It's 1987. As wiser men than me were saying at the time: What The Fuck's Going On?
Well, for me, the most significant event of the year was the first half of the long, slow process that would eventually result in my becoming an orphan in 2005. Did my mum's death have an impact on my annual compilation of favourite songs of the year? Well, there are a couple of fairly downbeat selections on here, but I think that by December 20th 1987 (the day I recorded these tapes) I was getting on with things again.
Musically, I was still going to a hell of a lot of gigs. Looking at my 1987 diary, I started the year with an Elvis Costello show, and wrapped it up with the Christmassy back-to-back flourish of (awww) Frank Sidebottom and (uh-oh) Gary Glitter. In between, I saw the Pogues three times, the Communards twice, Kodo for the first time, and Miles Davis for the only time. On record, it was the year that artists really started pushing at the artistic and legal boundaries of what sampling could do, and lawyers started pushing back: there are a lot of sample-heavy records on this collection, some of which have stood the test of time better than others.
It's 1987: I'm 23, going on 24. Here's what went on.
1. U2 – Where The Streets Have No Name (from The Joshua Tree, Island) [video]
People do forget that there was a time when U2 could surprise you. I was in a flatshare at the time The Joshua Tree came out, and remember hearing the girl in the room downstairs playing it for the first time. After it finished, there was a pause, and then I heard the opening track of U2's 1983 album War coming through the floor. Which made me laugh, because that's exactly what I'd done after hearing The Joshua Tree - gone back to check that this was the same band. A large part of their appeal around this time was down to producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, I suspect: for this track in particular, it’s the rise and fall of the opening and closing sections that impresses, rather than the bluster in the middle. The Joshua Tree turned out to be the pivotal U2 album: before it they had songs, after it they’d become so big that they didn’t need them any more.
2. BEASTIE BOYS – Rock Hard (from Kick It! The Def Jam Sampler Volume One, Def Jam) [video]
Licensed To Ill had been a worldwide smash the year before: it would take the Beasties three years to release their followup, during which time all sorts of old crap of theirs would make it out into the world again. Like this track, which turned up on a Def Jam compilation designed to cash in on the label's sudden hipness. If I admit that it took me several years to discover that they’d pillaged AC/DC’s Back In Black for this song, does that make me a bad person? Or just one who wasn’t listening to much traditional rock at the time?
3. CHRISTY MOORE – Natives (from Unfinished Revolution, WEA) [video]
I’d got into Christy Moore off the back of his work with Moving Hearts (see 1982): it was only after they split that I discovered his history with Planxty, and that a few of my older relatives were already long-time fans of his. Post-Hearts, you can see that Moore was becoming less interested in recycling old folk songs, and wanted to play more contemporary material by either himself or one of his songwriting mates. This is a particularly lovely example of the latter, written by Paul Doran.
4. TROUBLE FUNK – Hey Tee Bone (from Trouble Over Here Trouble Over There, 4th And Broadway) [video]
I always thought of Trouble Funk more as a live band than a studio outfit. Sure, they had to make records as raw material to work with at gigs, but their recorded output never had quite the same energy level that they did on stage. This ode to their one-time percussionist proved to be one of the rare occasions where they pulled it off. Unfortunately, now that Timothius Tee-Bone Burnett has moved on, they can’t play this one live any more.
5. HURRAH! – If Love Could Kill (from Tell God I’m Here, Kitchenware) [video]
The forgotten band of legendary Geordie label Kitchenware Records. Everyone remembers Prefab Sprout, of course: and maybe at a pinch the Kane Gang, if only for the one that got transmogrified into the Woo Gary Davies jingle on the radio. But Hurrah!? (Sorry, that question mark just doesn’t work there.) No chance. I bought their album twice – once on vinyl, and again on (admittedly secondhand) CD a year later – and it’s full of lovely songs that sound as good as they did the first time I discovered them, when Hurrah! played as support band to the Sprouts. They should have been bigger than that, though.
6. 3 MUSTAPHAS 3 – Xamenh Evtexia/Fiz’n (from Shopping, Globe Style) [video]
After a few peculiar singles and EPs (one of which made it onto the 1986 compilation), the Mustaphas finally got around to releasing an album that allowed them to smash together even more unrelated styles of music in hilarious ways. This is probably the most self-indulgent thing that they could have done at this point in their career – a go-go workout that samples several of their own songs. But the key thing to note is that they bring just as much funk to the style as Trouble Funk themselves did, even as they take the mick out of it.
