Q: The Music, Part 1 (1986-1987)


Q Magazine – “the modern guide to music and more” – first appeared in September 1986, and published its final issue in July 2020. Here’s a personal and highly subjective look back at the best music released in that period…

Yes, it’s another one of those list things, but with a difference. Rather than attempt to rank them in any sort of order (which would be too similar to my Top 100 Albums Of All-Time feature anyway), I’ve chosen to work chronologically through the lifespan of Q Magazine. Information such as release dates, plus the particular issue the album was featured in and its star rating out of five, will make a change from the usual stuff about chart positions and tracklistings.

We begin, appropriately enough, right at the very start of the Q era….



(Q1) September 1986

Paul Simon’s first album of new material for almost 3 years bucked the trend for legendary/established artists from the 1960s and 1970s  experiencing a “challenging” time in the middle of the 1980s. 1986 had thus far bestowed upon music lovers the likes of Knocked Out Loaded (Bob Dylan), Landing On Water (Neil Young), Dirty Work (The Rolling Stones) and Mistrial (Lou Reed)….not to mention Press To Play by Paul McCartney, which perhaps owing to Macca’s appearance on the front cover of the first Q was – generously, some might say – awarded four stars for its troubles.

Graceland was one of Q‘s earliest 5-star recipients, and one of the occasions when they got it absolutely spot-on. It also made my most recent (i.e. 2016) Top 100 Albums list as featured on this blog, and to avoid repetition I will link to those earlier articles whenever they happen to turn up again here!



(Q2) October 1986

Needless to say, yours truly did not appreciate the dismissive review metered out to one of my favourite acts of the time! Q really didn’t care for pop music, and synth-pop, in general during those early years. Some snarky comments about the album “only being of interest if you fancied them” typified this attitude, and sold the actual record extremely short.

Despite now ranking as merely my 3rd favourite a-ha album, Scoundrel Days was one of my go-to records that autumn and winter. I’m surprised I ever bought another issue of Q after that review!



(Q4) November 1986

Already written off by Record Mirror on the week of its release, Notorious was treated more fairly by Q, with some grudging praise; safe one presumes in the knowledge that Duran’s commercial, teen-girl pin-ups peak had passed. No need to be coy, Roy….it’s a great album.



(Q7) March 1987

Half a dozen issues into its existence, came the album which helped to define the magazine for over a decade. U2 were synonymous with Q for a long time; that sense of (affected) authenticity, the nods to rock’s storied heritage and deliberate use of iconography from its past.

They were blokes. They played real instruments. They had a Rock God guitarist. Their frontman was never shy of a mannered pose or a quotable quote. They drank and partied but also spoke plenty of mystical bollocks and loved…just loved…to play to the biggest audience imaginable.

U2 were Q‘s darlings and it helped that the band had essentially made one of the greatest albums to warrant such adulation and coverage.



(Q7) March 1987

Just a week after The Joshua Tree, the new Level 42 opus arrived and duly took my attention away from Bono and co., though unsurprisingly the verdict from Q was less enthusiastic. Running In The Family was given the kind of “will this do?” middling 3-star review that often smacked more of indifference than actual praise.



(Q8) March 1987

The classics kept on coming! Before the month of March was through, Prince’s seminal double crashed into my world, as detailed here. Happily, the people at Q were also under the Purple spell, even running a small headline about their album review on the front cover of issue #8 in April.



(Q8) April 1987

The return of the Mac was bound to be greeted with some fanfare chez Q, what with all that troubled history – the drugs, the affairs, the breakdowns, the ever-changing line-ups, the bizarre ways that band members would leave.

No wonder their initial review of Tango In The Night itself managed to miss the mark slightly, although in fairness it correctly identified the most alluring aspects of the album were Lindsey Buckingham’s dense, intricate production and a handful of songs which harked back to the dark magic of Tusk (namely Caroline, Big Love and the title track). In fairness, too, even in my passion for Tango In The Night I would never have imagined the way things would eventually pan out, Lindsey quitting and Christine’s songs taking sales to another level entirely. Who knew?



(Q9) April 1987

And then, of course, we had the “DEPRESSING” Suzanne Vega album, Solitude Standing, which I mentioned in The Q That I Knew….



(Q9) May 1987

Another reviewed-down-their-nose 3 star award for Swing Out Sister’s sprightly, chart-topping debut LP. Probably not Rock enough for Q, or something. Still, at least they didn’t call it Sophisti-pop….



(Q10) June 1987

Upon release, the Q review of Marillion’s final album with Fish was more interested in making silly jibes about the band’s hair than properly judging the record’s contents. In fact, by the end of 1987, the magazine’s stance on Clutching At Straws had altered enough for it to be featured in their special Top 50 Albums of 1987 mini-brochure which came attached to the cover of that year’s December issue.

This was a key album for me in the summer of 1987, as I allude to in this very long piece about its second single, Sugar Mice. I’d thought about giving Clutching At Straws its own “featured” slot, but a quirk of timing meant I was due to write-up a piece on the single as part of my ongoing #1s On My Personal Top 40 1984-2010 countdown….


Next time, we pick up the story in August 1987 and make it through to the early part of 1988.



  1. I have a question about this post. All of these albums have been rated (I hope that I am using the right word for this). Is this rating coming from Q Magazine or is this your rating?

    I also would have given Paul Simon – “Graceland”, U2 “The Joshua Tree” and Prince – “Sign O’ The Times” five stars. And I would have given Fleetwood Mac – “Tango In The Night” four stars instead of three.


  2. Hi Robert, these are all the original star ratings given by Q magazine at the time of each album’s release (they often changed their tune when things were reissued later!). They are all among my personal favourite albums of all-time, so my scores would be at least 4, if not 5 stars every time.


  3. Bravo!
    BTW, can you direct me to the issue of Q that reviewed and ranked the albums of 1987? If memory serves, ranking was #1 U2—The Joshua Tree, #2 Prince—Sign ‘O’ The Times…


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