80s Rewind

Appetite For Destruction

Guns N' Roses
Guns N' Roses' debut, Appetite for Destruction was a turning point for hard rock in the late '80s -- it was a dirty, dangerous, and mean record in a time when heavy metal meant nothing but a good time. On the surface, Guns N' Roses may appear to celebrate the same things as their peers -- namely, sex, liquor, drugs, and rock & roll -- but there is a nasty edge to their songs, since Axl Rose doesn't see much fun in the urban sprawl of L.A. and its parade of heavy metal thugs, cheap women, booze, and crime. The music is as nasty as the lyrics, wallowing in a bluesy, metallic hard rock borrowed from Aerosmith, AC/DC, and countless faceless hard rock bands of the early '80s. It's a primal, sleazy sound that adds grit to already grim tales. It also makes Rose's misogyny, fear, and anger hard to dismiss as merely an artistic statement; this is music that sounds lived-in. And that's exactly why Appetite for Destruction is such a powerful record -- not only does Rose have fears, but he also is vulnerable, particularly on the power ballad "Sweet Child O' Mine." He also has a talent for conveying the fears and horrors of the decaying inner city, whether it's on the charging "Welcome to the Jungle," the heroin ode "Mr. Brownstone," or "Paradise City," which simply wants out. But as good as Rose's lyrics and screeching vocals are, they wouldn't be nearly as effective without the twin-guitar interplay of Slash and Izzy Stradlin, who spit out riffs and solos better than any band since the Rolling Stones, and that's what makes Appetite for Destruction the best metal record of the late '80s.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Greatest Hits

RUN-DMC
Supplanting the 1991 collection Together Forever, BMG Heritage's 2002 Greatest Hits also runs 18 tracks and shares ten of the same songs -- namely, all the big hits and usual suspects. Of the eight tracks left behind, there are some big ones -- no "Peter Piper" or "My Adidas" -- and the sequencing, while flowing much better than its predecessor, is still non-chronological, which robs the narrative of some power even if the music retains all of it. So, that means we're still waiting for the perfect Run-D.M.C. collection, but until that arrives, this is still an excellent listen and works well as both a summary and introduction to one of the greatest bands of the '80s.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Like A Prayer

Madonna
Out of all of Madonna's albums, Like a Prayer is her most explicit attempt at a major artistic statement. Even though it is apparent that she is trying to make a "serious" album, the kaleidoscopic variety of pop styles on Like a Prayer is quite dazzling. Ranging from the deep funk of "Express Yourself" and "Keep It Together" to the haunting "Oh Father" and "Like a Prayer," Madonna displays a commanding sense of songcraft, making this her best and most consistent album.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Synchronicity

The Police
Simultaneously more pop-oriented and experimental than either Ghost in the Machine or Zenyatta Mondatta, Synchronicity made the Police superstars, generating no less than five hit singles. With the exception of "Synchronicity II," which sounds disarmingly like a crappy Billy Idol song, every one of those singles is a classic. "Every Breath You Take" has a seductive, rolling beat masking its maliciousness, "King of Pain" and "Wrapped Around Your Finger" are devilishly infectious new wave singles, and "Tea in the Sahara" is hypnotic in its measured, melancholy choruses. But, like so many other Police albums, these songs are surrounded by utterly inconsequential filler. This time, the group relies heavily on jazzy textures for Sting's songs, which only work on the jumping, marimba-driven "Synchronicity I." Then, as if to prove that the Police were still a band, there's one song apiece from Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers, both of which are awful, as if they're trying to sabotage the album. Since they arrive on the first side, which is devoid of singles, they do, making the album sound like two EPs: one filled with first-rate pop, and one an exercise in self-indulgence. While the hits are among Sting's best, they also illustrate that he was ready to leave the Police behind for a solo career, which is exactly what he did.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

1999

Prince
With Dirty Mind, Prince had established a wild fusion of funk, rock, new wave, and soul that signaled he was an original, maverick talent, but it failed to win him a large audience. After delivering the sound-alike album, Controversy, Prince revamped his sound and delivered the double album 1999. Where his earlier albums had been a fusion of organic and electronic sounds, 1999 was constructed almost entirely on synthesizers by Prince himself. Naturally, the effect was slightly more mechanical and robotic than his previous work and strongly recalled the electro-funk experiments of several underground funk and hip-hop artists at the time. Prince had also constructed an album dominated by computer funk, but he didn't simply rely on the extended instrumental grooves to carry the album -- he didn't have to when his songwriting was improving by leaps and bounds. The first side of the record contained all of the hit singles, and, unsurprisingly, they were the ones that contained the least amount of electronics. "1999" parties to the apocalypse with a P-Funk groove much tighter than anything George Clinton ever did, "Little Red Corvette" is pure pop, and "Delirious" takes rockabilly riffs into the computer age. After that opening salvo, all the rules go out the window -- "Let's Pretend We're Married" is a salacious extended lust letter, "Free" is an elegiac anthem, "All the Critics Love U in New York" is a vicious attack at hipsters, and "Lady Cab Driver," with its notorious bridge, is the culmination of all of his sexual fantasies. Sure, Prince stretches out a bit too much over the course of 1999, but the result is a stunning display of raw talent, not wallowing indulgence.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Born In The U.S.A.

Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen had become increasingly downcast as a songwriter during his recording career, and his pessimism bottomed out with Nebraska. But Born in the U.S.A., his popular triumph, which threw off seven Top Ten hits and became one of the best-selling albums of all time, trafficked in much the same struggle, albeit set to galloping rhythms and set off by chiming guitars. That the witless wonders of the Reagan regime attempted to co-opt the title track as an election-year campaign song wasn't so surprising: the verses described the disenfranchisement of a lower-class Vietnam vet, and the chorus was intended to be angry, but it came off as anthemic. Then, too, Springsteen had softened his message with nostalgia and sentimentality, and those are always crowd-pleasers. "Glory Days" may have employed Springsteen's trademark disaffection, yet it came across as a couch potato's drunken lament. But more than anything else, Born in the U.S.A. marked the first time that Springsteen's characters really seemed to relish the fight and to have something to fight for. They were not defeated ("No Surrender"), and they had friendship ("Bobby Jean") and family ("My Hometown") to defend. The restless hero of "Dancing in the Dark" even pledged himself in the face of futility, and for Springsteen, that was a step. The "romantic young boys" of his first two albums, chastened by "the working life" encountered on his third, fourth, and fifth albums and having faced the despair of his sixth, were still alive on this, his seventh, with their sense of humor and their determination intact. Born in the U.S.A. was their apotheosis, the place where they renewed their commitment and where Springsteen remembered that he was a rock & roll star, which is how a vastly increased public was happy to treat him.

