100. “Keep on Movin'” – Soul II Soul: Gonna keep right on movin’ into the very last year of the 80s! This decade was loads of fun to delve into and I’m sad to see it go – though I’m all the more excited to dig into the weird, wacky 90s! So, Soul II Soul was a British R&B group that is probably best known for their hit “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)”, but this was their other huge, oft-forgotten hit from the day. The instrumental is a nice extension of the New Jack Swing style coming into prominence at this time – the punchy rhythm and party vibes are here, but it’s far more sleek and sophisticated than whatever Bobby Brown had put out by this point. Led by the sweet vocals of Caron Wheeler, this is a nice move into a more chiller, atmospheric wave of R&B.
99. “The End of the Innocence” – Don Henley: Don Henley seemed to have started off his solo career quite well at the first half of the decade, particularly with the strength of singles “Dirty Laundry” and especially “The Boys of Summer”. This song, to me, seems to be an attempt to piggyback off of the nostalgic vibes of “Boys”, but with a much more darker edge. Here, Henley sounds a bit tired, and while the instrumentals are rather gorgeous – especially the piano accompaniment by Bruce Hornsby – this song doesn’t carry enough of a punch to make this efforts seem worthwhile. It’s fine, though.
98. “Surrender to Me” – Ann Wilson and Robin Zander: It’s pretty funny to me that I had very recently covered both Ann Wilson and Robin Zander’s vocals on separate songs from each of their bands. It almost seems as though this song had come by to bite me in the ass for these positive statements. This is a painfully dull, insultingly generic power ballad with not even an ear-grabbing chorus to hold it up. Seriously, give it a listen – it falls incredibly flat! There’s just nothing at all here to give a damn about. What a waste of two usually impeccable vocalists.
97. “What You Don’t Know” – Exposé: After a brief foray into pop ballad territory, Exposé are back with their usual style of uptempo freesyle dance-pop. Sometime seems a bit off here, though. The synth rhythms are still as prominent as ever, but the melody somehow doesn’t kick nearly as much as “Point of No Return” or “Come Go With Me”. The ladies of Exposé are fine enough, but their personalities are so toned down, they feel more like faceless, formless studio creations. Their “nah-nah-nah”s at the outro also feel like lazy placeholders. I guess it’s competent enough as a mindless dance track, but nothing to care about beyond that, sadly.
96. “Thinking of You” – Sa-Fire: Having been introduced to a lot of freestyle by my mom, I’m actually more familiar with Sa-Fire through her breakthrough club jam “Boy I’ve Been Told”. She’s not the best singer, but her confidence helps to drive that song into something slightly better than mediocre. “Thinking of You” is her biggest song, though, and of course, it’s a ballad. I’m actually a fan of that steely electric guitar that propels the tune, though it doesn’t come up nearly as much as it should. And unfortunately… well, like I said, Sa-Fire simply isn’t a terrific singer, and the stripped-down quality of this record only further highlights her incompetence in this area. It’s just a huge bore of a song, honestly – let’s move on.
95. “Rock Wit’Cha” – Bobby Brown: While technically 1988 was the year that Bobby Brown broke out as a solo performer, 1989 was the first year where he actually attained some pretty prominent relevance. While this made the top ten this year, it’s far and away one of his lesser singles, at least from what I’ve heard. The cheap slow-jam production is schmaltzy as hell and these lyrics are even more corny (“I wanna rock with you, baby, all night long / I wanna roll with you, baby; feeling so strong”). It’s quite a bit of a slog and definitely not worth thinking much about. Let’s move on.
94. “Heaven Help Me” – Deon Estus: Interestingly enough, Wham!’s bass player branched off to do his own solo work, and it shockingly managed to not be totally ignored by everyone! Honestly, though, maybe it should have. Yeah, it looks like this final year of the bright, extravagant 80s is going to trail off in a whimper, as it seems like limp, faceless R&B ballads like these have become the norm. The light, airy production here is fine enough, but Estus’s breathy vocal delivery leaves much to be desired. Not even George Michael himself at backup vocals could really save this one. Yeah, nothing at all particularly impressive here.
