2017 represents my 20th anniversary of hosting my own radio show at KCRW, which is a lot of years bringing new, cutting-edge tunes to listeners (as all of our great DJs do)! But, possibly, the thing I most enjoy is playing older songs, as a way of remembering where all this new music came from. I will often showcase things that are now only a vaguely-remembered hit or something I’ve only recently discovered in my own musical explorations. In any case, it is an opportunity to share the whole history of pop music and not just stick to the last few weeks of releases.
Shortly after I started hosting my show I began to put together a special playlist around the Fourth of July as a means to celebrate our past by having my mid-year show be comprised exclusively from releases 30 years ago. The time gap I chose was fairly arbitrary – I started doing this special show around the turn of the millennium, which made it convenient to focus on music that came out during my lifetime, but hadn’t been heard on the radio in a while, so thirty years seemed a good number. I enjoyed doing the research and it led to many welcome rediscoveries, both for myself and, based on emails and phone calls, the listeners!
This year I featured music from 1987. It seems like a transition year – the Smiths released their final album and announced their break-up, while Nirvana had just started playing together. Hip-hop was still mostly in the throes of the Old School – LL Cool J and the Fat Boys had two of the bigger albums that year. A couple of the year’s biggest singles were covers of 20+year-old songs: Los Lobos’ “La Bamba” and Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now.” The Grateful Dead and Aerosmith had significant comeback albums. But new things were afoot: U2‘s Joshua Tree, Guns N Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush the Show, Pixies‘ Come on Pilgrim EP, Suzanne Vega’s “Luka,” M/A/R/R/S‘ “Pump Up the Volume,” REM’s “The One I Love,” etc.
For my show this past weekend I played a few of these things, along with a slew of other choices that defined that year in music. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, fresh from their Grammy victory as part of Paul Simon‘s Graceland album of the year before; the Jazz Butcher’s tribute to recently assassinated Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme; the Cult with an electric break-out album produced by hip-hop impresario Rick Rubin; and who could forget the California Raisins, the claymation advertising sensations that squeezed a Billboard Top 100 hit out of a cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (sung by the late great Buddy Miles)! Plus some familiar faces from the British New Wave-era, including the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen and Depeche Mode.
There is simply too much great music to come out in a single year to fit into a three-hour show, so I’ll undoubtedly sprinkle some more of my favorite ’87 gems throughout my program for the rest of the month (why let all that research go to waste?) But you can relive the fully-concentrated magic by streaming my 1987 show below or enjoying this Spotify playlist featuring most of my selections. Either way, I hope you enjoy flashing back to 30 years ago!
ERIC J. LAWRENCE