100. “Prove Your Love” – Taylor Dayne: We’re starting off a new year with one of the big names of the late 80s/early 90s pop scene! One thing that first comes out at me is how huge this song is, both in Dayne’s vocals and the glitzy, nightclub-ready production. There’s even a guitar solo! Unfortunately, none of this ever really gels together into a cohesive, truly distinct and memorable end product. The melody is a bit stiff, especially in the chorus where it matters most, and not even an ending key change could elevate this into anything resembling greatness. Still, it ain’t bad.
99. “Wait” – White Lion: This song is problematic from the very first line: “I never had a chance to love you / Now I only want to say I love you one more time”. Yikes. It does get a little better as it goes… but honestly, not by too much. There’s some nice guitar strewn here and there and the overall structure piques my interest pretty well for a power ballad. Nonetheless, these lyrics are pretty insufferable and whiny. It’s clear that this guy has no intention on leaving his ex alone, and it shines through in these lyrics crystal clear (“Wait, just a moment and tell me why / ‘Cause I can show you lovin’ that you won’t deny”, “So if you go away, I know that I will follow”, “Wait, wait, I never wanna be without you”). I’ve certainly heard worse power ballads, but there’s sadly not much I can enjoy about this particular one.
98. “Nothin’ but a Good time” – Poison: Welcome back, Poison! Although I’ve already reviewed “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, I do believe this is the first time I’ve encountered Poison for the Hot 100 challenge. Though in that review I somehow never even mentioned this song, which was the band’s biggest hit before their chart-topper. This is also the definitive sound of Poison and other hair metal bands of their ilk: big guitars, shouty melodies, lyrics about excess and hedonism… did I mention the big guitars? While I’m generally pretty lukewarm on Poison as a whole, to me this is one of their more charming cuts – the melodies in the verses and chorus are catchy as hell and I love the way Bret Michaels sings “same ol’, same ol'” in the pre-chorus. Still, this is a pretty big, stupid song about partying way too much (“They say I spend my money on women and wine / But I couldn’t tell you where I spent last night”) and the ankle-deep pretense gets old pretty quickly. Nonetheless, this is one of the most 1988 songs I think I’ve ever heard.
97. “Just Like Paradise” – David Lee Roth: In case you haven’t noticed… yep, we’re in the hair metal part of the decade. David Lee Roth, in particular, is one of the genre’s poster boys, particularly for his embrace of the more hedonistic parts of the culture. While his “California Girls” cover was just atrocious, this is much better – those guitars shimmer along quite nicely, and while his personality is a bit more toned-down here, this actually works to the track’s benefit. The end result is a pretty decent party rock track that celebrates the decadence of the era in huge sincerity. I still can’t say I’m big on Diamond Dave, but this is an improvement!
96. “Valerie” – Steve Winwood: And now for a different brand of 80s bigness. I’ve listened to a few of Steve Winwood’s hits along this challenge, but somehow this is the only one to have left a notable impression on me so far. He’s definitely talented, but his songs tend to consist of a bunch of great elements combined with some ill-fitted ones that bring the whole thing down (“Higher Love” immediately comes to mind). With this one, though, it all seems to come together. This one leans way more on the synths, but with enough breathing room to let these poetic lyrics really shine (“So cool, she was like jazz on a summer’s day”). And once that soaring chorus comes in, it all just falls into place. Even the bloated synths that I detested so much in the intro to “The Finer Things” seems to have found their place in the brief chorus before the final verse/chorus – now I love them. Like most Steve Winwood songs, I have trouble trying to find the words to critique this one… but it just seems to all fit together for me. I dunno; I dig it.
95. “Never Tear Us Apart” – INXS: Although 1986 introduced us to Australian band INXS, it wasn’t until 1988 did they actually explode onto the mainstream. It’s amazing to me that this song is their lowest ranked on the year-end list, considering that it’s one of my favorite songs of the entire decade. The strings at the intro – and running throughout – are absolutely gorgeous, offering an immediate sense of emotional depth to the romantic sensibilities of the tune. Sure, these lyrics come off a bit clunky (“Don’t have to tell you, I love your precious heart”), but Michael Hutchence had always been one hell of a frontman and he plays these lines off well. The pause after the titular line in the chorus, followed by that reluctant guitar riff, is such an ingenious moment and it cuts so deep every single time. And then there’s the sax solo… my god, I have no words. In a decade so overblown with saxophone, this is one of the instrument’s great moments. This is just a gorgeous song that also subtly carries on the edge with which this band is so synonymous. I love it so much.
94. “I Found Someone” – Cher: This song was originally recorded by Laura Branigan, following the string of successful singles she attained in the first half of the decade. It became a bigger success, though, when Cher covered it in connection with her comeback to the mainstream this same year. Once more thing: this song was written and produced by none other than Michael Bolton. Certainly a shape of things to come… Seriously though, this isn’t quite as bad as that would predict. The bloated AOR production is a bit much, sure, but it matches the power of Cher’s voice. She surprisingly sounds totally in her element here, even if the song itself is a bit of a borefest. Anyway, this is fine – I can’t hate it.
93. “I Still Believe” – Brenda K. Starr: So, this song starts off on the right foot. The slow tempo is delicately accompanied by some sparkly synths that set the mood alright, and Starr herself has a nice voice. Somewhere around the middle point, though, it starts to go off the rails a bit. The melody switch-up is unexpected and clumsily tacked-on, and the saxophone here is basically the polar opposite of the “Never Tear Us Apart” sax, in terms of its contributions to the songs as a whole. After a while, it peters out and ends pretty weakly. It’s a shame, too, cause there was some real potential for this to be something special. As it stands, though, it’s another 80s pop ballad to add to the pile.
92. “Cherry Bomb” – John Cougar Mellencamp: This song isn’t bad, but I also can’t help while listening to it that we’ve already tread these grounds many, many times before. I’m sure separated from the rest of Mellencamp’s work, this is a perfectly fine song, but in context it feels somewhat like a cheap rehash of stuff like “Small Town”, “Pink Houses”, and “Jack & Diane”. Still, the female vocals are a nice inclusion to the mix and make this one come off a tad more soulful than the rest. Yeah, as much as it seems I’m griping on it, I really don’t mind it all too much. It’s fine.
91. “Kissing a Fool” – George Michael: George Michael really can do no wrong, huh? This was yet another big year for him, and we’ll delve into some of his bigger hits later on. As for now, though… well, this song is pretty remarkable. With its minimal instrumentation and jazzy tone, this really is unlike anything else we’ve seen from him, within or without Wham!. It’s a bit of a heartbreak ballad, though stripped-down just enough to get an up-close-and-personal display of these emotions on play. It’s smoky and sensual, but not nearly as performative as, say, “I Want Your Sex”. Comparisons to Sinatra are inevitable, but I doubt that even Sinatra would have loosened up and let it out the way that Michael does during the crescendos in this tune (especially at the final third). It’s just remarkable that such a risk had been taken at such a high point in Michael’s career, and I will always respect him for that.
90. “Can’t Stay Away From You” – Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine: There’s something kind of unsettling about this song – maybe it’s the combination of the slightly off-kilter, uncanny instrumentation, coupled with Gloria Estefan earnestly singing, “I can’t stay away from you”… Anyway, this song mostly sounds like a whole lot of nothing to me, covered in a healthy amount of Latin-sounding synth work and other typical adult contemporary inflections. The chorus is kind of nice but… yeah, that’s about it.
