Sometimes it feels like the neon thumbprint of the 1980s never went away. It’s arguably the defining throwback aesthetic of American culture today, from the TV series we reboot to the prints we wear. And when it comes to its music, well, that’s even more ubiquitous: The decade was one of great upheaval and innovation, and the seeds it planted continue to flourish. It was a time when disco and punk were in tatters, its artists rebuilding from the rubble with new innovations to birth hardcore and new wave. Rock was getting more ridiculous, with Aqua-Net to spare, but it was also paring back into the thoughtful nexus that would someday be called “indie rock”—or it was throwing up pentagrams, getting sludgier and meaner, and turning into metal. Jazz and ambient were pushing their experimental borders, getting more cinematic and free. Singer-songwriters in folk and R&B were plumbing new depths of the human experience, getting frank about social and gender politics. And hip-hop was evolving at a head-spinning clip, expanding its reach and ambition along the way.
Now, with hindsight, we’re attempting to look at the ’80s with new eyes—reassessing old favorites, rediscovering undersung gems. And that means, in part, looking at Pitchfork’s own history frankly: Longtime readers may remember that, in 2002, we made a list of The Top 100 Albums of the 1980s. That list was shorter, sure, but it also represented a limited editorial stance we have worked hard to move past; its lack of diversity, both in album selections and contributing critics, does not represent the voice Pitchfork has become. For this new list, we gathered votes from more than 50 full-time staffers and regularly contributing writers to open up our discussion. Our list still reflects the realities of the ’80s—many great artists worked more successfully in singles than in full albums, for example—but we hope it represents the best of what this innovative decade has to offer, as well as how people consume music now. Tune in.