If my memory serves me well, I distinctly going to the local record store in Oxford, Ohio (Long live Looney T-Birds!) in the spring of 1987 to purchase the newly released albums by Prince, U2 and New Order. Then, in September alone, one discs by John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson happened. Let that sink in for a moment. Six classic albums all were released only within a calendar year, but nearly HALF of a calendar year!
With that trivia off my chest, let’s take a second day to look at the 1987 albums on my list of 1000.
Michael Jackson – Bad (1987). By now, the cracks were showing in the life of one of the world’s most famous entertainers of all-time. Still, following the very same formula he had on his previous two albums produced by Quincy Jones, Jackson conjured up perhaps his finest collection of songs to date. Unfortunately, I found the songs lacking the innocence of those other two albums, replaced by a growing cynicism and distrust of the world. Maybe, there was a reason for all of that paranoia. Rumor has it that Jackson wanted Prince to duet on “Bad,” but Prince declined. There was another rock crossover hit song, “Dirty Diana,” in which Jackson replaced Eddie Van Halen with Billy Idol’s guitarist Steve Stevens. Might have been cooler if Jackson had employed Kirk Hammett of Metallica or Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, but still a nice touch. All in all, how can you really complain about an album that spawned six Top 10 hits?
Midnight Oil – Diesel and Dust (1987). In the wake of The Clash and U2, the Eighties were full of earnest bands who wore their collective hearts on their sleeves. Some of the more notable were The Alarm, The Call and The Waterboys, but the best of the second tier bands was Midnight Oil. These Aussies were probably the most overtly political of all of these bands put together, plus they rocked nearly as hard as countrymen AC/DC. This time, a band not reaching its full potential was a good case. Lead singer Peter Garrett, a lawyer and social activist, parlayed his fame into a governmental position, thus actively working to make the changes he preached in his music. This album represents the band’s finest moment.
New Order – Substance 1987 (1987). Okay, sue me! I know that I promised not to include compilations in my list. However, this album is the complete collection of New Order’s essential and innovative 12-inch remixes that lit up the clubs from their debut to 1987. The remixes are hot and not full of Eighties cliches as they stress the dance/rock/synthpop synthesis the band was creating. For my money, this is their best album.
Pet Shop Boys – Actually (1987). The Pet Shop Boys were just another synthpop band with a big hit (“West End Girls”) when they dropped this one on the public. Now, they were no longer relying upon beats for their music but fully developed electronic rhythms making their sound much more intricate, not unlike a full band. Plus, the duo gets high kudos from me for reviving Dusty Springfield’s career on their collaborative hit song “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”
Prince – Sign ‘o’ the Times (1987). After the crazy Around the World in a Day and Parade albums, which were so overblown and bordering on pretentious, Prince disbanded the Revolution and began his most prolific two years of his life. Rumor has it that Prince had four complete albums ready to be released during this time. Yet, Warner Bros. convinced him to pare down this burst of creativity to a double album. So, what we got was a complete tour de force by Prince as he covered all areas of popular music, even creating some new genres of his own along the way. Prince flexed his musicianship as he had never before and, arguably, since. With all due respect to U2, this is the album that should have won the Grammy for Album of the Year. Or as the man once reportedly said that he could make The Joshua Tree, but could U2 make Sign ‘o’ the Times? On a personal note, I cannot wait to receive my 13-LP box set of this album in a month. Finally, I will get to hear ALL of those unreleased songs from The Vault!
R.E.M. – Document (1987). Who knew that R.E.M. would have mainstream success in a big way in 1987? Well, I kinda had an inkling when I began hearing “The One I Love” on AOR radio a couple months after the album’s release. But, then, the song blew up and so did the band to, along with U2, assume the mantle of voice of a generation. To this day, I still love “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and “Finest Worksong.” I love just loved how overtly political the band got on this album.
Robbie Robertson – Robert Robertson (1987). A full eleven years after he broke up The Band, leader Robbie Robertson finally released his long awaited solo album. But, Robertson did not go back to his bread-and-butter Americana sound of his former band, instead opting for a more alternative sound in the space between U2, R.E.M. and Dinosaur Jr. He brought in young artists such as members of U2, former Lone Justice singer Maria McKee and Milwaukee roots rockers The BoDeans for help. Robertson created a beautiful swampy mix that was both contemporary and futuristic while never leaving his past completely behind. What a record for a man who had laid low for such a long time.
Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing (1987). By the mid-Eighties, some young musicians were reaching back to the acoustic days of folk, forming a small neo-folkie movement. Suzanne Vega represented one of the best of the scene and even scored a Top 10 hit with a song about child abuse called “Luka.” This album is both looks backward and forward at the same time. Little did we realize that Vega was setting the stage for a bigger artist coming in 1988.
Terence Trent D’Arby – Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby (1987). By the late Eighties, the public was ready for a little soul sex symbol music. So, into that void came an arrogant former military man living in England to the rescue. Although he hyped himself to be better than The Beatles, at least he had the Otis Redding-like chops to back it up a bit. The man actually made rock songs sound downright soulful as Redding had done 20 years prior. Unfortunately, D’Arby could not capitalize on this breakthrough and faded into obscurity. But, for a brief moment, many had thought we had discovered a challenger to Prince’s throne.
Welp, that does it for another day. I’ll finish up 1987 next time. Peace.