89. “One Moment in Time” – Whitney Houston: Yeah… this feels like a blueprint for all of those bloated songs that future winners of singing game shows like American Idol would release as singles. You know, like “A Moment Like This” and such. Just because this one came earlier doesn’t mean it’s any less pointless, though. This song was commissioned to Whitney as the theme song for that year’s Olympics games, and boy does it come off that way. As beautifully as she (always) sings, her heart is so noticeably not in this one. The structure is painfully stiff and there’s not a single line here that has a lick of any deeper meaning other than some fake, generic inspirational crap. The production is also abysmal, with the limp horns in the final third being the final nail in the coffin. I’ll take nearly anything else by Whitney over this dreck.
88. “Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do?” – Steve Winwood: Alright, I guess we’re back to Steve Winwod songs doing nothing for me on a deeper level. The synth washes are as prominent as ever here, although the more nocturnal element of their sound offers a great complement to the lyrical themes of nighttime. This seems like an attempt for Winwood to take on a more sensual sound, similar to Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings”, and while I can’t say it was a total failure, it probably could have used a little something extra to bring it over the edge. Still, I’m fine with Winwood giving us another plainly decent single – if nothing else, we’ll always have “Valerie”.
87. “Nite and Day” – Al B. Sure!: As New Jack Swing continues to rear its head as the 80s comes to a close, this song is a shining beacon in the swiftly changing field of popular R&B. That introductory synth riff sounds both like something that could’ve come from a horror soundtrack, and also the sexiest thing ever. The musicianship on this tune is frankly pretty remarkable, with a combination of soulful sounds with sharp edges that, nonetheless, create a pretty quintessential bedroom jam. I’m not sure I’m completely on board with Al’s prominent falsetto and some of these lyrics are a bit corny (“Believe me when I say that I do care / I’d like to run my fingers through your hair”), but boy does he sell his confidence well. Yeah, this is pretty damn groovy!
86. “I Don’t Want to Live Without You” – Foreigner: Whoa, it’s been a while since we’ve seen Foreigner here. Specifically, we haven’t seen the band pop up on these year-end charts since 1985 (the year of their juggernaut “I Want to Know What Love Is”), though lead singer Lou Gramm’s solo effort appeared on the 1987 list. There’s not too much to say about this one, though – it sounds like a limper version of their previous hit ballads, especially “Waiting For a Girl Like You”. Gramm sounds completely unenthused and these signature synths are as weak as they’ve ever been. It’s not even compellingly awful, though – just sort of useless. Let’s move on.
85. “I Hate Myself For Loving You” – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts: We haven’t seen Joan Jett around these parts since the first half of the decade, but lo and behold – here she is! This is far more on the glam rock side of things than “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Crimson and Clover” – in fact, it sounds a hell of a lot like the group’s own cover of Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me?”. No complaints at all on that front, though, as the fierce, stomp-along rhythm is warmly welcome around these parts. Jett’s personality shines here as brightly as ever and electric guitars really bite. It’s probably the weakest of the Blackhearts songs I’ve come across here so far, but it’s still a guaranteed good time nonetheless.
84. “We’ll Be Together” – Sting: Well, yikes. This is certainly a change from what I’ve heard from Sting up until now – although I wouldn’t immediately write him off for trying something different. So I gave it a few listens… and yeah, it’s pretty much a basic overblown, overproduced product of the 80s in the vein of Peter Gabriel or Steve Winwood. It’s got everything from Casio keyboards, to dramatic vocal sampling, to out-of-place gospel singers… I’m surprised I didn’t hear a saxophone somewhere in the mix! Truth be told, it’s not all too bad of a listen when it comes down to it, even though it does wear out its welcome around the halfway point. I don’t fault Sting for trying something new at this point in his career, but there’s been so many similar singles released at this point, it’s clear that this decade is beginning to really tire itself out.
83. “Don’t Shed a Tear” – Paul Carrack: Here’s a weird one. Musically, this song is sharp, polished, and catchy, with some cool synth-laden guitar riffs and a huge, layered chorus that makes the clumsy verses totally worth sitting through. But those verses, though: “Cab fare to nowhere is what you are / A white line to an exit sign is what you are”. You couldn’t write a clumsier, more nonsensical line if you tried, I think. Anyway, Carrack has a great voice and this is pretty damn perfect pop-rock structuring. So, I’ll stop complaining.
82. “When It’s Love” – Van Halen: I’m actually a tad disappointed that the Van Halen single “Dreams” wasn’t too big of a hit on the pop charts – specifically, so I could be writing about that one right now and telling y’all how great it is (it’s great!). But back to the actual list as it stands, now. As I’ve stated elsewhere, I tend to prefer the Van Hagar era of this band more than the stage antics of David Lee Roth. The inclusion of synths alongside their guitars may seem sacrilegious to some of the hardcore fans, but I’ve never minded it much. Here, they try their hand at a standard by-the-numbers power ballad – and do so pretty well. The keyboard washes at the start set the mood terrifically and the more harder edges of the guitars later balance everything out pretty well. These lyrics aren’t the best (“How does it feel when it’s love? / It’s just something you feel together”) and Hagar definitely strains to hit those high notes (the way he sings “You can feeeel it” after the guitar solo – yeesh), but the melody is so sweet and the sincerity in which it’s all performed is just so damn endearing. Yeah, this is mighty solid for sure.
81. “Piano in the Dark” – Brenda Russell ft. Joe Esposito: Brenda Russell basically came totally out of nowhere with this song, but I’m sure as hell glad she did. Her vocals are outstanding here, and while the production has only slightly a bit more of a pulse than other lovesick R&B ballads of the time, this slightly upturned tempo makes a whole lot of difference. The chorus here is particularly well-crafted and it’s no wonder it’s been sampled to hell and back in recent years. Under anyone else’s watch, this might have flown just under the radar, but the command Russell has over the track is incredibly crucial to helping it shine as much as it does. Great, great song.
80. “Always on My Mind” – Pet Shop Boys: This isn’t the first time I’ve stumbled across the Pet Shop Boys here – I wrote in length about their classic chart-topper “West End Girls”, and revisited this same song during my overview of the top 100 songs of 1986. Interestingly enough, this particular cover was only released as a single after it was well-received on a program commemorating the tenth anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. But of course, I tend to mostly associate this song with Willie Nelson, and while I’m not sure this recording exactly starts toe-to-toe with Nelson’s version, what the Pet Shop Boys do with the tune is incredibly impressive. It almost makes no sense at all to turn this into a nightclub-ready synthpop track, but the end result is just so spirited and wonderful, it just totally works. The synth touches added after each time “You were always on my mind” is sung is just too brilliant for words. I love this so much.
79. “Don’t Be Cruel” – Bobby Brown: Contrary to what the title may suggest, this is not a cover of a Elvis Presley song. What this is, however, is one of the clearest examples of New Jack Swing we’ve had on the charts thus far, with the prominent hip hop beat, punchy percussion, and melodramatic keys – the 90s are underway! Anyway, Bobby Brown is a pretty big figure in this realm of R&B, and though I haven’t listened to much from him this is probably among the weaker of his material. The rhythm is pretty groovy, but the melody is a tad limp and the lyrics are a bit too “Nice Guy” for my liking. Take it or leave it, I say.
78. “The Valley Road” – Bruce Hornby and the Range: Alright, I see much like some of the other rock fellows on this list, Bruce Hornsby has also decided to embrace the synth sound more. Not complaining! This different sound allows for a more looser, approachable expression of emotion in the mix, while also continuing on the wavelength of Springsteen-esque Americana touches in the music and lyrics. The pianos at the outro are particularly lovely and Hornsby sounds great throughout. While I still largely prefer the more organic, jazzy sounds of “Mandolin Rain”, this ain’t half bad either.
