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“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like… Books, records, films — these things matter.”
— High Fidelity

Etcetera

Best Songs of 1986

I turned 8 in October of 1986. That year is one of the first of my life where I can remember music as it happened, as opposed to something that existed before me. Yes, I had tapes before that (Springsteen’s 1984 masterpiece Born in the U.S.A., Wham’s Make It Big from that same year, and so on), but in ’86, the larger world started to open up, rather than a few outliers poking through.

Some of these 100 tracks are ones that I soaked in at that young age. Others are ones that made themselves known as the ’80s made way for the ’90s. A great number I discovered in the past few years. But all of these songs, from “Land of Confusion” to “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, are meaningful to me today, 30 years after they were released.

They reflect, as these lists always try to do, both my influences at the time—thanks Dad, thanks MTV—and the music fan I would later become. They also try to document what that year may have sounded like, if you were able to pay attention to all corners of the industry in the way you (theoretically) can today. There’s country here, new wave too. There’s rap and R&B and pop and adult contemporary and punk and Aussie/Kiwi rock and electropop and college rock. What can I say, I contain multitudes.

I also contain one-hit wonders, legends, lifelong favorites, surprise appearances, and everything in between. From my beloved (at 8 years old) Billy Ocean to my beloved (at 38 years old) Loudon Wainwright III, this list, like all the rest, tell my story. Thank you for reading it, and for listening to it. I am so glad to share it with you.

For these year-end lists, I like to undertake the seemingly impossibly task of creating an hours-long mix. The order you see below represents that effort, which you can listen to via Spotify. Sadly all 100 tracks aren't available, but you get the general idea. Track notes to come eventually or maybe never.

  1. True Blue

    Papa Don’t Preach

    Madonna

    True Blue

    Sire

    Notes

  2. Break Every Rule

    Typical Male

    Tina Turner

    Break Every Rule

    Capitol

  3. Dancing on the Ceiling

    Dancing on the Ceiling

    Lionel Richie

    Dancing on the Ceiling

    Motown

    Notes

  4. Love Zone

    When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going

    Billy Ocean

    Love Zone

    Jive

    Notes

  5. Word Up

    Word Up

    Cameo

    Word Up

    PSM

    Notes

  6. Parade

    Kiss

    Prince & The Revolution

    Parade

    Warner Bros

    Notes

  7. Poolside

    I Can’t Wait

    Nu Shooz

    Poolside

    Atlantic

    Notes

  8. Black Celebration

    But Not Tonight

    Depeche Mode

    Black Celebration

    Sire

    Notes

  9. Electric Cafe

    The Telephone Call

    Kraftwerk

    Electric Café

    Elektra

    Notes

  10. Please

    West End Girls

    Pet Shop Boys

    Please

    Parlophone

    Notes

  11. Brotherhood

    Bizarre Love Triangle

    New Order

    Brotherhood

    Factory

    Notes

  12. Book of Love

    Boy

    Book of Love

    Book of Love

    Sire

    Notes

  13. Count Three & Pray

    Take My Breath Away

    Berlin

    Count Three & Pray

    Columbia

    Notes

  14. Rapture

    Sweet Love

    Anita Baker

    Rapture

    Atlantic

    Notes

  15. True Colors

    True Colors

    Cyndi Lauper

    True Colors

    Epic

    Notes

  16. Into the Light

    The Lady in Red

    Chris de Burgh

    Into the Light

    A&M

    Notes

  17. Crash

    Human

    Human League

    Crash

    Virgin

    Notes

  18. Control

    When I Think of You

    Janet Jackson

    Control

    A&M

    Notes

  19. World Machine

    Something About You

    Level 42

    World Machine

    Universal

    Notes

  20. Notorious

    Notorious

    Duran Duran

    Notorious

    Capitol

    Notes

  21. True Confessions

    Venus

    Bananarama

    True Confessions

    London

    Notes

  22. Mosaic

    Everybody Have Fun Tonight

    Wang Chung

    Mosaic

    Geffen

    Notes

  23. Revenge

    Missionary Man

    Eurythmics

    Revenge

    Sony

    Notes

  24. Express

    Yin and Yang (The Flowerpot Man)

