Essential Post-Punk Albums: 1977-1983

Post-punk: an admittedly imprecise genre designation for an incredibly wide-ranging style of music influenced by the punk movement. Relative to punk music, post-punk is less aggressive and more experimental. In fact, some of the most unique music of the time period, and still to this day, came from the period ranging from the late ’70’s through the early ’80’s.

This list is by no-means all-inclusive, and I’m throwing in a few releases that are now generally designated as New Wave, but every record collection would be greatly benefited from having all of the following:

Bauhaus In The Flat Field

Release Date: 11/03/80

Along with Bauhaus’ debut groundbreaking single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, Bauhaus’ debut album In the Flat Field, is quintessential post-punk, and perhaps one of the earliest examples of what would later be labelled goth rock.

Click here for full review.

Highlights: “Double Dare”, “In the Flat Field”, “Nerves”
Rating: 4.75/5

Christian Death Only Theatre of Pain

Release Date: 03/24/82

This is a band I discovered rather randomly many years ago, literally buying an album based on the name of the band, which is absurd. The album was terrible. Awful, awful stuff (research indicates the album was 1998’s Pornographic Messiah… bleh). Several years later, I noticed this band getting mentioned quite frequently in goth rock/post-punk/deathrock circles, but I brushed it off due to my prior listening experiences. Eventually I reached a breaking point where I had to find out what was going on. Turns out, on this one album, and one album only, they are an entirely different band. And this album? It rules. These are talented musicians with a unique vocalist offering up some well-produced, expertly written and performed, dark music. It has some of the most instances of straight-forward punk sounding moments, which was quite unexpected. It’s strange to have an opinion changed after so many years, but this is truly a great album.

Highlights: “Cavity – First Communion”, “Dream for Mother”, “Stairs – Uncertain Journey”, “Romeo’s Distress”
Rating: 4.25/5

The Cure Pornography

Release Date: 05/04/82

In what is probably The Cure’s darkest album, featuring arguably their darkest song “One Hundred Years” I discovered a deeper love and appreciation for The Cure. I’ve long known of their far above average pop sensibilities, but I had no idea the extent of their darkness, but this album and their debut Three Imaginary Boys greatly increased my appreciation of this band. Another excellent album highlight “The Hanging Garden”, brilliantly rides the lines between darkness and melodic sensibilities as well.

Highlights: “One Hundred Years”, “The Hanging Garden”
Rating: 4/5

Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

Release Date: 08/28/78

Before Devo’s debut album, as well as before they went on to be heavily associated with the term “New Wave,” they were a far more experimental art rock band, as can be evidenced by the collections Hardcore Devo, Vol’s and 2. Fortunately for the listener, these trace elements are retained on their superb debut LP. Far-out songs like “Too Much Paranois” blend excellently with more straight-forward rock-based songs, such as “Uncontrollable Urge,” making for a varied album filled with interesting ideas. Thematically, lyrically, and musically, it is a cohesive project unique in the world of music. It suited Devo very well to bring more melodic elements into their music and it is indeed one of the movement’s greatest releases.

Highlights: “Uncontrollabel Urge”, “[I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction”, “Praying Hands”, “Too Much Paranoias”, “Shrivel Up”
Rating: 4.75/5

Gang of Four – Entertainment!

Release Date: 09/25/79

Gang of Four are considered innovators of the “dance-punk” genre, for adding dance elements and a bit of funk to their brand of punk, or post-punk, as it’s often called. Whatever designation best seen fit to try and box Gang of Four in to. Many current well-known musicians consider Gang of Four an influence, including Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers. Entertainment! is pure excellence all the way through. “Damaged Goods” is a rare contender for one of the all-time greatest songs even.