77. “Electric Blue” – Icehouse: Yet another one of these bands and songs I’ve never really heard of prior to this list. Anyway, this has a pretty nice bass-driven tune. The melody and lyrics in the chorus are subtly pretty well-crafted (“I just freeze every time you see through me / And it’s all over you, electric blue”) – it helps that this was cowritten by John Oates, who is no stranger to catchy beats and lovestruck melodies. Besides that, though, there’s really nothing else worth digging into any deeper here. The guitars and synths do their job, but never really anything more – even the saxophone solo seems pretty obligatory and not a whole lot of fun. Nonetheless, I don’t mind this much… yeah, it’s okay.
76. “Fast Car” – Tracy Chapman: Okay, obviously, this is one is just plain fantastic. That quiet guitar in the first couple verses which explodes in power during that soaring chorus. Those introspective lyrics (“You got a fast car, but is it fast enough so we can fly away?”). Chapman’s lilting vocals that seems to braid alongside every word she sings, squeezing out every ounce of meaning onto those iconic guitar chords. It’s actually pretty incredible that a song this painfully honest and stripped-down was released amidst the exuberance that was the 80s and became a top ten hit. There’s not too much I can say about this one that hasn’t already been written, but I will say that if you somehow have never listened to “Fast Car”, it’s probably the one song on this whole damn list I would urge anyone to listen to as soon as possible. So yeah, go do that.
75. “Pink Cadillac” – Natalie Cole: Much like Aretha Franklin back in ’85, the next R&B diva to get an 80s makeover is Natalie Cole, who had not had a major pop hit in ten years. Unfortunately, the treatment she and her producers had given this song – originally by Bruce Springsteen – is far less graceful than Franklin’s. The synthesizers are tacky and annoying and the whole track seems overproduced as all hell. Moreover, it’s so obvious that Cole is just not obvious with this kind of material; her flat, pedestrian delivery does no favors to the sexually suggestive material. Even her high notes just sound so uninspired and dull. I feel bad panning a Natalie Cole track, considering that she usually has a pretty good track record… but nah, this is trash.
74. “I Want Her” – Keith Sweat: Time for some more fresh, funky New Jack Swing from one of the big names of the movement. Much like with “Don’t Be Cruel”, the production here is dynamic and hard-hitting, certainly demonstrating some of the best beats that the genre could produce. I’m not totally sure how I feel about Keith Sweat’s nasally vocal, but I can say that he certainly doesn’t sound like anyone else out there, which is totally a plus. There isn’t much that sets this song totally apart, but the falsetto-sung iterations of “I want her” in the hook contains universes. Yeah, this kind of kicks ass!
73. “Say You Will” – Foreigner: Alright, well at least this is a whole lot better than “I Don’t Want to Live Without You”. Save for the more sluggish pace, added synths, and more downbeat vocal delivery from Lou Gramm, one might easily confuse this for an earlier cut from Foreigner. These lyrics also put up much less of a fight, with cliches amuck and a little too much repetition of the titular phrase – still, I can’t resist siding with those electric guitars that scream to be played loud in a full stadium. Yeah, this is nowhere near their golden era of “Hot Blooded” or “Double Vision”, but I also might hesitate before reaching for the dial on this one.
72. “Everything Your Heart Desires” – Daryl Hall & John Oates: Okay, I can’t hide it anymore – I am truly sick and tired of encountering Hall & Oates on these lists. They had their time and place and a good chunk of their hits were actually quite good. At this point, though, they’ve approached their fourteenth year scoring hits, and it’s very clear that they’ve run their course. Now, I actually sort of dig the cold synths that shimmer in and out throughout the song… but literally nothing else in this song even remotely comes across as interesting to me. The vocals are super basic, as are the lyrics, and the melody is far from memorable. Yeah, this is a big ol’ nothing of a song; in one ear and out the other. Seeya, guys.
71. “Candle in the Wind” – Elton John: So, it’s a little bit awkward talking about this song considering what a wild ride it has had in terms of its place in mainstream media. Back when this song was initially released as a single from John’s 1974 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, it missed the US – unlike the UK, we got “Bennie and the Jets” instead. Over ten years later, a stripped-down version of this song was performed live in Australia, with backup only by some mild keyboard washes and John’s own piano accompaniment. This was the version that became a top ten hit this year. And obviously another version would get released and become a chart-topping smash another decade later… but I’ll talk about that when I get to it. As for this version, it’s pretty notable for transforming a pretty standard 70s rock tune into a heartfelt piano ballad, which is how most people tend to think of this song these days. Bernie Taupin’s lyrics feel just as timeless and the minimalist nature of the tune helps to highlight the emotional resonance of these lyrics. Once again, this song did go to number-one, so once I jump back on that challenge I’ll eventually cover this song. For now, though… yeah, this is sweet.
70. “Don’t Be Cruel” – Cheap Trick: Okay, now this one is a cover of an Elvis song! And a pretty cut-and-paste kind of cover, too. Contrary to the power pop that they demonstrated in a couple of their earlier songs (notably “Surrender” and “I Want You to Want Me”), these guys go for straight rockabilly this time, a lá Stray Cats. It’s got some fun “bop, bop”s in the chorus, and some brief, fun-sounding harmonizing later on… but other than that, it’s a pretty standard cover of this tune. The part where they rise up an octave comes off pretty clumsy, but other than that… it’s fine. Nothing extraordinary like they’ve released before, but I’ll take it.
69. “One Good Woman” – Peter Cetera: Oh great, more Peter Cetera. Seriously, his voice has become like nails on chalkboard at this point. On top of that, these lyrics are just a playbook on what not to do. Lines like, “You bring out the best in me with love and understanding / Anytime I need some understanding you are always there” are especially corny, as is the chorus which rhymes “fire” with “higher” – ugh. Yeah, there’s nothing here that’s particularly notable either. Just your standard adult contemporary pop-rock garbage. Boooring.
68. “Rocket 2 U” – The Jets: I’m… actually a little bit speechless over the fact that The Jets actually managed a sizable number of hits these past three years. I always assumed they were a one-hit wonder and nothing more! Anyway, like all their other songs, this one is painfully middling. The vocals in the verses are a little more interesting, but it’s not like there’s much substance to really tease out. It’s the same basic, edgeless freestyle pop that these folks have been churning out time and time again. It’s certainly not bad, but boy do I have no desire to revisit this.
67. “If It Isn’t Love” – New Edition: Wherein New Edition attempts to mature up their sound a bit with some help from Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (who have worked wonders on Janet!). The result? Not too shabby! This is certainly more on the seedy, sensual side of things, compared to the bubblegum R&B of their earlier hits. There’s definitely a bit of the other Jackson sound going on here, which should have a negative effect on their distinctness, but it somehow works in their favor. The lyrics in the hook aren’t the most clever (“If it isn’t love, why does it hurt so bad? / Make me feel so sad inside?”), but there’s enough of a certain appeal there to not be totally ruined. Altogether, it was a good move for these guys to move into the New Jack Swing way of things – even if it’s clunky here and there, it’s still pretty damn catchy.
66. “Catch Me (I’m Falling)” – Pretty Poison: This is yet another one of those freestyle tracks for which I have to thank my mom for introducing me. Listening to it in a non-“cruising around in her car’s passenger seat” context reveals some pretty interesting qualities. For one, the epic introduction with the strings and isolated vocals are completely pushed aside for some pretty standard dance-pop production and never really brought back, which just kind of amuses me. This tune is just hook layered upon hook, which is totally perfect for and endless late night out. The melody in the pre-chorus is especially otherworldly (“I am descending from heaven above…”), as is the brief, fleeting outro (“Ooooh, I’m falling”). I’m not too crazy about the cluttered sampling thrown in here and there, and, yeah, these lyrics are pretty damn vapid and repetitive. So while the genre as a whole doesn’t really wow me quite so much, especially after I hold it up to a magnifying glass… there’s something about this one that has be thirsting for more. Yeah, fuck it, this is great dance music.
