Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1986

by Benjamin Ray

The first class of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame was inducted in 1986, the same year that Ahmet Ertegun announced the building would be located in Cleveland. It's quite bracing to look back to Buddy Holly, Elvis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard and then to the music of 1986: Slayer, the Beastie Boys, Wang Chung and Madonna.

Actually, rock in 1986 was split between hair metal ("Talk Dirty To Me," "The Final Countdown") and booming stadium rock, most notably Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet and Van Halen's 5150, its first album with Sammy Hagar fronting the group. Queen also released A Kind Of Magic and embarked on its final tour with Freddie Mercury, the Rolling Stones pretty much gave up with Dirty Work and Boston returned from oblivion to offer the mostly dreadful Third Stage and "Amanda."

A subculture of music would gain in popularity in 1986, due to two groundbreaking and commercially successful albums. Hip-hop, which had been written off as a fad, suddenly broke through with Run-DMC's Raising Hell and the Beastie Boys' License To Ill, which were huge and very influential, especially the former, which caused music writers to finally take notice of the genre (not least because they also resurrected Aerosmith's career with the hybrid cover of "Walk This Way"). Other notable hip-hop releases were Kool Moe Dee, 2 Live Crew Is What We Are, Schooly D and N.W.A. And The Posse, the latter two introducing the concept of "gangsta rap" that would soon shock the world and become the soundtrack for millions.


Another subculture, heavy metal, saw three fantastic entries this year: Megadeth's Peace Sells...But Who's Buying, Slayer's Reign In Blood and Metallica's Master Of Puppets, considered their masterpiece and one of the best metal albums of all time. Shortly after the release, the band's bus would crash while on tour, killing founding bassist Cliff Burton and taking out a piece of the band that, some have argued, Jason Newsted couldn't replace.

And in a third subculture, people who were sick of pop music or slick rock like Bon Jovi continued turning to the alternative underground, discvoering gems like Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)," The Smithereens' "Behind The Wall Of Sleep," The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead, Love & Rockets' "Yin And Yang (The Flowerpot Man)," the Psychedelic Furs' "Pretty In Pink" and, especially, R.E.M.'s excellent Lifes Rich Pageant.

But the trend in 1986 was, unfortunately, to release substance-free pop music, or to change up (or dumb down) an established sound to sell record. The worst purveyor of this was Genesis, which abandoned all that made them worthwhile and shit out Invisible Touch, which many fans found could be used as a Frisbee for their dog. The Moody Blues followed suit with The Other Side Of Life, which had exactly two good songs (including "Your Wildest Dreams"). Steve Winwood, who had once been kind of cool, offered "Higher Love" and "Back In The High Life," while Billy Joel thought The Bridge was a good idea.


Much better was Paul Simon's Graceland ("You Can Call Me All"), Peter Gabriel's So, featuring the sarcastic song "Sledgehammer" and the lovely duet "In Your Eyes," and Madonna, who shed her Material Girl image with True Blue ("Papa Don't Preach," "Live To Tell"). Lionel Richie also offered "Dancing On The Ceiling" and "Say You, Say Me," his last hits for a decade, while Janet Jackson hit big with Control.

And then there were all the pop hits of the year, the ones that still get played on every Muzak and "light rock" station in the country: "Take My Breath Away" (from Top Gun), "Don't Dream It's Over," "Don't Get Me Wrong," "Notorious," "West End Girls," "The Glory Of Love," "Conga," "Kyrie," "Sweetest Taboo," "Everybody Have Fun Tonight," "Walk Like An Egyptian," "Manic Monday," "Take Me Home Tonight," "I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight" and, worst of all, "Rock Me Amadeus." Surely this is not what Buddy Holly, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis had in mind when they set out to change music forever.

But hey, friends, that was the Year That Was in music.
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