Favorite Albums of My Life: 1986

Again, another year (and then some) has passed since I shared my favorite albums of 1985.  1986 has been difficult for me, as it was a bizarre year in my life.  In 1986, I left home to serve a mission for my church, dedicating two years to share my spiritual beliefs with the people of New Mexico.  During this time I wasn't supposed to listen to music.  Obviously, with my love of music, that didn't happen.  That said, I was immersed in a bubble for four months of that year... four months that limited my exposure to contemporary music.  Not to mention I was in New Mexico.  Musically speaking, that place was a world apart.

That said, this list will combine albums from my life previous to leaving on a mission, as well as some of those things that I happened to discover while ON my mission.  I often joke that my "musical bar" was lowered a LOT while serving my mission, so don't expect much.

Also, I am going to do something different with this list.  Previously, I have listed my Top 10/20 lists in numerical order.  I am going to begin doing my lists in reverse numerical order, in order to add a sense of... suspense.  So, sit back and prepare for a trip down memory lane... to the year 1986.


 What isn't to like about Bruce Hornsby?  He's talented.  He's funny.  He's good people.  Even better is the STORY of Bruce Hornsby.  Musician trying to get a record deal in the age of big hair and florescent colors... having the door slammed in his face by label after label, until RCA finally decides to sign him.  What resulted was one of the biggest records of 1986.  I hope all the pessimistic labels cringed each time "The Way It Is" was played on the radio... if so, they deserved it.

 19. BOB JAMES/DAVID SANBORN - "Double Vision"

This is probably the biggest shocker to be found on this list.  Contemporary Jazz?  Really?!?
Having grown up in the home of Calvin Dahl, I had been exposed to the music of Bob James since about the same time his song "Angela" was used as the theme song to the hit TV show, TAXI.  I didn't even discover this album until returning from my mission in 1987.  I hadn't even been home from the airport for more than a few minutes, when my dad eagerly showed me his new CD player. CD players were still surfacing in homes across the country and dad wanted to let me hear the difference between records and this new digital medium.  If I recall correctly, the first CD to be played was this gem.  This was one of the last albums to be produced in the Contemporary Jazz realm before Kenny Gorlick* began to take things south.  Thanks, Kenny.

 *It should be pointed out that Kenny's album, DUOTONES was one of my favorite albums of 1987, although you won't find it on that list.

18.  THE SMITHS - "The Queen Is Dead"

 Music enthusiasts will probably be quick to point out to me that this album should be way higher on the list.  Truth be told, it probably should be.  It is, after all, my favorite Smiths album.  That said, I never did give it the mileage it deserved.  I should hopefully remedy that, now that I own the "Complete Smiths" vinyl box set.  Frankly, Mr. Shankly, this is a damned fine album.

 17.  PET SHOP BOYS - "Please"

 Music enthusiasts will probably be quick to point out to me that this album should be lower.  Truth be told, it probably should be.  That said, this album was big for me.  I remember going dancing at the local dance club, The Ritz, and hearing "West End Girls" and "Opportunities" and being caught up in the catchy sounds.  27 years later, this is still my favorite album of theirs... and the song "Love Comes Quickly" still rates as my favorite song of this duo.

16.  THE CALL - "Reconciled"

 All it takes is one listen to "Everywhere I Go" and "I Still Believe" to know this album is going to be good.  Pure, raw power... passionate lyrics... a positive message..... what more could you ask for?  Well, if you were The Call, you'd probably ask for more listens from one Uncle Zeke.  This album should probably be higher on the list... especially because number 15 isn't nearly as deserving to be ahead of this great album.  What I love is that vocalist Michael Been appeared on both "Once Upon a Time", by Simple Minds, and "So", by Peter Gabriel, while Peter and Jim Kerr appeared on this album.  I should also point out that Michael and Jim also appeared on Peter's album.  That's working as a team, folks.  We should all learn from those three.

 15.  THE HUMAN LEAGUE - "Crash"

This album was one of the first to cross my path, once I got out into the mission field.  I had been a big fan of The Human League for years, and when I heard "Human", I was immediately hooked.  The sound was different (this album was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, both members of The Time and getting better known for their production, thanks to the success of Janet Jackson's "Control" album) and I didn't care.  It was catchy.  It may have sounded like everything coming out of Minneapolis, but I DIDN'T CARE.  Another thing I didn't care for was the song "Swang".  It still rates as the worst Human League song, as far as I'm concerned.  Had that song not been on the album, this baby might have held a solid single digit position.

 14.  TOTO - "Farenheit"

 It's TOTO, yo.  What more reason do you need?  Oh... you DO need another reason?  How 'bout this?  Michael McDonald??  "I'll Be Over You"??  'Nuff said.


While serving my mission, I received a cassette tape with this album and Aztec Camera's "LOVE".  Not to ruin my 1987 list, but you'll probably find that there.  Anyhoo, lest I digress.  This album (keep in mind it didn't come into my life until 1988) was pure, powerful 80's Pop, from start to finish.  It was an amazing album.  Heck, it still IS an amazing album.  The outfits, on the other hand?  Not so much.


