Favorite year of music: 1987 (Part the first)

A few weeks back, a friend of mine posted a bit of trivia regarding a chart-topping song from 20 years ago. Ah, yes — 1987. I turned 16, the perfect age for music to leave an indelible impression on a young mind. I posted a reply listing a number of albums released that year. I figure I may as well expand on that list. Not surprisingly, all these titles are in my music collection.

I’m splitting this entry into multiple parts. I wrote it all in one sitting, but the scroll is a bit long.

10,000 Maniacs, In My Tribe

10,000 Maniacs would eventually become darlings of mainstream alternative rock music in the early ’90s, but it was In My Tribe that took the band to that next level. Producer Peter Asher tempered some of the band’s indie work habits, replacing drummer Jerome Augustinyak with a drum machine on some tracks and recording guitarist Robert Buck without effects. The cleaner sound certainly helped get the band on radio, but the loss of main songwriter John Lombardo, who left before work on In My Tribe started, put the Maniacs in the proverbial sink-or-swim position. And boy did they swim.

Natalie Merchant sounded like no one else at the time, and that distinct timbre was a perfect fit with the band’s folk-rock sound. Her songwriting had a darker hue than Lombardo, but her bandmates kept those tendencies in check. In My Tribe was the first Maniacs album I owned, and I thought it was unassailable till I heard its predecessor, The Wishing Chair.

John Adams, The Chairman Dances

I usually stop playing this album when it gets to Common Tones in Simple Time — what a snoozer. The remaining pieces on this album are at turns exhilarating, poignant and whimsical. Short Ride in a Fast Machine is a dazzling work, but it’s the musically-manipulated speech of an anonymous preacher in Christian Zeal and Activity that really makes the album. Although marketed as a minimalist at the time, Adams really displayed a more tangential interest in the style. The title piece, while employing the motivic tenets of minimalism, is markedly more Romantic.

The Art of Noise, In No Sense? Nonsense!

The Art of Noise set expectations high with its debut album, (Who’s Afriad of …?) The Art of Noise! Oooh, found sounds! Oooh, pop music! Clever, clever, clever! The subsequent albums failed to deliver on the promise of pop music through found sounds, but those albums instead attempted to breach the impassable barrier between so-called low and high art. In No Sense? Nonsense! really tested the patience of rock listeners, but fans of electronic dance music paid attention. The slew of remix discs that appeared after the Art of Noise disbanded attests to their status as godparents of electronica. The only musically-inclined member of the group was Anne Dudley, who would go on to score films such as The Crying Game.

Bulgarian State Radio and Television Women’s Choir, Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares

Every so often, there’s a world music release that gets tongues wagging. In the late ’80s, it was Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares, a compilation of performances from the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Women’s Choir. (The Eastern Bloc was still very much alive back then.) Although considered folk music, the songs performed by the choir were highly stylized by arrangers trained in modern composition. The nasal timbre of the singers, combined with dense harmonies of the arrangements, made for some fascinating listening.

Depeche Mode, Music for the Masses

I’m no expert on Depeche Mode, but I have the sense Music for the Masses was the first album where the band really got a handle of its dark, electronic sound. The early hits seemed like they were written on toy Casio keyboards in compared to the rich production on this album.

Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction

As much of a college rock snob I was in high school, even I wasn’t immune to the charm that is Appetite for Destruction.

Hiroshima, Go

In 1986, Hiroshima wrote a tune for the Hawaiian Electric Co. to be used in a pair of television ads. In one ad, koto player June Kuramoto was shot playing the signature tune, which combined traditional Japanese instruments with unoffensive jazz-pop. I so totally dug that commercial, and I went ga-ga for Hiroshima back then. Hey, I was a kid — cut me some slack. The band recorded an extended version of the track for its fifth album, Go (as in 五, the number five in Japanese.) Hiroshima, on the whole, is a pretty bland group, but Go featured perhaps their best writing and tightest performances.

(To be continued …)