Best of 1986

Now that my best-of lists stretch from 1991 all the way into the present, I have decided to "go back in time." I didn't really fall in love with music until the 90's, so my appreciation and knowledge of music prior to 1990 is lacking. As I get older I hope to spend more time listening to and learning about music from the past rather than my typical obsession with whatever new album that will be released tomorrow.

For my first "old" list, I decided in January to take much of 2016 to discover and listen to albums celebrating 30th anniversaries. All year long I have listened to and purchased 1986 albums, many of which I had never heard before.

Top 10 albums of 1986:

1. R.E.M.- Lifes Rich Pageant
First heard? Probably heard a song or two from this album in the late 80's, but the first R.E.M. song I consciously liked and credited to the band was "Losing My Religion" in 1991. Didn't heard this album in full until I bought it as a freshman in college in 1995.

Purchased: 1995 on CD, 2006 on used vinyl

Thoughts: Whenever asked about my favorite R.E.M. album, I usually reply with 1998's "Up" because that album got so much criticism at the time. While I do love "Up", "Lifes Rich Pageant" is equally as meaningful for me.

"'Lifes Rich Pageant' was R.E.M.'s most pop-oriented and accessible album up to that point. Recording frequently and touring almost constantly, the band had been nurturing a grassroots audience throughout the early 1980s, and Pageant is a pivotal album in their career, representing the moment when their Southern post-punk sound anticipated larger venues and began expanding to fill those spaces. It was also, strangely, their most overtly political collection, with songs addressing environmental crises and political malaise." ~From the 2011 Pitchfork review of the 25th Anniversary Release

2. Beastie Boys- Licensed to Ill
First heard? Heard "Fight for your Right" on the radio when it was first released, but did not hear complete album straight through until this year.

Purchased: 2016 on used CD

Thoughts: Beastie Boys is one of those bands I adore when I hear, but never listen to them without a prompt. The 30th anniversary of this album was one prompt, and this scene in Star Trek Beyond was phenomenal.

"From the very first moments of the Led Zeppelin-sampled drumbeat of 'Rhymin’ & Stealin’,' it was apparent that music lovers were in for something brand new. Three young white guys from New York had been playing together since they were teenagers, and on November 15, 1986, unleashed their unique mix of stealing from the best, pop-culture based rhymes, and unbridled beats. The Beastie Boys had arrived with 'Licensed To Ill', and rap music, not to mention the still-burgeoning genre of 'alternative,' was never going to be the same." ~The AV Club's roundtable 30-year review

3. The Smiths- The Queen is Dead
First heard? The first Smiths song I heard was on a mix from a girl in 1995: "Please, Please, Please"

Purchased: 2014 or so as MP3s from Amazon

"But Queen is a successful outing. It’s memorable in a minor-league way and if nothing else it demonstrates the most admirable trait about the Smiths and about Brit rock in general — the wonderful breeding and development of those two-headed songwriting units. There’s something inspiring about these U.K. teams — Lennon and McCartney, Lennox and Stewart, Jagger and Richards, Godley and Creme — these bonded mates who seem to weather thick and thin for the sake of the song. That’s why even the breakup of Wham! had its sad side. Over here in the U.S.A., it’s more like every man for himself. So if the Smiths put you uptight, loosen up and give ‘em a little room to breath. Remember they’re different over there in England. ~From the hysterical, original 1986 review from SPIN

4. Genesis- Invisible Touch
First heard? Heard the title track and "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" on the radio in the 80's. Did not hear full album until 2000's.

Purchased: On used vinyl in Savannah, GA in 2006 or so.

"Genesis combined two things that critics didn’t digest well: progressive rock (the roots from whence the group came) and adult contemporary (a direction that Collins was credited, or blamed, with bringing them in)...

"The band’s old-school prog-rock fans would often grouse about the group’s more accessible work. But by the mid-’80s, Collins, Rutherford and Banks were in their mid-30s; at that point in one’s life, not every song is going to fit on a black-light poster. Divorces happen; so does heartbreak and other disappointments that come with adult life. That’s the “adult” part of “adult contemporary.” It may not be sexy, but artists like Collins, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt and Billy Joel were writing and singing about what it’s like to be a grown-up (which was not necessarily what rock and roll was designed to do).

"But no matter what was going on in their lives, Genesis never forgot their prog-rock roots, and that was one of the things that made 1986’s Invisible Touch so effective and successful; it did a lot of different things, and it did them all well." ~Radio.com's Re-evaluating Genesis’ ‘Invisible Touch’ 30 Years Later

5. Cro-Mags- Before the Quarrel
First heard? Had never even heard of the band until this year.

Purchased: Have only streamed on Amazon MP3 up until this point, but looking to buy it on vinyl. Most all this band's music in all formats is out of print and very expensive.

Until I heard this album a few months ago I honestly had no idea music like this was being created as long ago as 1986, because I never heard anything like it until 1993. Now I know where much of the 90's hardcore music drew its inspiration, because Cro-Mags are incredible. There are two versions of this album: The original that was actually released in 1986 is called Age of Quarrel and most modern reviews call it "overproduced." The version that I first listened to, and refer to here, is the original raw demos that weren't widely available until reissues in the 90's: Before the Quarrel.

