Decades
A quarterly report that looks back
on music and film from 10, 20, 30 years ago

Top 50 Albums of 1987

on July 10, 2017, 12:30pm
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Decades is a recurring feature that turns back the clock to critical anniversaries of albums, songs, and films. This month, we dial it back to the top 50 albums of 1987.

Ah, yes. 1987. I remember it well. Actually, not very well at all. Thirty years ago, I would’ve been a little less than three weeks away from turning four years old. So, I can be forgiven if I don’t recall Ronald Reagan urging Soviet Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, Pope John Paul II making his first ever papal tour up the coast of California, or even China opening its inaugural Kentucky Fried Chicken location. Likewise, I wasn’t present at a chain record store (remember those?) on release day to buy any of the albums that appear on this list. Practically everything I know about 1987, including its music, I learned well after that fact – in some cases, as recently as over the past few days.

The other contributors working on this feature are about my age or younger; some weren’t even born when these albums originally dropped, and yet here we are writing about them. Despite Time’s best attempts to bury these records by relentlessly piling days, months, and decades upon them, we still found out about them. We found out about them through our parents or somebody else’s; through older siblings, cousins, and friends; and through classic radio, old-fashioned crate digging, and, in a couple cases, a Spotify recommendation. In some instances, we know these albums simply for the fact that nearly all of us were raised in civilization (relatively speaking) rather than by wolves in the wilds of some jungle. Others, had we not started digging, would’ve eluded us forever. Now that we know what we’d have been missing, that’s a terrifying thought.

But good music will out. And more than ever, our pop-culture artifacts can be excavated via a simple click, search, or suggestion algorithm. It’s all there, like an ancient treasure trove (or village dump) to be rummaged through and picked over. We find these records, and they tell us so much about the exciting, beautiful, and complicated world that floated all around us before we even had acquired the requisite motor skills (let alone permission) to drop a needle into a groove, shove a compact disc into a CD player, or spin the dial on our parents’ car radio. These records (and others we cringed at) act as Exhibits A through Z in that argument that children of all generations must hear: that their elders’ music was better than theirs. Well, as we now know, the future may not always agree, but it will be listening.

So, 1987. We don’t remember you much, but we grew up and listened. These are the albums we wish we’d have been old enough to appreciate back then and are grateful for now.

Sincerely,
The preschoolers, toddlers, babies, fetuses, and mere twinkles in their fathers’ eyes of ‘87

–Matt Melis
Editorial Director

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eurythmics   savage Top 50 Albums of 1987

50. Eurythmics – Savage

The story of the Eurythmics follows waves of expansion and contraction — in the size of the band, in the intensity of their themes, and in the tension and release laced within Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox’s interplay. That vibrating sensation comes through intensely on Savage, as if a high-gauge wire pulled taut almost to the point of breaking. And yet it glistens and gleams in the bleary sunlight so much that you can’t help but stare at the thing, a sort of energetic violence shuddering to break free. Whether in the disco-tinged “Heaven” or the swaggery guitar-driven “I Need a Man”, Lennox’s self-insistent lyrics and the bracing synclavier production keep things poised to snap yet somehow under their control. It might not be the most radio-ready the Eurythmics ever got, but it could well be the most bewitching.

Last Seen: At a 2014 Grammy-sponsored event, Lennox and Stewart teamed up for the first time in years in order to pay tribute to The Beatles with a rendition of “The Fool on the Hill”.

–Lior Phillips

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51uy36bzel Top 50 Albums of 1987

49. Close Lobsters – Foxheads Stalk This Land

Emerging from the same Scottish jangle pop scene that brought the world better remembered bands like Orange Juice and The Pastels, Close Lobsters cut a much grittier figure even if their music was just as melodic and pleasant as their peers (in just under five minutes, “A Prophecy” predicts the career of dreamy modern indie guitar groups like Real Estate and Woods). The key was the lyrical outlook of singer Andrew Burnett. He imbued the songs on his group’s debut LP with a bitter poetry inspired by Dylan and the Beat writers. They revealed a fevered mind, a feverish romanticism, and a heated view of the political landscape of a United Kingdom still under the thumb of Thatcher.

Last Seen: Since 2012, a reunited version of the band has been slowly putting out new music. Their last release, the EP Desires & Signs, came out Shelflife Records in 2016.

–Robert Ham

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r 1928915 1253105328 jpeg Top 50 Albums of 198748. The Melvins – Gluey Porch Treatments

Thirty years ago, Buzz Osborne, Dale Crover, and Matt Lukin released an album that stands as one of the first muddy footprints of grunge and sludge. In the proceeding time, The Melvins have released more than 25 albums and toured almost ceaselessly, continuing to push their brand of oddball intensity. And it all started at Gluey Porch Treatments, an album brimming with low-end rumble, repetitive boom and burn, and King Buzzo’s wild-man howls. The Melvins took Green River’s “Leech” (a song the band featuring future members of Mudhoney and Pearl Jam had reportedly given up on for being too repetitive) and stretched it out even further into “Leeech”, a sign of their embrace of the more caveman elements of what would become grunge. But there’s a wicked intelligence here, too, not just primitive head-banging, a sort of meta awareness of rock deconstructed.

Last Seen: Probably just down the street from you. After continuing to set records for their touring, they’ve just released their first double-album, A Walk with Love and Death.

–Lior Phillips

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4f21635ec272531948350230ae2cd7ad Top 50 Albums of 198747. The Wedding Present – George Best

A long career mapping out the joys and catastrophes of modern love began with this jangly blast of melodic guitar pop. Leading with a loose right wrist that allowed him to kick the tempo of his tunes into overdrive, singer/guitarist David Gedge was able to cut through the muddy production of the Weddoes’ opening salvo with egregiously catchy hooks and lyrics that exposed the hurt and delight we can inflict on one another in the name of love. That they named a collection of songs populated by passive-aggressive manchildren after the bruising ultra-masculine English soccer star was perhaps the slyest joke of this band’s long history.

Last Seen: Touring the world to celebrate the 30th anniversary of George Best and in support of their 2016 album Going, Going…

–Robert Ham

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descendents   all cover Top 50 Albums of 198746. Descendents – All

Not only did the fourth album by this California pop/punk institution solidify a lineup of the band (bassist Karl Alvarez and guitarist Stephen Egerton both joined up the year before) that is still going strong today, but it also introduced the Descendents’ overriding philosophy as expressed by the LP’s title and the sermon-like track “All-O-Gistics”. (“Thou shalt not partake of decaf … thou shalt not have no idea…”). The new blood and new spirit took the group’s music in more intricate directions while still maintaining their puckish energy and childish sense of humor. This would also be the last album the group would make for nearly a decade after vocalist Milo Aukerman left to work in the field of biochemistry.

Last Seen: The band released a new album, Hypercaffium Spazzinate, last year and have been touring regularly ever since.

–Robert Ham

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mi0003515883 Top 50 Albums of 198745. Ice-T – Rhyme Pays

Released a year before N.W.A would drop the seminal Straight Outta Compton, Ice-T’s debut, Rhyme Pays, would introduce the world to 1980s Los Angeles gang life. Personified by the track “6 ‘n the Mornin’”, Ice-T’s vivid imagery and storytelling style would go on to craft classics like his 1988 follow-up, Power. On Rhyme Pays, however, he was more focused on proving himself as a crowd-moving MC, mixing party raps (“Make It Funky”) and outlandish routines (“Sex”, “I Love the Ladies”) with hardcore testimonials about life behind bars (“Pain”) over minimal 808 beats. He also displayed his penchant for classic metal (which would later result in his notorious hardcore band, Body Count) by sampling Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” on the album’s title track. The album was a solid showcase for an obviously promising MC, but only displayed a hint of what was to follow in the years to come.

