Years that end in “7” are all the best years for music in each decade over the last 60 years.
- Appetite for Destruction – Guns N Roses
- Joshua Tree – U2
- Bad – Michael Jackson
- Sign O’ the Times – Prince
- Sister – Sonic Youth
- You’re Living All Over Me – Dinosaur Jr.
- Document – R.E.M.
- Paid In Full – Eric B. and Rakim
- Hysteria – Def Leppard
1984 was maybe SST’s year of underground masterpieces with the release of the two epics -Minutemen’s Double Nickels On the Dime and Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade. By 1987, however, the label had tripled the size of its roster and amount of releases, and 1987 produced two more masterpieces – Sonic Youth’s Sister and Dinosaur Jr.’s debut, You’re Living All Over Me. Where SST stalwarts such as Black Flag, Descendents, Minutemen and Hüsker Dü were all built on their punk roots – Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. looked to classic rock of the past to help form their sound. These two albums (along with contributions of The Pixies) would go on to influence the early 1990s Alternative scene more than anything else before them. Along with two more releases by Meat Puppets and an amazing sophomore effort by fIREHOSE, 1987 cemented SST Records as an underground record label that wasn’t messing around anymore. The magma was heating up, and the volcano was about to explode. The mainstream music industry had no idea what was coming. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” might not have happened until four years later, but looking back, you can see the signs of it coming in 1987.
Alternative Music Gains Steam
Bands that mainly had success on college radio or “alternative rock” formats, were starting to get played on mainstream radio. In huge part due to MTV beginning to blur the lines of what was popular and what was critically lauded. Midnight Oil, The Cure, R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs each had Billboard charted hits from their 1987 albums. None of these songs exactly screamed “Mall queens gather round!” either. The underground was starting to crossover. Nothing signaled this more than the success of U2’s Joshua Tree. Before 1987, a U2 single never even cracked the top 25 in the US, and only once in the Top 40. That all changed with the release of The Joshua Tree. Not only did they immediately become the biggest band in the world, but they shocked the world by beating out The King of Pop for the Album of the Year Grammy in 1988.
Even though maybe not considered their best albums, it was pretty remarkable that Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Jesus & Mary Chain, and The Wedding Present all released albums in 1987.
Rap Is Here To Stay
N.W.A. Public Enemy. Boogie Down Productions (fea. KRS-One). Ice-T. All of these legendary artists released either their debut single or debut album in 1987. Run DMC and the Beasties took hip-hop to another level in 1986, and these artists (among others) were determined to capitalize upon that momentum. LL Cool J released his sophomore album and the single “I Need Love” proved to be hip-hop’s first love ballad. Also making LL, hip-hop’s first true heartthrob.
Rock and Roll Veterans
1987 also saw strong output from some of rock and roll’s aging veterans. George Harrison and Robbie Robertson released two solo efforts extremely unique to their discography up to that point. Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd continued to add to their historic discographies. Not even featured in the playlist, there were also releases from Neil Young and Crazy Horse, David Bowie, and Van Morrison. Even though, they weren’t bad albums, I decided to leave them off my playlist because those albums weren’t considered landmarks in their careers.
Let’s Not Forget
This playlist is already 4 and a half hours long, so I had to make some cuts somewhere. Here are the artists that made their mark on 1987 (big or small) that I decided to leave out. Rick Astley was all over the charts in 1987. I just decided to save listeners from yet another Rick Roll. 1987 was also the year of mall queen, Tiffany. 1987 also brought us Richard Marx. Let’s just move on and forgive 1987 for that one. The legendary Smokey Robinson released a solo album that my mother listened to over and over and over in 1987, and I decided thirty years ago that I would do anything and go anywhere to never hear anything off that album again – and I love Smokey Robinson. Hair bands – Girls, Girls, Girls by Motley Crüe, Great White’s Once Bitten…, and Whitesnake’s self-titled album all came out in 1987. Kiss released an album they probably want to forget. Swans, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Butthole Surfers, and The Descendents all released albums that were cherished by some folks who were into the underground rock scene. I didn’t include Ice-T in my playlist, and I also failed to mention DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince released their debut album in 1987. And, one album that I highly recommend that I didn’t highlight is Warren Zevon’s Sentimental Hygiene. It’s one of the songwriting genius’ more overlooked albums, but features contributions from Neil Young, Brian Setzer, Bob Dylan, Flea, and R.E.M.
I’m going to stand by 1987 as the greatest year for music in the 1980s. 1984 produced some amazing albums (Purple Rain, Ride the Lightning, Born in the USA, Let It Be) that are all bonafide classics, but all in all, I feel 1984 was kind of top-heavy in the album department. 1984 produced many, many, many one-hit wonder singles, though. So, I would consider arguments for 1984. The other year that I feel stands out is 1986. 1986 was an monster year for metal with Master of Puppets, Reign in Blood, Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying, and Somewhere In Time. There were also the classic albums, Graceland, Licensed to Ill, Raising Hell, The Queen Is Dead, and Lifes Rich Pageant. All in all, 1987 was a year that represented almost nearly every important artist of the 1980s, and produced from top to bottom the strongest compilation of album releases of the decade.
This Apple Music Playlist is more complete, WordPress just won’t allow it to be embedded. Click the link below instead…
Spotify is missing some of the songs.