Best 1987 Albums

30 Albums Turning 30 in 2017: The Best Albums of 1987



30 Best Albums Turning 30 in 2017:  The Best Albums of 1987–our list of the greatest releases celebrating 30th anniversaries this year. 

If you had to choose one year in the Reagan era for the best music, you’d be hard pressed to do better than 1987. Something clicked–the mainstream that had been over saturated with saccharine pop and flaccid hair metal was growing  stagnant. There was a hunger to hear something new.

In truth the answer had been there all along: college rock was booming with a variety of sub-genres–industrial, indie, Goth and more, and 87 saw the vanguards of that scene take a foothold in a larger musical world.

It was also the same year when R&B and hard rock regained its edge, while hip-hop continued its expansion in sound and social commentary.

This list was a bitch to rank. There were just SO many great albums of such diversity, it was hard to whittle down and to quantify, based on both my personal taste and cultural impact. After some heavy blogger decision-making I made the hard choices and split the difference between the two.

So let’s take a trip back into an inimitable decade–retreat into awkward adolescence and revisit the soundtracks of our lives, shall we? I’ll also be including a healthy portion of honorable mentions as well (including EP’s which I excluded for streamlining purposes).

If you’d like to own any of these bygone classics, just click on the album cover to preview/purchase on Amazon.

Without further ado, here’s the best of 1987. The 30 best albums from 30 years ago.

 

30. Fields of the Nephilim Dawnrazor

One of Goth’s more obscure acts, Fields conjures atmospherics with Spaghetti Western guitars and Carl McCoy’s undead croak. And on songs like Dawnrazor and Slowkill the group added a metallic stomp to the genre.

 

29. Flesh for Lulu Long Live The New Flesh

Maybe the most criminally underrated band of the late 80s (featuring the late vocalist Nick Marsh), FFL are considered a one-hit wonder thanks to the Some Kind of Wonderful soundtrack hit I Go Crazy. But one listen to any of the tracks on Long Live The New Flesh (which featured Crazy) shows that it could have easily been a greatest hits album if it had received more promotion: Postcards From Paradise, Sooner or Later, Sleeping Dogs…there isn’t a bad track in the bunch.

They certainly deserve more credit than being a one hit wonder from a John Hughes film.

 

28. TIE: Nitzer Ebb That Total Age/Skinny Puppy Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate

1987 saw two seminal industrial releases. Nitzer Ebb’s That Total Age featured anthems like Join In The Chant while Skinny Puppy’s harrowing release contained the darkwave standard-bearer Deep Down Trauma Hounds. The genre hasn’t been the same since.

Click here for Skinny Puppy’s Cleanse Fold and Manipulate turns 30

 

27. Gene Loves Jezebel The House of Dolls

Jay and Michael Aston were androgynous twin brothers who fused goth and glam, and on The House of Dolls they made their most polished effort, but still kept their edge thanks to guitarist James Stevenson’s slithering riffs. Simmering songs like Gorgeous, 20 Killer Hurts and Every Door were custom-made for hormonal teenagers.

Click here for my recent interview with Jay Aston

 

26. PiL Happy?

Happy? wasn’t as groundbreaking as Public Image Ltd.’s albums like Album or Metal Box. But the trade-off were catchier songs bolstered by inventive riffing from  former Siouxsie & The Banshees guitarist John McGeoch.

Click here for PiL’s Album turns 30 

Tracks like Seattle, Rules and Regulations and The Body showed John Lydon and co’s unique knack for making danceable dissonance.

 

25. Terrence Trent D’Arby Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby 

One of the most accomplished major label debuts of the 80s, Hardline showcases Darby’s golden pipes on hits like Wishing Well and Sign Your Name and deep cuts like the haunting acappella Seven Days.

If not for Darby’s ego and eccentricity he may have had a more lucrative career, but Hardline’s sense of songcraft and muscular vocals still captivate.

 

24. Sinead O’Connor The Lion and The Cobra

Sinead O’Connor was a shot in the arm in the late 80s. From her striking shaved head image to strident vocals and confrontational lyrics, she made an instant impression. The Lion and The Cobra was a striking début, blending spiky rock riffs with exotic song structures on tunes like Mandinka, Jerusalem and I Want Your Hands (On Me).

 

23. Erasure The Circus

Synth pop duo Vince Clarke and Andy Bell expanded on their new wave melodrama on this sophomore element that covered everything from sugary love song (Sometimes), gay pride anthems (Hideaway)  and political screed (title track).

It’s pop euphoria and melancholic reflection wrapped in a shimmering bow.

 

22. Robbie Robertson Robbie Robertson

The former guitarist for The Band went from bluesy roots rock to a sleek, contemporary sound in the late 80’s on this self-titled effort featuring cameos from U2, The Bodeans and Peter Gabriel.