    Love and Rockets

    Express

    Beggars Banquet

    Notes

  25. Broadcast

    (I Just) Died in Your Arms

    Cutting Crew

    Broadcast

    Virgin

    Notes

  26. Can't Hold Back

    Take Me Home Tonight

    Eddie Money

    Can’t Hold Back

    Columbia

    Notes

  27. Play Deep

    Your Love

    The Outfield

    Play Deep

    Columbia

    Notes

  28. The Colour of Spring

    Give It Up

    Talk Talk

    The Colour of Spring

    EMI

    Notes

  29. Walkabout

    Secret Separation

    The Fixx

    Walkabout

    MCA

    Notes

  30. Lives in the Balance

    In the Shape of a Heart

    Jackson Browne

    Lives in the Balance

    Asylum

    Notes

  31. The Way It Is

    The Way It Is

    Bruce Hornsby and The Range

    The Way It Is

    RCA

    Notes

  32. The Bridge

    This Is the Time

    Billy Joel

    The Bridge

    Columbia

  33. Fore!

    Stuck With You

    Huey Lewis & The News

    Fore!

    Chrysalis

    Notes

  34. Dirty Work

    Harlem Shuffle

    The Rolling Stones

    Dirty Work

    Universal

    Notes

  35. Big World

    Home Town

    Joe Jackson

    Big World

    A&M

    Notes

  36. King of America

    Brilliant Mistake

    Elvis Costello

    King of America

    Columbia

    Notes

  37. The Queen Is Dead

    Bigmouth Strikes Again

    The Smiths

    The Queen Is Dead

    Warner Bros

    Notes

  38. London 0 Hull 4

    Happy Hour

    The Housemartins

    London 0 Hull 4

    Go!

    Notes

  39. Happy Head

    My Biggest Thrill

    The Mighty Lemon Drops

    Happy Head

    Sire

    Notes

  40. Forever Breathes the Lonely Word

    Rain of Crystal Spies

    Felt

    Forever Breathes the Lonely Word

    Cherry Red

    Notes

  41. Daddy's Highway

    North by North

    The Bats

    Daddy’s Highway

    Flying Nun

    Notes

  42. Human Frailty

    Throw Your Arms Around Me

    Hunters & Collectors

    Human Frailty

    Capitol

    Notes

  43. Concrete Blonde

    Make Me Cry

    Concrete Blonde

    Concrete Blonde

    I.R.S.

    Notes

  44. The Good Earth

    Slipping (Into Something)

    The Feelies

    The Good Earth

    Coyote

    Notes

  45. Dreamtime

    Always the Sun

    The Stranglers

    Dreamtime

    Epic

    Notes

  46. Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams

    Say You Will

    BoDeans

    Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams

    Warner Bros

    Notes

  47. Guitar Town

    Someday

    Steve Earle

    Guitar Town

    MCA

    Notes

  48. Greetings From Timbuk 3

    Life Is Hard

    Timbuk 3

    Greetings From Timbuk 3

    I.R.S.

    Notes

  49. Tuff Enuff

    Tuff Enuff

    The Fabulous Thunderbirds

    Tuff Enuff

    CBS

    Notes

  50. Like a Rock

    Like a Rock

    Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

    Like a Rock

    Capitol

    Notes

  51. Slippery When Wet

    Wanted Dead or Alive

    Bon Jovi

    Slippery When Wet

    Mercury

    Notes

  52. Reconciled

    I Still Believe

    The Call

    Reconciled

    Elektra

    Notes

  53. Invisible Touch

    Land of Confusion

    Genesis

    Invisible Touch

    Virgin

    Notes

  54. Top Gun

    Danger Zone

    Kenny Loggins

    Top Gun

    Columbia

    Notes

  55. Public Image Ltd.

    Rise

    Public Image Ltd.

    Public Image Ltd.

    Virgin

    Notes

  56. Ragin', Full-On

    Brave Captain

    fIREHOSE

    Ragin’, Full-On

    SST

    Notes

  57. Candy Apple Grey

    Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely

    Hüsker Dü

    Candy Apple Grey

    Warner Bros

    Notes

  58. Enjoy!

    Get the Time

    Descendents

    Enjoy!

    SST

    Notes

  59. Blah Blah Blah

    Real Wild Child

    Iggy Pop

    Blah Blah Blah

    A&M

    Notes

  60. Whiplash Smile

    Sweet Sixteen

    Billy Idol

    Whiplash Smile

    Chrysalis

    Notes

  61. Kicking Against the Pricks

    Long Black Veil

    Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

    Kicking Against the Pricks

    Homestead

    Notes

  62. Tinderbox

    Cities in Dust

    Siouxsie and the Banshees

    Tinderbox

    Geffen

    Notes

  63. Pretty in Pink

    Left of Center

    Suzanne Vega

    Pretty in Pink

    A&M

    Notes

  64. Get Close

    Don’t Get Me Wrong

    Pretenders

    Get Close

    Sire

    Notes

  65. True Stories

    Wild Wild Life

    Talking Heads

    True Stories

    Sire

    Notes

  66. Born Sandy Devotional

    Wide Open Road

    The Triffids

    Born Sandy Devotional

    Hot

    Notes

  67. Liberty Bell

    Spring Rain

    The Go-Betweens

    Liberty Bell and the Black Diamond Express

    Beggars Banquet

    Notes

  68. Montana Cafe

    Mind Your Own Business

    Hank Williams Jr. featuring Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson & Tom Petty

