I had fun listing all the reasons 1987 is my favorite year in music that I wanted to make Favorite Edition lists for other years. When I started compiling the lists, I ran across a number of problems.
First was the urge to revise history. I remember ranking a number of albums as year-end favorites, only to let them go as my tastes changed. (1997 and 1999 are very indicative of this.) As I’m exploring more catalog these days, I’m faced with the option of including titles I probably didn’t know about or wouldn’t have listened to at the time. I don’t think my high school self would imagine a day I would listen to — let alone like — the trio album by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris.
So I’m throwing context out of the window and concentrating on two criteria — when something was released and how strongly I feel about it now, keeping in mind how strongly I felt about it back then. It’s an interesting exercise because there are albums I didn’t like in the past that I’ve grown to love, which is a situation that seems to be rarer than it should.
I’m starting with 1985 since that’s the first year I actually acquired enough music to craft a list of ten. Given my junior high and high school allowance, it’s not the bounty that a disposable income can provide. Nonetheless, I present …
Musicwhore.org Favorite Edition 1985
Tears for Fears, Songs from the Big Chair
Radio stations played the singles from this album to death. The videos were annoying, and Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith posed no sex symbol threat to Duran Duran. But damn does "Shout" have a great chorus. "The Working Hour" is the one track that taught me a lot about songwriting, particularly how seventh chords work.
Sting, The Dream of the Blue Turtles
Between quoting Sergei Prokofiev and jumping from reggae to jazz, The Dream of the Blue Turtles left an indelible impression on me as a youngster. Back then, Sting’s solo work wasn’t so insufferably clever — he still managed to write some hooks between his compositional quirks. It helped too that he, um, looked fine without a shirt.
Arcadia, So Red the Rose
Duranies who stuck with the band throughout the late ’80s and beyond The Wedding Album tend to favor Arcadia over the Power Station. Alex Sadkin, who helmed Seven and the Ragged Tiger, produced this 1985 Duran Duran splinter project, and it’s no surprise So Red the Rose bears a remarkable sonic resemblance to that album. Without Andy Taylor to provide the rock backbone or John Taylor to supply the funk, Arcadia was excessively arty. To paraphrase the single "Election Day", it’s moody and grey, mean and restless.
ABC, How to Be a Zillionaire!
For the most part, ABC was a dapper group, but in 1985, it went for the wacky. Even at 13, I could tell Eden and David Yarritu were there mainly for show. And what the hell was up with Mark White’s hair? How to be a Zillionaire! employs an avalanche of synthesizers, essentially ditching the live feel of Lexicon of Love. The songwriting, however, remained sharp and trashy. I still have this album on vinyl; never got around to upgrading to CD.
10,000 Manaics, The Wishing Chair
I thought In My Tribe was an unassailable album, and I was at first hesitant to get The Wishing Chair, thinking it would be like The Hurting by Tears for Fears — an album all right on its own but nothing compared to what came after. It turns out The Wishing Chair is the better album. John Lombardo wrote some of the best songs for the Maniacs, and Natalie Merchant went for a more narrative style in her lyrics — her social conscious had not yet started to weight the group’s songs down. I just wish Elektra would reissue the album with the vinyl track listing in tact.
Clannad’s traditional albums are actually better than the pop ones, but as far as the group’s pop career is concerned, Macalla is perhaps their tightest album. Although awash in a lot of mystical-sounding reverb, the songs don’t meander as they would on later albums. And all that reverb makes the group’s vocal harmonies sound that much more ancient.
Kate Bush, Hounds of Love
I don’t think I would have liked this album as a kid. I certainly like it more as an adult, so its ranking here is revisionist. The synthesizer work on Hounds of Love sounds dated, but in this case, I think it works. I can imagine how today’s sampled software synthesizers could make this album sound realistic, but the limitations of the period forced Bush to bring out the strengths of the technology available. And in that way, there’s a timelessness to it that doesn’t sound dated.
Soundtrack, Macross Song Collection
I didn’t really discover this album till the early ’90s, so this ranking is also a bit revisionist. Macross aired on Japanese television in the early ’80s, and the pop songs of character Lynn Minmei lag behind the times — many of them feel very trenched in the ’70s. But the more timely "Ai, Oboete Imasu Ka?" presages the drama of Duran Duran’s "Ordinary World" by a good nine years. None of these songs bear any resemblance to the ones shown on Robotech, which is why Minmei was never in sync. Iijima Mari was a typical J-pop voice — not terribly remarkable but able to carry a tune. She could still sing circles around Reba West, though.
Midnight Oil, Red Sails in the Sunset
Right before Midnight Oil toned down the guitars at the turn of the ’90s, the band recorded an ambitious and somewhat experimental album with Red Sails in the Sunset. Augmented by samplers and synthesizers, the politically-charged Oils played as hard as they ever have but sought to shake up their songs as well. The results were dramatic when they didn’t cross over to bombast, but it’s drama well-suited for the band’s brash playing. I didn’t discover this album till after Diesel and Dust and Blue Sky Mining, so I wonder how receptive I would have been to it at 13.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Requiem
I was in eighth grade in 1985. I don’t think I could have imagined myself listening to Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber three years later. Back then, I admired Lloyd Webber for what seemed to be a seamless combination of rock songwriting and classical orchestration. I’m not so easily fooled these days, but Lloyd Webber isn’t a total hack. Requiem is an incredibly dark work, and even if it does have a requisite single ("Pie Jesu"), the more discordant portions of the piece aren’t amateur. Lloyd Webber, unlike, say, Paul McCartney, isn’t a tourist.
Some of the albums that didn’t quite make it on the list:
Camper Van Beethoven, Telephone Free Landslide Victory
I discovered Camper Van Beethoven toward the end of high school, and I’m not sure how receptive I would have been to them in junior high. Telephone Free Landslide Victory is the kind of album I could probably only appreciate as an adult. I’d rank it higher, but I think this particular list is driven a lot by sentiment.
Eurythmics, Be Yourself Tonight
Eurythmics became more of a live band with this album, and fans and critics would end up pining for their synthesizer days.
Hiroshima, Another Place
Hiroshima had yet to release the album that contained "Hawaiian Electric", a tune they wrote for a Hawaiian Electric Co. commercial campaign. So I found this album, which isn’t bad but not as strong as Go.