When Michael Jackson released “Thriller” in 1982 he became the undisputed “King of Pop.”
Some of the biggest musicians of all time became bona fide solo superstars in 1982.
From Lionel Richie to Michael Jackson to Prince, R&B music became pop music as even MTV had to break down some of its color barriers thanks to Jackson’s “Thriller” album.
Although the dominance of “Thriller” began in the fourth quarter of 1982, Jackson’s contemporaries like Luther Vandross and Marvin Gaye made sure that R&B stayed at the top of the charts throughout that year too.
In honor of the 40th anniversary of some of the best urban and pop albums of all time, RegalMag.com ranks the top 10 albums of 1982 from pop, R&B, hip-hop and rock.
Honorable Mention: “All This Love” by DeBarge—The Jackson family might go down as the most successful musical family of all time. But the DeBarge family must go down as the most talented family from a vocal standpoint (top to bottom). When Bobby DeBarge fronted Switch, critics knew he had one of the best voices of all time from a male vocalist. And his younger siblings in DeBarge later carried the torch, dropping classic singles like the title cut and “I Like It” from their second album. When El DeBarge hit that high note on “I Like It” it was like Bobby reincarnated into his little brother.
- “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five—In 1982, a seismic shifted occurred in hip-hop. Before “The Message,” rap music was simply party music that kept many inner-city youths away from gangs and violence. After “The Message” dropped, rappers saw that they could use their voice for social commentary and protest. The title cut talked about the difficulty of staying above water in a world determined to take people under. Other standouts of the album include “Scorpio” and “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel.”
- “Vanity 6” by Vanity 6—The year 1982 belonged to Prince because he created three of the best albums of all time. Although albums by Vanity 6 and The Time came out via his proteges, his hands were on every aspect of these albums from writing lyrics to playing instruments. Although people might have criticized Vanity’s vocals, one could not deny her sex appeal and the sexiness of songs like “Nasty Girl.” Decades after that song dropped, it still causes women to run to the dance floor at clubs. But unlike on other Prince-related projects, he allowed his proteges like Dez Dickerson, Jesse Johnson and Terry Lewis to contribute on the trio’s only album.
- “What Time Is It?” by The Time—When Prince’s childhood bandmate Morris Day wrote “Party Up” for Prince’s “Dirty Mind” album, Prince told him I could pay you or create a band for you. Day made the right decision, and The Time was born in 1981. On their second album in 1982, the boys from Minneapolis hit pay dirt with classics like “The Walk,” “777-9311,” “Wild and Loose” and “Gigolos Get Lonely Too.” The seven members of The Time would often upstage their mentor while serving as his opening act for Prince’s Triple Threat Tour, which also featured Vanity 6.
- “Gap Band IV” by The Gap Band—While families like the Jackson, DeBarge and Isley families get their just due, do not sleep on those Wilson boys from Tulsa, Okla. When The Gap Band performed during their heyday, a party ensued and rightfully so. How could a person not party when songs like “Outstanding,” “Early in the Morning” and “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” come on? Decades later, and after the deaths of his brothers Robert Wilson and Ronnie Wilson, Charlie Wilson still drops hits and sells out arenas nationwide.
- “Forever, For Always, For Love” by Luther Vandross—Think about this. Luther Vandross dropped 12 platinum and one gold album during his stellar career. His second album dropped in September of 1982 and included hits like “Bad Boy/Having a Party,” a cover of The Temptations hit “Since I Lost My Baby” and “She Loves Me Back.” The first single “Bad Boy/Having a Party” reached number three on the R&B charts. “Since I Lost My Baby” reached number 17 on the R&B charts. New Zealand group DD Smash covered “She Loves Me Back,” which reached number 36 on the New Zealand music charts.
- “American Fool” by John Cougar—In a year in which some of the biggest names in pop history released iconic albums, it says a lot when your album stayed number one on the Billboard charts for nine weeks. But who could deny the top spot to an album that contained such hits as “Hurts So Good, “Jack & Diane” and “Hand to Hold on To?” Famously, the artist now known as John “Cougar” Mellencamp went by Cougar originally because his manager did not believe fans would buy an album by an artist named, Mellencamp.
- “Lionel Richie” by Lionel Richie—Lionel Richie has more in common with Justin Timberlake than many people probably think. Both were in very successful groups. Then both did a side project as a solo artist with every intention of returning to their group. Both have never returned to their groups yet, decades later. On Richie’s self-titled debut solo project, the former Commodores member dropped some classics like “Truly,” “You Are” and “My Love,” which set the stage for Richie to become a superstar a year later with “Can’t Slow Down.”
- “Midnight Love” by Marvin Gaye—Fans will probably always associate Marvin Gaye with Motown Records. But in 1981 when Motown remixed and released the “In Our Lifetime” album without his consent, Gaye had finally had it with his label head and former brother-in-law, Berry Gordy. He left for Columbia Records and released his final studio album, which contained arguably the sexiest song of all time, “Sexual Healing.” That song put Gaye back on top and influenced his contemporaries like The Isley Brothers to release songs like “Between the Sheets” the following year. Unfortunately, the success of “Midnight Love’ did not bring Gaye peace. On April 1, 1984, his father Rev. Martin Gay, Sr. fatally shot his son, the day before his birthday.
- “1999” by Prince—Critics always recognized Prince’s talents. How could one not recognize someone talented enough to play every instrument on their debut album (“For You”) four years earlier? While hit singles followed, Prince’s eccentric and androgynous style turned many music fans off. But when he dropped “1999” in 1982, even his biggest haters became fans. The double album is definitely in the top three when ranking his albums, boasting classics like the title track, “Little Red Corvette,” “D.M.S.R.,” “Delirious,” “Free,” “Lady Cab Driver” and “International Lover.”
- “Thriller” by Michael Jackson—Hands down “Thriller” is the best studio album of all time. No filler. Just straight fire. Jackson always had all the talent in the world, and everyone could see it ever since The Jackson Five danced their way onto “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1969. But when the Jackson Five fell off a little in the mid-1970s and their first couple of albums as The Jacksons (on Epic Records) did not move the world, some wrote Jackson off. But in 1979, “Off The Wall” let all the naysayers know that Jackson was never going anywhere. Three years later, “Thriller” let any naysayers left know that no other artist would ever be in Jackson’s stratosphere with iconic jams like “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” and “Human Nature.”