7. MARRS – Pump Up The Volume (single, 4AD) [video]
Everyone remembers the single, but not so many remember where MARRS came from. They could almost be considered a supergroup, if anyone remembered the 4AD bands behind it: electropoppers Colourbox and dreamy guitar merchants AR Kane. This track shows a lot more of Colourbox’s influence than anything else: in fact, looking back at the single now, I’d say my preference would be for the more Kane-heavy B-side Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance). But Pump Up The Volume still sounds danceable as hell a quarter of a century later, so I can’t really complain.
8. THE POGUES – Fairytale Of New York (single, Stiff) [video]
There is precisely nothing new that can be said about Fairytale, so I won’t even try. But Christmas 1987 was the point where I realised that I wasn’t sharing the Pogues with just a couple of hundred people in a pub any more.
9. LAIBACH – The Great Seal (from Opus Dei, Mute) [video]
I’d always bundled in Laibach with those noisy Teutonic metalbashers who were all the rage in the early 80s, SPK and Einstürzende Neubauten and all that. But it always seemed that Laibach had more of a sense of humour about their music. On this album alone, you had cover versions of Queen's One Vision and Opus' Live Is Life, the former being particularly hysterical for showing just how little tweaking it took to turn it into a semi-Fascist anthem. And then at the end of the album, Laibach hit you with a huge military march that samples Winston Churchill just as you thought you’d got its measure.
1. ERIC B & RAKIM – Paid In Full (single, 4th & Broadway) [video]
Yeah, everyone was going sample crazy this year. Some – like the Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, see opening paragraph – chose the wrong people to nick riffs from, and ended up having their records sued out of existence. Others – like Coldcut, commissioned to pump up the volume on Eric B and Rakim’s best song – stole more widely and less recognisably, and even managed to give Ofra Haza a brief career boost in the UK once it had been established that she’d provided the hook everyone remembers. Sadly, the remix slightly messes up the best gag of the original, when Eric B and Rakim skip out of the studio before the end of the song because they’ve already been paid, just leaving a drum loop running.
2. BILLY BRAGG – Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards (personal live recording) [video]
You may remember that in 1985, a couple of dubious live recordings I made at gigs turned up on that year's POTY compilation. For some reason, nothing like that appeared on the 1986 tape, but we have two examples here for 1987. This first one was an early live outing for a long-standing Bragg classic that wouldn’t make it onto record until Workers Playtime the following year. To be honest, the album version with full band is better than the guitar and piano arrangement of those early gigs (and a few of its best lines from the coda didn’t appear to have been written yet in 1987), but it’s a fine song however you play it.
3. NEW ORDER – True Faith (from Substance, Factory) [video]
Amazing to think that True Faith is one of those terrible things we normally hate bands for doing – a song recorded to ensure that a greatest hits compilation has at least one bit of new material on it, so that fans have to buy it regardless. Which would be inexcusable if it wasn’t one of New Order’s all-time great singles.
4. THE PROCLAIMERS – Beautiful Truth (from This Is The Story, Chrysalis) [video]
Coincidentally, it was a New Order gig where I first discovered the Proclaimers. It was an all-day affair in a tent in the middle of rain-soaked Finsbury Park, just the sort of sub-optimal conditions where New Order traditionally turn in a mediocre set. Two speccy guys with guitars, on the other hand, came on before them and tore the place apart. Looking ahead to next year's POTY, it looks like the Proclaimers songs that really grabbed me weren’t the sentimental tunes, but the almost trance-like ones when they’d get a chord sequence between their teeth and just fucking roar over it.
5. THE REDSKINS – Levi Stubbs’ Tears (from Wake Up, Wake Up Records) [video]
As promised in the writeup of POTY 1986 – a) a posthumously-released Redskins live track, included on an EP to benefit the miners (ask your parents, kids) and b) the best version of one of Billy Bragg’s finest songs. (The Belated Birthday Girl disagrees, and I respect her opinion, though I think there are a couple of different biases at work there.) For better or worse, whenever I think of Levi Stubbs’ Tears, it’s the version that attempts to recreate the soul of its main reference point that I think of first. It’s the way the Motown drums kick in for the ‘Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’ bit that really gets me.
6. JUSTIFIED ANCIENTS OF MU MU – Whitney Joins The JAMs (single, KLF Communications) [video]
Sampling was such a lottery back in the days before lawyers became permanently involved in it. Getting back to 1987 What The Fuck's Going On? - when the JAMs carelessly sampled Dancing Queen for the track The Queen And I, Abba's response was to have every copy of the album pulled from the shops and destroyed. But this single – which mashes up Shaft, Mission Impossible and I Wanna Dance With Somebody to magnificent effect, without asking anyone’s permission to do so – escaped totally unscathed, and subsequently appeared on the Shag Times album without any fuss. Whitney Joins The JAMs was my choice of tribute on the announcement of Houston’s death. It’s what she would have wanted! Well, that and some crack, maybe.
