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The Most Popular Cassettes in the 80s

By Katy Sommerfeld

It was one of the most colorful decades in history. Movies like Back to the Future, E.T., and The Breakfast Club were released and took the world by storm. It was the age of the arcade, the Macintosh computer, the Walkman, and the cassette tape. It was the golden years – it was the eighties!

The music of the eighties can be characterized by glamour, big hair, and new age sound that was revolutionary and exciting. With the invention of the Walkman, listening to cassettes on the go was made possible, and the world of music became more personalized and convenient, meaning that the music industry was bigger than ever.

What were the most popular cassettes released in the eighties? Let’s take a look.

Double Fantasy by John Lennon and Yoko Ono (1980)

This album released by John Lennon and Yoko Ono was at first poorly received. Many critics were disappointed in the specificity of lyrical content, as many of the songs were focused on John and Yoko’s marriage, and they argued that this made for a “lousy record.” However, following Lennon’s murder just a mere three weeks after its release, the album gained more recognition and praise from critics and fans alike and went on to win Album of the Year.

1980 Honorable Mention: Back in Black by AC/DC

Preceded by their smash sixth album Highway to Hell, fans were expecting nothing but rock and roll greatness from Back in Black, and they weren’t disappointed. With hits like “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Back in Black,” this album rose to the top of the charts and became one of the best-selling records of 1980.

Working Class Dog by Rick Springfield (1981)

Working Class Dog was Rick Springfield’s fourth studio album. It went platinum in the U.S. and features the hit song “Jessie’s Girl,” which hit number one on the Billboard 100 in its year of release. Rick Springfield continues to make music, with his latest album being released in 2018.

1981 Honorable Mention: Moving Pictures by Rush

Rush’s eighth studio album was a hit in their homeland of Canada where it reached the top of the charts, and in the U.S. as well where it peaked at number three. The track “Tom Sawyer” became one of their best-known songs, and the album has since hit quadruple platinum since its release in ’81.

Thriller by Michael Jackson (1982)

This album didn’t just produce the greatest Halloween song and dance of all time. Michael Jackson’s Thriller is the second-best selling album in the United States. The album has gone 30 times platinum, and it won eight Grammy awards in 1984, a record that has only been tied once by Carlos Santana. Thriller boasts some of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits, including “Beat It,” “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” and “Billie Jean.”

1982 Honorable Mention: Toto IV by Toto

Although not everyone knows the band Toto, most everyone knows the song that brought the band its popularity. Toto’s first and only number one hit, “Africa,” is still a popular song today, known for its unique soft-rock sound. Both “Africa” and “Rosanna” boosted their album Toto IV into the mainstream and gained the band a Grammy for Album of the Year in 1982.

Can’t Slow Down by Lionel Richie (1983)

Can’t Slow Down is Lionel Richie’s second studio album, recorded and produced by the famous Motown Records. Five singles were released from the album, and each one made it to the Billboard 100 top ten. “Hello” and “All Night Long (All Night)” both made it to the number one spot on the 100. Can’t Slow Down is Richie’s best-selling album and solidified his position as an R&B/pop idol.

1983 Honorable Mention: Let’s Dance by David Bowie

David Bowie’s 15th studio album Let’s Dance gained him a new mass audience due to the popularity of the titular track, which reached number 1 in multiple countries around the world. Rolling Stone has called this album, “the conclusion of arguably the greatest 14-year run in rock history,” and despite not being Bowie’s most popular album, it still garnered him great success and an even larger audience than what he had before.

Purple Rain by Prince (1984)

Prince’s Purple Rain is often found among lists of the greatest albums of all time. His magnum opus, the album garnered huge commercial success with the release of the Purple Rain film, and many of the songs ranked high in the charts. In 2012, The Library of Congress added the album to it’s National Recording Registry which is a list of sound recordings that are historically, culturally and aesthetically important.

