I wasn’t impressed with 1986 as a year in music. It seemed all my favorite artists were floundering. Duran Duran went through a drastic membership change. Eurythmics were making great singles but not great albums. As iconic as Robert Palmer’s videos were at the time — and still are — Riptide didn’t rock as hard as the Power Station. And follow-up albums from artists I liked at the time — should I really own up to listening to Lisa LIsa and Cult Jam? — fell flat.
The albums listed here pretty much represent all of the CDs from 1986 that I own. And I didn’t even include The Whole Story by Kate Bush.
Musicwhore.org Favorite Edition 1986
The Art of Noise, In Visible Silence
It was the Art of Noise that introduced me to avant-garde music. In Visible Silence indulged in a lot of experimentation that would seem crude to electronic composers and inscrutable to pop fans. It was a far cry from the arty appeal of (Who’s Afraid of …?) The Art of Noise! but not far out enough to garner critical acclaim. For a young kid who never heard of musique concrete, let alone the music itself, In Visible Silence was a gateway to a broader underground of curious timbres.
Janet Jackson, Control
I got sick of Michael Jackson in 1984, and I didn’t want to give his sister the time of day. But the videos for "Nasty" and "When I Think of You" won me over, and I rather liked how Janet came across as the normal Jackson.
Soundtrack, Megazone 23 Song Collection
Unlike the Macross Song Collection, the Megazone 23 Song Collection was firmly rooted in the ’80s, as evidenced by the New Wave rhythms and synthetic arrangements of "Lonely Sunset" and "Himitsu Ku-da-sa-i". Miyasato Kumi (who voiced the character Eve) has a rich voice, one that couldn’t easily break beyond the confines of anime. A few tracks are out of character, but for the most part, the Megazone 23 songs had some element of rock to them. They weren’t all idol fodder.
Paul Simon, Graceland
My brother owned this album, so I wasn’t supposed to have any interest in it. But it was tough to avoid Simon’s appearances on Saturday Night Live, and "Boy in the Bubble" is a great song. Graceland was something of a Cinderella story at the time. The album sold poorly until it won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, and then it became a hit.
Slightly revisionist here, but I didn’t learn about XTC till the band released 1989’s Oranges and Lemons. I read an interview with the band in a magazine and hemmed and hawed over whether to get the album. Then I found Skylarking in a public library and borrowed it. Love on first listen. Oranges and Lemons, though, wasn’t as good.
The Smiths, The Queen is Dead
This album’s rank is totally revisionist. A friend of mine back in 1989 tried to get me into the Smiths with the Strangeways Here We Come album, but I wasn’t convinced. I listened to The Queen Is Dead in 2005, and I liked it a lot more. But back then, I probably would’ve found Morrissey tiresome. I did find him kind of hot, though.
This album would eventually be reissued as The Celts, and it would be packaged in the same ornate way as other Enya albums. But for this debut on Atlantic Records, the cover was a plain white sleeve with a photo of Enya standing next to stuffed wolves. The music on The Celts feels fairly incidental, considering it was a soundtrack to a television show. But the trademark Brennan harmonies — as paralleled by her siblings in Clannad — find a suitable home on this album as well.
Prince & the Revolution, Parade
I am not a Prince fan, but I liked how seamlessly the first half of this album flows. Parade served as a soundtrack to Prince’s first post-Purple Rain film, Under the Cherry Moon. The movie bombed, and that failure affected the perception of what would be the final album to feature the Revolution. Prince, for some reason, can’t keep my attention for very long, but he did with this album. Or perhaps that was Wendy’s & Lisa’s doing.
Duran Duran, Notorious
Because 1986 didn’t really thrill me as a year in music, I’m left to include this album, which isn’t Duran Duran’s worst, nor is it really good enough to include in a best list. The loss of Andy Taylor and Roger Taylor was noticeable in how the rhythm section lost its presence and the hooks just didn’t hook. At the same time, it did mark Duran Duran’s first steps into more sophisticated sounds, something that would reach an apex with The Wedding Album.
Kronos Quartet, Music of Sculthorpe, Sallinen, Glass, Nancarrow, Hendrix
This album is something of an overture to the Kronos ouvre. It’s not as thoroughly programmatic as subsequent albums, opting instead to touch upon different aspects of Kronos’ repertoire without going very in depth with anything in particular. It’s not an album I play very often, and its inclusion on this list is indicative more of how 1986 just doesn’t have much representation in my collection.
So what else from 1986 do I have in my collection? And why wouldn’t I rank them? Let the list be an indication.
- Pet Shop Boys, Please Decent debut, but they got pretty tiresome quickly.
- Huey Lewis and the News, Fore! Huey was hot back in the day. That was my main motivation for listening to him.
- Club Nouveau, Life, Love and Pain Listening to the 30-second samples on iTunes reminds me this album wasn’t all that bad.
- Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, Spanish Fly The singles on this album were excellent, but the albums tracks just sucked.
- R.E.M., Lifes Rich Pageant I haven’t listened to this album in such a long time that I’m hesitant to rank it. I think it would probably displace Notorious or Enya. I had it on cassette and never upgraded to CD.
- Robert Palmer, Riptide The album cover hinted that Palmer wasn’t wearing a shirt, and I always was kind of curious to see what he’d look like without one. I think that too was my only motivation for owning this album.