Highlights: “Damaged Goods”, “Ether”, “Natural’s Not in It”
Rating: 4.75/5

Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

Release Date: 06/15/79

Ah, Joy Division. Another band I’d suspected to be massively overrated. I’d heard songs here and there that I didn’t really care for. I’ve always liked “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Warsaw”, I just didn’t like what else I’d heard, certainly colored by my full awareness of how highly esteemed this band is. Hearing the songs in context of an album though, completely shifted this perception. “Disorder” features what is one of my favorite bass parts of all time. Ian Curtis’ vocal performance on this track and throughout the album is simply haunting. There is a strange charm to his vocals even though he’s not a technically proficient singer. The unexpected Pink Floyd-esque production on this album too takes this release to entirely new heights. Personally, I’m a fan of there being little-to-no experimentation with electronics on this release, as compared with Joy Division’s only other album, the 1980 follow-up LP Closer. This album is tortured and haunting, the atmosphere well-created, providing for a profound musical statement, and time has proven this is after all, a masterpiece.

Highlights: “Disorder”, “New Dawn Fades”, “She’s Lost Control”, “I Remember Nothing”
Rating: 5/5

Magazine – Real Life

Release Date: June 1978

Unlike many of Magazine’s contemporaries, Magazine weren’t afraid to shy away from the prog rock and other more mainstream music that immediately preceded them and that many of their peers were rebelling against. While this aspect of their music was displayed more prominently on their follow-up album, 1979’s Secondhand Daylight, there are still some hints of it here. In a strange way, this helps set them apart in a special way. It should be noted however, that Magazine did create what history has deemed the first “post-punk” song: “Shot by Both Sides”, which is simply an amazing track.

Highlights: “Definitive Gaze”, “Shot by Both Sides”, “The Great Beautician in the Sky”
Rating: 4.25/5

New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies

Release Date: 05/02/83

I figured New Order would always be “that band that did ‘Blue Monday'”, which, while I love that song, stylistically it’s generally not my thing, so I had no interest in checking them out further. Later on, I discovered New Order was Joy Division with a different vocalist, and as already mentioned, I wasn’t too keen on them for quite some time, so that also didn’t pique my interest. However, a friend of mine informed me that New Order’s earlier stuff is especially good and isn’t really all that electronic based. This finally began to pique my interest. Listening to this album for the first time was a trip. “Age of Consent” indeed sounds nothing like “Blue Monday”, and what a fantastic song it is.

Highlights: “Age of Consent”, “Your Silent Face”, “Leave Me Alone”
Rating: 4.25/5

Oingo Boingo – Only A Lad

Release Date: 06/19/81

In what is perhaps one of the more bizarre releases of the era, vocalist Danny Elfman, now famous for his prolific output of big budget soundtrack music, sings like an absolute madman, with lyrics to match. Writing from the view point of all stripes of disreputable characters – pedophiles; a businessman railing against middle-class socialists, where it’s impossible to tell whether he’s being sarcastic; closing the curtains to hide from his neighbors  his “nasty habits,” such as dressing up and rollerblading; feeling like an outsider… The album is a wild ride in every way. Danny’s vocal performance is one of the most eclectic out there. There’s yodeling in one song, wild jumps between styles and registers, and a fast-paced manic energy in both the vocalizations and the music. The album takes inspiration from ska, punk, and more recent movements that were yet to be defined at the time of creation and release. There is a 3-piece horn section, some slap bass, very ‘80’s-sounding keyboards, but all this before the gated reverb drums trend, which most often defines the sound of the 80’s (and Oingo Boingo’s later work as well) really took off. As such, it’s a unique and wild ride and one of the ‘80’s best releases.

Highlights: “Little Girls”, “On The Outside”, “What You See”, “Nasty Habits”
Rating: 4.75/5

Public Image Ltd. Metal Box

Release Date: 11/23/79

No matter how you cut it, John Lydon’s willingness to make such a massive stylistic change to such an abrasive, avant-garde sound after the wild success of the Sex Pistols is an impressive and gutsy move. In a considerable improvement over PiL’s debut 1978 release First Issue, Metal Box is a groundbreaking release that makes for some challenging, yet extremely fascinating, listening. This is arguably the most challenging listen on this list in fact as it is quite dissonant and disregards melody almost entirely during its hour-long run time. Johny Lydon seemed to be assuring, that this time his rebellion against the status quo, would not actually become the next new status quo.

