Welcome to the second in my occasional series of posts on the subject of my favourite top ten albums from a particular year. This is not a reflection of the most successful releases of the year, simply my personal favourites.
1987 was a much, much harder year to choose a top ten from than my previous list, 1995. Don’t get me wrong, 1995 was a great year for me personally, not least as my first born made his appearance that summer, but I find myself going back to the mid-late ’80s more often when revisiting the music of years gone by. Is that because the music in 1987 was so much better, or is it a case of that year having more resonance for me in terms of nostalgia (after all, I was 19, working, earning money, able to drive, young, free and single…) I wonder?
Without further ado, then, here are my favourite ten albums of 1987 (in alphabetical order)…
1. Aerosmith “Permanent Vacation”
This album marked a turning point in Aerosmith’s career. Whether it was a positive thing or not depends on your point of view. With perhaps one eye on MTV and the singles charts, it was the first record on which the band had input from outside songwriters. On the plus side this meant that songs such as “Rag Doll”, “Angel” and “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” were the biggest hit singles of the band’s history up to that point, but conversely also lead indirectly to the band’s latter-day low point (in my view) of “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”.
Certainly the album marked a solid return of Aerosmith with Joe Perry back in the saddle after their false start with the underwhelming “Done With Mirrors” two years earlier, and had some great material in addition to the aforementioned singles, such as “Magic Touch” and “Hangman Jury”. Better was to come with the album “Pump” but that wouldn’t be until ’89.
2. Def Leppard “Hysteria”
Three years in the making, this was the album that many thought would never see the light of day. Drummer Rick Allen had lost his left arm in a car accident on New Year’s Eve in 1984 during early sessions for the album, the follow-up to 1983’s successful “Pyromania”. He subsequently developed a way of playing using electronic triggers and returned to recording and performing live with the band. Jim Steinman, famous for his work with Meat Loaf, was originally brought in the produce the album, but after this failed to produce the desired results, and the band were unable to produce the sound they were looking for themselves, they were able to persuade Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who had produced the previous album, to return to the producer’s chair.
When the album was finally released in August 1987, preceded in the UK by the hit single “Animal”, it was a triumph. Lange’s state of the art production together with superb material helped to spawn seven hit singles from the album’s twelve tracks, and the album itself went on to sell over 20 million copies. There simply isn’t a single duff track on this album – indeed for a while it was easily the most played record on my stereo – but my personal favourites would be “Rocket”, “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, “Hysteria” and the epic “Gods Of War”.
3. Fleetwood Mac “Tango In The Night”
Released five years after the band’s previous album “Mirage”, “Tango In The Night” became their second-biggest selling album (the classic “Rumours” being the biggest).
Featuring six hit singles, the album reached the number 1 spot in the UK on three separate occasions during 1987/88. The pressure of being largely responsible for the album coming to fruition lead to Lindsay Buckingham leaving the band shortly before the following world tour, which featured new members Rick Vito and Billy Burnette in his place.
My favourite tracks on the album include the hits “Big Love”, “Everywhere”, “Little Lies” and “Family Man”, as well as the distinctive Buckingham number “Caroline” and Christine McVie’s gentle “Mystified”.
4. Guns N’ Roses “Appetite For Destruction”
The debut album from Los Angeles band Guns N’ Roses is a classic hard rock record, and the only album to feature the original line-up of singer Axl Rose, guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan and Steven Adler on drums. There was some controversy over the original cover art (shown here) by American artist Robert Williams showing a robot rapist which was replaced after some stores refused to stock the album.
The music speaks for itself. Although the band would reach their creative height with the ambitious “Use Your Illusion” albums, this was the sound of a band in full flight and all pulling together – something that sadly wouldn’t last. From the classic opener “Welcome To The Jungle” through “Paradise City”, the classic ballad “Sweet Child O’ Mine” through to the orgasmic “Rocket Queen” (listen closely to that one!) and every track in between, this is simply a brilliant album. Essential.
5. Jethro Tull “Crest Of A Knave”
Jethro Tull’s sixteenth studio album was their first for three years, and their most successful since 1971’s “Aqualung”. Bizarrely, the album was awarded a Grammy Award for “Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental” in 1989. This was the one and only time that this particular Grammy award was given, such was the controversy over Tull winning the award that many expected Metallica to win for their “…And Justice For All” album.
This was not an album that I warmed to immediately, unlike all the others on this list, as Tull were not a band I was familiar with at the time. In fact, when I first heard the single “She Said She Was A Dancer” I thought it was a new song by Dire Straits! However, with the benefit of time and an appreciation of the rich musical legacy of the band, this is an album that has really grown on me. This is definitely an album to immerse oneself in, and I particularly enjoy the longer tracks, “Farm On The Freeway”, “Mountain Men” and especially the superb ten minute long “Budapest”.
