VARIOUS ARTISTS. "Dirty Dancing" sound track. RCA. The sleeper smash of the season is an intriguing, satisfying mix of old and new hits. Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes' well-crafted but plodding "(I've Had) The Time of my Life" is the front-runner to win the Oscar next April, but the real delights here are golden oldies like "Be My Baby" and "Love Is Strange." (Paul Grein) 2. * * * MICHAEL JACKSON, "Bad," Epic. Jackson turns in two supremely relaxed performances on an album whose consistency, sureness and scaled-down intentions make it a respectable successor to "Thriller." The LP's retreat from "Thriller's" ambition is a letdown, but it's understandable. All in all, "Bad" is more reminiscent of "Off the Wall's" uniform strength than "Thriller's" peaks and valleys. (Richard Cromelin) 3. * * 1/2 WHITESNAKE, "Whitesnake," Geffen. An armload of songs with anthem-like lyrics, no-frills guitar solos, a rhythm section carved in granite and nary a nod to pop crossover. In keeping things basic, the band occasionally leans heavily on the past, but David Coverdale is in fine voice, helping to make the LP everything it strives to be: a completely unapologetic heavy-metal record. (Sharon Liveten) 4. * * 1/2 PINK FLOYD, "A Momentary Lapse of Reason," Columbia. David Gilmour is in the driver's seat now, and this album more often resembles a Gilmour solo LP than a Floyd record. Either way, it beats the heck out of the last Floyd disc-there's far less creepy verbal venom, and more of Gilmour's fiery, piercing, almost metallic guitar lines. (Duncan Strauss) 5. * * * GEORGE MICHAEL, "Faith," Columbia. The songs on Michael's first solo album are more grown-up in tone than his Wham! hits, and one of the major weighty matters on his mind is sex. Michael has a take on life that isn't cliche-ridden or predictable, and he can sound like a modern-day, soul-weaned pop star on one cut and a suave '40s songsmith on another. (Connie Johnson) 6. * * * * BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, "Tunnel of Love," Columbia. This homage to the human sprit is a remarkable combination of "Jersey Girl's" unbending romanticism and Nebraska's stark, cold-sweat anxiety. These simple songs with simple arrangements remind us, in an uncommonly affecting way, about the precious yet precarious nature of love in these times. (Robert Hilburn) 7. * * 1/2 JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP, "The Lonesome Jubilee," PolyGram. With its country flavoring, this is Mellencamp's most terrific-sounding record ever. But Mellencamp is a man on a mission-he wants to string together as many anecdotes about economic-cum-spiritual oppression as possible, but none of the characters comes to life within the song. They're loser icons, used just long enough to impress a point. (Chris Willman) 8. * * 1/2 DEF LEPPARD, "Hysteria," PolyGram. This sprawling, hourlong package has something for everyone of the head-banging persuasion. It's like a 12-song sampler of popular metal styles, past and present. No one's going to confuse Leppard's lyrics with literature, but many songs do possess a cinematic quality-short sound tracks in search of videos. (D. S.) 9. * * * * STING, " . . . Nothing Like the Sun," A&M. Sting's second solo album burns with real emotion, though its musical veneer is once again quite cool. It sounds like he actually has a heart, full of romantic fear and trepidation, no less. With compelling jazzy-funky grooves, "Sun" is noir through and through, but a curiously warm noir. (C. W.) 10. * * WHITNEY HOUSTON, "Whitney," Arista. For all its commercial sheen, Houston's second album does precious little to define the singer's vision. She glides through a number of styles without telling us much about who she is or making us feel she is the least bit irreplaceable. Most of the material adds up to a sampler of today's adult-contemporary styles that suggests formula at work. (R. H.) 11. * * AEROSMITH, "Permanent Vacation," Geffen. Once one of the all-time great muscular boogie bands, Aerosmith has gone soft. All the old rawness and freshness have been squeezed out of these fine-tuned tunes. The album is full of perky, somewhat quirky up-tempo pop-rock with all sorts of commercial trimmings tacked on. (Dennis Hunt) 12. * * * * U2, "The Joshua Tree," Island. The music is more tailored and assured, the lyrics are more consistently focused and eloquently designed than in past albums, and Bono Hewson's singing underscores the band's expressions of disillusionment and hope with new-found power and passion. The LP confirms that U2 is what the Rolling Stones ceased being years ago-the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world. (R. H.) 13. * * 1/2 TIFFANY. "Tiffany" MCA. The most successful of the new crop of teen pop stars sounds like a young Stevie Nicks singing in front of a small army of synthesizers and drum machines. Her bouncy update of "I Think We're Alone Now" hit No. 1, but some of the new material falls flat. (P. G.) 14. * * 1/2 INXS, "Kick," Atco.