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11.21.10 Classic Years In Rock: 198711.20.10 Classic Years In Rock: 1980

Classic Years In Rock: 1987

1987 was an exciting year. In my opinion, the most important in hard rock/heavy metal history. Mainstream glam metal reached a creative and commercial peak, while a number of other veteran artists who had only just survived the decade returned to top-billing status.rOn the underground scene, sleaze rock exploded overnight - achieving more in one year than it would in the next twenty years. There was also an exciting scattershot of non-sleaze underground releases; essentially ever major genre to emerge in the 1990s saw a key release foreshadowing it in 1987. None were big enough to inspire a movement immediately, but much would grow from these seeds.
1 Guns N' Roses
Appetite for Destruction

Let's start with sleaze rock - 1987 was this genre's year, after all. Guns N' Roses' debut album - the best-selling debut album of all time, fact fans - stands as the jewel in the genre's crown. The track-listing may as well be a greatest hits of the band and sleaze rock in general - it's that rammed with good songs.
The combination of influences - singer-songwriter (Axl), punk (Duff McKagan), 70s rock 'n' roll (Slash), blues rock (Izzy Stradlin) and arena glam (Steven Adler) produced a varied, exciting set of songs. From the heavy metal of the verse to "Paradise City" to the chart assaulting beauty that is "Sweet Child O' Mine", the kings of post-glam could be ugly or beautiful to suit the situation. Don't go near the band's "official" greatest hits set - this is their greatest hits set.
2Motley Crue
Girls, Girls, Girls

Motley Crue put out their dirtiest, sleaziest record in 1987, helping legitimise the new and emerging sleaze rock genre. At this point, Crue were still ahead of the game not lagging behind it as they would in the 1990s, and they were in their element here.
Motley Crue were always a sleazy band trying to look better than they were cappable of, so this suited them down to the ground. It has it all - from the bluesy grit of the riff to the title track to the punky anthem that is "Use It Or Lose It". "Wild Side" would become one of the band's best 5 or 6 songs, with an incredible, characterful rhythm and riff pattern. The bluesier sound of this style of music suited Crue's only real musician - guitarist Mick Mars - too, who is at his best on this album.
3Faster Pussycat
Faster Pussycat

Rounding off the sleaze pack comes this little offering. The Pussys had a sound in between the party-hard Motley Crue mayhem and the ugly, dirty sound of a GN'R rocker. The band would manage to become big enough to be figureheads for the movement, without getting too big to lose their street credibility. Like The Clash, this band could make a pop song sound more authentic than anyone else at the time.
Permanent Vacation

On to the grand comebacks of the age! The sleaze movement cited Aerosmith as a key influence, helping spur on their return to form. Following a mildly successful comeback record the previous year, and the runaway hit that was Run-DMC's cover of "Walk This Way" (helped in no small part by a video starring Steven Tyler and Joe Perry), the stage was set. Songs like "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)" are not rip-offs of the 80s sound by old men from the 70s, they are the sound of a band reclaiming a decade that should have been theirs in the first place. This album checked all the right boxes - "Rag Doll" and "Hangman Jury" proved the band were still true to their dirty blues rock roots, while ballads like "Amazing" showed a maturity, as the torch of youth was passed by the sober rock gods to Slash and friends. Greater things would come to Aerosmith, who built on this comeback in the coming years, ultimately becomin the kings of the power ballad following "Amazing"'s success.
Crazy Nights

First things first - Crazy Nights contains on some songs the sound of a band selling out like never before or since. On "Reason To Live", it is utterly painful to hear Paul Stanley croak out a power ballad, and on "No No No", we get to hear Gene Simmons attempt to out-fast-talk David Lee Roth. But the album's success - stemming entirely from the title track, one of the best songs Kiss ever recorded - would keep the Kiss train afloat. Rock 'n' roll would be much less fun without their flamboyant stage shows, and it kept them going long enough for their reunion in 1996. There are other good songs on here, too - "I'll Fight Hell To Hold You" has an insane guitar solo, an epic vocal from Paul Stanley and huge drums and "Thief in the Night" could almost be vintage 70s Kiss. They save it from utter mediocrity.
Think how boring life would be without Kiss - the greasepaint, the fire, the blood, everything. For that, and the title track, it's worth the awfulness some tracks contain.
6 Ace Frehley
Frehley's Comet

