In 1986, the US decided it was time to talk with the USSR to stop the nuclear arms race, they also decided it was time to ban smoking on all public transportation. And while 6.5 million Americans joined the “Hands Across America” movement, the music world was reaching new heights. The Beastie Boys introduced themselves to the world, The Smiths graced us with arguably the greatest album of all time, and Paul Simon took a controversial trip to South Africa to create one of his best albums ever. Continue reading for a in-depth look at our essential albums of 1986 and drop a comment with your favorite records from 1986.

The Queen is Dead – The Smiths

The Smiths may not have known it at the time, but their third album The Queen is Dead, would turn out to be one of the greatest albums of all time. In 2013, NME even crowned it as, The Greatest Album of All Time. The albums was produced by Morriessey, who was experimenting with different techniques for layering instrumentation and backing vocals. Combined with the powerful guitar work of Johnny Marr, The Smiths had created their hardest rocking album ever. Marr’s complex network of interconnected guitars perfectly complimented the Morrissey as he delivered “a devastating set of clever, witty satires of British social mores, intellectualism, class, and even himself. He also crafts some of his finest, most affecting songs, particularly in the wistful “The Boy With the Thorn in His Side” and the epic “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” two masterpieces that provide the foundation for a remarkable album.” (Thomas Erlewin, AllMusic) The debate of which album deserves to be called, “The Greatest” is one that will go one forever, but the timelessness of this album will always keep it in the discussion. It truly is a remarkable album and is an experience that you must hear (and feel) yourself.

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Licensed To Ill – Beastie Boys

I can’t think of a better introduction to the music world than the Beastie Boys debut album Licensed to Ill. Event after 30 years the album is still selling strong, and with over 10 million copies sold, it has officially attained the coveted Diamond Certification. With tracks like “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party),” “Brass Monkey“, and “No Sleep Til Brooklyn“, Licensed to Ill became the first rap album to reach the #1 spot on the Billboard 200, and earned the Beastie Boys high praise from magazine who said, “Licensed to Ill remains the world’s only punk rock rap album, arguably superior to Never Mind the Bollocks.” “Rife with layer upon layer of sampling, start-stop transitions, and aggressive beats, it helped transform the genre from a direct dialogue between MC and DJ into a piercing, multi-threaded narrative.” (Slant Magazine) The Beastie Boys changed rap music forever with their debut album. Although lyrically it may not be their best, the attitude and the absolute enjoy-ability of this album is what makes it their best, and one of the best hip-hop albums ever made.

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EVOL – Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth‘s third album, EVOLmarks the band’s transition into their famed sound of “chiming guitars and atonal skronk.” EVOL also saw the introduction of the band’s new drummer Steve Shelley, who replaced Bob Bert, and was partly responsible for the band’s new sound. “EVOL found the band in a similarly eerie mindset, but this time the dark dreaminess of songs like “Tom Violence,” the tense instrumental “Death to Our Friends,” and the gorgeously restrained “Shadow of a Doubt” are snapped into lockstep clarity by Steve Shelley’s precise, tom-heavy drumming, whose propulsive drumming gave much-needed punctuation to the band’s previously murky approach.” (AllMusic) This was also the first album where we see Sonic Youth dabbling in pop music. Although not pop in the true sense “In The Kingdom #19” saw the band experimenting with different tape and feedback effects, as well as samples of screams and race cars. EVOL was a step in the right direction for the band, paving the way for their follow up, and arguably their best album, Sister.


Lifes Rich Pageant – R.E.M.

Lifes Rich Pageant is R.E.M.‘s fourth album, and is the follow up to their “murky”, Fables of the Reconstruction. The group chose Don Gehman to produce the album, who decided that, instead of leaving the drums in the background as a supporting act, he would bring them out front. With the back-beat emphasized, the group was able to create their hardest rocking album to-date, most notably on “Begin the Begin” and “Just a Touch“. But as Thomas Erlewine explains, “The cleaner production also benefits the ballads and the mid-tempo janglers, particularly since it helps reveal Michael Stipe’s growing political obsessions, especially on the environmental anthems “Fall on Me” and “Cuyahoga.” R.E.M. chose to close the album with the garage-rock “Superman“. “Seemingly out of place on such a serious-minded album and certainly jarring after the Civil War fever dream of “Swan Swan H“, it’s been derided as R.E.M. at their most superfluous. But that’s how they must have felt at the time– like supermen taking on the world’s problems and finding they had unknown powers.”(Pitchfork)

