Today is a bittersweet blog as I finally bid farewell to the music of the Eighties. And although there is fantastic music to come, nothing compares to a person’s music from their teens and twenties. Those were the visceral years, while the coming years become less emotional and more academic in a sense.
Let’s raise a glass of your preferred beverage and toast the music of the Eighties.
Mötley Crüe – Dr. Feelgood (1989). These guys nearly partied themselves into oblivion, yet regrouped to create their finest artistic statement. Although in hindsight, this album is the epithet on the whole glam rock genre, some of their production values remain in vogue to this day, namely that strong, loud bass, although no one will ever confuse Nikki Sixx with being one of the greatest bassists ever. Still, rock music had never turned the bass to 11, though Spinal Tap tried in jest.
Neneh Cherry – Raw like Sushi (1989). Cherry made quite a splash in 1989 by taking cues from dance, pop, hip hop and alternative music to forge a unique sound. Her sole hit, “Buffalo Stance,” sampled Malcolm McLaren’s off-kilter sample-heavy “Buffalo Gals,” proving this daughter of a jazz musician had chops of her own.
Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine (1989). My older son claims that he remembers me cranking “Head like a Hole” when it came on the radio with him in the car. Whether that happened or was the wishful thinking of a four-year-old, Nine Inch Nails literally sounded like nothing of its time. Still, their sound perfectly suited the ending of the Eighties as they captured everything about the Eighties. Trent Reznor brought industrial music to the forefront.
Paul McCartney – Flowers in the Dirt (1989). Let me be frank. Paul McCartney had recorded some pretty crappy music throughout the Eighties. Perhaps the greatest move he made was spending some time collaborating with Elvis Costello on some music. Unfortunately, the duo never released a full album of that music, the act did inspire both artists to record some pretty good music. Paul, in particular, revived his career with this stellar album, even his moment to cause a major commotion had passed. This album remains his last great one.
Pixies – Doolittle (1989). Definitely, this album has my vote for visionary album of the year. It has been so influential that we still have not fully escaped the sonic revelations found on it. The album’s power continues to reveal itself with every listen. This turned out to be the sound of the Nineties. I cannot praise this album nearly enough.
Soul II Soul – Club Classics Vol. One (1989). For a very brief moment in time, Soul II Soul were poised to be the saviors of club music. Their laidback beats coupled with touches of world music were setting the dance floors aflame. Unfortunately, this studio creation was one of those here today, gone tomorrow types. But, for one glorious moment, they set the world afire.
Stevie Ray Vaughan – In Step (1989). After his brilliant debut in 1983, SVR started going through the motions on his albums. Much of this could be blamed on substance abuse. Now, Vaughan was back, clean and focused. And, boy, did he ever deliver on his immense talent, with Hendrixian solos and focused songwriting, the world was ready for his take on blues rock. Unfortunately, in less than a year, he would be taken away from us at the tender age of 29 in that fateful helicopter crash after a transcendent performance with some of the greatest blues guitarists of all-time, including Eric Clapton, Robert Cray and Vaughan’s brother Jimmie. Oh, what could have been.
The B-52’s – Cosmic Thing (1989). While Bonnie Raitt had the most unlikely comeback of 1989, she was not the only artist to stake claim to that title. Re-enter The B-52’s. Since the band’s ground-shaking 1979 debut, The B-52’s had something of a rollercoaster career ride going. After the dizzying heights at the beginning of the career, the band was shaken to its core when its guitarist, Ricky Wilson, unexpectedly died from complications due to AIDS. Instead of packing it all in, drummer Keith Strickland learned to play with Ricky’s unique manner while the band hooked up with producer Nile Rodgers to create another dance classic, “Love Shack.” It was a beautiful statement of resilience made by these new wave pioneers.
The Cure – Disintegration (1989). As the Eighties were ending, one quintessential Eighties band, The Cure, created it greatest album and was rewarded with the band’s first Top 10 single in “Lovesong.” From start to finish, this album is pure Cure, albeit with a little AOR sheen. The public simply caught up with The Cure.
The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989). Sometimes, I never understand why a band that is so huge in the UK will barely make a dent on the US charts, such as The Smiths. It seems that this happened all over again with The Stone Roses. During 1989, The Roses were making a huge splash across the Atlantic yet received only a cursory listen here in the States. In retrospect, The Roses were the obvious next step in the development of Britpop in the Nineties that began with The Kinks and ran through glam rock, The Jam and The Smiths. The Stone Roses’ debut album is stuffed with their classic singles along with some more tasty cuts. Unfortunately, the band fractured under the weight of their own success like a balloon full of air and let go before being tied up. Still, they left this absolute classic of swirling guitars, Sixties-influenced harmonies and light dance beats for a timeless subtle dance feel to their rocking sound. Everything was in place for Primal Scream to take the sound a step further before the whole Britpop phenomenon exploded.
Tom Petty – Full Moon Fever (1989). For this Tom Petty fan, this album represents when Petty fully transitioned into something of a new era Neil Young. You just knew you were going to get terrific sounds with profound lyrics about what young people who were trying to grow up were thinking. Unfortunately for me, Tom’s days of being the young rocker were over now. Maybe I was not ready to face this moment with Tom, still he created a very profound album that continues to resonate through time. Although I have grown to love this album, I remember being conflicted at the loss of those great energetic songs of optimistic youth. Don’t get me wrong, I love the album! I just was not ready to give up my youth. However, as an older man, I can more fully appreciate the themes of this album, even though I prefer earlier and later albums to this one. I guess that’s the contrarian in me.
And, with that, I wrap up the Eighties on my list. I will always be passionate and emotional when it comes to the music of my youth. But, I am excited to forge forward toward the present. And, to all my former students, we are entering your wheelhouse soon. Peace.