    Montana Café

    Warner Bros

    Notes

  69. Shelter

    Shelter

    Lone Justice

    Shelter

    Geffen

    Notes

  70. Lyle Lovett

    Closing Time

    Lyle Lovett

    Lyle Lovett

    Curb

    Notes

  71. More Love Songs

    At the End of a Long Lonely Day

    Loudon Wainwright III featuring John Hiatt

    More Love Songs

    Demon

    Notes

  72. No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

    A Town Called Paradise

    Van Morrison

    No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

    Polydor

    Notes

  73. Graceland

    Graceland

    Paul Simon

    Graceland

    Warner Bros

    Notes

  74. So

    That Voice Again

    Peter Gabriel

    So

    Geffen

    Notes

  75. Crowded House

    Don’t Dream It’s Over

    Crowded House

    Crowded House

    Capitol

    Notes

  76. Pretty in Pink

    If You Leave

    Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

    Pretty in Pink

    A&M

    Notes

  77. Heyday

    Tristesse

    The Church

    Heyday

    Second Motion

    Notes

  78. Stutter

    Johnny Yen

    James

    Stutter

    Sire

    Notes

  79. Urban Beaches

    Worlds Apart

    Cactus World News

    Urban Beaches

    Red Coral

    Notes

  80. Animal Magic

    Digging Your Scene

    The Blow Monkeys

    Animal Magic

    RCA

    Notes

  81. Vicious Rumors

    Rumors

    Timex Social Club

    Vicious Rumors

    Danya

    Notes

  82. Juice

    The Rain

    Oran “Juice” Jones

    Juice

    Def Jam

    Notes

  83. Licensed to Ill

    Brass Monkey

    Beastie Boys

    Licensed to Ill

    Def Jam

    Notes

  84. Radio

    Rock the Bells

    LL Cool J

    Radio

    Def Jam

    Notes

  85. Raising Hell

    Walk This Way

    Run-DMC featuring Aerosmith

    Raising Hell

    Arista

    Notes

  86. Different Light

    Walk Like an Egyptian

    Bangles

    Different Light

    Columbia

    Notes

  87. They Might Be Giants

    Don’t Let’s Start

    They Might Be Giants

    They Might Be Giants

    Bar/None

    Notes

  88. Edge of the World

    Hello Cruel World

    Mekons

    The Edge of the World

    Quarterstick

    Notes

  89. The Blind Leading the Naked

    I Held Her in My Arms

    Violent Femmes

    The Blind Leading the Naked

    Slash

    Notes

  90. Element of Light

    If You Were a Priest

    Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians

    Element of Light

    Relativity

    Notes

  91. Giant

    So Good Today

    The Woodentops

    Giant

    Rough Trade

    Notes

  92. Camper Van Beethoven

    Good Guys & Bad Guys

    Camper Van Beethoven

    Camper Van Beethoven

    I.R.S.

    Notes

  93. Skylarking

    Dear God

    XTC

    Skylarking

    Geffen

    Notes

  94. Home in the Heart of the Beat

    I’m Not Afraid (Doesn’t Matter to Me)

    Beat Rodeo

    Home in the Heart of the Beat

    I.R.S.

    Notes

  95. Run

    Run

    the Windbreakers

    Run

    dB Recs

    Notes

  96. This Ain't No Outer Space Ship

    Beatle Boots

    Love Tractor

    This Ain’t No Outer Space Ship

    Big Time

    Notes

  97. Big Plans for Everybody

    Talking to Myself

    Let’s Active

    Big Plans for Everybody

    I.R.S.

    Notes

  98. Especially for You

    Blood and Roses

    The Smithereens

    Especially for You

    Capitol

    Notes

  99. Jamboree

    Jamboree

    Guadalcanal Diary

    Jamboree

    Elektra

    Notes

  100. Lifes Rich Pageant

    Cuyahoga

    R.E.M.

    Lifes Rich Pageant

    I.R.S.

    Notes