Want to go "Behind The Scenes" here at the List Factory?
Just step over Mr. Kordosh. He's prepping to write another installment of Framed, Y! Music's other well-edited blog, by leaning heavily on the Sambuca, while Miss Lyndsey is the one in the penthouse with the spreadsheet keeping track of every contestant to ever appear on a TV talent show. She gets better digs than the rest of us, since people actually read her blog. Dave only comes in to collect his mail, so he can blog about it. I'm the guy down here in the basement, with a thrilling view of a wall!
Anyhow, on the master list I compiled, there were over 170 choices and this is 1987 we're talking about! Granted a good number of these albums are esoteric highlights known best -- and maybe only -- by people who had either a professional obligation at the time or a stint as a college DJ. I held records such as These Immortal Souls' Get Lost (Don't Lie), Game Theory's Lolita Nation and Microdisney's Crooked Mile in my hands and it felt good. Money was tight for a young college lad, so playing these records, vinyl LPs, on the radio was the only chance I had to get up close and personal.
Now the question remains, how many lists can I assemble about 1987 before you walk and turn slowly away? Astute readers of this column, that means you, sense there will be a column celebrating the 40th Anniversary of 1972, a year I've always considered pretty darn special. But we have to pace ourselves! One history lesson at a time.
This list features a smattering of everything: hits, mainstream junk that was hard to believe anyone wanted, college radio indie stuff…and it's missing key albums saved for Part Two. Wait till you see that one! (Feel the anticipation!!!) In fact, staring at this list, there are way too many old people on it and many albums I would never listen to knowingly. But they're big names!
25) Jethro Tull -- Crest of A Knave: The album won the 1989 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock / Heavy Metal Performance, Vocal or Instrumental, making it a legendary album in ways the band could never have foreseen. The album itself was released in September 1987 and I've never met anyone who bought it. Bands who made their reputation in the 1960s and 1970s often had their new material played on the emerging "Classic Rock" radio formats, however, sane people preferred the older output. The 1980s were not kind to veteran musicians.
24) Mick Jagger -- Primitive Cool: Now this old pro, on the other hand, he…yeah, nobody took this seriously either. No one believed Mick as proletariat man on the Dave Stewart co-write "Let's Work" and I don't think anyone's ever made it to the six-and-a-half minute finale, "War Baby." As a Stones die-hard, I enjoyed the Jeff Beck-featured single "Throwaway," so maybe Mick should've just made a single and made me happy.
23) Tiffany -- Tiffany: Those looking to the children to lead us out of the mainstream malaise were likely a little disappointed when mall-rocker Tiffany showed up with covers of the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" and Tommy James and the Shondells' "I Think We're Alone Now." Surely, Tiff could've fought harder to get some Biff Rose covers on the album!
22) Starship -- No Protection: I know what you're thinking! How is it possible that I'm nailing all the good stuff so early on? I'm all about pacing myself, but this cup runneth over. While the previous Starship album, Knee Deep In The Hoopla featured the immortal classic "We Built This City," this follow-up had the #1 hit "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," which either I've completely blanked from my mind or successfully avoided hearing for all these years. I'm not going to break the streak now.
21) Roger Waters -- Radio K.A.O.S.: There's a reason Roger Waters is still touring The Wall and not Radio K.A.O.S. and it isn't all because people like watching a wall get built and then torn down. Though that might be a lot of it.
20) Pink Floyd -- A Momentary Lapse of Reason: Waters' old band wasn't doing any better. They were still selling out tours based on name recognition and this album was a huge commercial success, but anyone who ever spent a portion of their youth staring into space listening to Piper at the Gates of Dawn or Atom Heart Mother or Meddle or Animals or even The Wall and The Final Cut likely sensed the momentary lapse of concept behind a band that lived and died on its grand conceits.
19) The Grateful Dead -- In the Dark: While today we look back at the hair metal and the 120 Minutes pop as defining much of the era, the truth was uglier. The irony that a band who never cared about hit singles would have their biggest one with "Touch of Grey," which would spur audiences to come out to the arenas to see them jam for hours, was typical madness. For example, R.E.M. were in some quarters still considered too weird to be mainstream and the major labels routinely messed up any band they could. How many singles bore any resemblance to the rest of the album? Bait and switch away!
18) INXS -- Kick: Michael Hutchence had the hair and was therefore the perfect guy to put on the cover of Rolling Stone and Spin. It was hard back then finding musicians who appealed to the heart, the head and the body. Musicians must've been getting uglier, or just too old.
17) X -- See How We Are: The truth is nothing was going to make X a popular rock 'n' roll band on the level of superstars from decades past. The music industry had systemic problems and audiences were way too diverse to find enough people to make this band of bohemians connect on an everyday level. By See How We Are, they were wandering between loud rock and country roots and writing fewer great songs. Then again, had Dave Alvin's "Fourth of July" gotten the attention it deserved, who knows?
16) The Steppes -- Drop of the Creature: The Steppes never made much of an indentation into the 1980s. But they made a series of records that are sublimely psychedelic and folk-druid in the best way imaginable. Backwards guitars, freaky vocal effects, drums that tumble down the mountain, the blotter acid must've been good that day.
15) Van Morrison -- Poetic Champions Compose: The Grumpiest Man In Show Business don't play no rock 'n' roll. He also don't always sing. Sometime in the 1980s, Van Mo turned E-Z listening with synths and New Age vibes. The rough edges took a break and he sounded almost calm. Long ago, he lost the top end of his range, but his phrasing always pulls him through. Who else writes a song called "Alan Watts Blues" and later asks "Did Ye Get Healed?" And is serious about it. Really, Van, I never knew you cared.
