Best albums of 1987: #5 The Cure “Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me”

I was probably in 9th grade (around the time this album was released) when I first heard tell of The Cure. A friend of mine on the street, who I had played with growing up and those days, simply “hung out” with, told me one day that he was going to see them in concert, that very night, and he had gotten the band’s name shaved into the back of his head for the occasion. His older sister was bringing him and, now that I look back, it was probably a pre-requisite for her parents allowing her to go all the way to Toronto to see them with her friends. He rhymed off names of songs, none of which rung a bell. I didn’t have an older sister (or older brother for that matter) to introduce me to their music. Nope. I was, in fact, that older sibling that probably influenced the tastes of my younger brethren when I got into music in a big way a few years later.

I didn’t actually hear The Cure (in a conscious way) until a few years later when another of my neighbour friends played them for me and then, recorded sections, if not copies in full, of this album, “Staring at the sea”, and “Disintegration” on cassette for me. In this way, his favourite songs influenced my own, his tastes tending toward the more maudlin of their music, but later, when I caught and recorded a “spotlight” on them on MuchMusic, I started to find my own way in The Cure’s world.

“Kiss me kiss me kiss me” is the band’s seventh album and as double LPs go, it’s big, it’s got a lot of songs, and it’s quite eclectic. In my mind, it bridges the gap between the dark, “gothic” rock of “Faith” and “Pornography” and the pop sensibilities of “The head on the door”. It’s been widely publicized how hard those darker albums were on frontman Robert Smith and how much he hated the “goth” label. It’s no wonder he wanted to write lighter pop songs in the mid-80s and did so successfully. The songs on “Kiss me kiss me kiss me” are a good mix of the dark and plodding and the light and bouncy and the rest lie somewhere in between. It resulted in The Cure achieving their highest charting album to date and made them a name in North America.

My three picks for you from this album all fall under the “single” category but one of them is one that you wouldn’t think obvious as a single. Have a look and a listen and let me know if there are others on this great album that you prefer.


”Why can’t I be you?”: This wasn’t one of the ones off the album that would’ve been highlighted to me by my friend John. In fact, I think the first I might have heard of it was the extended remix of it on “Mixed up”, which I purchased on a whim when I was younger. I think it was the last record I ever bought before I started collecting again, five or so years ago. Sadly (but not too sadly because it was quite warped), I have no idea where it is now (have no fear, I picked up the reissue a couple months ago) but I remember not being super impressed with the remix of “Why can’t I be you?” at the time. Over the years, though, it has grown on me, a bouncy and upbeat number that features a barrage of synthesized horns and Robert Smith growling and skitting and trilling and scatting, really making a lot of vocal sounds not typically made in a pop song.

”Catch”: This tune, on the other hand, was one of my friend John’s favourites. He included it on a mixed tape he once made for me and I didn’t understand it at all at the time. It just seemed absurd and weird but then at some point, I made it past all Robert Smith’s “do do do”s and listened to his lyrics. “And I remember she used to fall down a lot. That girl was always falling, again and again, and I used to sometimes try to catch her. But never even caught her name.” Apparently inspired by a line in one of the Rocky movies where the title character is whispering to a comatose Adrian, the words are actually quite lovely. And in this context, the mellow shuffling beat that is given a lazy feel with synthesized strings and the flanged guitar that comes seemingly out of nowhere at the chorus, all seem just right.

”Just like heaven”: This track, the third single released off the album found itself on the top of the list when did my Top five tunes post, showcasing my favourite songs by The Cure, early last year. Yeah. So it’s my favourite tune by this band and one of the big reasons this album became a favourite of mine. I’m not going to go on here and repeat words that you can find in that other post, except to say this: “‘Show me, show me, show me, how you do that trick. The one that makes me scream,’ she said. ‘The one that makes me laugh,’ she said. And threw her arms around my neck.” Those words make me want to get up and dance with wild abandon. Every time.


Check back next Thursday for album #4. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Dead Can Dance “Within the realm of the dying sun”
9. Spaceman 3 “The perfect prescription”
8. The Jesus And Mary Chain “Darklands”
7. Jane’s Addiction “Jane’s Addiction”
6. The Sisters of Mercy “Floodland”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best albums of 1987: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)*

Happy Thursday! And welcome to the third installment of my Throwback Thursday (#tbt) best albums of the year series. This time, we are on a voyage all the way back to 1987. Just over thirty years ago. The world was a different place, especially for me. Because I was but a child.