Highlights: “Albatross”, “Memories”, “Radio 4”
Rating: 4.5/5
Listen: (called Second Edition as of 1980 reissue onwards)

The Raincoats The Raincoats

Release Date: 11/03/79

Perhaps more noticeably influenced by punk of the era, vocally at least, don’t let this distract you from the fact this is still an unusual album. Just reference the dark, rhythmically complex, Siouxsie and the Banshees-esque “Off Duty Trip”; or the band’s strange cover of The Kinks’ “Lola”. Several moments besides these too, get considerably darker and off-kilter. These are talented musicians, not content to play Pistols style punk. That much is for damn sure. There are so many moments where it feels like the whole track is going to fall apart, but doesn’t, and that tension is just highly compelling.

Highlights: “Fairytale in the Supermarket”, “No Side to Fall In”, “Off Duty Trip”, “Lola”
Rating: 4/5

Siouxsie & The Banshees – Kaleidoscope

Release Date: 08/01/80

Siouxsie and the Banshees were a multifaceted ball of anxiety and energy, probably best exemplified on The Scream, before they went on to essentially sound like a different band on the simply stunning, semi-psychedelic Kaleidoscope, where every song is a winner. This album features the immensely catchy “Christine,” one of the catchiest in their catalog; the unique, dark, and hook-laden “Happy House”; and along with several other bands in 1980 who are now thrown under the Post-punk umbrella, features some early experimentation with some darker sounding electronic passages, such as “Lunar Camel”. While it’s their earlier work that gets most of the attention, Siouxsie maintained a solid discography all the way until their last release, The Rapture, in 1995.

Highlights: “Happy House”, “Christine”, “Lunar Camel”
Rating: 4.5/5

Split Enz – True Colours

Release Date: 06/25/80

Shedding their unusual brand of art rock, the band embraces their more pop-oriented tendencies, aligning themselves more closely with punk and new wave. The album starts out with the extremely catchy “I Got You,” whose chorus sounds like something Squeeze would’ve written. The next track picks up the pace, showing the bands punk influence, but with some unusual synth parts that are more Oingo Boingo-esque. For a band who was previously considerably more challenging, it’s interesting most of the best moments on this album are due to their newly found pop sensibilities. Just reference “I Wouldn’t Dream of It”; this track contains excellent vocal melodies, but gets very dark during the chorus, probably nudging would-be listeners out the door. It’s passages like this though that make this album and band so fascinating.

Highlights: “I Got  You”, “I Wouldn’t Dream of It”, “Nobody Takes Me Seriously”
Rating: 4/5

Suicide – Suicide

Release Date: Dec. 1977

Suicide’s self-titled debut album doesn’t really fit comfortably in any genre, even the loosely defined post-punk designation. Suicide were part of the NYC punk movement that spawned the Ramones, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, and Television, except Suicide focused more on experimentation with abrasive electronics, rather than electric guitars. As such, Suicide’s music is considerably more challenging than the aforementioned bands and in many ways their experimental tendencies, along with the scene and time period they’re from, I think they can safely be placed within these confines. Of course, given the choice of instrumentation, the band is actually more influential in electronic music and various sub-genre’s of that – synthpop, electronic rock, etc.. Being quite different from most of the bands on this list, the music overall is quite minimalist. It’s something to sit and quietly vibe to.

Highlights: “Frankie Teardrop”, “Ghost Rider”, “Cheree”
Rating: 4/5

Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food

Release Date: 07/07/78

Choosing a Talking Heads album that best exemplifies the sound of the umbrella term “New Wave” or “Post-Punk”, never mind the band’s sound itself, is no simple task. For one thing, Talking Heads were generally more on the serious, and arguably, the artistic side. Although they were certainly no strangers to creating danceable music, they weren’t afraid to get darker in all aspects of their music. They looked the furthest from the image associated, i.e., like regular people, their music and lyrics often got darker, and there’s simply an aura of seriousness surrounding their overall presentation, as opposed to the more fun sound of their contemporaries. Nevertheless, this album features a ton of fun, high-energy moments, nevertheless and is one of Talking Head’s finest collections of songs.

Highlights: “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel”, “The Good Thing”, “Found A Job”
Rating: 4.75/5

Television – Marquee Moon

Release Date: 02/08/77

Are there really many better albums out there? Unbelievably innovative, superb musicianship, great melodies, smart lyrics. This album has it all. This is one of the most influential albums of all time for good reason. How can “See No Evil” not get stuck in your head? “Marquee Moon” has to be one of the most memorable and non-tiring nearly-11-minute songs in  history. A fantastic album from start to finish.

