In retrospect, 1987 was an excellent year for music, a year that I would place up against any other for the number of quality albums, and singles, released during a calendar year. In fact, so many great albums were released that year, that I felt the need to excise several albums in order to make room for LPs released during other trips around the Sun.
One album I would like to mention is an album released by three-fourths of the legendary Cincinnati power pop band The Raisins joined by guitar virtuoso Adrian Belew who together are known as The Bears. This obscure band released a terrific slice of power pop music in the vein of classic Todd Rundgren and the Raspberries. Unfortunately, the band did not garner the necessary label push in order to register a massive hit. However, if you can find a copy of their self-titled debut, pick it up because it is a buried classic. Next to my Reds winning a World Series title in 1990 and getting to be part of the WOXY-FM/97-X listening audience for four years, The Bears represent my finest Southwest Ohio memories outside of my family.
But, enough of that stuff! Let’s check out what albums from 1987 made my list.
10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe (1987). By the time the late-Eighties rolled around, there seemed to be hundreds of R.E.M.-influenced bands running around the country. Fortunately, 10,000 Maniacs were influenced by the greatest American alternative band of the Eighties that added some very poetic lyrics about various social injustices that were neither pretentious nor preachy. Lead singer Natalie Merchant became the breakout star of the band who registered such folk-pop classics as “Like the Weather,” “What’s the Matter Here?” and their cover of the Cat Stevens classic “Peace Train.”
Anthrax – Among the Living (1987). Anthrax was the fourth thrash metal band in what is now known as The Big Four of Thrash. The band expanded their lyrical content to rage against prejudice, drug abuse and violence, all the while continuing to display their humor with tributes to Stephen King and Judge Dredd. These guys played so fast that their attack verged on hardcore levels without ever sacrificing the metal. This album is my third favorite of the mid-Eighties thrash peak.
Dinosaur Jr. – You’re Living All Over Me (1987). One thing about the musicians of my age group is that collectively they love Neil Young, especially the one we probably all discovered on Side 2 of Rust Never Sleeps. This album plays as the missing link between post-punk and grunge, which is why it was big on college rock radio of the day. Guitarist J. Mascis was the first non-metal guitar hero of Gen X.
Eric B. & Rakim – Paid in Full (1987). In the wake of Run-D.M.C.’s success, the possibilities of hip hop seemed unlimited. So when this duo showed up with Rakim displaying a whole new way to spit his rhymes, the door was blown off its hinges. Rakim’s hypnotic vocals incorporated a jazz-influenced flow into his delivery which only raised his profile to a prophet-like status in the hip hop community. Even after nearly 35 years, Rakim is still listed as one of the greatest emcees ever. Eminem owes Rakim a huge debt.
George Michael – Faith (1987). I can admit it! I loved Wham! But, did I ever think that George Michael’s solo career would have his name etched alongside the other Eighties immortals before this album was released? Simply put, no. Still, it was a pleasant surprise just how deeply talented this man was. Forget the so-called controversy of “I Want Your Sex,” the real story was the title song AND “Father Figure.” Those songs were two of the greatest songs of the decade, if not ever. And, the rest of the album lived up to them as well.
Guns ‘N Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987). In all honesty, I think the world was ready for a band that blurred the lines between their public personas and reality, between true punk and metal influences and were not afraid to wear their warts-and-all emotions on their sleeves. Pushing aside all the plastic poseurs of glam metal, Guns ‘N Roses roared onto MTV and the radio like a combination of Aerosmith channeled through the Sex Pistols, and the world ate it up. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons (ego, drugs, booze, women, money, you name it), the band truly peaked on this debut album. But, man, what a legacy!
INXS – Kick (1987). I saw these guys open for Men at Work in 1983 and fell in love with them. But, at the time, I thought they wouldn’t amount to much. Boy! Was I ever wrong! These guys threw aside the new wave trappings, conjured up some Stones-like grit and married all of it to a dance beat. What a formula! And, it all came together on Kick. Unfortunately, the band, mainly due to changing trends in the Nineties, never really got to build upon the momentum of this album. And, then, a decade later, we lost their lead singer Michael Hutchence to a mishap, thwarting any sort of comeback the band could have made.
John Cougar Mellencamp – The Lonesome Jubilee (1987). After the massive success of John’s Scarecrow album, he decided to expand upon his Midwestern Stones-influenced sound by incorporating musicians who could play Appalachian instruments to create something of a Midwestern update of The Band’s sound. And, this was absolutely mind-blowing to me. To my ears, this album is pure Indiana through and through. This is Mellencamp’s finest moment as an artist, plain and simple. Plus, the songs take on new meanings as you age. Remember when holding hands meant everything?
John Hiatt – Bring the Family (1987). Here’s another Hoosier-born artist, though he no longer lives in the state. Hiatt had been around the music industry for the better part of decade earning a living as both the next big thing and the American version of Elvis Costello. But, success had always eluded his talent. Then, he too dropped the new wave pretensions, got down to the basics and joined forces with guitarist Ry Cooder, bassist Nick Lowe and session drummer Jim Keltner to create a soulful Americana sound that remains influential to this day. Still, the highlight is the songwriting, with “Memphis in the Meantime” and “Thing Called Love,” later a hit for Bonnie Raitt, were strong. But, the song that has the legs is “Have a Little Faith in Me,” a beautiful plead to a woman to stick with him sung in a voice that evokes Ray Charles. This is rock music made by adults for adults.
Well, people, that wraps up the first go-around with 1987. Check ya later! Peace.