MOST CRITICS in 1987 were happy enough to have some good records to listen to without having to worry about which ones were the best. Nonetheless, Weekend's reviewers each picked 10 albums they found themselves returning to again and again as the year wound down.
The Smiths -- "Louder Than Bombs"/"Strangeways, Here We Come" (Sire). The quintessential compilation and farewell statement of the late, lamented fashion-be-damned Brit band: "Don't forget the songs that made you cry/And the songs that saved your life."
Pet Shop Boys -- "actually" (EMI). Glossy, arch, bored, brittle, deeply superficial, aurally indelible: consumer-pop about pop consumers.
XTC -- "Skylarking"/"Psonic Psunspot" (Warner Bros.). A heady burst of Beatle-beatification under the XTC moniker; and as the pseudonymous Dukes of Stratosfear, a psugarcube-flavored psunburst of psychedelic psilliness.
Jennifer Warnes -- "Famous Blue Raincoat" (Cypress). Jenny sings Lenny (Cohen), finds the hidden melodies, adds a gorgeous ache to the old croaker's wintry words. Volume two, please?
David Sylvian -- "Gone To Earth" (Warner Bros.). Tranquil -- but never tranquilizing -- four sides of synth-smart World Music that never sounds the same twice, easily transcending any easy labels. Not "new age."
Shirley Horn -- "I Thought About You" (Verve). As a singer and a pianist nonpareil, Washington's brightest jazz star brings a serene eroticism to everything she touches, old and new. And her Audiophile set for 1988 sounds even better.
REM -- "Document" (IRS). A fast-forward preview of the end of the world as we know it -- and a souvenir of this summer's incendiary Patriot Center show.
10,000 Maniacs -- "In My Tribe" (Elektra). Charming new voice Natalie Merchant puts across songs about Jack Kerouac, child abuse, her sister's Italian-Polish wedding, being unable to get out of bed. And even a palatable Cat Stevens cover.
Todd Rundgren -- CD catalogue reissues (Rhino). Relic-relishing Rhino re-released all 20-odd Rundgren LPs on CD, and from the sublime ("Ballad of Todd Rundgren," "Something/Anything") to the ridiculous ("Todd"), they all revealed new details, making a case for Todd as Philly's precursor to Prince.
The Beatles -- "Abbey Road" (EMI). This glorious CD reissue is reason enough to start collecting the pricey little buggers.RICHARD HARRINGTON:
Penguin Cafe Orchestra -- "Signs of Life" (JEM). Mesmerizing chamber music with classical, pop and Third World undertones.
Crowded House -- "Crowded House" (Capitol). In the year of Beatles' CD reissues, wonderfully reminiscent of mid-'60s Lennon-McCartney popcraft, with a wry '80s edge.
John Cougar Mellencamp -- "The Lonesome Jubilee" (Polygram). With rich folk-roots flavors and Mellencamp's most impassioned social commentary, this one rocked both hearts and minds.
The Desert Rose Band -- "The Desert Rose Band" (MCA). The finest, most bracing country-rock album since 20 years ago when Chris Hillman pioneered the form with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers.
K. T. Oslin -- " '80s Ladies" (RCA). A distaff blend of Randy Travis grit, Dwight Yoakum insouciance, Steve Earle earnestness and Townes Van Zandt sensitivity.
Suzanne Vega -- "Solitude Standing" (A&M). Intelligent lyrics, sophisticated themes, beautiful production and a bright testimonial to the resurgence and validity of the singer-songwriter school of pop.
Leslie Phillips -- "The Turning" (A&M). Unwisely marketed strictly as a Christian record, this engaging and compassionate record was produced by Phillips' husband, T-Bone Burnett.
John Hiatt -- "Bring the Family" (A&M). A finely tuned album that should have broken this profound and long-underrated songwriter through to a larger public.
Marianne Faithfull -- "Strange Weather" (Island). Like her life, Faithfull's voice is the embodiment of stormy weather; she found some perfect songs to prove that she has overcome.
George Harrison -- "Cloud Nine" (Warner Bros./Dark Horse). The year's biggest surprise, this beautifully crafted, empathetically produced album grows on you with each listening. GEOFFREY HIMES:
Los Lobos -- "By the Light of the Moon" (Slash/Warner Brothers). "La Bamba" was fun, but this is the record that will assure this East L.A. quintet its place in rock history. It's the definitive immigrant rock album.
Ornette Coleman -- "In All Languages" (Caravan of Dreams). Coleman sums up one of the greatest careers in jazz history with this masterful double album. Part One reunited him with his original acoustic quartet; Part Two finds him amid similar striking themes with his current electric septet.
Bruce Springsteen -- "Tunnel of Love" (Columbia). These are not so much love songs as songs about love, and what a surprising subject it still can be. The sound is Woody Guthrie with production by Lieber & Stoller.
