DIRTY THIRTY: The Best of 1987

Dan McLeod -

Music

So here it is. My 30th birthday is staring me in my hairy face. I’m just days away from waving goodbye to my twenties, and settling into the decade usually associated with “grown up” things, like marriage, children, mortgage and all that jazz. Eww!

It’s not all bad mind you, I mean, I DO like the idea of finally being recognised as “XXX” (That’s a little Roman numeral joke there for you… Geddit?)

But I’m far from the only weird and wonderful thing that exploded on to the scene in 1987. There are also some pivotal albums that hit the big 3-0 during 2017. Albums that have had to weather three decades of ever-shifting musical trends, format changes and seismic societal shifts. So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to run you through five records from my birth-year, that I feel have stood the test of time.

Tom Waits – Frank’s Wild Years

Not to be confused with the song ‘Frank’s Wild Years’ (which appeared on 1983’s Swordfishtrombones) Frank’s Wild Years, the album, is a masterpiece. Tom Waits has never been accused of following the norm, which is why Frank’s Wild Years sounds almost unlike any other album you’re likely to hear from the 1980s. In fact, it’s difficult to tell just where in time this album sounds like it’s situated; which is a typical Tom Waits-thing, I guess. ‘Hang on St. Christopher’, ‘Cold, Cold Ground’, ‘Straight to the Top’ and ‘Innocent When You Dream’ are just some of the winners included here. And fans of HBO’s The Wire will be very familiar with the track “Way Down in the Hole”. If you investigate only one record from this list, make it Frank’s Wild Years!

Key track: ‘Cold, Cold Ground’

INXS – Kick

Say what you will about the post-Hutcho years, but a decade before Michael ducked-off for a sly fondle and never returned, INXS were an international powerhouse. 1987’s Kick proved to be a commercial and critical highpoint for the band – peaking at No.1 in Australia and No.3 in the US. Kick boasts more hit singles than some bands manage in their entire career (“Never Tear Us Apart”, “New Sensation”, “Kick” and “Devil Inside” just to name a few.) It’s one of the finest albums to emerge from not only 1980’s Australia, but from this nation in general. Shame they kind of shat all over that legacy as the decades went on.

Key track: ‘Never Tear Us Apart’

Big Black – Songs About Fucking

Don’t let the glasses fool you, Steve Albini is one baaaad dude. The kind of guy that doesn’t suffer fools easily. Albini was arguably at his agitated and aggressive peak when he, and his band Big Black, released Songs About Fucking in September 1987. The thing is 31 minutes of Industrial, Hardcore Punk, Noise-Rock and general brutality. Songs About Fucking is still as abrasive today, as it was at its release. The likes of Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Nirvana all credited Big Black as a major influence on the wave of Grunge that followed; with Albini even acting as producer for Nirvana’s In Utero record, until the record execs put the kibosh on the final, harsh mix. If you’re a fan of early Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Fugazi or Shellac (another Albini project) you should really check it out. And if you’re not, you should keep clear.

Key track: ‘Bad Penny’

U2 – The Joshua Tree

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Bono knows his way around a hit single, and has a voice that plenty of singers would happily trade him for. U2 were arguably at their peak on The Joshua Tree. There was a deft mix of trans-Atlantic, stadium-friendly anthems, (‘Where the Streets Have No Name’), heartfelt intimacy (‘With or Without You’) and some ballsy, demented Preacher freakouts (‘Bullet the Blue Sky’). In 1987, U2 had no-yet crossed over to the realms of self-parody, nor were they embracing obnoxiously-totalitarian marketing practices (another free album, forced on to your iTunes, anyone?) Sure, there is some filler to be found here, but what album from the 80s didn’t contain some of that?

Key track: ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’

Janes Addiction – Jane’s Addiction

Ahhh Jane’s Addiction: too fond of Eastern vibes, genre-bending and sexual ambiguity to be fully embraced by the 1987 Rock community; but too heavy on the riffs, posturing and whores (their words, not mine) to be taken seriously by the artsy-Alternative scene. This semi-live debut effort captures the LA outfit’s mish-mashing musical tendencies perfectly. And while singer Perry Farrell would eventually go on to be embraced by the music world in the 1990s (he created a little thing called Lollapalooza), back in ’87, he and his band were a little harder to love. Hard-Rock, Glam-Metal, Punk-Funk, slow-burning Stoner anthems, Reggae-tinged ballads and even a Velvet Underground cover are all on-show across the 40 minutes. Approach with optimistic caution.

Key track: ‘Chip Away’

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