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

Top 25 Songs of 1987

on August 23, 2017, 12:00pm

sign the times 50743f972951d Top 25 Songs of 198710. Prince – “Sign o’ the Times”

Sign o’ the Times

It’s still difficult to imagine a world without Prince. It might be even more difficult to imagine any best-of ‘80s list that doesn’t have the Purple One gracing its rankings. Like Madonna and Michael Jackson, Prince defined the decade musically, setting both styles and bars for others to follow and aspire to. Sign o’ the Times, arguably his best record, saw the artist as ambitious, eclectic, and dynamic as ever. The album’s socially conscious title track creatively combines blues guitar, stacked synth patterns, and simple electronics, creating a more somber tone to the funk as Prince reflects on social ills plaguing communities at the time. It was ahead of its time in ’87, and I’m still not sure we’ve entirely caught up with him 30 years later. –Matt Melis

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r 436642 1382901300 2222 jpeg Top 25 Songs of 198709. Fleetwood Mac – “Everywhere”

Tango in the Night

One listen and that massive wordless wail at the beginning of the hook (“ohhh-oooooohhhhhh”) will be ingrained in your soul. After that, the fact that Christine McVie’s sweet lyrics and Fleetwood Mac’s jaunty, groovy production seal the whole thing is just icing on the cake — and what sweet icing it is. The fourth single off of the band’s fourteenth studio album, Tango in the Night, “Everywhere” is an absolute showcase for McVie, who unfortunately gets overshadowed at times by Stevie Nicks. The highs she hits in the chorus are smooth as silk and deceptively difficult (seriously, check out some of the covers on Youtube) despite how easy she makes the whole thing sound. “I want to be with you everywhere,” might not be the most complicated expression of love, but there are few that hit the perfect sweet spot so quickly. –Lior Phillips

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pleased to meet me Top 25 Songs of 198708. The Replacements – “Can’t Hardly Wait”

Pleased to Meet Me

There’s a certain sweetness peppered throughout “Can’t Hardly Wait” that has made it one of The Replacements’ most beloved and recognizable tracks. The song serves a divergence from the welcomely raucous sound The Mats had previously cultivated, complete with endearing lyrics, a sweeping horn section, as well as an appearance by Big Star’s Alex Chilton on guitar. Though it may sonically be a far cry from the grit and fuzz of their early days, “Can’t Hardly Wait” contains the innate rawness that had always been a hallmark of the band’s work. The song’s popularity resulted in the later release of several early demo versions, two of which appear on the extended edition of their 1985 album, Tim. “Can’t Hardly Wait” embodies all that made the music of The Replacements so special — it harnesses the authenticity of rock ‘n’ roll and adds a pinch of charm. –Lindsay Teske

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r 23662 1348258701 5880 jpeg Top 25 Songs of 198707. New Order – “True Faith”

Substance 1987

Traditionally, compilation albums are a dime a dozen: a collection of greatest hits you’ve already heard a million times with two throwaway B-sides disguised as new singles. That wasn’t the case for New Order’s first nostalgic go-around, Substance 1987. In addition to stringing together their most popular bangers to date, the compilation album also featured two new tracks in “True Faith” and “1963”. While the latter would be relegated to B-side status until 1994, the former quickly became one of their most successful tracks. Then again, New Order have always been a singles band, seeing how their most iconic track, “Blue Monday”, has shuffled from one release to another like a bastard orphan. Still, the idea that “True Faith” was essentially a commercial for Factory Records to sell the old is quite remarkable, especially when you consider how much the song propelled New Order into the future. Even now, it sounds like something from tomorrow. –Michael Roffman

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appetite for destruction Top 25 Songs of 198706. Guns N’ Roses – “Sweet Child o’ Mine”

Appetite for Destruction

For all their sleazy, over-the-top posturing, it’s funny how Guns N’ Roses always sound best as sweethearts. Sure, their more ball-busting anthems like “Welcome to the Jungle” or “Rocket Queen” destroy every time, but what most remember from the Sunset Strip’s most successful strung-out boozehounds is how they were confident enough to let their guard down and be straight-up romantics. “Sweet Child o’ Mine” started that trend, adding a little sugar to the spicy Appetite for Destruction, as frontman Axl Rose channeled Lynyrd Skynyrd and penned an ode to his then-girlfriend Erin Everly. It helped, of course, that he was working off some of the strongest camaraderie the band would ever exhibit, thanks to Izzy Stradlin’s divine insistence to turn Slash’s “circus melody” into timeless balladry. In the end, that ballad would catapult the band away from its hair metal colleagues and become a classic rock staple before it could even be called classic rock. –Michael Roffman

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514yqzmzdkl Top 25 Songs of 198705. Public Enemy – “Bring the Noise”

