The UK and France were battered by a great storm that claimed 22 lives, and BBC weatherman Michael Fish got caught up in an erroneous folk memory from which he never escaped.
Adam: Our birth year! I honestly thought this’d be really good – lots of people I knew were active at this point, and I knew that although the first stirrings the more stripped-down rock/indie era of the early 90s were happening there would also be plenty of 80s behemoths displaying the best/worst excesses of the decade’s music kicking around. So hopefully lots to choose from!
Andrew: I was hopeful too, although not because we were getting close to the indie/grunge/whatever era. “Mid-80s” to me implies excess, caution to the wind, a zest for life. That’s how I tried to begin…
1: I Found Someone – Cher
Adam: A worrying start. I had completely forgotten about Cher, and was somewhat blindsided – the one genre I had discounted was the birth of diva-pop…Whitney, Mariah, yadda yadda. But I can’t say I dislike this power ballad, even though it feels like a song Meat Loaf just slipped into her pocket.
Andrew: Bonnie Tyler in a leather thong-basque. Cher gets much less credit for her endless metamorphoses than Madonna does, and I wonder if that’s because she wears it a little more lightly. Less pretentious…
2: This Corrosion – Sisters Of Mercy
Andrew: I was ready to embrace the silliness of the time, and what do you give me for being so open-minded? Hard, hard work, dustbin music at its most wearing; the cliché that 80s music sounds awful is laid too much at the door of pop, rather than the sibilant alternative stuff. Also, what corrosion? Evokes little more for me than a Morris Minor rusting on blocks in a driveway.
Adam: I love the OTT-ness, and that after all the build-up with choirs and ominous chord progressions the chorus is “hey now, hey now now”. Super fun played loud, if only for two minutes. Such an odd band, and largely forgotten, so I thought they deserved a place.
3: Heart And Soul – T’Pau
Adam: Oh god. I’ll admit I’ve got a soft spot for T’Pau because China in Your Hand was #1 on the day I was born. This one’s a bit boring and hard on the ear – presages the Spice Girls a bit, and there’s that tinny production. NEARLY a good song.
Andrew: Everything I should hate, but I can’t help loving the counterpointing of the spoken and sung parts throughout. Also that a song about “Heart and Soul” could hardly be more robotic. I actually hate their endlessly celebrated China in Your Hand – plodding, crashy nonsense.
4: Girlfriend In A Coma -– The Smiths
Andrew: I will admit that even as someone who’d be perfectly happy had there had been no Smiths, I enjoy this one. For once his ironic detachment isn’t just snooty and irritating.
Adam: All the best of The Smiths – listenable, a bit mischievous and dark, but mostly just fun. I too hate Morrissey, who single-handedly kept me from enjoying them for so long. But this exercise of ours coincided with my rediscovering them in a big way. They’ll be back.
5: Paid In Full – Eric B. & Rakim
Adam: Oh yes. I was thinking of this – amusing, short and sweet. The fun hasn’t yet been drained from hip-hop: no negativity, violence, braggadicio, just a song about being young and wanting to be paid for work. Wholesome.
Andrew: How nice to hear a simple slice of recording studio life. So clear and simple, and collegiate to boot. They’re actually friends, and the narrative is happening in real time! Unusual.
6: Little Fury Things – Dinosaur Jr.
Andrew: Oh god no. Something like a slow, hungover REM, but far worse. Adam, why?
Adam: “Grunge” was already happening, but it’d take Nirvana for it to get out of its own box. This lot would never have made a lasting impact without them. This sort of tune reminds you how Kurt Cobain ultimately couldn’t help himself but write catchy songs. This is not such a song, however and an early indication that the pickings in 1987 were not as rich as I imagined…
7: New Sensation – INXS
Adam: Don’t like ‘em, but love this. Pure drivetime radio on a jaunt down a sunny motorway. Music for people who wear coloured blazers over black t-shirts with the sleeves rolled up.
Andrew: This sometimes resurfaces on my gym playlist, a legacy of tacky undergrad 80s nights. Can’t name another song of theirs I like. More dustbin-like even than the Sisters of Mercy. Wonder if anyone can top it on that score.
8: I Can’t Stop – Alabama
Andrew: You’re old before your time, Adam. The sound of a sad dad goin’ fishin’ with “the boys”, and realising it’s just not what it was. No fish, bit rainy, bug bites, and the boys aren’t as fun anymore. What’s all for? But I mean, not awful.