It’s a beautiful work, resplendent and hewn in the comforts of nature on songs like Broken Arrow, Showdown at Big Sky and Sweet Fire of Love. While a hit at the time, its legacy has faded over the years, but its mix of classic rock and alt-rock soundscapes makes for a bewitching listen worth revisiting.

 

21. Midnight Oil Diesel and Dust

One of the most unlikely hit albums of the 80s, Diesel and Dust was a deeply political album about injustice down to Australian indigenous people as well as a cautionary tale of ecological collapse.

Songs like hit singles Beds are Burning, and Dead Heart, along with fan favorites Put Down That Weapon and Bullroarer showcased the Aussie band’s unique sound (while the Beds are Burning music video immortalized singer Peter Garrett’s one of a kind dance moves)

 

20. Bryan Ferry Bete Noire

The suave singer’s New Wave collection runs the gamut from dancey sophistopop (Kiss and Tell, the Johnny Marr-led The Right Stuff) and slow-dance gems (Zamba, the title track). If you were a moody teenager in the 80’s, this is what you played when you wanted to feel like a grown-up.

 

19. Public Enemy Yo! Bum Rush The Show

Public Enemy’s début was an opening salvo for their dynamic politically infused hip-hop. Chuck D’s blistering diatribes, Flava Flav’s court jester retorts, The Bomb Squad’s synapse-firing production–it all started here.

18. George Michael Faith



I’m not a huge pop music fan, so I struggled on including Faith on this list. But truthfully, I would be a dick to exclude it given his recent passing and its cultural imprint. Michael had the voice of an angel and an edge most pop singers lack. Faith is known for the big hits, but the one song that has always stuck out for me was the jazz-inflected Kissing A Fool. RIP sir.

 

17. Dinosaur Jr You’re Living All Over Me

J Mascis’ lo-fi masterpiece is the anthesis of the sophomore slump. You’re Living became an indelible indie imprint that would influence genres as diverse as grunge and dream pop and was a breakthrough revelation for My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields.

 

16. Echo and The Bunnymen Echo and The Bunnymen

The Bunnymen’s eponymous album may not reach the heights of early 80s masterworks like Crocodiles and Ocean Rain, but it did produce some of their biggest hits: Lips Like Sugar and Bedbugs and Ballyhoo, along with satisfying deep-cuts like New Direction and The Game. The irony is that the albums great success ended up widening the divide between vocalist Ian McCullough and his band mates, and he would jump ship afterwards (only to return in the late 90s).

15. TIE: Hüsker Dü Warehouse: Songs and Stories/Sonic Youth Sister


How to choose between two distortion fueled landmark alternative albums? I couldn’t. Songs and Stories saw Hüsker Dü at the peak of their powers before their breakup shortly afterwards, while Sister was a sci-fi inspired noise-rock opus.

 

14. The Jesus and Mary Chain Darklands

JAMC turned down the feedback for their subdued follow-up to Psychocandy, but its a deeply satisfying sophomore effort, on moody charmers like April Skies, Happy When It Rains and About You. As a result of its understated sonics, Darklands doesn’t get name-checked as much as it should, even though it features some of the best tracks of their career.

Click here to see where Darklands ranks on my list of JAMC Albums Ranked Worst to Best

 

13. R.E.M Document

After years on the college rock circuit, REM hit the bigtime with Document, resulting in breakout hits like The One I Love, Finest Worksong and It’s The End of the World As We Know it (And I Feel Fine). Their emergence into the mainstream would foreshadow the rise of grunge and alternative music in American culture.

 

12. Love & Rockets Earth, Sun, Moon

The post-punk trio Daniel Ash, David J and David Haskins turned down the distortion on their third album, but kept the psychedelia in full swing on acoustic, Beatles-inspired tunes like No New Tale To Tell, The Telephone Is Empty, and Rainbird. Elsewhere they flirted with 50’s style rockabilly (Lazy), and threw goth fans a bone (Mirror People).

Click here for my 2016 interview with Daniel Ash 

 

11. The Sisters of Mercy Floodland

Vocalist Andrew Eldritch ditched his fellow Sisters member on Floodland, a sophomore album that acted more like a solo release (with the exception of bassist Patricia Morrison, whose input has been debated), full of wonderfully inky, electronic goth soundscapes. His undead croak reigns supreme on the epic, gloriously over wrought dance dirge This Corrosion, the strident Lucretia My Reflection and the ethereal bonus track Colours. It still fits any day you need a soundtrack for a rainy or foggy night.