William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Escape

Journey
Escape was a groundbreaking album for San Francisco's Journey, charting three singles inside Billboard's Top Ten, with "Don't Stop Believing" reaching number nine, "Who's Crying Now" number four, and "Open Arms" peaking at number two and holding there for six weeks. Escape flung Journey steadfastly into the AOR arena, combining Neal Schon's grand yet palatable guitar playing with Jonathan Cain's blatant keyboards. All this was topped off by the passionate, wide-ranged vocals of Steve Perry, who is the true lifeblood of this album, and this band. The songs on Escape are more rock-flavored, with more hooks and a harder cadence compared to their former sound. "Who's Crying Now" spotlights the sweeping fervor of Perry's voice, whose theme about the ups and downs of a relationship was plentiful in Journey's repertoire. With "Don't Stop Believing," the whisper of Perry's ardor is crept up to with Schon's searing electric guitar work, making for a perfect rock song. One of rock's most beautiful ballads, "Open Arms," gleams with an honesty and feel only Steve Perry could muster. Outside of the singles, there is a certain electricity that circulates through the rest of the album. The songs are timeless, and as a whole, they have a way of rekindling the innocence of youthful romance and the rebelliousness of growing up, built from heartfelt songwriting and sturdy musicianship. [Escape was reissued in 2006, housed in a fancy digipack with an expanded booklet and the addition of four bonus tracks: "La Raza del Sol" (the B-side of "Still They Ride") and three live songs from a 1981 show.]

Mike DeGagne, Rovi

80's Pop Number 1's

Various Artists

The Best Of- 20 Years Of Rock

Poison

It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

Public Enemy
Yo! Bum Rush the Show was an invigorating record, but it looks like child's play compared to its monumental sequel, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, a record that rewrote the rules of what hip-hop could do. That's not to say the album is without precedent, since what's particularly ingenious about the album is how it reconfigures things that came before into a startling, fresh, modern sound. Public Enemy used the template Run-D.M.C. created of a rap crew as a rock band, then brought in elements of free jazz, hard funk, even musique concrète, via their producing team, the Bomb Squad, creating a dense, ferocious sound unlike anything that came before. This coincided with a breakthrough in Chuck D's writing, both in his themes and lyrics. It's not that Chuck D was smarter or more ambitious than his contemporaries -- certainly, KRS-One tackled many similar sociopolitical tracts, while Rakim had a greater flow -- but he marshaled considerable revolutionary force, clear vision, and a boundless vocabulary to create galvanizing, logical arguments that were undeniable in their strength. They only gained strength from Flavor Flav's frenzied jokes, which provided a needed contrast. What's amazing is how the words and music become intertwined, gaining strength from each other. Though this music is certainly a representation of its time, it hasn't dated at all. It set a standard that few could touch then, and even fewer have attempted to meet since.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Graceland - 25th Anniversary Edition

Paul Simon
Paul Simon's dazzling mix of American roots music, South African pop and highly personal songcraft instantly became one of the key albums of the 1980s and is now internationally considered among the greatest of all time. The zydeco rush of "Boy in the Bubble" and the autobiographical title track both offer musical comfort to confusing, sometimes deadly, modern landscapes, while the transcendent "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" brings magical realism to gritty urban streets.

-- Nick Dedina, Google Play

Control

Janet Jackson
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis tailored their contemporary dance-pop to the emerging personality of Janet Jackson, who attempted to take control of her life on this record. In the course of that attempt, she came across as an aggressive, independent woman, notably on "What Have You Done for Me Lately." But the album was primarily a production showcase; it may have been tailored to Jackson's persona, but the real artists were Jam and Lewis.

William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Faith

George Michael
A superbly crafted mainstream pop/rock masterpiece, Faith made George Michael an international solo star, selling over ten million copies in the U.S. alone as of 2000. Perhaps even more impressively, it also made him the first white solo artist to hit number one on the R&B album charts. Michael had already proven the soulful power of his pipes by singing a duet with Aretha Franklin on the 1987 smash "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)," but he went even farther when it came to crafting his own material, using sophisticated '70s soul as an indispensable part of his foundation. Of course, it's only a part. Faith's ingenuity lies in the way it straddles pop, adult contemporary, R&B, and dance music as though there were no distinctions between them. In addition to his basic repertoire of funky dance-pop and airy, shimmering ballads, Michael appropriates the Bo Diddley beat for the rockabilly-tinged title track, and proves himself a better-than-decent torch singer on the cocktail jazz of "Kissing a Fool." Michael arranged and produced the album himself, and the familiarity of many of these songs can obscure his skills in those departments -- close listening reveals his knack for shifting elements in and out of the mix and adding subtle embellishments when a little emphasis or variety is needed. Though Faith couldn't completely shake Michael's bubblegum image in some quarters, the album's themes were decidedly adult. "I Want Your Sex" was the most notorious example, of course, but even the love songs were strikingly personal and mature, grappling with complex adult desires and scarred by past heartbreak. All of it adds up to one of the finest pop albums of the '80s, setting a high-water mark that Michael was only able to reach in isolated moments afterward.

[Sony/Legacy’s 2011 deluxe reissue of Faith contains a remastered version of George Michael’s 1987 solo debut accompanied by a CD of remixes, single edits, and rarities as well as a DVD of videos and TV specials, all housed in a 40-page hardcover book. As one of the great pop albums of the 1980s, Faith deserves this kind of deluxe treatment, particularly because the inclusion of the music videos enhances the understanding of why the record dominated pop for two years. Michael had a knack for finding the right image for the right song -- the clean supermodel strut of “I Want Your Sex,” the smoky haze of “Father Figure” -- and that fueled Faith’s herculean reign on international pop charts. There was no wasted image and Michael had no wasted songs, either, his B-sides devoted to remixes or edits, the choice of which are included here along with instrumental mixes of “Faith” and “Kissing a Fool” and live versions of “I Believe When I Fall in Love” and “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” plus the excellent “Fantasy,” which wound up as a B-side for Listen Without Prejudice’s "Freedom! '90." Much of the bonus material is enjoyable, albeit in a time-capsule fashion -- nothing evokes 1989 like a Shep Pettibone remix -- but the real star of the reissue is the album itself. After 24 years, it’s still a gleaming, immaculate piece of dance-pop retaining its sleek, stainless appeal. The 2011 reissue of Faith also came in a trimmer edition that didn’t have the DVD or hardcover book, just the two CDs.]

