1989- not the best or my favorite musical year of the 80’s, but damn good. In fact you could put its top 5 albums up against the top 5 or any year in the last 25 years and it just might win: Pixies “Doolittle”, Stone Roses “Stone Roses”, Beastie Boys “Paul’s Boutique”, Cure “Disintegration” & De La Soul “3 Feet High and Rising”. That’s nothing to sneeze at- all 5 are stone cold classics. After those five the great albums of 1989 thin out quickly but there is still plenty of great tracks and very good, if flawed, albums to explore. Half of ’89 took place during my junior year of high school and half in my senior year so it was a formative year for me to say the least. My formerly closed metal (and classic rock) mind had opened up considerably. I was listening to a ton of rap at the time and becoming increasingly interested in alternative music- then usually referred to in my parts as progressive music or college rock. And I had opened back up my ears to pop music again after a few years of running as far as I could from it.
The late 80’s/early 90’s is often referred to as the golden age of rap, and though 1988 usually gets tagged as the peak year, ’89 doesn’t disappoint either. Outside of the groundbreaking, genre expanding and flat-out revolutionary albums by De La Soul & the Beastie Boys, there was the outstanding Public Enemy single “Fight the Power” from the provocative and controversial Spike Lee film “Do the Right Thing”, the anti-PMRC screed “Freedom Of Speech” by Ice T, the ultra-smooth Big Daddy Kane’s second, and best, album “It’s A Big Daddy Thing” & the debut from one of the best early female rapper Queen Latifah, who would later go on to become a movie star as well as a musical star outside of the rap genre. Important underground rapper like EPMD, Chill Rob G, the D.O.C., Jungle Brothers & Gang Starr also put out important, early releases. Rap music was starting to see large crossover potential with huge pop rap hits by Young MC (Bust A Move), Tone Loc (Wild Thing & Funky Cold Medina) & Biz Markie (Just a Friend) blazing up the charts. LL Cool J continued his run of hits with his third album “Walking With a Panther”, which was trashed a bit by the critics but still managed to generate some great songs. Many of New York City’s gathered together to record and perform “Self-Destruction”, a plea to end black on black violence, which would be the antithesis of the nihilistic gangsta-rap just starting to bubble to the surface. Miami’s 2 Live Crew released their most recognized album “As Nasty As They Wanna Be”, then the most profane rap music ever put on wax. They even had a big crossover hit with a cleaned up version of “Me So Horny”.
Though it wouldn’t become a full on revolution for a few years the seeds of the alt-rock explosion were being planted in the late 80’s. College rock bands like the Smithereens, Throwing Muses, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, the Replacements, the Hoodoo Gurus & Dramarama had been toiling away for most of the decade building their following little by little. All had hit songs in ’89- some were just college hits, but others like “A Girl Like You” by the Smithereens crossed over to the pop charts. Massachusetts band the Pixies were one of the biggest of the bunch. They had already amassed a following with the previous year’s “Surfer Rosa”, but “Doolittle”, in my opinion their very best album, took the band to another level. They were hugely influential on a slew of 90’s band and would unfortunately break up in ’91 right as they were primed for stardom. Though it wasn’t known as such at the time, Seattle’s grunge movement was also starting to bubble- Nirvana released their debut album “Bleach”, Soundgarden their breakthrough (at least on the college level) “Louder Than Love” and Mother Love Bone, which contained two future members of Pearl Jam, released their debut EP “Shine”, which contains their signature song “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns”. Los Angeles’s Red Hot Chili Peppers, long a fave with college kids released “Mother’s Milk”, by far their best selling record to date which garnered them MTV video hits and expanded their base to high school kids. Faith No More combined rap, alternative music & metal on their 2nd album “The Real Thing”, which contained the huge hit “Epic”. Though their popularity would fade with subsequent albums, “The Real Thing” is still a touchstone for the rap-metal/nu-metal scene of the late 90’s for better or for worse. Other great, more obscure indie rock was being made in ’89 as well- Spacemen 3’s last album “Playing With Fire”, Galaxie 500’s 2nd and best album “On Fire”, and the great Mekons “Rock N’ Roll” were all standout albums that remain underheard but not under-loved. NC’s Superchunk & the great 90’s band Pavement were releasing their debut singles. Scotland’s Vaselines, a favorite of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, also released one of their two proper albums. Last, but not least, Washington D.C.’s post-hardcore band Fugazi released the “Margin Walker” EP which would become half of the monumentally awesome “13 Songs” which came out the following year. Fugazi would go on to become one of the best & most important indie bands of the 90’s.
