Left To right, Left to right: Guns ‘N Fuckin’ Roses, Prince, Rakim & Eric B., & Redd Kross (who? you’ll see soon enough)
Reading this year’s cultural polls have been absolutely frustrating. And in the field of music, actually abhorrent. There was absolutely no challenging, passionate, revolutionary (despairingly so in this age of divisive politics and an ignoramus president) or even good music in the year 2017. Not even catchy music.
I know, I know kids, this is just cantankerous complaining from an old misanthrope, but can you really argue about it. Where are the anthems? The rebel songs? The raging rockers and funky beats? There are none and you all know it. The most popular artists are Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift and Maroon 5, both corporate shills whose songs are fit for background music for chain drug stores, and they actually are.
Well, there is Kendrick Lamar, but he is like the only student in the classroom that raises his hand. And there is death metal, but you can’t understand the words. And the only bands that are actually essential are fucking cartoons, the Gorillaz and Dethklok.
In defense of this shitty bland state of music, downloading has ruined it. Having music on files is really not the same as having a physical piece of music in your hands. But that’s what the market has (d)evolved into and there is not much to be done in the time being about it.
But that won’t stop this digital publication to go back to one of the last great renaissance eras of popular music, 1987. That year was a watershed movement when all genres meshed and new ones began. A year where established acts made definitive classics. Of phenomenal debuts and fulfilled potential. Of stellar comebacks, great experimental risks and outstanding swan songs. And a year of the evolution of two genres that are still dominant even today, hip hop and alternative music.
Starting from the top; just like the best music to defy conventions.
Guns ‘N Roses, Appetite For Destruction.
The greatest debut rock and roll heavy metal punk album of all time and at this stage will remain in infinity the best . Every song on this album kills. It’s multi-platinum status most justified. This album fused every genre of rock music in each individual song. Influences on this album varied between hard rock, southern rock, punk, funk, rhythm and blues and glam rock into a perfect hardcore amalgam of heavy metal fury. Best songs are the ones everyone knows so well, even the kids of America today; the cynical urban dystopia of Welcome To The Jungle, the jamming utopian anthem Paradise City, the killer ballad Sweet Child Of Mine, and the rollicking ragers of defiance and addiction of It’s So Easy, You’re Crazy, Nighttrain, and Mr. Brownstone, the catchy Think About You and My Michelle and the creeping groove of Rocket Queen. An album of absolute perfection that no band, even including them, will ever be achieved again or surpassed.
Prince, Sign ☮ The Times.
The album he composed after dissolving the Revolution, one of the greatest bands of all time. This album is a tapestry, painting and sculpture piece set to music. Prince was channeling the Beatles, James Brown, and everything on Motown, Stax, Disco and the nascent genre of Techno/House music on this one. It kicks off with the raw minimalist title track, just a drum machine accompanying sparse bass, synth and guitar licks and powerful lyrics citing ghetto strife and the ill-advised and planned Challenger space mission, the song is sort of homage to Gil Scott Heron’s Whitey On The Moon. It’s also Prince at his most poetic, so include channeling Joni Mitchell too, who he mentions on the funky and weird “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker”.
The album also gets wilder and funkier from there, Play in the Sunshine with it’s Sly And The Family Stone groove, Housequake and Hot Thing are two of his greatest dance songs and brutally hard sounding. Starfish And Coffee is so whimsical it’s like something Dr. Seuss never wrote. U Got The Look is one of his last great crossover singles. If I Was Your Girlfriend is a cool role reversal and explicitly vulgar song, I always wondered if this song was about Tipper Gore who started her pro-censorship panel on music based on Darling Nikki. I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man and The Cross are straight up rockers, the latter a punishing garage metal song about self-sacrifice. And it ends with the quiet storm masterpiece Adore. The album is a pure soul and R & B rock’n’roll masterpiece
The Golden Age Of Rap Triumvirate: Eric B And Rakim, Paid In Full; Boogie Down Productions, Criminal Minded; Public Enemy, Yo! Bum Rush The Show.
Although the album era of rap started with Run-DMC in 1984 and their breakthrough with Raising Hell in 1986, along with the Beastie Boys Licensed To Ill (which came out late that year and is disqualified here despite ruling the airwaves in 87), these three debuts were the ones that shook the nation and the world from the enclaves of the Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens And Long Island.
These three albums brought the term hardcore into hip hop. The music on Paid In Full and Criminal Minded were minimal and limited but purely organic, even if they were records and samples. Yo! was actually well produced and defiantly aggressively political. All made massive impacts with songs that still stand out with quotable lyrics (pump up the volume), whether referenced or sampled.