93. “Smooth Criminal” – Michael Jackson: Ugh… somehow, I don’t find myself all that excited to cover Michael Jackson tunes, especially those of his from the 90s. But here I am, and here it is… so I guess I should, at least briefly. I’ve said before that I’m not all that enthralled with the Bad singles, but this one is quite alright. The tight percussion is pretty fun and Quincy Jones’s slightly sordid production calls back to the Thriller days enough to make this one feel at least a little fun. Nonetheless, it’s probably not as great as its reputation. In any case, Alien Ant Farm did this one better.
92. “This Time I Know It’s For Real” – Donna Summer: Before you go checking to see what year we’re in – it’s 1989 and yep, it’s that Donna Summer, with this being her first major hit since 1983’s “She Works Hard For the Money”. She pairs herself with Stock-Aitken-Waterman and thus, the pumped-up electronic production sounds a tad derivative of Rick Astley, of all people. Nonetheless, Summer sells this one pretty dang well. The hook here is huge and she has the pipes and personality to pull it off rather well. The bridge is especially pretty amazing (“Walk a tightrope way up high…”), and while the lyrics are pretty standard love cheese, it has the exact type of endearing qualities that make Rick Astley’s stuff so fun. Yeah, this is one hell of a great club jam, and all the more welcome in a year stuffed to the brim with dry, lifeless love songs. Fuck it – this is great.
91. “Poison” – Alice Cooper: Ten years later, looks like we’re also saying hell to Alice Cooper once again. Here, he abandons his bombastic glam metal roots and, for this tune, tries on some… bombastic hair metal. Yeah, needless to say the arena rock feel of this track fits Cooper’s intensity like a glove. While the verses are a tad weak, it’s the chorus where things get properly pumped-up and infectious (“I wanna love you, but I better not touch…”). It’s not the type of track that I feel is particularly distinct to what Cooper brings to the table (I can see Bon Jovi handling this track pretty decently), but the guitars are huge and catchy and the dangerous hedonistic vibes are such a big mood. This is good!
90. “It’s No Crime” – Babyface: I always love this point at the end of the decade, where certain names strongly associated with the following decade start to pop up. We’ve already acquainted ourselves with Bobby Brown, so now here’s Babyface, one of the faces of New Jack Swing and contemporary R&B in the 90s. this early hit of his fits more in the former, and is honestly a rather paint-by-numbers example of such. The layered production here has its fun qualities, particularly its punchy percussion and bouncy keys during the chorus (and the sporadic “calling all cars” sample). Once again, though, this could be said for any number of New Jack Swing tunes of the day. So yeah, it’s good, not great. Still can’t wait to see what else this guy’s got up his sleeve.
89. “Dreamin'” – Vanessa Williams: So, Vanessa Williams first gained infamy by becoming the first woman of African-American descent to win the Miss America title (and also resigning later over some sexist bullshit). This is the first big single from her stint as a solo musician and… honestly, I’m not feeling it all too much. Williams sings the tune along pretty competently, but the scattered production does little more than plod along with the mechanical rhythm of the tune. There are some pretty lines here and there, but nothing ever really gels. Obligatory saxophone, because 1989.
88. “She Wants to Dance with Me” – Rick Astley: Somehow Rick Astley is still attaining hits? Well, this one is certainly more phoned-in than the previous two I’ve covered. Seriously, the way Astley sings lines like, “I really get the feeling that she likes me” really shows that he couldn’t give any less of a damn at this point. There are moments with the buzzy synths and limp backup singers that seem to wave at some familiarity with Astley’s previous hits with S-A-W, but nothing ever gets the toes tapping like “Together Forever” or “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Blah.
87. “I Wanna Have Some Fun” – Samantha Fox: I absolutely love hearing house music influences in pop songs, and any song making the effort toward that will almost be loved at least a little bit by myself. This is yet another hit single from Samantha Fox, whom I suspect no one ever suspected hanging around this long. That chorus is rather awkward and stilted, but has this almost hypnotic air of confidence to it (the unstoppable repetition doesn’t hurt this point). Fox once again exerts her insatiable sexuality in ways that only she can pull off effectively. The house beats and occasional sampling (she sampled “Love Sensation” before anyone else!) bring a unique, fun atmosphere to the mix, making this song a load of trashy brilliance, even if the track as a whole moves along rather robotically. Yeah, this might be a song I admire more than I actually enjoy – but hell, I still enjoy it!
