The best songs of 1987 span continents and sounds. More than anything, it was a year that reflected artists grappling with digital technology in one way or another. Some made it the basis of their sound. Others ignored it entirely. Everyone had to make a choice. And the huge variety of music in this list of the best songs of 1987 shows how wide open it all seemed. From hard rock epics to the rapid evolution of hip-hop, there is plenty for music fans looking to revisit old favorites and maybe even a song or two that will expand your horizons. Jump in, and let us know if there are songs we missed in the comments!
57: David Sylvian – Orpheus
David Sylvian, formerly of new wave hit makers Japan, made a bold move to a more existential solo career with deeply felt, ornate songs like “Orpheus.”
56: John Hiatt – Have A Little Faith In Me
A moving piano ballad by the gravel-voiced songwriter, “Have a Little Faith In Me” is a gorgeous moment that pulls on the heart strings.
55: 10,000 Maniacs – Hey Jack Kerouac
Natalie Merchant and crew found themselves well on their way to alt-rock stardom on the back of quirky, melodic gems like “Hey Jack Kerouac.”
54: Sly and Robbie – Boops (Here To Go)
Sly and Robbie were already Jamaican music royalty by 1987, but on “Boops (Here To Go)” the duo expanded their musical palette to include hip-hop and electronic sounds.
53: Madonna – Who’s That Girl?
No one needed to ask, “Who’s That Girl?” when Madonna starred in the film of the same name and created the soundtrack’s biggest hit.
52: Red Hot Chili Peppers – Me and My Friends
The Red Hot Chili Peppers go all in for this high-intensity jam delivered in a three-minute bolt of lightning.
51: The Fat Boys – Wipeout
Channeling the fun and excitement of the 60s surf rebellion, The Fat Boys updated the iconic track for the hip-hop generation.
50: Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam – Head To Toe
Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam had a huge pop hit on their hands with “Head to Toe,” a romantic club song with just the right tempo for the dancefloor.
49: Bathory – Call from the Grave
One of the originators of black metal, Bathory were at their darkest on “Call From The Grave,” a nightmare of a track from their 1987 album Under The Sign Of The Black Mark.
48: Ali Akbar Khan – Mian-ki Malihar
This sidelong foray by this master of Indian classical music is a deeply profound raga and a stunning example of the artist’s enormous talents.
47: Sick Of It All – It’s Clobberin Time
A 46-second knuckle sandwich, Sick Of It All bring all the ferociousness and anger of NYC hardcore to bear on “It’s Clobberin Time.”
46: Butthole Surfers – Sweat Loaf
A dystopian vision of suburbia, the Butthole Surfers were a bad dream for conservative parents and defenders of decency everywhere due to tracks like “Sweat Loaf.”
45: John Fahey – The Minutes Seem Like Hours, The Hours Seem Like Days
The guitar icon delivers a lament on the passing of time on this gorgeous instrumental that highlights many of Fahey’s distinctive stylistic innovations.
44: John Cougar Mellencamp – Down And Out In Paradise
“Down and Out in Paradise” was a masterful example of how John Mellencamp depicted the struggles of the American middle class.
43: Swing Out Sister – Breakout
1987 was a great year for Swing Out Sister, who scored perhaps their career-defining track, the aptly titled “Breakout.”
42: Death – Infernal Death
Death created a thrash classic with their Scream Bloody Gore album and tracks like “Infernal Death.”
41: My Bloody Valentine – Strawberry Wine
Before their big studio budgets and layers of effects, My Bloody Valentine were dream-pop originalists with lo-fi jangle on songs like “Strawberry Wine.”
40: Public Enemy – Public Enemy No. 1
One of the hardest and most impactful debuts in hip-hop, Public Enemy defined a generation with their political lyrics and hard-hitting beats on tracks like “Public Enemy No. 1”.
39: Pet Shop Boys – It Couldn’t Happen Here
New Wave meets Morricone on this fantastic multi-hued ballad by the Pet Shop Boys, a surrealist ode to their influences.
38: Embrace – Dance Of Days
In between his iconic bands Minor Threat and Fugazi, Ian Mackaye made a single LP under the Embrace banner and helped define what would become known as emo.
37: The Jesus And Mary Chain – April Skies
One of the coolest bands on the alternative rock circuit, The Jesus and Mary Chain made their name via melodic and addictively catchy songs like “April Skies.”
36: Anthrax – Caught In A Mosh
Slam dancing was at a cultural peak in 1987, and Anthrax created the ideal soundtrack to the action with “Caught In A Mosh.”
35: The Sugarcubes – Birthday
Icelandic superstars The Sugarcubes had their first hit with “Birthday,” a melodic post-punk song featuring Bjork’s unforgettable vocals.
34: Big Black – L Dopa
Big Black were pioneers on the transgressive music scene with pummeling tracks like “L Dopa,” which bridged industrial and punk.
33: Depeche Mode – Sacred
Depeche Mode took synthesizer-driven electronic pop to new levels on “Sacred,” foreshadowing the enormous success on their horizon.