6. Level 42 “Running In The Family”
From their beginnings as a jazz-funk band, Level 42 had steadily refined their sound to encompass a much more accessible pop flavour, and the band reached the pinnacle of their success with the release of the “Running In The Family” album. Five hit singles (four of them reached the top ten) underlined this point. Guitarist Boon Gould and his drummer brother Phil Gould both left the band during 1987 leaving just singer/bassist Mark King and keyboardist Mike Lindup. This coincided with the start of the band’s decline and none of their subsequent records would reach the heights they managed with “Running In The Family”.
A solid pop record from start to finish, the best tracks were the first five (all of which were singles) – “Lessons In Love”, “Children Say”, “Running In The Family”, the brilliant ballad “It’s Over” and “To Be With You Again”, plus the funky “Fashion Fever”.
7. Prince “Sign O’ The Times”
Following the release of “Parade” in 1986, Prince began recording new material for an album to be titled “Dream Factory”. Unhappy, Prince decided to hire his backing band, The Revolution, and begin new recordings on his own. Initially he intended to release an album titled “Camille”. A change of mind saw songs from both planned albums incorporated into a new project – a triple album to be called “Crystal Ball” – however, his record company were less than keen and persuaded Prince to trim the album. The resulting double album was given the title “Sign O’ The Times”.
Although it’s up against stiff competition from within his extensive catalogue of released and unreleased albums, “Sign O’ The Times” quickly became, and has remained, my favourite Prince album. Kicking off with the stark and brilliant title track, the quality keeps on coming. The songs feature a variety of moods and tempos, but my own favourite tracks are “Sign O’ The Times”, “Housequake”, “Hot Thing”, “U Got The Look”, “If I Was Your Girlfriend”, “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” and the excellent “The Cross”
8. Rush “Hold Your Fire”
The twelfth studio album from progressive rock band Rush, “Hold Your Fire” continued the synthesizer-heavy direction of the preceding album, “Power Windows”. A major attraction for me was the fantastic percussive performance of drummer Neil Peart, but all three band members excel on this record, and for the most part the songs are top notch too (with my only real reservation being over the track “Tai Shan”). Opener “Force Ten” is an up-tempo rock track. Singles “Time Stand Still” (featuring Aimee Mann) and “Prime Mover” showed the band’s musical chops within memorable song structures, my favourite track “Mission” is the proggiest track on the album with time changes aplenty and album closer “High Water” is also excellent.
9. U2 “The Joshua Tree”
Following the more experimental “The Unforgettable Fire” album in 1984, U2, and singer Bono in particular, found themselves inspired by all things American and a new-found interest in roots music, and so, despite the reservations of guitarist The Edge, chose to pursue these themes and a more American bluesy sound for “The Joshua Tree”. The resulting album is, without doubt, the group’s most successful, with 25 million copies sold. More importantly though, the band’s music would in future struggle to have the same resonance and emotional impact found in the eleven tracks here.
Although the first three tracks are most well known (“Where The Streets Have No Name”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With Or Without You”) having all been top ten singles, it’s the rest of the album that really shines for me. The sparse arrangements of “Running To Stand Still” and “Mothers Of The Disappeared”, the up-tempo “In God’s Country”, with the evocative “Bullet The Blue Sky” being the pick of the bunch.
10. Whitesnake “1987”
Following 1984’s “Slide It In” album, singer David Coverdale, new guitarist John Sykes and bassist Neil Murray recruited drummer Aynsley Dunbar and began sessions for the next Whitesnake album. When Coverdale suffered a sinus infection the resulting surgery meant that proceedings became severely delayed, and a rift began to form between Coverdale and Sykes. Thus, when the album was eventually finished, Coverdale fired the rest of the band and replaced them with guitarists Adrain Vandenberg and Vivian Campbell, bassist Rudy Sarzo and drummer Tommy Aldridge. It was this line-up that toured the world in support of the album and appeared in the band’s famous trilogy of MTV-friendly music videos (featuring actress and future Mrs. Coverdale, Tawny Kitaen) for singles “Still Of The Night”, “Here I Go Again” and “Is This Love”.
Also known as “Serpens Albus” and “Whitesnake”, this was the band’s seventh studio album, and the one that made the band hugely successful around the world. Moving further away from their blues rock sound and showcasing a new harder rock direction, the album featured radical re-workings of two tracks from their 1982 “Saints & Sinners” album in the form of “Here I Go Again” and”Crying In The Rain”. These, along with the very Led Zeppelin-like “Still Of The Night”, ballad “Looking For Love” and up-tempo rockers “Bad Boys” and “Children Of The Night” captured Coverdale as vocal rock god, perfectly matched by the incendiary fretwork of Sykes. A fabulous hard rock album.
There you go – my top ten albums of 1987. This was a year in which Margaret Thatcher was re-elected for her third term as British Prime Minister, Everton won the old First Division, “The Simpsons” appeared on TV for the first time, and top film releases included “Good Morning, Vietnam”, “The Secret Of My Success”, “The Living Daylights” and “Fatal Attraction”…