Thirty years ago, in 1987, actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, Margaret Thatcher occupied 10 Downing Street having secured a third consecutive victory for her government and the first issue of Exeposé was hot off the student press. Cinema-goers flocked to see Dirty Dancing, and Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo and Raphael, perhaps better known as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, had made their cartoon debut on television. Yet among other seismic events which shaped the 1980s, 1987’s music scene arguably had one of the longest-lasting legacies of the year, and not just on popular culture. In a year where Madonna, Whitney Houston and Bon Jovi were household names and global stars, many of the year’s critically acclaimed releases are still important records today and continue to evoke and inspire their listeners, with the following among the best.
1) Fleetwood Mac – Tango in the Night
A decade after their 1977 breakthrough Rumours, 80s electronic and pop hooks had carved their way into the band’s trademark sound. With over 15 million copies sold and recognised as the last studio album from the band’s classic lineup, Tango in the Night spawned some of the group’s most-loved singles. ‘Little Lies’ and ‘Everywhere’ perfectly symbolise the decade’s sonic influence on Fleetwood Mac’s signature, yet still feature enough of the group’s originality and innovation to form a record adored by fans old and new.
Top picks: ‘Isn’t it Midnight’, ‘Big Love’, ‘Everywhere’.
2) George Michael – Faith
Whilst those unfamiliar with Michael’s music might raise an eyebrow at the inclusion of an album whose title track is known throughout the globe, its prominent status reflects the record’s success, which launched George Michael as a solo artist. Fresh out of Wham! and a duet with Aretha Franklin, the record saw Michael win a cache of awards and notably the first by a white artist to reach the number one on the Top R&B/Top Hip-Hop Albums Charts. With its R&B and funk-tinged singles and lyrics mostly focusing on Michael’s relationships at the time, it marked a new start and phenomenal fame for a mature artist who had not yet celebrated his twenty-fifth birthday.
Top picks: ‘Hand to Mouth’, ‘One More Try’, ‘Kissing a Fool’.
3) The Smiths – Strangeways, Here We Come
With its title a reference to the former name of Manchester’s high-security prison, the final record from indie quartet featuring Morrissey and Johnny Marr saw the tensions between the two reach a head as the group had split up before the album’s release. At the time of the record’s creation, Johnny Marr had begun looking for other influences, notably the Beatles’ White Album. Certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry and spending seventeen weeks in the charts, Morrissey and Marr feel the group’s swan song record is their best together.
Top picks: ‘Rush And A Push And The Lands Is Ours’, ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’, ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’.
4) Prince– Sign o’ the Times
Three years after debated magnum opus Purple Rain, Prince’s first album since the disbanding of The Revolution, Sign o’ the Times is Prince’s most critically acclaimed record and embodies a variety of styles, such as funk, soul and electro. With opening title track a sober commentary on political and social issues in American daily life and across the globe, its lyrics feature sombre and evocative lines such as “sister killed her baby ‘cuz she couldn’t afford to feed it/And yet we’re sending people to the moon”; it’s no surprise Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame several decades later.
Top picks: ‘Housequake’,’It’, ‘Starfish and Coffee’, ‘U Got the Look’, ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’
5) INXS – Kick
Australian rockers INXS struck gold with their sixth studio album which preceded a sixteen-month global stadium tour. The best-selling album from the group with reported sales almost at the twenty million in 2012, the album is recognised by critics worldwide as ‘rhythm rock perfection’. Touching on pop rock, alternative rock and new wave, Kick is filled with infectiously snappy hooks and sharp lyrics which at times conflict themselves in songs covering topics from romantic intimacy to apartheid.
Top picks: ‘New Sensation’, ‘Need You Tonight’, ‘Never Tear Us Apart’
6) Depeche Mode – Music for the Masses
A record which contributed to Depeche Mode’s launch into prominent success, and produced by a recording engineer who had previously worked for Tears for Fears, Music for the Masses is a sparkling example of Britain’s sonic in the late 80s. Littered with electro notes and drum machine beats which form a framework for the tracks, this record paved the way for 1990’s Violator, which features some of the group’s biggest tracks such as ‘Enjoy the Silence’ and ‘Personal Jesus’.
Top picks: ‘Never Let Me Down Again’, ‘Strangelove’, ‘Behind the Wheel’
7) Pet Shop Boys – Actually
Having met in an electronics shop in London in 1981, former architect student Chris Lowe and former music journalist Neil Tennant, or Pet Shop Boys, have since sold over fifty million records and are three-time BRIT Award winners, having released a staggering forty-two Top 30 singles. After the success of their debut release, Actually has been loosely marked as a critique of Thatcherism, sublimely told through synth-pop and dance pop, and recorded just before Thatcher’s third electoral victory.
Top picks: ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’, ‘Heart’, ‘It’s a Sin’
8) The Cure – Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
The record which helped to launch The Cure in the U.S. and across the globe, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is the seventh album from the group and received high praise from the music press upon its release. With The Cure prominent figures in the early 80s emergence of gothic rock, this album features one of the group’s most well-known singles, ‘Just Like Heaven’, in addition to Robert Smith’s instantly recognisable vocals and perfectly layered instrumentals.
Top picks: ‘Why Can’t I Be You?’, ‘Just Like Heaven’, ‘One More Time’,
The top picks selected from each album can be heard in our Spotify playlist, ‘Exeposé Turns 30: The Best Albums of 1987’.