In 1987 I was 13, so what do you want? I was at school with bad hair and short curly skin, choosing my subjects for GCSE, and in a deeply committed relationship with my ZX Spectrum.
It is the year in which the movies American Psycho and The Wolf of Wall Street were both set, which just goes to show you… something. Aretha Franklin became the first woman to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Terry Waite was kidnapped, British Airways was privatised, cross-channel ferry the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized killing 193 at Zeebrugge, The Simpsons first appeared on television (as short sketches on The Tracey Ullman Show), the dusky seaside sparrow went extinct, the DLR opened, HESS, 16 were killed in the Hungerford Massacre, a hurricane hit southern England and I didn't do my paper round that day, Black Monday, Lester Piggott went to pokey for tax fiddlement and Prozac and Perl were bestowed upon the world.
They were swapped out for Paolo Nutini, Marcus Mumford, Ronda Rousey, Kesha, Joss Stone, Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Dappy, Kendrick Lamar, Lionel Messi, Draco Malfoy, Hilary Duff, Zac Efron and Amy Pond.
Let’s be clear, I was listening to none of the following in 1987. I hadn’t discovered rock music or playing guitar, and was probably listening to all manner of Electro nonsense at the time. What? I was 13.
I am familiar with precisely none of Aerosmith’s pre-1987 work, a situation which if I’m honest is unlikely to change any time soon. There are a couple of tracks on this album I’m likely to skip, but the good ones are really good. Top track: “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)”
I know, right? I’ve never been the most rabid Floyd fan alive (though I did live with one for some time), but I’ve always had time and respect for them. In fairness I haven’t gone back and properly engaged with the Roger Waters era (except The Wall obviously – that’s a masterpiece) and I’ve certainly never even tried with the Syd Barrett era, so I’ve really only been a Gilmour guy. I wasn't listening to PF in 1987, but have appreciated them greatly in later years, and this album while not one of their most essential is still very good. Top track: “Learning to Fly”
In any other year, blah blah blah. But wow, it is hard to overstate the importance of this album to rock guitar. Satriani had self produced and released a weird home-grown EP in 1984 and then released his label debut Not of This Earth in 1986 to limited acclaim, but when Surfing came out in 1987 it changed the game completely. This took instrumental guitar out of the realms of "Apache" and "Telstar" and sent it soaring into the space age with its stellar technique, melodic sensibility, and finely honed production. Even moreso than hearing Van Halen for the first time, hearing this was what made me want to play real rock guitar. Thanks, Joe. Top track: “Circles”
The ’Snake have had many incarnations, but predictably it’s the hard rock version I dig. This album features the incomparable John Sykes on guitar and while some of the tracks don’t quite gel for me, it’s a belter overall. Top track: “Still of the Night”
Yes, I like Sting (up to a point, and Mercury Falling was that point – after that, no ta) and while I didn't get into this album until relatively recently it does contain some of his crackers, most notably "Englishman in New York" which I think I was aware of and liked even in 1987, but see also "They Dance Alone", "Fragile", "Straight to My Heart" and "Sister Moon". Hell, I even quite like his cover of "Little Wing". Top track: “Englishman in New York”
And the winner is…
In some ways, this entire series has been leading up to this point. (I'm certainly not going much further back than '87… perhaps another year or two if I can find enough good stuff…)
It is, as should come as little surprise to most, my favourite album of all time. Every single track on it is so far superior to any track on almost any other album of its time or since that comparison between AFD and anything else is like comparing the performance of your favourite Lego airplane to an actual Lockheed SR-71.
If you've read the books, and you should, then reasons for this are plain – five talented guys and years of fucking hard work produced twelve perfect songs. Maybe Steven Adler couldn't keep it together after this point, but during the recording of AFD he was right on the money. Slash and Axl, yeah yeah, we all know all about them. Of course they're brilliant. At the time no-one could touch them (Roth, Michaels and Neil, see me after class), and whatever you may think about their recent output, they're still world class musicians. 30 years ago, they were simply Best In Show. Izzy Stradlin was the rock (heh) the band nailed itself to (usually the drummer's job, of course, but Adler was perhaps more stone(d) than rock.) Stradlin was the co-founder of GN'R (with Axl) and also if I recall correctly the core songwriter, and generally the glue that held the band together even when things got crazy (again, read the books – things got crazier than most humans would believe).
But the real hero of this album is Duff McKagan. That man does not put a single note wrong here, and in many cases it's what he's doing that makes the song interesting. Any bassists reading this who've learned (properly learned, mind you) more than a couple of tracks off AFD will attest that Duff doesn't just hit the roots and play it safe, he's all over the place. He gets more fucking mileage out of those 4 strings than most of your modern djentmeisters get out of their sub-sonic nonsense. Honestly, go and stick on "It's So Easy" right now and listen to the bass throughout. Wonderful stuff.
Of course, we've all heard cover bands murder a 9 minute version of "Paradise City", we've all got a little tired of hearing "Welcome to the Jungle" on US cop shows, we've perhaps even decided we don't need to hear "Sweet Child O' Mine", "Nightrain" or "Mr. Brownstone" even one more time, but stop. Listen to them properly. If you play, learn them. Now compare them to literally anything else in the genre. This is the best that this particular thing has ever been done.
So yeah, best debut album ever? Best rock album ever? Best… album ever? For me, yes. In 30 years a handful have come close to approaching its raw, louche, electric brilliance, but none have equalled it.
Top tracks: “My Michelle”, “Think About You”, “Rocket Queen”
Turkey of the year
Meanwhile… *le sigh*.