65. “New Sensation” – INXS: Contrary to the drifting ballad that is “Never Tear Us Apart”, this is the sound that really put INXS on the map. That vibrant guitar riff just swims in and around everything else so effortlessly, it honestly just makes the whole damn song. The formatting of this tune has always felt so weird to me, and then I realized this could be blamed by the extra measure (or two?) added to the ending of each verse, making the song as a whole feel relatively formless. Coupled with some of these abstract lines (“Sleep baby sleep, now that the night is over / And the sun comes like a god into our room”), there’s an almost beat poetry-like feeling to this whole thing, certainly more than some of their other singles. Anyway, this is a pretty standard INXS goodness, complete with high-flying lyricism and an expected Kirk Pengilly sax solo. Not among my very favorite from the band, but a solid record nonetheless.
64. “Perfect World” – Huey Lewis and the News: Yeah, 1988 seems to be the point where many of the signature acts from the early parts of the 80s have all completely washed-up by now. Not that I was that big of a fan of Huey Lewis and the News in the first place, but this song just reeks of desperation and an utter lack of ideas. The off-kilter guitar rhythm is theoretically cool and anticipates a ska sound above it all, but there’s literally nothing else that pushes this idea forward. The chorus is especially limp (“Ain’t no livin’ in a perfect world / But we’ll keep on dreamin’ of livin’ in a perfect world”) and while the backup horns suggest some kind of bombast, Huey Lewis just sounds tired and totally out of ideas. Yeah, I’ll leave this one in the dust.
63. “Mercedes Boy” – Pebbles: Jody Watley was probably the first of the assortment of female R&B artists in the vein of Janet Jackson coming out of the woodwork to try to snag a hit. While there’s certainly plenty of potential for greatness to be seen in some of these women (including Jody Watley), I have a feeling that there will also be others who just don’ quite measure up. In this case, I think Pebbles is much more suited for her bigger single “Girlfriend” than something like this. The production is smooth and punchy enough, but there’s not enough substance in the hook and lyrics to really make it pop. Nonetheless, the interpolation between those cool synths and Rodgers-esque guitar grooves make this into a solid little bit of R&B-pop. Pebbles herself is kind of a non-presence, but that might be beside the point anyway.
62. “1-2-3” – Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine: Yet another danceable, Latin-infused dance-pop tune from Miami Sound Machine. The melody in the verses are particularly strong and the bass licks are pretty groovy., The song’s true failings, however, are in that chorus, which starts off pretty strong (“1-2-3-4, come on baby, say you love me”), but then delve into plain silliness the longer it goes on (“8-9-10-11, I’m just gonna keep on counting”). It’s a cute idea for a song on paper, but in execution all it’s really got is the stiff dance rhythm to keep it going. Sometimes that’s all you need, though!
61. “Dirty Diana” – Michael Jackson: And now for the first number-one single we’ve approached from this year – and lo and behold, it’s one I’ve already written about at length! In the larger context, this is one of the weaker singles from Michael Jackson I’ve come across so . far (second only to those Paul McCartney duets). With its cold production and undertones of misogyny, not even those slick guitar sounds can make me love this one. Oh well.
60. “Girlfriend” – Pebbles: Welcome back, Pebbles! As I noted above, this is definitely the stronger song of Pebbles’s two major hits from this year. The combination of sharp percussion and slinkier violin chords in the background make for a pretty unique, enjoyable groove overall. As expected, Pebbles isn’t the greatest vocalist here, but her dynamism more than makes up for it, as does that pretty hard-hitting chorus (“Girlfriend, how could you let him treat you so bad?”). There’s some other notable little quirks, such as the dog bark sample right after the line, “He’s just a canine runnnin’ ’round in heat”, and the slightly more intense, forcefully spoken bridge (“To believe or not to believe, that is the question…”). Overall, it can be silly at points but is generally a pretty damn solid radio-friendly pop tune. I wouldn’t have minded this being on constant overplay back in the day.
59. “I Want to Be Your Man” – Roger Troutman: In order to understand this song, it’s best to first familiarize yourself with Zapp, a band formed in part by Roger Troutman and his brother Larry. With Roger’s prominent usage of the talk box, the band was one of the more distinct-sounding R&B groups to come from the late 70s and maintain popularity throughout the 80s. Just take a listen to their R&B hits “More Bounce to the Ounce”, “Doo Wa Ditty”, “I Can Make You Dance”, and “Computer Love”, the latter of which is a slower ballad that is the closest predecessor to “I Want to Be Your Man”. With Roger’s own solo career, however, he opts for a more romantic vibe, with the talk-box vocals playing only sporadically alongside his natural vocals (as well as some backup woman singers). The end result is a pretty simple little love song that, strangely enough, feels almost too futuristic and computerized to have any genuine human appeal. But hell, it works! The glistening nocturnal synths and seductive sound results in one smooth little ballad that is just as suited for a middle school dance floor as it is for a nighttime drive through the city. Dammit, this rules.
58. “Sign Your Name” – Sananda Maitreya: And here’s yet another name I’ve seen around in passing, yet never found the will to check out until this moment. Sananda Maitreya (formerly Terence Trent D’Arby) seems to be an extension of those jazzy smooth soul types like Sade that seemed to be all the rage in the mid-/late 80s. He obviously has a great voice and the song itself is pretty sophisticated and lovely (well, save for the “baby/lady” rhyme scheme in the chorus). I want to write this off as just another one of those R&B fellows to find success, but it’s very clear that there’s more going on here. Gone are the days of trite, ankle-deep emotional sentiments of Lionel Richie – when Maitreya sings lines like, “I’d rather be in hell with you, baby, than in cool heaven”, there’s a palpable layer of insidiousness with the romanticism. And honestly, I totally dig it. Yeah, this guy’s going places for sure.
57. “I Get Weak” – Belinda Carlisle: What a career Belinda Carlilse has had. After playing with legendary, brief-lived band Germs for a stint, she moved on to the legendary Go-Go’s for only a slightly longer stint. Although “Mad About You” wasn’t too strong of a breakout solo single – in my opinion – this song demonstrates what had probably been missing the entire time. Following the footsteps of Steve Nicks’s post-Fleetwood career, Carlisle more solidly embraces the pop hooks and glimmery production in which her strengths truly lie. This song really isn’t too much more than a simple love song (“Can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t eat, can’t sleep / Oh, I’m in love; oh, I’m in deep”), but the honesty of Carlisle’s performance of Diane Warren’s solid lyricism really makes the whole track shine. In particular, the melody in the chorus is rightfully soaring and lovely, as is her occasional hearty cries of, “I get weak!”. Yeah, I don’t know what it is exactly, but I find this one really, really cute and I love it.
56. “Desire” – U2: U2’s two big singles from the previous year – “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” – dealt with big emotions, textured production, and beautiful existentialist lyrics. Here… well, it’s a little more on the pop side of things for sure, but they don’t completely fumble the attempt! This is helped by their prominent usage of the Bo Diddly beat, tweaked to their own benefit. It does that corny thing where love and drugs become metaphors for each other (“I’m like the needle, needle and spoon”), but no one really listens to this song for the lyrics anyway. Bono still emits his big emotional performance like no other, the Edge’s guitar licks kick ass, and the ending harmonica bit is a nice touch. It’s a bit of a step down, but I’ll take it.