1984 Honorable Mention: Like a Virgin by Madonna

Madonna’s second studio album was met with mixed reviews from the critics but was a smash hit in many countries all over the world, with songs like “Material Girl” and “Like a Virgin” that were catchy and provocative. Many critics felt that Madonna would become a one hit wonder with Like a Virgin – but Madonna proved them wrong and continued to show her influence on the music industry and her fans by producing many more studio albums after.

No Jacket Required by Phil Collins (1985)

Phil Collin’s No Jacket Required was received with praise and accolades in the year following its release. Collins won three Grammy awards from the album, proving that his drumming could succeed in mainstream pop music.

1985 Honorable Mention: We Are the World by USA for Africa

We Are the World is the name of the superstar album recorded for relief efforts for famine in Ethiopia. The title track was famously written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and was produced by Quincy Jones. Since the release of the album, We Are the World has raised over $63 million for humanitarian aid efforts.

Graceland by Paul Simon (1986)

After listening to and becoming obsessed with a bootleg cassette of South African township music, Paul Simon and his musical engineer Roy Halee took a trip to Johannesburg and recorded parts of Graceland with South African musicians. Graceland is a conglomerate of genres and stylistic choices and has often been cited as one of the best albums of all time. Graceland has been added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry and has won numerous awards including a Grammy award for Album of the Year in 1987.

1986 Honorable Mention: Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi

The third studio album on Bon Jovi is an American classic, with tracks like “Livin’ On a Prayer,” “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Although released in 1986, it was named by Billboard as the top selling album of 1987.

The Joshua Tree by U2 (1987)

Irish rock band U2’s prominent album The Joshua Tree is considered one of the greatest albums of all time and is one of the world’s best-selling albums with over 25 million copies sold. The album was remastered for its 20th anniversary, and the band took to the road once again for the album in its 30th year since release. The style of the album was inspired by Irish and American roots music, with America as a theme for the album, focusing on sociopolitical themes prevalent to the country. This album was also added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.  

1987 Honorable Mention: Faith by George Michael

George Michael’s debut solo album after leaving the pop duo Wham! was a huge success, winning him the Grammy award for Album of the Year in 1988. George Michael went on to prove himself as a serious solo musician, something he was determined to do as Wham! had been labelled nothing but a teenybopper sensation by critics. His songs, such as “Careless Whisper,” “Praying for Time” and 6 others made it to number one on the Billboard 100 in the U.S.



Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. (1988)

Known as the first record to be released in the genre known as gangsta rap, Straight Outta Compton has been a supremely influential record for hip hop artists since its release. In 2017, it was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress for its cultural, historical and aesthetic relevance. A biographical drama of the same name was made by director F. Gary Gray in 2015 and was produced by members of the group.

1988 Honorable Mention: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy

Public Enemy’s second studio album was influenced by Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, and was produced in an effort to match Gaye’s socio political commentary in a hip hop format. It is ranked number 48 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It is the highest-ranking hip hop album on the list.

Bleach by Nirvana (1989)

Bleach is Nirvana’s debut album, recorded in their hometown of Seattle, Washington. Although well-received by critics, it’s original release failed to reach the charts. Lead singer Kurt Cobain claims that he felt pressured by Sub Pop records to match the sound of other Seattle grunge bands that came before Nirvana, and that he wrote all the lyrics for the songs the night before recording when he was in a bad mood. After Nirvana’s second album Nevermind’s success, Bleach was re-released and garnered much more success the second time around.

1989 Honorable Mention: Storm Front by Billy Joel

Billy Joel’s Storm Front features one of his three number one hits – “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Some themes from Storm Front include historical and political events and stories, such as in the song “Leningrad,” as well as the ups and downs of Joel’s emotional life.

The eighties were filled with some of the best music of the 20th century. With major musical styles coming to popularity in the decade, such as hip hop, electronic, and more, and with the invention of the Walkman, it’s no wonder that people consumed so much music in the eighties. What are some of your favorite songs from the eighties?

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