GOT A LITTLE extra cash on hand? Here are some album packages from 1985 that are worth investing in.
1. John Fogerty, "Centerfield"; Chris Isaak, "Silvertone"; Marshall Crenshaw, "Downtown" (all on Warner Bros.).
After taking himself out of the ballgame for almost a decade, John Fogerty, the heart and soul of Credence Clearwater Revival, steps back up to the plate, revived and apparently oblivious to everything that happened to rock and roll in the intervening years. Some of the material is weakened by Fogerty's personal anger. But that instantly recognizable voice rings clear and true, as does the seamless fusion of hard rock, country and blues. "Centerfield" reminds you how good some songs can sound on the radio.
Isaak looks like Kurt Russell as Elvis, and sings like Roy Orbison/Marty Robbins. His masterfully crafted debut offers a stripped- down, slowed-down update of rock and rockabilly fundamentals, with hauntingly low-key vocals, sinuous melodies and frequently ominous explorations of love's battlegrounds.
Crenshaw's outlook is a little more bright, as are his pure pop melodies. Both he and Isaak are entrancing songwriters and performers. Why aren't they stars?
2. Richard Thompson, "Across a Crowded Room" (Polydor); Linda Thompson, "One Clear Moment" (Warner Bros.); Womack and Womack, "Radio M.U.S.C. Man" (Elektra); X, "Ain't Love Grand" (Warner Bros.).
Love is a many splintered thing, and these albums explore the wounds and exorcise the personal grief, jealousy, regret, spite that attend the end of love.
Richard Thompson, the most underrated songwriter of the last decade, and Linda Thompson, the most underrated singer, come to terms with their 1982 divorce on his-and- hers releases. His response is anguished, cynical, full of gallows humor and unbridled anger, all couched in somber folk-rock melodies. Hers, unveiled in more modern settings, is equally blunt but shows a readiness to rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes.
Cecil and Linda Womack, who are still married, continue the investigations begun on last year's brilliant "Love Wars," tearing apart all the conflicts, temptations, betrayals and insecurities of marriage, swapping lines, verses and songs, always espousing two clear points of view in danceable, classic soul style.
John Doe and Exene Cervanka of X, who are together only on stage now, cover some of the same territory in power rock that has not abandoned its punk origins but wisely expanded them.
3. Beat Farmers, "Tales of the New West" (Rhino); Gualdalcanal Diary, "Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man" (Landslide): Rave- Ups, "Town and Country" (Fun Stuff); Zeitgeist, "Translate Slowly" (DB).
I hear America rocking, and it sounds great. These four guitar-oriented bands are informed with a genuine reverence for old influences. While some call it cowpunk or punkabilly, it's a music that defies convention, recasting everything in a personal, contemporary vision. The groups share an ingratiating bravado, an instinct for hook-filled songs that connect like a sucker punch, and a brooding vision of America that contains some exuberant truths.
4. Suzanne Vega, "Suzanne Vega" (A&M); Sade, "Diamond Life" and "The Promise" (Portrait).
Two types that have fallen out of favor -- the folkish singer-songwriter and the jazzy torch singer -- are tellingly revived.
Vega, the first woman to be dubbed "the New Dylan," has a gift for compelling melodies and exquisite lyrics that explore love's tortured ways in finely detailed sketches. The breathy, seductive Sade might appear to be a Madonna-like triumph of style over substance, but there's surprising depth to her songs. Like Vega's, they rely on conversational intimacy. Both singers know how to envelop the listener in mood and engage the intelligence.
5. Sam Cooke, "Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963" (RCA); Hank Williams, "Just Me and My Guitar" (Country Music Foundation).
These blasts from the past suggest that there's a wealth of historic and vital music in the vaults of many record companies that simply needs to be exploited by caring caretakers.
The Cooke album, recorded a year before his death, reveals him as more than the smooth, sophisticated Mr. Soul of his hit recordings. His flawless tenor is heard to advantage in a vibrant set that exposes his country preacher background.
The Williams set, a collection of never- released demonstration recordings, is raw and imbued with the intense passions and obsessions that defined country music's most celebrated singer-songwriter before his death in 1953. It's just Williams and his guitar on five songs he later recorded and seven he didn't; this should be required listening for everybody in Nashville.
6. John Cougar Mellancamp, "Scarecrow" (Polydor); Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Southern Accents" (MCA).
You can go home again, and you should. Indiana's Mellancamp and Florida's Petty explore their social and cultural roots in vivid and powerful rock vignettes that reflect both sadness and glory.
Petty's album is sometimes too cluttered, but it's a Dixie survivor's unsentimental tour of the South that's miles beyond Lynyrd Skynyrd. Mellancamp's surprisingly political offering is couched in terse, Stones-like rock 'n' roll that reflects new-found maturity and a newly expressive consciousness, both very welcome.
7. Luther Vandross, "The Night I Fell In Love" (Epic); Prefab Sprout, "Two Wheels Good" (Epic); Talking Heads, "Little Creatures" (Warner Bros.); Rosanne Cash, "Rhythm and Romance" (Columbia).
And, finally, four disparate albums linked to a common integrity.
Vandross, the finest soul singer of the '80s, has reconciled his instincts and abilities on his most focused album by toning down the histrionics (both as a singer and arranger) and concentrating on the purity of his lovers' music. The songs alternate comfortably between liquid ballads and propulsive dance tracks.
Despite a stupid name, Prefab Sprout makes wonderfully crafted, consistently absorbing pop in the tradition of Squeeze. Lead singer Paddy McAloon's lyrical ambition is supported by a literate sensibility that bristles with vivid images and beautiful melodies, both laced with delightfully eccentric touches. McAloon strives for a supple pop perfection and, more often than not, achieves it.
The Talking Heads have started making sense, without abandoning the terse vocabulary and mannerisms that set them apart from the start. Having abandoned their percolating Afro-funk stance in favor of their efficient, stripped-down sound of old, they've come up with their most melodic, accessible album, built, as always, around David Byrne's beguiling sensibilities and quirky vocals. The band has lightened up and gone more melodic. The new songs are simpler, if no less obtuse, exploring several different music styles with a genuine sense of wonder.
Rosanne Cash is one of country music's gems, though much of her music would fit on pop and rock radio (were most programmers intelligent and/or adventurous enough). With the help of husband/producer Rodney Crowell, Cash has produced a smooth, provocative album of songs exploring love and marriage, family and generation, art and commerce. Her singing is entrancing, passionate and rewarding. She deserves a better fate.