Falco in a scene from the "Rock Me Amadeus" video; 1986 was Whitney Houston's breakout year; Dwight Yoakam represented the New Country that took Nashville by storm
1986 was the last year of the Second British Invasion -- in June, twenty of the Top 40 songs in the U.S. were performed by British artists, yet most of those who were in-the-know understood that the New Wave phenomenon had pretty much run its course. But no one was sure (especially critics and label execs) how to handle the fact that in the aftermath rock music was fragmenting; some complained that it lacked cohesion, direction -- they couldn't deal with the reality that there was no musical movement to replace New Wave. In hindsight, it's easier to see that 1986 marked the beginning of a period during which artists were freed from the constraints of having to fit into a movement. The resulting diversity of styles, trends and sounds presented the music audience with a smorgasbord; you had the blue-eyed soul of Simply Red, the adolescent pop of the Pet Shop Boys, all-girl pop from the likes of the Bangles, punk redux from bands like Big Audio Dynamite, the sizzling salsa-pop of Miami Sound Machine, the rapping groove of Run D.M.C. and even Falco's techno-rap on "Amadeus." It was an eclectic mix, and the best part about it was that all the music didn't have to sound the same.
This was also the year that what some called New Country and others called Traditional Country (and which really was Neo-traditional Country) supplanted the moribund Nashville Sound. Though the powers-that-be in Nashville were reluctant to acknowledge this sea change, the evidence was clear, and never more so than in the numbers racked up by the Randy Travis debut album Storms of Life, which became the first country album to go multi-platinum. That happened because Storms of Life appealed to many who did not care for the syrupy melodrama of the "old" Nashville Sound but who could relate to the "new," minimalist hard country of Travis and George Strait and Dwight Yoakam ("Honky Tonk Man"). Their songs focused on the message, not the package. Country music returned to its roots and, to everyone's surprise, attracted a much larger audience for doing so.
It was a good year for soul music, which also benefited from diversity. You had everything from Whitney Houston's traditional balladry, enhanced by her dazzling vocal virtuosity, to Cameo's techno-funky "Word Up," from Billy Ocean's reggae-calypso-pop-soul concoctions to Janet Jackson's monumental Control, which significantly raised the standard for all future efforts in the field. In spite of radio resistance, hip-hop was becoming commercial, and the proof was in the Krush Groove Christmas Party that, against conventional wisdom, filled up Madison Square Garden as 1985 came to a close. Rushing through the door opened by Run D.M.C., Doug E. Fresh and L.L. Cool J became rap's leading lights. Madonna chose the Beastie Boys to open for her on tour, while Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam had a crossover hit with "All Cried Out." Run D.M.C.'s inspired remake of "Walk This Way" introduced rap to white youth, who found in it the anthems of conscientious rebellion that had been conspicuously absent from the music that radio had been spoon-feeding them for years.
Heavy metal was in a state of flux, with the oldtimers like Meat Loaf and Motorhead and a reunited Deep Purple showing their age -- and showing, too, that they were stuck in a traditional rut. It was going to be up to new bands just now appearing on the horizon to change things and inject fresh blood into HM. Meanwhile, pop metal -- or heavy metal lite -- as purveyed by the likes of Bon Jovi and Glass Tiger, was serving a useful purpose in preparing the mainstream for the harder-edged variety that would soon be served up by a fresh crop of hair bands. Robert Cray proved that blues wasn't all about the old guard being reissued in expensive box sets. Jazz was given a new set of clothes by the likes of Sade, with her pop-jazz fusion, and the New Age "white bread" that the American record company execs felt comfortable with but which dyed-in-the-wool jazz cats found a little too vapid for their taste.