1987 marked the year I left grade school and entered high school. A big step for some but since my school was in the process of spawning a secondary school, it just meant changing classrooms. I don’t remember much else special about those early days of grade nine, at least nothing else I want to share today. It was… a very, very long time ago.

Nonetheless, I can assure you that, at the time, I didn’t know anything about music. I definitely wasn’t listening to the albums that will make up this top ten list. In fact, I can’t even remember for certain the songs and artists to which I might have been listening. It was likely the pop and top 40 that I was able to pick up on my AM radio, music from singers like Bruce Springsteen and Corey Hart and Madonna. I would only start discovering the world of alternative music a few years later and some of the following albums would figure in, while others I wouldn’t discover until much later.

It will go without saying that a good portion of the albums I will cover today and in the coming weeks are now considered classics and very much in the mainstream but back in the day, they were on the cutting edge and pushing the boundaries of what pop and rock music should be. So before I start ruining surprises, I am going to kick things off with the first five albums of my top ten below. And if you don’t know the trick by now, I will be featuring the top five, an album each Thursday, over the next five weeks. I hope you enjoy this trip back 30 odd years with me.


#10 Dead Can Dance “Within the realm of the dying sun”

“Within the realm of the dying sun” is the third album by these Australian exports to England, mainly the duo of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard by 1987. It marks a departure from their earlier post-punk and gothic rock sound, dispensing almost completely with guitars and utilizing a vast range of unorthodox instruments, some of which you may have never heard of or seen before. The album’s sides are split between the two primary vocalists and songwriters but it is cohesive in its big and dark and worldly sound. This is the Dead Can Dance we know and love.

Gateway tune: Xavier


#9 Spaceman 3 “The Perfect prescription”

With this, their second album, Jason Pierce’s pre-Spiritualized band with Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember, Spacemen 3 were arguably at their recorded output apex. They were given pretty much free reign of a recording studio for eight months, where they were able to experiment and hone their songs together to perfection. Compare that with the debut that was recorded in a week with an unsympathetic producer and to their third and fourth records, where the relationship, both personal and working, between the primary songwriters, Pierce and Kember, were by times, deteriorating and completely non-existent. This “rollercoaster” concept album of a trip (see what I did there?) is raw and soulful and psychedelic and woefully underrated.

Gateway tune: Walkin’ with Jesus


#8 The Jesus And Mary Chain “Darklands”

For their second album, the Reid brothers replaced Bobby Gillespie (who left to focus on Primal Scream) with a drum machine and really, did much of the instrument work on “Darklands” themselves. They stripped back a lot of the feedback and fuzz and noise but still managed to infuse the follow up to “Psychocandy” with just as much darkness and pure cool. Like the other two albums I’ve already listed, I got into this album years after its release and for me, it’s not an album of singles (although “Happy when it rains” is pretty phenomenal) but one of mood and feel. All black leather and sunglasses cool.

Gateway tune: Happy when it rains


#7 Jane’s Addiction “Jane’s Addiction”

In doing these best albums lists, I’ve been trying to limit my selections strictly to studio albums, which is why you won’t find New Order’s iconic compilation album, “Substance”, in this list for 1987. However, Jane’s Addiction’s self-titled debut album is a special case. Yes, it is a live album but it was heavily mixed and dubbed in the studio afterwards. I also think that Perry Farrell and company went this route to avoid having their debut release come out on a major label, given that they were being heavily courted by Warner at the time. And finally, it’s an album that defies ignoring. It captures the band’s raw live energy and includes rough first recordings of songs like “Pigs in zen” and “Jane says” that would later get a makeover and become classics. And oh yeah, there’s a couple of great covers… like the one below.

