Top 10 Songs of 1987
Rock music wasn't in a very good place in 1987. Between hair-metal bands flaunting their style over substance and hard-rock groups gunning for mainstream acceptance with sap-soaked ballads, there wasn't much for classic rock fans to get excited over. But we found some keepers. Our list of the Top Songs of 1987 includes a bunch of reliable old-schoolers (Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac, Heart), as well as a couple of new artists (especially the red-hot Guns N' Roses) looking to shake things up.
In 1985, the Cult were a goth-leaning indie-rock band. Two years later, they were hard-rock behemoths power-riffing their way to fist-raising fame. Credit producer Rick Rubin, the hip-hop mogul who injected Slayer with a significant dose of heaviness. He transformed the British-bred Cult into a room-shaking force, erecting a wall of electric guitars around their moodiness. "Love Removal Machine" was the first song to emerge from the makeover, and it still kicks hard today.
Now inching away from the corporate-designated "Cougar" surname, Mellencamp finally got some respect with 1985's rootsy Scarecrow. The follow-up album, The Lonesome Jubilee, is almost as good, as Mellencamp digs deeper into Americana roots music. This single – pulled along by accordion, fiddle and auto harp – is a nostalgic look back, like so many of the album's songs, on his formative years.
Aerosmith spent most of the '80s in a cloudy, confused haze. They finally got it all together again on 1987's comeback album Permanent Vacation. The first single from the LP was this blast of classic riffs updated with some funky synths and gleaming state-of-the-art production. For the first time in years, it sounded like the band was having fun.
When the Grateful Dead returned after a seven-year hiatus from record-making, they sounded energized and polished. For the first time in their long career, they placed an album (In the Dark) in the Top 10, and its first single, "Touch of Grey," followed it on the charts, climbing to No. 9. They weren't looking for a hit, but the song's easy, accessible hook pretty much guaranteed one.
Like a few other artists on our list of the Top 10 Songs of 1987, Heart were coming off a couple of rough years as they entered the mid-'80s. But (again, like several other classic rockers) they found redemption in the almighty power ballad with 1985's "What About Love." This monster hit (their second No. 1) is even better – all big, booming drums, simmering piano notes and Ann Wilson's room-shaking vocals.
By 1987, Fleetwood Mac were nearing the end of their classic era. Their main songwriters were saving their best songs for their respective solo albums, and it took five years (an eternity back then) for them to release Tango in the Night, their follow-up to the No. 1 Mirage. The highlight is Lindsey Buckingham's spare and kinda weird "Big Love," which relies more on groove than hook.
Like Heart (see No. 7 on our list of the Top 10 Songs of 1987), Whitesnake were struggling to keep alive in the '80s until a power ballad rescued them. "Here I Go Again" was originally recorded in 1982; frontman David Coverdale revisited the song five years later with a new version of Whitesnake, pumping up both the slow build and knockout-punch elements. This time, the band was rewarded with its first Top 10 hit and only No. 1 ... and one of the greatest power ballads of all time.
The Joshua Tree is the moment where U2 became the best band on the planet. They had been heading in this direction for most of the decade. But following 1984's The Unforgettable Fire, an album that first revealed the Irish band's obsession with American music, they dug deeper and pulled out one of the most important records of the past 25 years. The album's lead single, With or Without You, is a masterful exercise in mood-building excellence.
There's nothing small about Hysteria, Def Leppard's No. 1 follow-up to 1983's breakthrough album Pyromania. Every single song, including its seven singles, sound like giant rock 'n' roll robots descending on Earth for a little foot-stomping vengeance. The riffs and hooks are their weapons, and they're never as devastating as they are on this terrific tribute to sweaty, sticky sex.
By 1987, rock 'n' roll needed a good beatdown. Between hair-teased pretty boys and crusty old dinosaurs playing music that sounded fossilized in 1975, rock radio had become a sad parking lot of late-career desperation. It took a group of hard-partying punks from Los Angeles to whip the music back into shape. Appetite for Destruction didn't sound like too much happening in rock 'n' roll at the time (just check out the other tracks on our list of the Top 10 Songs of 1987), and the kicking and screaming "Welcome to the Jungle" was its invitation to mess things up. But the song did more than kick-start a new era. It made rock 'n' roll relevant again.