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Five for Friday: Hot-Selling 80s Albums Deserving of Reappraisal

U2's The Joshua Tree. Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction. Prince's Purple Rain. Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. Michael Jackson's Thriller. To be sure, plenty of other notable efforts exist, but it's worth noting the 80s gave us some of history's biggest-selling and era-defining albums. And no such list would be complete without Def Leppard's Pyromania and Hysteria. This summer, the hair-metal giants are heading out on tour just as their first four records (including the aforementioned titles) receive the deluxe reissue treatment via the 8LP The Vinyl Collection: Volume One, complete with rarities and live cuts. The band has been promoting the set and tour by poking fun at itself. Witness a semi-ironic video mocking the silly lyrics of "Pour Some Sugar on Me." Notions of guilty pleasures aside, here are five ripe-for-reappraisal 80s albums whose sales outweigh their critical acclaim.

Def Leppard, Hysteria
Hysteria, for as glossy, polished, and synthetic as some of its production seems by today's streamlined standards, holds as an absolute monster of a record, and one whose songs were inescapable for months – nay, years – after its 1987 release. The set found the band working once again with producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange and essentially doubling down on its pop-metal formula, resulting in a work with giant hooks, oversized guitars, and ridiculous (but also ridiculously catchy) lyrics (see "Pour Some Sugar on Me"). Having sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, the album marked Def Leppard's return after drummer Rick Allen survived an auto wreck that took his arm – leading the band to give its rhythms a bit more digital sheen. Lange has often said Thriller served as the album's inspiration, which makes complete sense when you consider the melodic, smooth nature of the songs (see the title track).

Tina Turner, Foreign Affair
An R&B and soul icon, Tina Turner's sometimes overlooked 1989 effort Foreign Affair – a global hit that failed to resonate much with U.S. audiences – saw her bring the decade to a close with the argument that she was the era's rock n' roll queen. Most everyone of a certain generation can hum or sing a few bars of "The Best," but beyond its reach-for-the-stars chorus, the song touts sleek synth moves that tease the vocal explosion. And while Turner's rasp arrives with a bit of lived-in rust, she wields it as a weapon. The lustful "Steamy Windows," about recapturing rabid teenage romance, certainly isn't taking no for an answer. Bluesy harmonics, sizzling keyboards, and hip-shaking guitars all try to match the heat of Turner's growl. The title track closes the set with new-wave noir, a dark and resolute breakdown of a too-short fling. And the power ballad "Be Tender with Me Baby" should have been played at every prom for the next decade.

The Smithereens, 11
Recent years have seen us lose many pop giants, from David Bowie to Prince to Tom Petty. Criminally overlooked was the passing late last year of Pat DiNizio, longtime leader of New Jersey power-pop aces the Smithereens. While the band never really broke out of the club circuit, 1989's 11 yielded a one-hit-wonder in the form of the Top 40-bound "A Girl Like You." Just before the 90s arrived – and with it, a less-flamboyant style of rock – "A Girl Like You" felt like a lost nugget from a more innocent time in rock history. While the heavily processed guitars feature a slight bite, DiNizio's goofy, I'm-not-worthy lyrics temper it and make the case that good guys played rock n' roll, too. A Smithereens influence would later appear in alt-rock power pop courtesy of Matthew Sweet and Fountains of Wayne, yet 11 – filled with tunes that all feel like rom-com plots – deserves its own day in the sun.

Poison, Look What the Cat Dragged In
Poison came out of nowhere with its 1986 debut, released independently by Enigma Records. Songs such as the title track and "#1 Bad Boy" present a tough-guy image. But the members of Poison were too cartoonish, too bubblegum, and too decked out in glitter to present any real image of danger. To truly enjoy the quartet, especially early Poison, one has to be in on the joke – and share an affinity for pink guitars. "Talk Dirty to Me," despite its salacious message and synchronized guitar attack, unfolds as an unabashed rip of nearly every recognizable Sex Pistols riff. The aural wink can still annoy punk-rock purists. Recorded in just 12 days, Look What the Cat Dragged In has moved more than four million copies – its pop-metal core continually and joyfully nodding to other eras and genres, be it the Phil Spector-ready rhythms that launch "Cry Tough" or sincere cheese of "I Won't Forget You."

Huey Lewis and the News, Sports
Unlike other 80s artists – Hall & Oates, Def Leppard, Wham! – Huey Lewis and the News has yet to experience any sort of resurgence. These days, the band largely remains relegated to the casino/county fair circuits. That could change this summer with an appearance at San Francisco's Outside Lands, and if so, there would be no complaints from these quarters. The group's 1983 blockbuster, Sports, certified as having sold more than 10 million copies in the U.S. alone, feels like a greatest-hits collection. Standout "I Want a New Drug," graced with bar-band riffs and coupled with ecstatic keyboards and a swinging saxophone, brought a light R&B flair to 80s stadium rock. But the real gem is "Walking on a Thin Line," on which a pulsating synth and heroic guitars can't shake off the blues of adulthood.

June 1, 2018

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