The best of the lot is Eric B and Rakim’s debut. Rakim is the best M.C. of all time, lyrically and musically, which is difficult to ascertain because of his competition at that time (and with Big Daddy Kane debut a year later). I Ain’t No Joke is a anthem of vainglorious self-esteem that would inspire anyone, and Rakim not mentioning his name in the song gives it universal appeal, like a motivational speech set to 808 beats. He returns the favor to his audience with the participation songs I Know You Got Soul and Move The Crowd. The penultimate song is the title track Paid In Full, with the killer and unmistakable recognizable sampled beat and just a few verses about capitalism, self-preservation and sustainability from the M.C., Rakim’s style on this song (and the others) is almost like Clint Eastwood challenging a thug if he shot all his bullets. Then Eric B just shreds the song with vicious cuts showing why you don’t forget why he’s billed first in the group and why he’s proclaimed the President in a later song. This version is much better than it’s worldwide famous remix that featured a spooky sample of a famous singer from India.
Boogie Down Productions debut is essential for it being responsible for starting the gangster rap genre because of many songs focusing on gun violence, which made a lot of sense since KRS-One (greatest rap name ever, it was the only moniker at the time that was a nmenonic) and D.J. Scott LaRock were from the Bronx where the worst of the bad days was happening with high murder rates and crack at it’s apex. The album was funky documentary of the times in the South Bronx, even thought the song titled after their area was a rebuttal to rival Mc Shan’s ode to the hip hop scene in the Queensbridge Projects and a tribute to the confirmed seminal history of where the genre was originated, which was replicated in the sillier dis song “The Bridge Is Over”. The songs that did focus on the violence on the streets were detailed with seriousness, shock theatrics and dark humor like in 9mm Goes Bang, Criminal Minded and Remix For P Is Free. KRS was masterful with the braggadocio too, with innovative stylings on the songs Poetry, Elementary, and Word From Our Sponsor. The album had a huge reggae and dancehall influence that distinguished it from the other albums and a lot of other rap singles. Scott Larock’s beats and scratches were high up in the mix and had a real good ear for melody, who knows what music he could have made with better production, but it clearly rubbed off on his partner, who went on to produce by himself on followup albums.
Public Enemy was a pure anomaly. A militant political rap group on a major label. The first band with exposure and backing like that since The Clash. The album was spotty but makes up for it with strong lyrics from Chuck D, and kinetic performances by DJ Terminator X (especially on Rightstarter), and sidekick Flavor Flav (Too Much Posse) and live instrumentation and walls of noise supplied by The Bomb Squad. Hooks are supplied by car screeching and sirens on You’re Gonna Get Yours. A few ominous synth notes and brutal beat propel Chuck’s lyrical opus and first single Public Enemy Number One. To quote the hard rhymer, this and the other two above still rock the boulevard.
Redd Kross, Neurotica
This is the lost treasure album on the list. The record label, distributed by RCA, went bankrupt just a short time after it’s release, so it predictably didn’t sell that much. Which is a fucking shame, because this album is one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll albums of all time. Produced by Tommy Eldrydi (better known as Tommy Ramone), this album fused the proto-punk of the Stooges, L.A. hardcore, every cartoon and plush animal rock band from Saturday morning cartoons and junk food into a glorious messy fattening masterpiece. Every song rocks except the two sweet ballads ending the both sides of the record/cassette. Subject matter of the songs range from suicide cults in Neurotica, the drug addicted misadventures of One Day At A Time star McKenzie Phillips in the song after her first name, cereal as metaphor in Frosted Flake, vicious rockers What They Say and Ghandi Is Dead and the should have been a massive hit in the folky campfire style confection Love Is You.
Usually an album like this would sell a lot over time and get more popular like the Velvet Underground or grow an audience gradually like Big Star but unfortunately that hasn’t transpired. Yet the band has maintained a modest audience to be able to record music throughout the decades, even releasing a phenomenal album a few years ago. It’s still an injustice that Neurotica isn’t in the general rock classic pantheon as Appetite. For this was truly the first alternative rock album in that it didn’t sound like anything else. And that’s another thing lacking in music today, uniqueness.
The Breakthroughs: U2, The Joshua Tree; R.E.M. Document
Although they were already huge for a few years, U2’s Joshua Tree was still a revelation. . It would yield four big hits and multiple rock radio staples. The album’s atmospherics depicts the desert plains depicted on the cover thanks to the production by Eno and Lanois. From the fade in of the anthemic Where The Streets Have No Name, the hopeful I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, the breakup song With Or Without You, the doom laden and best song Bullet The Blue Sky, the evocative tracks Red Hill Mining Town and In Gods Country, to the fade out of the elegiac Mothers Of The Disappeared. It would be the last straight rock album to win the Album Of The Year Grammy Award (until they would do it again with the mediocre Atomic Bomb album).
