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…
Part Two took us up to Easter 1988; Q was still less than 18 months old, yet was well on the way to being an established publication. Our next 10 choices will see out the rest of the year, and (very slightly) beyond!
(Q20) April 1988, exact date of album release unknown.
Now this is an album that I had no knowledge of at the time, and Q‘s withering assessment wouldn’t have caught my eye or inspired me to investigate it further.
Which is a shame, since not only were Q unfairly dismissive of This Is The Place, but their analysis failed to convey the sonic diversity across the whole album. Yes, some of it does veer into Debbie Gibson territory, and the uptempo moments can sound forced, but half the album (if not more) is the sort of dreamy, atmospheric adult pop that you could imagine Rickie Lee Jones coming up with.
Fortunately, I happened across the album by chance a couple of years ago, and I chose it as my first featured album for the blog, a series which has now become the most popular part of amazinglyfewdiscothequesprovidejukeboxes and taken on a life of its own.
(Q22) June 1988, album released May 1988
No longer derided as music only worth bothering with if you fancied them, a-ha got an upgrade to 3-star status with their third long-player. This was the one where they tentatively attempted to beef up their sound with more guitars and write songs called The Blood That Moves The Body and Out Of Blue Comes Green. Some of it is quite strange indeed. But it’s still very accessible, very a-ha. And very, very good.
Perhaps to ensure the Warner bods didn’t have a total meltdown, we also got a couple of those “jokey” lightweight ditties along the lines of Maybe, Maybe on Scoundrel Days or And You Tell Me from their debut Hunting High & Low. In a development not dissimilar to Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night ending up known for Little Lies and Everywhere, the two most popular singles of the quartet lifted from Stay On These Roads were those aforementioned ditties, Touchy! and You Are The One.
That bid to be taken more seriously by the Rock press would have to wait a little longer.
(Q22) June 1988
The review for Robert Palmer’s latest has always stuck in my memory, owing to the use of “judicious” which is a word not normally featured in a rock music magazine. For once, it felt like the reviewer had actually listened to, and understood, the record and didn’t fall back on the old stereotypical tropes associated with the artist.
Heavy Nova ultimately didn’t become the blockbuster that Q predicted it had the potential to be, with a peak of #17 in the UK (and that was only some time after release, courtesy of She Makes My Day reaching #6 on the singles chart). It did spawn a huge US hit in the shape of Simply Irresistible, however, and laid the platform for a successful retrospective project the following year.
It’s another one of those albums which I played a lot when it was released, and then somehow allowed it to drift out of my thoughts until recently. I’ve listened to it more in the last year than at any time since 1988. There isn’t a weak track in sight.
(Q23) July 1988.
Somehow, I never felt Q really got Hip Hop music. They tried to sound like they did, but always came across as a bit too cerebral and scholarly in their attempts. In the summer of 1987 they gave LL Cool J’s divisive Bigger And Deffer the full 5 stars, and probably regretted it when the commercial backlash came soon after with cries of “sell-out!” after the sappy I Need Love crossed over but burned a lot of the credibility bridges in its wake.
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is, simply, a genuine 5-star album. A game changer. An absolute juggernaut of a record. It may be hard to love at times, but you are always impressed.
(Q23) July 1988
When recalling some of the highlights from Q in my tribute post, I could have easily included the quite remarkable feature on Brian Wilson’s return in July 1988. Running to several pages, the all-pervasive spectre of Wilson’s private doctor and self-appointed musical collaborator Dr. Eugene Landy made for a fascinating yet bittersweet tale of a gifted, tortured genius who – at that stage – was still a long way from coming back to the world, almost a prisoner of the people who should have been aiding his recovery from trauma and drug dependency.
The album itself was favourably received by Q, and despite no real interest in The Beach Boys prior to this, I bought Brian Wilson (a.ka. Love & Mercy) as soon as it was released.