Parallel Lines

Blondie
Blondie turned to British pop producer Mike Chapman for their third album, on which they abandoned any pretensions to new wave legitimacy (just in time, given the decline of the new wave) and emerged as a pure pop band. But it wasn't just Chapman that made Parallel Lines Blondie's best album; it was the band's own songwriting, including Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, and James Destri's "Picture This," and Harry and Stein's "Heart of Glass," and Harry and new bass player Nigel Harrison's "One Way or Another," plus two contributions from nonbandmember Jack Lee, "Will Anything Happen?" and "Hanging on the Telephone." That was enough to give Blondie a number one on both sides of the Atlantic with "Heart of Glass" and three more U.K. hits, but what impresses is the album's depth and consistency -- album tracks like "Fade Away and Radiate" and "Just Go Away" are as impressive as the songs pulled for singles. The result is state-of-the-art pop/rock circa 1978, with Harry's tough-girl glamour setting the pattern that would be exploited over the next decade by a host of successors led by Madonna.

William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Midnight Love

Marvin Gaye
Larkin Arnold, former CBS Records (Sony Music) senior executive VP, convinced Marvin Gaye to leave his flat in Belgium and sign with Columbia Records; the result would become the soul singer's last album before his untimely death. Of all his number one songs, this album's first release, "Sexual Healing," became his longest running number one single on the Billboard R&B charts (ten straight weeks). With the exception of the guitar, the Washington, D.C. native performed every instrument on this classic hit. Gaye concocted a pioneering percussive sound that was balladic in taste but stimulating in feel. As this project may not be an absolute erotic expression or a socially challenging plea from Gaye like on some of his previous albums, nonetheless, Midnight Love is a classic Marvin Gaye effort. In addition to this project thriving with Gaye's enthusiastic spirit, it has his harmonious background vocals, his stunning vocal arrangements and his creative penmanship, as he wrote all the selections.

Craig Lytle, Rovi

The Hits

REO Speedwagon
Over the course of the 1980s, REO Speedwagon became one of the decade's leading power balladeers. However, these singles sapped the band's reputation as a rock & roll band. Although it may focus more on ballads such as "Time for Me to Fly," "Keep on Loving You," and "Can't Fight This Feeling," Hits does not completely overlook the band's rock anthems, taking care to also include such underrated rockers as "I Don't Want to Lose You," "Don't Let Him Go," and a live version of "Ridin the Storm Out," the band's first and best rock single from the 1970s. Though there is a rather large quantity of REO compilations, Hits remains the wisest investment for most listeners.

Barry Weber, Rovi

The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick

Slick Rick
Slick Rick's reputation as hip-hop's greatest storyteller hangs on his classic debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, one of the most influential rap records of the late '80s -- for better and worse. Most of the production is standard early Def Jam, but Rick's style on the mic is like no one else's. His half-British accent and odd, singsong cadences often overshadow the smoothness of his delivery, but there's no overlooking the cleverness of his lyrics. His carefully constructed narratives are filled with vivid detail and witty asides, and his cartoonish sense of humor influenced countless other rappers. He'll adopt a high voice for his female characters, and even duets with his old alter ego MC Ricky D on "Mona Lisa." But there's also a dark side to The Great Adventures -- namely its vulgarity and off-handed misogyny. No MC had ever dared go as far on record as Rick, and the tracks in question haven't really lost much of their power to offend, or at least raise eyebrows. The notorious "Treat Her Like a Prostitute" is the prime suspect, undermining well-intentioned advice (don't trust too quickly) with cynical, often degrading portrayals of women. "Indian Girl (Adult Story)," meanwhile, is an X-rated yarn with a barely comprehensible payoff. Yet this material is as much a part of Rick's legacy as his more admirable traits, and he was far from the last MC to put seemingly contradictory sides of his personality on the same record. And it's worth noting that most of his Great Adventures, no matter how dubious, end up as cautionary tales with definite consequences. That's especially true on the tragic "Children's Story," in which a teenage robber's increasingly desperate blunders lead to his destruction. In the end, The Great Adventures is simply too good not to deserve the countless samples and homages by everyone from Snoop Dogg to Black Star.

Steve Huey, Rovi

Greatest Hits

Styx
Replacing the band's volume in A&M's Classics series, Greatest Hits collects all Styx's major chart and radio hits, from "Lady" to "Show Me the Way." Although they were a definitive album-oriented rock band, creating records that were meant to be listened to as a whole, their finest moments were always their singles, making Greatest Hits the only Styx disc many fans will need to own.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Greatest Hits

Huey Lewis
There have been many Huey Lewis & the News hits compilations released overseas, but 2006's simply named Greatest Hits is only the second U.S. comp, following Time Flies, which appeared a decade earlier. At a generous 21 tracks, Greatest Hits is not only five songs longer than Time Flies, but it's a better-chosen collection, too. It may be missing "Bad Is Bad," but it has a stronger selection of early songs, like the wonderful "Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do," plus a better selection of latter-day songs, including Huey's duet with Gwyneth Paltrow on Smokey Robinson's "Cruisin'." That doesn't mean the disc is perfect, however; although this does have stronger representation of their earlier material, it could use just a little bit more, and the non-chronological sequencing is a bit of a headache. That said, this has all the hits and no weak songs, making it the best Huey Lewis & the News compilation yet.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Greatest Hits

Pat Benatar
The liner notes to Capitol's 20-track retrospective of rock goddess Pat Benatar's golden years are filled with testimonials from some of the genre's queens, both reigning (Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos) and retired (Jane Wiedlin, Martha Davis). It's a fitting tribute to the artist, as her four-and-a-half-octave vocal range spewing arena-sized anthems has yet to be matched by anyone with as much rock & roll panache. "We Belong," "Shadows of the Night," "Promises in the Dark," and "Love Is a Battlefield" are all certifiable '80s classics -- not just guilty pleasures -- and even later semi-hits like "Sex as a Weapon" and "All Fired Up" don't sound as overwrought as one would imagine, having not heard them in some time. Greatest Hits is just five songs longer than 1989's Best Shots -- reissued in 2003 with an accompanying DVD -- but the inclusion of fan favorites such as "Little Too Late" and "Le Bel Age" make this collection the most effective to date. Fair is fair.

