A decade ago, I wrote a series of entries ranking my favorite albums from 1985 to 2004. My collection has expanded greatly since then, particularly in the last five years. So I wanted to see what has changed in 10 years.
In 2008, my collection tapered off with releases before 1987. I went so far as to call 1986 an uninteresting year. I’ve since had time to explore the year in greater depth.
The Art of Noise, In Visible Silence
Janet Jackson, Control
Soundtrack, Megazone 23 Song Collection
Paul Simon, Graceland
The Smiths, The Queen is Dead
Prince & the Revolution, Parade
Nakamori Akina, Fushigi
Duran Duran, Notorious
Club Nouveau, Life, Love and Pain
Other favorites from the year:
Anita Baker, Rapture
Bananarama, True Confessions
Fishbone, In Your Face
Run DMC, Raising Hell
Peter Gabriel, So
John Adams, Harmonielehre
Dwight Yoakam, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc.
R.E.M., Lifes Rich Pageant
Pet Shop Boys, Please
Kronos Quartet, Music of Sculthorpe, Sallinen, Glass, Nancarrow, Hendrix
The Human League, Crash
If you told Younger Me that Older Me would like So and Raising Hell, Younger Me would wretch. At the time, Run DMC and Peter Gabriel were so ubiquitous, I felt I would never need to hear “Walk This Way” or “Sledgehamer” for the rest of my life.
One advantage of growing older is no longer caring about looking at all fashionable.
Younger Me would have been puzzled by the inclusion of Dwight Yoakam on the extended list, to which Older Me would have to tell Younger Me to wait 9 years.
Younger Me: Oh, I was wondering whether I should get that Human League album. Is it really that good? Older Me: Yeah, but I don’t think you’d quite appreciate it at your station in life. Wait a few years. Younger Me: Really? How many? Older Me: 30.
One of the first songs I learned to play on the piano was “Human” by the Human League, and I learned it out of a sense of survival.
“Human” was all over the radio in 1986, the year I graduated from eighth grade. I have no fond memories of junior high. I missed being placed in the honors class by a few test points, and the classmates with which I was placed didn’t appreciate my presence.
I was never physically harmed, but my social status was pretty obvious — I had none.
I didn’t have an aptitude for sports, and my school had no arts program. If I was going to turn things around in high school, I had to distinguish myself in some way.
So I learned how to play piano, and I learned popular music as a means to ingratiate myself.
I knew I wouldn’t have impressed anyone with classical repertoire — not that I had developed sufficient skills to tackle it — but with songs you heard on the radio? I could at least not look too square.
I wasn’t looking to become popular — I was realistic enough to know that would be dead end — but I wanted to make myself a less-appealing target. My band teacher seized on my ability and kept me busy. Before long, people didn’t mess with me because I had a talent.
I never repaid the Human League this change in status by buying their album. I loved “Human”, but other singles from Crash failed to make a dent in the US. So I moved onto other music.
I picked up a vinyl copy of Crash more than 30 years later at the Lifelong Thrift Shop.
At that point in the band’s career, the Human League had difficulty following up some big hits from earlier in the 1980s. At the urging of their label, the band teamed up with Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, the producers who helped Janet Jackson break through with Control.
The resulting album is more Jam and Lewis than Human League, but it’s a rare instance where American funk rubbed against an English art school aesthetic. It’s actually an appealing convergence that deserves multiple spins on the playback device.
If I had listened to the album at the time of its release, I might have found it likable, but I’m not sure I would have appreciated the meeting of Sheffield and Minneapolis.
Crash is not a well-regarded album, not even by the band. “Great experience,” Phil Oakley said about working with Jam and Lewis,”but it’s not our album.”
I’m not familiar enough with the band’s earlier work to know what qualifies as a “Human League” album, so that probably allows me to have a more forgiving perception of Crash.
It’s an anomaly, for sure, but one that ought to be re-evaluated and maybe appreciated anew.