While singles sales declined 22%, US album and tape sales rose 6% to $4.65 billion; CD sales soared 139% to $950 million. By now it was obvious that the music video had a lot to do with the much-improved bottom line of the past few years, and 1986 saw a continuation of a new trend that had become apparent in '85 -- the use of video filming techniques and, of course, the music itself, in the advertising of everything from automobiles to facial cream and beer to blue jeans.In 1986 the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in Cleveland with initial inductees including Chuck Berry, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. Among those who died in 1986: Phil Lynott, of Thin Lizzy, at age 34; Albert Grossman, who had once managed Dylan and Joplin; O'Kelly Isley, the oldest of the Isley Brothers, at age 48 of a heart attack; and Richard Manuel, the 42-year-old founding member of The Band, who hanged himself in a Florida hotel room. Boy George was arrested and charged with heroin possession in July; he was found guilty as charged and fined. Meanwhile, Ozzy Osbourne faced much unwanted media attention when a California boy killed himself allegedly after listening to Osbourne's "Suicide Solution." And the original producers of The Monkees television show advertised for new Monkees to star in a 1986 series.
Notable Events of the Year
In March, 13 of the top 40 albums featured female singers, a record. In October there was another first -- the first time that the top three singles on the US chart were by solo female artists (Tina Turner, Janet Jackson and Cyndi Lauper.) In November, female artists held the top five spots on the UK singles chart.
When "Say You, Say Me" reached the #1 spot, Lionel Richie had had nine consecutive years with at least one #1 song.
George Michael's "A Different Corner" was the first British #1 song written, produced, arranged, sung and played (all instruments) by the same person.
Bob Geldorf was awarded with a knighthood for his charity work.
Michael Jackson signed a sponsorship deal with Pepsi worth $15 million.
Run D.M.C.'s Raising Hell became the first rap album to go platinum.
Rolling Stone explores the tribulations
of Boy George in its August 28th issue
Top Ten Singles
1. "Say You, Say Me," Lionel Richie
2. "That's What Friends Are For," Dionne Warwick & Friends
3. "Party All The Time," Eddie Murphy
4. "Alive And Kicking," Simple Minds
5. "I Miss You," Klymaxx
6. "Talk To Me," Stevie Nicks
7. "Small Town," John Cougar Mellencamp
8. "Burning Heart," Survivor
9. "Walk Of Life," Dire Straits
10. "Tonight She Comes," Cars
1. "Burning Heart," Survivor
2. "When The Going Gets Tough...," Billy Ocean
3. "That's What Friends Are For," Dionne Warwick
4. "How Will I Know," Whitney Houston
5. "Kyrie," Mr. Mister
6. "Living In America," James Brown
7. "The Sweetest Taboo," Sade
8. "I'm Your Man," Wham!
9. "Conga," Miami Sound Machine
10. "Sara," Starship
1. "Sara," Starship
2. "These Dreams," Heart
3. "Secret Lovers," Atlantic Starr
4. "Kyrie," Mr. Mister
5. "How Will I Know," Whitney Houston
6. "R.O.C.K. In The USA," John Cougar Mellencamp
7. "Rock Me Amadeus," Falco
8. "King For A Day," Thompson Twins
9. "Nikita," Elton John
10."Silent Running," Mike & The Mechanics
1. "Kiss," Prince & The Revolution
2. "Rock Me Amadeus," Falco
3. "Manic Monday," Bangles
4. "Addicted To Love," Robert Palmer
5. "West End Girls," Pet Shop Boys
6. "What You Need," INXS
7. "Harlem Shuffle," Rolling Stones
8. "Let's Go All The Way," Sly Fox
9. "R.O.C.K. In The USA," John Cougar Mellencamp
10. "Why Can't This Be Love," Van Halen
1. "Greatest Love Of All," Whitney Houston
2.. "West End Girls," Pet Shop Boys
3. "What Have You Done For Me Lately," Janet Jackson
4. "Live To Tell," Madonna
5. "If You Leave," Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark
6. "Why Can't This Be Love," Van Halen
7. "On My Own," Patti Labelle & Michael McDonald
8. "Take Me Home," Phil Collins