Less Than Zero OST

The hip-hop game changed forever when Public Enemy dropped 1987’s seminal Yo! Bum Rush the Show. 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. And if Yo! changed the rap game, then “Bring the Noise” took that brand-new game up to a higher level – and only a few months later. Chuck D booms louder and faster, Flavor Flav bobs and weaves and jabs with newfound precision, and Terminator X and the Bomb Squad create a sick sonic Armageddon of scratches and abrasive samples from classic acts like Funkadelic and James Brown. It’s powerful, chaotic, and packed with grooves – a cut that pummels first and takes names later. Oddly, the track appeared on the Less Than Zero soundtrack – a young Andrew McCarthy vehicle of all things – before becoming the frenzied lead track of the greatest rap album of all time, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, in 1988 and, later, one of the first rap-metal songs ever when PE teamed with Anthrax. –Matt Melis

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r 5157180 1386044577 9347 jpeg Top 25 Songs of 198704. The Cure. – “Just Like Heaven”

Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

With “Just Like Heaven”, The Cure became a band for everyone. Granted, the gothic overtones that had initially haunted Robert Smith and co. admittedly began to dissipate with their 1982 single “Let’s Go to Bed”, but “Just Like Heaven” was the crossover hit they desperately needed. For starters, the song works on every level — from the shower of synths to the ditzy piano notes to the surfing guitar line that sounds like Dick Dale on LSD — but really it’s all about the message. “You’re just like a dream,” Smith croons, connecting to every single person who has ever walked away from someone and thought, I might just die without them. Suddenly, everything that made The Cure so relatable to the “freaks” and “creeps” for all those years made sense to everyone else who either ignored them or looked in from outside. And has there ever been a better opening line? Good lord, the song really is just like a dream, one that you never want to leave, which is why it’s best heard again and again and again. That is, until you’re back to square one, which is why Smith went on to make Disintegration. –Michael Roffman

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9b3fbe08d00fb5fe74897584a4de4b56 953x953x1 Top 25 Songs of 198703. Whitney Houston – “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”

Whitney

Though eventually overshadowed by the absolutely massive “I Will Always Love You”, it’s not hard to imagine a world in which “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” went down as a career-defining tune. The giggling in the bridge, the glass-shattering high notes, the rolling vibrato in the held notes — there are so many flourishes that only an absolute megastar completely confident in her ability could deliver. The George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam-penned song is perfect for filling dance floors, but carries a surprising amount of depth for a song so dependent on cheese (seriously, the male voices repeating “dance” near the conclusion are delightful). Whitney Houston’s not just out to go dancing; she wants to enjoy life with someone who enjoys her just as much. “I need a man who’ll take a chance/ On a love that burns hot enough to last/ So when the night falls/ My lonely heart calls,” she sings at the song’s emotional peak, one that Houston pulls off with a swiveling hip and a smile. –Lior Phillips
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michael jackson bad Top 25 Songs of 198702. Michael Jackson – “Man in the Mirror”

Bad

With its powerful message about galvanizing change by starting with yourself, Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” is something of a PSA complete with smooth tones, a choir, and a plentiful amount of “hoos” and “na na nas.” The song was accompanied by an impactful music video that highlights the raw realities of long-standing societal crises such as homelessness, malnutrition, and discrimination, thereby forcing viewers to rid themselves of any blind eye they had been turning toward the world around them. “Man in the Mirror” is a particularly special song because its message will always hold relevance. Between the notes of the synth bass lies an important reminder that change can always be created and that each and every individual holds the power to get the ball rolling. –Lindsay Teske

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joshua tree Top 25 Songs of 198701. U2 – “Where the Streets Have No Name”

The Joshua Tree

So often we feel completely bamboozled, beaten down by the world and uncertain where we are and how we got there. We want to run, to hide, to find someplace where we can breathe. We might be escaping a physical place, or we might just be fleeing a place in our minds, a feeling that we just can’t shake. Sometimes it’s acid rain, and sometimes it’s love turning to rust. And when the Edge’s quick-stuttering guitar effect kicks in, Adam Clayton’s bass pushes hard, and Larry Mullen Jr.’s tom thumps everything forward, the charge into someplace new, someplace beautiful, someplace free becomes all the more real.

The lyrics were written as a reaction to Bono hearing a story in Belfast in which a person’s religion and economic status could be determined merely by knowing the street the person lived on. As a response, he envisions a way to escape all the harsh realities. Of course, it involves taking his love with him: “We’re still building and burning down love/ Burning down love/ And when I go there, I go there with you/ It’s all I can do.” While U2 have always been champions of the epic — with this song as one of the very best in their efforts — Bono and co. have also always been realistic. He’s not searching for a utopia, but merely a place that he can work out the building and burning down rather than being trampled in dust.

The song registered with listeners at the time of release facing anxiety and tension at the end of the ‘80s boom. But it should come as no surprise that it continues to resonate, with the threat of destruction and need for shelter stronger than ever. “Where the Streets Have No Name” is truly timeless in that quest for hope and freedom, a glowing respite in and of itself. –Lior Phillips

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