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1987: The year hard rock struck back

1987 saw classic album releases from Guns N' Roses, Aerosmith, U2, Whitesnake, Anthrax, Heart, Motley Crue, Marillion, The Replacements and more...

Thirty years ago, rock’s landscape changed forever. Classic Rock looks back at an amazing 12 months...

U2 - The Joshua Tree (March)

Moments before U2 took to the stage for the second night of their Joshua Tree 30 tour in the US (May 14, 2017), Bono sat down to talk about his band’s 1987 album. You should be touring the new album, Songs Of Experience, but instead you’re about to perform songs from The Joshua Tree which are thirty years old.

Bono: The world changed! Songs that we wrote in the first half of 2016 suddenly didn’t seem relevant in the light of the political upheaval last year. But these songs from 1987 took on a new relevance. So we’re doing this Joshua Tree 30 tour while we get ready to finish the new album.

John Mellencamp - The Lonesome Jubilee (August)

More than a decade into a sometimes schizophrenic career, the artist first known as John Cougar, and then John Cougar Mellencamp, had hit paydirt with his eighth album Scarecrow in 1985. That had established him and his band as America’s heartland rockers of choice. “When we walked out on stage,” Mellencamp said some 30 years later, “there wasn’t a better band in the world. I don’t care who you name – U2, the Rolling Stones – we were better. And we knew it.”

For his next album, Mellencamp wanted to make a record that expanded his sound to take in trad-American folk and country colours, and that also summed up the blue-collar mood of his country at the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

When released in the summer of 1987, The Lonesome Jubilee was Mellencamp’s most richly sketched and influential records. The sound, and the homespun wisdom weaved into songs such as Paper In Fire and We Are The People, set a template for the next generation of country rockers.

It went on to become Mellencamp’s best seller, and was also the beginning of what proved to a long retreat from the mainstream and towards his current status as a cult-ish, grizzled old coot hailed by Johnny Cash as one of America’s 10 greatest ever songwriters.

Aerosmith - Permanent Vacation (August)

Although Permanent Vacation was a pivotal release for the band and generally accepted as the record that brought Aerosmith back to the top of their game and into the mainstream, its phenomenal success came as a direct consequence of Run DMC’s Toxic Twins-enhanced 1986 cover of Walk This Way. Orchestrated by Def Jam Records maestro Rick Rubin, who recognised the rap-presaging lilt of Aerosmith’s original version (the second single from their 1975 album Toys In The Attic), the success of Run DMC’s Walk This Way was immediate, universal and seismically influential on both rock and rap. It also revitalised Aerosmith’s stalled career in a way that their official 1985 ‘comeback’ Done With Mirrors simply hadn’t.

Prior to the collaboration, Run DMC had never heard of Aerosmith, yet, as Joe Perry saw it, “rap sounded like an offshoot of the blues and a very natural thing for us to come in and play on”.

However, Perry is not about to take credit for changing the course of history, admitting: “It was pretty thrown together. We had no idea of the importance of what we were doing.”

Not only were Aerosmith thrust back into the forefront of everyone’s consciousness by the success of Walk This Way – enjoying MTV ubiquity with the biggest radio hit of the previous year – they were also newly clean and sober.

Taking advantage of his uncharacteristically reasonable charges being freshly open to the concept of an unlikely collaboration, Geffen Records A&Rman John Kalodner suggested core writers Steven Tyler and Joe Perry work with outside songwriters. The rest, as they say, is chart history.

Working with producer Bruce Fairbairn and, on the tracks that truly mattered – Angel and Dude (Looks Like A Lady) – co-writer Desmond Child, the band captured a polished line in lascivious, licentious, loose-lipped, snake-hipped, funk-fuelled chutzpah that turned their flagging fortunes platinum and came to forever define them.

Elsewhere on the five-million-selling, appositely titled Permanent Vacation, Bryan Adams’s songwriting partner Jim Vallance provided lead hit Hangman Jury and, along with diva-armourer Holly Knight (who also supplied Tina Turner and Pat Benatar with ballistic hits The Best and Love Is A Battlefield respectively), Rag Doll.

Permanent Vacation marked a turning point in Aerosmith’s previously flatlined career and, lest we forget, Dude (Looks Like A Lady) brought them their first ever UK Top 50 chart single.

INXS - Kick

Kick propelled INXS from the college circuit to stadiums by ticking all the right boxes at the right time. The Australian group, formed in the late 70s, had risen through the bar band scene playing Stonesy rock, but they’d always paid more attention to the beat than their generally sloppier rivals. But they were looking for something more strident, more individual, and they found it at the end of sessions for 1985’s Listen Like Thieves, when they needed another song.

They exhumed a funky demo and set to work on it with producer Chris Thomas (Sex Pistols, Pretenders), toughening up the beat and layering rock rhythms on top. “It had this balls-to-the-wall chorus and a funk-rock beat that worked so well together,” recalls keyboard player and songwriter Andrew Farris. When it came to writing songs for Kick, they followed a similar pattern: setting up a groove, tightening it up then adding the rock’n’roll rhythms and choruses. “We were very excited about the idea of overlaying two types of songs and genres together,” says Farris.

The beats and rhythms contained their own sinewy tensions and Hutchence’s snarling, sensual vocals provided a distinctive touch. Once they’d scored the first hit with Need You Tonight the rest just tumbled out: Devil Inside, New Sensation, Never Tear Us Apart.

But for all the 80s production gloss on Kick, the feel remains essentially live. “The band is performing live in the studio,” says Farris. “You can pretty much play the album as a bar band.”


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