Last Seen: In New York City, among the dedicated detectives who investigate vicious felonies, members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit.

–Scott T. Sterling

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8609db624bad4b9f8d398ebb8a59abe0 1000x1000x1 1489793544 crop 550x550 Top 50 Albums of 198744. Butthole Surfers – Locust Abortion Technician

Long before “Pepper” made them the most unlikely toppers of the Billboard Modern Rock chart, the Butthole Surfers were a ragtag bunch of weird kids who liked to set their equipment on fire and fuck each other onstage. In retrospect, their unhinged avant-rock feels like a perfectly reasonable reaction to the nihilism pervading the Reagan years, and their 1987 album, Locust Abortion Technician, crystallized the band’s early impulse to turn rock music inside out and expose its guts for all to see. They make fun of Black Sabbath on “Sweat Loaf”, they make fun of punk on “Human Cannonball”, but mostly they make fun of themselves. Locust famously inspired Kurt Cobain to send his own music off the rails, but its influence reaches into the present among contemporary artists like Ariel Pink, Katie Dey, and Mac Demarco.

Last Seen: Guitarist Paul Leary recently told The Quietus that it’s about time for a new Butthole Surfers album, given who’s president and all.

–Sasha Geffen

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sentimental Top 50 Albums of 198743. Warren Zevon – Sentimental Hygiene

Some stars burn bold and bright, and others give off a strange glow. Outlaw songwriter Warren Zevon likely was one of those stars that the rest of the galaxy would never quite know what to make of no matter how long he continued to burn alone out there. Forget that nearly every important songwriter of the ‘70s either collaborated with him or covered him and that his name was once heaped alongside other promising songwriters of the era like Jackson Browne, Neil Young, and Bruce Springsteen. Zevon’s dark, deadpan style would most likely always leave him out on the margins. However, by 1987, Zevon was coming out of a rehab stint, and with the help of his fellow Hindu Love Gods (Bill Berry, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills of R.E.M.), he put out Sentimental Hygiene, his first record in five years. A lot of attention gets paid to the backing band and a who’s who of guest hands (everyone from Bob Dylan and Neil Young to Michael Stipe and Flea), but the real stars here are Zevon’s songcraft, humor, and especially his earnestness. After all he had been through, songs like “Reconsider Me” and “Heartache” reveal someone who’s taken his lumps and knows that there’s nothing else to do but climb back into the ring for more punishment.

Last Seen: Zevon’s career would continue to find peaks and valleys until he passed away from cancer in 2003 at age 56. His death sparked a newfound interest in both his life and work.

–Matt Melis

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 Top 50 Albums of 198742. The Cult – Electric

All those utopias dreamed up by the flower children of the ‘60s had wilted long before The Cult laid their third album, Electric, to tape, but that didn’t keep Ian Astbury from singing songs like “Peace Dog” as though the ghost of Jim Morrison were perched on his shoulder. History, especially music history, runs in circles. Like so many British bands before them, The Cult dug their heels into American roots for this lap, funneling blues scales and guitar solos into their songs, and recruiting Rick Rubin’s production hand to polish them off. Electric might’ve sounded dated even in ’87, but its earthy, retro stylings let Astbury show off his vocals like never before. It was enough to catch the attention of David Bowie, who booked The Cult as an opener on his Glass Spider tour and personally met with Astbury after the show.

Last Seen: The Cult put out their 10th album, Hidden City, in 2016 — they’re still kicking.

–Sasha Geffen

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miracle legion surprise Top 50 Albums of 198741. Miracle Legion – Surprise Surprise Surprise

After turning heads with 1984’s The Backyard EP, including Rough Trade Records and the Dean himself Robert Christgau, Miracle Legion returned three years later with their proper full-length debut, Surprise Surprise Surprise. True to his rural New England roots, singer-songwriter Mark Mulcahy retained all of his underdog qualities, penning one poignant song after the next, his feet planted firmly in all too familiar themes and feelings. Perhaps that’s why songs like “All for the Best”, “Country Boy”, “Truly”, and “Everyone in Heaven” can still ably soundtrack balmy afternoons now as well as they did during the Reagan era. Of course, much of this success also has to do with the way Mulcahy’s voice — ahem, which would go on to inspire Thom Yorke’s signature falsetto, mind you — swims over Ray Neal’s tender guitar work. There’s a natural ease to their collaborations here that makes you believe they’re always saying the same thing, only in different tongues.

Last Seen: The band reunited in 2016 for a North American and European tour, reissuing their final album, 1997’s Portrait of a Damaged Family, and dropping a live album from said tour titled, Annulment. This year, Mulcahy put out his fifth solo album, The Possum in the Driveway.

–Michael Roffman

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51m61qa4bjl Top 50 Albums of 198740. Meat Puppets – Huevos

It’s an oversight to talk rock and roll siblings without at least mentioning the Meat Puppets and Curt and Cris Kirkwood. As DIY legends on punk label SST Records, the Puppets co-pioneered the “Cow Punk” sound and inspired Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, and other bands that would shape the first wave of ‘90s alternative rock. Huevos was actually the second full-length put out by the band in 1987, inspired, as the story goes, by a fan letter from ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons. Far removed from their hardcore days, Huevos mixes tightly wound noodling and easy-breathing melodies with Curt’s unmistakable “Bobcat Goldthwait” delivery. The result sounds something like sunbathing on acid in an Arizona trailer park and waking up to a plateful of eggs. In other words, eat up.

Last Seen: The Kirkwoods would gain notoriety as special guests on Nirvana’s legendary Unplugged session for MTV and find mainstream success in the mid-’90s with the alternative hit “Backwater”. As of 2017, the trio are still hard at it. I guess some things will never change.

–Matt Melis

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dukes of stratosphear psonicpsunspot Top 50 Albums of 198739. The Dukes of Stratosphear – Psonic Psunspot

If you’re not a touring act, that presumably leaves more time on a band’s hands. In the case of XTC, that was enough time to form The Dukes of Stratosphear, an alter ego band that saw Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, and Dave and Ian Gregory adopt new personas and record parodies in the style of ‘60s psychedelic bands. Their first record, 25 O’Clock, was released on April Fool’s Day 1985. The band decided to double down on the fun in 1987, releasing another collection of parodies and pastiches, Psonic Psunspot, that payed playful homage to bands like The Kinks, The Beach Boys, and Paul McCartney. Ironically, songwriters Partridge and Moulding were so clever in capturing the style that The Dukes, at times, outshined the band’s serious output as XTC. Today, both albums are considered official XTC releases.

Last Seen: Since XTC’s breakup in 2006, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding have both indicated that a reunion would be incredibly unlikely. We’re guessing that that sentiment also holds true for their Dukes aliases, Sir John Johns and The Red Curtain.