14) Sting -- …Nothing Like The Sun: OK, I've run out of seven-hour tantric sex jokes.
13) The Replacements -- Pleased to Meet Me: The Mats never made a perfect album. It would be beneath them. It might make you think they took this stuff seriously. But I'd venture that Tim and Pleased To Meet Me come as close as they could comfortably get. They only wanted to be your gods if you let them smoke in the house and didn't expect too much. When the time came to write the hit, they named it after "Alex Chilton" and let him take a bow. Nice.
12) The Cult -- Electric: I love it when "alternative" rockers say to hell with it and openly admit they want to be rock gods. Once people are themselves, good things happen. Even if some of us in the cheap seats liked it better when they faked it.
11) Warren Zevon -- Sentimental Hygiene: Members of the R.E.M. play along here and while "Even A Dog Can Shake Hands" is the most famous song here, it shouldn't overshadow the fine Zevon tunes that often get overlooked. Who asks to hear "The Heartache"? But you should. "Reconsider Me"? Of course. "Detox Mansion"? Why not? "Trouble Waiting To Happen"? Uh huh. Zevon made it sound easy. He always deserved to be more than that "Werewolves of London" guy.
10) Public Enemy -- Yo! Bum Rush The Show: Let all the white male rock critics in the house make some noise! It would be PE's next album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Make Us Multiplatinum, that would cement their status, but the use of hard rock riffs here allowed them to crossover with kids who didn't often (never?) listen to hip-hop.
9) Marianne Faithfull -- Strange Weather: Faithfull's always known how to draw the most out of the least. How many notes does she have at her command? How many times does the word "survivor" come up? Grabbing Hal Willner as producer and snagging a Tom Waits-Kathleen Brennan tune for the title cut, Faithfull leaves punk and new wave behind and moves in with the Marlene Dietrich-Lotte Lenya-Edith Piaf autumnal camp. Where you can live out your life torn and frayed.
8) U2 -- The Joshua Tree: Having already traded in Steve Lillywhite for Brian Eno (and Daniel Lanois), U2 decide to make their non-secular Christian Rock resonate in natural canyons while knowing full well they'll be playing this stuff in massive arenas. Looking like extras from MASH -- bass player as Father Mulcahy -- they really take this Jesuit stuff seriously. Save the world? Really?
7) Robbie Robertson -- Robbie Robertson: Wanting to be taken seriously as a serious man such as Jaime Royal Robertson obviously would, Robbie hires Daniel Lanois to give him that U2 sound and then invites U2 and Peter Gabriel (another big 80s star who couldn't tell a story in less than five minutes) to make him sound interesting. Except the two songs with U2 are duds. His version of "Broken Arrow" is earthier (by necessity) than Rod Stewart's cover and he sometimes sounds like that other Canadian -- Leonard Cohen -- when he settles on mumbling in the Big Deep.
6) Butthole Surfers -- Locust Abortion Technician: Satan! Satan! Satan! Yeah, sure! Hardly nobody knew that night how soon they'd be crying. Hardly nobody knew that night the Butthole Surfers were dying. If one album assembles all this band's best moving parts into one place, it's this one. They'd never be so fresh and crazy again. For soon enough even they would insist on writing songs! Like R.E.M. songs!
5) Michael Jackson -- Bad: What Off The Wall began, Thriller executed and Bad solidified. Michael Jackson did the impossible. He followed up the world's best selling album with an album that held its own and went on to become another huge multi-million dollar blockbuster with a string of #1 hit singles and other charting tracks. The Los Angeles Times called the work, "not bad." Get it?
4) Sonic Youth -- Sister: On the underside of the 1980s, the underground was making headway, thought it felt like one long, endless, pointless trudge at the time. Reviews were better and sales were decent for a band with no airplay beyond 92 degrees on the FM band. But who expected to be talking about them in Godmother-Godfather terms? "Integrity rock"? Yawn. But here's where they take the modal drones and tonal clusters and actually rock. If the scream in "Catholic Block" doesn't raise the hairs on your neck, your stereo's missing a channel. Or your ears are clogged or something.
3) Guns N' Roses -- Appetite For Destruction: While the Sex Pistols were designed to make just one record, GnR came on the scene to be a band with a legacy. Had Use Your Illusion I-IV been more cohesive and had the band hung on to Steven Adler who had that swing, their reputation would be more than that of the most erratic successful mainstream rock 'n' roll band of all time. Or maybe I'm just not sold on a band who played out all the worst rock 'n' roll cliches.
2) Bruce Springsteen -- Tunnel of Love: Adult-contemporary Springsteen might sound like a contradiction in terms. He's a rocker. He even told us so. But marriage is marriage and wedding bells sure enough break up that old gang of his. That's what happens when you marry Hollywood. He's loved the whole world over for bringing Fred Flintstone Rock 'n' Roll to the people, but the Catholic Boy's always been at his best when at his most somber, his most contrite. There might not be a single song on Tunnel that makes anyone want to dance, but there's plenty to make you reflect on your life and think what a drag it is getting old.
1) Prince -- Sign o' the Times: The Black Album got bumped at the end of 87, so Prince's best year lost as much as it won. Sign o' the Times had already been designed as a three-record set called Crystal Ball when the record company said NO. Trimmed down to 80 minutes, Sign is an album where key tracks are so perfect they throw everything else off balance. I doubt the album's consistency. But consistency is overrated.