Click here for Sisters of Mercy Floodland Revisited

 

10. The Replacements Pleased To Meet Me

This alt-rock classic is one of those albums that didn’t sell millions of copies but inspired countless musicians with tracks like Alex Chilton And The Ledge.

A mix of indie, punk and power-pop packed with vocalist Paul Westerberg’s priceless lyrics, it’s the gold standard of 80s college rock.

 

9. New Order Substance

As a general rule compilation albums should be excluded from best-of lists. But this is Substance dammit, one of the most essential albums of the 1980’s. New Order are a ban defined by their singles, remixes, and alternate cuts, and Substance represents them best, from early classics like Temptation and Ceremony, to extended remixes of Blue Monday, Subculture, and Confusion.

Click here to see where Substance ranks on my list of best compilation albums

The double-disc version is a necessity for In A Lonely Place and 1969 alone. It was a high-school car stereo staple in the 80s, and it’s still my go-to disc when I need my New Order fix.

 

8. The Cult Electric

Electric got hammered by critics upon its release, because the music press were utterly confused by a goth group turning into a biker rock band. The stripped down Rick Rubin production was miles away from Love.

Click here for The Cult’s Love turns 30 

What the press misunderstood was the group’s pioneer spirit. The Cult helped make it safe for alternative bands to rock out and songs like Love Removal Machine and Wildflower were mission statements. It set the stage for the 90’s alt-rock revolution, when bands could play loud riffs without stooping to lazy butt rock.

Click here for Albums Revisited: The Cult’s Electric 

Vocalist Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy fused bludgeoning guitar, howling vocals and psychedelic mysticism that still casts a spell today. I’m proud to have sung its praises all these years, no matter the protestations of music snobs. There’s still no better album for blasting on the highway.

 

7. The Smiths Strangeways, Here We Come

The Smiths final album saw the group going out on a high note, leaving us with 10 classic tracks, including fan favorites Girlfriend in a Coma, Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before, and I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish. 

 

6. Depeche Mode Music For The Masses

After years of building a quiet, yet rabid fan base, Depeche Mode broke through in a big way thanks to the appropriately titled Music For The Masses. Working with producer Flood, they employed samples and industrial overtones to craft cinematic moody masterworks, from hits like Strangelove, Behind The Wheel  and Never Let Me Down (all with iconic music videos from collaborator Anton Corbin) to cult classics including To Have and to Hold and Little 15.

Masses proved that a quirky androgynous group of English keyboard twiddlers could conquer America, as witnessed by the band selling out the Rose bowl the following year.

 

5. INXS Kick

In many ways INXS were a very strange band. Classifying their sound is difficult: is it new wave? Pub rock? Funk rock? It’s hard to define.

In the end their indescribable yet highly accessible approach only bolstered their success and Kick was the biggest album of their career. It spawned four top 10 singles (you know the ones) and cemented frontman Michael Hutchence’s legacy as the mysterious sex god of the 80s.

Kick is one of those albums that was so imbedded in 80’s adolescence that you can have vivid flashbacks to high school when you hear a track pop up on satellite radio. It was a freak of nature release and a Generation X cultural touchstone. The Kick tour was my first concert. PiL opened. Good times.

 

4. The Cure Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

Robert Smith and co. made their most ambitious album with Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, a double disc which covered every facet of their wide-ranging repertoire. From classic goth (If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, Torture), to Dance Pop (Why Can’t I Be You, Just Like Heaven) to all things in-between (The Kiss, Like Cockatoos, Icing Sugar), they left no stone unturned.

A double album is almost always prone to filler, and Kiss Me is no exception (Hot, Hot, Hot, How Beautiful You Are and Hey You are pretty meh), but its batting average is pretty damn stellar.

Kiss Me would be considered a zenith for most band’s careers, but then they went and topped themselves with Disintegration. But for Cure fans with short attention-spans, their double disc remains a source of constant delight.

Click here for Disintegration turns 25 

 

3. Prince Sign O’ The Times

The late, great Prince ditched his long-time backing band The Revolution on this double-disc effort (although select members still contributed), and created the most wide-ranging, diverse album of his career.

Funk-rock dance hits like U Got The Look (featuring Sheena Easton), I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man and the title track are the best remembered, but there’s really no dud in the bunch–If I Was Your Girlfriend showed him at his most androgynous, Starfish and Coffee explored his love of psychedelia and the Hendrix-esque The Cross was a paean to his ever-present dichotomy of the spiritual and sexual.

The Purple One would continue to make great albums, but Sign of The Times was his career peak in ambition and scope.

