1987: The Last Great Year In Rock?


Let's face it, rock music jumped the shark ages ago.  Anybody doing anything of note is merely regurgitating something from a prior generation.  The best we can hope for is that they have great taste in influences and manage to add something unexpected to the mix.

So what was the last truly great year for rock & roll?

If we start at 1979, which, unlike most years, was littered with greatness, we see that punk was sleeping it off in the corner, while post-punk (Killing Joke, PiL, Gang of Four) meshed the immediacy and brutality of punk with more nuanced musicianship and production techniques.

In the States, new wave and power pop movements were led by newcomers Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, the Knack, the Cars, the Romantics, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, etc.  Even hard rock got a kick in the pants from Pasadena, California's Van Halen.

1984 isn't just a George Orwell novel that seems to be playing out before our eyes, it is the year that MTV took over the music industry.  Among the Cyndi Laupers and John Cougars were some of the most disposable synth-pop acts to ever plug in a Roland.  It was also the year that the same band that had previously given us "Hot Blooded" and "Dirty White Boy" served up the lukewarm power ballad “I Want To Know What Love Is” and went straight to #1 with a bullet.

It was also the year of “Dirty Dancing”.



Before I took that walk down Memory Lane circa 1987, what I remembered most was that it was the year U2 released The Joshua Tree and methodically took over the world.  It was also the year GNR hit the scene with Appetite For Destruction, though it would another year before the album would break big.  INXS was there too with the landmark album Kick, which included “Never Tear Us Apart”, "Mystify", "New Sensation", "Need You Tonight" and "Devil Inside" (whew!).



Sadly, it was also the year that the Smiths broke up, but they gave us a new studio album, Strangeways Here We Come, and two, yes, TWO compilations (The World Won't Listen and Louder Than Bombs).  Husker Du was also achieving their greatest musical heights just as they were calling it a day

Pink Floyd also released their first full-fledged studio album minus Roger Waters and then the two camps began a sort of passive-aggressive sparring match that served only to tarnish the legacy a tad. Despite the bickering, both Floyd and Waters made some great music during that time.  It’s almost worth having Waters leave the band if it means seeing Momentary Lapse Of Reason and Radio K.A.O.S. released within months of one another. The latter was the far superior album, of course.


The Replacements cut their first album without guitarist Bob Stinson who, in a band known as much for their alcohol consumption as for their occasional flashes of brilliance, was kicked to the curb for, you guessed it, drinking too much.

To borrow a Westerberg phrase, as an album, Pleased To Meet Me took one step forward and two steps back. Parts of the album seemed intent on reclaiming some of their youthful recklessness, while the other half showed Westerberg's plaintive side and the fact that he no longer needed the band to truly shine, as on "Skyway".

The rest of the album is happily lost somewhere in the middle, with “Can’t Hardly Wait” as its rallying cry.



R.E.M. kept on keeping on, raising the stakes with each successive (and successful) record.  What had looked like a fluke on Life’s Rich Pageant (namely the album falling just one spot shy of the Top 20) had been bested by Document, an album that gave the band their first Top 10 single (“The One I Love”) while going Top 10 (and platinum) itself.


Last, but not least, Prince released Sign O The Times, an ambitious 2-LP set completely free of clunkers that came at a time when the Purple Wonder was firing off albums on an annual basis: Purple Rain (1984), Around The World In A Day (1985), Parade (1986), and then another TWO ALBUM set in 1987?!

On top of that, the man was just killing it, even when he wasn't, as seen in this candid clip of a 1987 performance where Prince deals with technical difficulties the way only Prince can.


Musically speaking, it kinda makes you wanna dig out an old calendar, hang it on the wall, and pretend the last 30 years didn't happen.

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