(Q25) September 1988
In the wake of Mark Hollis’ untimely and sudden passing early last year, much was said about Spirit Of Eden and its place among the pantheon of classic modern albums. Most of it was absolutely true, but in 1988 not that many people were very vocal about its greatness. Q, to their credit, could see what Hollis was trying to achieve in his painstaking creation of a very organic and truthful kind of rustic, ambient pop.
It wasn’t easy listening, and the raging bursts of cacophony that broke through the pastoral beauty made it a hard sell for EMI (the line from Tom Petty’s Into The Great Wide Open always comes to mind….”the A&R man said, I can’t hear a single!”). The label simply didn’t know what to do with it, mainly because in their misguided expectations post-Colour Of Spring it wasn’t what they wanted from Talk Talk.
So, to the huge frustration of Hollis, beyond some initial promotion and a fruitless attempt to make a single out of something from the album in the old traditional way, EMI effectively gave up on the record, and Spirit Of Eden was left to be rediscovered by future generations of music lovers.
(Q25) September 1988
Released the same day as Spirit Of Eden, and charting 6 places higher in the UK at #13 (thought it would go on to reach #3 and sell over half a million copies), the debut from precocious Tanita Tikaram proved to be one of my unlikely favourites of not only 1988, but of all-time. I hadn’t even liked the hit single (Good Tradition) that much!
All too often, the album that quickly follows a breakthrough hit from a new artist ends up transparently undercooked, or reveals a paucity of material as strong as the single which hauled them so swiftly into the limelight.
Ancient Heart was, to my genuine surprise, not one of those examples at all.
It’s an oddball record, without doubt. A husky-voiced 18-year old with the bone structure of Elvis (Presley, not Costello!) and a winning blend of Lloyd Cole and Suzanne Vega-type acoustic pop, Tanita Tikaram defied the prevailing fashions in music circa 1988 courtesy of a quirky worldview and unusual choice of vocabulary. Something such as Twist In My Sobriety really ought not to work, but does, and it not only became a sleeper hit but bizarrely received a nomination for Best British Single at the 1989 BRIT Awards. Yes, the year of Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood….
My favourites weren’t actually any of the singles taken from Ancient Heart, but the deeper cuts; the moody Valentine Heart, the woozy He Likes The Sun and the brooding For All These Years. Magnificent stuff!
(Q27) November 1988
This was where Q‘s love affair (some might say unhealthy obsession) with R.E.M. truly began. Green was the band’s debut for Warner Brothers, having moved up into the big league after years of cult success on the I.R.S. label. The previous year’s Document set had given them a US Top 10 smash with The One I Love, but in Britain they were still on the fringes.
Q doled out the big 5-star featured review for Green, and put the band on the cover of the same issue (the first of roughly 297 occasions R.E.M. were on the front of Q).
Partly due to the timing of its UK release, Green never became acquainted with the upper reaches of the chart, peaking outside the Top 20 despite the summer 1989 success of Orange Crush as a single. Yet for my money, it might just be the perfect R.E.M. album.
(Q29) January 1989
We’ve reached 1989, and here’s a surprise. Not to see Technique included in this list – after all, it snuck into my earlier All-Time Top 100 at Number 93 – but that Q in their wisdom only saw fit to award it 3 measly stars. Too busy being dazzled by Fine Young Cannibals’ Raw & The Cooked, I suppose…
(Q30) February 1989
Spike was at least the fourth album on Warner Bros. to get the 5-star treatment from Q between September 1988 and February 1989; a coincidence, or simply proof that the label was hitting the bullseye with unerring frequency?
Well, in terms of the Costello album, it was hard to argue against such high praise. Spike was recently covered (at almost ridiculous length) by afdpj in its ongoing series of detailed (very detailed!) features on individual albums from the past, so I’ll simply point you in the direction of that article!
Next up…the return of some very big hitters in the second half of 1989, including one of my favourite male singers of all-time, and the album that I consider to be better than anything else ever recorded in the history of the universe.