James Christopher Monger, Rovi

The Best That I Could Do 1978-1988

John Mellencamp
The Best That I Could Do is an appropriately self-deprecating title for John Mellencamp's greatest-hits collection, considering that the heartland rocker never seemed too convinced of his own worth. Of course, he had to struggle to get any respect after he was saddled with the stage name Johnny Cougar early in his career, but this 14-track collection proves that he was one of the best, unabashed straight-ahead rockers of the '80s. The 14 tracks here actually turn out to be a little too short to contain all of his great singles -- songs like "Rain on the Scarecrow," "Rumbleseat," "Pop Singer," "Again Tonight," and "What If I Came Knocking" are left off the collection (there's nothing from 1988's Big Daddy at all) -- but it's hard to argue with what's here. Over the course of the collection, such classic rock hits as "I Need a Lover," "Hurts So Good," "Jack and Diane," "Crumblin' Down," "Pink Houses," "Lonely Ol' Night," "Small Town," "Paper in Fire," "Cherry Bomb," and "Check It Out" are chronicled, with a new cover of Terry Reid's "Without Expression" added for good measure. It may fall short of being definitive, but only by a small margin, and it remains an excellent overview and introduction to Mellencamp's remarkably consistent body of work.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Diamond Life

Sade
Former model Sade made an immediate and huge impact with her 1984 debut album, Diamond Life. Her sound and approach were deliberately icy, her delivery and voice aloof, deadpan, and cold, and yet she became an instant sensation through such songs as "Smooth Operator" and "Your Love Is King," where the slick production and quasi-jazz backing seemed to register with audiences thinking they were hearing a jazz vocalist.

Ron Wynn, Rovi

What Hits!?

Red Hot Chili Peppers
After the Red Hot Chili Peppers left EMI for Warner Bros. and hit the big time with "Under the Bridge," their former label gathered most of the best tracks from the group's first four albums for the compilation What Hits!? Since Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the Peppers' most popular album, was recorded for Warner, none of its songs are present -- with the exception of "Under the Bridge," which was somehow licensed for use. What Hits!? does a pretty good job of sifting through the Peppers' uneven discography and picking out the best moments, making it a very useful sampler; it also contains "Show Me Your Soul," the band's contribution to the Pretty Woman soundtrack.

Steve Huey, Rovi

Ultimate Collection

Eurythmics
Preceding the elaborate 2005 reissues of Eurythmics' eight proper albums by a month, The Ultimate Collection narrowly trumps 1991's Greatest Hits since it features remastered sound and a more extensive track list. While it does not contain "Don't Ask Me Again," opting to instead select a couple merely decent highlights from 1999's Peace, two new (unplanned) recordings add value for any kind of fan. Bookending the disc, "I've Got a Life" is powerful disco-pop with Annie Lennox strongly present over a bursting multi-tiered arrangement, while the relatively low-key "Was It Just Another Affair" has more in common with late-period Everything But the Girl. Both songs pleasingly sound the way Eurythmics should sound in 2005. The rest of the disc leans toward the duo's peak of popularity, 1985's Be Yourself Tonight and the following year's Revenge, while the remainder of the albums -- with the exception of the unrepresented In the Garden, the debut -- chime in with two or three songs each. A truly ultimate collection would contain two discs and dig deeper into some of the best album cuts, rather than rely on charting singles, but this disc will sufficiently satisfy the casual fans who just want the songs they know and love.

Andy Kellman, Rovi

Third Stage

Boston

Bigger And Deffer

LL Cool J
LL Cool J rocketed to the top of the hip-hop world in 1985 with Radio, his astonishing debut, but he lost his footing a bit with Bigger and Deffer, his mildly disappointing follow-up that proved to be a commercial breakthrough all the same. It's a powerful album that gets underway with a bang, as LL raps, "No rapper can rap quite like I can," and makes his case throughout the album-opening "I'm Bad," a ferocious hardcore rap with a great DJ-scratched hook. While that song ranks among LL's best (and most popular) ever, Bigger and Deffer doesn't boast too many other standout moments, with the exception of "I Need Love." Its balladic tenderness comes as a late-album surprise, considering how ferocious LL sounds elsewhere here. Nonetheless, like it or loathe it, the song set the template for a number of such lovers raps that would bring LL much crossover success in the years to come. "I Need Love" aside, Bigger and Deffer is consistently solid, produced entirely by the L.A. Posse (Darryl Pierce, Dwayne Simon, and Bobby Erving) and filled with the sort of hard-hitting hip-hop that was Def Jam's staple at the time. But while the album is mostly solid, it does lack the creative spark that had made Radio such an invigorating release only a couple years prior (the absence of Rick Rubin here is unfortunate). In those couple years since LL had put out Radio, rap music had taken big strides. Now, in 1987, LL had to contend with the likes of Eric B. & Rakim, Kool Moe Dee, Public Enemy, and Boogie Down Productions, with others like EPMD, Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T, and N.W.A on the horizon. When put in such a context, Bigger and Deffer pales a bit; in the years since LL's Radio rocked the streets of New York, rap had taken leaps and bounds while LL hadn't. So it was no surprise when LL suddenly came under attack by his rivals and a few fans, sending him back to the drawing board for his next effort, the whopping 18-track Walking with a Panther (1989).

Jason Birchmeier, Rovi

Shout: The Very Best Of Tears For Fears

Tears For Fears
Shout: The Very Best of Tears for Fears provides an excellent overview of the band's key tracks, including all their hit singles, beginning with tracks from their first album, The Hurting, and ending with tracks from the post-Curt Smith album Elemental. (Curt Smith, one-half the duo, left after 1989's The Seeds of Love). Tears for Fears already had one excellent hits package on the market, 1992's Tears Roll Down, but this set improves on that one by including all the tracks from that album, plus an additional five. Not only that, but the version of "Mother's Talk" on Tears Roll Down was not the hit single remix -- the version here is. Also included is the non-album U.K. single "The Way You Are," "Suffer the Children" (from The Hurting), "New Star" from the film Threesome, and the follow-up to their final charted U.S. single, "Break It Down Again" and "Goodnight Song," as well as a non-LP single remix of "I Believe." This album does not include any tracks from Raoul and the Kings of Spain, but clocking in at 79 minutes, it is filled to the brim with hits and stands as the definitive Tears for Fears collection, with excellent liner notes to boot.

