Although 1989 represented the last year of the Eighties, the decade was not going out quietly as far as music was concerned. The year continued down that anything goes motif that started the decade, especially where technology was concerned. The bass was getting deeper on all genre’s records. The samples were coming from all sources, and everyone was using them. And, between-track skits were being used on hip hop albums. Everything was getting set up for the Nineties.
We began to see alternative rock and hip hop make a bigger presence on the pop charts. Hair metal was running out of steam, while a brilliant fusion of rap and metal began to raise its head from the underground. Admittedly, pop music was kind of bland, but it was the underground that was shaking things up, much like a decade ago.
At this time, a couple of life changes were happening all at once. First, I started my journey to become a teacher as I took my first education course. Of course, at the same time, my younger son was born, so I was going to class two nights a week with a beeper (remember those?) in case my wife went into labor during class, which did not happen. Additionally, I was back to working at the original hospital in Oxford, at least this time on day shift and in the microbiology department predominantly. Unfortunately, our time in Oxford was limited as Ball State offered a faster method to a teaching license than Miami of Ohio did. That meant we would be moving in 1990. At least I had a year and a half left with a cutting edge radio station to keep me abreast of what was happening in music. After we moved back to Indiana, all of that would end.
So, what was the good music of 1989? Check it out.
Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989). I remember the students at Miami University buzzing at the record store in town about the release of the new Beastie Boys album. Excitement was nearly as high as it was back in 1986 when the live Springsteen box set was released. But, generally speaking, the public was not ready for this album. Most were expecting another dose of Licensed to Ill, but we ended up with the funky, almost psychedelic, musical collage of left field samples and non-bratty rhymes that left many unable to comprehend what had hit them. In retrospect, this album is when the Beasties became respected and influential hip hop artists for years to come. To took a decade for the rap world to catch up.
Bob Mould – Workbook (1989). After changing the rock world with his original band Hüsker Dü, Mould went solo, unplugged the guitars and recorded an urgent and immaculate acoustically-based album simply to reclaim his artistic vision. It was jarring to hear it for the first time, but it was a brilliant career move. It proved that you really didn’t have to pummel your listener into submission through the music. Mould had learned to let the lyrics breathe.
Bonnie Raitt – Nick of Time (1989). It seems that 1989 was a year of redemption for musicians. One of the more unexpected comebacks of the year was Ms. Raitt’s. This blues/rock album was a simple delightful throwback album to a more naive moment in rock history. And being released at a time when technology seemed to matter most, this album was a stark contrast to what was popular at the time. This album just proves that rock will sell just at the moment you don’t think it ever will.
De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising (1989). Think about rap music at the time for a moment. In 1989, everything in rap was about the beats per minute, the more the better. Think of Run-D.M.C. and Public Enemy. Now, along comes this coterie of rappers and DJs with a much different vision, calling their collective Native Tongues. They seemed to follow Rakim’s jazz-influenced delivery style, but took it a step further by searching for unusual sources for their samples and breaks. From this collection of hip hop misfits, first was De La Soul. Not only were they sampling Steely Dan, Hall & Oates and other soft rock artists, they were setting the music up like jazz artists with a much more laidback sound. Plus, the began to stretch their concepts out on the album with little skits in between the songs. It was a stunning divergent direction in hip hop. Now, anything was possible.
Faith No More – The Real Thing (1989). I will always remember where I was when I first heard “Epic.” I was at home, and immediately my then five-year-old older son and I were taken with the song. It sounded like nothing else before. And the album was much more diverse than I had a right to expect. FNM was no rap-metal band. No, these guys LOVED all kinds of music, and it showed on this album. This was alternative music for everyone.
Fugazi – Repeater (1989). Just when you think that punk had died, along comes the first band of a new generation of punks. For me, it was heartening to know that younger people (they are my age!) were still discovering the genre and wanting to make that lifestyle choice. Plus, at the height of greed is good yuppiedom, it was reassuring to hear a band sound off a strong disdain for capitalism. And, I could respect that.
Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989). This is a very important album. Social commentary was back in dance music thanks to Janet. Rhythm Nation is as militant in social defiance as anything by Public Enemy but dressed down by the Jam/Lewis version of the Minneapolis sound. Janet was saying she was black and proud and saying it with volume and conviction. I have often said this was the album of 1989.
Jungle Brothers – Done by Forces of Nature (1989). The other important rap album by a member of the Afrocentric Native Tongues collective, this album is just as landmark as De La Soul’s album. While De La Soul were embracing their inner hippie Black Panther, Jungle Brothers displaying their intellectualism with both their music and lyrics. This is something of a forgotten classic.
Lenny Kravitz – Let Love Rule (1989). Kravitz has always gotten the reputation of being more of an imitator than a innovator. But, I think that BS! Sure, you can play pick out the influence in many of these songs, but how can you go wrong with this list of influences: John Lennon, Prince, Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, just to list a few. For crying out loud! This is Gen X music by a Gen X artist. At least he was making interesting music instead of becoming yet another hair metal artist. Lenny should be held up as an artist and never maligned again.
Love and Rockets – Love and Rockets (1989). In the early Eighties in the UK, there were a group of artists who were labeled as Goth rock. One band in particular was Bauhaus, who had alternative hits with “Bella Lugosi’s Dead” and their take on the Bowie classic “Ziggy Stardust.” Later, the band splintered into singer Peter Murphy’s solo career and the rest of the band rechristened themselves as Love and Rockets. Love and Rockets took the darkness of Bauhaus and gave it a pop/rock makeover by adding touches of psychedelia, without ever losing its edginess. The band even scored a #3 hit in the US with the sensual “So Alive.”
Madonna – Like a Prayer (1989). So what you want about her, Madonna is one of the consequential artists of the Eighties, and this album represents the exclamation point on that statement. In six years, the woman had evolved from dance queen/trash artiste to pop superstar to major voice with this album. Yes, she made the provocative racial statement with the title song’s video, stirring up controversy. But, she continued the artistic makeover by creating the “stay-true-to-yourself” anthem in “Express Yourself” and standing toe-to-toe with Prince on the overlooked masterpiece “Love Song.” This album stands alongside Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 as the albums of the year.
That was a slew of great albums! Can’t wait for Day 2! Peace.