WHEN YOU come down to it, pop music's never had a really bad year, just some better, and some worse. There was nothing strikingly new in 1984, but there was plenty of good music being made in every corner. Here are some of the best pop, rock and soul records of the last 12 months, in alphabetical order.
The Bangles -- "All Over the Place" (Columbia). The Beatles and the Byrds melt together under this very modern quintet of femme rockers.
Lindsey Buckingham -- "Go Insane" (Elektra/Asylum). In which Fleetwood Mac's hardest edge makes uncomfortable, uncompromising and utterly personal rock and roll.
Reuben Blades -- "Buscando America" (Island). Blades is a musical Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a natural storyteller/newsman who looks into the shadows and sees both light and blight.
Bruce Cockburn -- "Stealing Fire" (Gold Mountain). Along with Si Kahn, the most intelligent and socially committed songwriter today.
Thomas Dolby -- "The Flat Earth" (Capitol). Dolby, who has spent years putting a synthshine on other people's albums, does it for himself, showing just how user- friendly his mechanical monsters can be.
Eurogliders -- "This Island" (Columbia). Miss Fleetwood Mac? Try these Australians, who sound like the Macs -- with relish.
Eurythmics -- "Touch" (RCA). Annie Lennox' cool vocals and Dave Stewart's supple melodies meet in a set that was more intriguing than their soundtrack for "1984."
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, "Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth" (MCA). Rockville's girl wonder muffles her inhibitions, probably forever.
Rickie Lee Jones -- "The Magazine" (Warner Bros.). She doesn't travel much, she's difficult, and, album after album, she's proved to be one of the most intelligent ad challenging songwriters we have.
The Judds -- "Why Not Me" (RCA/Curb). Mother and daughter unite in the stratosphere of pure country music. Their use of something old and something new suggests they will be superstars by the end of 1985.
Chaka Khan -- "I Feel For You" (Warner Bros.). You didn't have to be an old Rufus fan to know that Khan could sing. This set proves she can also pick songs for her gilt- edged vocals.
Los Lobos -- "How Will the Wolf Survive?" (Warner Bros.). Last year, this Chicano quintet won an ethnic Grammy. How about giving them one this year for the best roots- based party album?
Mtume -- "You, Me and He" (Epic). One of the hot soul producers of the '80s in a bit of serious conceptual funk.
Neville Brothers -- "Neville-ization" (Black Top). A lot of people insist New Orleans is where pure, rhythmic, rock and roll started. Listening to the chock-full-of-soul Nevilles, you'll know it never stopped.
The Pretenders -- "Learning to Crawl" (Sire). Love, death, birth and rebirth inform this striking album, which also confirms Chrissie Hynde's place as rock's best female singer.
Prince -- "Purple Rain" (Warner Bros.). 'Nuff said.
Lou Reed -- "New Sensations" (RCA). The seminal rocker emerges from the emotional underground to show that being happy doesn't necessarily make for bad art.
R.E.M. -- "Reckoning" (A&M). Their day is at hand, if you believe 99 percent of America's critics. All- American music that massages the head and kicks the gut at the same time.
Tina Turner -- "Private Dancer" (Capitol). The most heartwarming comeback of the year, maybe the last few years. She sounds better than ever, and she vibrantly explores love's mysteries and miseries on just about every cut here.
Van Halen -- "1984" (Warner Bros.). Even David Lee Roth's party aesthetic couldn't mask the best heavy metal excursion of the year (if you don't count the movie spoof "This Is Spinal Tap").
Womack and Womack -- "Love Wars" (Elektra). What's love got to do with it? Just about everything, according to Sam Cooke's daughter and Bobby Womack's brother, the veteran husband-wife duo who were "discovered" this year.