Jose F. Promis, Rovi

Blizzard Of Ozz (Expanded Edition)

Ozzy Osbourne
Ozzy Osbourne's 1981 solo debut, Blizzard of Ozz, was a masterpiece of neo-classical metal that, along with Van Halen's first album, became a cornerstone of '80s metal guitar. Upon its release, there was considerable doubt that Ozzy could become a viable solo attraction. Blizzard of Ozz demonstrated not only his ear for melody, but also an unfailing instinct for assembling top-notch backing bands. Onetime Quiet Riot guitarist Randy Rhoads was a startling discovery, arriving here as a unique, fully formed talent. Rhoads was just as responsible as Osbourne -- perhaps even more so -- for the album's musical direction, and his application of classical guitar techniques and scales rewrote the rulebook just as radically as Eddie Van Halen had. Rhoads could hold his own as a flashy soloist, but his detailed, ambitious compositions and arrangements revealed his true depth, as well as creating a sense of doomy, sinister elegance built on Ritchie Blackmore's minor-key innovations. All of this may seem to downplay the importance of Ozzy himself, which shouldn't be the case at all. The music is a thoroughly convincing match for his lyrical obsession with the dark side (which was never an embrace, as many conservative watchdogs assumed); so, despite its collaborative nature, it is unequivocally stamped with Ozzy's personality. What's more, the band is far more versatile and subtle than Sabbath, freeing Ozzy from his habit of singing in unison with the guitar (and proving that he had an excellent grasp of how to frame his limited voice). Nothing short of revelatory, Blizzard of Ozz deservedly made Ozzy a star, and it set new standards for musical virtuosity in the realm of heavy metal. [2011's 30th Anniversary edition of Blizzard of Ozz (which was also released on double vinyl) featured a newly remastered and restored edition of the original album, as well as the bonus cuts "You Looking at Me, Looking at You (Non-LP B-Side, Previously Unreleased in the U.S.)," "Goodbye to Romance (2010 Guitar & Vocal Mix, Previously Unreleased)," and "RR (Previously Unreleased: Randy Rhoads Guitar Solo)."]

Steve Huey, Rovi

Disintegration

The Cure

80's Soul Number 1's

Various Artists

Whitesnake's Greatest Hits

Whitesnake
Whitesnake's Greatest Hits collects the cream of the band's later '80s efforts, gathering most of its material from Slide It In, Whitesnake, and Slip of the Tongue. Bigger fans will find worthwhile album tracks on the former two efforts, but this collection of Zeppelin-ish rock anthems and hooky power ballads are all most fans will need.

Steve Huey, Rovi

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

David Bowie
David Bowie returned to relatively conventional rock & roll with Scary Monsters, an album that effectively acts as an encapsulation of all his '70s experiments. Reworking glam rock themes with avant-garde synth flourishes, and reversing the process as well, Bowie creates dense but accessible music throughout Scary Monsters. Though it doesn't have the vision of his other classic records, it wasn't designed to break new ground -- it was created as the culmination of Bowie's experimental genre-shifting of the '70s. As a result, Scary Monsters is Bowie's last great album. While the music isn't far removed from the post-punk of the early '80s, it does sound fresh, hip, and contemporary, which is something Bowie lost over the course of the '80s. [Rykodisc's 1992 reissue includes re-recorded versions of "Space Oddity" and "Panic in Detroit," the Japanese single "Crystal Japan," and the British single "Alabama Song."]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Greatest Hits 1985-1995

Heart
Heart had a second run on the charts in 1985 when they signed to Capitol Records and refashioned themselves as a mainstream pop/rock band, heavy on melodies and power ballads. The move paid off immediately, as they scored four Top Ten hits from Heart, their first record for the label: "What About Love?," "Never," "These Dreams," and "Nothin' at All." Heart kept up their hot streak for several more years, reaching the Top Ten three other times with the number one hit "Alone," "Who Will You Run To," and "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You." All of those songs are on Greatest Hits 1985-1995, along with 11 other tracks, including the semi-rarities of the Ann Wilson and Robin Zander duet "Surrender to Me" and the "studio version" of "You're the Voice." It may run a little long for the more casual fans, but overall, this is an excellent overview of the era, perfect for fans that don't need the full-length studio albums.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

The Ultimate Collection

DeBarge
The most in-depth collection of the group's work available, DeBarge's Ultimate Collection gathers 16 of the group's biggest hits from the early and mid-'80s. The compilation includes milestone singles such as "Love Me in a Special Way," "Who's Holding Donna Now?," "Who's Johnny?," and a dance remix of "Rhythm of the Night"; it would've been nice if the album also included the original version. The group's slightly less-definitive tracks reveal them to be equally adept at lively, upbeat pop like "You Wear It Well," sweet ballads such as "A Dream," and surprisingly funk- and soul-tinged turns like "Stop! Don't Tease Me" and "I Like It." Latter-day singles such as "Save the Best for Me (Best of Your Lovin')" and "Dance All Night" round out the album nicely; though they don't have the impact of the group's work with El DeBarge, including them gives Ultimate Collection a feeling of closure and completion. Fans who want more than a just-the-hits compilation like 20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection should be satisfied by this well-crafted retrospective.

Heather Phares, Rovi

Greatest Hits

Billy Idol
Billy Idol's recording career did such a fast fade in the early '90s that his beleaguered record label Chrysalis (since absorbed by Capitol) didn't even put out a best-of in the U.S. (Idol Songs: 11 of the Best was an interim report issued in Great Britain in 1988.) But the rise of the '80s rock radio format and Idol's own interest in a comeback make this belated hits collection timely. With one caveat, it is a well-chosen collection of the singer's most successful recordings. The exception, oddly enough, is his biggest hit, "Mony Mony," which is presented in a 1983 studio version rather than the 1987 live take that topped the charts. (The annotations claim "This version was never released as a single." Actually, it was -- as Chrysalis 2543 -- but it flopped.) Otherwise, all of Idol's big hits are here, among them "Cradle of Love," "Eyes Without a Face," "To Be a Lover," "Rebel Yell," and "White Wedding," each of which reached the Top Ten on one side of the Atlantic or the other. Also included are an "unplugged" live version of "Rebel Yell" and a newly recorded cover of the 1985 Simple Minds hit "Don't You (Forget About Me)," which was co-written by Idol's producer, Keith Forsey. The only omitted chart singles are "Prodigal Blues," a track from Idol's 1990 album Charmed Life, and "Speed," the title song from the 1994 film; both missed the American pop charts. In his day, Idol seemed to some a commercial sellout of the punk ideal, having abandoned Generation X for a slicker image and sound. In retrospect, he seems more like a logical successor to the kind of portentous baritones who preceded him, particularly Jim Morrison and David Bowie, while Forsey's new wave/disco sound, anchored by guitarist Steve Stevens, holds up well.