Gateway tune: Sympathy


#6 The Sisters Of Mercy “Floodland”

My friend Tim got me into The Sisters of Mercy back in the latter days of high school. He recorded me a copy of 1990’s “Vision thing”, which I loved, and later, when I caught and recorded the video for “This corrosion” on Much, the deal was sealed. The Sisters released three albums and each were recorded by three very different looking bands, the only constants were frontman Andrew Eldritch and his drum machine, Doktor Avalanche. On this, their second album, the goth rock outfit also included Patricia Morrison, who didn’t do very much on the album musically but definitely added to its image and tone. Epic rock producer Jim Steinman (who worked a lot with Meatloaf) also added his touches, especially on the aforementioned “This corrosion” and “Dominion/Mother Russia”. It’s big and it’s dark and it’s awesome.

Gateway tune: This corrosion


Check back next Thursday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

*Note: The photo under the title is not my own but I was unable to find the original source. Apologies and kudos to its creator.

Top five tunes: Second wave Ska

(I’ve done a bunch of these “Top five tunes” posts already but most of them have been ranking my favourite songs by a particular artist. This is only my second thematic-based list and the first of what I hope will be many genre-based lists.)

The context:

Admittedly, my knowledge of ska’s history and the evolution of its sound is very rudimentary. For me, ska is characterized by an upbeat and staccato guitar rhythm, often (but not always) punctuated by horn section flourishes. I’m sure if you spoke to my friend Andrew Rodriguez or even my younger brother Michael, you would get a more accurate and thorough story of the evolution of ska. However, I will endeavour…

What many people (including myself for a while) don’t realize is that ska didn’t begin in England in the 1980s but in Jamaica in the 1950s and that reggae evolved from ska, not the other way around. Musicians like Prince Buster, The Skatalites and Desmond Dekker started this genre by fusing Caribbean calypso sounds with American jazz and R&B. Bob Marley’s band, The Wailers, and Jimmy Cliff, both big names in reggae, actually got their start as ska acts.

It was the “second wave” of ska that came out of England, originating in the late 1970s, when bands like The Specials and The Beat, blended the sounds of Jamaican ska with English punk music. Many of the songs these English ska bands recorded were covers of Jamaican ska hits (in fact, the band Madness took their name from a Prince Buster tune), while many of their other songs pushed for racial unity (a theme especially common with the 2 Tone acts). Many popular 1980s bands, like UB40, General Public, Fine Young Cannibals, and the aforementioned, Madness, started out as ska acts but found larger commercial success when pop and new wave bled into their sound.

The so-called “third wave” of ska stretched from the 1980s into the 1990s as the ska sound finally hit North American mass culture. Punk and hardcore bands mixed ska into their sound with great success. Bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Rancid, Goldfinger and yes, even No Doubt, brought a new brand of ska to the alt-rock kids and inspired a short-lived ska revival in the late 1990s. I freely admit that my own intro to the genre came through cursory brushes with Canadian legends King Apparatus and then, later on with early Bosstones. These led to my later explorations with the bands you’ll read about below.

By the time I was deeply entrenched in university, these second ska acts were a big part of my wheelhouse. It got so my friend Mark and I had an ongoing joke on the matter. Whenever there was a song playing, he would ask (facetiously after the first few times), “Is this ska?” To which I would reply, “No, Mark, that’s not ska!”

This top five focuses on the second wave (the third wave might come in a future post), a “scene” that was short-lived but its inspiration was far reaching. Have a perusal and let me know if I’m missing out on your favourite tracks from this era. And yes, Mark, these songs are ska.

The top five:

#5: “On my radio” by Selector (1979)

The first song here is by the only group on this list to feature a female vocalist (and perhaps the only one to feature a female member at all). It is also the group I know least about, only discovering this particular song while listening to a ska compilation album a handful of years ago. However, I’m not completely unfamiliar with their name. I’m positive my friend Andrew Rodriguez has name-dropped them before in conversation and am reasonably certain he used to have their patch sewn onto the army parka he used to wear everywhere back in high school. The Selecter released two albums before Pauline Black left the band in 1982 to pursue a career in theatre. They reformed in the early 90s and have existed in various incarnations ever since. “On the radio” was the band’s first official single and charted quite high. Like many of the songs to follow in this list, it’s upbeat and danceable but Pauline Black’s vocals add a different quality, almost a Motown flair that is jarred awake by the call and response vocals at the chorus. Then, the organs come in on the bridge and we’re all dancing again.


