1986: Best Musical Year Ever?

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For almost two weeks now, Rocks Off has been obsessed with the year exactly 25 flips of the calendar backward from this one. It started when Steve Earle did one of his "Time Machine" shows, where the singer-songwriter who plays House of Blues Wednesday spotlights a dozen or so of his favorite songs from a pivotal year in music on his weekly "Hardcore Troubador" Sirius/XM hour.

Really, they're all pivotal, but 1986 was an especially important year for both of us. Earle released his debut Guitar Town, one of the cornerstones of Nashville's "Great Credibility Scare" that had Music Row (briefly) thinking its commercial future lie in Earle and his fellow recent arrivals Dwight Yoakam, Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith and Randy Travis. If only.

Meanwhile, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted its first class, and a damned impressive one at that; Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, and the Clash all called it quits (and the Rolling Stones nearly did while making Dirty Work); a rarely-sober group of hellions was about to turn the Sunset Strip into the jungle; and rap was already enough of a force that by year's end Billboard called its emergence the "biggest, brashest, freshest breakthrough of the decade."

Meanwhile, at Landolt Elementary in Friendswood, Rocks Off was taking our first steps down our own musical path, sawing out "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on cello in sixth-grade orchestra while listening to "You Give Love a Bad Name" and "Walk Like an Egyptian" on the radio. My my, look how far we've come.


1. R.E.M., Life's Rich Pageant
2. Run-DMC, Raising Hell
3. Depeche Mode, Black Celebration
4. Paul Simon, Graceland
5. Soundtrack, Pretty In Pink


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1. Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston*
2. Heart, Heart*
3. John Cougar Mellencamp, Scarecrow*
4. ZZ Top, Afterburner*
5. Dire Straits, Brothers In Arms*
6. Janet Jackson, Control
7. Mr. Mister, Welcome To the Real World*
8. Sade, Promise*
9. Phil Collins, No Jacket Required*
10. Miami Sound Machine, Primitive Love*

* - Released in 1985


March 28: Lady Gaga
August 27: Mario
October 24: Drake


January 4: Phil Lynott, Thin Lizzy
March 4: Richard Manuel, The Band
March 31: O'Kelly Isley, The Isley Brothers
April 23: Harold Arlen, Composer ("Over the Rainbow")
June 13: Benny Goodman
July 3: Rudy Vallee
July 31: Teddy Wilson
September 27: Cliff Burton, Metallica

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Brandon Walker
Brandon Walker

Beastie Boys Most Defintely. And I totally went to Landolt Elementary! Awesome!



I was 22 that year, and Life's Rich Pageant seemed like some kind of corner had been turned. I'm with you on that one.


You are so right! '86 was a banner year for music.

Jody Stevens
Jody Stevens

Thanks so much for this blogpost....It really took me back. I was 15 and REALLY into music (maybe not ALL genres) but most of these I had on cassette (then turning into CD's) You've inspired me to put together a playlist for my IPOD....thanks


Sorry, 1986.  1982's got you beat.

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