Top 10 Albums of 1987
Classic rock received a much-needed kick in the ass in 1987. As MTV settled into its groove by the mid '80s, so did modern rock, hip-hop and pop — all of which found their new grooves by messing around with fans' expectations. Classic rock, however, was content to just move along at the same plodding pace it had been stuck at since the late '70s and early part of the decade. It needed a new batch of rock 'n' roll saviors to deliver them from the same old sounds. And it received that deliverance from Guns N' Roses, a group of hard-partying L.A. brats that approached '70s-inspired hard rock like a pissed-off punk band. It would actually take another year or so before the effects of GNR's debut album 'Appetite for Destruction' would be felt. But the seeds were planted in 1987, eventually giving root to classic rock's updated battle plan. Veteran artists dominate our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1987, but even they were offering some bold new sounds.
Guitar hero Joe Satriani's most impressive display of fret fireworks can be found on his second solo album, a blistering all-instrumental assault that never lets up. Satriani runs through some complex leads throughout the record, but he's at his best hammering away at ear-shattering rock hits like 'Satch Boogie' and the title track.
Motley Crüe's sleazy metal hit an all-time sleazy high (or would that be low?) on their fourth album, a celebration of strip clubs, late nights and nasty riffs. There are some darker moments — 'Dancing on Glass' is about Nikki Sixx's heroin addiction, and 'You're All I Need' is narrated by a jailed dude who killed his girlfriend — but mostly 'Girls, Girls, Girls' spells out its three main subjects right there in the title.
The Grateful Dead hadn't released an album in seven years when 'In the Dark' came out in July. They were rewarded with their only Top 10 LP (it reached No. 6) and their only Top 40 single, 'Touch of Grey' (which hit No. 9). Most the album's songs had been part of the band's concert repertoire for at least five years, so the performances are solid. The record also features some of the band's most accessible tracks in years, including 'Hell in a Bucket' and the springy 'Touch of Grey.'
Everyone pretty much agrees that the first third of the '80s were a miserable time for Aerosmith. But by employing some professional songwriters (like Desmond Child, who penned songs for Kiss and, um, Cher) and working with a producer (Bruce Fairbairn, behind albums by AC/DC and Bon Jovi) who knew how to turn hard rock into gold for 'Permanent Vacation,' they really did stage a comeback, with their bestselling album in a decade and their biggest hit — 'Angel,' which reached No. 3 — until that end-of-the-world anthem came along.
Fleetwood Mac's first album in five years pretty much marked the end of the band. Lindsey Buckingham would leave the group a few months after its release, and Stevie Nicks was saving her best songs for her solo records. Still, there are some great moments on 'Tango in the Night,' especially Buckingham's snaky 'Big Love' and Christine McVie's old-school-sounding 'Little Lies.'
Like 'Tango in the Night' (see No. 6 on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1987), 'Sentimental Hygiene' was Warren Zevon's first record in five years. And he loaded up on guest musicians, including R.E.M. (who basically played as his backing band throughout), the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. It featured some of his best songs in years, including the plaintive 'Reconsider Me' and highlight 'Boom Boom Mancini,' about the boxer who accidentally killed someone in the ring.
John Mellencamp (still credited as “Cougar”) followed up 1985's terrific 'Scarecrow' with another collection of genre-bending songs. But where 'Scarecrow' took on more political matters via sturdy heartland rock, 'The Lonesome Jubilee' struck a more personal note with such old-timey instruments as fiddle, mandolin, banjo and accordion. Mellencamp looks back, grows up and throws one hell of an Appalachian jubilee on the most rootsy record on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1987.
'Born in the U.S.A.' made Bruce Springsteen a massively huge superstar in 1984. He stayed on the road forever, got married to an actress nobody ever heard of and generally transformed even the smallest of personal songs into arena-sized rock anthems. So for his eighth album, the Boss tuned down and turned back. He went into the studio with just a few members of the E Street Band and recorded a somber batch of songs about his crumbling marriage to that L.A. girl. It's one of the best breakup albums ever made and a turning point for Springsteen, who wouldn't return to big rock statements until 2002's 'The Rising.'
When Def Leppard released their fourth album in August, everything about it sounded huge: the riffs, the choruses, the production. No surprise that it rocketed to No. 1 and went on to become the band's biggest album, spawning seven singles. It's also no surprise that they could never live up to it. 'Hysteria' is the sound of a band expanding everything around them — even with a one-arm drummer now, they came on like an assaulting army — and then pushing it to the edge of red. It's an '80s milestone that puts all the other albums that tried to sound like it to shame.
It took some time for Guns N' Roses' first studio LP to gather momentum — it was out for nearly a year when it finally reached No. 1. But once it did, it didn't stop. Its key songs — 'Welcome to the Jungle,' 'Paradise City, 'Sweet Child o' Mine' — have become classic-rock staples, but its legacy looms much larger than that. By injecting their riff-driven songs with snarling punk energy, the quintet swerved rock 'n' roll into a raw, primal territory that had been vacant since the '70s. Has there been a more influential hard-rock record over the past 25 years? It's certainly the most influential on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1987.