#4: “Little bitch” by The Specials (1979)

Chances are if you google the phrase “second wave ska”, you’ll come across the term “2 Tone” pretty quickly in your scrolling. This is the name of the label founded by Jerry Dammers to release the punk-tinged, ska and reggae music he and his friends were producing and it ended up lending its name as a secondary term for the subgenre. Dammers was also a founding member of The Specials, also known at times as The Special AKA. Their self-titled debut album was produced by Elvis Costello and despite only being the source of two singles, is considered a classic, through and through. They only lasted two albums before rupture, Neville Staple, Lynval Golding, and Terry Hall leaving to form Fun Boy Three. Of course, the band has reformed in many iterations over the years. But back then, “Little bitch”, despite not being one of the songs released as a single, was a classic, a dance hall raver, shouting “one, two”, and carrying on, all staccato and unbreakable, full of the energy of youth and brilliance of age.


#3: “My girl” by Madness (1979)

As I mentioned above, Madness took their name from a Prince Buster song, one of the progenitors of the original ska movement in Jamaica. They also covered the song in question and another, “One step beyond” became quite the hit for them. A number of second wave ska acts covered their favourite numbers by their favourite Jamaican ska artists, reworking them for new audiences, but this track, “My girl”, was an original. It was written by keyboardist Mike Barson about his girlfriend at the time and was originally sung by him for live performances and on the demo, but lead vocalist, Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson took over when it came time to put it tape. The song was the final single released from the band’s debut album. Madness would go on to release five more albums before breaking up in 1986. Of course, there have been multiple iterations and reformations of the band over the years, touring and releasing new material, including a new album just this year. My first (and likely many other North Americans’) introduction to the group came by way of hit single “Our house”, a pop song that was a result of the band’s change of direction before disbanding the first time. “My girl” came to me via my friend Andrew Rodriguez who helped me put together a mixed tape of music from his collection one afternoon. It’s bouncy horns and guitars, tinkling keys, and peppy drumming, while Suggs wistfully waxes about the eternal man versus woman struggles to understand each other. Fun stuff.


#2: “Mirror in the bathroom” by The Beat (1980)

The Beat (known as The English Beat in North America and The British Beat in Australia) was formed in 1978 in Birmingham and featured Dave Wakeling, Andy Cox, David Steele, Saxa, and Ranking Roger, among others. They released three full-length albums before breaking up in 1982, its various members going on to form General Public and Fine Young Cannibals. “Mirror in the bathroom” is the opening track from The Beat’s debut album, “I just can’t stop it”, and as openers go, it’s one of the finest. The driving beat and riffing guitar line lay a fine bed for Saxa’s saxophone noodling and tease you right out on to the dance floor to skank about with abandon, whether the floor is packed or not. The song hints at danger and violence and late-night drinking. I certainly remember hoofing a shoe to this particular number on more than a few dance floors in the early hours during the nineties. And oh yeah, am I the only one here that thought that Goldfinger’s hit single, “Here in the bedroom”, ripped this one off a tad?


#1: “A message to you Rudy” by The Specials (1979)

Here we have the second appearance by The Specials and quite fittingly, it is a cover. Originally performed by Dandy Livingstone, “A message to you, Rudy” was way more successful when it was covered a decade later by Jerry Dammers and company. This version opens the band’s self-titled, debut album, which was described at the time as a perfect representation of their live performances, so I can imagine the song was also a mainstay on their set lists, even back then. It definitely was there when I saw them perform as part of their reunion shows that featured the majority of the band’s original members back in 2013. I say definitely because I have total recall of jumping around like a madman in total bliss. “A message to you, Rudy” in all its mellow jump and groove, horns and organs, and gang vocals was one of my favourite songs for a good while there in the mid-nineties, grabbing me from the moment I heard it. There was a risk, though, when I was in university residence of my getting sick of it. One of the young women on my floor heard me listening to it in my room one day and took a liking to it. She surprised me when she asked to borrow my CD because she typically listened to dance music and pop. The problem was that after making a copy she would play it constantly, sometimes blasting it loud enough from her room to be able to hear it when she was putting on her makeup in the shared bathrooms down the hall. Luckily, the phase passed and I can still say “A message to you, Rudy” is my favourite second wave ska track.


For other top five lists in this series, click here.