9. "Addicted To Love," Robert Palmer
10. "Bad Boy," Miami Sound Machine
1. "On My Own," Patti Labelle & Michael McDonald
2. "There'll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)," Billy Ocean
3. "Live To Tell," Madonna
4. "Crush On You," Jets
5. "I Can't Wait," Nu Shooz
6. ""A Different Corner," George Michael
7. "No One Is To Blame," Howard Jones
8. "Holding Back The Years," Simply Red
9. "Greatest Love Of All," Whitney Houston
10. "Who's Johnny," El DeBarge
1. "Invisible Touch," Genesis
2. "Nasty," Janet Jackson
3. "Holding Back The Years," Simply Red
4. "Sledgehammer," Peter Gabriel
5. "Danger Zone," Kenny Loggins
6. "There'll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)," Billy Ocean
7. "Who's Johnny," El DeBarge
8. "Glory Of Love," Peter Cetera
9. "Your Wildest Dreams," Moody Blues
10. "No One Is To Blame," Howard Jones
1. "Papa Don't Preach," Madonna
2. "Glory Of Love," Peter Cetera
3. "Mad About You," Belinda Carlisle
4. "Higher Love," Steve Winwood
5. "Venus," Bananarama
6. "We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off," Jermaine Stewart
7. "Rumors," Timex Social Club
8. "Dancing On The Ceiling," Lionel Richie
9. "Sledgehammer," Peter Gabriel
10. "Take My Breath Away," Berlin
1. "Stuck With You," Huey Lewis & The News
2. "Dancing On The Ceiling," Lionel Richie
3. "Friends And Lovers," Gloria Loring & Carl Anderson
4. "Take My Breath Away," Berlin
5. "Walk This Way," Run D.M.C.
6. "Venus," Bananarama
7. "Words Get In The Way," Miami Sound Machine
8. "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)," Glass Tiger
9. "Dreamtime," Daryl Hall
10. "Higher Love," Steve Winwood
1. "When I Think Of You," Janet Jackson
2. "Typical Male," Tina Turner
3. "Throwing It All Away," Genesis
4. "Two Of Hearts," Stacey Q
5. "True Colors," Cyndi Lauper
6. "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)," Glass Tiger
7. "Heartbeat," Don Johnson
8. "Stuck With You," Huey Lewis & The News
9. "All Cried Out," Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with Full Force
10. "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On," Robert Palmer
1. "Human," Human League
2. "Amanda," Boston
3. "True Blue," Madonna
4. "You Give Love A Bad Name," Bon Jovi
5. "Take Me Home Tonight," Eddie Money
6. "Word Up," Cameo
7. "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On," Robert Palmer
8. "The Next Time I Fall," Peter Cetera & Amy Grant
9. "True Colors," Cyndi Lauper
10. "Hip To Be Square," Huey Lewis & The News
1. "Walk Like An Egyptian," Bangles
2. "The Way It Is," Bruce Hornsby & The Range
3. "Everybody Have Fun Tonight," Wang Chung
4. "Notorious," Duran Duran
5. "Hip To Be Square," Huey Lewis & The News
6. "Shake You Down," Gregory Abbott
7. "To Be A Lover," Billy Idol
8. "The Next Time I Fall," Peter Cetera & Amy Grant
9. "Stand By Me," Ben E. King
10. "You Give Love A Bad Name," Bon Jovi
Albums of the Year
Strong Persuader by the Robert Cray Band;Crowded House; Madonna's True Blue
Rapture, Anita Baker (Elektra)
If any album serves as evidence that music lovers in the mid-Eighties were attuned to quality material regardless of genre, it was Anita Baker's smooth fusion of soul and jazz in a suite of torch songs that was quite unlike anything else out there. Baker had previously cut a funk record with Chapter 8, then her debut solo effort with the Beverly Glen label in 1983. Then she switched to Elektra in search of a label that would let her make her music her way. Elektra wisely did just that, and the result was this multiplatinum album that soared to #11 on the Top 100 chart and the #1 spot on the R&B list. The album's top single was "Sweet Love," one of three tracks which Baker cowrote; it rose to US#8. Regarded as an instant soul classic, Rapture won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance while "Sweet Love" won Best R&B Song. Baker went on to win Favorite Soul/R&B Artist and Favorite Soul/R&B Album at the American Music Awards. The trophies were much-deserved.
Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi (Vertigo)
In 1986 Slippery When Wet would spend eight weeks at US#1. In 1987 the album would return to the top spot for seven more weeks. It would sell eight million units in the United States alone by the end of 1987. The single "You Give Love A Bad Name" would top the US singles chart and become the band's first million-selling single. "Livin' On A Prayer" would also be a #1 smash. Of course, commercial success does not always mean the album is any good, but in this case, it did. Many agreed that Side A was the best twenty minutes of pop metal ever recorded. The flip side was strictly average, but half of Slippery When Wet was better than 100% of nearly all the other metal product in 1986. More than that, the album made the mainstream audience amenable to the resurgence of metal that occurred in the late-Eighties; Bon Jovi showed that sometimes there was more to it than just big hair and big sound, that sometimes there was a message worth hearing.
Strong Persuader, The Robert Cray Band (High Tone/Mercury)
The blues album of the decade, Strong Persuader climbed to #13 on Billboard's pop album chart, making it the highest charting blues album since Bobby "Blue" Bland's Call on Me/That's the Way Love Is 23 years earlier. The album's hard-driving rhythms may have been occasionally too pop-oriented for the purist, but Cray's smoky vocals and his edgy, emotion-laden guitar playing was pure blues. The lyrics were too -- they dealt with love, lust, cheating, revenge. "Smoking Gun," a steamy tale of jealousy and murder, was a Top 40 hit, and its video was an MTV favorite. An army brat who spent his youth living on army bases in Europe and the U.S., Cray counted Sam Cooke and Albert Collins among his chief influences, and it shows. Signed to the small High Tone label when he began recording the album, Cray hooked a deal with PolyGram -- as a result, Strong Persuader was released with the High Tone/Mercury imprint. In the mid-Eighties, music lovers were expanding their horizons and refused to be confined by genres; Cray introduced them to a blues style that was modern and mainstream.
Crowded House, Crowded House (Capitol)
Singer-songwriter Neil Finn, bassist Nick Seymour and drummer Paul Hester formed Crowded House after the breakup of the New Zealand band Split Enz. They traveled to Los Angeles to record an album, sharing a small house in Hollywood Hills (hence the band's name), and had no clear-cut idea about what they wanted to do, or what sound they wanted to create. Put it down to inspiration, but the trio crafted a masterpiece of classic pop music, with catchy melodies and a raw, robust sound that conjured up images of three very talented musicians taping a jam session. In fact, they toiled magnificently over each track. The end result: quality songs like "World Where You Live," "Now We're Getting Somewhere," "Something So Strong" and the hit single "Don't Dream It's Over," which reached US#2. The album went platinum, and stayed charted for 58 weeks. This debut album, though, was a tough act to follow; Crowded House was never able to duplicate its success.
Guitar Town, Steve Earle (MCA)
Like Robert Cray's Strong Persuader, Anita Baker's Rapture, and Janet Jackson's Control, Guitar Town demonstrated that in 1986 it didn't matter what category you were in or what your roots were, as long as you produced quality material. Steve Earle was a staff songwriter in Nashville who had penned hits for the likes of Waylon Jennings before getting the opportunity to make his own album. What he made was a fusion of rock and outlaw country, with songs about the common man which, because they dealt with fundamental truths about the human condition, resonated with young and old, urban dweller and country boy alike. Created in an all-digital studio, Guitar Town was something very new for Nashville, and was an important element of the country music renaissance that began in 1986. It was gutsy, from-the-heart, down-to-basics music from start to finish.
So, Peter Gabriel (Geffen)
Few would deny that Peter Gabriel was a major talent, but until So his post-Genesis solo career had been less than stellar, due principally to his idiosyncratic and somewhat inaccessible music. He and coproducer Daniel Lanois made a conscious decision to change all that with this album -- and succeeded. Finally, the mainstream was blessed with an introduction to Gabriel who, though he described So as a blues/soul project, produced material that defied categorization. The first single, "Sledgehammer," soared to #1 on the wings of an irresistible groove and an unforgettable Claymation video. (Gabriel would win Best British Male Artist and Best British Music Video for "Sledgehammer" at the 6th Annual BRIT Awards.) The ballad "In Your Eyes," enhanced by spectacular backing vocals by Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour, would become a hit in 1986 and again later, when it was featured in the 1989 film Say Anything. Another single, "Big Time," addressed the excesses of the Eighties, a perfect example of Gabriel's sardonic social commentary.
Invisible Touch, Genesis (Charisma)
With this album Genesis completed it's subtle transformation from progressive art rock to pop rock, and though some of the band's diehard fans from the Seventies decried what they viewed as a sell-out to commercialism, Invisible Touch, like 1983's Genesis, introduced the band to a much larger audience. (Genesis was the group's first platinum album in the U.S.) Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford (Mike & The Mechanics), had already launched successful solo careers, and Invisible Touch contained elements of their formula for success -- songs of the heart with brisk, foot-tapping rhythms, intricate percussive weaves and catchy hooks. The album entered the UK chart at #1, while the title song became the band's first US chart topper. Other hit singles included "Land Of Confusion" (US#4, UK#14), "Throwing It All Away" (US#4), "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" (US#3, UK#18) and "In Too Deep" (US#3, UK#19). The monumentally successful "Invisible Touch" world tour grossed $15.5 million in the U.S. alone. It was the band's finest moment, built around a rock-solid and oh-so-very Eighties album.
Control, Janet Jackson (A&M)
Control proved to be a seminal album in more ways than one. It made hard funk soul music acceptable on pop radio, paving the way for rap. And it was Janet Jackson's personal declaration of independence. Previously, her singing career had been completely controlled by others, particularly her father. She had always labored in the giant shadow cast by her brother, Michael. With Control she broke away, established her individuality, created a new image, and launched a hugely successful career for herself. She did it with the help of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who ran the Minneapolis studio Flyte Time. Jam, Lewis and Jackson spent a couple of months writing the songs and then recording them. The album would spend 78 weeks on the UK chart, peaking at #8, and it would top the US chart. "What Have You Done For Me Lately" made US#4 and UK#3. "Nasty" went to US#1, as did "When I Think Of You," which also climbed to UK#10. Control earned Jackson nine nominations at the American Music Awards, and she would top Billboard's year-end survey in six categories, including Top Pop Singles Artist. The barriers were coming down.
True Blue, Madonna (Sire)
True Blue was the first album by an American female artist to enter the UK chart at #1. The single "Papa Don't Preach" would hit the top spot on the UK singles chart on the same day -- a feat duplicated in the U.S., where the album would remain on top for five weeks and sell seven-million units. The reason for this success was simple: with True Blue Madonna demonstrated that she was much, much more than simply the saucy boy-toy we'd been introduced to with Madonna and Like A Virgin. In fact, it's safe to say that with this album Madonna transformed herself from the street-smart punk into a sensuous and self-respecting woman. Madonna wasn't seeking another tour de force; she had some things to say about growing up, responsibility, heartbreak, and the generation gap, and she did so with a clean, rock-solid collection of songs that, for the first time in her career, could stand on their own merits without benefit of video images. It was an audacious -- and crucial -- step up for Madonna, and ensured her longevity as a superstar.
Graceland, Paul Simon (Warner Bros.)
When Paul Simon traveled to Johannesburg to record Graceland he stirred up a hornets' nest of controversy. Anti-apartheid activists accused him of violating the UN's cultural boycott of South Africa, and some lobbied to have him placed on the Special Committee Against Apartheid's list of censured artists. But Simon insisted that the music he made on the album -- with the help of artists like the Boyoyo Boys, General M.D. Shirinda and the Gaza Sisters, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Ray Phiri and his band Stimela -- the music of the black townships, actually aided in the struggle against apartheid. Indeed, Graceland introduced the world to African music, uniquely blending exotic beats and sounds with Simon's thoughtful brand of folk/rock and the contributions of Linda Ronstadt, Los Lobos and the Everly Brothers. Going multiplatinum, the album topped the UK chart and peaked at US#3, and won a Grammy for Album of the Year. Simon's concerts would occasionally be picketed by anti-apartheid protestors, but that didn't prevent the artist from being justly proud of this unique work.