind
The soundtrack to the anime film of the same name is as poignant today as it was in 1984, as it grapples with the consequences of human greed and violence on the planet.
21: Los Lobos – How Will The Wolf Survive
The band’s major-label debut revealed a fully formed band with a clear voice and expert musicianship; it’s palpable throughout the record but especially on favorites like “A Matter of Time” and “Serenata Nortena.”
20: Manuel Göttsching – E2-E4
Made up of a single hour-long track, the pioneering electronic artist’s masterpiece paved the way for what we understand as dance music today.
19: The Pretenders – Learning to Crawl
After the loss of two band members to drug overdoses, it’s a wonder that the Pretenders stayed together, let alone produce a masterpiece with their 1984 album. Put simply, it’s a testament to the genius of Chrissie Hynde.
18: New Edition – New Edition
Featuring teeny-bopper favorites turned classics like “Mr. Telephone Man” and “Cool It Now,” the R&B group’s sophomore album is a masterclass in boy band hit-making.
17: The Egyptian Lover – On The Nile
The pioneering electro artist’s 1984 debut album is the progenitor of West Coast hip-hop and sounds just as fun and futuristic today as it did back then.
16: Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense
The live soundtrack to the concert film of the same name is peak Talking Heads and explains why the band has had such an enduring influence over the years.
15: Tina Turner – Private Dancer
The pop rock diva’s incredible comeback album includes the radio staple, “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” and showed that she was truly unsinkable.
14: Wham! – Make It Big
Home to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” the pop duo’s last album did exactly what the title suggests, catapulting them to superstardom and signaling the start of George Michael’s enduring solo career.
13: R.E.M. – Reckoning
An underground classic, the rock band’s second studio album saw them returning to their guitar-driven pop-leaning roots and is home to favorites like “So. Central Rain” and “Little America.”
12: Minutemen – Double Nickels On The Dime
The punk band’s groundbreaking double album is a clear-headed, experimental, and fiercely principled record that expanded the limits of punk music.
11: The Replacements – Let It Be
Widely considered to be one of the best records of the decade, the band’s masterpiece accurately captures the angst of young adulthood, shirking growing responsibilities and craving freedom with no strings.
10: The Smiths – The Smiths
The highly influential rock band’s debut album arrived fully formed and changed British pop music by bringing in unique song structures and unforgettable melodies.
9: U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
Home to one of their biggest hits ever, “Pride (In the Name of Love),” the band changed directions aiming for a more textural sound with the help of producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.
8: Madonna – Like a Virgin
Everyone knew Madonna was destined for superstardom but it was her second album that turned that expectation into a fact. Featuring the iconic title track and “Material Girl,” the album reshaped pop music in her image.
7: Run-D.M.C. – Run-D.M.C.
Home to their breakout single, “It’s Like That/Sucker MC’s,” the pioneering hip-hop group’s debut album established rap music as an independent force that didn’t need to impress anybody but itself to be successful.
6: Sade – Diamond Life
The English band’s debut album includes timeless hits like “Smooth Operator” and “Your Love Is King,” and introduced the world to the smooth jazz meets pop sound that is their trademark.
5: Van Halen – 1984
The rock band’s sixth studio album openly embraced the synthesizer and ushered their sound into a more pop direction, in part due to the hit single “Jump.”
4: Metallica – Ride The Lightning
The heavy metal band pushed themselves farther than anyone could have expected on their second album and changed the direction of metal music yet again.
3: Bruce Springsteen – Born In The USA
Springsteen’s magnum opus is always worth visiting and revisiting. Not just because it’s one of the best-selling albums of all time, but because of its hard truth, relentless fight, and indomitable spirit.
2: Michael Jackson – Thriller
There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about this generation-defining record. But basically, this album is the reason Michael Jackson will forever be the King of Pop.
1: Prince and the Revolution – Purple Rain
Featuring classics like “When Doves Cry,” “Darling Nikki” and the title track, Prince’s masterpiece album accompanies his film of the same name and made him a household name.
Looking for more? Listen to our 80s pop playlist on Spotify.