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The 25 greatest rock guitar albums of 1982

[L-R] Adrian Smith, Eddie Van Halen, Dr. Know and Glenn Tipton
(Image credit: Getty Images)

1982 was an extremely fruitful year when it came to the amount of now-classic rock albums that appeared. Countless rockers, both vets and newcomers, issued some of the most inspired music of their career, putting the guitar front and center. 

And in addition to giving us countless exceptional guitar-heavy releases, '82 also provided us with several albums that would go on to help trailblaze and solidify several emerging styles – hardcore, thrash, and black metal.

With 1982 enjoying its 40-year anniversary in 2022, what better time to compile and analyze the greatest rock guitar albums of that year?

The rules are simple: no live albums (sorry Speak of the Devil), no compilations (sorry Coda), and no albums that had just a single guitar-heavy rock track (sorry Thriller). And no matter how hard we tried, we just couldn’t include the least guitar-driven album of Queen’s career (sorry Hot Space).

And now you find yourself in ‘82…

25. Anvil – Metal on Metal

Although the term ‘thrash metal’ may not have yet been coined in 1982, several albums appeared that would prove incredibly important to the genre’s birth – including the sophomore effort by this Canadian band.

Case in point, the manic riffing provided by Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Dave Allison on March of the Crabs and 666, while the title track remains a headbanger party anthem.

24. Rose Tattoo – Scarred for Life

‘Tattoo rock’ may be a fitting description of Australia’s Rose Tattoo – as exemplified not only by the music contained within this offering, but also the heavily inked album cover. Guitarists Peter Wells and Rob Riley specialize in raw bluesy rock, particularly on Branded and the anthemic We Can’t Be Beaten.

23. UFO – Mechanix

Michael Schenker was long gone from UFO by ‘82, but his replacement, Paul Chapman, continued to propel the band with his guitar work – especially on such standouts as The Writer, Let It Rain, and the oft-overlooked You’ll Get Love. Unfortunately, the man also known as ‘Tonka’ would only remain aboard the UFO ship for one more release.

22. Dead Kennedys – Plastic Surgery Disasters

Some write punk guitar off as being too one-dimensional or predictable. They must not be familiar with East Bay Ray, whose surf-punk-jazz style (often filtered through an Echoplex) is on display throughout this classic LP, and particularly Bleed for Me and Moon Over Marin.

21. Motörhead – Iron Fist

Motörhead’s last album to feature the classic Lemmy/Fast Eddie/Philthy Phil lineup was not as jaw-droppingly brilliant as Overkill or Ace of Spades, but it still packed quite a wallop. And Fast Eddie’s Strat plays a major role in its best-known tune – the album-opening, rapid-fire title track.

20. Twisted Sister – Under the Blade

Twisted Sister would eventually hit it big via MTV-approved melodic-metal anthems, but on their debut album, they were still rough around the edges. Guitarists Jay Jay French and Eddie Ojeda offer up simply vicious riffs on such tunes as Tear It Loose which approaches thrash territory – and the title track. 

19. George Thorogood – Bad to the Bone

Old-fashioned bluesy rock ’n’ roll sounds were increasingly difficult to come by circa in the early ‘80s. But road warrior George Thorogood helped fix this dilemma by scoring the biggest hit of his career with the title track to this classic album, which featured great slide guitar throughout, and spawned a now-classic music video.

18. Whitesnake – Saints & Sinners

Whitesnake continued to inch closer to a global breakthrough with their fifth studio offering. And the Micky Moody-Bernie Marsden guitar tandem was still in full effect, especially on Young Blood and Victim of Love, while two tunes here would be revisited five years later – see if you can spot ‘em.

17. Gary Moore – Corridors of Power

You could make a valid argument that upon Gary Moore’s exit from Thin Lizzy in 1979, his former band’s albums grew increasingly unfocused and/or uninspired – with Moore picking up the slack via his fast-rising solo career. And while he obviously had an eye on the charts with such tunes as Always Gonna Love You, he could still out-shred the competition – particularly on the opening of End of the World.

16. Asia – Asia

What would a supergroup consisting of former members of ELP, Yes, and King Crimson sound like? Undoubtedly, the proggiest of prog, right? Wrong! The debut by Asia was actually (at times) more in line with the era’s mainstream rock – especially on the US hit, Heat of the Moment, in which Yes vet Steve Howe lets his fingers fly towards the end of the tune.

15. Toto – Toto IV

While admittedly this is not as guitar-heavy a release as some of the other entries in this list, just the fact that it features Steve Lukather’s now-classic Rosanna solos demands its inclusion. And ’82 proved to be a standout year career-wise for Lukather – in addition to the success of Toto IV, he appeared on Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and supplied the classic riff to Beat It.

14. Stray Cats – Built for Speed

Stripped-down rockabilly in an era loaded with cranked-to-10 Marshalls? The Stray Cats were a most welcome anomaly in ’82, with Brian Setzer channeling such old-time greats as Duane Eddy and Eddie Cochran on Stray Cat Strut, Rock This Town, and Runaway Boys.

13. Charged GBH – City Baby Attacked by Rats

A new wave of British punk emerged in ’82 that was much more vicious and riff-heavy than its predecessors – especially the debut by Charged GBH, City Baby Attacked by Rats. Guitarist Colin “Jock” Blyth leads the charge on Time Bomb and Wardogs, serving as an obvious influence on Metallica’s early work (whose members were known to sport GBH shirts at the time).

12. Discharge – Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing 

Like Charged GBH, Discharge hailed from England, offered up a much more intense brand of punk, and also issued their debut LP in ’82. Guitarist Bones riffs frantically on such delightful ditties as the title track, The Nightmare Continues, and Protest and Survive. The latter was later covered by Anthrax.

