Despite the abundance of classic material I write about on this blog, my purpose in writing and posting is not nostalgia. I talk about classic music and people involved with Funk, Hip Hop, Jazz, Soul and other genres in order to curate various things from the past that somehow shaped who I and my community are in the present. But this particular project, “The ’87 Sound”, is personal enough to me to contain an element of nostalgia.
It just so happens that as I look back on my life, the year 1987, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017, just might be the year I achieved something close to musical consciousness. On a personal level, it was a very good year, I was in the 1st grade, friends and family who have long since passed on were still around, and things looked up. My Dad was returning to Liberia, West Africa that year, for the first time since our family left in 1980, and he wanted to tape the latest in American popular sounds to take back with him. ’87 was also the year I became a fan of Soul Train, which I used to watch right before WWF wrestling on local Bay Area channel 2 television.
On a larger scale though, 1987 represented an interesting time in popular music. It seems through an unscientific survey that by ’87, Black popular dance rhythm infected mainstream popular music in a way not seen since the late disco era. ’87 saw huge monster albums by Prince, Michael Jackson, George Michael, Jody Watley, Terrance Trent D’arby, and many other artists. It also saw Rock and Pop stars like INXS and Sting release albums that were on the cutting edge of Black urban contemporary rhythm and production techniques. Teddy Riley’s rise was also a factor, as he began to introduce more and more of the sound that would define R&B and pop in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It was a time of Babyface going solo as well as producing the monster, “Rock Steady” for The Whispers along with his partner L.A. Janet Jackson’s Jam and Lewis helmed “Control” LP was still placing #1 hits on almost ALL the charts. And Hip Hop was standing on the verge of its Golden Era, with first albums from legends like Public Enemy, BDP, Eric B & Rakim and N.W.A, at the same time Funk/R&B veterans like Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Barry White gave us some of the best music they’d delivered since their 1970s heyday’s.
At that age, music was only one of my concerns, but just like sports, ’87 was the year I truly became interested in it for myself. And we documented all of that music of the time, mostly on yellow Memorex cassette tapes. What I think of when I think of songs in that year is an aggressive, tough, street-oriented beat, accented with synthesizers. The influence of Prince and Michael Jackson had now become a formal part of popular music, but so had the influence of Hip Hop. The music had shed some of the brittle, big beat coldness of mid-’80s industrial and synthesized sounds but retained their power.
Enjoy with me then, this trip back down the lane of late ’80s music. After losing my father and many other friends and relatives from that time, this music has taken on a special relevance for me as the sound of times past. But that does not take away the vitality and the good feelings in them! For some readers, these tunes will be nostalgic, and for some, they will be new! But I think that most will agree at the end of this trip, the year Nineteen Eighty-Seven A.D was a special one for musical grooves!