Wednesday, 26 March 2014

1987 - What The F**k Is Going On?

was the title of a KLF album.
And I agree with Bill Drummonds assertion - what exactly was going on at that time?
  • Smiths had just split
  • No new Iron Maiden album
  • The rampant rise of American Hair Metal/Poodle Rock with Bon Jovi headlining Monsters Of Rock at Donnington
  • Stock, Aitken & Waterman
  • Acceeid!
  • Only 10 years since The Sex Pistols, and the passing of Elvis Presley and Marc Bolan - feels like longer!
It really was a rubbish year for buying records and listening to music.
In fact, it stayed firmly stuck in a rut until March 1992, when this record heralded the beginnings of what the world would come to know as Britpop

Blur - Popscene

But was it all bad in 1987?
To be honest, there were some definite plus points.  Prime examples being:
  • Pogues and The Dubliners performing "The Irish Rover" which certainly lit up an otherwise "ho-hum" edition of Saturday Night Live
  • The Cult - Electric
    An album which pulled on classic AC/DC riffs, Robert Plant-esque vocal, thundering drums, all topped off with Rick Rubin's thoughtful, commercial production job.  You can even forgive the perfunctory, almost pointless, cover of "Born To Be Wild"
  • Jethro Tull - Crest Of  A Knave
    A fantastic album, albeit a slightly restrained Tull performance following Ian Anderson's throat surgery.  Contains some fine songs, and is probably their best outing (if not surpassing) 1982s 'Broadsword And The Beast'.  One nice touch: this album won a Grammy for 'Best Metal Performance' beating Janes Addiction ('Nothings Shocking') and Metallica ('... And Justice For All').  Rightly so in my opinion, although describing 'Crest Of A Knave' as a Metal album is pushing the envelope a bit
  • Marillion - Clutching At Straws
    Fish's last outing with the band.  And a sign off in style, the songs here are some of the most thought out, best arranged and direct songs the band had produced (personal note: it's not as good as 'Misplaced Childhood' though)
  • Guns n Roses - Appetite For Destruction
    When considered in retrospect this is a hard rocking, hard drinking, masterpiece of sleaze.  But in 1987, I blanked it.  I almost went out of my way to dislike it, feeling that it was derivative, un-original and was image driven (marketing) rather than music driven (honesty).  Hey, I was wrong and this is a definite classic of the age
But the above were mere glints of light in an oasis of blandness and boredom.  It was also the start of the "looking back to the past" era, with the year opening with Jackie Wilson's "Reet Petite" at Number 1.
The success of "Reet Petite" was a result of the 'claymation' video, but the appearance sat nicely with the ongoing Levis adverts and the old song used to soundtrack them ("Wonderful World" and "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" in 1986, "Stand By Me" and "When A Man Loves A Woman" in 1987).
1988 continued in a similar vein, with rare shafts of light cutting through an otherwise turgid musical landscape filled with Stock, Aitken & Waterman, Acid House/Rave stuff, re-releases (often inspired by TV adverts) and multiple cover versions.

And now my original intention to denegrate 5 years of musical history (from 1987 to 1992) as "a bit rubbish" rally starts to fall down.
1988 also brought forth bands such as The Primitives, Transvision Vamp, The Wonderstuff, Pop Will Eat Itself, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine and Zodiac Mindwarp (plus a host of others which I can't remember at the moment).