–Matt Melis

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41m86af3hvl Top 50 Albums of 198738. Love and Rockets – Earth, Sun, Moon

When gloomy goth icons Bauhaus collapsed under the weight of their own self-importance (kidding!), Love and Rockets rose from their ashes. The British trio of Daniel Ash, David J, and Kevin Haskins put out two albums before stumbling on their recipe for success in Earth, Sun, Moon, drafting moody pop songs for the post-punk age. “No New Tale to Tell” was a disenchanted anthem for the burgundy velvet-clad crowd, reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s more didactic songs, while “Mirror People” was a gothic-meets-glam-rock tale built on a seductive melody straight out of the T. Rex songbook. While the album also dips its toe into the world of Lennon-McCartney (see: “Rain Bird” and “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven”), the most successful tracks are the songs that can still be heard filling the dance floors at finer goth clubs around the world.

Last Seen: David J was spotted fronting the Theater Bizarre Orchestra in Detroit last year while Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins were playing Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, and Love and Rockets songs with their band, Poptone. (Peter Murphy was last seen driving a Subaru Forester in the suburbs of Los Angeles).

–Melissa Locker

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41vuatfvbrl Top 50 Albums of 198737. Lyle Lovett – Pontiac

Lyle Lovett has spent the last 30 years releasing acclaimed albums, reinterpreting the American songbook, and lending one of music’s most evocative voices to a sweeping scape of genres. And yet, most people still probably know him as the goofy-looking fella who bagged Julia Roberts. C’est la vie. When the singer-songwriter’s sophomore album, Pontiac, moseyed along in 1987, his suspiciously polished ’86 self-titled debut and its singles were still turning ten-gallons on the country charts. Still, one couldn’t help but notice the growth between sibling records. On Pontiac, Lovett had expanded his repertoire to incorporate a talkin’ blues and more jazz and swing influences, but far more astoundingly, his abilities as a storyteller had developed tenfold seemingly overnight. The daydreaming “If I Had a Boat”, ill-fated “L.A. County”, and the dead-inside title track revealed a gift for empathy, a keen eye for observation, and an enviable economy of both language and melody. Pontiac came a year too late to be Lovett’s large (“not big!”) break, but it clued us in to just how talented a songwriter this cowboy would become.

Last Seen: At age 59, Lovett continues to regularly record and tour as well as take on the occasional television or film role. His last studio album was 2012’s Release Me.

–Matt Melis

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51uje9fuigl Top 50 Albums of 198736. George Harrison – Cloud Nine

Cloud Nine lived up to its name. The 11th full-length by George Harrison marked a highly anticipated return. The five years prior to its release were spent on a musical hiatus, where Harrison marked his days with film production endeavors and charity songs. The time off seemed to convince Harrison that he should raise his standards — not that they were ever low to begin with. Instead of slipping out a record with one or two hits, he released a record that felt complete, front to back. In that, Cloud Nine signaled the return of the Beatle who warmed every corner of your heart. While singles like “Got My Mind Set on You”, “Devil’s Radio”, and “When We Was Fab” made clear use of Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne as a co-producer, the record’s lasting effect comes into play with slower tracks like “Just for Today”, where a beautiful, almost tropical-styled slide guitar reminds listeners why Harrison was the emotional songwriter of the group. Sure, the record sounds of its time — at times for the worse, instrumentally — but Harrison’s voice pulls it back to familiar territory 30 years later, making it a fulfilling listen second only to All Things Must Pass.

Last Seen: Though George Harrison stopped recording as a solo artist after this record, he continued making music with others until, in November of 2001, he died from lung cancer. He was 58 years old. A posthumous album, Brainwashed, came out in 2002 with assistance by his son Dhani and Jeff Lynne.

–Nina Corcoran

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0f29b0c71c83ad551e59aa7404cad015 930x931x1 Top 50 Albums of 198735. Kool Moe Dee – How Ya Like Me Now

How Ya Like Me Now saw The Treacherous Three member peel off to release his best-selling album to date. Kool Moe Dee has an unmistakable cadence, one that accents each song like he’s leaning in to spit every other word, and on this record he solidifies that delivery. Depending on what year listeners first heard the record, the “familiar single” is either its title track or “Wild Wild West” — which, yes, Will Smith named his 1999 hit “Wild Wild West” after and convinced Kool Moe Dee to re-perform his original chorus on it. What gets the rest of the record to hold your attention, even 30 years later, is the structure of the instrumentals, particularly that infectious use of New York dance pop — which his collaborator, Teddy Riley, went on to name “new jack swing.” But for others, the joy of the record comes back to the beef, where Kool Moe Dee’s long-running feud with LL Cool J reached new diss levels by including J’s iconic red Kangol hat pinned beneath the front wheel of the Jeep on the album art.

Last Seen: These days, Kool Moe Dee prefers film studios to music studios. He’s done several cameos on singles with Nas, Ice-T, and even Macklemore (hear him briefly on “Downtown”), but his acting in Gang Related beside Tupac and Britney Spears’ classic Crossroads are arguably more entertaining.

–Nina Corcoran

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r 3494184 1332638085 jpeg Top 50 Albums of 198734. Terence Trent D’Arby – Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby

The first album from this American-born R&B/soul sensation took off like a rocket upon its release in the U.K. in June of 1987, fueled by D’Arby’s soft features, undeniable croon, and enough ego to declare his album to be the best thing to come along since Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. While it wasn’t quite that groundbreaking, it did leave a big enough dent that we’re still marveling at it three decades later. Like his contemporaries Michael Jackson and Prince, D’Arby had clearly absorbed the previous 20 years of black music, letting it flow through songs that allowed him to growl, croon, plead, and scream as the spirit moved him. And it moved audiences here in the US to land lead single “Wishing Well” at the top of the Billboard charts and net this rare talent a richly deserved Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

Last Seen: After changing his name to Sananda Maitreya, he has been releasing eclectic digital-only collections of music, including last year’s three-volume epic, Prometheus & Pandora.

–Robert Ham

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mi0002499541 Top 50 Albums of 198733. John Hiatt – Bring the Family

After 15 years of shifting styles and toiling away in the music industry – a period of time that had seen his songs covered by legends and turned into hits by contemporaries – John Hiatt finally received more than critical pats on the back with 1987’s Bring the Family. Freshly sober but without a label, Hiatt entered the studio with no less than legends Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe, and Jim Keltner as a backing band and squeezed out 10 tracks on a shoestring budget that found the songwriter sounding truly at home on an album for the first time ever. Hiatt’s smart-ass humor and knack for tenderness remained, but he now aimed those faculties at confronting past demons, owning up to his shortcomings, and finding the irony and joy in his new family life. The humor (“Memphis in the Meantime”), earnestness (“Have a Little Faith in Me”), and gratefulness (“Thank You Girl”) heard on Bring the Family are the sounds of a fine artist finally finding the medium needed to create his masterpiece.

Last Seen: At age 64, Hiatt continues to tour and record regularly, having crafted his own signature mix of blues rock and country garage styles. His last record was 2014’s Terms of My Surrender.

