So, it’s time for 1990, the year in which we left the friendly confines of Oxford, Ohio, for the more familiar environment of Muncie, Indiana. Since I could not immediately take advantage of tuition reimbursement from my new employer, the former St. John’s Health System until I had been there one year, and was working second shift as the “senior tech” (entry-level management, I guess) at the lab in which I was trained, I did some volunteer work at the PBS radio station at Ball State that is located in the David Letterman Building. Within a couple of months getting my radio voice back, thanks to a few PSAs between movements of Brahms and reacquainting myself to some production work and interviews, I had a job offer from a local radio station as a weekend morning on-air personality. At the very same time, I had a job offer from my lab to work days, predominantly in microbiology. I weighed my options and went for the lab job, since that was much more money than in radio. Plus, the lab worked my schedule around my school scheduling when my year was up. Needless to say, 1990 was a year of upheavals and stress for a young family.
But, I survived. Unfortunately, once we were back in Muncie, I no longer had a terrific radio station playing edgy music nor did I have access to a great record store. Add to that situation that retail was no longer stocking vinyl and that forced me to finally begin buying CDs. In theory, I should have loved CDs. First, they were more convenient and portable. If that were a true selling point to me, then I would have gone to cassettes a decade ago. Next, the sound was supposedly better. Sure, you didn’t have the “pops and cracks” on an album, but albums didn’t skip if randomly if the laser in the CD player got funky or out of alignment. Plus, those CDs were not really as indestructible as they were originally touted to be. They were actually cheap pieces of crap with some music encoded. Then, there was the fact that artists now felt the necessity to add more music to their albums just to take up the extra data space on those plastic discs. Now, albums were longer, lengthened by crap filler songs (or, my favorite marketing tool, the secretly added song at the end of the disc that was preceded by a full ten minutes of silence just to get to it) and sounded flat and sterile. Yet, technology prevailed, mainly because the profit margins were so large on this medium.
Okay, so I gave in to the new technology, put away the albums and built up my collection. I guess this whole set of changes dampened my music spirit a bit. But, I was a husband and a father, and eventually a student again, so my energies were shifting to my new paradigm.
Yet, there was some fantastic music released in 1990, and let’s get this list going again!
Deee-Lite – World Clique (1990). By 1990, the music world was beginning to become dominated by the late-Boomers and early-Gen X-ers, which meant the sounds were foreign to the traditional radio listeners. During a time of sterile-sounding pop/dance singers such as Paula Abdul and Cathy Dennis, along comes a trio of club rats hellbent on fusing the dance beats in the clubs with some touches of House music and flourishes of rap and alt. rock to create an exciting moment in time in the form of Deee-Lite. This album’s reputation rests squarely on the shoulders of their eternally exuberant single “Groove Is in the Heart.” This album still smells like the ecstasy of its time, and that’s a good thing.
Depeche Mode – Violator (1990). Synthpop gods Depeche Mode finally broke through commercially with this album that plays more like a great rock album than a synthpop album. Kudos must go to the guys for finally blending all their disparate interests into one compelling artistic standing. Of course, this album contains “Personal Jesus,” so I simply plant my javelin in defiance.
Digital Underground – Sex Packets (1990). This Oakland-based posse of rappers, DJs and sons of Parliament/Funkadelic grabbed the fancy of hip hop fans everywhere. They were one of the pioneers to popularize the use of P.Funk samples. Lyrically, they were still part of the party scene of the Eighties with their silly tales of getting busy in fast food restaurant bathroom (“The Humpty Dance”), but DU did introduce us to a little-known rapper by the name of Tupac.
George Michael – Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 (1990). It get it! George was tired of being marketed as a sex symbol to teenage girls. Hell, the man was gay during a time when it was still commercial suicide to be gay. Plus, the man was so obviously talented that he wanted his music to be heard without his ass being the selling-point of his videos. That’s why he blew up his career, but, man, if you just give this album a chance, you can tell Mr. Michael was a much deeper artist than the other teen heartthrobs of the day. This album is a major artistic statement by a major talent.
Happy Mondays – Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches (1990). Wait a second Keller! Who the hell are Happy Mondays? Well, they were a little British band who put out this great mix of swirling Sixties-styled guitars (think The Smiths and The Stone Roses) who melded this rock sound to the rave beats that was sweeping across the nation at the time. In a weird way, they were the UK version of Deee-Lite, but it made for a compelling mix.
Ice Cube – AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990). In N.W.A, Cube’s lyrics of the street gave Dr. Dre’s music the vitality that made the group so compelling. So, big things were expected from him when word got out that he went solo. And, man, did he ever deliver a masterpiece in gangsta rap, or music of any kind. This stuff is scary, intimidating, but full of empathy for his characters and their situations. The sad part is that the Compton is still suffering from the very same indignities 30 years later.
Jane’s Addiction – Ritual de lo Habitual (1990). Sadly, this became the last album from one of the godfathers of alt.rock. But, they sure went out with a bang. Oh, do I have stories concerning this album, but they will remain untold in this forum. Still, “Been Caught Stealing” remains a landmark single.
Jellyfish – Bellybutton (1990). I am an idiot! I had a chance to purchase this album on vinyl in 1990 and passed! I just did not have the money to spare at the time. $10! I did NOT have $10! Can you believe it?!?! Anyway, this is the definitive album of the merging of all of my favorite sounds – Squeeze, Rundgren, Queen, ELO, Costello, etc. – into one glorious album. Guess what?! I have the damn thing on CD, but I want it on vinyl. This album is crying to be played on vinyl just to hear all the beautiful sonic details these guys seemed to lovingly labored to include. This is a magnificent pop/rock album that would have made Brian Wilson proud to have made. Jellyfish are the great lost band of the Nineties!
LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out (1990). “Don’t call it a ‘comeback!'” What an opening line! LL, who seemed to have gone artistically gone adrift on his post-debut albums, came out roaring on this album and never let up. This was a major artistic statement by a legendary rapper. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame needs to listen to this album immediately to remember what a fantastic artist LL was. Put him in the Hall now!
Well, let’s call this a wrap on Day 1! Peace.