7. TOM WAITS – Innocent When You Dream (from Frank’s Wild Years, Island) [video]
Tom Waits fans turn up in the most unlikely places – most of the biggest ones I know are people I met at work in my former Moderately Responsible Job In The Computer Industry. I remember telling a senior manager that I'd just bought this album, and his eyes misting over as he referred to Waits as “a poet on wheels,” a lovely phrase if ever there was one. This, to be - ha! - frank, is the point where Waits’ records started getting seriously odd, and that was good news to me.
8. PHILIP GLASS – The Window Of Appearances (from Akhnaten, CBS Masterworks) [video]
People complain nowadays about the dangers of buying things drunk over the internet. Phooey. Twenty-six years ago, when we had a branch of Tower Records in Piccadilly Circus that was open till midnight, I was drunk shopping IRL every Friday night. The most surprising thing I can remember waking up in bed with on a Saturday morning was the box set of this Philip Glass opera. It’s not quite as terrifying a prospect as it sounds – I’d seen it performed at ENO and loved it, so a few pints of Marston’s Pedigree was apparently all I needed to get over my scruples about actually owning it. And this finale to act one still sounds magnificent.
1. ABIGAIL MEAD & NIGEL GOULDING – Full Metal Jacket (I Wanna Be Your Drill Instructor) (single, Warner Bros) [video]
If you believe the biographies, this record was basically Stanley Kubrick's idea. During a discussion with Full Metal Jacket's soundtrack composer Abigail Mead (actually his daughter Vivian, hiding her nepotism behind a pseudonym), he wondered out loud if you could make some sort of dance record from the training sequences where R Lee Ermey yells obscene cadences at Marines as they run. So she gave it a go, and ended up topping the charts as a result. It's not necessarily the most danceable song ever made (this 12" mix changes tempo four times), but it's an enjoyable spin on the collage records that were becoming seriously fashionable this year.
2. MARY COUGHLAN – A.W.O.L. (from Under The Influence, WEA) [video]
I've had a soft spot for Mary for decades now, with her irresistible combination of a fabulous voice and an instinct for causing trouble with the right people. She's still doing the latter - particularly a show-stopping appearance on Irish TV during the recent abortion debate - but we don't get to hear as much of her singing as we used to, and this is A Bad Thing. She was in a transitional period during this album, having just signed to a major label who weren't quite sure how to sell her: but Under The Influence manages to shave just enough of the rough edges off her debut work, without losing what makes her great.
3. PET SHOP BOYS – It’s A Sin (from Actually, Parlophone) [video]
Quite a few chart-toppers on this POTY, it would appear. Was this a golden age of pop music, or was I just getting lazy when it came to tracking down new stuff? Well, as it's the PSBs, I'm going for the former.
4. YELLO – The Rhythm Divine (single, Mercury) [video]
Featuring Dame Shirley Bassey on lead vocals, as any fule kno. It's amusing to listen to this now and realise that the synth backing is so utterly, cheesily of its period, while Shirl's part could have been recorded any time during the last five decades. Which is probably something like the exact opposite of what people thought in 1987.
5. ANDREW POPPY – The Amusement (from Alphabed, ZTT) [video]
As discussed previously, I first saw Andrew Poppy in 1985, as part of ZTT's live showcase The Value Of Entertainment. His first album was released shortly after the show, and I snapped it up on the day of release, only to find that it contained precisely nothing from the gig. In fact, his live set was a medley of two pieces from this second album, released two years later - the traditionally minimalist 45 Is bookended by this more rhythm-driven number, which was probably more acceptable to an audience who'd come out to see Propaganda and the like. It worked for me, anyway.
6. STEINSKI AND MASS MEDIA – The Motorcade Sped On (from NME cover disc) [video]
I think this track dates back a year or two before 1987, but its appearance on a record that came free with the NME was the first time it made a big impact in the UK. For some reason, we Brits seemed to find the idea of dancing to the Kennedy assassination more acceptable than American audiences did. Go figure. In another example of sample blindness, it took me years to realise that the rhythm track on Motorcade is lifted completely from Honky Tonk Women.
7. THE SMITHS – Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me (from Strangeways, Here We Come, Rough Trade) [video]
The Smiths didn't end well, to be honest. Strangeways didn't have that many standout tracks on it, and the one I plumped for back in 1987 has that massively self-important intro before anything of real interest happens. Again, I find myself wondering why I chose one of Mozza's more maudlin efforts, rather than one of his funny ones. (Presumably this track wants to be the equivalent of I Know It's Over from their previous album, but wants to do it without the benefit of a tune.)
