30 Years of Albums in My Wheelhouse: 1988

Some of the creative trends that began in 1987 continued the following year. While 1987 was a music year for the ages, 1988 will go down as a very good year, the vein of 1982 and 1983. 1988 did not have the abundance of classic albums of the previous year, but it saw the release of several essential albums. All of the trends that burst forth last year were the big commercial story of 1988.

Cowboy Junkies

In 1987, many sub-genres got their starts in 1987. While 1988, many of those very same sub-genres became big sellers on their own. For instance, gangsta rap had the seminal N.W.A, while neo-folk had Tracy Chapman. Guns N’ Roses, U2, Michael Jackson, George Michael, Paula Abdul and INXS all spread their success from 1987 into 1988. Seeing many of the sub-genres of rock music reaching their commercial zeniths was gratifying to see. Unfortunately, my lack of experience witnessing the bigger ebb and flow of tastes in popular music held me back since I thought this would last forever. In reality, these trends will have pretty much run out of steam by the end of 1989 and 1990.


I should have been able to recognize this slow evolution after going to see two of my Top 10 artists of all-time in concert that summer. First, my wife and I saw Daryl Hall & John Oates at Riverbend in Cincinnati. The biggest-selling duo of all time were re-uniting after a four-year hiatus during which the guys let go of most of their backing band and took a break from each other. When they got back together for the 1988 album Ooh Yeah and their big tour, I should have realized that their time was now over. Still, I held out hope. While their new band was outstanding in concert, their new material was a new low for them.

Paula Abdul (Getty Images)

The other artist we saw that summer was Prince on his 1988 Lovesexy Tour, promoting his new album of the same new as the tour. If you are familiar with Lovesexy, you may realize that Prince had lost none of his magic, only that he now was afforded the opportunity to record any type of music his talent led him toward. And, basically meant that Prince was rejecting the mass adoration of his talent and attempting to become an artist for the ages and not just the flavor of the month.

Tracy Chapman

While the music of both artists have stood the test of time, in both cases the artists basically pulled back from huge crowds in order to seek growth in their craft. Whereas we could contrast the actions of those two with what U2 began to do in 1988. In 1987, U2 stood on the mountain top of the artists with what appeared to be the pinnacle of their success. Immediately, the band first searched for inspiration by incorporating the tradition roots of rock music found all over the USA while attempting to tinker with their trademark sound as documented on the Rattle and Hum soundtrack album and corresponding film of the same name. At times, this experiment was successful (“Desire” comes immediately to mind) and both messy (their cover of “Helter Skelter” or their gospel reading of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”). The experiment, while both neither successful nor permanent, still made for a compelling listen, if only to hear our heroes struggling with their success. The great thing is that the band will come out on the other hand with their struggle in another three years.

Public Enemy

In all honesty, I had finally come to grips with the fact that nothing in rock and roll is permanent, neither its current stars nor its current sounds. As we near the end of the Eighties we have witnessed the following musical trends all bursting into prominence only to fade unto whence it came. It happened to punk, disco, new wave, glam rock, hair metal, thrash metal, quiet storm R&B, East Coast rap, power pop, dance pop, funk punk, college rock, neo-folk and so many others. And over the next few years we will witness the rise and fall of grunge and the whole alternative nation, gangsta rap, grunge, nu metal, industrial rock, new jack swing, new country, boy bands and the like that our collective heads will begin to spin. And there will continue to be new sounds to replace the old ones.


The big trend will be how we listen to our music. During the Seventies, people listened to their music on the radio, vinyl albums, 8-Track tapes, reel-to-reel tapes and cassette tapes. Then, the Eighties saw cassettes overtaking albums in sales then both losing out to the Compact Disc, or CD. By the end of the Nineties, the internet will push mp3s to the forefront, as well as players like the iPod. Today, generally, the population streams the music, along with most everything else from films to television shows. Yet, quietly, the turntable and vinyl album have been gaining traction with the music purists who believe this analog method still gives the listener the purest sound. What most do not realize is that as Gen X gets older, their collective eyesight diminishes, leaving the bigger album much better for them to read the liner notes and see the tracklisting on the back cover.

Still, I will contend that 1988 was a pretty solid year for music, and this countdown is the proof.

50. The Style Council – Confessions of a Pop Group

49. Robert Plant – Now and Zen

48. Melissa Etheridge – Melissa Etheridge

47. Cheap Trick – Lap of Luxury

46. Lita Ford – Lita

45. They Might Be Giants – Lincoln

44. Dinosaur Jr. – Bug

43. Keith Richards – Talk Is Cheap

42. Anita Baker – Giving You the Best That I Got

41. DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince – He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper

40. The Pogues – If I Should Fall from Grace with God

39. Pet Shop Boys – Introspective

38. The Jungle Brothers – Straight Out the Jungle

37. Morrissey – Viva Hate

36. Pixies – Surfer Rosa

35. My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything

34. EPMD – Strictly Business

33. Sade – Stronger Than Pride

32. The Sugarcubes – Life’s Too Good

31. Talking Heads – Naked

30. Slick Rick – The Great Adventures of Slick Rick

29. Prince – Lovesexy

28.Traveling Wilburys – Traveling Wilburys, Volume 1

27. Paula Abdul – Forever Your Girl

26. Talk Talk – The Spirit of Eden

25. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – Up Your Alley

24. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Tender Prey

23. Ice-T – Power

22. Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers – Conscious Party

21. Salt-N-Pepa – A Salt with a Deadly Pepa

20. Taylor Dayne – Tell It to My Heart

19. Living Colour – Vivid

18. Van Halen – OU812

17. Eric B. & Rakim – Follow the Leader

16. Boogie Down Productions – By All Means Necessary

15. Jeff Healey Band – See the Light

14. Queensrÿche – Operation: Mindcrime

13. Siouxsie & the Banshees – Peepshow

12. The Church – Starfish

11. Metallica – …And Justice for All

10. U2 – Rattle and Hum

9. Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking

8. Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

7. Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Sessions

6. R.E.M. – Green

5. Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel

4. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation

3. N.W.A – Straight Outta Compton

2. The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues

1. Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman

Author: ifmyalbumscouldtalk

I am just a long-time music fan who used to be a high school science teacher and a varsity coach of several high school athletic teams. Before that, I worked as a medical technologist at three hospitals in their labs, mainly as a microbiologist. I am retired/disabled (Failed Back Surgery Syndrome), and this is my attempt to remain a human. Additionally, I am a serious vinyl aficionado, with a CD addiction and a love of reading about rock history. Finally, I am a fan of Prince, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, R.E.M., Hall & Oates, Springsteen, Paul Weller & his bands and Power Pop music.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: