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1987: A Year In Review

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Over a turbulent-as-every-year 12 months, there were births, deaths, lawsuits, brawls, strippers… and, in there among all such shenanigans, some of the greatest rock‘n’roll albums ever made. Welcome to the jungle indeed…

For a year that many will tell you was rock’s greatest on record, 1987 got off to a shaky start. In January, Bruce Dickinson had his collar felt by Texas police, the charge relating to an incident two years previously when the Iron Maiden foghorn allegedly hit and strangled a fan with the mic.

Elton John wasn’t faring much better, the singer undergoing throat surgery in Sydney that threatened to scrub his live itinerary for the year, while creeping insidiously up the charts was Bruce Willis’s smirking The Return Of Bruno.

On a brighter note, the big beasts of blues got their belated due from the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame – inductees that month included Aretha Franklin, BB King, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and Big Joe Turner. Also on the rise were Europe, who hit US paydirt with Carrie, and Deep Purple, who made UK No.10 with The House Of Blue Light (even if Ritchie Blackmore soured the ensuing tour by refusing to play Smoke On The Water).

The Beastie Boys made their own history when they became the first band to be censored on US TV show American Bandstand.

February fired the starting pistol for the grunge scene – as Alice In Chains formed in Seattle – but for now the hair brigade were still thriving, as evidenced by Bon Jovi’s all-conquering Livin’ On A Prayer, which topped the US chart for three weeks. The old guard were clinging on, too, with Robert Palmer and Tina Turner the big winners at that month’s Grammy Awards. New technology was on the march, as the first four Beatles albums were released on the CD format that same month, but some things never changed, with the wayward David Crosby barred from entering Canada to play a Greenpeace gig with CS&N.

March brought the first burst of classic albums, as Anthrax broke through with Among The Living, Ozzy Osbourne saluted the fallen Randy Rhoads on Tribute, Prince reached a creative peak on Sign O’ The Times and U2 backed up their bluster with tunes on The Joshua Tree, an album that made the Irishmen superstars in the States and would go on to sell more than 30 million copies. That month, too, the writs flew like confetti with Dave Mustaine’s Megadeth brushing off a lawsuit by the lesser-known Megadeath (“Money and muscle gets rid of them”), and Elton John winning a record £1m from The Sun after their outrageous – and false – front-page screamer ‘Elton In Vice Boys Scandal!’.

There were shoots of new life, with a proto Nirvana line-up playing its first show at a house party in Raymond, Washington, and fresh starts as Sammy Hagar made his live debut with Van Halen, in Shreveport, Louisiana (“Back in the heyday,” he told CR, “when I first joined Van Halen, Eddie was as good as any guitar player on the planet”).

But death hung over March, too, with 193 passengers and crew perishing in the Zeebrugge ferry disaster. In response, stars including Lemmy, Gary Moore and Mark Knopfler appeared on Ferry Aid’s charity single Let It Be, which topped the UK chart for three weeks and sold half a million copies.

Bryan Adams became the first artist to have a single commercially released on cassette, this being Heat Of The Night. It was cunningly called a ‘cassingle’.

There was a close shave for James Hetfield, who broke his arm while skateboarding in a drained swimming pool during studio downtime. But in April the Reaper would not be denied his first celebrity scalp, as jazz drum giant Buddy Rich died aged 69 following surgery for a brain tumour. Never more alive, on the other hand, was Tina Turner, who kicked off her Break Every Rule tour in Munich – and went on to smash box-office records in 13 countries – while further down the pecking order, a snot-nosed nobody named Axl Rose was already showing early megalomaniac tendencies, blowing out a support slot under Iron Maiden, officially due to throat problems. (“The rumourmongers whispered that there was nothing wrong with his voice,” writes veteran writer and band insider Mick Wall in his autobiography. “Axl simply resented opening for a band in LA that he now considered smaller than Guns N’ Roses.”)

Significant records arrived in droves that month, spanning from Whitesnake’s hit-belching self-titled album (home to Is This Love and a tarted-up Here I Go Again) to The Cult’s hard-rocking Electric and Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night: a record whose associated tour would later sound the death knell for Lindsey Buckingham’s time in the line-up. “It was always our understanding,” noted the guitarist, “that upon completion I would return to my solo work in progress.”

David Bowie was back in business – setting out on the Glass Spider tour with Peter Frampton on guitar – but not exactly at the top of his game, releasing the self-described “awful” Never Let Me Down and seeing the Day-In Day-Out promo video banned by the BBC for its “disturbing images”. On the plus side, at least he wasn’t mugged at knifepoint in a New York taxi, like the reliably hapless Ozzy.

