Before continuing on my 30 year musical journey - I must urge you to proceed with caution. A few of my selections for the best albums of '81 may reveal a bit of my inner cheesiness. But that is fitting due to the fact that 80% of music recorded in the '80s is smothered in cheese. Not a block of cheddar kind of cheese... or the peel-apart mozzarella sticks that my mom used to put in my sack lunches when I was in 5th grade (and I now prefer breaded and deep-fat fried). Not the shredded colby-jack or grated parmesan kind of cheese. But the kind of cheese squirted out of an aerosol can. Yes... some of the greatest songs of the '80s are the musical equivalent of Cheez Whiz. You have been warned.

#5 Phil Collins - Face Value: And what a better way to start off the tour of nic's cheese-drenched tastes in music than the man that brought us Sussudio. Face Value was Phil's first album as a solo artist. And if we as listeners and musical consumers had taken this album (as the title suggests) at face value, Phil would not have recorded a second solo album and never quit Genesis. However, this album did spawn one of the greatest accomplishments in songwriting with the lead track In the Air Tonight (not to mention one of the coolest drum solos ever). The rest of the album is kind of a bummer - but the one song is good enough to carry the rest.

#4 Men at Work - Business as Usual: Hey - I warned you. I told you this was going to be a cheesy year. But who can resist singing along with the single Who Can It be Now or bobbing their head along with the funkiness of Downunder? Once you get past the singles, you still have an album worth a listen. Tracks like Catch a Star and Down By the Sea reveal a band that did not get the credit they deserve.

#3 Depeche Mode - Speak & Spell: Another debut album - and this one from from the melancholic synthpop forerunners Depeche Mode. In classic minimalist approach (yet rebelliously different from what many of their peers were recording), the tracks on Speak & Spell are cheerier than the titles suggest and much more happy than any of the albums DM has recorded since. I probably listened to Depeche Mode more than would be considered healthy during high school - by then this album was nearly 15 years old. Now that the album is 28 years old, it is clear that several of these tracks have not aged well. There are a few, however, that are still as good as the first time I heard them - New Life, I Sometimes Wish I was Dead (only available on the British import) and the hopelessly infectious single Just Can't Get Enough.

#2 Rick Springfield - Working Class Dog: Yes, I know... It tastes like cheddar, but has the texture of toothpaste. But I can't resist including Working Class Dog on my list of favs from '81. Not only is this album a lesson in cheesiness... it i also a lesson in crafting the perfect pop song. In the year I spent as a DJ, Jessie's Girl is one of the songs that received the most requests. (That and Friends in Low Places. If it were me I'd prefer neither song be played at my wedding but if I had to pick, you know I'd want, I want Jessie's Girl.) And it wasn't just wedding dances - it was high school proms too. Who would have thought that a song about having a crush on your best friend's girlfriend would be SO stinkin' popular at weddings and high school dances over 20 years after it was written? Simple answer: it still sounds like it could have been written and recorded today. That's a strong testament to Rick's pop sensibilities. Unlike Face Value... this is more than a one-good-song album. While there's one song that everybody knows... there's easily three or four other songs that could have had the same success.

#1 The Police - Ghost in the Machine: The Police finally (with it's third entry in my top 5 picks) get to be #1... and with good reason. Sting and crew pack some heavy punches with this album as they provide both darker lyrical content and more complex instrumentation. There seems to be a greater spiritual emphasis in the words... but this is not just an album with great lyrics. It is that, but so much more. Sting's voice is as much of an instrument as any other part of the album. Individually, each of the members put forth their best efforts than on any of The Police's other albums. Collectively, they fit together like an intricate puzzle - each part in it's place. They sound so cohesive that you would have never guessed the behind the scenes turmoil the band was experiencing. The three opening tracks: Spirits in the Material World, Every Little Thing She Does is Magic, and Invisible Sun, set you up for for a ride through paranoia and spiritual longing and what is the best that 1981 has to offer.

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