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The Critics' Pick for Album of the '80s: Clash's 'London Calling'

December 24, 1989|STEVE HOCHMAN

The Clash's "London Calling" tops The Times critics' poll as the best album of the '80s. The double album, which entered the U.S. charts in the first month of the decade, was a runaway winner, cited on seven of the 13 ballots from The Times' regular pop-music reviewers and registering 47 points under a system that awards 10 points for every first-place mention, nine for second place and so forth. In the diverse voting, 84 different albums were named.

"London Calling," which also took top honors in Rolling Stone magazine's critics' poll of the '80s, came out of the British punk movement, but transcends that genre with 19 freewheeling songs that reflected the tense mood of working-class London.

The runner-up also sprang from but transcended the late-'70s British punk scene: the debut album by the Pretenders, a quartet led by American Chrissie Hynde. Named on five ballots, it scored 34 points. The highest-rated solo artist was Paul Simon for "Graceland."

If the scoring were based on artist rather than specific album, the winner would have Prince by a mile. Nine critics divided 65 points among three of his albums: "1999," "Purple Rain" and "Sign 'O' the Times." L.A. underground leaders X finished second with a total of 49 points for their "Los Angeles" and "Wild Gift" albums, ahead of such acclaimed big sellers as Bruce Springsteen and U2. The best-seller of all time, Michael Jackson's "Thriller," was named No. 1 on two ballots, but was passed over by the rest of the voters.

Only two of the albums finishing in the Top 10 ("Graceland" and "Sign 'O' the Times") were released later than 1985, ignoring the late-'80s' flashiest musical developments: the chart domination of hard rock and the rise of rap. In rap's case, an argument could be made that it's essentially a singles medium and few great albums came out of the genre--Public Enemy's "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" was the only one to receive any votes.

The complete list begins on Page 74.

CRITICS' CONSENSUS--Albums of the '80s

No. of Title and Artist (Label) Ballots Pts. 1."London Calling," the Clash (Epic) (7) 47 2."Pretenders," Pretenders (Sire) (5) 34 3."Graceland," Paul Simon (Warner Bros.) (5) 30 4."Wild Gift," X (Slash) (4) 27 "1999," Prince (Warner Bros.) (3) 27 6."The River," Bruce Springsteen (Columbia) (3) 26 7."Los Angeles," X (Slash) (5) 22 8."Thriller," Michael Jackson (Epic) (2) 20 9."Tim," Replacements (Sire) (3) 19 "Purple Rain," Prince (Warner Bros.) (4) 19 "Sign 'O' the Times," Prince (Paisley Park) (2) 19

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