The year 1980 was a legendary year for hard rock — full of heartbreak, death, hardships and, of course, dozens of heavy classics still played to this day.
After major influences on rock such as Led Zeppelin, The Ramones, AC/DC, and Poison, hard rock began moving in many different factions. From this decade sprung garage punk, hardcore punk metal, grunge, grindcore and more.
It’s fascinating that these genres spun out of control and multiplied tenfold as the decades went along, causing metal and hard rock to live on much longer than anyone ever anticipated. Unforgettable smash debut albums such as “Metal Health” by Quiet Riot, “Blizzard of Ozz” by Ozzy Osbourne, and “Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich” by Warrant completely took over the radio, record stores, and major media such as MTV, VH1, and Rolling Stone Magazine.
So in this article, we’re going to countdown the best 80s hard rock albums to own on vinyl.
So let’s do this!
Top 10 Hard Rock Albums of the 80s
Let’s begin with Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health.”
10) Quiet Riot: Metal Health (1983)
Coming straight from Los Angeles, Quiet Riot released “Metal Health,” a classic party-rock anthem vinyl that landed them smash hits such as “Cum On Feel the Noize,” “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” and “Metal Health.”
This was the first heavy metal album to top out at number one in Billboard magazine, which was huge for rock music exposure and acceptance. Quiet Riot was originally founded by Randy Rhoades (guitarist) and Kelly Garni (bassist), both of which left the band right before “Metal Health” was released in 1983.
Randy Rhoades went on to play with Ozzy Osbourne but unfortunately passed away in 1982. Although this happened, there were replacements ready to take their places to start releasing vinyl in the United States rather than solely Japan. Carlos Cavazo (guitarist), as well as Kevin DuBrow (vocals), Rudy Sarzo (bass), and Frankie Banali (drums) went on to make a smashing debut practically as a new band altogether.
Though “Cum On Feel The Noize” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” were covers of the famous band heavy blues-rock English band, Slade, Quiet Riot made these singles their own with their fast variation of the original riff, and DuBrow’s wild voice screaming the lyrics almost exactly like Noddy Holder.
It was so fantastic to hear an American variation of the incessant drumming of Don Powell in a studio that doesn’t sound like a shoebox in an Irish tunnel.
9) Billy Idol: Rebel Yell (1983)
A classic symbol of the 80s, it was inevitable this English punk would make it here. “Rebel Yell,” named after the whiskey Billy drank with The Rolling Stones (supposedly), was the most successful album he ever released, fused with both the sound of the 80s and hard rock.
Idol’s success stemmed largely from playing progressive punk rock music throughout the end of the 70s with British band Generation X, most famously known for their single, “Dancing With Myself.” Best friends, Steve Stevens and Idol sought out a few more members to complete their group named Judy Dozier (keyboardist), Tommy Price (drummer), and Steve Webster (bassist), and started making music shortly after that incorporated a punk sound with major cultural influence.
Oozing with a touch of 80s alternative and pop culture as Judy Dozier utilizes a keyboard to chime in like electronic bells, mimicking the rhythm basic rhythm of similar pop songs while thunderous drums and killer guitar solos play along with it.
Idol’s biker growl snarling into the microphone while he sings hits on this album like “Rebel Yell” and “Do Not Stand in the Shadows” make one wants to get up and punch a hole in the wall and moonwalk up stairs, while hits like “Eyes Without A Face” and “The Dead Next Door” are perfect tracks to crackle out of Crosley record players over and over while his milky voice warms one’s chest.
Drums sounding like atom bombs falling continuously over the stage, Tommy Price voiced Billy’s frustrations while he sang with composure. The majority of the album was written solely by Stevens and Idol, however, each member played a huge part in the album’s success.
8) AC/DC: Back in Black (1980)
In 1979, the Australian rock band AC/DC came out with their smash album, “Highway to Hell,” which knocked critics off their feet. Less than a year later, one of their top selling albums named after their hit song “Back in Black,” was unleashed in 1980. Symbolic in nature, the album name represents the album’s content, as well as represents the fact that the band had come back with a new band member.
With the passing of their previous riot of a frontman, Bon Scott, the band made a mighty recovery and sold 40 million copies of this album to date, peaking on the U.S. Billboard Album Chart at number four. Mass amounts of success and praise came along with this album as the latest singer, Bon Scott, passed away right as they were beginning to write the material for the new album.
Under the management of the same man, Robert John “Mutt” Lange, the band decided to follow his advice and listen to Brian Johnson’s vocals, who at the time was singing with “Geordie.” With a screaming, dirty punk voice eerily similar to that of Scott’s, it was destiny to detach him from his other gig and perform with AC/DC instead.
