Tuesday, May 25, 2010

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1987

For this month's musical countdown, I'm rectifying a wrong of sorts:

Back in October 2008, around the time that I first started writing these lists, I had pointed out that the scribes at AllMusic.com --the inspiration of sorts for what I'm doing now-- had posted a collage of great albums and songs from 1987. I scoffed at the idea of doing a 1987 list, opting to cover 2005 instead, yet my reasoning was quite paltry. Looking back, this was a mistake; these past two years or so, I've covered at least two twelve-month spans (1989 and 1999) that I can barely justify as great years in music. It just didn't feel right.

Well, mea culpa. I evidentally didn't do my homework then, and here I stand correcting my blunder. After spending the last week or two pouring over the sights and sounds (mostly sounds) of '87, I present my belated homage to the year of Black Monday, Baby Jessica, and the Tower Commission. Hair metal was king, but their well-coifed debauchery was undermined somewhat by a number of college acts getting their first taste of the mainstream. Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson, both riding on the success of career-defining albums from earlier in the decade, released their follow-up efforts. From a radio perspective, it was the last vestiges of the classic rock and top 40 eras, a transition accelerated by the demise of prominent stations like KMET-FM in Los Angeles and WLS-AM in Chicago.

In the end, I guess what threw me off was the overload of kitsch in late '80s pop culture. It was a year of cheesy movies (Dirty Dancing, Can't Buy Me Love, Three Men and a Baby) and cheesy TV shows ("Full House," "Matlock," and "21 Jump Street" bowed that year), but not necessarily cheesy music. Sure, it's hard to argue that pop music was headed in the right direction then, though like recent years, the best and most challenging sounds weren't necessarily getting radio airplay. Here goes:


1. The Joshua Tree, U2. Fusing the textured sonics of The Unforgettable Fire with the most anthem-centric moments of War, U2's fifth studio album plays out like the soundtrack to the aftermath of a riot. This is also the album that marks Bono's transition from distinctly charismatic lead singer to love-him-or-hate-him super-celebrity with a god complex. Divisive frontman or not, the songs on Tree are top-notch; hit singles like "With or Without You" hold their own against memorable album cuts like "One Tree Hill."
2. Appetite For Destruction, Guns N' Roses. For an album that defines late '80s hair metal, Gn'R had little interest in the usual tropes of the subgenre. Where Poison and Mötley Crüe sang fun, stupid songs about sex, drugs, and rock n' roll, Axl Rose found inspiration within the dark side of the urban sprawl. In that moment, Axl became the most compelling character in rock; he's a misogynist, drowning in his own anger and bile, yet oddly vulnerable in the sleazy
subculture he calls home.
3. Pleased To Meet Me, The Replacements. In light of his recent passing, truer words couldn't be spoken: "And the children by the million sing for Alex Chilton/when he comes around/they sing, 'I'm in love'/what's that song?/'Yeah, I'm in love, with that song.'"
4. Document, R.E.M.
5. You're Living All Over Me, Dinosaur Jr.
6. Paid In Full, Eric B. and Rakim
7. Sign O' The Times, Prince
8. Hysteria, Def Leppard
9. Music For The Masses, Depeche Mode
10. Psonic Psunspot (a/k/a Chips from the Chocolate Fireball), The Dukes of Stratosphear. An on-the-money homage to '60s psychedelic-rock, Andy Partridge and company initially denied that this was some goofy XTC side project. Nobody was fooled, and 23 years on we've benefitted from being so astute. XTC had always worn their influences on their sleave, so one might argue that a full-blown homage was a long time coming. The leadoff track "Vanishing Girl" is a sublime obeisance of The Hollies, while the trippy single "You're A Good Man, Albert Brown" evokes Sgt. Peppers-era Beatles.

Honorable Mentions: Warehouse: Songs & Stories, Hüsker Dü; Kick, INXS; If I Shall From Grace With God, The Pogues; Tunnel of Love, Bruce Springsteen; Solitude Standing, Suzanne Vega.


"Walk Like An Egyptian," The Bangles
"Still of the Night," Whitesnake
"Beds Are Burning," Midnight Oil
"Rag Doll," Aerosmith
"Midnight Blue," Lou Gramm
"Smooth Criminal," Michael Jackson
"Go Cut Creator Go," LL Cool J
"Wishing Well," Terence Trent D'Arby
"What Have I Done To Deserve This?" Pet Shop Boys feat. Dusty Springfield
"Heart and Soul," T'Pau


1. "Land of Confusion," Genesis. Grotesque puppets resembling various celebrities and world leaders populate this uncharacteristically political clip from the English prog-rockers.
2. "Don't Dream It's Over," Crowded House. A thoughtful, nostalgic clip that befits one of the '80s most wistful ballads.
3. "Dude Looks Like a Lady," Aerosmith. After spending nearly a decade fighting their way out of a druggy hell, the bad boys from Boston broke through to the MTV generation with this silly, fun clip.
4. "Where The Streets Have No Name," U2. An impromptu rooftop concert in LA captures the essence of Bono (for better or worse) as a balladeer in a live setting.
5. "Missionary Man," Eurythmics. The stop-motion innovations of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" clip accent this top 40 hit, one of the last U.S. chart successes for the duo of Lennox and Stewart.

Before I go, I just want to say one thing: GO BLACKHAWKS!!!


  1. 1987 was the year I began to rebel against popular music because "it was 'their music' of the generation older than me", and had discovered some 45's of the Beatles & Monkees in my house. I remember the Monkees were popular again around this time, and reruns were on all the time in syndication, and FOX even did a remake of the show. I recall Michael Jackson & Elton John doing Coca-Cola commercials, 'cause ya know, it's 1987 and it's all about money and selling out.

  2. Don't forget the Beatles' shoe commercial. ;)

  3. Boy did that commercial piss off John Fogerty, tho he's done a lot of selling out on his part. But the commercial is just wrong, as is Nike.

    1987 was also the year my obsession with pizza started. I remember a lot of Max Headroom stuff, noticing how obnoxious food advertising had become & how truly weird food products had gotten, the Stock Market crashing, an extremely rainy August (remnants of a hurricane) and horseshit mullets some of my classmates were starting to wear, and of course, the new FOX network which basically felt like free cable television. Most importantly, I stayed mullet-free (made god damn sure of it, too). But the music was bad.