1988 was the year in the 20th century that had the most digits when written as Roman numerals: MCMLXXXVIII. So there's that.
The Phantom of the Opera, the Lib Dems, Al-Qaeda, Fairtrade and the Tokyo Dome all became a thing, Celine Dion won Eurovision, Lester Piggott, Piper Alpha, Benazir Bhutto became the first female head of government in an Islam-dominated state (Pakistan), the Clapham Junction rail crash, the Lockerbie disaster and the first proper Internet connection was made between New Jersey and Stockholm.
I was definitely late to the Maiden party. My good friend Nick was way into them at school – logo scrawled on exercise books, patch on the back of jacket, that kind of thing – but I hadn't even gotten properly into rock yet. Later on, of course, that all changed and for a while I was in a band that was planning to do a whole set of Maiden covers. For my money, Seventh Son is a fair way from IM's best, but it's undeniably still a fabulous album. Top track: "The Evil That Men Do"
It Bites were a strange confluence of odd prog throwbacks among the plastic pop of the 80s and being oddly ahead of their time. There's no doubt that Francis Dunnery is a hell of a musician and songwriter, though. When I got into them, I really loved them, but then fell completely out of love with them for years – until their recent relaunch (featuring His Holiness John Mitchell) in fact. So if you like poppy prog with a tendency towards, shall we say, esoteric lyrics ("Plastic Dreamer"? Errr… no), then the old IB albums are worth a listen. (Otherwise stick to the newer ones, they're in fact better.) Top track: "Kiss Like Judas"
What? Not all music is rock, you know. Before I got into rock music I was quite a JMJ fan, and this is a really good album. Get over it. Top track: "Revolutions"
A friend of mine does not dig the Ozzy at all, saying "I like singers to be able to." I get that. Another friend was complaining about Vince Neil, saying that he doesn't like Vince's voice. I queried "Yet Ozzy is fine?" "Funnily enough, yes" was the reply. It's on odd one alright. No-one is going to put Ozzy on a list of greatest singers of all time. As a frontman and general force for music, his influence and contribution is undeniable (and I don't even like Black Sabbath. What? Say something.) This was the first appearance of the pyrotechnic Zakk Wylde on guitar, and this is an absolute CORKER. Get it. Top track: "Devil's Daughter"
It was Empire, the followup to this album, that really lit the Queensrÿche fire for me, but of course I had to go back and do the required reading, and this is definitely a great album. Concept albums that bang on about conspiracies, the New World Order, and WAKE UP SHEEPLE can grate (yes Bellamy, I'm talking to you) after a while, but this is a superb rock opera from start to finish and the twin-guitar force of Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton is in full effect throughout. Shame Geoff Tate has become such a toolbag of late though. Top track: "Revolution Calling"
And the winner is…
I don't know if I'm going to try and make a Clive's Top 10 Albums of All Time, but if I did, this would be in the top half of that list.
A little background: DLR was of course the frontman for Van Halen from their seismic launch in 1977 right up to releasing the seminal 1984 in 1984. Roth left VH in 1985 due to natural causes*, and started a solo career which kicked off properly with the 1986 release Eat 'Em And Smile. For this Dave assembled a band the like of which has not been seen before or since – Steve Vai, fresh from his stints with Frank Zappa and Alcatrazz on guitar, the inhuman Billy Sheehan on bass and Gregg Bissonette on drums, along with a host of guest musicians. EEaS is a terrifyingly good record, but it's not without its problems – 3 out of 10 songs are covers, two of which are more or less in the lounge style, and the sound is occasionally not as cohesive as one might like. Don't get me wrong, it's brilliant…
…but it isn't Skyscraper. On this record all those problems were gone, and you can hear the songwriting gel in a way it didn't on its predecessor. Radio smashes "Just Like Paradise" and "Damn Good" nestle comfortably alongside punchy rockers like "Hot Dog and a Shake" and the sublime "Knucklebones" and the moodier tracks "Skyscraper" and "Hina". The production is first class, and Vai and Sheehan are on absolutely unstoppable fire.
If I had to pick something I didn't like, it would be the album cover. Dave climbing a mountain? Don't care. But that's my only beef. (Aside from the CD release getting two extra crappy tracks from Dave's first EP shoehorned onto it…)
* It's more usually called "creative differences", which is a well-known euphemism for "two or more members of the band despised each other and could no longer work together".
Top tracks: "Knucklebones", "Skyscraper", "Damn Good"
Turkey of the year
Relatedly, after Roth left Van Halen, they carried on with a new singer, one Sammy Hagar. The first album he sang on came out in 1986, and I loved it. It was one of my first rock records ever. OU812 was the followup… and I can't stand it. It's just so dull and lifeless. Nah.
"But Clive," you say, "didn't Guns N' Roses release GN'R Lies in 1988? That's awesome too, isn't it?
Well. The clue is in the question. That album is a lie.
Side one of Lies is four songs (two of which were covers) played 'live' in front of an audience and previously released as an EP in 1986. Side two is four acoustic songs recorded in 1988, one of which is the wonderful "Patience".
But here's the thing – that EP was not recorded live at all. It was recorded in a studio and then they dubbed on a huge stadium crowd afterwards. The songs also just aren't very good.
The acoustic songs I like more, but "One in a Million" does have its own problems, lyrically speaking.
But it's the fake live thing that irritates me enough to discount GN'R Lies from the 1988 shortlist. So there you are.