Adam: Alabama are a hilarious example of MOR country cheese, and I love it. Unashamed from their name onwards, they’ve made a whole career on songs like this. Perfect for this weird time in country music; a few years before Garth Brooks and Shania Twain got it right, it was stuck in this stale, canned, poppy form dominated by middle-aged men trying to be sexy and winning. They think they’re Burt Reynolds, but they’re just someone’s uncle Burt.
9: Hazy Shade of Winter – The Bangles
Adam: Glad to see this lot show up. Alas, their flame was not Eternal, and it too quickly became Susanna Hoffs + band. One of their greats, and a reminder they rocked rather harder than people remember.
Andrew: They sure did. A classic Simon and Garfunkel song in that it was always crying out for someone to blow away the weediness with a balls-to-the-wall guitar-pop cover. Save the Life of My Child is another candidate – just not quite muscular enough, really.
10: Where The Streets Have No Name – U2
Andrew: Love the yoga-retreat beginning, which puts me in mind of Enya (she’ll be along at some point). I have no problem with this album other than hearing too much of it too often. Given the fate of rest of this playlist, amazing how their sound has barely dated.
Adam: You’re right about the production. Much better than other stuff at the time, and deservedly ranked as one of best – but vanilla, yes, and overplayed. I’ve seen them play this live, and it was terrific, translating seamlessly from the recording. Nothing like as bad as what they became afterwards, and years before Bono became a global annoyance.
11: Love In The First Degree – Bananarama
Adam: Claim to fame time: I actually danced with Siobhan Fahey at a wedding in the year 2000. That story doesn’t cloud my assessment of them as a totally garbage band. It’s like three inebriated best friends decided to start a band for shits and giggles and unwittingly became huge. I suspect that’s actually precisely what happened – one of those karaoke moments when someone drunkenly (and erroneously) tells someone else they’ve “got something”.
Andrew: On paper I should love them, but I utterly hate them. A lot of it’s the truly crap singing. They’re just not good; they sound like nice people, but that’s not enough. Their version of the Supremes’ Nathan Jones is truly appalling, one of my most hated ever even.
12: Yo! Bum Rush The Show – Public Enemy
Andrew: A different tack then, less a dropped dustbin than a broken cleaning robot. You can hear how happy they were when they realised they could repeat that sampled “yo” syllable to their hearts’ content. Love the smashed piano sound too. Must’ve been a hoot to record.
Adam: Funny how Public Enemy aren’t as less well remembered as, say, NWA – their whole shtick is disruption, but not necessarily criminality. This is about defiance, being a nuisance to a political end. Good listenin’.
13: Sugar Mice – Marillion
Adam: Oh Jesus. I spent most of this wondering when something was gonna happen, and then gradually realised something…sort of did. It’s so perfectly of its time – from the opening line about the TV onward. Real late-80s malaise. Truly sad. But forgettable too.
Andrew: A research find – I mostly know their work from its delightfully silly use in Nighty Night. This is a very different beast from the ludicrous Lavender, and the guitar solo gets me every time.
14: Just Like Heaven – The Cure
Andrew: Something like what that Sisters of Mercy song would be like if it were fun. Though as with much of the Cure’s output, I just wish someone else were singing it.
Adam: Agree on the voice – especially true among British bands of this era, that accented not–really-singing. They’re one of those bands with both superfans and a uniform for them to wear. I like about a dozen of their songs, and about three in regular rotation. By this point I was getting downcast at the lack of recognisable albums from this year, while loads were stacked up in ’86 and ’88…
15: Fascinated – Company B
Adam: Ooh, I do like this. The first contraction of the as-yet-unborn 90s we’ve had. Awful crappy dance music. Funny to think of a time when this was the bleeding edge, but it’s infectious. Both an unbeatable period piece and refreshingly different from the rest so far. Love that it’s compiled on “I Love My Dance Hits vol. 2”
Andrew: Utterly moronic. But how can you hate it?
16: One Time One Night – Los Lobos
Andrew: I appreciate your trying to mix it up, and yes, it is completely transparent. Same uncle Burt goes to the bar with the same boys – just having fun, but again, it’s not as fun as it was.
Adam: MOR Americana had planted its flag by now. I will make no excuses for Alabama, but I’ll always defend this one. Total barroom music, but it might just get a shy cowboy-booted couple onto the dancefloor and rescue their awkward night.
