Moments in time, 1986-7.
Love and Rockets, Express (released 15 September 1986). I’d heard about the release thanks to MTV playing ads for it, and the track “All in My Mind” getting some minor airplay on WMDK and WRSI. And where did I buy the album? At Rietta Ranch in Hubbardston, a giant flea market in the middle of nowhere that my dad and I used to go to almost every Sunday after church! I listened to it as soon as I got home and decided they were my favorite new band of the moment. Between this and their Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven album, I managed to teach myself a bit of acoustic guitar playing in the style of Daniel Ash.
This Mortal Coil, Filigree & Shadow (20 September 1986). I didn’t pick this one up until early 1987 if I recall, but once I did, I played the hell out of it. I bought the cassette for that very reason: I knew this was an album I’d be listening to at one in the morning on a school night. I would always equate TMC’s music to either a dimly lit recording studio or an empty field at dusk, just after the sun has dipped down below the horizon. Consequently, my writing style changed accordingly, introducing much darker moods and more vibrant visuals.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Liverpool (released 20 October 1986). Say what you will about Frankie’s sophomore album — they’d shed a lot of fans and salivating music journos by this time — but I still feel this album is so much tighter than the bloated Welcome to the Pleasuredome. It’s also much more organic and less overtly flash. I found a copy of this one in a discount bin somewhere and instantly fell in love with it.
They Might Be Giants, They Might Be Giants (released 4 November 1986). This album was my next attempt at album reviews in my school newspaper. It did get some responses, as “Don’t Let’s Start” actually got some daytime play on MTV as well. I totally fell in love with the goofiness of this album (even if I didn’t know that they were kinda-sorta local; they originated in Lincoln, MA before moving down to New York City — thus the title of their second album). WRSI and WMDK loved this album as well, so I got to hear a lot of their tracks on the radio, which was always a cool thing!
The The, Infected (released November 1986). Bought this on tape at that small music store inside Faces in Amherst, after reading about it in Only Music and other music magazines. My first reaction to Matt Johnson’s music was that he seemed to have one hell of a chip on his shoulder, but he was also one hell of a great songwriter. Night Flight played the film he’d made of the album soon after. I let one of my buddies borrow the tape for a few days…he handed it back saying the music was okay, but “who wants to hear a song about a piss-stinking shopping center?” I’d buy his previous album, Soul Mining, a few months later at the same store. Both ended up getting serious late night airplay on my headphones.
Fuzzbox, We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!! (aka Bostin Steve Austin in the UK) (released December 1986). I placed Fuzzbox in the same spot as Sigue Sigue Sputnik in my brain: loud, wacky, fun, punky, and great for blasting in my headphones. [They also embraced the 80s UK punk scene with the Oxfam clothes and the wild hair, which I of course gravitated to. I’ll totally admit to having a teen crush on Vix, the lead singer.] In a way I felt that while Flaunt It was my ticket into the new social circle, this one cemented it when my copy of the cassette made its rounds.
Concrete Blonde, Concrete Blonde (released December 1986). “Still in Hollywood” got major airplay on 120 Minutes back in the day, and that’s where I heard it first. I think Chris had the album first and I copied it from him soon after, but I ended up buying a used copy sometime in the spring of 1987. I remember being excited by the revelation that a hard rocking Los Angeles band sounded this badass, when their more popular local brethren were playing weak glam-soaked pop songs with squealing arpeggios and hitting the top of the charts. [This is also why I was impressed by Guns ‘n’ Roses, even though I was never that big of a fan of them.] A year or so later Chris and I were working at the local radio station and found two of their singles gathering dust in the back bins, inspiring another wave of heavy rotation from me. This one got a lot of play during my summer job at the DPW as well.
World Party, Private Revolution (released March 1987). One of the last albums I got from the RCA Music Club, I believe. This was one of those then-rare college rock albums that crossed over to commercial radio with ease. I listened to this one a lot in the afternoons while doing my homework. Decades later I met lead singer Karl Wallinger at Amoeba Records; he’s a super nice and friendly guy who absolutely loves what he does.
