It’s 1988, there are some not-so-great things going on (the crack epidemic), but many great things are going on around the world. The Iraq War is declared over and the NASA resumes their space program just 2 years after the Challenger disaster. Britain has passed a new law, allowing pubs to stay open all day, and the Olympic games are held in Seoul, South Korea. Heavy rock,  and themes of social and political unrest are dominating the airwaves. Check out our list of 1988’s top 10 albums, and relive (or resume) the soundtrack of your more rebellious years.

Daydream NationSonic Youth 

Daydream Nation is the fifth studio album by Sonic Youth, and is widely considered to be the band’s finest work. Daydream Nation was a creative breakthrough for underground, American Rock band, inspiring future genres and countless musicians. While the album did not break onto the charts early in the year, by the end, Rolling Stone ranked it 2nd, CMJ ranked it 1st, and NME ranked it 9. Pitchfork has it ranked as the number 1 album of the 1980’s calling it “a noisy punctuation mark to the evolution of sub-radar rock in the Reagan years, and as long as people are still listening to guitars, it will remain a milestone. -Rob Mitchum”.

Surfer RosaPixies

Surfer Rosa is the Pixies first full length studio album. When first released in 1988, the album struggled to take off. Blame it on the times, or blame it on being independent and having to rely on foreign distribution. Regardless, when the album was re-released in 1992 it quickly reached certified Gold. Surfer Rosa would go on to influence the development of alternative rock, and particularly grunge rock due to its balance of heavy noise and pop. Kurt Cobain cites Surfer Rosa as the blueprint for Nevermind’s songwriting. Kurt Cobain even hired producer Steve Albini (who produced Surfer Rosa), to produce In Utero. Take a listen to “Where is My Mind?“, and try to tell me you don’t hear the Pixies’ influence, even on music being released today.

Spirit of EdenTalk Talk

Spirit of Eden is Talk Talk’s fourth studio album, and received neither critical acclaim, nor commercial success when first released. However, the album has become the Fight Club of the music world, developing such a large and loyal cult following that it was impossible to leave it off of this list. Spirit of Eden is classified under the “new wave” genre. After consulting wikipedia, new wave is defined as: “a musical genre of pop/rock created in the late 1970s to mid-1980s with ties to 1970s punk rock. The wide range of bands categorized under this term has been a source of much confusion and controversy. The new wave sound of the late 1970s moved away from the smooth blues and rock & roll sounds to create music with a twitchy, agitated feel, choppy rhythm guitars and fast tempos“. Spirit of Eden leans itself much closer to the smooth blues side of the new wave spectrum, borrowing many elements from free-form jazz. Initially receiving 1 out of 5 stars by Rolling Stone, most critics look favorably upon the album in retrospect. Allan McGee of The Guardian concludes that, “Spirit of Eden has not dated; it’s remarkable how contemporary it sounds, anticipating post-rock, the Verve and Radiohead. It’s the sound of an artist being given the keys to the kingdom and returning with art”.

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us BackPublic Enemy

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is Public Enemy’s second studio album, and one of the most significant rap albums to have ever been released. Public Enemy conceptualized the album to be the rap version of Marvin Gaye’s, What’s Going On, focusing on political, legal, and social issues. Before it’s release, lead MC Chuck D did not believe that the album could be a success. But the album was very well received, and spent 49 weeks on the billboard top 100. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back has become a milestone album for hip/hop. It marks the beginning of a new era of rap, leading the way for more controversial, and aggressive albums like, Straight Outta Compton which would be released just two months later.

…And Justice for AllMetallica

Continuing the theme of social and political injustice is Metallica’s, …And Justice For All. The title is a play on the last words from the Pledge of Allegiance. The cover shows a depiction of Lady Liberty being toppled over, with her scales of justice turned upside down, over flowing with money (corruption?). The album has reached 8 X Platinum certification, but is only Metallica’s second best selling album (they sell a lot of records). In Rolling Stone’s review, Michael Azerrad calls …And Justice For All, ” a marvel of precisely channeled aggression. The band’s breakneck tempos and staggering chops would impress even the most elitist jazz-fusion aficionado. But the music’s dizzying twists and turns could be merely a reflection of short attention spans, the sonic equivalent of flipping channels on a TV set”.