17: Barcelona – Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballé
Adam: AAARGH! I had completely forgot this existed. It surely has to go down as second only to Bryan Adams + Pavarotti as an example of why classical and rock should never be allowed to meet. The two also resemble each other visually a little too closely. It almost makes a bit TOO MUCH sense.
Andrew: This particular Queen hiatus yielded some strange things. That particular band’s side projects were always a bit nuts – cf. Brian May’s Star Fleet – but at the end of the day, Freddie was always the craziest.
18: Englishman In New York – Sting
Andrew: A VERY 80s look, embodying the bad guy in a rom-com that She Could Do Better Than. Sting never sounds fun, does he? Instead trapped somewhere between morose and snooty.
Adam: Sting’s solo career is so far from the best of the Police. This guy’s not fun. This guy’s not cool. This guy’s…a bit of a shit! He’s so pleased with himself! For no reason! And how very quickly he became the Sting we know and loathe.
19: Pump Up The Volume – M/A/R/R/S
Adam: And so the 90s continue to bear down on us. That sampling of baptist preaching is all very Faithless/Primal Scream. Weird in the extreme, but a lot of fun as someone splashes around in the sound effects setting on their little keyboard. At what point did “pump up the volume stop” being a cool thing to say?
Andrew: At some point you expect to hear a voice saying “I HAVE ALREADY PUMPED IT UP!”
20: It’s A Sin – Pet Shop Boys
Andrew: Listening to this one properly has warmed my previously cold feelings towards them, with their strange Frankie Goes To Hollywood-meets-Stock-Aitken-Waterman vibe. It has the balls I always thought they lacked. (I still hate West End Girls though.) I can finally get my Good Gay card now.
Adam: Don’t know their back catalogue, in depth but am familiar with and like most of their singles (West End Girls aside…) This is one of my favourites and, unlike many entries on this list, has excellent production. Always fun to play loud and have a dance to.
21: Diamonds – Herb Alpert
Adam: You could not have chosen an artist I thought less likely to crop up in this year/decade. And fucking hell, what is this? What drove him to it? So sad. It sounds so much like an old man with a powerful mullet (if album cover to be believed) trying to be relevant.
Andrew: The thing is, it worked. But that was the magic of Janet Jackson, I suppose. Truly heinous, hilariously so.
22: The One I Love – R.E.M.
Andrew: Boring as hell. Alabama if they were younger, miserable, and lived in a college town.
Adam: I was struggling, and then I remembered that this was the year REM emerged as a confident, pop-savvy band who’d soon chart some major hits. Far from their greatest, but an island of hope in this shocker of a year.
23: Happy When it Rains – The Jesus and Mary Chain
Adam: …but I’d completely overlooked these guys. So glad you remembered them. Admittedly they’re best in small doses, but still way ahead of their contemporaries – fresher and more spirited too.
Andrew: Small doses for sure. A bit like a weirder, less poncey Cure. And their embrace of girl-group wins me over automatically. Witness the use of the Be My Baby rhythm on track one of their first album.
24: Paradise City – Guns N’ Roses
Andrew: This song is to me inseparable from its repellent video. Don’t let your kids (or indeed friends) near him.
Adam: Guns & Roses epitomise everything gross, over-indulgent, druggy and diseased about their place and time. But Appetite for Destruction is too much of a hangover from my teenage years to let go. I actually had the poster in my room in halls. Yes, I’m that guy. I can’t defend a lot of their stuff but this is a stone cold, rock classic.
25: If You All Get To Heaven – Terence Trent D’Arby
Adam: Ooh, sounds soulful, I said to myself. Then…what? It goes tits up with the chorus and fails to win me back. Sounds like something that’d play in a glass/marble/chrome megachurch where you’re encouraged to leave your credit cards with the minister. Worst power ballad on the list. INCLUDING BARCELONA.
Andrew: It’s so earnest. For a song to justify being such heavy going it has to either be strange or fun, and this is neither. More like a public service announcement than anything else.
Adam: That was really hard work, and some low-hanging fruit aside, I had to reach much, much further into the barrel than expected. My favourite of mine: Girlfriend in a Coma. Of yours: fuck me…Hazy Shade of Winter.
Andrew: Was afraid of this from the start, but perhaps not as afraid as I should have been. Hard work indeed, although it did soften me up for ’86 and ’88. Of mine: Paid in Full. Of yours: It’s a Sin.