by Justin Crockett
1986 was a strange year for music. While pop and rock music were still doing as well as they always do, and the synth-happy sheen of New Wave music was still gracing every John Hughes movie, an unlikely genre was beginning to sell out stadiums worldwide: thrash metal. No less than three monumental classics in the history of heavy metal came out in ’86: Metallica with “Master of Puppets”, Megadeth with “Peace Sells….But Who’s Buying”, and Slayer with “Reign in Blood”. Slayer sucks, but that’s not the point of this. Some people like them.
This fury of heavy music boiling over that year is important to note. For better or for worse, by 1986, heavy music was in a weird stage in its evolution. Black Sabbath was in the wilderness after a decade of crushing music, Led Zeppelin was gone for good, even the hurricane of punk music had largely passed. When the super-pop of Madonna and Michael Jackson took over the early 80’s, most hard rock was relegated to small clubs and low album sales. When people got exhausted of all the cheese-pop that was going on, and thrash arrived, making it ok to for people to bang their heads, that then paved the way for pop and heavy metal to bump uglies and give birth to an even bigger musical genre…..hair metal.
So, yes, what I’m saying is if this never happened:
We would have(for better of for worse) never gotten this:
That’s not to say the only good albums that were dropped in 1986 were of the heavy variety. Here are a few more releases that only cemented this year’s status as a strange and vital one.
Peter Gabriel, “So”
When Peter Gabriel left Genesis in 1975 because he stopped loving us and wanted to be a jerkhead, prog rock fans were downtrodden. That is, until he proceeded to unleash 4 self-titled solo albums that promised that he hadn’t lost his flair for the batshit. Then the age of the music video arrived, and we were able to show him off to the mainstream, though he did end up dropping some of his more bizarre antics to do so. And the album “So” was built for that. Besides the two absolute smashes of “Big Time” and “Sledgehammer”, you also had an all-time chick flick anthem that made every guy think he could pull off a Cusack(they couldn’t). And the cinematic “Red Rain” that starts off the album never loses its goosebumpy beauty.
One thing that isn’t mentioned much about this album is the quality of the playing. It’s slightly overproduced nature almost takes away from the musicianship that is on display. Tony Levin is completely killing it on bass as usual. Police drummer Stewart Copeland shows up a few times. Did you know that fucking Chic guitarsmith Nile Rodgers plays on a song? Now you do.
Miles Davis, “Tutu”
It didn’t do well, commercially or critically. It’s not even in the top ten of his albums. But it’s important. It’s important because in this decade of glossy, artificially created rhythms and beats and melodies, Miles was able to take some of those well-intended ideas and meld them into his own style of improvised and melodic jazz-funk. Plus, it has this motherfucker on it, Marcus Miller:
R.E.M., “Lifes Rich Pageant”/Sonic Youth, “EVOL”
I never loved R.E.M. Sonic Youth, same with them. I can find songs in both groups’ discographies that I like, but I won’t seek either out. So why would I include these albums as some of the best of that year?
Simple, because they are albums on small labels, that are consistent throughout, and that were promoted and sold the true way: by going out and playing an obscene amount of shows, spreading through word-of-mouth, and not being some manufactured article that a record company slapped together and built up an obscene amount of hype for, without the band proving themselves first. These two bands, like them or not, are the classic examples of a few guys(or gals) forming a band, creating a following through hard work, and getting lucky enough to be signed and make music, and be allowed to make the music they want by the label.
So, like these two groups or not, the same truth is truth, be it 1986, or today.