 

2. Guns N’ Roses Appetite For Destruction

Conventional wisdom says Nirvana killed off hair metal. But in truth it was on life support even before then. GN’R got in the first punch, delivering an edge of sleaze and danger that (like their friends in The Cult) had been missing in rock for far too long. Appetite is the best-selling début album of all time for good reason–every song feels raw, lived-in, and a sonic snapshot of decadent life on the sunset strip. Welcome to the Jungle, It’s So Easy, Mr. Brownstone, My Michelle, Rocket Queen…all these songs still paint a vivid picture of 80’s L.A decadence.

Click here for Albums Revisited: Appetite For Destruction Turns 30

Axl Rose’s ragged falsetto, Slash and Izzy’s guitar interplay, the seismic rhythm section of McKagan and Adler, were a finely oiled (or alcohol fueled) machine.

It’s weird to hear the album called classic rock these days, but it was an instant classic to begin with. It also proved impossible to top, despite the group’s ambition.

 

1. U2 The Joshua Tree

I’m not sure what else to add about The Joshua Tree that hasn’t been said before. The album (which turns 30 this month) is a pop-culture touchstone of the 80s. It spoke to something deeper, more spiritual, more intangible than any other album of that decade. The production work by Daniel Lanois, Flood and Brian Eno remains unsurpassed, along with the group’s sparse yet grandiose sonic architecture.

We all know the hits, and they still pack an anthemic wallop, even to this day. The deep cuts are just as compelling. Exit remains one of my favorites of the latter, and Where The Streets Have No Name still gives me the chills.

Many U2 fans still have spirited debates on whether Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby is U2’s best album (my opinion varies on my mood).  One thing remains clear however: The Joshua Tree made U2 into U2: a musical force that transcends genre and time.

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):

Pixies Come on Pilgrim (EP)

Jane’s Addiction (Self-titled EP)

Butthole Surfers Locust Abortion Technician

Big Black Songs About Fucking

Spaceman 3 The Perfect Prescription

Opal Happy Nightmare Baby

Defenestration’s Dali Does Windows

Swans Children of God

Wire The Ideal Copy

Eurythmics Savage

Psychedelic Furs Midnight To Midnight

Siouxsie and The Banshees Through The Looking Glass

Pet Shop Boys Actually

Pink Floyd Momentary Lapse of Reason

Faith No More Introduce Yourself

Anthrax Among The Living

Dead or Alive Mad Bad and Dangerous To Know

The Bolshoi Lindy’s Party

Icehouse Man of Colours

Well that wraps up my list of the best of 1987! Now its your turn–tell me your favorite discs turning 30 in 2017, and feel free to rank as you see fit.

And be sure to check out my lists of the best albums from 1991 and 1997 as well.

About SLIS

Middle Aged Gen-Exer obsessed with Alternative rock, metal, cult movies, comic books and cable TV.

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4 Responses to 30 Albums Turning 30 in 2017: The Best Albums of 1987

  1. Jay March 5, 2017 at 3:55 pm #

    A fine collection, brought back some happy / sad memories of a very mixed year at school.

    I can only offer one album from ’87 that hasn’t made your list:

    Julian Cope – Saint Julian. His ‘leather-clad-rock-god’ moment.

  2. SLIS March 5, 2017 at 10:07 pm #

    Thanks Jay! Agh I blanked on Cope! That is a great one. And one of my friends mentioned Dead Can Dance’s Within the Realms of a Dying Sun. Man there was just an embarrassment of riches that year.

  3. Ferg March 10, 2017 at 3:12 pm #

    Very good list about a very good year, only a few things I don’t care about in there.
    I do believe that Janes Addiction deserves to be on the list in the top 10 not an honorable mention. And I think The Call’s Into The Woods deserves a place in their, at least honorable mention. They were a shamefully overlooked band.
    I would say Guadalcanal Diary’s 2×4 and Oingo Boingos Boi-ngo could deserve honorable mentions, even though Boi-ngo is my least fave Boingo release.
    Disappointment to me that year were X’s See How We Are. It had a couple great songs but just did not live up to the beginning to end brilliance of their previous 4 albums.
    Another disappointment to me was the Psychedelic Furs which continued down the pop path.

    • SLIS March 10, 2017 at 3:38 pm #

      Hi Ferg! Glad you liked the list. I struggled with Janes and Pixies, and just decided EP’s probably belonged on a different list? Maybe I should do a list of Greatest EP’s at some point.

      Guadalcanal Diary! Oops, I’d forgotten about them. Boi-ngo and Into The Woods, two others I should have remembered! That year was just over the top crazy with good music. This was the hardest list I ever had to make, and that’s saying a lot.

      Agreed on the Psychedelic Furs. Originally I had planned on putting it higher on the list, because I enjoyed it at the time, but it hasn’t aged that well has it? There’s a reason they never play those songs live I guess!

      I’ll be doing a list of the best of 1992 in the next few months, so stay tuned for that one 🙂

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