Originally posted January 9, 2008
At last we reach 1989, the year that I’ve long envisioned as the outer limit for these musical glances backward. Why stop there? Perhaps because music released after that might be too recent for me to have any perspective on it. After all, it doesn’t seem all that long ago that my calendar was telling me we were heading into the Nineties.
But a moment’s reflection tells me that it truly has been nineteen years since I woke up one January morning in Minot, North Dakota, and realized that two years was long enough to spend among strangers on the prairie. They’d been friendly strangers for the most part, but they were strangers nevertheless. I began preparing a summertime exit, either to Columbia, Missouri, or to the Twin Cities. (It wound up being the latter.)
That gap of nineteen years is a longer span than it felt like as it passed, and that tells me that time might allow me some perspective on the music of the 1990s after all. So I will likely extend this series of posts and mixes into that decade, albeit gingerly. Still, the focal point of this blog will remain the 1960s and 1970s simply because that’s where my musical heart lies.
So what was happening in 1989?
As related here nearly a year ago, two trips to the weekend flea market at the State Fair Grounds in Minot turned me from a casual buyer of old records into a collector and – by default – a researcher. Spurred by that, and by a relatively brief romance with a woman whose love for music approached mine, my record collection had grown accordingly. I’d brought just more than 200 LPs with me when I came to Minot in August of 1987; when I left there the first day of July 1989, I took 586 records with me.
I’d noticed in the past six months, though, that LPs were disappearing from retail shelves. There were maybe three places where I shopped for records in Minot, and by the spring of 1989, they were no longer bringing in much new vinyl, and the area of each store devoted to records was dwindling in favor of floor space for CDs. But there were a couple of used record stores in Minot, and there were many of them in the Twin Cities, which is where I decided to plant myself come July of 1989.
So what were we listening to that year? A look at the No. 1 songs for the year makes it abundantly clear that I was not listening much to what was popular. The records that reached the top of the Cash Box singles chart in 1989 were:
“Don’t Rush Me” by Taylor Dayne
“When I’m With You” by Sheriff
“Straight Up” by Paula Abdul
“Lost In Your Eyes” by Debbie Gibson
“The Living Years” by Mike + the Mechanics
“Eternal Flame” by the Bangles
“Girl You Know It’s True” by Milli Vanilli
“She Drives Me Crazy” by the Fine Young Cannibals
“Like A Prayer” by Madonna
“I’ll Be There For You” by Bon Jovi
“Real Love” by Jody Watley
“Rock On” by Michael Damian
“Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler
“Satisfied” by Richard Marx
“Good Thing” by Fine Young Cannibals
“Express Yourself” by Madonna
“Batdance” by Prince
“Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx
“Cold Hearted” by Paula Abdul
“Don’t Wanna Lose You” by Gloria Estefan
“Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” by Milli Vanilli
“Cherish” by Madonna
“Miss You Much” by Janet Jackson
“Sowing The Seeds Of Love” by Tears For Fears
“Listen To Your Heart” by Roxette
“When I See You Smile” by Bad English
“Blame It On The Rain” by Milli Vanilli
“(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me” by Paula Abdul
“We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel
“Another Day In Paradise” by Phil Collins
That’s thirty songs at No. 1 in a calendar year. That wasn’t quite a record: Thirty-five songs hit the top spot (according to Billboard) in both 1974 and 1975. Cash Box shows thirty-two songs at No. 1 in 1986 and 1988. That puts 1989’s thirty No. 1 songs in fifth place among the thirty-five years since Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” reached the top spot and provided a (somewhat artificial) starting point for the rock era.
But if thirty records at No. 1 wasn’t the largest total ever, it was nevertheless a lot. And to me, it was one more indication of the fragmentation of the music audience that continues to this day. More styles meant more popular performers, which eventually meant more radio formats, each with a smaller audience. I mean, my friends and I were still listening to radio and to a lot of recorded music, whether that was LP, CD or tape. But for the most part, the songs listed above were not what I was listening to. (Some, like the tracks by Mike + the Mechanics and Billy Joel, were inescapable, no matter what format one listened to.) During the nine or so months that I lived in Anoka – north of Minneapolis – I began to listen to Cities 97, a Minneapolis radio station that still plays a splendid mix of old and new music. But it’s not Top 40.
So what did 1989 sound like at my house? Take a listen:
A Baker’s Dozen from 1989
“The Ballad of Hollis Brown” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon
“Too Soon To Tell” by Bonnie Raitt from Nick of Time
“Storms” by Nanci Griffith from Storms
“Trouble in Paradise” by Bruce Springsteen, at Soundworks West, Los Angeles, Dec. 1
“No Alibis” by Eric Clapton from Journeyman
“Shooting Star” by Bob Dylan from Oh Mercy
“I’d Love To Write Another Song” by Van Morrison from Avalon Sunset
“Rhythm of the Saints” by Paul Simon from Rhythm of the Saints
“Commonplace Streets” by the Jayhawks from Blue Earth
“Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls from Indigo Girls
“Shangri-La” by Don Henley from The End of the Innocence
“Where the Hawkwind Kills” by Daniel Lanois from Acadie
“Tequila Quicksand” by Alex Taylor from Voodoo in Me
A few notes:
The Neville Brothers track is one of two Dylan covers on Yellow Moon – the other is “With God On Our Side” – and both add some depth to an album that stands up well to repeated listening, even nineteen years later. Other highlights of the album – the first the Nevilles recorded for A&M after more than a decade of bouncing from label to label – include their take on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Sister Rosa,” a tribute to civil rights hero Rosa Parks that takes hip-hop into the Louisiana swamp.
“Trouble in Paradise” comes from Tracks, the box set of previously unreleased material put out by Springsteen in 1998. Its 1989 recording date places it squarely between 1987’s Tunnel of Love and the pair of albums he released in 1992, Human Touch and Lucky Town. To me, “Trouble” could easily have been an outtake from Tunnel of Love, as it sounds as if it comes from much more near the heart than did any of the songs on the 1992 albums.
Bob Dylan has strayed from and returned to form time and again throughout his recording career. I think Oh Mercy is the best of all the albums that were greeted with one variation or another of “Dylan is back!” Working for the first time with producer Daniel Lanois (the pair of them would cop the Grammy for Album of the Year with Time Out Of Mind in 1997), Dylan put together a solid set of songs and performances for the first time in a long time, maybe since Desire in 1976. “Shooting Star,” the album’s closer, ranks among Dylan’s best songs of love gone awry.
The Jayhawks came out of Minneapolis with their hard-to-find – only a few thousand copies were ever pressed – self-titled debut in 1986, playing a mixture of rock, alternative rock and country rock that sounded like very little else being issued at the time. Blue Earth, the group’s second album, was basically a collection of demos given a little bit of tweaking in the studio. It gave listeners an idea of what the Jayhawks were about, but it wasn’t until 1992’s Hollywood Town Hall that the ’Hawks hit their marks. Still, Blue Earth is worth a listen.
One afternoon in August 1989, I was lingering over a cup of coffee in a restaurant in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina, looking at the LPs I’d just scored at a nearby used record store. As I glanced over Roxy Music’s Avalon, I heard the college girls in the booth behind me talking about a new group they’d heard at someone’s home the night before, a duo with the odd name of the Indigo Girls. I jotted the name down, paid for my coffee and went back to the record store, where I found Indigo Girls on vinyl. Ever since, I’ve bought most of what the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have recorded, and I’d like to thank those long-ago college girls for the tip.