–Matt Melis

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51gvsne2vgl Top 50 Albums of 198732. INXS – Kick

Production was king in the ’80s, and if you could sound larger than life, well, all the better for you. Although this led to a pile of super slick records — especially for those climbing the ranks in the mainstream rock revue — this practice traditionally embellished every artist’s finest features. Australian new wave export INXS were no strangers to this power, and it was Roxy Music mastermind Chris Thomas who began elevating their talents with 1985’s Listen Like Thieves, nabbing them their first US top five hit in “What You Need”. For Kick, however, Thomas sent them into overdrive, and you can hear it in every track on the album. Each song excels from the same vivid spirit that made “What You Need” such a bona fide hit, only now the songwriting was sharper and fully realized. In the end, the album became a sexy portrait of genuine pop wizardry, both from the front lines to behind the boards. You can hear it in the layered bliss of “New Sensation” or the steamy passion of “Never Tear Us Apart”, tracks that prove there was truth to the exaggerated excess of the ’80s. Decades later, we’re still snorting it up.

Last Seen: Well, ever since they embarrassed themselves with a reality television contestant looking to replace the late Michael Hutchence, they’ve been agreeably relegated to a lame nostalgia act. But hey, the sales keep coming.

–Michael Roffman

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r 461532 1427910040 7080 jpeg Top 50 Albums of 198731. Sting – …Nothing Like the Sun

Obviously emboldened by the runaway success of his post-Police 1985 solo debut, Dream of the Blue Turtles, Sting doubled-down, both literally and figuratively. After proving he could score hit records and sell out concert tours with a lethal jazz band (including Branford Masalis), he returned in 1987 with a two-record set, …Nothing Like the Sun. He invited a cavalcade of high-profile guests, Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler among them, to help craft this expansive set of smooth, worldly pop. Maudlin ballads, jaunty reggae-lite rhythms, jazzy arrangements, plenty of philosophical musings — the album’s lone attempt at a mainstream hit, “We’ll Be Together”, was a smash, climbing to No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. With quietly stormy second single “Be Still My Beating Heart” making its way to No. 15, Sting had proven himself as a durable solo artist, capable of making statements and hits with relative ease.

Last Seen: Luxuriating on a private villa in Tuscany

–Scott T. Sterling

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51wlbm2f8rl Top 50 Albums of 198730. The Housemartins – The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death

There’s no one like The Housemartins to get you head-bobbing to Thatcher-era political invective. Whether they’re reminding listeners that Jesus doesn’t love farmers (thank god for farmersonly.com, right?) or throwing ebullient vitriol at the Royal Family in the title track, the band made razor-sharp political commentary downright gleeful. Their insightful lyrics may be a bit mystifying for modern listeners (lines like “How come you wear Rupert Check when you think you’re so hard?” cannot be easily decoded via Google), but their jaunty melodies feel as exuberantly buoyant as ever in songs like “Five Get Over Excited”. Of course, “Bow Down” remains the best soundtrack for anyone heading to their first day at a corporate job. The whole album clocks in at under 40 minutes, so get on board with The Housemartins or get out of the way.

Last Seen: The band put out two albums, this being their second, before Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim) had to leave politics for pop music and Paul Heaton and Dave Hemingway went on to wax lyrical in the Beautiful South.

–Melissa Locker

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come on pilgrim Top 50 Albums of 198729. Pixies – Come On Pilgrim

Pixies got plenty of mileage out of “The Purple Tape”. Eight of the demos received minor face lifts before being unleashed on the world as the band’s debut, Come on Pilgrim. Well, on part of the world. While Pilgrim scaled the UK indie charts, it failed to get distribution in America until nearly a year later when Rough Trade bundled it with Surfer Rosa. Those who could actually snag a copy got a good mouthful — if not a full course — of what makes Pixies so unique: roughed-up melodies, Black Francis’ lyrical idiosyncrasies (¿Qué?), Deal’s unpredictable harmonies, and let’s face it — a near total disregard for sane song structure. Thirty years later, I’m still trying to figure out how the band crammed about seven songs’ worth of ideas into two-minute tracks like “The Holiday Song” and “Levitate Me”. Come on, pilgrim. You know you love it.

Last Seen: Pixies reunited as a touring act in 2004, appearing at festivals and selling out venues around the world. They’ve also put out two critically panned LPs in recent years. Neither release featured Deal, who left the group in 2013 to focus on The Breeders.

–Matt Melis

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solitude standing Top 50 Albums of 198728. Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing

Solitude Standing wasn’t Suzanne Vega’s first album, but it was clearly the one that she’d been wanting to make for years. Two years after her self-titled debut, the insert packaged in Solitude lists years next to each song — showing that some of them had been written as far back as 1978. The resulting songs benefit from the long gestation, each its own clearly defined piece evolved to a distinct form, and yet they all sit together like Polaroids in a favorite album. Her ability to tell a story is remarkable, dotted with references to poetry and Greek myth and full of well-drawn characters. And, of course, it features the ear-worm “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner” — the song so good it needed to be included twice.

Last Seen: Vega remains on her storytelling kick, just last year releasing Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers, inspired by the titular legendary short story author.

–Lior Phillips

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81rrzsani4l  sy355  Top 50 Albums of 198727. Tom Waits – Franks Wild Years

Franks Wild Years is often considered to be the final installment of Tom Waits’ urban trilogy, an experimental trio of venerated, screwball-percussion-heavy records that also includes the classics Swordfishtrombones (1983) and Rain Dogs (1985). The album itself is actually an adaptation of a stage show of the same name written by Waits and wife Kathleen Brennan and based on Waits’ alter ego Frank O’Brien, first introduced in the song “Frank’s Wild Years” on Swordfishtrombones. Far more successful than other studio album adaptations of their stage works, Franks Wild Years finds Waits and cohorts as notable as David Hidalgo, Marc Ribot, and Larry Taylor leading listeners off on a seamy adventure nearly every bit as enthralling as its predecessors. More than anything, it’s a last chance (apart from concert film Big Time) to hear this incarnation of Waits the rain dog before he shifted gears to the stripped-down blues rock of 1992’s Bone Machine.

Last Seen: At age 67, Waits still records and tours, though opportunities to hear new music or see him perform have dried up in recent years. An actor of some note, Waits is also slated to appear with Casey Affleck, Elisabeth Moss, and Robert Redford in David Lowery’s upcoming drama Old Man and the Gun.

–Matt Melis

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big black   songs about fucking Top 50 Albums of 198726. Big Black – Songs About Fucking

It’s easy to read Steve Albini’s early work with Big Black as just another avenue for him to push buttons. A born curmudgeon, the famed sound engineer sang about violence and (obviously) sex with a relish that seemed, at the time, as uncouth as his frequent criticisms of the Chicago music scene. But Songs About Fucking digs deeper than its still-censored title suggests. Songs like “Tiny, King of the Jews” and “Kitty Empire” explore the power people wield over each other and the ease with which they abuse it. The way power and its abuse manifest in the individual is a topic punk is still wrestling with, but few bands have tackled the problem with as many teeth bared as Big Black.

Last Seen: Big Black broke up before Songs About Fucking came out, but Albini is still hanging out in Chicago, complaining about the scene.

–Sasha Geffen

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51dwkehkc7l Top 50 Albums of 198725. John Cougar Mellencamp – The Lonesome Jubilee

Anyone who has wondered why charting country in the 2010s sounds more like ’80s roots-rock than anything else need not look further than John Mellencamp’s lone masterpiece, The Lonesome Jubilee. But even in that context, why hasn’t anyone thought to ape the minor-key, “Gimme Shelter”-like desperation of “We Are the People” or the somehow bluesy accordion interjections in “Empty Hands”?

