I’m having an Eighties flashback today caused by the newly released album by seminal LA hardcore band X. I mean, this is simply an outstanding album. But, more about it later. I have heard some pretty good albums this year from Lady Gaga, Halsey, Adam Lambert, Pearl Jam, The Chicks and Paul Weller. Still, I am looking forward to new releases by Bob Mould, Weezer, Elvis Costello and The Killers (sorry, I wait for the vinyl to be released before fully evaluating them). Additionally, I would love to listen to Taylor Swift and Fiona Apple’s new albums. Finally, perhaps my biggest excitement is reserved for the remastered versions of two classic albums, Prince’s box set of everything recorded for his mighty Sign ‘O’ the Times album (13 LPs!) and Tom Petty’s fantastic Wild Flowers vinyl release that includes all the stuff he recorded for that album as well (3 LPs is the version I want).
It is shaping up to be a pretty good ending for 2020, at least musically speaking.
Anyway, let’s finish off 1986.
Paul Simon – Graceland (1986). As with Talking Heads, I loved that Simon was reaching into Africa to shine some much needed context for American music. By working with South African musicians, Simon was keenly able to bridge a cultural divide to bring this rich musical tradition some recognition. Personally, this album grows as I age. What a wondrous album!
Peter Gabriel – So (1986). To be perfectly honest, I had never really listened to Genesis while Gabriel was part of the band when I was younger. As a matter of fact, I honestly discovered Genesis AFTER I had discovered a solo Gabriel. Immediately, I was taken by Peter Gabriel’s almost left-brained approach to art rock via punk’s DIY ethic. So, imagine my pleasure when the general public finally caught up to his vision. To me, there were few songs as great as “Sledgehammer,” as well as no video greater than it.
R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant (1986). On this album, R.E.M. made what sounded like their version of a mainstream rock album. What I mean by that was their production value was crisp and clean, since they were using John Mellencamp’s producer Don Gehman. But, everything that made R.E.M. so great in the first place were still in tact. Now, we could actually discern singer Michael Stipe’s lyrics. I may be in the minority with R.E.M. fanatics, but this remains my favorite album of theirs.
Robert Palmer – Addicted to Love (1986). After finally finding commercial success as a member of Eighties supergroup The Power Station, Robert Palmer shed his blue-eyed soul image from the Seventies and embraced the big radio-ready sound of his one-off group. He definitely expanded the vision of TPS with thicker drums and louder guitars, then added a brilliant visual for his videos. The title song and his version of “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” remain fantastic timepieces of mid-Eighties rock.
Run-D.M.C. – Raising Hell (1986). Public Enemy’s Chuck D says this is the greatest hip hop album ever, and he is correct. The trio did everything the right way, from “My Adidas” to “You Be Illin'” to their remake of the Aerosmith classic “Walk This Way” (that’s right Curt, Run-D.M.C. saved Aerosmith’s career!). This album solidified the band’s vision and changed the course of rap forever.
Simply Red – Holding Back the Years (1986). Just as Hall & Oates began to run out of steam, in their place steps a Ginger from England with the soulful voice of an angel to ease their loss. That angel was Mick Hucknall and his band Simply Red. This album is much more than their mega-hit “Holding Back the Years,” but that song is golden. Plus, anyone that has the balls to cover a Talking Heads song (“Heaven”) as a soul song is okay in my book.
Slayer – Reign in Blood (1986). 1986 was quite a year for thrash metal, as there were three of the best albums of the genre were released. And while Metallica’s Master of Puppets is considered the pinnacle, this Slayer album has got to be a half a notch below. This is more than a metal album. It is an artistic statement and a tour de force.
Steve Earle – Guitar Town (1986). This album represents my introduction to the southern fried rock vision of Eighties country outlaw Steve Earle. I prefer this stripped down album to any of his subsequent albums. And, I find the album way better than the much-ballyhooed Dwight Yoakam debut album, regardless of whether Yoakam opened for Hüsker Dü.
The Replacements – Pleased to Meet Me (1986). The Mats faced their first band crisis as original guitarist Bob Stinson, brother of bassist Tommy Stinson, was let go to his deteriorating condition due to alcoholism. In his place stepped the much more professional Slim Dunlap who breathed life into Paul Westerberg’s excellent songs. This album plays like a tribute to Seventies power pop gods Big Star, even the album’s best song was named “Alex Chilton” after that band’s iconic leader. I just wish The Mats had released a sister song entitled “Chris Bell,” the actual heart and soul of Big Star. I think Westerberg left a classic on the table.
The Robert Cray Band – Strong Persuader (1986). First, Stevie Ray Vaughan resurrected the long-dormant blues guitar hero role in 1983. Then, long-time blues journeyman Robert Cray upped the ante in the genre by revisiting the connection between the blues and soul music. That rediscovery made for one brilliant album.
The Smithereens – Especially for You (1986). Unlike most power pop bands, these guys really looked like the Stones but played music that combined “Paperback Writer”-era Beatles with early Who. It was a lethal combination. I have read that if these guys had been better looking they would have been stars. That’s BS! These guys weren’t stars because they were NOT a glam rock band. They were much better than being the lowest common denominators.
The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986). It makes sense that The Smiths would make their finest album the very same year R.E.M. did. The two were measuring sticks for each other. Unfortunately, The Smiths only lasted for one more album before calling it quits. But, at least they created this classic album, still considered by the UK rock press as one of the greatest albums of all-time. Who’s to say, they might be right.
Van Halen – 5150 (1986). So, is this a Van Halen album, or is it a Sammy Hagar album with the best backing band he would ever have? Regardless, this is a really good album no matter how you cut it. I’ve always been lukewarm toward Hagar and drawn toward Halen, but the combo worked this time. But, their shtick got tiresome for me quickly. I guess I am a DLR man.
And, that, my friends, wraps up 1986. Peace.