Saturday, January 13, 2018

Billboard Top Ten, January 14, 1989

As I have said before, I have a very powerful seasonal memory when it comes to music. When the weather turns a certain why I will remember times in the past just like it, and often the music I was listening to then. Today for some reason reminds me of the winter of 1989, when I was a seventh grader. In that spirit, I thought I would look at what was on the charts then. Now, on with the countdown!

10. Karyn White, "The Way You Love Me"

I had totally forgotten about this song. That's probably because its New Jack Swing groove sounds like a lot of hit songs from the era. I remember the music of the late 80s being a kind of nadir, but here is a taste of the decade to come, when R&B especially got a lot better. At the time I really liked this sound, I have to say.

9. Annie Lennox and Al Green, "Put A Little Love In Your Heart"

I remember liking this song a lot, but I was young and ignorant and had no clue 1. Who Annie Lennox and Al Green were and 2. That this was a cover version. At this time I was really digging sixties soul music because of a copy of the Big Chill soundtrack a friend had dubbed for me onto a blank cassette. While the sound of this song is totally 80s-ified with shimmering synths and gated snares, enough of its classic sixties melody survived for me to glom on to.

8. Boys Club, "I Remember Holding You"

Here's a song that has NOT stood the test of time. It's a George Michael rip filtered through an 80s production machine with maybe the last appearance of Sultry Sax at the top of the charts. The backing sounds like something out of the Muzak they used to play at the dentist. Awful.

7. Michael Jackson, "Smooth Criminal"

This song in some ways marks the end of the King of Pop's dominance of the 80s. It's also so obviously superior to everything else on the chart so far. It's a tough, hard-edged groove with a slightly sinister minor-key feel. It's in the same mode as "Bille Jean," in that last respect. Believe it or not, this is where the song peaked on the charts. Unfortunately it also has drums that are over-amplified and wooden, which seemed to be a requirement in late 80s pop.

6. The Bangles, "In Your Room"

Oh my God, a song with an actual backbeat! This song has a kind of New Wave bounce to it that sounds much more appropriate for 1982 than 1989, although the same awful production techniques are slathered over everything. It's not a great song by any means, but I'll take a well-crafted, bouncy rocker any time.

5. Def Leppard, "Armageddon It"

I didn't like Def Leppard then, I don't like them now. Speaking of 80s production techniques, their music on their Hysteria album, which was EVERYWHERE in my hometown sounded like heavy metal Kraftwerk without the human charm. We needed grunge so bad in 1989.

4. Taylor Dayne, "Don't Rush Me"

Taylor Dayne is an artist who had a ton of hit records in the weird interzone of the Reagan Dusk and the early days of the 90s. She was never a star like Madonna or Whitney Houston, but kept churning out chart toppers. The musical backing is very standard and unadventurous, but her voice has this tough, husky quality that I have always liked.

3. Poison, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn"

God I hate this band so much. Is there a band that represents the cultural bankruptcy of the late 80s better than Poison? They were the kings of processed cheese metal, but then expected us to take them seriously on this ballad. At the time I guess I liked the melody, though. I have a very clear memory of this song from the time. It's a dark, cold winter morning in shop class, and the teacher would let us listen to Sunny 108, which played mostly "softer" hits, and this was pretty much the only song that came on that morning that kids my age actually liked. When "Smells Like Teen Spirit" dropped I thought this garbage had been consigned to the dustbin of history, but all the people I grew up with who had terrible musical taste now turn out to get a nostalgia high by paying to see Bret Michaels in concert.

2. Phil Collins, "Two Hearts"

Nostalgia for sixties soul wasn't just about covers like "Put A Little Love In Your Heart." Phil Collins, the most inexplicable idol of the 80s, penned the lyrics, but the music was courtesy of Motown super-producers Holland-Dozier-Holland. Here they employ the same formula they used with the Supremes and Four Tops. The 80s production washes it clean of any grit, and Collins is far too reverential in his approach. He, like a lot of other people on this chart, was approaching the end of his relevance, and he didn't even know it.

1. Bobby Brown, "My Prerogative"

Here's the song that taught me the meaning of the word prerogative. It's got that New Jack Swing, but touches of early 80s Rick James electrofunk. It's a groover, built on a totally insistent riff that carried it to the tippy top of the charts. I am not sure who exactly is keeping Bobby Brown down that he has to insist on his prerogative, but it's still a banger nonetheless. Brown would also be a victim of the changing musical landscape of the nineties, and his last hit records would come a mere three years later, in 1992.

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