11. Venom – Black Metal

Satan proved to be a hot topic with metallers in ’82 – most notably Maiden’s The Number of the Beast, the Anvil tune 666, and of course, this classic album, which spawned a metal subgenre, complete with the title of this disc.

Few metal bands at the time were as speedy as Venom, and guitarist Jeffrey “Mantas” Dunn has no trouble keeping pace on such classics as the album's opening title track.

10. Michael Schenker Group – Assault Attack

When discussing the sterling guitar work of Michael Schenker, his late-‘70s output with UFO and the first couple of MSG releases usually enter the discussion immediately. 

But for whatever reason, Assault Attack never gets the love it deserves. Yet the material and the guitar playing is some of the best of the German guitarist’s career, particularly Rock You to the Ground, Samurai, and Desert Song.

9. Rush – Signals

Rush were well into their shift to a more electro-synth sound on Signals. But there was still room for Alex Lifeson to do his thing on his six-string – especially the standout solos in The Analog Kid and The Weapon, while Digital Man showed he was increasingly smitten with his chorus pedal

And despite having to juggle his vocal and bass duties with an increasingly large array of synths, Geddy Lee remained the best bassist in rock, especially on the album’s two best-known tracks, Subdivisions and New World Man.

8. Bad Brains – Bad Brains

1981 saw the arrival of the first classic hardcore releases – namely Black Flag’s Damaged and a pair of EPs from Minor Threat. But a year later, Bad Brains’ self-titled debut somehow dialed the intensity up another notch. 

Guitarist Dr. Know adapts to his musical surroundings – ranging from lightning fast tempos (Pay to Cum) to laid back dub (I Luv I Jah), and somewhere in between (The Regulator).

It’s quite possibly the fiercest and most ferocious rock album of ’82 – and that’s no mean feat, especially when the competition is the Dead Kennedys, Charged GBH, and Discharge. 

7. Accept – Restless and Wild

While certain bands and albums have already been highlighted as planting the seeds for what would become thrash and speed metal (Anvil, Twisted Sister, Venom etc), none offered it quite as fully formed as Accept on the album opener off their fourth studio effort – Fast as a Shark.

And the six-string excitement doesn’t stop there, as guitarist Wolf Hoffman’s riffing and soloing – Herman Frank was credited on the album but did not play – also helped ignite the title track and the likes of Shake Your Heads.

6. Scorpions – Blackout

The German rockers continued their arena rock makeover on their eighth studio offering, Blackout. And while No One Like You features great guitar work and was the album’s radio hit, the title track contains Matthias Jabs’ best soloing, which he provides throughout the whole song… even beneath the vocals in the verses. 

5. Rainbow – Straight Between the Eyes

While the second Rainbow album to feature vocalist Joe Lynn Turner continues in the same “radio-friendly direction” as its predecessor (particularly on the hit Stone Cold), there are still plenty of moments that spotlight Ritchie Blackmore’s Strat – Death Alley Driver, Power, and Miss Mistreated, to name a few.

4. Kiss – Creatures of the Night

After several albums that saw them move further and further away from the hard ’n’ heavy sound of their classic 1974-’77 period, Kiss sounded hungry and refocused on their 10th studio effort.

And while Ace Frehley is spotted on the album’s cover, it was actually a variety of guitarists that provided solos, including Robben Ford, Bob Kulick, Steve Farris, and the gentleman that would soon take Ace’s spot in the band, Vinnie Vincent. 

Despite the rotating cast of players, Creatures is loaded with memorable solos – running the gamut from shred (the title track) to simple-yet-effective (I Love It Loud), and even surprisingly soulful (I Still Love You). 

3. Van Halen – Diver Down 

The proof that Van Halen were at the peak of their powers was when they could rush out an album – their label forced them back in the studio after scoring a hit with standalone single (Oh) Pretty Woman – and have it be as good as Diver Down

Certainly, there were far too many covers included, but the originals are some of VH’s most underrated, and Eddie simply shines on two interludes, Cathedral and Little Guitars (Intro), and offers up gonzo riffing on Hang ‘em High, Little Guitars, and The Full Bug.

And if that wasn’t enough Ed for ya in ‘82, don’t forget his now-classic lead on Michael Jackson’s Beat It, which appeared the same year as Diver Down.

2. Judas Priest – Screaming for Vengeance

After the dazzling heights of British Steel, Priest offered up a bit of a dud with Point of Entry. Understandably, some metalheads may have expressed trepidation concerning the third ‘80s offering from the Birmingham metallers.

Turns out there was no need to worry: Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing offer up some of their best-ever guitar work on The Hellion/Electric Eye, the title track, and You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.

1. Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast

Could a lead singer change derail the Maiden juggernaut? Quite the opposite, actually. With Bruce Dickinson in place of Paul Di’Anno, Maiden offered up arguably the best album of their career – with Dave Murray and Adrian Smith continuing to gel as one of metal’s top guitar duos on the title track, Run to the Hills, and Hallowed By Thy Name, with Steve Harris galloping merrily along on bass. 

The switch paid off: Number of the Beast served as Maiden’s global commercial breakthrough, and the following year, Maiden would be a certified arena headliner.

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Greg is a contributing writer at Guitar World. He has written for other outlets over the years, and has been lucky to interview some of his favorite all-time guitarists and bassists: Tony Iommi, Ace Frehley, Adrian Belew, Andy Summers, East Bay Ray, Billy Corgan, Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee, Les Claypool, and Mike Watt, among others (and even took lessons from John Petrucci back in the summer of ’91!). He is the author of such books as Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, Shredders: The Oral History of Speed Guitar (And More) and Touched by Magic: The Tommy Bolin Story.