R.E.M. was already charting high and going gold with their previous four albums, notably the universally hailed debut Murmur. But with Document is where they delved into the mainstream by wisely turning up the volume. The album’s notable hits were their biggest and still their best being the crossover labor themed Finest Worksong, the power ballad The One I Love, and the stream of consciousness doom theme It’s The End Of The World (As We Know It).
Indie Rock Swan Songs: The Replacements, Pleased To Meet Me; Husker Du, Warehouse: Songs And Stories
The Minneapolis punk rock legends put out two unrelenting perfect albums. Although not their last album, this actually was the last time the Mats would rock this hard and sloppy as a band that replicated their legendary live shows. Paul Westerberg expanded on the punk rock Springsteen (as well as Tom Petty and Bob Seger) comparisons at the time with the rave ups I.O.U. and I Don’t Know, the magnificent tribute song to Alex Chilton, the prescient anthem Nevermind (later an album title for you know what band), and evocative tracks like “The Ledge, Skyway and the closer Can’t Hardly Wait. Husker Du’s second double album didn’t become the commercial breakthrough that was probably expected, but it still was seamless and as perfect as their SST catalog and their prior album Candy Apple Grey.
Anthrax, Among The Living
This album by Staten Island rock heroes Anthrax immediately followed the trash metal triumverate of 1986; Metallica’s Master Of Puppets, Slayer’s Reign In Blood, and Megadeth’s Peace Sells and it’s just as perfect as the first two and miles ahead of the latter. Among The Living is a pummeling 50 minute slab of fist and head banging mayhem and strong songwriting. Best tracks are the title track based on Stephen King’s The Stand central character, I Am The Law about The Punisher, the slam dance classic Caught In A Mosh, the Native American awareness track Indians and the social criticism of Imitation Of Life and Skeletons In The Closet.
Metallica, The $5.98 E.P. Garage Days Re-Revisited
The greatest heavy metal band of all time released this after they filled the bass void left by the tragic demise of Cliff Burton in a tour bus crash. It’s called re-revisited because their first garage days was a 2-song B-side of the 12″ single of 1984’s Creeping Death (no it was not a disco extended version). But what a monster of a release. The band covers the still criminally overlooked Diamond Head again on Helpless, Killing Joke on The Wait, an obscure band called Holocaust on The Small Hours. The best covers come in the last 2 tracks in an abridged version of Budgie’s Crash Course In Main Surgery and The Misfits Last Caress/Green Hell. Well that’s actually three tracks. Actually it’s four because the boys end the song with a crappy rendition of the intro to Iron Maiden’s Run To The Hills. This E.P. shows that Metallica is better band fucking around than most bands, especially today that take years to craft one song.
Gimme Indie Rock: Dinosaur Jr., You’re Living All Over Me; Sonic Youth, Sister
These bands were slogging it out for years, Sonic Youth a little longer in the indie rock circuit when it genuinely was one. With these albums, both bands made the big move to the major indie label SST and put out two definitive classics. Boston’s Dinosaur Jr. outdid their Lower East Side rivals though. You’re Living is a triumph, the first 8 tracks are a wall of glorious sound and stellar hooks and solos, just like the band Boston’s 1976 landmark album. J Mascis was arguably the second best guitar player in the nation at the time between Kirk Hammett and Slash. Sister was kind of the college rock and major mag rock critic breakthrough for the Sonic Youth, which had two hotshot guitar players in Lee Ronaldo and Thurston Moore and charismatic lady bass player Kim Gordon, all of whom sang lead, kind of like Fleetwood Mac. On Sister the band on some songs managed to temper the white noise with soft verses bridging it with a guitar freakout in place of the standard solo, which laid the groundwork for the alternative and grunge songwriting format in bands like The Pixies and Nirvana.
Midnight Oil, Diesel And Dust
This album is noteworthy for having the most unlikely top 40 hit Beds Are Burning, a song about the aboriginies in the band’s native Australia. The album itself is even better. Every song is brimmed with passionate political content from defiance of systemic injustice to the pernicious influence of corporations as depicted in The Dead Heart. Still holds up spectacularly well and unfortunately still relevant.
The Cult, Electric
Produced by Rick Rubin, this band went from new wave psychedelic rockers to, loosely quoting Spinal Tap, a straight up heavy metal and rock and roll creation. The lyrics were still hippyish, like Wild Flower and Peace Dog, but the music is all fury. This album came out at a time when AC/DC was floundering, so the band just took their sound and ran with it. Especially on the thundering single Love Removal Machine and the ravers Big Fun and Memphis Hip Shake. The band also wove elements of Zeppelin in their arsenal and literally Steppenwolf in their savage cover of Born To Be Wild. Aspiring bands today should really give this a few spins to get a clue on how to rock and roll if they would stop listening to Bon Iver for a month or two.
