The best of 1986 mix tape
Yes, another mix tape. Seems like a lot, I know, but put it in perspective: if I see this project through to completion that means that this is number 7 out of 59 mix tapes. I can literally feel your excitement at the prospect of 52 more of these.
To business then. 1986 was kind of weird year in retrospect. It was a year of transition for some of the biggest bands of the decade: R.E.M. and The Cure were on the verge of commercial success, U2 was one year away from being the biggest band in the world. Talking Heads and The Smiths were on the verge of dissolution. Hip hop was becoming commercially viable and about to get its Elvis moment with three skinny white kids from NYC called the Beastie Boys. And oh yeah, the infernal scourge known as hair metal was spreading like the clap. Come judgement day this will be our eternal downfall, mark my words. People like to talk about the rise of “bro-culture” today, but I submit it hit its most complete saturation with that particular musical nadir. The stains of those years wasted listening to Slippery When Wet and Dancing Undercover will not wash off easily, America, no matter how much you scrub.
It made for an odd year overall, so there’s more than a few forgotten nuggets either in or hanging around the periphery of this list. Extra special mea culpas to If You Leave by OMD and Word Up by Cameo for leaving you out of this one, but feel free to bask in your honorable mention status. Also, most of Peter Gabriel’s catalog is unavailable on Spotify, so you can go ahead and imagine Red Rain somewhere on this list if you like.
Begin the Begin – R.E.M.
Peter, Mike, Bill, and Michael are back with a vengeance after getting snubbed on the 1985 mix. Miles Standish proud. Congratulate me.
Cities in Dust – Siouxsie and the Banshees
Siouxsie Sue and co. serve up one of “college rock’s” defining tracks.
I Still Believe (Great Design) – The Call
I absolutely wore this song out back in high school and college, but don’t think I’ve heard it since. Great tune.
Dear God – XTC
Andy Partridge delivers the humanist manifesto and a great song in one package. Placement of this song right after one that can be interpreted as a Christian anthem is what we call irony, kids.
It’s Tricky – RUN-DMC
Raising Hell was one of the albums that placed hip hop squarely in the mainstream, and this is easily the best song on that album (a special hat tip to the Knack for the My Sharona melody that propels it.)
Cemetery Gates – The Smiths
The most literate song in rock history? Keats, Yates, and Wilde are all on my side.
Wild Wild Life – Talking Heads
It was nice having you in the best of mixes, Talking Heads. See you again when I cycle back to the 70s.
Help Save the Youth of America – Billy Bragg
It doesn’t get more simplistic musically than a Billy Bragg song, but rarely does it get better.
Graceland – Paul Simon
It’s kind of hard to explain to people who weren’t around at the time how huge this album was in its day, and how completely unexpected it was to get a career defining album from Paul Simon at that point in his career.
Don’t Let’s Start – They Might Be Giants
TMBG were Devo for a new generation, only with more accessible humor and accordion.
Still the Night – The BoDeans
I misspoke before when I said if one person comes away with an appreciation for the Hoodoo Gurus that this whole project will be worth it. What I should have said was if just one person comes away with an appreciation for the Hoodoo Gurus AND the BoDeans, then this project will be worth it. Love and Hope and Sex and Dreams is one of the massively under appreciated albums of the decade. How they weren’t leading the soundtrack of every John Hughes album for about five years I’ll never know.
Honky Tonk Man – Dwight Yoakam
The man who single-handedly brought the Bakersfield sound and Buck Owens back to prominence in country music. I annoyed the living s*** out of my friends playing this album in ’86-87.
Manic Monday – The Bangles
My one man campaign to get Susanna Hoffs into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame continues.
Bizarre Love Triangle – New Order
As much as I joke about the 80s being the Prince era, you can make a case that New Order/Joy Division had the best song in five of the seven years covered so far. You might not win, but you wouldn’t sound ridiculous doing it.
Jamboree – Guadalcanal Diary
Another does of Georgia goodness from these lads.
Happy Hour – The Housemartins
This song pretty much lay dormant in my memory until it was masterfully used by Edgar Wright on the World’s End soundtrack last year. What a great song though and a great closing track. Last call on 1986.
Here’s the Spotify playlist for you to revel in/ignore completely.
Which one of your favorites did I leave out?