As we’ve discussed previously in greater detail, when the New Musical Express released its C86 cassette in 1986, no one had any idea of the impact the 22-track compilation would have. Selling around 40,000 copies, the tape did more than simply provide a snapshot of the indie scene in Britain at the time. It captured an aesthetic that previously was undefined, with its title coming to represent that still somewhat nefarious sound in the intervening years.
Having already released an expanded edition of C86 two years ago, Cherry Red has opted to celebrate the cassette’s 30th anniversary with C87, a three-CD imagining of what might have been included had the NME done a follow-up the next year. With 74 cuts, it’s quite an extrapolation, so it makes senses then that there is some loose organization, with the first disc comprised only of bands who made their recorded debut in 1987, and the second and third checking back in on bands that were (or should have been) on the original release, with disc two being poppier than the more discordant acts on the third.
But even with such provisions in place, compiling a set of such breadth that manages to retain the spirit of the original is no easy task. It’s truly impressive then that C87 not only succeeds in doing so, but is devoid of any clunkers. Like its spiritual predecessor, this set reveals the conflux of pop tunesmithery with post-punk jitters that was at its best in the post-Smiths UK. Much as in the States during the ’90s, bands from nearly every corner of England and Scotland were creating music imbued with the restlessness of youth and the originality that comes with eschewing mainstream sounds in order to carve out one’s own niche.
Over the course of its impressive track listing, many familiar names are represented, but usually by a lesser known track, or in the case of acts like The Shamen, The Soup Dragons, and Pop Will Eat Itself who left the C86 sound behind, by songs unlike those that garnered them fame. But the set’s greatest asset is the bevy of cuts by bands every bit as wonderful as their more well-known counterparts. “Get Out of My Dream,” a B-side by the Glaswegian Clouds and featuring Norman Blake (of The Boy Hairdressers and, later, Teenage Fanclub) that originally appeared on a Sha La La flexi, is a two-minute bout of jangly splendor, while the Bristol-based Flatmates are represented by the buoyant “I Could Be in Heaven.” Equally great is the jaunty “What a Performance,” another flexi cut from the short-lived BOB, and the fuzzed out sardonicism of I, Ludicrous’ “My Baby’s Got Jetlag.”
As the aforementioned represent only the first disc and the class of 1987, C87 offers plenty more. On the second, there is the damn-near-perfect “My Favourite Dress” by The Wedding Present, the achingly sweet “Talulah Gosh” by the song’s namesake, and “Brighter,” the one shining moment of the ultimately disappointing Railway Children. And on the third, there’s the wonderfully prickly “Tupperware Stripper” by Stump, Gaye Bykers on Acid’s lysergic “Everything’s Groovy,” and 14 Iced Bears’ speedy “Like a Dolphin.” And I could go on and on. That C87 stands up to close scrutiny speaks to not only the compilers’ good judgement, but also to the lasting legacy of C86, what it captured, and what followed in its wake.