Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1987

by Benjamin Ray

This was the Year Of The Last Gasp for many established artists and the Year Of The Defining Album for many others. Remarkably, this was a year also lacking in pop schlock, with seemed to be on the way out as alternative rock and rap were on the rise, although the biggest events of the year were big mainstream rock albums.

Perhaps the biggest smash was U2's fantastic The Joshua Tree, which won Grammies, had hit singles and remains an enduring classic, nearly every song a triumph and still the standard by which the band's albums are judged (which is unfortunate). But just as important was Guns 'N' Roses' Appetite For Destruction, which rendered most hair pop-metal obsolete by imbuing each song with actual emotion, danger and balls-out rock chops. Guns deservedly became huge after this one and, 26 years after its release, "Paradise City" and "Welcome To The Jungle" still sound fresh and vital, unlike, say, Whitesnake, which also came out this year ("Here I Go Again," "Still Of The Night").

Aerosmith surged back in a big way with Permanent Vacation, which marked a disturbing trend toward the overproduced (when Desmond Child is on board, expect some dumbing down), but the album is still pretty darn good. Def Leppard also hit hard with Hysteria ("Pour Some Sugar On Me," "Hysteria") and Motley Crue offered "Girls, Girls, Girls," which had about as much substance as a Twinkie. Guitar god Joe Satriani also offered the all-instrumental Surfing With The Alien, much to the delight of guitar geeks everywhere who had given up on Van Halen once Sammy Hagar showed up.


Some classic rock artists released their Last Gasp efforts this year with mixed results. After four years, Bruce Springsteen returned with the difficult breakup album Tunnel Of Love, which turned the clock back to his earlier style of writing and was pretty much the final Major Statement the Boss would make until The Rising in 2002. Fleetwood Mac got it together for Tango In The Night, which spawned a few good hits ("Little Lies," "Big Love," "Everywhere"), but Lindsey Buckingham left soon after and the band faded away. George Harrison came out of nowhere with Cloud Nine and "Got My Mind Set On You," but that comeback didn't last long either.

The Grateful Dead hit with "Touch Of Grey" and former progressive rock icons Yes put out the all-pop Big Generator, then faded away to become a cult prog-rock act once again, while Heart offered its second arena pop effort Bad Animals (and the last time it would do any chart damage), featuring the power ballad "Alone." This was also the year that Pink Floyd made its comeback without Roger Waters, offering A Momentary Lapse Of Reason as evidence that David Gilmour could lead the trio on his own, and it's not as bad as some say.

Alternative rock took steps toward the mainstream with former college rock radio and underground darlings R.E.M., who released the fantastic Document, their best effort to date and final album with record label I.R.S. The quartet would take a turn toward the serious soon after, but "Finest Worksong," "It's The End of the World As We Know It," the hit "The One I Love" and even the album tracks have a certain joy and enthusiasm. Elsewhere on the left of the dial, the Replacements turned in Pleased To Meet Me (with "The Ledge" and "Can't Hardly Wait"), Midnight Oil recorded "Beds Are Burning," the Smith had two records, the Cure had Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, New Order had Substance ("Blue Monday"), 10,000 Maniacs had the serious In My Tribe and Dinosaur Jr. had the well-received You're Living All Over Me.


In pop music, speaking of comebacks, Michael Jackson recorded Bad, the follow-up to Thriller that wasn't quite as good or hot (as if anything could have been) but still spawned several hits ("Dirty Diana," "Man In The Mirror," "Smooth Criminal," the title track). Whitney Houston offered up "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," George Michael went solo and hit with "Faith" and Prince offered the messy, intoxicating double album Sign O' The Times, which remains his last great album. Other hits that clogged the radio included "Time Of My Life" (from the movie Dirty Dancing), "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" (Starship), "The Lady In Red" (Chris DeBurgh), "Lean On Me" (Club Nouveau) and "Carrie" (Europe).

In country music, Randy Travis scored with Always & Forever, which spent six months in the #1 slot except for three off weeks. Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Rondstadt also got together for the solid Trio, Reba McEntire offered What Am I Gonna Do About You and George Strait had a hit with Oceanfront Property.

Finally, rap, having been given a shove by the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC the year prior, offered up classics like Public Enemy's Yo! Bum Rush the Show, Ice-T's Rhyme Pays, Eric B. and Rakim's Paid in Full and the debut of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Rock The House. The latter was hardly indiciative of the eventual career that Will Smith would have, as DJ Jazzy Jeff is the true star of the record.

And that, friends, is the Year That Was in music.

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