William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Greatest Hits

New Kids On The Block
If Greatest Hits doesn't seem as fun as it should be, that's because the New Kids on the Block's material has dated, even though it, in many ways, set the template for the teen pop of the late '90s/early 2000s. Max Martin used Maurice Starr's formula, but he writes better songs -- only "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)" and "You Got It (The Right Stuff)" stand the test of time as good pop singles, but the rest are pretty much triumphs of recording and the form. Also, the sequencing doesn't play to their strengths, failing to gain much momentum as it plays. This still is recommended as the first pick, since it does have all of NKOTB's hits on one disc, but it's still sort of a shock that this doesn't play as trashy fun, the way it does in memory -- or the way Milli Vanilli's music now does. [A bonus tracks version was released in 2008.]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Complete Greatest Hits

The Cars
When the Cars released their first greatest-hits album in 1985, it was capping a golden run that culminated in 1984's Heartbeat City, their biggest hit yet. They lasted one more album, 1987's abysmal Door to Door. So, technically, there isn't that much new territory covered by Complete Greatest Hits, especially since there's only one song -- the only good one, "You Are the Girl" -- from Door to Door, but it's nevertheless a substantial improvement over that initial hits collection, while being easier to digest for most listeners than the exhaustive 1995 anthology Just What I Needed. Essentially, the title explains it all, since it has all of the hits, which also means many are AOR staples. This approach means that nearly all of their debut and half of Heartbeat City is on this disc, but it also means that there's essentially nothing missing (apart from perhaps "Candy-O") that casual fans would want. Also, this approach confirms that the Cars were a sexy, stylish new wave singles band on the order of Blondie -- sure, they had one classic album in their canon (the debut), along with some very good follow-ups, but they made the most sense song by song on the radio, even years after their prime. To hear why, this is the disc to get.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

The Best Of INXS

INXS

Best Of Volume 1

Van Halen

Nothing Like The Sun

Sting
If Dream of the Blue Turtles was an unabashedly pretentious affair, it looks positively lighthearted in comparison to Sting's sophomore effort, Nothing Like the Sun, one of the most doggedly serious pop albums ever recorded. This is an album where the only up-tempo track, the only trifle -- the cheerfully stiff white-funk "We'll Be Together" -- was added at the insistence of the label because they believed there wasn't a cut on the record that could be pulled as a single, one that would break down the doors to mainstream radio. And they were right, since everything else here is too measured, calm, and deliberately subtle to be immediate (including the intentional throwaway, "Rock Steady"). So, why is it a better album than its predecessor? Because Sting doesn't seem to be trying so hard. It flows naturally, largely because this isn't trying to explicitly be a jazz-rock record (thank the presence of a new rhythm section of Sting and drummer Manu Katche for that) and because the melodies are insinuating, slowly working their way into memory, while the entire record plays like a mood piece -- playing equally well as background music or as intensive, serious listening. Sting's words can still grate -- the stifling pompousness of "History Will Teach Us Nothing" the clearest example, yet calls of "Hey Mr. Pinochet" also strike an uneasy chord -- but his lyricism shines on "The Lazarus Heart," "Be Still My Beating Heart," "They Dance Alone," and "Fragile," a quartet of his very finest songs. If Nothing Like the Sun runs a little too long, with only his Gil Evans-assisted cover of "Little Wing" standing out in the final quarter, it still maintains its tone until the end and, since it's buoyed by those previously mentioned stunners, it's one of his better albums.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Best of Bowie

David Bowie
David Bowie has switched labels so often his catalog is cluttered with hits compilations, all purporting to be definitive. Since he is one of the few major artists with no compunction against putting all his hits on one disc, they're all excellent, and 2002's Best of Bowie is no exception, no matter which country you live in (brief explanation: sensitive to the needs of fans in different markets, Bowie and EMI/Virgin tailored a different Best of Bowie for every country it was released in -- a collector's and cataloger's nightmare, but the basics apply for each variation). Yeah, there are great songs missing, and it loses a little focus toward the end, but all the big, big hits are here, in great sound and logical sequence. Bowie made more than his share of great albums, but if you just want the highlights, this is as good as Changesbowie in capturing them.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

The Very Best Of D.J. Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
Since it features all the charting singles, The Very Best of DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince contains just about everything that any disc jockey played by the duo, including lighthearted smart-ass favorites like "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble" and "Parents Just Don't Understand," silly topical fluff like "A Nightmare on My Street" and "I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson," surprisingly durable minor hits like "Brand New Funk" and "The Things U Do," and even Jazzy Jeff's nimble instrumental flipping of tracks by Bob James, the Mizell Brothers, and Marvin Gaye ("A Touch of Jazz"). One significant track that doesn't appear is "You Saw My Blinker," a rare example of cranky bitterness from the otherwise wisecracking, punchline-delivering Fresh Prince. The 1998 Greatest Hits release and 2003's Platinum & Gold Collection aren't much different from this set, so the best route to go is more dependent upon what's available than brain-teasing comparisons of track listings.

Andy Kellman, Rovi

Operation: Mindcrime (Expanded)

Queensryche
Queensrÿche scored their breakthrough success with the ambitious concept album Operation: Mindcrime, which tells the story of a fortune hunter whose disillusionment with Reagan-era American society leads him to join a shadowy plot to assassinate corrupt leaders. For such a detailed story line (there is also a tragic romance thrown in), the band keeps its focus remarkably well, and the music is just as ambitious, featuring a ten-minute track with orchestrations by Michael Kamen. Those experiments don't tend to work as well as the tighter, more melodic prog metal songs, which are frequently gems, especially the singles "Eyes of a Stranger" and "I Don't Believe in Love." Granted, the lyrics and political observations can sometimes be too serious and intellectual for their own good (few bands, metal or otherwise, can make lines like "There's no "raison d'être"" work). But despite the occasional flaws, it's surprising how well Operation: Mindcrime "does" work, and it's a testament to Queensrÿche's creativity and talent that they can pull off a project of this magnitude. [Capitol's 2003 reissue includes 24-bit remastering (which makes this record sound even bigger) and two live bonus tracks (from 1990 and 1994, respectively) of two of the songs from Mindcrime.]