Majority of the album has Cliff William’s quick, catchy bass line as Angus and Malcolm Young play a mean simple guitar with intermittent hard solos. AC/DC’s goal was to maintain strong, extensive notes that drag on throughout any rest piece of music.
With jungle-like drums, Phil Rudd smashed barbarically all over these with quick precision. Brian Johnson’s voice is striking and causes a huge stir as his screech is louder than many rockers on the scene. Like a mix of Robert Plant and Vince Neil, only singing in a high key with a regularly deep voice. This was a fantastic collection of hard, fast classics that seemed make one headbang a hole in a wall.
7) The Scorpions: Blackout (1982)
“Blackout” was not only one of The Scorpions’ best albums of the 80s, but also a creative whirlwind of lyrics easily relatable to the band’s inner emotional struggle with the intoxicating effect of technological advances in their society, subconscious fear, independence, sexual desire, and starved intimacy.
This was a great turning point for this American band’s music in general as they acquired a new producer, Dieter Dierks, who felt the band would succeed venturing more into the heavy metal scene, with an emphasis on both powerful and sentimental ballads in their previous album “Animal Magnetism” with songs like “Make It Real,” “Don’t Make No Promises (Your Body Can’t Keep),” “Hold Me Tight,” and of course, “Animal Magnetism.”
After two years, the band released the coolest album cover they’ve released yet – a man in a straitjacket with forks bent along his skull like a pair of glasses and worn as such, screaming so loud that a sheet of glass between him and the camera shatters.
Not only that, they released the best head-bangers possible, like the classic “No One Like You”, “Arizona,” “You Give Me All I Need”, and “Can’t Live Without You,” all of which explicitly scream through high pitch, devilishly quick guitar riffs raining over heavy, loud bass a grungy-bass.
Rock and Roll seemed to be the only functional way to start a riot and not be afraid of who one should be, and the Scorpions dared to experiment with a variety of sounds within each album. “Dynamite” is more of a fast-punk song than heavy metal, The Scorpions were determined to shout with absolute madness, yet not so much that we start comparing them to punk bands.
Rudolf Shenker, Mattias Jabs, and Francis Buchholz’ heavy riffs on the guitar and bass with a short-lived turn around periods create consistency in the album’s structure to adrenalize the crowd, rather than just shout at them with no regard to how they are receiving Klaus Meine’s screaming message.
The band wanted to make one dance, but also be in the conversation in order to know what they were thinking. No matter what the band experimented with in this album, they delivered it with poise, knowing how to get one’s head banging, toes tapping at the foot of the bed with the utmost pride in any unbecoming situation.
With a consistent rhythmic tapping of his left foot on the symbol and his right on the bass, Herman Rarebell violently slams down each stick while creating a booming effect over the eloquent collection of loud, screeching guitar solos. Smooth bass cloaks the scratchy echo of the guitar, giving Klaus Meine’s voice the freedom to scream lyrics masked with anger, composed with elegance, vitality, and release all emotional baggage.
6) Rush: Permanent Waves (1980)
Brilliantly written with the intention to make a theatrical statement of their abilities with precision, American rock band Rush creates a masterpiece called “Permanent Waves,” neatly packaged into a sweet six-track album with songs excelling in terms of lyrics, musical genius, experimental sound, and creativity.
This album is hard, yet lighthearted, was a breath of fresh air for those who were used to the typical bluesy-rock anthems. Rush’s hit “Spirit of the Radio” has a mixture of instruments that are used beautifully when in cohesion, like a finger plucking bass, anxious fingers trickling up and down the fretboard of the guitar, pretty orchestra and tubular bells clanging out the right side of the stereo, and jazzy guitar symbols as Neil Peart kicks the bass drum like a dog itching his ear.
“Freewill” and “Jacob’s Ladder” show the band’s versatility as individual musicians, as there are many styles incorporated into one single song. Alex Lifeson gives a demonic lick to the six-string machine, constantly increasing in tempo as the song goes along, only to tie back in with the drums and steady the beat so one can hear Geddy Lee’s voice with clarity.
With short musical breaks with extravagant drums and stringy guitar, as well as slow musical breaks focusing on the depth of the bass, and jaw dropping frantic guitar solos, the songs expose every faction of the band’s musical abilities to push the boundaries of their talents.
- A Phenomenal Space Trip
“Jacob’s Ladder” is one of their craftier songs on the album, using heavy hard riffs with few repetitive keystrokes, coupled with violently abused drums and heavy bass drum and a synthesizer muffled under it all. Reminiscent of The Who’s album “Tommy,” the song’s alien-esque musical break right between two huge musical explosions creates intense anticipation, resulting in a seven minute piece.
