It may be taken as a measure of the way music was going that in 1987 Best British Group at The BRITS was won for the first time by androids, in the shape of Five Star. With nary an instrument between them. But there was an even bigger indicator of a popscene beginning to lose its soul. Something in the air, a whiff of freshly-printed banknotes ahead of a full-blown Loadsamoney culture...After a few years of sorties with apparently little staying power, the occupational forces of Stock, Aitken and Waterman discovered a besuited puppet with a big voice to land them at the top of the charts with new purpose. Newton-Le-Willows tea boy Rick Ghastly stepped up to the mic and thence ensued a dance-pop production team which had been respectable up to and indubitably including Mel & Kim hitting the top in spring, turning into a dumbed-down corporate machine. Crushing antipodean forces were gathering in the factory wings to spearhead the next wave in a full-on chart assault. 16 TOTP are Smittied this year, followed by just four in 88, the last being from March. To at long-last be in sight of an end to banned editions, only for this...
Some things stayed the same. Madonna marched on like a Yankee Boudicca, annexing La Isla Bonita into her Queendom. You'd have to be living in the Amazon rainforest with a saucer behind your bottom lip to be asking Who's That Girl? now. After a hiatus Michael Jackson returned with a new behemoth. Quintessentially him but staying fresh, his Bad album contained another string of hits to confirm he was still the King of pop, albeit one who appeared to have switched sides on the chessboard. Whitney Houston's vocal gymnastics were honed to last, she enjoyed her second UK No.1 with the bubbly I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me). Better still, she finally made her debut in the TOTP studio for it. George Michael had proved for years that he could carry a passenger and enjoy tremendous success. It hardly needed an act of Faith that teamed cross-generationally with Aretha Franklin or on his tod he would continue to be unstoppable. U2 maintained their trajectory and fulfilled their messianic mission with the monumental The Joshua Tree, which super-grew to be the fastest-selling album in British history and held their most anthemic hits.
At the less self-important end of the rock scale AOR was going strong in 87 and for four weeks during May and June Starship topped the charts with Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now. A slick and divisive move, some reckoned that Grace should have stayed on the mushrooms. Putting their heart and soul into it came a Salopian facsimile of the genre from T'Pau. Contrary to what many thought their five weeks at No.1 was NOT with a song about someone with Brobdingnagian palms. Eh Carol...?
To look at him you might imagine that ex-US army-man Terence Trent D'Arby would lack sufficient machismo on the battlefield, but in a case of assault rifle vs water pistol he was a damn sight cooler on stage than Britain's most decorated, the insufferable Captain James Blunt would be. Relocating to the UK, he is to be seen in BBC Television Centre far more than your average American. His modern soul found its moment but in the end the hype turned out to be just that. Not least his own, he pronounced his debut, 'Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D'Arby', the most important album since Sgt. Pepper. Studio-bound from the UK a new breed of sophisti-pop bands broke through including Wet Wet Wet, Johnny Hates Jazz, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Hue and Cry and Living In A Box. Tellingly, the nation holds them markedly lower in their affections and compilations than those bold and bright New Romantics who gave the decade early promise.
On the dance music front it was very much the House that Jack built. Steve 'Silk' Hurley gave the burgeoning style its first UK No.1 with Jack Your Body and several others took the elusive old geezer into the charts. Even Chic cashed in! Sample-laden The Art Of Noise had opened the doors, nevertheless there was a strong Where-The-Hell-Did-That-Come-From? factor when with more slash than a Guns N' Roses guitar solo M/A/R/R/S's pioneering Acid House monster Pump Up The Volume crashed the No.1 spot, following Jack Your Body it was arguably the second non-song to do so. There would be many more of its faceless ilk.
But with a distinctive look goth had gained dominance on the alternative scene and both The Mission and The Sisters Of Mercy loaded their vans for Shepherds Bush. Following an acrimonious split The Mission contained half of the previous Sisters Of Mercy line-up, and with TSOM injecting new female blood it was a sort of doom, patchouli and snakebite answer to The Human League-Heaven 17 rivalry scenario of a few years before. This year saw not only Sheila Take A Bow but sadly after four great years her creators The Smiths bowed out too.