55. “Don’t You Want Me” – Jody Watley: Much like Watley’s previous hit “Looking For a New Love”, the thumping beat, sly synths, and sharp percussion add a nice, punchy sound to this entire track. The melody is really nice, with the verses and chorus melding into each other effortlessly. Watley isn’t quite as strong here, and I would blame the song’s insistence to have her play more of a Madonna-like pop diva over the fierce personality she emitted so well in “Looking”. Still, I would be lying if I said this wasn’t exactly the type of song I’d be dancing along to in my bedroom.
54. “Out of the Blue” – Debbie Gibson: Debbie Gibson’s breakthrough hit “Only in My Dreams” relied on its huge, irresistibly catchy melody to make up for any of its other shortcomings – and succeeded. How about “Out of the Blue”? Well… yeah, the melody is so much weaker here, and while certain parts of the chorus really stick, others feel so awkwardly forced in. The production is some pretty standard studio pop fare, and the mixing truly reveals just how weak of a singer Gibson is. She definitely seems more suited for the bubblegum of “Dreams” than this more mature, midtempo number. Yeah, it’s just pretty mediocre overall.
53. “Tell It to My Heart” – Taylor Dayne: This is the second of three Taylor Dayne songs on this year’s chart, as well as being her debut breakthrough hit! This one in particular really demonstrates the particular strength Dayne has that similar freestyle singers tend to lack: her voice! Yep, Dayne is genuinely a good singer, and unlike with the stiffness of “Prove Your Love”, the melody here is loose enough for her to express herself well. In particular, the pre-chorus really rocks (“Take me I’m yours, into your arms…”), and I love the way she sings “I can feel my body rock” in the chorus. Overall, it’s glitzy, energetic, and though pretty ankle-deep, still a load of fun nonetheless.
52. “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” – Information Society: Oh boy, now this is gooood. Blending together the British extravagance of early 80s New Wave with this even newer wave of bass-driven, sample-ridden electronic music up and coming at the late end of the decade… and we have this, the biggest hit from Information Society. I couldn’t really care less about the true meaning of this song – it just sounds so, so good. The electro-beats are groovy, the melody is slick as sin, and the chorus just makes me want to get up and dance. And who doesn’t love a good Mr. Spock sample?
51. “Make It Real” – The Jets: From one Minneapolis group to another. And here we go again with these Jets… although this seems to be the very last time they ever made the US top 40, so there’s that. Honestly, the second I heard that pre-programmed Casio keyboard beat, my interest dropped. With that opening line (“Tonight it’s been a year we met each other here”), it plummeted even further. As bland as their music always tended to be, this is even worse with its presumption that this group is at all fit for a tender ballad. These vocals are embarrassingly insipid and the song as a whole is just dullsville. I was never hot on the group before, but this may actually be their first genuinely bad single. Shame that this is how we’d say goodbye to them.
50. “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” – Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield: And here we go with another Pet Shop Boys track! I sure do love these guys – though I wouldn’t have ever in a million years suggested that they’d sound just as good alongside Dusty Springfield, if not for this song. There are so many good parts to this song: the main melody in the verses (“How am I gonna get through?”), the spoken parts that reminisce “West End Girls” (“I bought you drinks, I brought you flowers“), and at last – Dusty! With that lovely chorus that sounds completely lifted from another song entirely, yet totally fits with the unique mood and tone of this very song. Behind all this is some wonderful synth production, with some clashing metal sounds, glimmery keys, and weighty horns that only add layers atop this wonderful atmosphere. It’s a skillfully layered song itself, highlighting the numerous veneers of emotion that often comes with heartbreak and confusion. Basically, this song totally fucking rocks.
49. “The Loco-Motion” – Kylie Minogue: Hah. So, by now Kylie Minogue has become a pretty well-established pop vocalist in her own right, with a collection of truly fantastic songs under her belt. This, however, was her debut single, and we’ve got no benefit of hindsight in 1988. Therefore, I don’t feel bad when I say that this is a bit of a mess – it’s Hi-NRG, which basically guarantees that it’ll be at least a little bit overproduced, but the vocal repetition is a bit much and stretches out the song far more than is necessary or even wanted. The one huge positive quality it holds, though, is that Minogue herself commands the track very well, despite not having the greatest voice. Then again, it is pretty hard to make a melody as infectious as “The Loco-Motion” sound particularly bad.
48. “I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love” – Chicago: Chicago really has been hanging around in these year-end charts for way, way, way too long at this point… so excuse me if I’m not the most tolerant of yet another one of their lame power ballads tainting this list yet again. Okay, positives: Peter Cetera isn’t here! And this singer actually isn’t quite so bad. And honestly, the melody in the chorus ain’t too bad either – it carries a good amount on its shoulders and the song as a whole chugs along pretty decently. Though, I’ll give much of the credit to songwriter Diane Warren, since this type of emotional ballad is her bread and butter. Overall… yeah, it’s okay. Not great, maybe not even good… but I’ll tolerate it for now.
47. “Should’ve Known Better” – Richard Marx: Why did Richard Marx have to make the transition to ballads?? This song demonstrates that he is perfectly suited for these types of uptempo AOR jams. Okay, it sounds like something that Kenny Loggins would’ve probably nailed a few years earlier, but this is totally fine and that chorus especially kicks. Even the backing keyboards and guitars are nice… okay, nothing about this is particularly exceptional, for sure, but this type of moody, rambunctious pop-rock is what I love the 80s for. This is a jam!
46. “Devil Inside” – INXS: Welcome back again, INXS. This song is one that I always get confused with “New Sensation” for some reason. They don’t sound all that similar – the guitar riff in this one is certainly weightier. For the most part, though, this one edges out slightly above the latter. I just really dig Hutchence’s more seductive, slinkier vocals and the way the drums kick in about halfway through each verse is really some kind of genius. Overall, though, I mostly see this as a pretty damn solid rock radio tune… but not really too much more than that.
45. “Monkey” – George Michael: And now for the second number-one single to come across our radar from 1988 – and boy, is this perplexing. The mixing throughout out the song is just not enjoyable, with the vocals totally warbled and washed-out and the frequent phasing effect every four beats quickly wearing out its welcome. And that’s not even getting to these plainly awkward lyrics: “Why can’t you set your monkey free?… Do you love your monkey or do you love me?”. There’s probably some context upon writing this song that makes it sound less awful – but removed from context, this is just weird. At least Michael gives a good vocal performance… but still, I do not like this.
44. “Together Forever” – Rick Astley: And yet another chart-topper. I’ll leave the reviews for these number-one singles rather short, since I plan on writing more about them later. This is obviously not the most popular Rick Astley single, but I wouldn’t mind at all if it was. The synths are kitchy, yet inviting, and the huge chorus is like a large embrace of 80s cheesy goodness. Okay, this is basically “Never Gonna Give You Up, Pt. 2” – but I like that song, so I like this one as well.
43. “I Don’t Wanna Go on with You Like That” – Elton John: Although Elton John’s singles in the 80s have been mixed affairs, they’ve certainly been getting strong as of late and I’d deem him a pretty successful artist throughout the decade. This is yet another example of such, with John taking on a more defiant position alongside heavy drums, keyboard washes, and a dominant keyboard. John, of course, sounds great and these lyrics by Bernie Taupin fit the bill pretty well: “I don’t wanna go on with you like that / Don’t wanna be a feather in your cap”. While it does drag on a bit too long, I would only imagine it’s all the more fun seeing this played live. Overall, it’s rather nice to see him handling these uptempo numbers so confidently and solidly. With a title that jumbled, it certainly exceeded my expectations!
42. “Kokomo” – The Beach Boys: Here’s a big one, folks. Once again, since this one topped the Hot 100, I’ll talk more about it later. But I will say this: this is essentially “Margaritaville” is it was played straight, without a single drop of irony. It’s not as bad as the haters make it out to be, but I think the Beach Boys obvious skill at harmony and melody are deceptive in that sense. I’ll be hesitating every time I press play on this one… but I also remain pretty squarely in the middle.