Def Leppard, Hysteria
The follow up to Def Lep’s outstanding Pyromania blows it away. This is the Thriller of metal albums for it contained 7 top 40 hits. The production and arrangements by Mutt Lange gives it a Phil Spector Wall Of Sound aspect. Standouts being the strip club anthem Pour Some Sugar On Me and the glitter rock homage Rocket. At the time it sounded like an album from the future, like it wouldn’t be out of place in sci-fi societies in Total Recall and Blade Runner, and it still does.
New Order, Substance 1987. The Smiths, Louder Than Bombs.
These two albums are actually compilations but they count here. New Order’s Substance only had two new songs, True Faith and the stunning 1963, but it’s their best album because it compiles all their sensational 12″ inch singles, early 7 inches and their B sides which works as a chronological piece of the history of the band at it’s beginning and it’s peak. Louder Than Bombs is actually an E.P. of 8 new songs and eighteen previously released singles that appeared on import LP’s. It’s included here because the first side of this release is actually better than the Smiths official album that came out that year, Strangeways Here We Come. Morrissey and Johnny Marr wrote their catchiest and best songs on here like Is It Really So Strange, Sweet And Tender Hooligan (as good a critique of spoiled entitled upper class kids as Fortunate Son), Half A Person, the blistering London, and the gorgeous Ask and singalong anthem Panic. Essential
The Godfathers, Birth School Work Death
The title track is self-explanatory, to the point and simple as fuck. Birth. School. Work. Death. The Godfathers were well-dressed lads from England that created an album chronicling working class angst and young man blues comparable to the best of early Who. The album was actually a huge hit, thanks to supercatchy and universal cynical appeal of the title song, but it also had classic tracks like Cause I Said So and Love Is Dead. Even though it’s not recognized as a landmark or even considered for classic rock formats, the music speaks on it’s own.
Celtic Frost, Into The Pandemonium; Voivod, Killing Technology.
Two daring metal masterpieces from the legendary Noise label. Both bands challenged their fans with forays into unexpected genres in the case of Celtic Frost and the concept album format with Voivod and both pulled it off spectacularly. Pandemonium not only refers to the descent to hell but also the myriad music genres it dives into, like funk, new wave, industrial, middle eastern and classical music and opera. Killing Technology is as good and prophetic about the aspects of the subject matter it yearns to fight as the best sci-fi books and movies.
Michael Jackson, Bad
And then there was the yet to be King Of Pop. It was to easy to scoff at Michael when the Bad video was released with his new look and all and the dance rumble in the subway, even if it had great choreography. Aside that, Bad is a masterpiece and Jackson showed a lot of maturity lyrically and musically on this album. Quincy Jones again does a solid job producing, the guy is truly deserving of his legacy of one of the greatest chief studio engineers of all time. Just like in Beat It, Jackson actually recorded 2 rockers that outdid the hardness of that song in Dirty Diana and Speed Demon. It had the expected cool catchy pop of The Way You Make Me Feel, Smooth Criminal and Another Part Of Me. And two of his greatest compositions in the inspirational Man In The Mirror and the defiant Leave Me Alone, as both songs serve as testimony to the inner conflicts of the artist at the time. This would be the last album he would make that had a cultural impact before his descent into isolation and his vices.
And that’s it. These artifacts is how you make an everlasting influential infinite impact on music and culture. Which is sorrowfully non-existent today and for the last decade in fact, thanks to media consolidation and digital societal distractions. Here’s hoping it serves you well.
1. Guns ‘N Roses, Appetite For Destruction
2. Prince, Sign Of The Times
3. Eric B. And Rakim, Paid In Full
4. The Replacements, Please To Meet Me
5. Dinosaur Jr. You’re Living All Over Me
6. Redd Kross, Neurotica
7. U2, The Joshua Tree
8. Anthrax, Among The Living
9. Boogie Down Productions, Criminal Minded
10. Celtic Frost, Into The Pandemonium
11. The Smiths, Louder Than Bombs
12. Def Leppard, Hysteria
13. Michael Jackson, Bad
14. Midnight Oil, Diesel And Dust
15. Voivod, Killing Technology
16. The Cult, Electric
16.5. Metallica, The $5.98 E.P. Garage Days Re-Revisited
17: R.E.M. Document; Husker Du: Warehouse, Songs And Stories (tie)
18. Sonic Youth, Sister
19. The Godfathers, Birth School Work Death
20. Public Enemy, Yo! Bum Rush The Show
Actual best music of the year 2017: Kendrick Lamar’s Damn, and Metallica’s Hard Wired to Self Destruct and that’s fucking it.