32: Aerosmith – Angel
Aerosmith had a stadium-sized hit with “Angel,” a power ballad that connected with heartbroken rockers everywhere.
31: Tom Waits – Cold Cold Ground
A poet with a distinctively off-kilter delivery, Tom Waits enchanted critics and fans alike on songs like “Cold Cold Ground,” from his 1987 album Frank’s Wild Years.
30: Sonic Youth – Schizophrenia
Sonic Youth’s magic guitars rarely sounded better than on “Schizophrenia,” the lead-off track to their seminal Sister album, a highwater mark in their catalog.
29: Sting – Englishman In New York
Sting shares his British proclivities on this upbeat, jazzy single from his …Nothing Like The Sun album.
28: Boogie Down Productions – The Bridge Is Over
KRS-1 and crew straight-up diss all of Queens on this riotous hip-hop banger.
27: Napalm Death – Scum
Grindcore was popularized by Napalm Death and “Scum,” from their classic album of the same name. It’s still perhaps the ultimate example of the genre.
26: Jody Watley – Looking For A New Love
Jody Watley scored big with a relatable pop hit about moving on from bad relationships that was as soulful as it was catchy.
25: Stephanie Mills – I Feel Good All Over
This deeply felt slow jam is a perfect example of where R&B was heading in 1987 with its layered synthesizers and jazzy beats.
24: Terence Trent D’Arby – Wishing Well
Terence Trent D’Arby made a name for himself with sophisticated, modern pop music, best exemplified on the massive chart-topper “Wishing Well”.
23: Replacements – Can’t Hardly Wait
A soulful college rock anthem, The Replacements plugged into an earnest ennui without sacrificing their rocking aesthetics.
22: Echo & The Bunnymen – Lips Like Sugar
One of the UK’s most promising New Wave pop bands, the Bunnymen had a string of hits, including “Lips Like Sugar”.
21: LL Cool J – I Need Love
One of the first hip-hop ballads, LL Cool J made one for the ladies with “I Need Love” and showcased his more vulnerable side.
20: Alexander O’Neal – Fake
A straight dancefloor banger from the production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in their prime, with Alexander O’Neal delivering a scathing critique of a fake person.
19: INXS – New Sensation
INXS hit their peak on 1987’s Kick album, propelled by monster singles like “New Sensation.”
18: Heart – Alone
A perfect 80’s power ballad, Heart gets to the core with “Alone” and reached new levels of stardom.
17: Dinosaur Jr. – Little Fury Things
Underground music’s answer to Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Dinosaur Jr. made their magnum opus with You’re Living All Over Me. It’s kicked off by the great, “Little Fury Things.”
16: George Strait – All My Ex’s Live In Texas
A barn-burner country original, George Strait proved once again why he’s a master of the genre.
15: Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine – Rhythm Is Gonna Get You
Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine unleashed an infectious Latin groove on “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.”
14: The Smiths – Girlfriend In A Coma
On The Smiths’ swansong album they were still at their best, with darkly humorous tracks like “Girlfriend In A Coma.”
13: Pink Floyd – Learning To Fly
Pink Floyd continued their incredible run with A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, featuring classics like “Learning To Fly.”
12: R.E.M. – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It
Already cult favorites, R.E.M. bounded into the mainstream with this fast-paced, apocalyptic ode to modern living.
11: The Cure – Just Like Heaven
“Just Like Heaven” is The Cure at their best: Dreamy, romantic, and grandiose.
10: George Michael – Faith
Both the song and the video for “Faith” set George Michael on a path to solo stardom few have experienced.
9: Fleetwood Mac – Everywhere
While the Buckingham/Nicks side of the band were the most famous, pianist Christine McVie had hits of her own, as evidenced by the gorgeous “Everywhere.”
8: Michael Jackson – The Way You Make Me Feel
The king of pop continued his reign in 1987, with tracks like “The Way You Make Me Feel,” which harkened back to his Jackson 5 roots.
7: Eric B. & Rakim – Paid In Full
Rakim is one of the greatest MC’s to ever touch a mic and tracks like “Paid In Full” proves it, with his deep command of language and booming voice.
6: U2 – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
U2 hit the mark with this gorgeously introspective hit that helped make their Joshua Tree album one of the decade’s biggest records.
5: George Harrison – Got My Mind Set On You
It’s almost hard to believe how many hits George Harrison had under his belt by 1987, but the endlessly catchy chorus of “Got My Mind Set On You” shows his mastery of the art yet again.
4: Prince – Sign “O” The Times
Among many creative zeniths for Prince, “Sign “O” The Times” remains one of the iconoclastic singer’s finest recorded moments.
3: Def Leppard – Pour Some Sugar On Me
The band’s biggest hit was actually thrown together after the recording for 1987’s Hysteria as an afterthought.
2: Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)
The perfectly upbeat smash boosted Whitney Houston’s popularity to new heights with its unforgettable hooks.
1: Guns N’ Roses – Sweet Child O’ Mine
Equally romantic and sinister, Guns N’ Roses captured the hearts of hard rockers everywhere with “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”