Last Seen: This year’s Sad Clowns and Hillbillies marks the man’s 23rd album(!) and is almost half comprised of duets with country legend Carlene Carter.

–Dan Weiss

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mi0000045296 Top 50 Albums of 198724. 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe

10,000 ManiacsIn My Tribe began the band’s career as a bankable, major label artist. Featuring their first charting single, the breezy “Like the Weather”, In My Tribe showcased the star power and dynamic songwriting of Natalie Merchant and writing partner Rob Buck. On In My Tribe, Merchant mined the darkness of individual American lives for material. Though not as explicitly political as the band’s future work, Merchant addresses child abuse on the lead track and second single, “What’s The Matter Here?”, later confronting alcoholism on “Don’t Talk” and illiteracy on “Cherry Tree”. Merchant’s throaty, off-kilter vocals interweave with the band’s bright guitar progressions, the mixture of darkness and light that became the hallmark of 10,000 Maniacs’ oeuvre. Merchant’s genius always lay in finding unity in the blight of human lives, putting us all in the same tribe in the end.

Last Seen: Merchant most recently appeared at an anti-Trump protest in New York to sing her song “Motherland” and a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”.

–Geoff Nelson

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mi0003591281 Top 50 Albums of 198723. Husker Du – Warehouse: Songs and Stories

While 1987 captured many soon-to-be indie rock luminaries on their creative ascent, Hüsker Dü’s near-decade-long run was nearing its bitter end. But despite the toll that drugs, alcohol, and personal infighting had taken on the band, Warehouse: Songs and Stories was anything but a meek retreat. The Hüskers always thrived on the creative tension between songwriters Bob Mould and Grant Hart, and both threw everything they had left at the hefty 20-song collection. The record’s first half literally finds the two going back and forth from track to track, landing hooks and jabs like heavyweight prizefighters. While it lacks the piercing volume and sonic muscle of their SST output, Warehouse is the record that crystalized the band’s alternative rock vision. The production is cleaner, and Mould and Hart for the first time leaned more on their pop ears than their love of punk and hardcore. From Mould’s “Could You Be the One”, “These Important Years”, and “Friend You’ve Got to Fall” to equally solid Hart contributions like “Back from Somewhere” and “She Floated Away”, Warehouse is a bittersweet farewell, a rare instance of a band coming together musically even as it was falling apart.

Last Seen: The world has been clamoring for a Hüsker Dü reunion since the band’s 1988 split. But almost 30 years later, a Hüskers reunion still seems as unlikely to happen as any. A brief Mould/Hart collaboration at a benefit for late Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller in 2004 got people’s hopes up, but the trio seems perfectly happy having long since gone their separate ways. Bassist Greg Norton gave up music to become a chef and restaurateur while Mould and Hart have both gone on to have solo success.

–Ryan Bray

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petshopboysactually Top 50 Albums of 198722. Pet Shop Boys – Actually

Pet Shop Boys perfected their self-aware take on dance pop quickly, turning out a magnetic sophomore record that somehow managed to mix political statement with grooves so dope that you can completely shut your brain off to dance. Debut Please had established the duo’s ability to push a good beat, but Actually builds more arresting platforms for Neil Tenant’s dead-eyed details. Dusty Springfield duet “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” stands as a particular highlight, the percussion more lush, the synths soaring higher. The rise of the yuppie had done a serious number on London, and Pet Shop Boys deadpan their analysis in a way that looks the rise of Margaret Thatcher in the eye while also keeping the dance floor moving.

Last Seen: The Boys released their 13th album, Super, in 2016, followed by gigs as groovy as their tours decades ago.

–Lior Phillips

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51x8j6zj4dl Top 50 Albums of 198721. Midnight Oil – Diesel and Dust

Midnight Oil broke into the mainstream US music scene in a big way with Diesel and Dust, their sixth album. Buoyed by the Billboard Top 20 hit “Beds Are Burning” — a brash statement about giving Australian lands back to their native, rightful owners — the record sold platinum and established the Australian legends as formidable political thinkers. Of course, it helps that Midnight Oil’s musicianship also rose to the occasion on Diesel and Dust. That’s due in part to producer Warne Livesey, who helped steer a streamlined, more accessible sound, and Midnight Oil’s penchant for effortless diversity. Highlights include the racing, piano-driven “Dreamworld”; the R.E.M.-ish jangle-rock of “Warakurna”, and the ferocious, Western-tinged “Bullroarer”.

Last Seen: Midnight Oil is in the midst of its first world tour in 15 years, which has included a sold-out US leg.

–Annie Zaleski

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depeche mode   music for the masses Top 50 Albums of 198720. Depeche Mode – Music for the Masses

Standing between Black Celebration and Violator, Music for the Masses can sometimes get overlooked in Depeche Mode’s legendary catalog. Which, considering it’s certified Platinum, says something massive for the band’s depth of hooks. That’s even more confounding, considering the album’s ironic title — this is certainly not a record that on paper you would expect to wind up on the radio. But Andy Fletcher, Dave Gahan, and Martin Gore have a certain sense of melancholy beauty that can’t be ignored, an undeniably magnetic black that transcends traditional pop expectations. Singles like “Never Let Me Down Again” and “Strangelove” rang true for the legions of teens with their own sadness and pain then, and it continues today.

Last Seen: Depeche Mode returned after a four-year absence in 2017 to deliver Spirit, a massive and politically charged album defined by its time.

–Lior Phillips

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def leppard   hysteria vinyl version Top 50 Albums of 198719. Def Leppard – Hysteria

Def Leppard had very good reasons for the four-year delay between 1983’s Pyromania and Hysteria. Among other things, Rick Allen was re-learning how to drum again after losing his left arm in a car accident, and the U.K. band’s penchant for sonic perfection slowed down the proceedings. The wait was entirely worth it, however: Hysteria is one of the best (and best-sounding) rock records of the ’80s, courtesy of gigantic hooks and pop-metal riffs, as well as panoramic harmonies, radio-calibrated arrangements and spacious dynamic. The record’s singles are unstoppable—whether skewing toward longing power ballads (“Love Bites”), midtempo glides (“Animal”) or raucous fist-pumps (“Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Rocket,” “Armageddon It”)—although even the album’s album tracks (e.g., the snarling, strident “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”) are ace. Hysteria is the rare record that’s a triumph of ambition and execution.

Last Seen: Def Leppard recently wrapped up an extensive tour with Tesla and Poison, and has a deluxe Hysteria reissue slated for release on August 4.

–Annie Zaleski

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tunneloflove1987 Top 50 Albums of 198718. Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love

From Darkness On the Edge of Town onward, Bruce Springsteen had moved from writing hyperbolic, almost mythological songs about youth to more sobering music about real-life adults. But on The River, Born In the U.S.A., and even Nebraska, he was usually still writing about other people — many of them fictional. But on Tunnel of Love, his marriage to actress Julianne Phillips — and its eventual dissolution — forced him to look inward instead of outward. While many fans of the E Street sound’s fatness decried the lower volume, the moody synths and more introspective lyrics came from a truer place than the thunder of Max Weinberg’s drums and the bluster of Clarence Clemons’ sax. It was also easy to forget that several of the tracks, from “Tougher Than the Rest” to the hesitant title track, were still love songs; they were just more complicated love songs. The same goes for the haunted closer, “Valentine’s Day”. As the narrator (Springsteen himself, this time) questions his life choices over a night drive, pondering what went wrong in his relationship, we’re reminded that breakup songs are love songs, too. They’re the most complicated love songs of all.

