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.


Best tunes of 1990: #7 The Sisters Of Mercy “More”

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Song number seven on my Best tunes of 1990 list marks the third song in a row that was introduced to me, either directly or indirectly, by my good friend Tim. At number nine, we had New Model Army’s “Purity”, “De-Luxe” by Lush at number eight, and now, “More” by The Sisters of Mercy. At first glance, these might seem quite varied musically but the common variable or thread stringing these three songs together is an inherent darkness or romantic notion.

You see, Tim was something of a goth back in our high school days. Not in the classic or even stereotypical sense. No leather or PVC or makeup, though he did wear a lot of dark clothing and his tastes definitely tended to the industrial and goth sub genres of alternative music. Of course, if you asked Tim, he would never say he was a goth. But then again, neither would many of the biggest names of the genre self-identify with the title. Indeed, most, The Sisters of Mercy included, detested the term. It’s like the genre that never was. Until now of course, with these third and fourth wave bands who idolized the original post-punk bands that were into the dark and romantic.

The Sisters of Mercy moniker really represents the musical vehicle for Andrew Eldritch and his drum machine du jour, Doktor Avalanche. He originally formed the outfit with Gary Marx in 1980, taking their name from the early Leonard Cohen song. However, the group has been a revolving door of musicians, that have in the past included Wayne Hussey (The Mission), Patricia Morrison (The Gun Club), and Tony James (Sigue Sigue Sputnik), but the lineup has never been the same on any of their three long players. Only three, you wonder? That’s not very much for a band that has existed for 37 years, its true. The initial reason for this was a dispute with their record label in the early nineties but they still didn’t record anything new after Warner let them out of their contract in 1997, though they’ve toured regularly over the years, often showcasing new material.

“More” was the first single to be released off “Vision thing”, the band’s final album to date. The album version is epic at eight minutes or so. Driving guitars and a threatening piano/keyboard backbone that sounds at times like a looney tunes mad scientist playing the harpsichord surrounded by bats and at others, like a melodramatic melody from a Meatloaf track*. And I’m not even joking. It’s damn serious. Especially when you throw in Andrew Eldritch’s distinctive, growling bass-baritone vocals. It’s a real rocker that screams dry ice and lasers and the blackest of sunglasses.

I have a lot of fond memories of blasting this while night driving down country roads just outside my hometown with the windows wide open. But I also have one vivid one of dancing to the tune at my high school auditorium, during a CFNY video dance party (anyone remember those?), and being one of only 3 or 4 on floor, another being my friend Tim. So this one’s for him.

*I read a piece on the Sisters just this week by Brett Chittenden on Alan Cross’s website that talked about how Jim Steinman (producer of albums by Bonnie Tyler and Meatloaf) had a hand in writing and producing some of Sisters of Mercy’s best work (including “More”) and now I can’t unhear the similarities.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.


Best tunes of 1990: #10 Concrete Blonde “Bloodletting (The vampire song)”

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I have always been an avid reader and in my early to mid teen years, it was all about the horror fiction. “Different Seasons”, the collection that included the story upon which “Stand by me” was based, was my gateway into Stephen King and by 1991, I had read most of what he had published. I had also sampled a good portion of the works by John Saul and Dean Koontz, and then, my friend John suggested I check out Anne Rice. I was only about a hundred pages into “Interview with a vampire”, the first book of her Vampire Chronicles series, when the lyrics of the title track off Concrete Blonde’s 1990 album “Bloodletting” started to make a whole lot more sense.

Indeed, Anne Rice’s works seemed to serve as a sort of spirit guide to the entirety of Concrete Blonde’s third album, if not lyrically, definitely in mood and scope. This album took the American alt-rock trio into gothic rock territory and strangely, served the band up their greatest commercial success (as already mentioned in the post on “Joey”‘ which appeared at #21 on this list). Every song is tight and fit cohesively into the album as a whole, evoking the New Orleans of Rice’s books, like a gloomy, romantic, and steamy graveyard with violence lurking in every dark corner.

The lyrics of the title track are more an inference than a retelling of the first book, that dark and empty house where the vampire Louis recounts his story to a journalist, along with that of the enigmatic Lestat. In case you’ve never read the book, nor seen the film adaptation that starred Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, I won’t say much more about it but if you’ve listened closely to the lyrics, you can probably guess how it all ends. However, you don’t have to be an Anne Rice fan at all to enjoy this track, just a taste for the macabre. It’s all eerie screeching sounds that hint at bats and howling winds that rustle decaying leaves. The bass is evil and deeply foreboding, the guitars are a scratching at your bedroom window, seductively asking to be let in. And then, there’s Johnette Napolitano, a deeper and sultrier-voiced Siouxsie Sioux, her delivery sending chills all up and down your spine.

I got the ways and means
To New Orleans
I’m going down by the river
Where it’s warm and green
I’m gonna have a drink and walk around
I got a lot to think about
Oh, yeah

A great, great track, but definitely not one for the faint of heart.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.