Those disgusted in Kiss could always turn to Ace Frehley, the band's former guitarist. No one seemed to inform Frehley that the 70s ended, and this one star kept the flame of vintage, fledgling hard rock alive. Unlike everyone else in the 80s, Frehley didn't try to do the impossible and copy Eddie Van Halen - he sticks to his tight musical instincts. It's only the second album - the first since 1978 - to feature a full disc of Frehley's unique vocals, too.
7Def Leppard

While sleaze was exploding and 70s dinosaurs were being revived, the bands who defined the early half of the decade were still triumphing. Hysteria would prove to be the biggest and best Def Leppard record. More intelligent and experimental than previous Leppard albums, the band took advantage of a quality production to produce thick layers of exciting guitars, rather than getting lost in a mess of synthesizers as so many bands did during this era of excess. Planned as a pop metal Thriller - with every song a potential single for a different, distinct audience - this album succeeds splendidly. For every pop gem like "Love Bites", there's a crazy new idea like "Rocket" in the mix too.

Arguably, Whitesnake's earlier material was better. But this brought it to the masses. The elements of 80s pop production watered down some of the band's bluesy grit, but the soulfulness of David Coverdale's voice survives the transition just about, and not since Led Zeppelin had blues guitar sounded so huge as it did on songs like "Still of the Night". The album's big anthem, a re-recording of Whitesnake classic "Here I Go Again". It's all held together by the Cov and guitar wizard John Sykes, with a talent so great it battles past the synthesizers and shines through. The size of the album's sound is still astounding - blues had come a long way.
9White Lion

White Lion were essentially a quality hard rock band disguised as an 80s pop band to sell records, like Cinderella. In reality, the musicianship, the lyrical content, and the overal standard of the album raised the band far above their peers. Unfortunately, the band were never recognised as being superior to hit merchants like Poison and Warrant.
10Ozzy Osbourne

Released to honour the death of Ozzy's former guitarist Rhoads, this album showcases the Prince of Darkness at his most powerful and potent, while Rhoads is in full force too. Rhoads got better and better right up to his death, and this, a document from his final touring days, is proof of that. The line-up and set-list date from the best time in Ozzy's career. A fitting tribute indeed.
11Joe Satriani
Surfing with the Alien

With this release, Satriani would find himself emerging as the first truly recognised instrumental superstar, and the first real rival to Eddie Van Halen's guitar-master throne. Though other guitarists were more flamboyant, the sound of Satch at work is more subtle and complex, the music more carefully, elegantly constructed. Why didn't he get a singer? He didn't need one.
12 Anthrax
I'm The Man

This EP pretty well shows how insane Anthrax were. It's got a stellar cover of Black Sabbath classic "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath", three impressive live cuts and the rap metal fusion of the title track. This song, building on Run-DMC's "Walk This Way" invented the rap metal sound that would dominate the mid 1990s to mid 200s. Tom Morello's family, and everyone in Limp Bizkit owe all their meals to that one track. Thrash is at its best in consise, focussed springs and the EP format works well for that.
Among The Living

1987 was a productive year for Anthrax, taking advantage of thrash's brief time in the sun to put out a second classic. This is the greatest statement of the Joey Belladonna - displaying the band at their tightest, best, and at times even their funniest. There was always more to Anthrax than an agressive thrash monster - it was what made them stand out in the crowd, but also what made them so enduring.
The Legacy

