1987: The Door Is Open Wide

1987 arguably epitomizes the sleek professionalism we now tend to associate with the decade. Everything had to sound expensive and immaculate in order to be a hit, from songs that either topped the charts (“Heaven Is A Place On Earth”, “Father Figure”) or came very close to doing so (“What Have I Done To Deserve This”, “Little Lies”) to first-ever Top 40 crossovers from the likes of The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs and New Order. Even beyond that, you have The Smiths at their lushest and UK goths Sisters of Mercy getting the hell produced out of them by Jim “Total Eclipse of the Heart” Steinman.

Personally, it’s also a weird year. I was 12 and on the verge of discovering a world beyond “Weird Al” Yankovic. I remember incessant MTV airplay for one-hit wonders such as Danny Wilson and Breakfast Club (“Right On Track” is currently on regular rotation at my local supermarket and it still slaps) and occasional peek-through appearances like 10,000 Maniacs performing “Like The Weather” on SNL. And yet, I knew nothing of The Cure, R.E.M., Sinead O’Connor or Siouxsie and the Banshees just yet—still too young to stay up and watch 120 Minutes on Sunday nights, I guess.

Obviously, I came to know a majority of these songs after ’87. Oh, George Michael was everywhere at the time and I knew the U2 hits among all the Whitney, Bon Jovi and Heart coming out the radio, which might be why I prefer an album track like the lovingly wounded “Running To Stand Still” or the no-nonsense pub rock of “Mystify” to INXS’ overplayed hits of the era.  While nearly anything from Sign ‘O’ The Times would suffice below, the Sheena Easton duet is an instinctive choice (also, it doesn’t just slap, it slams.)

As for the few tracks that conceivably could’ve come from another year besides ’87, we have the ever in-his-own-time Tom Waits, retro-pastiche artists The Dukes of Stratosphear (if you don’t know them, don’t look ‘em up before listening to “Vanishing Girl”), R.E.M.’s jangle-pop classicism (was happily surprised to hear them play “Welcome To The Occupation” on their Monster tour in ’95) and The Go-Betweens, perhaps the most underrated and underheard great ‘80s band. “Bye Bye Pride” is a marvel of literary, heart-on-sleeve guitar pop splendor, with a soaring chorus and an oboe (!) solo on its outro; it should be as well-known as anything on this playlist.

Go here to listen to my favorite songs of 1987.

  1. The Cure, “Just Like Heaven”
  2. R.E.M., “Welcome To The Occupation”
  3. George Michael, “Father Figure”
  4. Midnight Oil, “Beds Are Burning”
  5. Sinead O’Connor, “Mandinka”
  6. The Smiths, “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before”
  7. Sting, “Englishman In New York”
  8. Eurythmics, “You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart”
  9. 10,000 Maniacs, “Like The Weather”
  10. INXS, “Mystify”
  11. U2, “Running To Stand Still”
  12. Fleetwood Mac, “Little Lies”
  13. Tom Waits, “Hang On St. Christopher”
  14. The Go-Betweens, “Bye Bye Pride”
  15. Alison Moyet, “Is This Love?”
  16. New Order, “True Faith”
  17. Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield, “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”
  18. John Mellencamp, “Paper In Fire”
  19. Belinda Carlisle, “Heaven Is A Place On Earth”
  20. Prince, “U Got The Look”
  21. Wendy & Lisa, “Waterfall”
  22. The Dukes Of Stratosphear, “Vanishing Girl”
  23. Echo & The Bunnymen, “Lips Like Sugar”
  24. Swing Out Sister, “Breakout”
  25. Breakfast Club, “Right On Track”
  26. The Psychedelic Furs, “Heartbreak Beat”
  27. Siouxsie and the Banshees, “The Passenger”
  28. Danny Wilson, “Mary’s Prayer”
  29. Depeche Mode, “Never Let Me Down Again”
  30. Sisters of Mercy, “This Corrosion”
  31. The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl, “Fairytale of New York”

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