Following the incendiary collaboration the previous year between Run DMC and Aerosmith, 87 witnessed the continued emergence of a once unthinkable rock-rap crossover. Chief among such came the Beastie Boys, middle class brat poseurs and tabloid-stirred threat to British morality and Volkswagen cars. Morris Minors were safe enough but that didn't stop them having a pop at the new genre. It was certainly ripe for parody, but Stutter Rap was perhaps too insensitive a way of going about it.
Let's be honest it was no longer the same, but it was still pleasing to have the Bee Gees not only back, but in a bright autumn of their career back at the top of the charts. And unlike in their heyday they were to be found in the TOTP studio. Disco was their past but even so those one-of-a-kind voices on You Win Again kindled flickering memories of a time when Legs & Co lit up the screen. Aah, my friends.
The late eighties witnessed assorted disasters that came with the grim regularity nowadays associated with Islamic terrorism. Among the worst was the Herald Of Free Enterprise cross-channel ferry capsizing just after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, claiming the lives of 193 passengers and crew. Following in the noble and melancholy footsteps of Band Aid and The Crowd it was none other than The Sun newspaper which played Geldof and assembled a huge array of the pop firmament into Ferry Aid, their well-chosen rendition of Let It Be ineluctably topping the charts. With one thing and another it was becoming sorely needed, but alas it was almost but not quite a fairy tale ending to the year as The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl were just pipped at the Christmas summit by the Pet Shop Boys with their oh-so eighties update of Always On My Mind. Oh perhaps they needed it more, Erasure were laying down a challenge for top dogs of the synth-pop duos.
Talking heads for this year include Sananda Francesco Maitreya (formerly Terence Trent D'Arby) one or more representatives of Curiosity Killed The Cat (doubt even Felix will be interested), Rick Ghastly, Kim Appleby, Andy Bell, a tad premature Belinda Carlisle and Carol Decker.
Bearing modest relation to the above, single highlights of mine include:
Sisters Of Mercy: This Corrosion
Zodiac Mindwarp & the Love Reaction: Prime Mover
Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield: What Have I Done To Deserve This?
The Cult: Love Removal Machine
The Damned: Alone Again Or
Julian Cope: Trampoline
The Smiths: Sheila Take A Bow
Spear Of Destiny: Never Take Me Alive
A-ha: The Living Daylights
New Order: True Faith
Def Leppard: Animal
Karel Fialka: Hey Matthew
Scarlet Fantastic: No Memory
Alexander O'Neal: Criticize
The Pogues ft. Kirsty MacColl: Fairytale Of New York
Great post and review of 1987 Steve. A very enjoyable read and very amusing as well. I liked it a lot. And I agree with almost all of the sentiments about 1987 found therein. This will make watching the programme a bit more palatable for me.
How big would Swift’s ( Gulliver’s ) race of giants have to be so that they could?
Fantastic review GD.
I can't stand the sight of Rick Ghastly, so I'm looking forward to seeing the "faceless ilk". That's right, "Pump Up The Volume" has gotta be the greatest record of the year, so it'll be good to see this coming up on TOTPs.
Top stuff, GD. I thoroughly enjoyed your review. And as you so elegantly implied, even against the musical wasteland that was late 80s pop, there are still the occasional pearls to be found. And I'm actually quite looking forward to the arrogance of Terence Trent D'arby, probably as I'm secure in the knowledge of where his career would end up. So let's enjoy the ride.
As you would expect this is a very well written piece from GD, and as he would expect I am not in total agreement with him. I agree with the general dislike of SAW but I actually think that Rick Astley had a decent singing voice and given better material could have been a bigger star. I won't refer to him as ghastly as I'm sure that he is a decent bloke and there are many other people in the music industry who deserve that title more.
I love AOR, even though until recently I was completely unaware of the label, so it is great news that it was still going strong in 1987. In fact 1987 is possibly my favourite year of the 80's although the international scene was probably a lot better than the British scene. I only like three of GD's favourite songs of the year though.