Last Seen: You know, setting up residencies, playing record-long shows, and promising more and more new music. The Boss never quits.

–Dan Caffrey

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smiths   strangeways here we come Top 50 Albums of 198717. The Smiths – Strangeways, Here We Come

If the world was going to lose The Smiths, at least Johnny Marr and Morrissey had their relationship go out on a bang. The sublime Strangeways, Here We Come may not get the attention of the three previous Smiths albums, but it could well be their richest record. The production is subtly lush, brimming with impressive shades and finishing touches, though never overbearing or garish. Classics like “Girlfriend in a Coma” and “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before” benefit from the tension informing the recordings (it wouldn’t be long before Morrissey and co. needed to keep away from each other), as well as the dedication to expanding and enhancing their style while they still could.

Last Seen: There have been reunion rumors since this album came out, but it seems unlikely. Instead, the individual members have each continued to create, courting controversy along the way.

–Lior Phillips

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61a12cm9z6l Top 50 Albums of 198716. Dinosaur Jr. – Living All Over Me

Three years after they first stomped across the ’80s indie rock scene, Dinosaur Jr. returned in 1987 sounding scuzzy, torn, and vicious. With You’re Living All Over Me, the Amherst rockers truly came into their own, honing in their ear-popping sound and finding a niche for themselves that would extend far, far beyond their New England homes. From the opening salvo of Kansas twister “Little Fury Things” to the ADHD closing cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”, the entire record feels less like a stunning sophomore triumph and more like a fresh beginning of mesmerizing juxtapositions. It’s frantic, but melodic. It’s heavy, but soft. It’s complicated, but easy. For 38 minutes, guitarist J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph punch and hug and kick and kiss, creating a multi-layered collage of rock and roll that finds revelations in the chaos. It’s no wonder Mascis opted to release it on Greg Ginn’s tumultuous hardcore label, SST, and it’s also no wonder the album went on to influence the likes of Kevin Shields, who would capitalize on that beautiful chaos with My Bloody Valentine.

Last Seen: They reunited in 2005 and have since experienced an unbelievable creative resurgence, one that’s resulted in stellar late era albums like 2007’s Beyond and 2009’s Farm. In 2016, they released their eleventh studio album, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, to admirable reviews.

–Michael Roffman

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51me7p4sh9l Top 50 Albums of 198715. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands

It’s been more than 30 years since brothers Jim and William Reid launched their self-anointed revolution from the small Scottish factory town of East Kilbride. Perhaps the strangest part of that quest has been the siblings’ willingness to quickly relinquish the territory they have been able to conquer and claim for The Jesus and Mary Chain. Case in point, after blowing minds with their seminal 1985 debut, Psychocandy, which took sweet pop melodies and strangled them with barbed wire before drowning them in abandoned swimming pools of feedback, the band returned two years later with Darklands, a collection of gloomy, glowing pop unrolling across an infinite expanse. And, as we know, that worked, too. Thirty years later, this about-face sounds as sublime as ever, and the weather and month are always perfect for “Happy When It Rains” and “April Skies”.

Last Seen: It’s been a tumultuous trek for the Reid brothers, but recent years have seen the Mary Chain touring regularly and even recording, with their first album in 19 years, Damage and Joy , released earlier in 2017.

–Matt Melis

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criminal minded Top 50 Albums of 198714. Boogie Down Productions – Criminal Minded

Not only did Criminal Minded gift us with our first taste of firebrand KRS-One’s bullhorn of a delivery but it’s also the only taste the world got to receive of DJ Scott LaRock’s impeccable and far-ranging production (interjecting Billy Joel into “The Bridge Is Over!”) before the tragic shooting that ended his life (even though KRS would go on to continue giving him production credits on Boogie Down Productions releases). KRS himself established an uncompromising identity in the territorialism of early signatures like “South Bronx” that only LaRock could’ve paired with AC/DC’s “Back in Black” as he did here on “Dope Beat”.

Last Seen: KRS-One released the strident, sparse Now Hear This in 2015, which included “American Flag”, a song that somehow took him ’til 2015 to write.

–Dan Weiss

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pleased to meet me Top 50 Albums of 198713. The Replacements – Pleased to Meet Me

If you were to chart The Replacements on a graph of their artistic prowess versus their commercial sense, Pleased to Meet Me would be the album that managed to satisfy both of those elements the most. There’s still elements of the loose, messy punks of before (Paul Westerberg’s yelping vocals on “I Don’t Know”; the barroom swagger of “Shooting Dirty Pool”), but also the most refined music of their career to that point (the way the horns tie a ribbon on their most radio-ready song ever, “Can’t Hardly Wait”; the journey into unmitigated prettiness on “Skyway”). Many call the record the last great Replacements album, but there’s also an element that felt like a culmination of their previous work. Maybe it was the departure of Bob Stinson, or maybe it was just letting the major label resources work their magic without falling into typical crossover pitfalls. Either way, for a moment, The Replacements stuck true to their roots and achieved their potential. And it sounded great.

Last Seen: The Replacements broke up in 1991 and got back together for live dates starting in 2012. It was a move that seemed to deeply bum out lead Paul Westerberg, even if it did prove to be awesome for fans.

–Philip Cosores

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51bqwibqm4l  sy355  Top 50 Albums of 198712. George Michael – Faith

Want to talk about a statement? Few sound better than Faith. After spending half a decade with Wham! and listening to critics harp about how they were nothing more than pop artifice, George Michael set off to create what would become his Grammy-winning and diamond-certified debut solo album. Upon its release, the world would spend the next two years living his stylish brand of pop, an ultra progressive sound that seemingly belonged nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Yet the album was everywhere and its crossover appeal was and still is remarkable — it should be noted that Faith was the first album by a Caucasian artist to reach No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart — and that inclusive nature not only helped spark the influence of his sound but Michael as an auteur with a capital A. Which is exactly what he proved with Faith, having written, recorded, and produced the damn thing all by himself. Then again, anyone with half a brain should have already expected something substantial from the guy given that he had previously owned 1985 with his sultry debut single, “Careless Whisper”. But, you know, hindsight’s 20/20.

Last Seen: George Michael passed away this past Christmas.

–Michael Roffman

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51tiklahj4l Top 50 Albums of 198711. Public Enemy – Yo! Bum Rush the Show

Let’s be clear from the get-go: Public Enemy’s 1987 debut, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, changed the hip-hop game. The album cover remains jarring nearly 30 years later: the iconic group logo of a black man in crosshairs, men wearing paramilitary gear in a dimly lit bunker, and several deadly serious glares. Has an album cover ever better invoked the idea that some serious shit is about to go down? Drop the needle and out of this corner comes Chuck D’s booming right hooks as rubber-legged hypeman Flavor Flav bobs and weaves around him while delivering jabs atop The Bomb Squad’s relentless knockout counts. Gone is the pull-myself-up braggadocio of most ’80s hip-hop, replaced instead by the anger, frustrations, and concerns of a community voiced by its own members. What gets filed as a hip-hop record acts more like a neighborhood assembly you can bust a move to.