Time to look at the metal underground! While Anthrax were enjoying the high life, and exciting experimentation, Testament were leading the pack back on the streets. When the Big Four of Thrash (Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica) took off, Testament were the fifth biggest thrash act around. Left behind as those bands meandered styles, they soldiered onwards. This, their debut, has memorable melodies and riffs, a thundering rhythm section, and the full persona of Chuck Billy is already completely developed.
15Napalm Death

Scum gave the world grindcore. It's the ugliest, nastiest form of heavy metal ever, in competition with black metal (more on that later). Where black metal at least tries to be atmospheric, grindcore is resolutely dedicated to being absolutely ugly, horrible, and painful. All the worst bits about music are lodged into one angry mess. Hardcore punk pushed to its limits with the heaviness of metal thrown in for good measure.
Hugely influential, absolute classic then? Got it in one.

Black metal is just as evil, violent and chaotic as grindcore, but with more atmospherics, more purpose, and a greater focus.....on violent chaos. Music to sacrafice animals and kill people to, this. By 1990/1, when the rest of Norway caught up, this would be heralded as the start of the black metal movement proper.
Scream Bloody Gore

Death round off the breakthrough extreme metal triplet of 1987, proving it's possibly to be agressive and angry without being a complete mess. Not quite as technical as Death would evolve to be in the 1990s, this album still has their key hallmarks - speed, brutality, passion, precision and "extremeness". It went one step further than Slayer ever did, becoming the first real death metal album.
Screaming Life

Soundgarden's debut EP was just as unusual as extreme metal in 1987, but with a firm link to Black Sabbath, was far more accessable. It's slow, doomy and sludgy, with the dirty guitars and deep wailing vocals that make it one of the first grunge releases - the sound that would dominate radios and sales charts constantly from 1991 through 1996.
Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. 1

Helloween next, proving it's possible to have a positive, upbeat sound and still land yourself in the underground. The German band's classic line-up finally came together for this album, with Michael Kiske on vocals. One of the more effective concept albums of the late 80s, the album laid out the blueprint for European-style, melodic power metal that has been copied ever since. It was not long before Helloween managed to go all weird and make less good music, further elevating this as their pinnacle achievement.
The Hall of the Mountain King

Savatage's best-selling and most well regarded album, Hall of the Mountain King was another quality concept album. 1987 was the year post-Waters Pink Floyd faltered, but with bands like Savatage picking up the reigns around prog was far from lost. The album marks an ideal transition point between their metal roots and prog future, sitting comfortably in the middle.
21King Diamond

The other major concept album of 1987, this is the peak of King's solo career. It is dark and spooky, without being as ridiculous or excessive as most albums of the 1980s. An elegant, careful release with a gothic charm.
22The Cult

Speaking of gothic, gothish band The Cult went supernova in 1987. Achieving the seemingly impossible, this album grafts goth's spooky atmospherics to pop hooks, elevating and expanding the sound to arena-filling level. Few albums that sounded that huge maintained the intimate, personal aura that a solid gothic release does. Gothic culture spurned the band as sellouts, but the rest of us really did not care.
23Celtic Frost
Into the Pandemonium

Celtic Frost lept into the avant-garde with this release. The melting pot was more chaotic and confusing than Mayhem or Napalm Death's, but far more exquisitely cooked. Frost always specialised in including every branch of metal they could in their work, and this album is no exception.

While so many bands were exploring exciting new directions, or achieving their unique, personal career highs, Candlemass were looking backwards at Black Sabbath still. Candlemass are distinct from most doom metal by being more epic - this release sounds utterly gigantic and is a classic of the epic doom subgenre, and the goom genre in general. It's a minor modification on a very basic, very old format, but no one was doing it better at the time and no one has since either.
It isn't as progressive, experimental or exciting, as a lot of the releases on this list. Nor is it as dynamic or crazy. But someone had to keep things grounded, and pointed towards rock and metal's roots.
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