 I still remember the first time I heard the song, "Don't Dream It's Over".  It was the spring of '87, and I was immediately struck by the catchy melody of that song.  It was no surprise, once I learned that Crowded House was led by Split Enz alumnus, Neil Finn.  I had been a fan of Split Enz for years, and had always been partial to the beautiful songwriting of Neil (over his brother, Tim).  This album was some of the best "power Pop" to be found in 1986/87.  It may have even ranked a little higher, had the band NOT canceled a concert appearance in 1989.  It was last minute, so they could attend the Australian equivalent to the Grammy Awards.  Screw the fans of Salt Lake City... we didn't matter.  I never did have the chance to see these guys, so they get dinged.  Okay... that's just me being bitter.  Really, this is where it sits, regardless of how hurt I was.  ::sniff::

 11.  GTR

 This little collaboration between the two Steves... Steve Hackett, formerly of Genesis and Steve Howe, formerly of Asia/Yes... sounds a little dated, by today's standards, but still holds its own, in my world.  One of my single biggest musical regrets was not seeing GTR, when they played Salt Lake, in the summer of 1986.  The opening act was Hackett/Howe.  I'll give you one guess who they were... and give you another guess as to why I regret not going.  Seeing those two luminaries play acoustic duets would have been mind blowing.  As the kids say.... FML.

 10.  ICEHOUSE - "Measure For Measure"

If Icehouse could nail their "on" moments with each and every song, they would hands down be my favorite band of all time.  Sadly, though, they don't.  Side one of this album is amazing... amazing enough to get it halfway up my Top 20 list.  Side two... well.... not so much.  Songs like "Angel Street", "Spanish Gold" and the hit single, "No Promises" make this album Top 10 worthy.  If side two were as strong, it'd be nipping on the heals of...  ha, you thought I was going to spill number one, didn't you?  Psych!!


Not only did 1986 bring the first Contemporary Jazz onto my Top 20 lists, but it also saw the first New Age album.  Andreas Vollenweider, Swiss harpist, is a musician that not only pushes his genre of music to new limits, but has totally reinvented the harp in popular music.  Utilizing amplification, Andreas creates a sound more reminiscent of nylon string guitar... mostly.  It's still distinctly harpish (yes, I just created a new word), but not the kind of sound one would expect Elizabeth Smart to make.  Local folks will get the joke...

 8.  THE HOUSEMARTINS - "London 0, Hull 4"

Need I say more?  Hull's native sons turned the college radio world upside down with their quirky brand of guitar pop.  Known for their cynical words and twisted look on the world (and people) around them, The Housemartins cleverly blended jangly guitar Pop with Gospel and R&B influences.  They didn't lie when they said that of the 16 songs on the album, 17 of them were hits.  Two veterans of The Housemartins (Paul Heaton and Dave what's-his-nuts) went on to form The Beautiful South, one of the greatest bands of the 90's, while bass player Norman Cook went on to turn the EDM world on its ear, with his reinvented persona, Fatboy Slim.  Needless to say, these guys were talented far beyond the somewhat limited scope of early Housemartins music... music which I love dearly.

 7.  DEVICE - "22B3"

HOLY FREAKING HECK!!  THIS ALBUM IS AMAZING!!  Really, it should be higher than 7.  It would be, had the top 6 not been so amazing.  This album boasted two of the greatest talents of the 80's... Holly Knight, songwriter extraordinaire, and Mike Chapman (co-writer and producer).  If you ever want to see a resume as impressive as Bacharach/David, look at the work of those two.  Having penned/produced songs for Pat Benatar, Tina Turner, as well as dozens more, these two were integral to 80's hit radio... except, possibly, for this album.  This album may not have been a huge commercial hit, but it plays like one.  From the first song to the last, it doesn't let go.  I dare say that had they not made such poor choices with their image, this band would have had a more lasting impact on the musical world as we know it.

  6.  PAUL SIMON - "Graceland"

If I can say one thing about Paul Simon, it's that he is, in my opinion, the greatest songwriter to come out of the early 60's New York Folk movement.  He spent his professional life living in the shadow of Bob Dylan, but in my opinion he surpassed his peers in every possible way.  His work with Simon & Garfunkel went from stereotypical early 60's Folk (including their covering Dylan songs) to a deeper, well rounded sound, including some of the most poignant lyrics of the Vietnam era.  Towards the end of his tenure with Simon & Garfunkel, Paul began to absorb music from around the world.  On their final album, BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER, they recorded a traditional Peruvian song, "El Condor Pasa", featuring the Peruvian Folk group, Urubamba.  This was only a glimpse into what was yet to come, as Paul explored Gospel and world music.  In 1986, Paul released his most progressive adventure yet... fusing the sounds of New Orleans, American Rhythm and Blues, and the shanty ghettos of Soweto.  The album also boasts a plethora of guest appearances from the likes of Los Lobos, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, The Everly Brothers, Youssou N'Dour, Adrien Belew and Linda Rondstadt.  It's the quickest way to travel all the way around the world.  45 minutes and you pretty much hit at least three continents.  That's not too bad.