Highlights: “See No Evil”, “Venus”, “Marquee Moon”
Rating: 5/5

This Heat – Deceit

Release Date: Sep. 1981

Deceit is a radically forward-thinking and innovative release, much like their self-titled debut (and only other full-length album). Compared to their debut, this one features more vocals, but don’t construe this to mean they were trying to be more accessible with this release. Album opener “Sleep” is a Beatles-esque, borderline psychedelic track, with mesmerizing vocalizations and subtle tape manipulations that make the whole thing somewhat uncomfortable and surreal. This is followed up by the dissonant and aggressive “Paper Hats”, which features screaming. So too does “Makeshift Swahili” for that matter. Both featuring a style of screaming that wouldn’t be heard again for about another 15 years. The whole album though is a trip. A discomforting, bold, piece of experimental rock as art, much like This Heat’s only two other releases. One of the finest releases of the era.

Highlights: “Sleep”, “Paper Hats”, “Makeshift Swahili”
Rating: 4.75/5
Purchase/Listen: Bandcamp

Wall of Voodoo – Dark Continent

Release Date: 08/18/81

Another unique entry from the time period, and possibly the darkest entry that still gets thrown under the New Wave label. This album is like a mix between early Oingo Boingo, Devo, and Cardiacs, except far darker and with much greater use of drum machine sequencing. You know you are in for something quite different from the first moments of “Red Light.” Then, three songs on you get to “Animal Day,” which features Western elements, making this a uniquely American experience. Wall of Voodoo enjoy the distinction of being by far the least known band on this list, but they started their career out with a two-album bang-of-a-run that belongs in the upper echelon of New Wave.

Highlights: “Red Light”, “Animal Day”
Rating: 4.25/5

Wire Chairs Missing

Release Date: Aug. 1978

When Wire put out their first album, Pink Flag, they were the epitome of what punk rock was about: rebellion against the status quo and the music that came before it, both in aesthetics and sound. This is when punk rock was about taking chances and doing something different. Pink Flag is different from what came before it as well as from other punk of its day. It also manages to be incredibly catchy at times, and dark at others. The darkness becomes more profound on Chairs Missing, and even more so on 154. Wire’s proclivity for some surprisingly poppy pieces, interspersed with some very dark music and some other sonic experimentation’s, make for a fascinating listen. There is no finer first three album releases in all of music. Each of their first three albums are perfect or near-perfect. Chairs Missing shows the band taking major risks and it pays off immensely.

Highlights: “Practice Makes Perfect”, “Mercy”, “Outdoor Miner”
Rating: 4.75/5

XTC – Drums and Wires

Release Date: 08/17/79

Highlighting an XTC album is always a difficult task, but when you’re talking post-punk or new wave, there’s really only a couple contenders. XTC have one of the most fascinating career progressions in music. From their highly-energetic, eclectic, punkish new wave of their first album, to the pastoral, acoustic-driven songs found on English Settlement, XTC seem to have something for everybody. Let us not forget XTC’s psychedelic pop masterpiece Skylarking, the incredibly authentic-sounding ‘60’s psychedelic rock as The Dukes of Stratosphear, and the orchestral arrangements on Apple Venus, Vol. 1. Andy Partridge’s lyrics also warrant a shout out, truly intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics. This may seem like high praise, but the only band that XTC are second to in terms of melodic sensibility is The Beatles, which will certainly be an understandable position to reach after listening through their discography. How so many songs sound like they can be hits, but were not, is unfortunate, but XTC does maintain a sizable and highly passionate fan base, as indicated by numerous active online fan clubs, groups, and cover bands. XTC’s music contains a ton of variety, so to get the best picture of the band as a whole, all of their era’s should be sampled. Drums and Wires is the highlight from this era though. It’s when the began became to truly come into their own – the band was previously in black and white, but this is the album where they discovered a new palette.

Highlights: “Making Plans for Nigel”, “Helicopter”, “Scissor Man”, “Complicated Game”
Rating: 4.75/5


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