It had long been on the cards, but Paul Butterfield’s morphine overdose at the age of 44 was a lowlight of May, the washed-up blues pioneer was found dead in his North Hollywood apartment. Indeed, the city of angels was not a happy place that month, with Tom Petty’s home lost to a fire (estimated damage: $800k), while Axl ended up in intensive care after a brawl with the LAPD. With spring now in full bloom, the soundtrack was uncharacteristically doomy – Fields Of The Nephilim gave us the Dawnrazor album while The Cure urged us to Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me – but the good times rolled on Mötley Crüe’s Girls Girls Girls, which would stagger to US No.1 in the US and UK No.14, even as the line-up lost their footing. “We were a mess,” reflected Nikki Sixx. “We were out of control.”

Jane’s Addiction introduced themselves to the world with their eponymous live debut album, while Helloween released the landmark album Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part 1 and Death effectively invented the death metal genre with the album Scream Bloody Gore.

Even so, by June, the Crüe were ready to take the show on the road (figuratively speaking, they actually chartered a Lear jet), grossing $21m from 100 addled dates, in glorious denial of the alt.rock revolution to come, hinted at by Soundgarden’s seismic debut single, Hunted Down. “It had this heavy riff,” reflected guitarist Kim Thayil, “and the focus went from that to this noisy, chaotic kind of jazzy solo.”

Marillion continued the momentum of Misplaced Childhood with the almost-as-good Clutching At Straws, which would make it to UK No.2. But Roger Waters found that life outside Pink Floyd was a little harder than he had expected, with solo effort Radio K.A.O.S meeting with mixed reviews (even from its creator, who admitted that “I should never have made that record”). Out of a job was the irascible Frank Zappa – fired from his guest-host gig on The Late Show for clashing with producers – while Sammy Hagar juggled two of them, releasing solo album I Never Said Goodbye between the demands of Van Halen.

Guns N’ Roses came to the UK to play three sold-out shows at The Marquee Club in London. These would become landmark gigs, with thousands later claiming to have been there!

David Bowie played a show at the Reichstag in West Berlin, with the speakers pointing towards the nearby Berlin Wall, where huge numbers of East German fans stood close by, listening.

In July, the Cold War thawed a little as The Doobie Brothers, Santana, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt and a slew of Russian bands that you’ve never heard of played a peace concert in Moscow. The stalwarts kept on trucking – with releases that included Neil Young’s Life, Dio’s Dream Evil and Heart’s inescapable Zippos-aloft power ballad Alone – but the new kids made their mark too, as a bunch of LA guttersnipes named Guns N’ Roses released a debut album (Appetite For Destruction) that handed rock back its cock and balls. That was just a footnote, obviously, compared to the world-shaking revelation that Jerry Garcia had been honoured with his own Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavour (‘Cherry Garcia’ – still in production to this day).

Precisely six years after the US originator began broadcasting, August saw the launch of MTV Europe. The first video shown was Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing, but the channel was also the perfect shop window for singles from Def Leppard’s hell-and-back Hysteria: an album that had cost the Steel City quintet three years, untold piles of money (and in the case of drummer Rick Allen, a left arm), but would ultimately vindicate them with a No.1 hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Leppard weren’t the only band on the comeback trail that month, as a rejuvenated Aerosmith scored a UK No. 37 with Permanent Vacation, and Metallica saluted their NWOBHM touchstones with The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited (its title a reference to rehearsals in Lars Ulrich’s soundproofed garage). They also warmed up for their appearance at the Monsters Of Rock festival by playing a ‘secret’ show at the 100 Club in London, under the name ‘Damage Inc’.

Still, it was Bon Jovi who could claim to be hard rock’s biggest draw – their Tour Without End grossed $28 million and nobody questioned the hierarchy when they headlined the Monsters Of Rock bill over Dio, W.A.S.P., Metallica and Anthrax. “I’ll tell you what,” Jon Bon Jovi told the crowd from the Donington stage, “there’s a lot of great bands on the bill. When I got to England, I got scared out of my goddamn pants.” Bruce Dickinson joined Jovi on stage for We’re An American Band, and announced that Iron Maiden would be headlining next year.

Jello Biafra was found not guilty in LA of spreading harmful material to minors. The action was brought against him and his manager, due to a poster included in the Dead Kennedys’ album Frankenchrist, which showed sex organs.

Fast-forward to September, and Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse Of Reason was embraced by record-buyers (No.3 in both the UK and US), but butchered by the rock press, who variously described it as “fluffy tour merch”, “made to keep the Floyd brand going” and “essentially a David Gilmour solo album”. Among the vitriol, nobody was harsher than the ousted Roger Waters, currently on a competing solo world tour (“Very facile,” sniffed the bassist, “very third-rate, poor in general… but quite a clever forgery”).