Steve Huey, Rovi

The Best Of Blondie

Blondie
Although Blondie made several first-rate albums, most of their best songs were released as singles, which makes The Best of Blondie an essential collection. The Best of Blondie glosses over their punk roots -- very little from the first album, apart from the vicious "Rip Her to Shreds" and the seductive "In the Flesh" -- but the band's pop hits are among the finest of their era and encapsulate all of the virtues of new wave. Apart from genuine chart hits like "Heart of Glass," "One Way or Another," "Dreaming," "Call Me," "Atomic," "The Tide Is High," and "Rapture," Best of Blondie picks up several of the group's best album tracks, like "(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear" and "Hanging on the Telephone." The Best of Blondie isn't all you need to know, but it is an excellent introduction to one of the best new wave bands.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Nick Of Time

Bonnie Raitt
Prior to Nick of Time, Bonnie Raitt had been a reliable cult artist, delivering a string of solid records that were moderate successes and usually musically satisfying. From her 1971 debut through 1982's Green Light, she had a solid streak, but 1986's Nine Lives snapped it, falling far short of her usual potential. Therefore, it shouldn't have been a surprise when Raitt decided to craft its follow-up as a major comeback, collaborating with producer Don Was on Nick of Time. At the time, the pairing seemed a little odd, since he was primarily known for the weird hipster funk of Was (Not Was) and the B-52's' quirky eponymous debut, but the match turned out to be inspired. Was used Raitt's classic early-'70s records as a blueprint, choosing to update the sound with a smooth, professional production and a batch of excellent contemporary songs. In this context, Raitt flourishes; she never rocks too hard, but there is grit to her singing and playing, even when the surfaces are clean and inviting. And while she only has two original songs here, Nick of Time plays like autobiography, which is a testament to the power of the songs, performances, and productions. It was a great comeback album that made for a great story, but the record never would have been a blockbuster success if it wasn't for the music, which is among the finest Raitt ever made. She must have realized this, since Nick of Time served as the blueprint for the majority of her '90s albums.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best Of Scorpions

Scorpions
By one-upping the 1989 best-of Best of Rockers 'n' Ballads, Scorpions' 20th Century Masters makes the claim of being the hair metal band's definitive single-disc best-of. It does so by adding "Send Me an Angel" and "Wind of Change," the latter being one of Scorpions' largest and most well-known hits ever. Since these two songs were released after Best of Rockers 'n' Ballads, they don't appear on that best-of. Besides the inclusion of those two latter-day songs, not much else is different. All the big '80s metal anthems are still here: "Rock You Like a Hurricane," "Big City Nights," "No One Like You," "Still Loving You," and so on. Once again, this album reminds listeners just how impressive Scorpions were in their prime, as most of the included songs date back to the early '80s, with the earliest dating back to 1979. That, of course, means this best-of ignores Scorpions' mid- to late-'70s output, but that's no surprise since those recordings for RCA didn't make their way onto Best of Rockers 'n' Ballads nor the double-disc Deadly Sting.

Jason Birchmeier, Rovi

20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best Of New Edition

New Edition
For those who missed out on New Edition's excellent Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 or their 2003 compilation simply entitled Hits, this 20th Century Masters collection is an economically sensible survey of the band's long and evolving career from their years as bubblegum kid crooners to serious new jack swingers to powerhouse R&B icons. All of the big hits are represented here: "Cool It Now," the Ray Parker, Jr.-penned "Mr. Telephone Man," "Earth Angel" (the big romantic number from The Karate Kid Part II that was overlooked in favor of Peter Cetera's juggernaut hit "The Glory of Love"), the quiet storm ballad "Can You Stand the Rain," and "If It Isn't Love" (erroneously but quite amusingly referred to in the liner notes as "If It Isn't Me"). It also features their two hit singles from 1996's Home Again, giving the compilation a greater sense of their creative evolution over the span of a decade. It's not the finest or most thorough compilation on the market, but those looking for simply the hits will be satisfied with what is put together here.

Rob Theakston, Rovi

Big Ones

Aerosmith
Big Ones serves up the hits and nothing but the hits; Aerosmith's excellent debut for Geffen, Done with Mirrors, is conveniently overlooked. So what's left is some of the finest mainstream hard rock of the late '80s and early '90s -- the fruits of one of the most remarkable comebacks in rock & roll history. Unfortunately, there's precious little of the classic Aerosmith raunch; in fact, the two new tracks are the hardest, slinkiest tracks here. Otherwise, the up-tempo tracks bog down in over-production ("Love in an Elevator"), and the frequently embarrassingly overwrought power ballads ("Angel" and "Crazy") dominate too much of the album. So what's left? The band's best stab at social commentary ("Janie's Got a Gun"), a sublime slinky throwaway ("Deuces Are Wild"), deliciously sleazy blues-rockers ("Rag Doll," "[Dude] Looks Like a Lady"), and their best ballads ("What It Takes" and "Cryin'").

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814

Janet Jackson
After shocking the R&B world with 1986's Control -- a gutsy, risk-taking triumph that was a radical departure from her first two albums -- Michael and Jermaine Jackson's younger sister reached an even higher artistic plateau with the conceptual Rhythm Nation 1814. Once again, she enlists the help of Time graduates Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (one of the more soulful production/songwriting teams of 1980s and '90s R&B) with wildly successful results. In 1989, protest songs were common in rap but rare in R&B -- Janet Jackson, following rap's lead, dares to address social and political topics on "The Knowledge," the disturbing "State of the World," and the poignant ballad "Living in a World" (which decries the reality of children being exposed to violence). Jackson's voice is wafer-thin, and she doesn't have much of a range -- but she definitely has lots of soul and spirit and uses it to maximum advantage on those gems as well as nonpolitical pieces ranging from the Prince-influenced funk/pop of "Miss You Much" and "Alright" to the caressing, silky ballads "Someday Is Tonight," "Alone," and "Come Back to Me" to the pop/rock smoker "Black Cat." For those purchasing their first Janet Jackson release, Rhythm Nation would be an even wiser investment than Control -- and that's saying a lot.

Alex Henderson, Rovi

The Very Best Of Don Henley

Don Henley
Fourteen years separate 2009's The Very Best of Don Henley and Henley's first compilation, Actual Miles: Henley's Greatest Hits. During that near decade-and-a-half, Henley only released one new album, 2000's Inside Job, a record that generated a couple of minor hit singles highlighted by "Taking You Home," which reached number 58 on Billboard's Hot 100 and number 12 on their Adult Top 40 chart. This means that this 2009 compilation doesn't have anything major that's not on the 1995 disc -- even the cover of Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows," which debuted on Actual Miles, has been carried over to The Very Best -- so there's not much reason to swap hits discs, but anybody in the market for a Don Henley compilation will find this satisfying, as it has all the big hits from Building the Perfect Beast and The End of the Innocence.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best Of Motown '80s, Vol. 1

Various Artists
This discount-priced compilation of Motown hits from 1980-1985 includes the work of longtime label artists like Diana Ross ("I'm Coming Out"), the Temptations ("Treat Her Like a Lady"), and Smokey Robinson ("Being With You"), as well as relatively new ones such as Rick James ("Give It to Me Baby"), DeBarge ("Rhythm of the Night"), and the Dazz Band ("Let It Whip"). The inclusion of Michael Jackson's "Farewell My Summer Love" is something of a ringer, since it is a track Jackson actually recorded in 1974, given overdubs and a remix to cash in on his Thriller fame in 1984. One-hit wonder Rockwell (aka Kennedy Gordy, son of Motown president Berry Gordy, Jr.) actually has Jackson singing on the chorus of his novelty "Somebody's Watching Me," however, along with Jackson's brother Jermaine, who stayed with Motown when the Jackson 5 decamped and is featured on his own hit, the Stevie Wonder-written and -produced "Let's Get Serious." The collection, which is released with a companion second volume, demonstrates that Motown was still scoring hits in contemporary urban styles long after its 1960s heyday.

