I have previously written about some of the great alternative albums from the years 1979 and 1985, this time I will pull ten excellent albums from 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1989. I know you’re asking why I don’t dedicate a blog to ten albums from each of those years. Well, it’s because the alt music of those years just didn’t have the same appeal for me, making it difficult to come up with ten for each year. Perhaps I became more focused on certain artists, so newer ones got short shrift. I don’t know.
The second half of the ’80s, a time just prior to the music industry discovering a way to market this music, saw Nirvana‘s first album Bleach (1989) released. The seed was sown, but it would be another couple of years and the smell of spirited teens before punk or alternative or modern rock or whatever you call it began to earn big money in the States.
Enough of my prattling, here’s my list:
10) 54-40 – 54-40 (1986) Hailing from British Columbia, Canada 54-40 was a group of socially conscious, leftist rockers. This album has plenty of that big ’80s drum sound echoing throughout, but they still manage some tender moments such as on I Go Blind, a song that was a charting success when covered by the terribly bland Hootie & the Blowfish. Other stand out tracks include Me Island, the funky I Wanna Know, and Take My Hand.
Favorite track : Baby Ran
9) Mind Bomb – The The (1989) The The had mainly consisted of singer/songwriter/musician Matt Johnson until just prior to recording this album. He then formed a band which included the legendary Johnny Marr, former guitarist of the ’80s alternative icons, The Smiths. On Mind Bomb, Johnson takes a critical look at world religions. The album’s first track Good Morning Beautiful opens with the Islamic call to prayer and then has Johnson asking listeners a series of questions to challenge whose voice we are heeding. Sinead O’Connor lends her dynamic vocals to the duet Kingdom Of Rain.
Favorite track: The Beat(en) Generation
8) A Bell Is A Cup…Until It Is Struck – Wire (1988) I was tempted to go with The Ideal Copy (1987) which has the excellent song Ahead, but this album works better for me as a complete project. There’s a cool smoothness to their blend of guitars, keyboards, and vocals, especially so on the opening track Silk Skin Paws.
Favorite track: Kidney Bingos
7) Fisherman’s Blues – The Waterboys (1988) I really, really like this album. It’s a more folksy, Celtic effort than their previous horn-filled albums. Strings replace the horns this time around for a fine effect. The album feels traditional, but there is only one traditional song – When Will We Be Married. And there is a cover of Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing which works very well in this mix, despite my general dislike of Van Morrison songs. I guess when sung by someone else the songs are more agreeable to me.
Favorite track: And A Bang On The Ear
6) Animal Boy – Ramones (1986) This is my favorite of the Ramones‘ ’80s releases. The production might be a little slicker than their ’70s output, but it’s still a Ramones album with tracks such as Apeman Hop, Eat That Rat, and Crummy Stuff. The opening track, Somebody Put Something In My Drink, features Joey Ramone at his growling best.
Favorite track (tie): My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg) and Something To Believe In
5) Pleased To Meet Me – The Replacements (1987) This is the first Replacements album after the departure of original lead guitarist Bob Stinson. Another guitarist hadn’t been found yet; so, while Tommy Stinson, Luther Dickinson, and Alex Chilton each lent a hand, it’s Paul Westerberg who does most the guitar playing. I particularly like the guitar sound on the song The Ledge. I don’t know if it’s Westerberg or Chilton, but it’s great. This album also includes the longingly sad Skyway, which soon became a singalong favorite at their shows. How my favorite track never became a number one hit on the American pop charts, I’ll never know.
Favorite track: Can’t Hardly Wait
4) Psonic Psunspot – The Dukes Of Stratosphear (1987) The Dukes’ follow-up to their classic mini-LP 25 O’Clock (1985) is a continuation of their homage to the eclectic sounds of ’60s pop. You can hear echos of The Byrds, Cream, The Hollies, The Beach Boys, and The Beatles all in there. And the band was also quite generous to other musical acts. The Dukes allowed their guitars to be used to record the number one album on this list. Wink, wink, nod, nod.
Favorite track: Brainiac’s Daughter
3) Heyday – The Church (1986) This is The Church‘s fourth album, which sees the band’s always guitar-driven sound becoming more ethereal and mid-tempo. Heyday also saw the introduction of horns on the rocking Tantalized. And Steve Kilby’s voice is at its best, especially on the opening track Myrrh.
Favorite track: Disenchanted
2) Doolittle – Pixies (1989) Oh, man, did I dig this album when it came out. One night when hanging out with friends, we were going to head off to some other location and more than one person was driving. A friend won the battle as to which car I would ride in when he told me he would be playing Doolittle. The choice was easy! Pixies were honing their sound on this album, making it more accessible to a wider audience, while still holding onto their angry, artsy, punkish roots. There’s lots of screaming by Black Francis, but also lots of catchy hooks.
Favorite track: Here Comes Your Man
1) Skylarking – XTC (1986) My favorite album by my second favorite band. (You know WHO my favorite is, don’t you?) The first pressing did not include their first hit in the States – Dear God. That was one of the two B-side songs of the single Grass. But radio DJs liked it and played it into a hit and onto the album’s second pressing it went. I bought the first pressing, which was the first new XTC album I bought since discovering them a year or two earlier. The album is filled with pop music gems including: Summer’s Cauldron/Grass (the opening two songs that were actually played together while recording); That’s Really Super, Supergirl; The Meeting Place; and Season Cycle.
Favorite track: Earn Enough For Us