86. “Paradise City” – Guns N’ Roses: And now, here we go again: another song I hold so close to my own childhood memories, I almost can’t review it objectively. But what’s so objective about music anyway? So basically everything about the first minute-and-half of the song is brilliant – from those initial glimmering chords, to the sparse drum pattern, to the first utterances of Axl’s vocal hook (“Take me down to the paradise city / Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty”), to the synth leads, to Slash’s powerful guitar chords, to that ingenious whistle-blow leading to one hell of a pumped-up rhythm guitar riff. But yet, once those fast-paced, mealy-mouthed verses come in, the song tends to fly off the rails a bit. I guess that’s all in the ol’ Guns N’ Roses tradition, but it sure is disappointing, considering how promising that first minute-and-a-half is. Nonetheless, this is one hell of a rocker that does stand the test of time… and yes, it sure does make me feel like a dumb kid again.
85. “I Remember Holding You” – Boys Club: And now for probably one of the least remembered groups and songs of this entire era (perhaps in all of pop music?). If you thought that we were done with The Jets appearing on these lists, let is be known that half of the duo featured here was previously a member of that group before scoring a hit here. It doesn’t end! Anyway, this is pretty boring. It’s pretty amazing that this cracked the top ten, because there’s nothing here that comes off as something worth purchasing or requesting. It’s just some pretty sub-par, safe synth-pop that sounds vaguely like Wham! if they never got interesting. Obligatory saxophone, because 1989. Yeah, I’m totally done with this one.
84. “What I Am” – Edie Brickell & New Bohemians: Oh hey, I like this song! I actually assumed this song was at least 3-5 years older, so it’s a tad shocking to see it appear in this year’s list. Sure, these lyrics are rather nonsensical and there’s hardly anything in the second half of the song that you can’t easily find in the first half. Still, there’s something so charming about the nonchalant nature of this tune that always has me crawling back. Edie Brickell sounds like someone I would’ve loved to have been friends with, musings about cereal boxes and all. The weird shallowed-out guitar solo at the center of the track is also pretty endearing for reasons I can’t quite explain. I dunno, this is cute.
83. “The Promise” – When in Rome: And here we are: one of my favorite 80s songs ever. Contrary to the song up above, I always just assumed this song existed around the first half of the decade. I had no idea that the band in question just straight up decided to craft a New Wave song long after the genre’s peak. The way that the introductory pianos switch over to bass-blasted synths after a few bars just makes my heart swell – as does that plainly iconic chorus. I especially love when the chorus fully comes into light the second time it is sung, with the slight melody change at the second half: “And if I had to walk the world, I’d make you fall for me / I promise you, I will”. The honestly that comes from this chorus is the stuff of absolute wonders, especially considering the bloated instrumental backing it up. It’s a beautiful, simple little love song that, while not breaking any new ground whatsoever, is still aware of its strengths and elevates these brilliantly.
82. “Lay Your Hands on Me” – Bon Jovi: Bon Jovi continues to join us along for the ride, it seems. The pounding drums and “Hey”s at the intro sound like a neat album opener, but nothing else about this is nearly as interesting. Jon Bon Jovi is on full autopilot mode here, and the loud guitars do little in terms of dynamics. This just is a loud, bloated song that makes no effort to do anything interesting with its six minutes of play time. It’s big, beefy, and real fuckin’ embarrassing. Let’s move on.
81. “Love in an Elevator” – Aerosmith: And now for yet another ultra decedent slice of 80s hard rock, courtesy of one of the biggest bands of the 70s. It’s basically everything you would expect from a song about elevator sex. While the verses and chorus are pretty obnoxious (basically everything about Steven Tyler is here), the lengthy second-act guitar solo very nearly makes it all worth it. Unfortunately, this is all punctuated by some studio-enhanced vocal tricks that are just… well, obnoxious. I can’t say I hate this one nearly as much as the previous track, but 80s Aerosmith does mostly nothing for me anyway.
80. “Roni” – Bobby Brown: And here’s Bobby Brown track #2 for the year. Those whining synths at the start of this honestly weren’t all that promising – and it honestly got even worse from there. Somehow, Brown thinks it’s even remotely acceptable (even sexy??) to refer to a female love interest as a “roni”…? With the first listen, I thought that was his partner’s name, but no – he’s specifically referring to a type of woman. A “tenderoni”, to use the unabbreviated form of the term. It’s mildly hilarious in how dated it is, but it’s mostly unsettling to listen to, especially as a woman. The music here isn’t trying at all, and Brown himself is barely singing outside of that dreadful breathy delivery. And he also raps in the verse, rhyming “girl” with “world” right off the bat. Next!
