It's been a good year for popular music. Among the milestones: the release of the long-awaited Michael Jackson album, ``Bad''; the 20th anniversary of the Beatles' ``Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band''; the rise of Irish band U2 to superstar status worldwide; the resurgence of heavy-metal rock; and the continuing growth of New Age music. The top-selling album of 1987 was Bon Jovi's ``Slippery When Wet,'' one indication of the new interest in heavy metal. That album, which held its ground in the Top 5 on Billboard charts for 38 weeks, paved the way for other metal groups: Cinderella, Poison, Whitesnake, Motley Crue, and Def Leppard, all of which had albums in the Top 5 in '87.
There were fine releases from some of pop music's most durable artists. Former Police-man Sting turned a corner with his new album ``Nothing Like the Sun,'' a collection of original songs and his most melodic to date; the Grateful Dead surprised everyone with a new album, ``In The Dark'' - their first ever to make the Billboard pop charts. A smashing comeback was the debut solo album by The Band's Robbie Robertson; and Bruce Springsteen came out with ``Tunnel of Love,'' his quietest and most romantic album to date.
Amid two big tours, Ireland's U2 released ``Joshua Tree,'' an album that showed the group's increasing maturity. And Simply Red's ``Men & Women'' offered proof that Britain's best rhythm-and-blues band could put out a strong follow-up to its '86 debut album, ``Picture Book.'' Level 42's ``Running in the Family'' was the British quartet's finest release to date.
Some promising new groups and solo artists appeared on the scene this year, as well. Madonna's former backup band, the Breakfast Club (no relation to the movie of the same name) proved that it could succeed on its own with a cozy, soulful style. Guitarist/singer Robert Cray brought traditional blues right into the '80s with his hit album ``Strong Persuader.'' From England we got Swing Out Sister, an eclectic, sophisticated trio - whose album, ``It's Better to Travel,'' became a big hit in the US before the group ever toured here.
Freddie Jackson topped sales on the black charts, with his album ``Just Like the First Time.'' But there were other bright spots in black music, notably Force M.D.'s ``Touch and Go,'' and newcomer Regina Belle, whose debut album, ``All By Myself,'' showed her to be the most promising female black singer since Anita Baker. Natalie Cole's ``Everlasting'' was one of her best albums ever, a fine mix of ballads and funky dance tunes. Rap continued to hang in there, despite minimal play on black radio. Artists such as L.L. Cool J, the Fat Boys, and female rappers Salt 'n' Pepa all had albums on the charts.
This year saw the passing of jazz greats Buddy Rich and Woody Herman and the continuing success of veterans like Dexter Gordon, Benny Carter, and Ornette Coleman. Jazz listeners found numerous excellent releases to add to their libraries in '87. Among them were saxophonist Michael Brecker's self-titled debut solo album, guitarist John Scofield's ``Blue Matter,'' drummer Max Roach's double quartet album ``Bright Moments,'' and Wynton Marsalis's ``Marsalis's Standard Time, Vol. I.'' The best fusion album of the year was Bill Bruford's brilliantly inventive ``Earthworks.''
George Strait emerged as the top country/western artist, with the best-selling album of the year, ``Ocean Front Property.'' The most promising newcomer was K.T. Oslin, who came into country from a background in musical theater. And veteran singer/guitarist Roy Orbison made a big comeback.
The new year will bring tours by Michael Jackson, Sting, Foreigner, according to rumor, maybe even the Who.
Amy Duncan covers popular music for the Monitor.