I was a short kid. Wait... I'm still short. But, back when I was little I was shorter than all my peers. So, you can imagine my mom's surprise when, in September of '84, I returned home from my first day of kindergarten with the exciting news that there was someone in my class that was shorter than me. There was four of us short people: Matt, Jen, Kelly, and me. We were all friends for a while. By the time we reached junior high, Matt and I were still friends. His older sister worked in a coffee stand and gave me chocolate covered espresso beans any time I went over to their house. And Matt played guitar (If you remember correctly - Matt is the friend that inspired me to write my first song). Matt is the only kid from my kindergarten class that went through every grade with me the whole way through our graduation in '97. And he's the only person that I can remember always being shorter than me.
I don't know if Matt is still shorter than me. But he still plays guitar. Sitting down now and thinking about our days growing up, I can't help but wonder if he was to do the same thing I'm doing now, and pick out his favorite albums released in the year we started kindergarten... how much would his list match mine.
#5 The Pretenders - Learning to Crawl: After the drug overdose death of one member (and firing another member for drug addiction) the two remaining - and sober - members of The Pretenders carried on and the result is their best album. The whole album has a bittersweet tone to it, but is much more mature than their previous work. Chrissie Hynde's voice is alternately assured and forlorn. The album opens with the solid Middle of the Road and the familiar Back on the Chain Gang - and closes with the beautiful ballad (and unintentional Christmas Song) 2000 Miles. Throughout the album there is a compelling combination of loss and longing with hope and determination that defines the band.
#4 Depeche Mode - Some Great Reward: DM changed a bit here... no longer the bouncy synth-pop band we grew to love. They were still syth-pop, but there was a hint of something darker and more somber. Yet, with songs like People Are People, I never could tell if they took themselves too seriously, or didn't take themselves seriously at all. This album is also home to a quint love song (and one of my DM favorites) Somebody. Here they set the ground work of what was to become goth and industrial music.
#3 Bryan Adams - Reckless: This album is a testament to Bryan's abilities as a song writer. Half of the tracks were singles, including the epochal Summer of '69, and they still sound fresh over 20 years later.
#2 Bob Marley - Legend: If you've never listened to reggae - you need to hear this album. If you're looking for the one reggae album to add to your collection of music that isn't reggae - this is it. The only reason that Legend isn't my number one pick for 1984 is because it is a greatest hits collection. But it is the quintessential reggae album - true to the tradition of reggae yet accessible to listeners who are not fans of the genre. Greatest hit compilations are notorious for inducing the "why'd they put that song on here" thought, but Legend avoids that pitfall. There's not a single song on here that I don't like.
#1 Petra - Beat the System: I'm not a huge Petra fan. My brother is (was), but not me. I find the band to be the cheesy side of Christian music. Yet, when I dig back through my music collection, I can't help but remember a fondness for these old Petra songs. This album is pure 80s keyboard driven rock. There is still an element of cheese here (Computer Brains and Witch Hunt), but it works. All of the songs from the title track to the driving Easter themed It Is Finished, to the mellow Hollow Eyes are memorable. A couple of months ago, I listened to this album for the first time in over 10 years. And I was surprised that I was still able to sing along and remember the words to every song. Few bands produce music that sticks with you like that. Memorable songs is (or at least should be) the goal of any recording musician and Petra gets a big hat tip from me for this truly memorable album.
Honorable Mention: The Cars - Heartbeat City