Local Current Blog

Pitchfork: ‘Purple Rain’ was the best album of the ’80s, and Minnesota music ruled the decade

Pitchfork, perhaps the most-respected critical outlet in music, has just published a new list of the 200 best albums of the 1980s. According to the publication’s editorial staff, the decade’s best album was Prince’s Purple Rain.

As City Pages notes, that represents a vault upwards in status for the classic soundtrack; when Pitchfork last listed the decade’s best albums, in 2002, they put Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation on top. That reflects a growing appreciation of pop; the list also leans on artists exploring the intersection among minimalist classical music and rock, like Brian Eno.

More broadly, the list represents an increasingly settled critical consensus that in the ’80s, the most exciting music in the country was coming out of Minneapolis. Nine of the 200 albums were made in Minnesota, and all land in the top 68:

Hüsker Dü, Zen Arcade (#68)
The Replacements, Tim (#54)
The Replacements, Let It Be (#35)
Prince, Dirty Mind (#33)
Janet Jackson, Rhythm Nation 1814 (#30)
Prince, 1999 (#26)
Prince, Sign O’ the Times (#17)
Janet Jackson, Control (#8)
Prince, Purple Rain (#1)

Janet Jackson’s work with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis is perhaps the most dramatic beneficiary of Pitchfork’s newfound appreciation of pop: in 2002, she didn’t land a single album in their top 100. Now, she has one in the top ten and two in the top 30, both recorded at Flyte Tyme Studios. As Ms. Jackson shouted on Rhythm Nation, “Minneapolis!”

(As the Star Tribune points out, Duluth native Bob Dylan didn’t land a single entry, which isn’t particularly surprising given his infamously uneven ’80s output. Oh Mercy was Dylan’s best-received album of the decade, but would you argue with Pitchfork that it’s not better than Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock? Well, maybe.)

So that’s nine albums for the Gopher State at a tier where, purely by the law of averages, we would only have one or two. Prince, of course, was a once-in-a-century phenomenon, but the classics from the ‘Mats and Hüsker Dü are a reminder that the Twin Towns had a deep bench in the Reagan era.

Still…yep, Prince. Pitchfork recently named the title track of Purple Rain the decade’s best song, so it was no surprise the album would top their new list as well. As Jeremy D. Larson writes:

Prince spoke to the people during a decade that prided itself on aspiration, sex, and money; from his pen came coy flourishes of romantic scripture and sub-dom fantasies told as casually as a chat over beers. On “Darling Nikki,” he told off the conservative Moral Majority with just a woman, a hotel lobby, and a magazine. And then there’s the closer, the timeless “Purple Rain”: a savior perfumed in petrichor, giving pop music its velvet baptism. Most of what you hear of the song was recorded live at that sweaty and smoky club in Minneapolis, a blinding and momentary flash that singed the essence of Prince into one hymn—the star and artist, giving everything at once.