Other key album releases included R.E.M’.s Document, KISS’s Crazy Nights and Jethro Tull’s Crest Of A Knave, while Motörhead went through the motions on Rock ‘N’ Roll (Lemmy: “We’ve done better records, before and since”) and Red Hot Chili Peppers gamely tried to shake off their goonish reputation with The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. “When that came out,” reflected Flea, “I thought artistically it was a cool record. And it was getting no play at all. ‘Here’s the nutty, zany guys, they’re at it again, they want to Party On Your Pussy’. Which was one song on one album…”

There was no shortage of airplay and column inches for GN’R, however, whose initially slow-selling Appetite For Destruction was given a shot in the arm by Welcome To The Jungle. Def Leppard’s Hysteria, too, enjoyed a chart spike after last-ditch addition Pour Some Sugar On Me became a pole-dance anthem. “The song became a hit because strippers in Florida started requesting it on the local radio station,” Phil Collen told Classic Rock, “and that was the video that the strippers were requesting. It had a second lease of life. Hysteria was all over bar the shouting, and then all of a sudden this song just got popular, and then the album went to number one, which initially it hadn’t at all.”

Rather less critically acclaimed – and hardly ringing the tills – was Mick Jagger’s misfiring second solo album, Primitive Cool (a release that backed up Keith Richards’ acid observation that when his frontman wasn’t backed by the Stones line-up, “nobody gives a shit”). Also given a kicking in the press that month were Black Sabbath, who found their gigs picketed (for once not by Bible-belt hardliners, but the Anti-Apartheid Campaign, angered by the metallers’ recent shows at South Africa’s controversial Sun City resort). “Lots of artists have played there,” reasoned Tony Iommi, “so I didn’t think it would be a problem if we did, but I was wrong. Personally, I don’t think that politics and music belongs together at all. We’ve fans in South Africa as well and we played for them and not for the politicians or anybody’s politics.”

There was more goodwill towards Lynyrd Skynyrd, who returned to the fray a full decade after the notorious ’77 plane crash, with a new line-up that featured Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny on vocals. “After a while, I felt like it was time to go on,” reflected guitarist and de facto leader Gary Rossington, “and I knew our brothers that died in the crash would have wanted us to, because we used to talk about playing all our lives and never stopping.”

Chuck Berry was the big news in October, honoured with his star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, and the subject of the Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll documentary film that was perhaps chiefly memorable for the rock pioneer’s high-handed treatment of Keef. “When you deal with Chuck there is conflict,” sighed director Taylor Hackford. “He has a way of doing things. And Keith is also a very strong personality.”

But it was the end for Twisted Sister. Dee Snider quit the band, and as a result they split up. They simply couldn’t take it anymore.

Also on the big screen that month was Lemmy, appearing as Spider and supplying most of the soundtrack for jet-black comedy Eat The Rich. In the headlines for the wrong reasons, meanwhile, was Bowie, who was accused – and later cleared – of sexually assaulting fan Wanda Lee Nichols “in a Dracula-like fashion” after a show in Dallas, Texas.

Joe Satriani proved that guitar instrumentals could sell with the US No.29 hit Surfing With The Alien. KISS enjoyed their biggest UK hit single to date (No.4) with Crazy Crazy Nights. Bruce Springsteen put himself on the psychiatrist’s couch with Tunnel Of Love. INXS went six-times platinum with Kick. Freddie Mercury scratched the opera itch with the Barcelona single – and MTV point-blank refused to play the original video for Mötley Crüe’s You’re All I Need. Whitesnake fared better with Here I Go Again, which topped the US chart for a week.

Two former Beatles went head-to-head in November, as Paul McCartney’s All The Best! hits compilation (UK No.2) pipped George Harrison’s collaboration with Jeff Lynne et al on Cloud Nine (UK No.10). The industry suits were in the news, as CBS Records was snapped up by Sony in a $2bn deal, and so too were GN’R, who continued their lurch from triumph to mishap, their first full UK tour almost derailed by Steven Adler breaking his hand by hitting a lamppost in a street fight. Having accepted the poisoned chalice of fronting Black Sabbath, Tony Martin was unveiled on The Eternal Idol, and The Sisters Of Mercy turned out the lights with the doomy Floodland. Finally, with the holiday season looming, The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl joined forces on the only Christmas song worth a damn: the deathless Fairytale Of New York.

And suddenly, it was December. John Mellencamp played two free shows in Chillicothe, Ohio, after 20 per cent of the population asked him to play in the town. Relatively speaking, Foreigner saw their sales tank with Inside Information, and Dinosaur Jr hinted at the shape of things to come with You’re Living All Over Me. Elsewhere, cups of kindness ran dry, as Bob Dylan’s Heart Of Fire movie was mauled by UK critics, Jerry Lee Lewis appeared in Memphis Federal Bankruptcy Court owing $3m, Axl invited Bon Jovi to “suck my dick” from the stage and Nikki Sixx technically died for two minutes after a narcotics binge in his Franklin Plaza hotel room (“I looked down and realised I had left my body,” recalled the bassist. “Nikki Sixx – or the filthy, tattooed container that had once held him – was lying covered face-to-toe with a sheet on a gurney being pushed by medics into an ambulance…”). Perhaps it was a fitting metaphor for the year as a whole. In ’87, rock’n’roll was living fast, but it had no intention of dying young.

1987: The year hard rock struck back