"The Cro-Mags’ first LP, 'The Age of Quarrel', was apparently one of the albums that defined what would go on to become New York Hardcore when it was released back in 1986. The band took punk and made it bigger, heavier, and infused enough metal into it to give it a certain crossover appeal (and went on, several albums later, to become more of a speed thrash band). In 2000 they released 'Before The Quarrel', which is actually the demo recording of 'The Age of Quarrel'. It sounds raw and urgent, practiced and determined. The best way I can describe it is it sounds like something that was happening, and had been for some time, and people still weren’t wise to it, but someone stumbled into it and happened to have a tape recorder.

"The difference between the original album and this demo version is pretty startling. Compare the original version of 'By Myself' and the demo re-release. The original barely sounds heavy. The drums echo a Winger track, and the vocals are pinched and weak. The demo version is bigger, the sound messy. The vocals are inaudible in some tonal ranges. And this is why it works. It’s deliciously ragged, the guitars sounding underrepresented at times and flailing wildly in the foreground in the occasional drunken solos. The rhythm section chugs, even though the bass is recorded terribly and you can’t really make out half of the drum set. That’s why this recording is so good." ~365 Spins on the differences between the original and demo

6. Crowded House- Crowded House
First heard? Heard "Don't Dream It's Over" on the radio in the 80's. Did not hear full album until this year.

Purchased: On used CD in 2016.

Crowded House has gone out of their way to recognize the 30th anniversary of this, their debut album, by re-issuing all of their albums in deluxe vinyl and CD sets with tons of unreleased tracks. Here is a link to band members Neil Finn and Nick Seymour discussing the details that went in to the recording of this album.

7. Adam Again- In a New World of Time
First heard? First heard Adam Again in 1992, and was a huge fan for all of the 90's (and still am). Didn't hear any songs off this album though until the 00's. This is a unique album for sure, but pales in comparison with everything Gene Eugene would do in the 90's.

Purchased: Digitally at some point around 2005 or so.

As interesting as this album is, the highlight for me might be the cover, a painting by Howard Finster. I love his work, and he also painted the cover of the R.E.M. album Reckoning.

"Their first two records, 'In a New World of Time', which featured cover art by reverend and southern eccentric Howard Finster, and 'Ten Songs By Adam Again', were exercises in a kind of gauzy, synth-heavy hybrid of funk and new wave. Though both are fascinating in their own way – particularly Ten Songs, which is a close-to-perfect record by a band that would excel at making close-to-perfect records – there are no jagged edges to be found on any of them. Their best songs are awash in color, synths streaking down like a watercolor left out in a sun shower." ~From J. Edward Keyes' fantastic blog, An Atheist's guide to Christian Rock

8. The Crucified- Take Up Your Cross
First heard? In 1993 Tooth and Nail re-issued the band's first two demos, 1986's Take Up Your Cross and 1987's Nailed on CD for the first time (had previously only been available on cassette).

Purchased: 1993 on new CD.

Thoughts: When Tooth and Nail Records launched in 1993, I bought everything they released, and this was no exception. At the time I had never heard of the band, but I loved the album cover, and was excited about I would potentially hear on the CD. For years I was pretty disappointed. But I had no clue at the time it was only demos and not a proper album. It wasn't until The Crucified's 2008 box set, that included their "lost" 1991 album, "The Pillars of Humanity" that I truly appreciated all of the band's discography. Of course by then I had loved the musicians with their other projects, most notably Mark Salomon & Jeff Bellew in Stavesacre.

9. Peter Gabriel- So
First heard? Heard "In Your Eyes" in the 80's on the radio, and of course through the movie Say Anything. Did not listen to complete album straight through until this summer.

Purchased: Have only streamed it at this point, looking for a used vinyl copy currently

"After 30 years, So has sustained the reputation of a great album that does not sound the least bit dated by 1980's production values. Rolling Stone placed it at #187 in its list of the 500 greatest albums of all-time and at #14 in the 100 Best Albums of the 80's. It catapulted Gabriel into international superstardom. At one time, 'Sledgehammer' was the most played music video in the history of MTV, but Gabriel's talent and influence is so much greater than just that video. Go ahead. Play this album again. Hopefully you have a version that offers the original running order, with 'In Your Eyes' in its proper place. It really doesn't matter though, for by the time 'Sledgehammer' finishes, you'll be sucked in, just as you were the first time you heard it." ~Albumism's 30th Annivesary tribute article

10. Kate Bush- The Whole Story
First heard? When I got married in 2004 my wife had it on CD and that was my introduction to Kate Bush.

Purchased: 2007 or so on used vinyl

I don't typically include compilation albums on lists, but as this was my introduction to Kate Bush, and my overall 1986 appreciation is still lacking, it works here. If you are going to buy one Kate Bush album though, go with 1985's Hounds of Love (3 songs from that album are on this "best-of" release).

Ten more imporant 1986 albums in alphabetical order:
(I only own one of the following, so if you have a used copy you want to send my way, please do!)
Bad Brains- I Against I
Dead Kennedys- Bedtime for Democracy
Depeche Mode- Black Celebration
Hüsker Dü- Candy Apple Grey
Lifesavers- A Kiss of Life
Madonna- True Blue
Paul Simon- Graceland
Run-D.M.C.- Raising Hell
Sonic Youth- Evol
Talk Talk- The Colour of Spring