Siouxsie & the Banshees, Through the Looking Glass (released 2 March 1987). I think this was the first Banshees album I owned, having dubbed a copy from someone not that long after it came out. Cover albums are usually considered suspicious (usually a sign that they need to fulfill part of their contract and don’t have anything else lined up), but this one’s great in that their choice of songs veered towards the alternative side. Tracks by Sparks, Iggy Pop, the Doors and Television popped up alongside Bob Dylan and Billie Holiday. Unfortunately, this album was released the week before the gazillion-selling The Joshua Tree*, so it was kind of ignored by all but the closest fans.
The Smiths, Louder Than Bombs (released 30 March 1987). Another singles mix to go alongside my copy of Hatful of Hollow (which I’d picked up at a store in North Adams, of all places), my copy was a dub from Chris that added a few extra album tracks at the end of each side. Morrissey was definitely an influence on my more personal writing then, as a lot of my high school poetry (and later on, Flying Bohemians lyrics) were inspired or influenced by his lyrics. I still find it kind of ironic and amusing that I chose to finally get into this band just as they were on the verge of breaking up.
Erasure, The Circus (released 30 March 1987). I was familiar to Erasure thanks to Vince Clarke’s previous jobs in Depeche Mode and Yaz, so when their sophomore album dropped, I’d hear them quite often on the radio. [Surprisingly, I would not own any of their albums until The Innocents later in 1988.] At the time they were a band whose albums I’d have liked to buy, but never got around to it until much later.
Wire, The Ideal Copy (released 12 April 1987). I’d heard of Wire before, thanks to the numerous American punk and indie bands professing their love for them. It wasn’t until I picked up the Enigma Variations 2 compilation later in July that I finally got to hear one of their best songs ever, “Ahead”. Their sound was so unique that I could never quite pin down what it was that drew me to them, only that they resonated with me completely. I picked up this album later that year, and have been a dedicated fan ever since.
The Cure, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (released 25 May 1987). After a year of listening to Standing on a Beach and familiarizing myself with their early discography with Happily Ever After and The Head on the Door, I was twitchy with excitement that I’d get to buy a new Cure album on the drop date! Added to that, it was a sprawling, noisy double album filled with blistery pop, goofy psychedelics, and even some of their trademark doom and gloom. It was released right around the end of my sophomore year, and it was an immediate hit with the new gang. We’d listen to it everywhere we went. [Okay, aside from the questionable moments in the “Why Can’t I Be You?” video — Lol Tolhurst’s blackface and his, er, lips costume, in particular — it’s by far one of the band’s silliest.]
The summer of 1987 was relatively uninspiring at first, as I finally found myself facing that crossroads I’d expected some time ago. School was out, and I retreated to my usual shell of listening to music, keeping myself busy with writing (One Step Closer to You) and rewriting (the Infamous War Novel), teaching myself how to play guitar and bass, and whatever day job I happened to have. [If memory serves me, I believe I jumped on one more summer of working at the local supermarket. I’m pretty sure the YMCA job was only during the school year.]
It took some time for me to adjust to this new frame of reference. I would still see some of my old friends around town, but I was no longer hanging around with them with any frequency. Thankfully this new group of friends were more than happy to invite me on their road trips to the Pioneer Valley or elsewhere, whether it was to see a movie, go out for dinner, play mini-golf, or whatever else there was to do. I didn’t care if we were just going to sit around someone’s living room and watch movies all night — I just felt so happy to finally be a part of a social circle where I could just be myself.
My junior year was going to be bitchin’.
* – I was tempted to add U2’s The Joshua Tree here, but decided against it. Suffice it to say, that album transcended all barriers in my small home town; it was pretty much a smash hit from the beginning. They’d expanded their fanbase in 1984-5 thanks to The Unforgettable Fire and their performance during Live Aid, and by the time the lead single “With or Without You” popped up a week before the album release, everyone had gone nuts. It truly is a great album, though!