Last Seen: PE remains in “full effect,” boyeeee … having just celebrated their 30th anniversary as a hip-hop group and dropping a rejuvenated 14th studio album, Nothing Is Quick in the Desert, free via Bandcamp.

–Matt Melis

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spacemen 3 perfect prescription 1494012695 Top 50 Albums of 198710. Spacemen 3 – The Perfect Prescription

The various strains of influence that Spacemen 3 had used to create their hybrid psychedelic sound came into its fullest flower on their second LP. Jason Pierce’s love of gospel and early blues permeates songs like “Walkin’ with Jesus” and the easy ramble of “Come Down Easy”, while throughout bandmate Sonic Boom (née Pete Kember) splattered the material with his obsessions with drones, Suicide-style rhythms, and zonked lyrical visions. Capping off this masterpiece were beautiful homages to post-punk godfather Lou Reed (“Ode to Street Hassle”) and a cover of “Transparent Radiation”, originally recorded by Texas experimentalists The Red Krayola. If you don’t see the best kind of visions while listening to this album, you might already be an acid casualty.

Last Seen: Jason Pierce has been leading his band Spiritualized into outer space, rehab clinics, and emergency rooms since 1990. Former partner Sonic Boom has been performing and recording under various guises (Spectrum, Experimental Audio Research) while working in the studio with the likes of Panda Bear and MGMT.

–Robert Ham

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9329 the lion and the cobra Top 50 Albums of 198709. Sinéad O’Connor – The Lion and the Cobra

When a debut album made waves in the late ‘80s, they really made waves. Sinéad O’Connor’s The Lion and the Cobra sold hundreds of thousands of copies, a feat for any artist today, let alone a relative unknown like she was at the time. At just 20 years old, O’Connor fused everything from art pop to mainstream rap in a completely raw, open-hearted expression of self. The vibrant record leaves an ache and hum at its core, O’Connor’s enigmatic voice dancing around it like a burning fire. The MC Lyte-featuring “I Want Your Hands (On Me)” and hyper-charged “Mandinka” are star turns, but so are the quieter, emptier moments, O’Connor showcasing the power that she’d perfect a few years later on I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.

Last Seen: Sadly, rather than music, O’Connor has recently been noted more for controversies, her mental health, and open letters.

–Lior Phillips

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897651a6c75a41c44b962edc7a2400a4 997x1000x1 Top 50 Albums of 198708. Sonic Youth – Sister

Alternative rock’s longest winning streak began with 1986’s EVOL, before “alternative rock” was even a coined phrase, but it was the follow-up tour de force, Sister, that sweetened the deal. Sonic Youth’s detuned abrasions and treated-instrument explosions had been steadily growing in complexity and subtlety as far back as 1985’s seething “Death Valley ’69”, but in 1987, they were able to cut that bracing energy (pumped as ever on “(I Got A) Catholic Block” and “Hot Wire My Heart”) with downright prettiness on the triumphant riff spirals of “Tuff Gnarl” and the Neil Young-esque elegiac sadness of the classic opener “Schizophrenia”. This is where the foursome cracked a code for limitless microtonal bliss that they never exhausted until they disbanded.

Last Seen: Thurston Moore put out the sprawling, jammy Rock N Roll Consciousness this spring, and Lee Ranaldo’s prepping to release his third proper solo album, Electric Trim, in September.

–Dan Weiss

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51ybgqxe1yl Top 50 Albums of 198707. The Cure – Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

You could arguably say that The Cure’s imperial phase spanned the entirety of the ’80s— although from a US commercial standpoint, the platinum-selling, sprawling Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was the start of the UK band’s most successful era. Not only did the album spawn the top 40 hit “Just Like Heaven”, but it featured The Cure’s most colorful, pop-oriented work to date: the gallant, horn-driven strut “Why Can’t I Be You?”, wriggling funk jam “Hot Hot Hot!!!”, and the sax-burnished, effervescent “Hey You!!!” Yet Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is also notable for how it distills and amplifies The Cure’s strengths — disorienting psychedelia (“The Kiss”, “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep”), manicured ballads (“Catch”), and humming gothic rock (“How Beautiful You Are”) –with bold, dramatic poise.

Last Seen: In 2016, The Cure celebrated 40 years together by embarking on a well-received, career-spanning world tour.

–Annie Zaleski

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rakimpif Top 50 Albums of 198706. Eric B. & Rakim – Paid in Full

As timely as they come, the debut album from Eric B. & Rakim was unleashed to widespread critical acclaim 30 years ago this past week. Recorded in Marley Marl’s home studio and NYC’s Power Play Studios across ’86-87, it became an instant classic, propelling the heady evolution of early hip-hop to a new echelon of sophistication and straight-up skill. Raising the bar in terms of both sample-heavy production and lyricism (Rakim’s free-rhythm style skilfully sidestepped bar lines and was likened to legendary pianist Thelonious Monk), the likes of “I Know You Got Soul” and the album’s timeless title track proved slick and perfectly righteous exhibitions in wordplay, scratching, and first-rate bombastic musicality.

Last Seen: On Friday July 7th, 2017, a freshly reunited Eric B. & Rakim performed together on stage for the first time in over 20 years at Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater. The duo are also expected to remaster their catalog and film some new music videos to accompany the project.

–Brian Coney

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rem document Top 50 Albums of 198705. R.E.M. – Document

Document launched R.E.M. 2.0. In working with producer Scott Litt, who would go on to work on their next five albums through New Adventures in Hi-Fi, the band leaped from successful college radio crossover to arena-ready. Opener “Finest Worksong” declares the shift like a trumpet, soaring for the rafters and establishing the band as true rock stars. “The One I Love”, “Strange”, and “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” sounded like nothing R.E.M. had done previously, but still maintained the tunefulness that they established from their earliest indie days in Athens. R.E.M. never felt like they were playing catch-up with the ’80s, delightfully living in their own jangly bubble. But on Document, for a second, it felt like the decade and the band were finally in the same place.

Last Seen: R.E.M. broke up in 2011, but between that time offered up a series of all-time great albums. Michael Stipe now has a beard.

–Philip Cosores

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appetite for destruction Top 50 Albums of 198704. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction

Of all the unrepentant assholes in rock and roll, Axl Rose stands unparalleled. Few rock gods have tried as aggressively to squander away their goodwill and adoration as he, but as last year’s epic reunion tour proved, that’s impossible because of three words. Appetite for Destruction is not just a perfect album of 12 legacy-defining hits with no filler. It’s a deranged masterpiece that changed the course of history. How many kids picked up a guitar for the first time to learn the “Sweet Child O’ Mine” intro or sang in front of a mirror trying to emulate Axl over the last 30 years? Embodying the gaudy excess of the decade it arrived at the tail end of, Appetite for Destruction was the last time rock and roll would be that big, both commercially and culturally. For all the infighting and disappointments that followed for the band, nothing could erase the raw power of their first album, a landmark that will be remembered for decades to come.

Last Seen: Last year’s Not in This Lifetime Tour, which brought Axl, Slash, and Duff together for the first time in 20 years, has been extended through the end of 2017, so Guns N’ Roses aren’t going away quite yet.