Each instrument has its place, the shaking symbol, the declarative bass drum, the relentless, heavy guitar and simple humming of the underlying bass. Not only that, the band uses a variety of instruments, such as a pedal synthesizer, twelve string guitars, timpani, timbales, wind chimes, and a triangle. This remarkable blend of sounds definitely shaped the structure of many bands later this decade, such as REO Speedwagon and whatnot.
5) Ozzy Osbourne: Blizzard of Ozz (1980)
The Prince of Darkness went off on his own for the very first time with this classic, “Blizzard Of Ozz” after leaving Black Sabbath in 1980. British rock star Ozzy Osbourne to this day upholds his reputation to this day as he rocks at festivals such as Aftershock.
This album was violently executed with absolute grace; the groovy melodies intermixed with heavy bass, scary fast guitar solos deep with resonance and high with excessive power chords on songs such as “I Don’t Know,” “Crazy Train,” and “Mr. Crowley.” Not only did all three songs break a ton of records, but this was the first album where Ozzy took off from Black Sabbath and created his own item with absolute success.
This was the first album where one may notice a lot more range in his voice, as Ozzy performs a few slow, romantic songs such as “Goodnight and Goodbye,” and “Mother Earth.” This maniac was jumping all over, biting the heads off bats like it was nothing without any reservation, causing a riot that we all wanted a piece of.
- Leaving on Bad Terms
Black Sabbath had let Ozzy go because of his drug abuse, creating huge friction between the two bands reemergence in the same year. Although Ozzy wished to still be seen as the black magic loving rebel like in Black Sabbath, he also wanted to expand his versatility a bit to see exactly where his music can lead him to. It ultimately seemed to work out for both parties in the end, as Black Sabbath came out with a new album the same year with their new vocalist, and it was just as smashing as Ozzy’s own venture.
Ozzy was introduced to Randy Rhoads once the word was out he needed a new guitarist, from a man he knew in London. Right off the bat, the two were known as good pals and started looking for other members of the group. Though Rhoads was already involved with Quiet Riot, he took off on this venture right before his sudden death in 1982 while on tour with Ozzy.
With that, Bob Daisley tackled the bass, gongs, and backing vocals, and Don Airey took on the keyboards. In addition, Lee Kerslake took on drums, percussion, tubular bells, and timpani. From there, the sound was quite phenomenal, beginning a new collection of heavy metal albums, and thousands of unforgettable performances, mostly involving Ozzy biting the head off a bat.
4) Van Halen: Women and Children First (1980)
Van Halen was an iconic American rock band for a number of reasons, such as their ability to carry a bass line so catchy that it goes on for the entire song, such as that in “And the Cradle Will Rock.” As David Lee Roth was still punching and screaming with Eddie Van Halen, “Women and Children First” was a smash, following two very successful releases in 1978 & 1979.
This album utilizes every piece of the drum set, a bluesy ring of a bell, and the irrevocable striking bass intermingling with a wavy electric guitar scratching one’s eardrums like a tiger’s roar as Halen wags his whammy bar like a dog’s tail.The irrevocable sound of Eddie Van Halen collaborating with David Lee Roth was legendary, solely due to the degree of outrageousness they could achieve together.
Eddie Van Halen revolutionized the use of the whammy bar while crafting exclusive finger dancing techniques on the neck of the electric guitar, an extraordinary technique that put tons of guitarists to shame. His screeching solos are synoptic and ostentatious, matching the tone of the drums and the bass until a short musical break exposes his extraordinary six-string virtuosity.
If there was a way to list every Van Halen album with David Lee Roth on here without being obnoxious and personal, there would be a very good chance his face would be plastered all over this list.
3) Warrant: Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (1989)
“Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich” is an awesome record, colored in fascinating elements that shake books off the shelf as the speakers bump with ferocity. American rock band Warrant created a symphony blended with both glam rock, heavy metal, punk and arena rock, which made for hard, fast songs, as well as rock anthems such as “Heaven.”
In their song “D.R.F.S.R,” every piece of Warrant hits one like a car running through a wall of bricks. Steven Sweet’s explosive drums, Jani Lane’s chilling, crisp shrieking, Erik Turner and Joey Allen’s god-sent guitar solos, as well as the satanic hum of Jerry Dixon’s bass guitar collaborate together almost naturally, like a force of gravity.
The drums are accentuated throughout the album, most obvious in tracks like “In The Sticks,” “32 Pennies,” and “Big Talk.” This debut album topped out at 10th place on the Billboard 200 chart, which kick started Warrant’s career throughout the 90’s.
The album cover itself was extremely enticing, as it features the character Fugazi, who the band describes as a man who has money coming out of his ears and smoking it in the form of cigars. Warrant’s image was shaped by the fact that they were wild and untamed, and this album cover explicates their creative, nasty attitude in the American music scene.