41. “Bad Medicine” – Bon Jovi: Another chart-topper, so I’ll keep it short – and thank goodness. This one is a genuinely bad rehash of Bon Jovi’s other big singles like “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Livin’ on a Prayer”, but somehow so much dumber. The guitars seem to thud around with no personality, and every line is screamed with only an inkling of a melody carrying it along. It’s big and mindless and goes on for way too long. I’m so, so sick and tired of Jon Bon Jovi.
40. “She’s Like the Wind” – Patrick Swayze ft. Wendy Fraser: And now for one of my biggest guilty pleasures ever. “She’s Like the Wind” was one of the three big singles recorded for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, and it might very well be the best of the three. Swayze doesn’t have the best voice, sure, but he definitely sounds convincing and the emotional resonance of the lyrics (“She leads me through moonlight, only to burn me with the sun”) makes up for any of the song’s other shortcomings. The cheesy, obligatory nature of the saxophone is balanced out by the utter coolness of that electric guitar and the strong contributions from Wendy Fraser. It’s a good song, dammit!
39. “Red Red Wine” – UB40: I’ve known this song for years, but have somehow just found out that it was originally written by none other than Neil Diamond! That must be why I’ve never really minded this song: the lyrics are brilliantly weepy and the melody just begs to be sung along to. It goes off the rails a bit with the awkwardly shoved-in rap verse, but ultimately it only adds to its weird charm overall. I’ll write more about this later (it topped the pop charts!), but if UB40 ever had a shining moment, this is probably it.
38. “Make Me Lose Control” – Eric Carmen: Although it took over a decade for Eric Carmen to experience a Hot 100 comeback, he finally did in 1988… though after this, he never had another major it. It’s a shame, considering that this isn’t nearly as bad as “All BY Myself” over a decade earlier. This song is relaxingly nostalgic, at least in the verses, where the piano chords call back to the Drifters and the melody harks back to “Hang On Sloopy”. The chorus, though, is relatively limp, as if Carmen wasn’t sure where to take the sound and resorted instead to some pretty standard, generic, sing-along AOR chorus. Yeah, this ain’t awful, but I would sure hesitate before calling it any good. Oh well – it’s not like Carmen really left much of an impression on me in the first place…
37. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” – Bobby McFerrin: Yet another chart-topper – there were a whole lot of those this year! This one is distinct for being the first a capella tune to accomplish this feat. Did it deserve it? Well, I do love the (obviously) happy-go-lucky nature of this whole tune, and the “oooh-oooh”s that make up the chorus are pretty damn infectious. On the downside, these lyrics are pretty lacking and the song as a whole goes on for longer than it really needs to. Still, it’s clear that McFerrin ha some pretty solid musicianship and it shines here and there. It’s fine.
36. “The Way You Make Me Feel” – Michael Jackson: Yeah, the singles from Bad have proven to be a bit hit-or-miss for me (not unlike the singles from Thriller, though!). This one has a pretty steady groove and melodies kick pretty well, especially at the slight key change during the second half of each verse. Jackson also gives a pretty solid performance… but still, this has never been among my favorite of his singles. It went to number-one, though, so I’m obviously in the minority here. Still a good poppy R&B song, though!
35. “A Hazy Shade of Winter” – The Bangles: I still remember that feeling of utter shock the first time I gave Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends a spin and was greeted to the original stripped-down version of this song. Honestly, I think being aware of this song’s origins only makes the decision to pump up the guitars and production all the more genius. I’ve never really loved The Bangles the way that I’ve loved, for example, The Go-Go’s, but I’ll be darned if this isn’t the absolute best thing they’ve ever done. Those guitars are so lush and the textured production from Rick Rubin add another layer of eeriness to Paul Simon’s lyrics. Now this is how you craft a cover song of a well-known song in a way that transcends the generation gap. This is just so enjoyable and the ladies sing it so well. Yeah, good shit.
34. “Angel” – Aerosmith: Wherein Aerosmith finally drinks the Kool-Aid and takes the whole pumped-up cheesy power ballad route. Honestly, it might be because I listened to this a lot when I was younger, but this really isn’t all that bad. Joe Perry’s guitars are still pretty respectable, given the shift in expectations. Steven Tyler’s vocals have long approached hammy levels by this point, and this is especially evident at his vocal acrobatics with the line, “Loneliness took me for a ride”. Still, given the circumstances, this could have been a whole lot worse. It is pretty fascinating, though, that this essentially lies out the blueprint for what would essentially be “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” ten years later. For now, though, I’ll take this.
33. “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” – Whitney Houston: This was Whitney Houston’s seventh consecutive number-one single, a record that continues to stand to this very day. As with “One Moment in Time”, this song does hit all the right emotional beats and is sung competently by the talented Houston. Also like “One Moment”, though, it is far less impactful than it thinks it is. But unlike “One Moment”, this is slightly elevated by some of its lyrics, which have the tendency to tug at the heartstrings just slightly. More later, though.
32. “Foolish Beat” – Debbie Gibson: A chart-topper entirely written, performed, and produced by a seventeen-year-old? With this context, this is an absurdly fantastic slice of heartbreak pop, a sort of offspring of Madonna’s “Live to Tell”. Removed from this context… yeah, it’s still pretty good, but nothing bound to change the world. Debbie Gibson gets more and more interesting with each subsequent single, though.
31. “Endless Summer Nights” – Richard Marx: Wherein Richard Marx attempts to be Bryan Adams for a song. Honestly, this is probably the weakest song I’ve heard of his thus far. The melody doesn’t seem to reach any sense of cohesion, except in the chorus where there are some slight tropical undertones… or something. Marx is a total non-presence, and the “woah-oh” he emits before each chorus is so hilariously weak each and every time. Yeah, there’s nothing here that really gives any bite or makes its presence particularly worthwhile. Oh look, a saxophone solo – what a surprise.
30. “Love Bites” – Def Leppard: And now for Def Leppard’s only number-one single. It’s actually kind of shocking that we haven’t come across more of them in these charts, given how huge they were throughout the decade. This is yet another one of those pumped-up heartbreak ballads, though some of the neat production elements and performances by the band members give this a bit more grit than we are used to seeing from songs of this type. This has got some cool guitars, and I like when the lead vocalist goes, “Ooooh, babe”. Yup.
29. “A Groovy kind of Love” – Phil Collins: At this point I should probably mention one distinction 1988 has from most other chart years: it ties with 1989 with the second-most number-one singles attained in a single chart year, with 32 (1974 and 1975 are tied at #1)! Which explains why so many of these huge (or huge-at-the-time) hits are popping up on this list. This particular chart-topper has Phil Collins covering an old Mindbenders tune as a slowed-down ballad. For the most part, Collins seems to be on autopilot here – the song itself remains pretty unchanged, except for everything slowed down a few notches. Nothing too interesting going on with the instrumentation either… yeah, I’ll pass on this one.
28. “Naughty Girls (Need Love Too)” – Samantha Fox: Every clever, sharp musical innovation Samantha Fox accomplished with “Touch Me (I Want Your Body)” seems to have been thrown out of the window at this point. There are several bad decisions thrown into this track, not the least of which being the sloppy, reckless production and Fox’s stiff, uninspired rap breaks. Despite the presumptions that the title would bring, there’s nothing particularly enticing or dangerous about this track – it’s just a bunch of 1988-era sounds thrown together on a dance-pop with a slight semblance of a rhythm. It’s not awful despite all of this, but I know she’s capable of much better.