Things I expect to see in this programme:
A fallen tree
Mrs Thatcher waving
An overturned ferry.
Thanks for the review GD. I'm pretty sure I didn't 'get' all of it, least I tried...
In the past years I used to name some of my favourites from the year in question but I found it ultimately difficult for 1987. Yes there were 'good' songs, but the 'great' ones were far and between.
The Christians made a number of great songs in 1987, I especially liked 'Ideal World' and 'Born Again' (great song title for a band called The Christians!). Oh and 'Down To Earth' by Curiosity KTC is definitely among my favs of the year. Another great song which even got to No. 1 was 'La Bamba' by Los Lobos. I always had a soft spot for Latin American music. Wet Wet Wet weren't too bad when they started, but now I'm already drifting into the 'good but not great' territory again so I'll leave it here.
The wind blew some luck in my direction, I caught it in my hands today
Yes a excellent write-up GD. Have you sold me 1987 on the basis of it, no not quite. But i can't be nothing but impressed by your enthusiasm. As the decade rolls on find myself liking less and less in the charts but the odd gem does appear now and again.
Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield is a candidate for one of my favourite records ever. As for SAW, well ive not got so much of a downer on them. Okay, he was the corporate establishments dream, but that Rick Astley fella certainly had a decent voice.
Like in the previous two or three years, i will probably watch the documentary of the year, but i can't see myself sticking about for the follow-up Big Hits 1987 show. I will tackle them as and when they appear on the weekly shows.
I agree with the general dislike of SAW but I actually think that Rick Astley had a decent singing voice and given better material could have been a bigger star. I won't refer to him as ghastly as I'm sure that he is a decent bloke and there are many other people in the music industry who deserve that title more.
I love AOR, even though until recently I was completely unaware of the label, so it is great news that it was still going strong in 1987.
I agree Rick Astley seems a decent bloke now and I do sound a bit harsh - it's a case of sorry Rick, there's a rhyme here too good to resist! It's his songs and the cynical strategy around him that I find ghastly.
As for AOR I should also have mentioned the return of Fleetwood Mac. But The Reynolds Girls vetoed it.
Very 'Respectable' review GD, did i miss any mention of Star Trekkin?
Off the top of my head i'm looking forward to seeing over the year
Curiosity Killed The Cat - Down To Earth
Carly Simon - Coming Around Again
Vesta Williams - Once Bitten Twice Shy
PSB - Rent and Its a Sin
Elkie Brooks - No More The Fool
Madonna - La Isla Bonita
Randy Crawford - Almaz
Erasure- The Circus
Was Not Was - Walk The Dinosaur
Well, though increasingly I'm not enamored with the era I did find this another interesting and enjoyable way of spending two hours. In fact the selection of Big Hits made me almost feel nostalgic!
One quibble is that it was again implied that TOTP had edgier artists on in a tokenistic way to give succour to Peel-listening sorts. The week The Sisters Of Mercy made their debut This Corrosion was the highest new entry at No.13 (where else?), in such circumstances any available act would be likely to receive the call. Whether TSOM, Wet Wet Wet or Cliff Richard it would make no difference. As the under-fire Mr Hurll said, the show simply reflected what the public bought.
The This Corrosion performance is Smittied, wouldn't you know.
In the documentary, the BBC predictably did make quite a big thing about all the `greed is good` culture that so abound in 1987. As for myself, thinking back to 87, although i worked hard, as did my missus, as a young married couple we never seemed to have any spare cash and life was generally a struggle which got even harder once the kids came along in the early 90's.
Okay we have Brexit uncertainty nowadays, but since the 21st century began, i think life in general isn't to bad. But i do consider the late 80's and the 1990's to be quite dreadful with few redeeming features. I mean, just take fashion for example. Yuck.
I think the obligatory mention of the 'greed is good' culture is indicative of the London-centric nature of the media and the middle class aspirational social world they mingled in. I encountered a few prats with that kind of mentality but the vast majority of the people I knew did not become more materialistic with the rise of Thatcherism. Nor do I imagine did the great majority of ordinary Londoners.