1981’s Best Rock Albums

1981's Best Rock Albums

Photo: Craig ONeal / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Our 80s best rock albums series continues with the year 1981. Many musical changes occurred in the year 1981. By far the biggest musical news of the year was the launching of MTV on August 1st 1981. The launch of the video channel would have a dramatic impact on the music businesses. No longer did rock stars have to just sound good, they also had to look good or at least hire a bunch of models to take up most of the screen time. MTV’s launch in 1981 was not immediately felt because not all cable companies initially carried it. Cable itself had only recently been connected to the nation’s homes in the mid 1970s. So everything was still very new. Still for those of us who were lucky to receive it in 81, it was nice to not have to wait for Don Kirshners Rock Concert once a week to see bands on television.

Choosing 1981’s Best Rock Albums was more difficult than the previous year. There were many new bands and artists that had huge selling debut albums. There were also a great list of bands who released solid sophomore efforts that defined whether or not they would be sticking around for a while longer. Metal continued to take its place further up the commercial ladder while punk faded into the sounds of new wave even more. And of course the classic rock bands like The Rolling Stones were still kicking up new material leaving music fans old and new a wide variety of choices.

As in our past best rock albums per year series, we have created a top 50 albums list with a definite top 10. These two lists are followed by an additional list of great albums listed in chronological order. If we forget one. let us know and we will get it on the list. Please note there were some incredible popular albums released with major hits singles that dominated the airwaves and pop culture in 1981. That played a significant factor in our 1981 top 10 albums section. 

# 50 – Give The People What They Want – The Kinks

# 49 – 4 – Foreigner

# 48 – Fire of Unknown OriginBlue Öyster Cult

# 47 – Songs In The Attic – Billy Joel

# 46 – The Pretenders II – The Pretenders

# 45 – Talk Talk Talk – The Psychedelic Furs

# 44 – Precious TimePat Benatar

# 43 – Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash – Replacements

# 42 – Beauty and the BeatThe Go-Go’s

# 41 – Pirates – Rickie Lee Jones

# 40 – Duran DuranDuran Duran

# 39 – There Goes the NeighborhoodJoe Walsh

# 38 – Pleasant Dreams – The Ramones

# 37 – Kim WildeKim Wilde

# 36 – Controversy – Prince

# 35 – Somewhere in England – George Harrison

# 34 – AbacabGenesis

# 33 – You Are What You IsFrank Zappa

# 32 – The Innocent AgeDan Fogelberg

# 31 – Wild-Eyed Southern Boys – 38 Special

# 30 – Coup de GrâceMink DeVille

# 29 – Re·ac·tor – Neil Young

# 28 – The Nature Of The Beast – April Wine

# 27 – For Those About to Rock We Salute YouAC/DC

# 26 – Healing – Todd Rundgren

# 25 – Trust – Elvis Costello and the Attractions

# 24 – Discipline  – King Crimson

# 23 – Long Distance VoyagerThe Moody Blues

# 22 – Mob RulesBlack Sabbath

# 21 – Hard PromisesTom Petty and the Heartbreakers

# 20 -Diary Of A Madman – Ozzy Osbourne

# 19 – Faith – The Cure

# 18 – East Side Story – Squeeze

# 17 – Shut Up ‘n’ Play Yer GuitarFrank Zappa

# 16 – The Completion Backward PrincipleThe Tubes

# 15 – High ‘n’ DryDef Leppard

# 14 – Ghost in the Machine – The Police

# 13 – Point of Entry  – Judas Priest

# 12 – Killers  – Iron Maiden

# 11 – October – U2

# 10 – Face ValuePhil Collins

#  9 – Freeze FrameThe J. Geils Band

#  8 – EscapeJourney

#  7 – I Love Rock ‘n’ RollJoan Jett

#  6 – Bella DonnaStevie Nicks

#  5 – Don’t Say No – Billy Squire

#  4 – Tattoo You – The Rolling Stones

#  3 – Standing Hampton – Sammy Hagar

#  2 – Moving Pictures  – Rush

#  1 – Fair Warning – Van Halen

More Fantastic Classic Rock Albums Released in 1981

These are listed in chronological order in which they came out throughout the year

Best Rock Albums – January 1981

Paradise TheatreStyx

Kiss Me Deadly – Generation X

Turn BackToto

The Wild, the Willing and the InnocentUFO

Worlds ApartSaga

Best Rock Albums – February 1981

Another TicketEric Clapton

Difficult to Cure – Rainbow

Mondo BongoThe Boomtown Rats

Seven Year Ache – Rosanne Cash

My Life in the Bush of GhostsBrian Eno

Extended PlayThe Pretenders

Best Rock Albums – March 1981

Dad Loves His WorkJames Taylor

Franke & The Knockouts – Franke & The Knockouts

NightwalkerGino Vannelli

RocKihnRoll – The Greg Kihn Band

Solid Gold – Gang Of Four

The Dude – Quincy Jones

Best Rock Albums – April 1981

Rock Steady with Flo & Eddie – Flo & Eddie

Fun in Space – Roger Taylor

Modern TimesJefferson Starship

Come an’ Get ItWhitesnake

Bad for Good – Jim Steinman

Dedication – Gary U.S. Bonds

Best Rock Albums – May 1981

Computer WorldKraftwerk

Balin – Marty Balin

Nightclubbing – Grace Jones

Place without a Postcard – Midnight Oil

Chariots of Fire – Vangelis

Face DancesThe Who

Best Rock Albums – June 1981

Here Comes the Night – David Johansen

I’ve Got the Rock’n’Rolls Again – The Joe Perry Project

Jumpin’ JiveJoe Jackson

Escape Artist – Garland Jeffreys

Shake It Up – The Cars

Best Rock Albums – July 1981

You Want It You Got It Bryan Adams

Blue and GrayPoco

Is This a Cool World or What? – Karla DeVito

El Loco – ZZ Top

Girls to Chat and Boys to BounceFoghat

Time – Electric Light Orchestra

Best Rock Albums – August 1981

Brothers of the RoadThe Allman Brothers Band

Shot of LoveBob Dylan

Short Back ‘n’ SidesIan Hunter

Cool Night – Paul Davis

Paradise Theater – Styx

Time ExposureLittle River Band

Whitford/St. Holmes – Brad Whitford and Derek St. Holmes

Best Rock Albums – September 1981

Dead RingerMeat Loaf

Private EyesHall & Oates

Special ForcesAlice Cooper

Too Late the Hero – John Entwistle

Best Rock Albums – October 1981

Law and OrderLindsey Buckingham

Get Lucky – Loverboy

The Fox – Elton John

Best Rock Albums – November 1981

Renegade – Thin Lizzy

Stop and Smell the Roses – Ringo Starr

Mistaken Identity – Kim Carnes

Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret – Soft Cell

Prince CharmingAdam & the Ants

Claro Que Si – Yello

Take No PrisonersMolly Hatchet

Best Rock Albums – December 1981

The Blasters – The Blasters

The Catherine Wheel – David Byrne

Damaged – Black Flag

B.L.T. – Jack Bruce, Bill Lordan & Robin Trower

Rock ‘n’ Roll Warriors – Savoy Brown

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