27. “Father Figure” – George Michael: George Michael’s career has already taken a number of twists and turns (and we haven’t even reached his big 1988 single), but this may be one of the more interesting of his tracks thus far. Amidst a breathy delivery and instrumentation that lies dangerously close to muzak, he somehow squeezes a truly emotionally resonant, beautiful bit of pop goodness. For once, someone actually makes a clever, not-too-cliched used of the gospel choir in their production. Since this hit number-one, I’ll obviously talk more about it some other time – but this is real, real good.
26. “Shattered Dreams” – Johnny Hates Jazz: “Johnny Hates Jazz”, eh? Interesting bad name… I guess. Anyway, this sounds a bit like the British New Wave/sophisti-pop boom of the early 80s revitalized for the later parts of the decade. It’s poppy, upbeat, and enjoyable, with a polished edge that places it a cut above the rest of the trashy dance-pop devoid of meaning, which seems to be everywhere at this time. Does it do anything particularly exceptional to guarantee it a spot in the general consciousness beyond their silly name and this fun tune? Nah, not at all. Still, I wouldn’t be at all upset over having to listen to it – it’s nice!
25. “Hungry Eyes” – Eric Carmen: And now for Eric Carmen’s other huge hit from 1988. The best memory I have connected with this song is the one time I sang it as a duet on karaoke with no idea how the melody goes, outside of the title phrase. Once I finally watched Dirty Dancing and heard it in connection to the film, I realized I wasn’t all too far off. It’s still pretty awesome that they got the guy who whined along to “All By Myself” and managed to churn out this pretty passable pop-rock ditty. As passable as it is, though, it is also terribly generic – typical verse-chorus-verse structure, twinkly synths, saxophone. It’s all there and nothing innovative is done with any of it. Yeah, I can see myself getting awfully sick of this after a few dozen listens. It’s totally inoffensive, though.
24. “Hold On to the Nights” – Richard Marx: And here it is: the moment where Richard Marx officially changed his lane to performing treacly, sleepy ballads for the rest of his goddamn career. This one actually isn’t quite so bad, though. The keys here are pretty intense and Marx’s vocal delivery spars along with them pretty successfully. Still, lines like “Hold onto the nights, hold onto the memories” demonstrate that this lies on the less fun side of Air Supply. Still, it’s got a good buildup and in the tiers of piano ballads, this one isn’t quite as bad as they’re prone to get.
23. “Simply Irresistible” – Robert Palmer: I’ve somehow just realized – I’m very, very familiar with this song’s iconic music video, yet don’t think I’ve ever actually listened to this song in whole until this very writing. Upon listening to it, though, I might be mistaken. It’s hard to tell, though, given that the song doesn’t really go through movements, but rather keeps up the same jacked-up, guitar-and-synth-filled vibes from start to finish. This song makes me feel like I have a short attention span, with the variety of hooks and sound effects being thrown right and left. If there’s one thing this song doesn’t have, it’s nuance. It’s a huge, stupid rock song with little by way of a melody and nothing but those chugging guitars to provide any semblance of a backbone. I guess this is the mindless rock ‘n’ roll portion of Robert Palmer’s career – hey, I’m not exactly complaining.
22. “Shake Your Love” – Debbie Gibson: Somehow, this is the highest ranking of Debbie Gibson’s singles, despite it not being the one that topped the charts. Meh – I don’t make the charts; I only review them. So, the hook in the chorus here is Gibson’s catchiest since “Only in My Dreams” – makes sense, since this was the immediate follow-up to “Dreams”. The groove has some mild Latin undertones, and I suspect that The Miami Sound Machine influenced this track at least slightly. Unlike “Dreams”, though, the verses here are much less stable and seem to be ready to topple over at any second. I mean, it’s not like this chorus is any more intelligent, but at least her personality shines a bit more at these parts. Still, once that bridge pops in with an alphabet soup of post-production electropop tricks… I’m basically already done with the song. Still, it’s cute.
21. “Man in the Mirror” – Michael Jackson: Alright, as I type this paragraph, I’m just off the heels of watching the first part of Finding Neverland… so excuse me if it seems I’m not that enthralled on doing a close read of this guy’s music, especially something as personal as this. Quincy Jones’s production as as smooth as ever, though Jackson has had better vocal performances for sure and this does go on for a tad longer than it needs to. I was never super duper fond of this single, really. Bleh, I’ve gotta move on. Sorry.
20. “I’ll Always Love You” – Taylor Dayne: Top twenty of the year, woohoo! At this point, I’ll report on how this year did with women representation. Overall, there were thirty-two tracks that were credited to at least one woman, while twenty-four of these were credited to solo female performers or all-woman groups. There have certainly been worse years, but the fact that the previous year had been much better has me anxious for what the very end of this decade and the start of the next will bring. Anyway, let’s go back to the song of the moment. This is a change of pace for Taylor Dayne, as the more slow, soulful ballad allows her to really show off her strong vocal ability. There are more than a few clumsy lines here, with “You have won my heart and my soul with your sweet, sexy ways” being particularly groan-inducing. While Dayne’s vocals could use a bit more control, she doesn’t do too bad here. It’s a low-tempo, lovey dovey AC ballad with an Obligatory Saxophone Solo that doesn’t bore me to tears. That alone is quite the accomplishment!
19. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” – Def Leppard: The sleaziest of trashy strip club anthems, for sure. It was only a matter of time before the 80s hedonism would catch up to Def Leppard and they would transition from standard arena jams to a sex-starved party anthem. Let’s be real – the whole existence of the song hinges on the fact that the band needed a good high-rotation radio single and little else. Still, there’s some potentially great one-liners here (“Take a bottle, shake it up; break the bubble, break it up”), but this is hindered by Joe Elliott’s truly atrocious vocal delivery. Just the way he says, “Red light, yellow light, green light, go” is just so, so bad. The guitars could potentially be cool, if not for the slab of reverb piled on top of every note played. The chorus basically sums it all up – it’s huge, dumb, meaningless, and destined to be a stupid party staple for years to come. Gross.
18. “Wild, Wild West” – The Escape Club: Here’s another song I already wrote about! Yeah, pretty much everything I’ve stated in the review holds true upon this relisten. I dig the frantic, political energy of this tune, including the gunshot soundbite and other weird noises that pop in and out. One aspect of the song that stands out the most this time is the indispensably punk-rock quality of lead vocalist/guitarist Trevor Steel, who is just on fire from start to finish here. Yeah, this is still mighty good. “Headin’ for the 90s, livin’ in the 80s”…
17. “Is This Love” – Whitesnake: It’s a tad interesting that many of the top five hits that just barely missed the top spot are seeming to find their way in the top twenty, while most of the chart-toppers for this year are far behind us. Anyway, this is Whitesnake’s obligatory attempt at a power ballad, which made it to #2. The lush, slow synth-accompanied sound which we tasted at the start of “Here I Go Again” is back here… only it’s basically the entire song. I’m not gonna lie, for what this is, it’s pretty dang strong. David Coverdale is a good singer and doesn’t try to show his higher register much, making the emotional resonance hit more. There’s a guitar solo before the final chorus that is actually kind of lovely and while the song as a whole doesn’t add anything new to the style, it remains pretty pleasant for its whole runtime. Yeah, for this not being my favorite genre by any means, I’m totally digging this.