–David Sackllah

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sign the times 50743f972951d Top 50 Albums of 198703. Prince – Sign o’ the Times

There’s a school of thought that Prince put out too many great albums for any one of them to become completely iconic. However, quantity can also be seen as the Purple One’s biggest strength, coming to its emblematic fruition in the ecstatic, massive double album Sign O’ the Times. Prince’s first album without the Revolution in half a decade does not hold back in any regard, a measure of maximalism at all turns. He’s a singer with an indisputable and communicative voice, able to funnel hope and hurt with equal certainty. His sexy, thick, buttery vocals ooze across not one, but two discs, an uncontrollable urge to melt into every corner of the world. From snappy electronics to psychedelic pop, sexed-up funk to tender ballad, gospel, rock, and everything in between, Prince offers a glimpse into a secret world, a massive sound that couldn’t exist anywhere but through a dimensional portal emanating from his third eye.

There are traditional touch points, familiar instruments, and yet somehow they fit together in a way that mystify, and leave you craving a return. That’s true even if things aren’t always bright and beautiful. Sign O’ the Times features some of Prince’s most intensely visual and visceral lyrics, whether talking love and sex (“Adore” and “It”), decaying affairs (“Strange Relationship”), AIDS and violence (“Sign O’ the Times”), and everything else.

Through this album and in his own life, Prince was able to exist beyond dichotomies, every characteristic lived alongside its opposite — and he masterfully squeezes both halves out and shares them with the world, the one not able to live fully without the other. The album is intimate and public, minimal and grand, character studies and diary entries, pop songs and outer space exploration. Such observations give this album the feeling of carefully edited old notes scribbled on napkins  — too refined and symbolic to be a first draft, but undeniably true to his journey. In the waning years of the flamboyant ‘80s and the accompanying smoldering moral, political, and economic battlefields, Prince saw the sweetness and cheesiness and rawness and terror of it all, and refused to edit any of it out. Luckily, he was able to do so without a single second of the two discs sounding anything but mesmerizing.

Last Seen: The Purple One left us in April 2016.

–Lior Phillips

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joshua tree Top 50 Albums of 198702. U2 – The Joshua Tree

Forget about the scope of this year’s 30th anniversary stadium tour that few albums could match in audience enthusiasm or longevity. Forget about what The Joshua Tree did for U2’s career, becoming their all-time best-selling record, vaulting them from a successful band to the biggest band in the world, and cementing their place in stadiums for decades to come. Forget about what the album meant for their identity as serious musicians, concerned with activism and big statements, so much so that they’d spend the next decade trying to diversify their image. And forget about the influence, where we’d be hard-pressed to imagine bands like Arcade Fire, Coldplay, or any of the other bands that combine huge emotional stakes with the biggest stages that rock music can afford.

Even beyond all of this, The Joshua Tree remains supremely inspired art. Following a dive into more ambient and inwardly focused music on The Unforgettable Fire, the band set their sights on striking within convention. Using the template of pop and rock music, The Joshua Tree stretched the heights of where these forms could be pushed. It’s a spiritual record, informed by the American West and daring to be as sweeping and beautiful as that environment. 1987 wasn’t a year that was short on exceptional albums. But arguably no other record signified such change as The Joshua Tree. It changed the band, it changed rock and roll, and over time, it has changed the world.

Last Seen: Uh, touring The Joshua Tree. But don’t worry, U2 have done some things in between, including the release of a couple more beloved albums, huge humanitarian efforts, and pissing off iPhone users.

–Philip Cosores

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michael jackson bad Top 50 Albums of 198701. Michael Jackson – Bad

Topping Thriller was never going to be easy. In fact, if it were any artist other than Michael Jackson, it would have been an impossible feat. But, the late King of Pop was something else — a musical Da Vinci, if you will — and, sorry, David Copperfield, but he actually worked with magic. Or maybe it was just luck. After all, Bad is the seventh studio album to Jackson’s name, and the album’s success was unprecedented. Out of the nine singles that were released from the album’s 11 tracks (!), five of them shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, a feat that has only been matched (Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream) and never eclipsed. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the best-selling albums of all time with over 35 million copies sold worldwide.

Dollars and cents aside, Bad captures a bigger, bolder, and far more vital Michael Jackson, who had peeled his eyes away from Vincent Price and windy alleys for far more pressing issues, ranging from racial injustices to world peace. And whereas most artists come off sounding like self-righteous assholes whenever they attempt to tackle the latter, Jackson earned his cape and tights, penning his greatest song in “Man in the Mirror”, a timeless anthem that could bring the most cynical bastard to tears. Those tears don’t last long, though, seeing how Jackson and producer Quincy Jones, marking their final collaboration together, go H.A.M. on their trademark pop, dishing out one essential track after another.

Put it this way: Bad was so unstoppable that Jackson had the luxury of releasing “Smooth Criminal” as the seventh single and over a year after the album’s August release date to boot. Hell, it became so lucrative that he could even ignore a stellar track like “Speed Demon” and toss aside a brilliant collaboration with Stevie Wonder in “Just Good Friends”. Basically, Jackson was ’96 Jordan, an unprecedented myth, standing tall over his past triumphs and yet looking ahead to the future with not the least bit of trepidation. No wonder the two juggernauts would come together a few years later for Jackson’s music video behind “Jam”. It’s like they both knew they had the world spinning on their fingers. They did.

Last Seen: Sadly, Jackson died in June 2009, but his music has never stopped playing. Not hyperbole.

–Michael Roffman

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01. Michael Jackson – Bad
02. U2 – The Joshua Tree
03. Prince – Sign o’ the Times
04. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction
05. R.E.M. – Document
06. Eric B & Rakim – Paid in Full
07. The Cure – Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
08. Sonic Youth – Sister
09. Sinéad O’Connor – The Lion and the Cobra
10. Spacemen 3 – The Perfect Prescription
11. Public Enemy – Yo! Bum Rush the Show
12. George Michael – Faith
13. The Replacements – Pleased to Meet Me
14. Boogie Down Productions – Criminal Minded
15. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands
16. Dinosaur Jr. – Living All Over Me
17. The Smiths – Strangeways, Here We Come
18. Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love
19. Def Leppard – Hysteria
20. Depeche Mode – Music for the Masses
21. Midnight Oil – Diesel and Dust
22. Pet Shop Boys – Actually
23. Husker Du – Warehouse: Songs and Stories
24. 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe
25. John Cougar Mellencamp – The Lonesome Jubilee
26. Big Black – Songs About Fucking
27. Tom Waits – Franks Wild Years
28. Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing
29. Pixies – Come On Pilgrim
30. The Housemartins – The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death
31. Sting – …Nothing Like the Sun
32. INXS – Kick
33. John Hiatt – Bring the Family
34. Terence Trent D’Arby – Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby
35. Kool Moe Dee – How Ya Like Me Now
36. George Harrison – Cloud Nine
37. Lyle Lovett – Pontiac
38. Love and Rockets – Earth, Sun, Moon
39. The Dukes of Stratosphear – Psonic Psunspot
40. Meat Puppets – Huevos 
41. Miracle Legion – Surprise Surprise Surprise
42. The Cult – Electric
43. Warren Zevon – Sentimental Hygiene
44. Butthole Surfers – Locust Abortion Technician
45. Ice-T – Rhyme Pays
46. Descendents – All
47. The Wedding Present – George Best
48. The Melvins – Gluey Porch Treatments
49. Close Lobsters – Foxheads Stalk This Land 
50. Eurythmics – Savage

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