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Graceland – Paul Simon

After almost a decade of obscurity, Paul Simon‘s seventh solo album Graceland brought the musician back to the forefront. After a failed marriage and an unsuccessful, Simon had become fascinated by a bootleg tape of a South African band, and so he planned a two week trip to the country to record an album. The trip caused a lot of controversy, as there was somewhat of a boycott on the country for their policies of apartheid. And so, Simon had found himself at the cross roads of cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation, but he concern was only with creating music. Graceland is just as enjoyable and accessible as any Paul Simon album. “It delved into zydeco and conjunto-flavored rock & roll while marking a surprising new lyrical approach (presaged on some songs on Hearts and Bones); for the most part, Simon abandoned a linear, narrative approach to his words, instead drawing highly poetic (“Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes“), abstract (“The Boy in the Bubble“), and satiric (“I Know What I Know“) portraits of modern life, often charged by striking images and turns of phrase torn from the headlines or overheard in contemporary speech.” (AllMusic) Although Simon’s decision to travel to South Africa will always be questioned, there is no doubt that Graceland did a lot of good for the musicians that contributed to one of the best albums of the 1980’s.

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So – Peter Gabriel

When told by his label that he needs to better market his music, Peter Gabriel did what most musicians do when confronted by a pushy record label, the opposite. So, Gabriel decided to call his fifth album So, which acted as an “anit-title”. The album became Gabriel’s best selling album, attaining 5 x Platinum certification, proving that in fact, his label did not know how to best market his work. 5 singles were released from the album, including “Sledgehammer,” “Don’t Give Up,” “Big Time,” “In Your Eyes,” and “Red Rain“. “Sledgehammer“received the most success, topping the charts, and receiving 10 MTV Music Awards. The success of the album propelled Gabriel beyond his cult following, and made him a full blown rock star. In an Q & A with Rolling Stone, Gabriel commented on the success of the album, stating “There was less sort of esoteric songwriting. I think they were simpler songs in some ways, but I think we caught a wave. They were done with passion and we had a really good team working on them. Then, of course, we had things like the “Sledgehammer” video. I think the video really helped get it to a different audience. I’ve not had many intersections with mass culture, so that was one occasion where that happened.”

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Colour of Spring – Talk Talk

Colour of Spring is the third album from Talk Talk. As the follow up to their groundbreaking It’s My Life, they had to bring strong material, and they did. Talk Talk continued to experiment with different techniques, finding themselves in the “art rock” category of music. “It was musically a major step away from the synthesized pop of early Talk Talk, with the focus on such songs as “Life’s What You Make It”, “Living in Another World” and “Give It Up”. It had a sound described by the band as much more “organic” than their earlier records, with the improvisation that was to dominate on their later works already apparent in the recording process.” Colour of Spring became the band best selling album, making it’s way onto the charts across the world, topping the Dutch charts, and reaching the #8 spot in their home country of the UK.

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Master of Puppets – Metallica

Master of Puppets is Metallica’s third album, and first to be released by a record label. It was also their last album to feature bassist Cliff Burton who died in a bus accident during the albums supporting tour with Ozzy OsbourneMaster of Puppets was nothing new for Metallica, who had been the icons of metal music, but in a way it was more refined than their previous works, and it seemed that they had mastered their craft. Upon its release, the album received high praise, being called the best album of the year by critics everywhere, and despite non-existent radio play, the album still managed to sell over 3 million records. To-date the album has sold over 6 million copies, attaining 6x Platinum certificaiton, and it’s title song was the most requested during the band’s ‘Metallica by Request’ Tour. “The arrangements are thick and muscular, and the material varies enough in texture and tempo to hold interest through all its twists and turns. Some critics have called Master of Puppets the best heavy metal album ever recorded; if it isn’t, it certainly comes close.” (AllMusic)

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