Did someone say Youssou N'Dour?  Well... he's on this album.  You may remember his contributions to the song blasting from Lloyd Dobler's boom box in the movie, SAY ANYTHING.  "In Your Eyes" may have been the biggest non-hit on the album, but the album had it all... big radio hits like "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time"... atmospheric art-Pop like "Mercy Street" and his duet with Kate Bush, "Don't Give Up"... and downright eccentric music like his duet with Laurie Anderson, "This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)".  This album has one thing that 99% of the albums released in the 80's DIDN'T have..... longevity.  Longevity and endless amounts of creativity.  Lloyd knew what he was doing when he wooed the lovely Diane Court with the sounds of Peter Gabriel.  He would have wooed me.

4.  'TIL TUESDAY - "Welcome Home"

The funny thing about this album is that it didn't even come into my life until 1993 or so.  I remember the single "What About Love" being played on the radio, when I was on my mission, but I didn't take much note.  Just over a year before, the Top 40 airwaves were saturated by the first 'Til Tuesday hit, "Voices Carry"... a song that, frankly, didn't do a whole lot for me.  I liked it well enough, but not nearly to the extent of many of the other hits of that year.  When this album, their sophomore effort, came out, I figured it wouldn't be anything to write home about.  Boy, was I wrong.

7 years later, my friend Craig insisted that I purchase the CD.  If I'm not mistaken, he said he would buy it off of me, if I didn't like it... he was that certain that I'd love it.  Boy, was he right.  I don't know if it was the lovely songwriting of Aimee Mann, the production of Rhett Davies (Roxy Music, B-52's) or a combination of the two, but whatever it was, it worked.  And it worked good.

 3.  JOE JACKSON - "Big World"

What can I say about Joe Jackson?  He's intense... he's prolific... he's inventive.  If you delved into his albums before this, you would hear all types of music.  Angry Punk, Reggae, Swing Jazz, cool sounds not too far removed from Bossa Nova.  Joe is restless.  He's creative.  He is probably more concerned about boring himself than he is boring his fans.

For BIG WORLD, Joe took us on a journey around the world, adding influences from across the globe.  Even the lyrics and liner notes are done in several languages.  The really cool thing about this album was that Joe recorded several live shows in New York City, all on consecutive nights, recording the songs direct-to-two track.  The audiences were also instructed to remain quiet until several seconds after the songs ended.  What resulted was an album of all new music... all recorded live, in front of an audience.  While the album plays as a studio album, it maintains a very "live" feel.  The album also had three sides, the fourth side being blank.  The first and third sides were upbeat, while the second side contained the ballads.

When I saw Joe perform on the Big World Tour, his concert was set up in a similar format.  While performing songs from throughout his career, it was broken into three sections, including a middle section of solo piano (occasionally accompanied with percussion) songs, and paired down acoustic numbers.  His follow up to this album was an all instrumental, orchestrated piece.  When asked why he did it, Joe simply stated that he was tired of hearing himself sing. 

That's how Joe rolls.

2.  DEPECHE MODE - "Black Celebration"

I love Depeche Mode.  At least their entire output from the 80's.  They were, in my eyes, the quintessential 80's band.  Sexy... cutting edge... progressive.  This album culled from everything that they had previously been doing, but added a certain depth and maturity to the mix.  The lyrics were more personal... the songs flowed.  The opening track of this album is one of my favorite album openers... and still, to this day, remains my favorite opening to a concert, as well.  While many of their fans consider "Music For The Masses" to be their favorite, those of us that knew Depeche Mode before consider this to be their "Dark Side of the Moon".  At least, that's how I perceive it.  Don't be hatin'.

 1.  TALK TALK - "The Colour of Spring"

And here we are.... number one.  Late Winter/Early Spring of 1986 was a very important time for me, musically speaking.  I had suffered an emotionally devastating break up with my girlfriend and I had pretty much retreated into a cocoon.  I was working full time and spent most of my free time listening to music.  The music of that late Winter was very poignant to me.  There were several bands/artists that were just hitting the scene, or hitting the scene with deeper inpact... The Dream Academy... Pet Shop Boys...The Outfield... Prefab Sprout... Blancmange...  and the list goes on.

If there is one thing that was consistent with Talk Talk, it's that each album needed to be digested slowly.  Every time a new album was released, it would often take me months, if not YEARS, to fully appreciate.  This was no exception.  While it's predecessor, IT'S MY LIFE was more organic than the debut, THE PARTY'S OVER, THE COLOUR OF SPRING ventured off into a completely acoustic sound.  Gone were the synths of the early days, here to stay were instruments like the harmonium, organ, and a variety of woodwind instruments.  Even the legendary Steve Winwood showed up to lend his organ playing abilities.

This album is perfection in so many ways.  Lyrically... melodically... musically.  It was the last stop before completely venturing off into the unknown waters of Post Rock... a genre that had seen little activity before Talk Talk came along.  Many of today's Indie artists can personally thank Talk Talk for helping shape their sound.  All one need do is look at the tribute album recently released, THE SPIRIT OF TALK TALK, to see the impact that this band had on the musicians of the last decade.

And, more than anything, the impact that they had on me.  I will point out that this album is my second favorite album of all time.  That's something.