Anyone who was there will tell you: 1988 was ruled by one band, and one band alone – Guns N’ Roses, who by that point were well on their way to conquering the world. But when we started sifting through the year’s best and biggest records to compile this list of the Top 10 Albums of 1988, we were faced with a surprisingly broad variety of artists and sounds, indicative not only of what had come before, but what lay just around the corner of rock’s winding history.
'New Jersey' reflects the sort of meticulously coiffed pop-metal aesthetic that Guns N' Roses -- the “most dangerous band in the world” -- were challenging. Still, Bon Jovi’s epic perm-and peroxide-powered tribute to their home state went toe-to-toe with ‘Appetite for Destruction,’ topping the charts and selling some 10 million copies worldwide.
‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’
For British heavy-metal powerhouse Iron Maiden, 1988 was just another rewarding year in a decade filled with triumphs, culminating in their seventh, rapturously received studio record and their first true concept album. But as history would show
, ‘Seventh Son’ would also signify the end of the band’s glory years, as its classic lineup began splintering soon after the LP's globe-trotting tour launched.
Nineteen-eighty-eight marked the end of avant-punk pioneers Talking Heads, who, against all odds, had managed to outlast and outsell most of their CBGB peers, thanks to David Byrne’s ever-evolving pop-art vision. ‘Naked’ can be wildly inconsistent at times, filled with extreme highs, like ‘Blind’ and ‘(Nothing But) Flowers,’ and lows amid the escalating band tensions that would result in Byrne’s solo flight.
Other than not knowing when to stop taking immature potshots at former singer David Lee Roth (the title lampoons Roth's ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ LP), ‘OU812’ was an otherwise satisfying sophomore outing for Van Hagar. While it did not produce as many chart-topping radio hits as the preceding ‘5150,' the album was arguably more cohesive from start to finish, scaling back the synthesizers and keeping the Van Halen arena-rock machine chugging right along through decade’s end.
‘... And Justice for All’
Depending on who you ask, ‘... And Justice for All’ was either Metallica’s crowning achievement or their first stumble, so we figured it felt pretty comfortable sitting smack-dab in the middle of our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1988. If anything, perhaps the album’s greatest legacy was bringing highly technical heavy metal to the mainstream, its only minor compromise coming with the music video crafted for all-time-morbid power ballad ‘One,’ which was curiously seen as a huge concession to commercialism and MTV’s market dominance at the time.
This cerebral, latter-day rock opera mixes dystopian terrorism, revolutionary intrigue, subversive nuns and an inevitable descent into insanity for its hapless protagonist. Queensryche’s third LP is a head-spinning assemblage of thought-provoking words set to superlative music, resulting in the ultimate heavy-metal concept album.
‘G N’ R Lies’
Guns N’ Roses
This mini-album essentially amounted to a calculated holiday stocking-stuffer, designed to capitalize on the steamrolling success of Guns N' Roses' 1987 debut album, ‘Appetite for Destruction.’ There's nothing musically inferior about ‘G N’ R Lies,’ which, controversial lyrics and all, introduced fans to a fascinating new side (i.e., the acoustic one) of the terminally decadent but talented quintet. The inclusion of 1986’s ‘Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide ’ EP on the flip side is a great bonus.
Leave it to ol’ Keef to cut through the soap opera that the Rolling Stones
’ career had become with an old-fashioned, no-fuss, down-and-dirty rock album. In one fell swoop, Richards brought his bickering Glimmer Twin Mick Jagger
down a peg from the false heights of his pop-focused solo career and, in due time, reminded him that no individual glory could compare to the world’s greatest rock band at full power.
Like a bolt out of the blue, Jane’s Addiction single-handedly loosened knucklehead jock-rock’s iron grip upon the fashion-dictating Los Angeles scene with ‘Nothing’s Shocking’’s unconventional songs, provocative lyrics and true androgyny (not the phony “look like chicks to get chicks” variety). In dong so, they helped sow the seeds for the ' 90s’ alternative-rock revolution by encouraging dozens of other establishment-challenging metal bands (Faith No More, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, etc.) to follow their muse instead of their crotch.
‘Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1’
When in doubt, you can never go wrong with the largest available amount of rock 'n' roll royalty. The Traveling Wilburys -- Bob Dylan
, George Harrison
, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty
and Jeff Lynne -- subjugated their individual egos long enough to assemble one of the grandest jigsaw puzzles of the album-rock era. If there’s a single historic happening that distinguishes 1988 from all other years on the classic-rock calendar, then this is definitely it.
Next: More Great Albums From 1988