16. “Seasons Change” – Exposé: It’s interesting that so many of these freestyle and Hi-NRG artists are finding their biggest hits with doing these slower, romantic ballads. I guess this is a sort of predecessor to the 90s adult contemporary boom, which I’m real excited for, oh boy. Anyway, this is definitely the least interesting of Exposé’s singles I’ve come across thus far. The “I want you/I need you” bits are a nice touch to the chorus, but other than that there’s nothing here that sets it apart from the hundred other songs that sound just like. The ladies have really toned their voices – and by extension, their personalities – down. The final chorus key change is also… just awkward. Is there a saxophone solo here? I’ll give you one guess…
15. “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” – Billy Ocean: Okay, I stand corrected: artists are either going the ballad route to gain their biggest hit, or they’re completely abandoning any sense of dignity and embracing the Big, Trashy 80s Sound wholeheartedly. Billy Ocean never interested me much in the first place, but this is just trying way, way to hard to attain a mindless, catchy radio staple. The song as a whole just comes off as a huge joke… and the lyrics are creepy as all hell. More on this one later – yikes.
14. “The Flame” – Cheap Trick: Hooray, Cheap Trick gained a number-one single! With a ballad, of course. Honestly, it may because I loved this song as a youngster and thus have a special fondness for it, but I find this to be in the top tier of 80s power ballads. Robin Zander’s singing is just so powerful and impactful, and that chorus is perfect for full arenas in the nighttime. The delicate bits of keyboard in the chorus just make this song, honestly. I’ll gush about it some other time… but this is seriously quite lovely.
13. “Anything For You” – Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine: With yet another artist’s first-time chart-topping ballad, this continues to prove my theory. But then again… I feel like this is basically just “Can’t Stay Away From You”, with weepy keyboards overpowering the acoustic guitar. The tonal format of this song is a total mess – I don’t know what mood I’m supposed to be in while listening to it. Estefan sounds fine, but the rest… ugh. More later.
12. “Wishing Well” – Sananda Maitreya: Okay, this is strange. I got so used to the textured, soulful groove of “Sign Your Name”, it didn’t even occur to me that this guy had the capability to churn out a more electronic funk-inspired piece. But here we are! It’s hard not to see the Michael Jackson influence laid in this DNA, but these lyrics are far more poetic in its origins, I feel (“Erotic images float through my head / I want to be your midnight rambler”). I do like that keyboard riff in the chorus as well, even if it does wear out its welcome quickly. Anyway, this song is good!
11. “One More Try” – George Michael: Eh, sure, why not have another George Michael single in the mix? This one is certainly one of the most adult contemporary-sounding singles he’s out out up until this point, which its sluggish tempo serving as a backbone to the droning keyboard washes and Michael’s soulful-as-sin vocals. It’s one of the weakest singles I’ve heard from him thus far… but it still went to number-one (for three weeks!), so I suppose that’s gotta count for something.
10. “Roll With It” – Steve Winwood: Top ten, woohoo! And to start off, one of the more blatant examples of big pop-rock musicians trying on the blues and R&B shoes to get a smash hit. Seriously, this song is technically well-made, but feels too tightened-up and polished to get any similar vibes attained by, say, Junior Walker and the All Stars. It’s all in good fun, but I can’t find it in me to love this one, really.
9. “Hands to Heaven” – Breathe: One thing that never fails to fascinate me with making these lists (especially as they reach closer to present-day) is the number of tracks that make it all the way up to the higher rungs of these lists, despite them having little to no cultural relevance today. For example, this song – which I’ve never heard of before writing this post. Listening to it now, though, I guess I can understand how this group hit it big this year, with the widespread infatuation at the time with slow, dreamy ballads. Besides that, though, there’s really nothing else of note here: the lead vocalists aren’t very good, the production is dense but empty, and the lyrics are just as vapid (“Tonight, I need your sweet caress / Hold me in the darkness”). Also: “I can’t believe this pain, it’s driving me insane” – ugh. Yeah, while I don’t exactly dislike this, it also is probably the most nothing of a song out of any track on this whole list. Shame, shame.
8. “Could’ve Been” – Tiffany: Tiffany follows up her successful uptempo dance-pop number with a synthpop ballad… and it peaks at number-one. Shocking! Honestly, this isn’t too bad of a ballad, though it comes off a bit undercooked and obligatory. As in, a slower song was only a natural progression, so who the hell cares what it’s about? But she sure sings the hell out of it – and that’s after I’ve heard about a dozen of these treacly ballads at this point. She’s cute and plays up the drama angle of this tune rather well – and I guess that’s all that really matters, at the end of the day.
7. “Heaven is a Place on Earth” – Belinda Carlisle: And here it is – the song that skyrocketed Belinda Carlisle to superstardom. It seems that for the most part the verses are supported by that earworm of a chorus, but even with that kept in mind, Carlisle sings the hell out of them all. The standard pop-rock production is super solid and the key change at the final chorus really sells it all. I can’t wait to write 1,000+ words on this bombastic chart-topper.
6. “So Emotional” – Whitney Houston: This is a more uptempo Whitney Houston song, so naturally this would be not as good as her ballads, right? Well, given that Houston’s ballads this year have been underwhelming, this is a huge breath of fresh air. The production is very 80s, but throws in a wrench every now and then to spark a little fresh personality in the mix. Houston sounds wonderful, as always, but even more when emitting that catchy-as-hell chorus, probably one of the best she’s ever done. It’s basically a reworking of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, but somehow ever-so-slightly better.
5. “Sweet Child o’ Mine” – Guns N’ Roses: Aaaand here’s another song that is basically impossible for me to separate from my own childhood-era appreciation. Honestly, it’s some kind of goddamn miracle that a song this honest could come right out of a band like GnR… but it did. And it’s actually pretty damn beautiful, warts and all. The hugest wart, of course, is Axl’s siren of a voice, but I’m willing to deal with it if only for Slash’s terrific guitarwork and… well, damn near everything else. I’ll gush more about this later, but jesus is this a near-perfect little rock gem.
4. “Never Gonna Give You Up” – Rick Astley: Haha, this song. I’m trying to place myself in a 1988 headspace while listening to this space – in an era where it’s still shocking that that voice came out of that man, and where the synthwork doesn’t quite so smothers in five pounds of 80s cheese. With lyrics like these, though, I can’t imagine that it wasn’t already accepted by all that this was a total cornball of a song… which is what makes it so wonderful. Blah, I’m thinking too much into this. I’m a fan of this awkward honesty and the mindless catchiness of this song as a whole. Rickrolling is overrated.
3. “Got My Mind Set on You” – George Harrison: And out of nowhere, George Harrison has entered the chat! Co-produced by Jeff Lynne, it’s obvious that this isn’t nearly as intricate and experimental as other works from Harrison (or any of the other ex-Beatles). But I think those who point this out as somehow to this song’s disadvantage are boring and useless. This is some real fun, polished, good ol’ classic rock ‘n’ roll, and I won’t fret at this having topped the pop charts. It’s good!!
2. “Need You Tonight” – INXS: Here we go – this big INXS song, and the only one to ever top the Hot 100. And yeah, this one is pretty damn sexy. That guitar riff that bangs along through the entirety of the track is an aphrodisiac in itself, as is the mere presence of Michael Hutchence on this track (may he rest in peace). With its lingering aura of menacing sexuality alongside its electronic rock beat, this feels a lot the final gasps of the New Wave movement in the pop charts – and boy, what a gasp it is. There’s just so much to love about this one.
1. “Faith” – George Michael: And here we are now: the single biggest hit of the entire year of 1988. And of course it’s gotta be George Michael, the man of the year. This song is intensely catchy from the very first guitar strums, and even more so once Michael’s vocal hook comes in (“Well, I guess it would be nice if I could touch your body…”). This song somehow combines romance, lust, and longing alongside a Bo Diddly guitar rhythm and a pretty basic pop song format. And he somehow got all of this to the top position of the Hot 100… and in a year where there was a new number-one single seemingly every week, “Faith” stayed there for four weeks. 1988 sure was weird – but I kind of loved it, too.