Here is my list for the Top 10 Albums since 1980 (no greatest hits albums, country, or other compilations included):
1. "Thriller" - Michael Jackson (1982)
It is hard to deny how groundbreaking this album was. From bringing "black music" to the MTV audience, creating stories in his videos, and even fusing funk and rock, "Thriller" was revolutionary. Check out the hits: "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", "Baby Be Mine", "The Girl Is Mine (with Paul McCartney)", "Thriller", "Beat It" and "Billie Jean". This is one album, not a greatest hits. Wow.
2. "The Joshua Tree" - U2 (1987)
Although I believe this album to be better top to bottom than "Thriller," the King of Pop had three tracks (Thriller, Beat It, and Billie Jean) that push Thriller to #1. Still, The Joshua Tree is a beautiful album. Not quite as obvious and in your face as "War," and better paced than "The Unforgettable Fire," "The Joshua Tree" was both powerful (Where the Streets Have No Name) and subdued (Mothers of the Disappeared). "The Joshua Tree" defined the late 80's along with the next band on the list.
3. "Appetite for Destruction" - Guns N' Roses (1987)
May be the best hard rock album of all time. Certainly "Appetite" holds its own against any album done by Zeppelin (maybe not the body of work - Axl's ego got in the way). After years of pop/hair metal diluting metal, Slash and Izzy's in-your-face, fused guitar work reminded people how to rock. And say what you will about Axl's singing ability, his style fit this album perfectly. Raw, ugly. Perfect.
4. "Ten" - Pearl Jam (1991)
Unfairly and stupidly labeled as "grunge," Pearl Jam is a rock band and this is their masterpiece. From anthems such as "Alive" to the groove of "Even Flow," this album is strong from one to ten. Although another Seattle band's 1991 album seems to garner the media obsession, "Ten" was better.
5. "Metallica" - Metallica (1992)
Say what you want about Metallica selling out (I know many people will), this album is heavy, bluesy, and finally showcased Metallica as musicians. Yes, 10-minute anthems about war are cool. However, tightly-constructed, dark, and introspective songs are even cooler.
6. "Document" - R.E.M. (1985)
How do you define this album? Rock? Alternative? College rock? Equal parts pop rock and social commentary, a brilliant album. Seriously, who can not sing along with "Its the End of the World As We Know It"? Just try it.
7. "Ok Computer" - Radiohead (1997)
"Pablo Honey" and "The Bends" are more accessible whereas some of the later stuff is crazier. "Ok Computer" sits somewhere in the middle but still requires a few listens. Then you're hooked.
8. "Hysteria" - Def Leppard (1987)
Flame if you want but is there a band that did pop metal better? Seven SEVEN??! hit singles. Intricate guitar work. Beautiful vocals. One-armed drumming. C'mon. Yes, the lyrics were cheesy. Yes, your 12-year old sister listened to them. But there are few albums with so many songs you know every word. Plus the movie was cool (Anthony Michael Hall as Mutt Lange. Awesome.)
9. "American Idiot" - Green Day (2004)
If you told me in 1995 that Green Day would make an iconic, "great" album, I would have laughed in your face. Or that Green Day would do a rock opera akin to The Who. They did both with "American Idiot." And it is good. Really good.
10. "Nevermind" - Nirvana (1991)
As a teenager in Seattle in the early 90's, I liked Nirvana before they were big and then despised them when they were the biggest band in the world. My view of this album is jaded. But I can't deny it. It is a great album.