A couple days ago, NPR's All Songs Considered asked listeners to vote on which year had the best music. (The poll is here--you have to answer it to see overall results.) Unsurprisingly given NPR's demographic, the 1960s scored high, with top year 1969 figuring in 9 percent of all responses. More surprisingly, the 1990s also did quite well, with 1991 (grunge) and 1994 (alternative) both scoring 4 percent. There was also a little uptick in 1977--the year punk broke for the first time scored 4 percent. But the 1980s were a bleak wasteland, however, with all years scoring 1 percent or less except for 1987, which scored 2 percent. The ASC folks tried to convince listeners that the '80s had some bright spots, highlighting bands like The Replacements, Talking Heads, Minor Threat, and, um, Escape Club.
I had a hard time answering the question. Certain albums stick out--I know that the Beatles' White Album came out 1968, Who's Next was 1971, and Modest Mouse's The Moon and Antarctica was 2000. But a best year? Impossible to say.
So I decided to look at the empirical data. Because I'm a music nerd, I keep a running spreadsheet of every album I own (vinyl and CD), including the year they were originally released. (You fellow music nerds know exactly what I'm talking about--don't pretend otherwise.) First I scrubbed the data, making sure that things like greatest hits albums and movie soundtracks, where the release date was years or decades away from the actual recording dates, were not counted.
Then with Excel's useful COUNTIF function, I discovered that 1970 is my personal winner, with 30 albums. By decade, the '70s were tops with 216 albums, followed very closely by--gasp--the '80s with 195 albums. Next up were the '90s (156), the '00s (112 with only seven years and eight months gone), the '60s (94), the '50s (9), and the '40s (1--can you guess which album it was?).
So no, the '80s didn't suck. You just have to dig a little deeper.