79. “After All” – Cher and Peter Cetera: Recorded especially for the film Chances Are, both Cher and Peter Cetera recorded each of their parts separately and have never actually ever performed this song together. Listening to the track, it sure does show. It’s a standard adult contemporary love duet, but the emotions seem particularly detached here. There’s nothing here that is marks this as particularly distinct from any of the hundreds of other records such as these – just another to add to the pile. Let’s move on…
78. “All This Time” – Tiffany: And speaking of these sorta disposable ballads… seriously, Tiffany already released one of these last year, we don’t need another one! This is sung pretty well by Tiffany herself, all things considered, and the final act guitar solo, while unneeded, is a nice touch nonetheless. Meh, can’t think of anything else to say here… geez…
77. “Close My Eyes Forever” – Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne: And now for yet another ballad… well, at least it’s a power ballad anyway. I actually am pretty fond of this one for reasons I can’t completely understand. It’s probably the dynamic between Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne that really gets my rocks off, as they both seem just as infatuated with what they’re singing about. The lyrics are total nonsense, but with the washy post-production effects given to the guitars, at least it all sounds cool. Also, I love the screechy way Lita sings the title phrase at the outro. Yeah, this is one I could totally see myself singing at some empty karaoke bar, with no shame at all.
76. “Stand” – R.E.M.: Now we’re talking! Well, kinda. See, I love R.E.M., particularly the majority of their 80s output. While I like their album Green just fine, I could never get entirely behind “Stand”. The music is fine enough, sure, but the lyrics are way too nonsensical for me to give more than a passing care about. Still, this is still a pleasant bit of radio-friendly alt-rock, and the couple of key changes at the outro always get me pumped up for some reason.
75. “Shower Me With Your Love” – Surface: A group of faceless, nameless, pretty-boy R&B singers emitting lines like, “I will care for you / You will care for me” admist cheap Casio production… honestly, after about two minutes, I just completely tuned out. These guys are not worth anyone’s time.
74. “Welcome to the Jungle” – Guns N’ Roses: And here’s yet another relic from my childhood of which I couldn’t let go, even if I tried. Those introductory guitar echo-riff just sets my heart ablaze, and I’m all the more stoked to enter the titular jungle! But then Axl comes in and just… Axls all over the place. If you’ve heard this song one time in your life, you know what I mean. “Feel my… mah, mah, mah serpentine! MWAH”. Stuff like that. It turns what could honestly be an impressively well-crafted bit of hair metal into something of pure and utter camp. Nonetheless, like I said, there’s still something about it that always has me clamoring for some of that trashy hard rockin’ goodness. It’s probably Slash and Izzy Stradlin’s duel guitar contributions that wins it over for me. As well, “You know where you are?? / You’re in the jungle, baby / You’re gonna diiiieeee”… Try as I might, I just can’t kill that kid side of me.
73. “Cover Girl” – New Kids on the Block: And here we are – the myth, the legend, the boys who are New Kids on the Block. Boy bands were always a bit of a thing in pop music, but NKOTB were one of the first prototypes of the style of boy bands that would become even huger in the following decade. As for this song… eh. The backing keyboard brings a nice shiny vibe to the mix and… well, I guess the beat is catchy. Leader Donnie Wahlberg doesn’t carry on much of a personality, which is definitely detrimental to these useless lyrics. This just… well, it sucks, but not exactly in a very interesting way. It’s just one ear and out the other for this one.
72. “Walk on Water” – Eddie Money: Blah. Eddie Money had a bit of a positive turn-up with 1986’s “Take Me Home Tonight”. But three years later, he’s back to doing the same meaningless AOR schlock of which he built his career. The difference here is that everything here seems so much limper, from the guitars, to the keyboards, to Eddie Money’s singing itself. I mean, he was never a good singer to begin with, but he just straight-up sounds like he would rather be anywhere else. I really detest the “nah nah nah” hook as well, and that keyboard solo is one of the most uninspired I’ve ever heard. Yeah, this is just bad, bad, bad.