8. JOE JACKSON – Solitude (from Will Power, A&M) [video not available]
The mid-80s saw Joe Jackson flip between a variety of experimental approaches from album to album - an obsession with natural reverb on Body & Soul, live recording with an audience who'd been told not to react to anything on Big World. An orchestral instrumental album seems like an almost predictable step after that. Will Power's an album of fine melodies, developed in ways that are slightly predictable to anyone who's studied composition as far as O level, but saved by some unusual twists in the orchestrations. Solitude is a fine example of the approach, but all the tracks on the album hold up well, and it's surprising that Jackson's never done anything else in this vein. As A&M seem to have a problem with this track being on YouTube, you'll have to make do with a live performance of Nocturne from the same record.
1. FAT BOYS – Crushin’ (from single Wipe Out, Urban) [video]
What in the name of GOD is this doing here? Let's break it down. A novelty rap act (spoiler alert for the novelty: they're fat) somehow persuades the actual Beach Boys to join them in crucifying Wipe Out with drum machines and unco-ordinated yelling. And I bought that. And then I listened to the sub-Sly Fox bit of filler on its B-side, and thought it was even better. No, still no idea what I was thinking.
2. COMMUNARDS – For A Friend (personal live recording) [video]
The version of For A Friend on the Red album (as seen in the video) is a perfectly lovely song, given added poignancy by its subject matter at the height of the AIDS panic. But the live version I sneakily recorded at Brixton Academy is stripped back to vocal, keyboard and sax, and is even better for it. It's a fantastically shitty recording, though, so you'll just have to imagine what it sounds like.
3. SLY AND ROBBIE – Boops (Here To Go) (from Rhythm Killers, 4th & Broadway) [video]
4th & Broadway does seem to have been the dance label of choice this year, doesn't it? My memory of Rhythm Killers is that it worked terrifically well as an album, with the world champion rhythm section of Sly and Robbie acting as the glue holding together a diverse group of collaborators. I suspect any track from it was as good as any other, so I probably just went for the single by default.
4. ENNIO MORRICONE – The Untouchables (End Title) (from The Untouchables, A&M) [video]
Here was my plan back in 1987. I would form a band, and they would be good enough to use the end title theme from The Untouchables as their walkon music. Drop the lights at the start, lower them further during the quiet bit in the middle, then whack them all up as you hit the third verse crescendo and we walk on to huge applause. Wait for the big finish, then straight into our first song. Unfortunately, there's no song on earth that could follow that as a buildup, so I quickly gave up on the idea.
5. STING – They Dance Alone (Gueca Solo) (from …Nothing Like The Sun, A&M) [video]
Which would appear to suggest that this is Sting walking on stage to the theme from The Untouchables... but to his credit, he isn't really trying to follow Morricone here, and he seems to be doing just fine. After last year's compilation and its barrage of political songs - generally inspired by the aim to get the Tories out in the 1987 election, so that went well - anyway, this hymn to Pinochet's disappeared is the only explicitly political track this year. I suspect it's largely here for the tune, and that exquisite little upturn at the coda.
6. SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES – This Wheel’s On Fire (single, Wonderland) [video]
This is not how memory is supposed to work. Most of January 1987 was taken up with my mum's sudden illness, her subsequent passing and her funeral. What piece of music do I mentally associate with all of that? It'll be this slightly overproduced Gothy cover of what would eventually become better known as the Absolutely Fabulous theme, purely because it was playing in the car that picked me up from the station at the start of it all. This is not how memory is supposed to work. But it's not like we have a choice.
7. PINK FLOYD – On The Turning Away (from A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, EMI) [video]
Another memory. On the day before my 13th birthday, one of my cousins introduced me to Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, and it felt like a rite of passage into adolescence. (It certainly counts as my first ever massively wanky teenage thought, anyway.) It was the start of a life-long obsession with the Floyd, and ultimately led to me buying every single album they ever recorded... except this one. For some reason, I steered clear of their first post-Roger Waters record, and have only ever possessed a tape of it made for me by a work colleague from his CD. (The first CD recording ever to appear on a POTY! I wouldn't have my own player until 1988, though.) Anyway, I was torn between recognising Waters' growing pomposity, but having to acknowledge the gravity that Floyd lost when he walked. Still, this is pretty.
8. TREVOR JONES & COURTNEY PINE – Bloodmare / Johnny Favorite (from Angel Heart, Antilles New Directions) [video 1] [video 2]
Well, there's a cheery finish and no mistake: the final six minutes or so of the music from one of Alan Parker's grimmest films. Mind you, I haven't watched it in years, so that may need revising to 'one of Alan Parker's most hilarious films'. I suspect I've probably grown out of that sort of existential misery, and certainly seem to have grown out of its soundtrack.
Next in this POTY series will be 1988. Was I dropping eckies and bouncing around in clubs with everyone else? What do you think?