Rolling into 1989, it appeared that this was to be another year of bland and insipid, punctuated at times by the genuinely interesting.  To a mainstream audience, this was to be the year when the first rumblings of what was to become known as Madchester were felt.
Indie or alternative rock had been doing the rounds for many years, but the NME C86 Cassette was perhaps a catalyst of sorts which started to regiment and identify this particular form of music.  Band such as Primal Scream, The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Wedding Present were selling records but in relatively small numbers, and never really getting commercial recognition.
Indeed, as stated above there were an increasing number of bands gaining recognition, but a combination of backward looking, forward thinking bands brought the word "indie" right into the medias focus.
Madchester was a meeting of dance culture, clubbing, indie rock and psychedelia (a pretty simplistic attempt at a definition, but you get the general idea).  In late 1988,  The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses had released their first singles (or at least their first singles that the wider world took any notice of), and a head of steam was being built in the music press.  By late spring 1989, the Stone Roses debut was released.  Whilst initial reviews were positive, it wasn't the instant explosion of success that legend would have us believe.  The album sold fairly well, and the Stone Roses "legend" (and by association the idea of Madchester) grow steadily.  It was perhaps the release of "Fools Gold" in November which cemented the Stone Roses in the public consciousness.  The dual appearance of Stone Roses and Happy Mondays (Madchester Rave On EP) on Top Of The Pops certainly helped.
After this, Madchester became a bandwagon that the press and the record companies boarded.  Pretty soon any band with either a Manchester postcode and/or a Byrds-ish guitar style or Hammond Organ stylings were rewarded with record contracts, TV appearances and general adulation.
The big 4 at this time were probably (and this is my opinion): Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets and The Charlatans.
This period also spawned, either in contrast or in conjuction with Madchester, the Baggy movement.  If I'm being cynical, this was the same thing just on a more nationwide scale.The original template of the above bands was taken, squeezed and fitted with new thought process, attitude and audience.  Much of it was more "pop" focussed.  Bands such as The Farm, Flowered Up, Jesus Jones, The Soup Dragons, The Mock Turtles, New Fast Automatic Daffodils and Northside benefited from this broadening of geography

1990 & 1991 continued a theme with a plethora of Indie Rock bands breaking through and keeping my world interesting.  Jangle-pop, Indie Dance stuff, Shoegazing and a great many other sub-genres.  Bands included: Teenage Fanclub, Carter USM, Neds Atomic Dustbin, Senseless Things, Sultans Of Ping FC, Blue Aeroplanes, Curve, Ride, The Almighty and first outings for the Manic Street Preachers.

Whatever label it was given, the period 1989 to 1991 was a wonderfully interesting (if not massively diverse) time for indie/alternative rock and it's many variants.

So, I've failed with my original hypothesis.  This 5 year period was not the blank landscape that I originally decided it was (1987 was still a bit off a duff year though).

2014 marks the 25th Anniversary of the release of The Stone Roses debut album.  As stated above, it wasn't the legend that it is now believed to be when initially released.
In fact, like "Appetite For Destruction", this was another album which bore the brunt of my misguided prejudice.  When I first heard it, I really didn't think much of it.  I felt it was slow, ponderous and a bit clinical in places.  The fact I wasn't "into" the dance elements of the music probably didn't help matters either.
It is only in the last 5 years (or so) that I have gone back to it, and started to "get it" - oh well, better late than never I suppose.

Stone Roses - She Bangs The Drums


  1. I think you should go with your first instinct: 1987 - 1992 really was a poor time for music. There was some good stuff around (The Pogues, Public Enemy, Prince etc), but ultimately I think that no matter how much cool stuff is around, the year lives and dies by the charts, and Good God the charts around that time were dreadful: Stock, Aitken & Waterman, Bros, Simply Red etc etc). I think 1988 was the worst year. I was 18 at the time and felt very very cheated.

    1. Same age, same feeling. Age 17-22 had a soundtrack that you really had to search for. I spent a lot of the period going backwards and listening to a lot of 60/70s stuff (which was probably a good thing?).
      Problem for me was that when Britpop broke out, I'd gone and got married so was watching what should've been my "scene" (Age 22-28) mainly from the sidelines. Got divorced a couple of years later and spent a couple of years just catching up with what I'd missed

  2. 1988 was awful, as any listen to Pick of the Pops of a Saturday will tell you when it features the dreaded year. On the flipside, being a late developer (17 years old) that was the year I really started getting in to more alternative forms of music. Metallica's Master of Puppets, anything Pink Floyd and Wonder Stuff's Eight Legged Groove Machine, being my soundtracks. To me '87 was all about a long summer listening to Clutching at Straws while trying to find a job but still getting up early to deliver newspapers.