2) Motley Crue: Shout at the Devil (1983)
Formed down in Los Angeles, California in 1981, Motley Crüe came into existence at the hands of Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee. Shortly after their phone calls to Vince Neil, an old classmate of Tommy’s, and Mick Mars, who put an ad in the paper looking for a spot in a bad, they created their first album with their own money, “Too Fast For Love.” Still, in slight debt from this creation, they still went on to create “Shout at the Devil,” which gave the band the exposure they needed to finally break onto the hard rock scene.
“Shout at the Devil” became extremely criticized due to Motley Crüe’s explicit recklessness, lyricism, and blunt attitude. Their face makeup being glamorous yet gothic, Motley Crüe’s guitar riffs and lyrics are tinged with rebellion and kissed by the Devil himself. Vince Neil’s undeniably had the clearest, rawest voice to come on the big hair band scene, as his screams literally pierced one’s ears if the volume was a couple notches too high.
The drums and guitar speeding up almost like a horse galloping away may cause one’s heart to start racing with anticipation. It’s brilliant and mischievous – just how they wanted it to be.
Listening to this album was both terrifying and revitalizing, as they played some nasty heavy metal songs like “Looks That Kill,” “Danger,” and “Knock ‘Em Dead Kid,” but also screamed through their cover of The Beatles’ song, “Helter Skelter.” Mick Mars defiles each fret by burning through heavy solos with absolute pleasure.
Tommy Lee moves his arms with lightning speed, beating his drums without any rest. Notice how in “Red Hot” the drums honestly do not stop once, with complete and utter structure. As the Nikki Sixx plays the bass heavily underneath each note shadowing the dance of Lee’s drumsticks nearly move faster than light.
1) Def Leppard: Hysteria (1987)
Undeniably one of the absolute best British albums of the 80’s, Def Leppard’s “Hysteria” became rock legends by developing a version of “Pyromania” on steroids. “Hysteria” carried this band’s thick locks all the way to the top of the charts, though the band explains in David Fricke’s book, “Animal Instinct: The Def Leppard Story,” how they experienced a ton of hardships during the making of this album. “Animal”, “Rocket,” “Love Bites,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” and “Hysteria” all became hits due to their ability to pull at one’s heartstrings through both melody and words. Every person during the 80s remembers at least one of these songs blaring on the radio as soon they jumped in their car, a highly popular McDonalds, or even their favorite strip club.
The dramatic drums create a euphoric high as they slam with utter simplicity and clarity. Not one note goes unnoticed as Rick Allen paints a miraculous melody, hitting each drum quickly as if he’s checking tasks off an urgent to-do list. Accompanied by the heavy guitar geniuses Steve Clark and Phil Collen, Joe Elliot’s voice is accentuated to the fullest extent by withholding every element to light up a room with sexual tension and pure, unadulterated joy.
This was actually the last album Steve Clark played on before he passed away, whose sound was brilliantly given light by the soft mimicking of Rick Savage’s bass, and Rick Allen’s fast-paced drumming defiling all empty space left.
- Knock ‘Em Dead Kid
Hard rock music not only gives one a chance to flashback through embarrassing high school moments of sneaking out to drink bad beer next door while bumping their new Ozzy vinyl but also offers a chance to express oneself to the fullest. Whether it be wailing on the guitar like Angus Young in the garage to “Back in Black,” or simply headbanging in one’s bedroom, giving the grace to be even the most terrible human being and actually revel in that fact.
Getting our frustrations out, as well as the incessant nagging behind closed doors to be someone else, the fantastic blend of sounds and levels of intensity within the field of hard rock truly does make it an everlasting industry. This was a tough list to condense, however, it was well worth the trip down memory lane for the both of us.
- Vinyl vs. Digital download
Nowadays, it’s hard to understand the craze behind owning the vinyl copies of these hard rock albums because of the major emphasis on owning tapes or CD’s, as they were easily playable in one’s car instead of humming along to the radio. Nonetheless, the music lovers thrived within the vinyl section as if it were the blood in their veins. Reasons behind this craving are both subjective and personal.
Whatever the case might be, records offer a unique symbolic timestamp of the period they were involved in, with raw vocals, instruments, and often rare clips of the band sounding as they truly were in (often) crappy studio environments. It’s awesome, truly the value of these spotty albums on vinyl warms the soul with a sense of down-to-earth, genuine rhythm.
As of recently, it’s becoming almost a necessity to figure how to convert vinyl to digital in order to preserve all the original sounds for as long as possible, which is also not a horrible idea. The entire ideology behind having the vinyl in the first place is to have the original version before it is remastered over time.
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