Steve Earle & The Dukes -- "Exit 0" (MCA). Bob Seger meets Merle Haggard in this Texas singer-songwriter who brings to life small-town characters pressured by external economics and internal dissatisfactions.
U2 -- "The Joshua Tree" (Island). Surprisingly subdued and literate for an album that established this Irish quartet as worldwide stars. The political, spiritual and romantic songs are linked by a common theme of yearning, and the music crackles with tension.
The Don Pullen-George Adams Quartet -- "Song Everlasting" (Blue Note). Pianist Pullen, saxophonist Adams and drummer Dannie Richmond are alumni of the Charles Mingus Band; this album of originals captures Mingus' inspired mix of gospel, blues, swing, bop and experimentation.
Stevie Wonder -- "Characters" (Motown). Wonder gets down to basics again with sizzling dance tracks, intoxicating keyboard harmonies and plain talk about lies, love and parties. His best album in seven years.
Rosanne Cash -- "King's Record Shop" (Columbia). Johnny's daughter confronts the dilemma of modern women seeking true love -- and self-respect -- with strong, honest songs. Plus she sings like the risen ghost of Patsy Cline.
X -- "See How We Are" (Elektra). This L.A. punk band makes the best album of its career. John Doe has never sung with more assurance nor written more straightforwardly.
Beausoleil -- "Bayou Boogie" (Rounder). Louisiana's best contemporary Cajun band has successfully incorporated zydeco influences on this, its most rhythmic and successful album yet. MARK JENKINS:
Dumptruck -- "For the Country" (Big Time). Spare, bittersweet but tuneful folk-rock worthy of its inspiration, late Big Star.
Embrace -- "Embrace" (Dischord). Powerful D.C. band's posthumous disc dynamically balances guitarist Mike Hampton's pop savvy with singer Ian McKaye's wary passion.
Go-Betweens -- "Tallulah" (Big Time). This Australian-expatriate quintet brings expanded pop-craft to its always literate songs.
Housemartins -- "The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death" (Elektra). Bouncy pop that, just beneath its glossy surface, is as angry as the Sex Pistols.
Hyaa! -- "Get Yer Hyaa-Hyaas Out!" (no label). Bracing, austere but infectious art-punk that only begins to tap this first-rate local trio's potential.
Tom Verlaine -- "Flash Light" (I.R.S.). Not the ex-Television guitarist's most consistent set of songs, but exactingly and exuberantly performed.
The Mekons -- "Honky Tonkin'" (Twintone). These punk-anarchists turned North Country-rockers go almost mainstream, and pull that off too.
The Smiths -- "Strangeways, Here We Come" (Sire). Morrissey's lyrics sometimes falter, but Johnny Marr's music and the performances -- including Morrissey's -- are unfailing.
Chris Stamey -- "It's Alright" (A&M). Gourmet pop from the ex-dBs polymath, a little fussy but exquisitely made.
That Petrol Emotion -- "Babble" (Polydor). In songs like "Big Decision," this mostly Irish quintet achieves an authoritative punk-funk meld.MIKE JOYCE:
Professor Longhair -- "House Party New Orleans Style: The Lost Sessions" (Rounder). Unlike so many posthumous releases, this one was well worth exhuming. An infectious mid-career look at Longhair's rumbaesque piano (and Zig Modeliste's propulsive drumming).
James Carr -- "At the Dark End of the Street" (Blue Side). Like the best of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Percy Sledge, Carr's work makes the efforts of many contemporary soul singers look anemic.
W. Fleming Brown -- "Little Rosewood Casket and other Songs of Joy" (Merrywang). Banjo Dancing's Stephen Wade produced this album: 14 songs performed by his late mentor and principal inspiration. It's hard to tell what rings out louder: Brown's pealing banjo or his imposing baritone voice.
John Hiatt -- "Bring the Family" (A&M). Until someone records one of his acoustic solo sets, we'll have to settle for this -- which is plenty good.
Hank Williams -- "The First Recordings" (Country Music Foundation). Culled from a variety of sources, these mid-'40s demos readily reveal Williams' raw but unmistakable promise as a songwriter.
Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets featuring Sam Myers -- "Sins" (Black Top). Blues vet Myers supplies the voice, harmonica and authority; Funderburgh the motion, economy and finesse.
"Bolling Green" John Cephas and "Harmonica Phil" Wiggins -- "Dog Days of August" (Flying Fish). Homegrown blues from a world-class guitar and harmonic duo just now getting some overdue recognition.
Sun Ra and His Arkestra -- "Reflections in Blue" (Polygram). Ra swings his space chariot low on this trek: down home blues, romp and stomp ensue.
Herbie Nichols -- "The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Herbie Nichols" (Mosaic). Mosaic is in the business of documenting jazz history, but it's hard to think of a more worthy subject than this sadly overlooked pianist.
Marian McPartland -- "Plays the Music of Billy Strayhorn" (Concord). A deeply affectionate jazz piano collection of some of Strayhorn's most enduring and beguiling tunes.