71. “Patience” – Guns N’ Roses: Sigh. Basically, rating these GN’R tunes objectively is super hard for me when I can whistle this entire intro from memory, though I haven’t listened to it in years. Undoubtedly convinced by the success of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, the boys of Gun N’ Roses pull out their acoustic guitars for this one. Actually, this is a remarkably sincere type of weepy power ballad that I can see working remarkably well for even the most bone-headed of metalheads. It has a beautiful melody that swims along nicely, Axl Rose’s lower vocal register is surprisingly lovely, and there’s even a nice acoustic solo midway through. The final minute or so is almost killed by Axl doing Axl again (“I’ve been walkin’ the streets at night”), but it all ends rather graciously. I can see it getting on my nerves after some overplay (specifically the “Patience, yeeeahhh” bits), but for what it is, I totally dig it. Turns out some things don’t age as poorly as you’d suspect!
70. “Angel Eyes” – The Jeff Healey Band: Jeff Healey band are admirable for their band being led by the singer-guitarist of its namesake, who has been blind since a very young age. As for this song, their only major pop hit in the US – meh. I can see it definitely scratching the adult contemporary love song itch that permeated through pop listeners. There are some sweet lines here and there, but it ultimately comes off as too corny for my own personal liking. Nothing much else to say about it…
69. “Secret Rendezvous” – Karyn White: This is fun and funky and all, certainly another sign of the refreshing sound of R&B up and coming. However… this instrumental sounds like almost a carbon copy of that in “Girlfriend” by Pebbles. I know that they were both produced by the same team of L.A. Reid and Babyface and this doesn’t necessarily make it a bad song, but boy is it distracting. It might be because I’ve been familiar with the latter tune for years, though… but anyway. Karyn White has some promise to her voice and personality, and those spoken bits work very well to the record’s overall attitude. Nonetheless, the backup music, as nice as it sounds, feels weirdly sluggish alongside the prominent energy in White herself. Not too bad of a song, but not great either – though the potential is there!
68. “Lovesong” – The Cure: How strange – 1989 gave us a #2 hit for The Cure. Not that I’m complaining! While this isn’t my favorite track off of Disintegration… well, that’s just a silly standard to try to make anyway, as Disintegration was at one point my favorite album ever. But back to this song! The instrumental gives us the perfectly blending of goth rock and jangle-pop sensibilities, with the potential strength and emotional energy of both fully reached. Robert Smith’s vocals are consistently aching and moody throughout the band’s entire career (well, almost their entire career), and it’s certainly the case here. The lyrics are almost annoyingly simple, but that only makes their blanket statements feel all the more universal with their tinge of unspoken sadness (“Whatever words I say / I will always love you”), especially through the filter of Smith’s vocals. And that riff between verse one and two… gosh, how gorgeous. Really, I can go on and on about this one. It’s almost unfair that this song is placed among these ninety-nine others, as it extends far and beyond much of this trifling pop stuff. I probably sound like a major snob right now, so I’ll just go ahead and stop now (but this song rules!).
67. “Miss You Like Crazy” – Natalie Cole: I feel really bad about trashing two Natalie Cole singles in a row, but… just listen to this one. Obviously, after Natalie Cole found herself on the charts again with last year’s “Pink Cadillac”, it was high time that she jumped on the adult contemporary ballad train. The lyrics in the chorus are repetitive and cloying to the point of embarrassment and the verses are hardly any better. The multi-tracking near the outro is the final nail in the coffin. Please, give her some good material again…
66. “In Your Room” – The Bangles: Wherein The Bangles try their hand at something more explicitly sexual – well, in lyrics anyway. Instrumentally, this song sounds like a lost Cars record filtered through some Tommy Shondell vibes. It’s fun and peppy enough, with the Bangles being as peppy and bubbly as ever. It’s clear that some of these lyrics were only looped around in order to guarantee that this song filled the three-and-a-half minute limit. But then again, there are also some funky sound effects peppered throughout that make this fun as hell, especially those violins at the outro. Aw hell, I’m all for this!