Across the pond in the U.K., besides, “Disintegration” by the Cure, still their best record and the Stone Roses debut, which combined indie-rock music with house & rave culture, bands like Jesus & Mary Chain, the Cult & Morrissey all had hits in ’89. The groundbreaking New Order, continued to evolve their sound, releasing “Technique”, possibly their most consistent album. “Technique” was a move away from synth-pop & post-punk and toward full on House music. Never had the band released anything so primed for the dance floor. The lead singer of New Order, Bernard Sumner and Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr combined to form the band Electronic, who had a big hit in ’89 with “Getting Away With It”. Soul II Soul combined House music and full-on R&B and hip hop- they had two huge hits in ’89 with “Back II Life” and “Keep On Movin'”. Kevin Saunderson, one of the original Detroit Belleville Three (the originators of Techno music), under the guise of his band name Inner City released their debut album “Paradise” which contains two dance crossover hits “Big Fun” & “Good Life”. In the American pop world both Madonna & Janet Jackson came out with blockbuster albums. In both cases, each album “Like A Prayer” for the former and “Rhythm Nation” for the latter, became probably the most well-thought of albums of their entire careers up and including the present. Both albums contained a slew of huge hits, some ballads and some primed for the dance floor. Madonna & Janet dominated the late 80’s pop landscape. The new industrial dance music sound was rising up in ’89 as well. Nine Inch Nails released their debut “Pretty Hate Machine” and the much heavier Ministry released their best album “The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste”. Both albums would become huge influences on the 90’s sound.
Another thing to note about 1989 is how well some of the boomer artists did that year. Tom Petty released one of his most successful albums “Full Moon Fever” which contains a trip of his signature songs- “I Won’t Back Down”, “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “Free Fallin'”. Neil Young, released his best album in a decade with “Freedom”, including the hit “Rockin’ In the Free World”. Elvis Costello released “Spike”, his most successful, if far from his best, non 70’s album. The B-52’s, who had ben dormant since earlier in the decade had the greatest success of their career with “Cosmic Thing” & the hits “Roam” and wedding staple “Love Shack”. Lou Reed, who had been hit and miss the whole decade came out with “New York” containing “Dirty Blvd.”, a great song on constant MTV-video rotation. Bonnie Raitt, an L.A. singer-songwriter who had been releasing music since the early 70’s, finally got her big breakthrough with “Nick Of Time”, which swept the following year’s Grammys. Great artists like XTC, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Bob Mould (late of Husker Du) continued to put out relevant, and sometimes great, music. A handful of newer artists, recording in throwback styles had some success in 1989 as well. The Indigo Girls released their excellent debut which was grounded in folk rock. It would become a massive influence on the 90’s Lilith Fair scene (again for better or for worse). 50’s throwback Chris Isaak came out with the beautiful, sensual ballad “Wicked Game” which would become a huge hit in the early 90’s and the one of a kind Julee Cruise released her debut album “Floating Into the Night”. Many of the songs on it would be heard in the television series “Twin Peaks”, perhaps my favorite TV show of all time.
NINE INCH NAILS- PRETTY HATE MACHINE
Buy Pretty Hate Machine [2010 Remaster]Amazon
FUGAZI- MARGIN WALKER EP
Buy 13 Songs – Fugazi *Album only available in iTunes as part of “13 Songs” compilation.
Buy Margin Walker [Vinyl]Amazon
THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS- MOTHER’S MILK
Buy Mother’s Milk [Explicit]Amazon
JANET JACKSON- RHYTHM NATION
Buy Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814Amazon
DE LA SOUL- 3 FEET HIGH AND RISING
*Album not available via iTunes
Buy 3 Feet High & Rising Amazon
SPACEMEN 3- PLAYING WITH FIRE
Buy Playing With Fire Amazon
THE PIXIES- DOOLITTLE
NEW ORDER- TECHNIQUE
GALAXIE 500- ON FIRE
Buy On FireAmazon
THE MEKONS- MEKONS ROCK N’ ROLL
*Album not available via iTunes
Buy The Mekons Rock N RollAmazon
THE STONE ROSES- THE STONE ROSES
Buy The Stone Roses 20th AnniversaryAmazon
FAITH NO MORE- THE REAL THING
Buy Real ThingAmazon
NEIL YOUNG- FREEDOM
INDIGO GIRLS- INDIGO GIRLS
Buy Indigo Girls Amazon
DRIVIN’ N’ CRYIN’- MYSTERY ROAD
Buy Mystery Road Amazon
MINISTRY- THE MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO TASTE
Buy Mind Is a Terrible Thing to TasteAmazon
ICE T- THE ICEBERG/FREEDOM OF SPEECH…JUST WATCH WHAT YOU SAY
Buy The Iceburg / Freedom Of SpeechAmazon
THE CURE- DISINTEGRATION
Buy Disintegration (Remastered)Amazon
THE BEASTIE BOYS- PAUL’S BOUTIQUE
Buy Paul’s Boutique (20th Anniversary Edition) Amazon
Buy Bleach (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)Amazon