Straight Outta ComptonN.W.A.

Shortly following Public Enemy’s, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us BackN.W.A. released their very unapologetic debut album, Straight Outta Compton. Thanks to the recently released full length film, we have a slightly better knowledge of inspiration for songs like, “F**K the Police“, but at the time, an album filled with expletives and n-words worried a lot of the country. A lot of people were hoping that the music, if ignored, would simply go away. Unfortunately for them, Straight Outta Compton sparked the formation of “gangster rap”, which invaded even the most sheltered of neighborhoods. Today, N.W.A. is highly regarded as pioneers of the modern rap game, whose influence can easily be heard in today’s music.

Nothing’s ShockingJane’s Addiction

Nothing’s Shocking is Jane’s Addiction’s second and is considered by many to be their best work. The album was very well received by critics, Greg Prato of AllMusic calling it “a must-have for lovers of cutting-edge, influential, and timeless hard rock”. However the album did not receive much initial commercial success. 9 out of 11 major record stores refused to sell the album due to the nudity on the cover, and the stores that did sell it, had to brown paper bag it. Jane’s Addiction tried to release a music video, but it too contained nudity, and MTV was unable to air it on television. All of this nudity caused sales to barely reach 250,000 in the first year, but has since reached well over a million and attained Platinum Certification. Soon after the release of this album the band hit hard times, and founding member Perry Farrell organized a farewell tour, which most people now call Lollapalooza. Jane’s Addiction will once again be taking the stage the famed music festival for Lollapalooza’s 25th anniversary.

Tracy ChapmanTracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman’s self-titled album, Tracy Chapman was break from the head banging, hair swinging rock music that dominated 1988. Chapman had been playing protest songs in a local coffee shop when her folk-rock style had caught the ear of Brian Koppelman, a fellow classmate at Tufts University. Koppelman persisted in promoting Chapman’s music, and got her to perform at a university protest rally. Popularity quickly rose for Chapman, and just two weeks after she had released her debut album, she had sold over 2 million records. As Stephen Erlewine of AllMusic wrote, “Chapman’s impassioned liberal activism and emotional resonance enlivens her music, breathing life into her songs even when the production is a little bit too clean. Still, the juxtaposition of contemporary themes and classic production precisely is what makes the album distinctive — it brings the traditions into the present.”

Isn’t AnythingMy Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine’s debut album, Isn’t Anything, is “often seen as just a precursor to their magnum opus Loveless, in its own way, Isn’t Anything is nearly as groundbreaking as their 1991 masterpiece.” (Heather Phares, AllMusic) Isn’t Anything helped pioneer the “shoegazing” genre (…back to wikipedia): “Shoegazing is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged from the United Kingdom in the late 1980s and reached peak popularity in the early 1990s. The style is typified by significant use of guitar distortion,feedback, obscured vocals and the blurring of component musical parts into indistinguishable walls of sound.” The album was well received by critics, reaching number 1 on the UK’s Independent Chart. Phares continues her review, concluding, “Isn’t Anything captures My Bloody Valentine’s revolutionary style in its infancy and points the way to Loveless, but it’s far more than just a dress rehearsal for the band’s moment of greatness.”


Green is R.E.M.’s sixth studio album, and was their first release after signing to Warner Bros. The relationship with their previous label had grown sour after the band felt that foreign distribution had taken a backseat. In order to celebrate the new album and signing, R.E.M. went on  an 11 month world tour, playing many huge shows overseas due to Warner Bros. exceptional ability to advertise the band to foreign audiences. In fact, Green became R.E.M’s first Gold record in the UK. The album was conceptualized to be half acoustic and half electric, but the band felt that too few acoustic songs were good enough to make the album. The effort did however lead to the band creating songs in a different manor. The band switched from writing songs in minor key to major, and during the writing process, members would swap instruments, resulting in an album that seemed “all over the place”.