Album of the Year: 1985-1987

Last time I wrote about my picks for the best (most meaningful to me) albums of the first three years of my life.  Time to continue this strain forward into several more of the years when I was still really damn young, and hence finding this music well after the fact.

Album of the Year: 1985

Big Lizard in My Backyard  The Dead Milkmen– In my early teen years punk rock music was one of the most influential, and one of the bands that my best friend and I spent endless hours listening to was The Dead Milkmen. While Big Lizard doesn’t compare in absolute terms to some other of their work, the bones of what made the Dead Milkmen great are here– simple four chord songs, the singer’s unique (most would call it “bad”) voice, the talking over style, cheeky lyrics, and ridiculous sing along refrains. From the into to “Bitchin Camaro” where they deadpan, “My parent drove it down from the Bahamas/ You’re kidding!/ I must be the Bahamas are islands!” We were hooked.

Runner Up

Frankenchrist Dead Kennedys Jello Biafra’s also unique voice slides across the tracks on the Dead Kennedys’ quintessential effort, hitting the peaks and valleys we all have come to expect from Jello Biafra. Unfortunately most of the album isn’t available on spotify, so my impressions of this album are still mostly filtered through memories from 18 years before. The Dead Kennedys were the darker side to the punk obsession that took hold of me for many years.

Album of the Year: 1986

Please Pet Shop Boys– The Pet Shop Boys are to this day one of my favorite bands. I love many of their albums, and Please is one of their very best. Featuring their biggest hit (“West End Girls”), Please is actually a stand out due to some of the lesser known tracks that it brings. “Suburbia” has barking dogs and police sirens in the refrain as it tears apart suburban culture, “Love Comes Quickly” start with an underpinning of menace that is one of the Pet Shop Boys’ greatest tricks– masking the true emotion of a song beneath a veneer. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s first album perfectly combines innovative song topics, dance rhythms, and 80’s synth into a true masterpiece.

Runner Up

What Do You Know, Deutschland? KMFDM the first album from Germany’s uber long running industrial band gets the nod here because for some reason its the only other album from 1986 that I have listened to all the way through more than once, and lets face it– KMFDM deserves to be on this list somewhere and their best work might have come in years with more competition than 1986. Stripped down compared to come of their later work, What Do You Know still has the key members of the rotating cast in place (Sascha Konietzko and En Esch). That somewhere in my youth my friend group and I were album to have (relatively) intelligent discussions about which members of KMFDM were the best says a lot about the appeal of the group and its kitschy pop-art covers and light industrial sound.

Album of the Year: 1987

The Joshua Tree U2– from the opening swell of “Where the Streets Have No Name” its evident that U2 have put together something transcendent on Joshua Tree. I first listened to this on a vinyl copy I picked up at Goodwill for a quarter. The uplifting power of the ballads here won me over, and I went searching into the by that time expansive U2 catalog looking for more, only to be met with mostly average efforts and nothing that came close to the sublime that Joshua Tree touched, particularly on its first three tracks.

Runner Up

Music For the Masses Depeche Mode– Depeche Mode’s dark, drippy synths and hushed declarations run across this gem from a band that by the mid 90s when I was in High School was considered by my peers to be a joke, lumped in with other 80s bands and a subject of derision. But I was looking for more electronic music, something I was into at the time, and so when I picked up a copy of Music For the Masses for $7 at Capitol Music where my friends and I were perpetually spending our allowance/ paper route money, I found myself entranced, listening to it several times over on a car trip. The album was weirdly sexual in a stark, vivid way I’d never encountered before, and very dark in subject matter and tone.


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