William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman
Arriving with little fanfare in the spring of 1988, Tracy Chapman's eponymous debut album became one of the key records of the Bush era, providing a touchstone for the entire PC movement while reviving the singer/songwriter tradition. And Tracy Chapman is firmly within the classic singer/songwriter tradition, sounding for all the world as if it was recorded in the early '70s -- that is, if all you paid attention to were the sonics, since Chapman's songs are clearly a result of the Reagan revolution. Even the love songs and laments are underscored by a realized vision of trickle-down modern life -- listen to the lyrical details of "Fast Car" for proof. 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. At the time, it revitalized traditional folk ideals of social activism and the like, kick starting the PC revolution in the process, but if those were its only merits, Tracy Chapman would sound dated. The record continues to sound fresh because Chapman's writing is so keenly observed and her strong, gutsy singing makes each song sound intimate and immediate.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Full Moon Fever

Tom Petty
Although Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) found the Heartbreakers regaining their strength as a band and discovering a newfound ease at songcraft, it just didn't sell that well. Perhaps that factor, along with road fatigue, led Tom Petty to record his first solo album, Full Moon Fever. Nevertheless, the distinction between "solo" and "Heartbreakers" is a fuzzy one because Full Moon Fever is essentially in the same style as the Heartbreakers albums; Mike Campbell co-wrote two songs and co-produced the record, and he, along with Benmont Tench and Howie Epstein, all play on the album. However, the album sounds different from any Heartbreakers record due to the presence of former Electric Light Orchestra leader Jeff Lynne. Petty co-wrote the lion's share of the album with Lynne, who also is the record's main producer. In his hands, Petty's roots rock becomes clean and glossy, layered with shimmering vocal harmonies, keyboards, and acoustic guitars. It's a friendly, radio-ready sound, and if it has dated somewhat over the years, the craft is still admirable and appealing. But the real reason Full Moon Fever became Petty's biggest hit is that it boasted a selection of songs that rivaled Damn the Torpedoes. Full Moon Fever didn't have a weak track; even if a few weren't quite as strong as others, the album was filled with highlights: "I Won't Back Down," the wistful "A Face in the Crowd," the rockabilly throwaways "Yer So Bad" and "A Mind with a Heart of Its Own," the Byrds cover "Feel a Whole Lot Better," the charging "Runnin' Down a Dream," and "Free Fallin'," a coming-of-age ballad that could be Petty's best song. Full Moon Fever might have been meant as an off-the-cuff detour, but it turned into a minor masterpiece.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

The Ultimate Collection

Billy Ocean
It's hard to believe, but there hadn't been a Billy Ocean hits compilation released in the U.S. since the initial 1989 attempt Greatest Hits on Jive, so the 2004 release of BMG's Ultimate Collection would have been welcome even if it didn't live up to the expectations of the title. Thankfully, it does fit the bill quite nicely. There is one or two minor hits -- such as "I Sleep Much Better (In Someone Else's Bed)," the new song tacked onto Greatest Hits -- that aren't here, but the time was ripe for BMG to release a new disc, and this generous 18-track collection otherwise contains all of Ocean's hits, both big and small. It's also front-loaded, running through his biggest hits -- "When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going," "Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)," "There'll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)," "Loverboy," "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car," "Suddenly" -- within the first six songs, so it's easy to think of this as a two-fer with the first half containing "The Best of Billy Ocean" and the second half being "More of the Best of Billy Ocean." It all adds up to the best Billy Ocean comp yet assembled, and it's likely that there never will be a better one than this.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Greatest Hits

Richard Marx
Richard Marx's Greatest Hits performs a valuable service for his fans, collecting all of his hit singles -- "Don't Mean Nothing," "Should've Known Better," "Endless Summer Nights," "Hold on to the Nights," "Satisfied," "Right Here Waiting," "Angela," "Children of the Night," "Keep Coming Back," "Hazard," "Take This Heart," "Now and Forever" -- on one disc. For both the casual and the longtime fan, this is a blessing, since Marx's albums were usually uneven, featuring a few strong cuts surrounded by filler. Greatest Hits cuts away the chaff, leaving behind on the best cuts, resulting in an ideal career summary of this popular MOR pop/rocker.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Every Breath You Take: The Classics

The Police
By deleting the 1986 hits collection Every Breath You Take: The Singles and replacing it nearly ten years later with Every Breath You Take: The Classics, A&M improved the original set -- but only slightly. Instead of finally adding the missing hits that were mysteriously absent the first time around ("Synchronicity II," "Demolition Man," "So Lonely," etc.), there are only two additional tracks -- the original version of "Don't Stand So Close to Me" and a "New Classic Rock Mix" of "Message in a Bottle." Again, the included hits speak for themselves -- "Roxanne," "Walking on the Moon," "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," "Wrapped Around Your Finger," -- but ultimately, The Classics misses the mark. Why would a Police fan who already owns The Singles want to replace it with a modestly different repackaging? A&M should have added some of the missing classics instead of just rehashing what many fans already own.

Greg Prato, Rovi

Green (Remastered)

R.E.M.
As far as major-label debuts by underground bands go, Green is fairly uncompromising. While it displays a more powerful guitar sound on "Get Up," "Turn You Inside Out," and "Orange Crush," it also takes more detours than Document, whether it's the bizarrely affecting contemporary folk of "The Wrong Child" and "You Are the Everything," the bubblegum of "Stand" and "Pop Song 89," or the introspection of the lovely "Hairshirt" and "World Leader Pretend." But instead of presenting a portrait of a band with a rich, eclectic vision, Green is incoherent. While its best moments are flat-out great, the band has bitten off more than it can chew; many of the songs sound like failed experiments, and its arena-ready production now sounds slightly dated. Nevertheless, half of the record is brilliant, and it certainly indicates that R.E.M. are continuing to diversify their sound. [A 25th Anniversary Edition was released in 2013.]