65. “Funky Cold Medina” – Tone Loc: And speaking of funky. It’s pretty cool that more rap music is starting to spring its way into the mainstream now. While the corniness and stiff structure is basically to be expected with these early hip hop tunes, there’s no denying that the electric guitar sample keeps the energy going… even if it is just a rehash of Tone Loc’s previous hit single “Wild Thing”. What kills it for me are these lyrics, though. This is essentially “Love Potion No. 9” with a slightly more chauvinistic tone that already rubs me the wrong way. What ends it for me completely, though, is the out-of-nowhere transphobia that comes in the third verse. It paints the mere existence of trans women as a cheap punchline, as they’ve always been in media through the years. I can’t accept this at all, especially considering that Venus Xtravaganza was killed only months before this release. I just… have no capacity for patience on the matter. Fuck this song.
64. “The Way You Love Me” – Karyn White: This song rhymes “baby” with “crazy” right from the get-go – pet peeve! Nonetheless, this song has a bit more of an original bite than “Secret Rendezvous”. There’s more room for Karyn White to flex her stuff, and the rhythm and instrumental is punchier and certainly more catchier. I didn’t mention it at the “Secret Rendezvous” entry, but it’s clear that this is an attempt to bring more Janet Jackson-like women performers on the radio. This isn’t exceptional by any means, but I wouldn’t dare complain if this popped up on a party playlist. It’s all in good fun radio fodder!
63. “Second Chance” – .38 Special: Something about the sound of lite-rock records like these make me imagine a sunset scene with something like bikers riding off into the distance. That’s probably the most positive thing I can say about this record, really. The guitars are gentle enough to strike a chord in me for a while, but nothing else really rises above forgettable mediocrity. It’s actually pretty boring, now that I think about it. I have no idea how this became their biggest hit, but here we are.
62. “I Don’t Want Your Love” – Duran Duran: Kind of crazy how Duran Duran is still powering through to the end of the 80s, huh? The electronic production here is sleek and actually kind of awesome, with the usual bombast of synthesizers and now horns thrown into the mix. The lyrics and especially melody sound like it could have come from any other Duran Duran hit of the past few years, and the band themselves sound like they’re phoning it in a bit. It’s about as heavily produced as “Notorious”, sans everything that made that track interesting and a spoken bit that is kind of awkwardly shoved in (“I like noise…”). Still, I can see this one growing on me with some time, so I’ll take it for now.
61. “18 and Life” – Skid Row: Contrary to the pumped-up hedonism celebrations and watered-down power ballads that were invading the glam metal scene at the time, Skid Row made the ambitious decision to cover a tragic tale of a young kid who went down the wrong path and found himself imprisoned for life. And I gotta say, while I don’t really go for music of this type, I super dig this track. While some of these lines might come off as try-hard and corny under the wrong hands, the guys of Skid Row give it all they got, making for a truly resonant hard rock tune. Sebastian Bach on vocals is especially notable, giving each line all that they’re worth. This is just an impressively well-composed piece of metal that makes all of the bottom-of-the-barrel stuff from the genre totally worth it. Well, almost.
60. “When the Children Cry” – White Lion: Okay… forget what I just said. I forgot that White Lion was a thing. And dear god, this song is just ridiculously bad. It’s preachy, slow, tone-deaf, and just sooo… well, bad. I honestly don’t have the energy to critique this song line by line, as I truly want to do, but let me just throw the chorus here to give you an idea: “When the children cry, let them know we tried / ‘Cause when the children sing, then a new world begins”. Yep, it’s that kind of song, all sung by a guy whose voice wavers to the brink of crackly chaos with every line. Geez, 1989 was a terrible year.
59. “Cherish” – Madonna: Phew… here’s a refresher. If pressed for time so I couldn’t think about it too much, I’d probably name Like a Prayer my very favorite Madonna album. With that one, she took on a number of difference directional changes with her sound and content, solidifying her as the absolute queen of reinvention. “Cherish” takes things back to her bubblegum sound on which she begun her career, and boy is it wonderful. The synth backup is sweet and lovely, as is Madonna’s performance which is euphoric as all hell. There are a few, uh, questionable lines (“Romeo and Juliet, they never felt this way, I bet”), but none of them are very distracting, so it’s fine. Yeah, this is pretty much the purest definition of mindless pop that one could fathom – but I love every bit of it, nonetheless.
58. “Sowing the Seeds of Love” – Tears for Fears: Looks like even though the decade is nearly done, the 80s still aren’t done with good 0l’ 60s nostalgia. While I’m very familiar with the sound Tears For Fears incorporated in Songs From the Big Chair, I’d never actually listened to this one in its entirety and was even surprised to find that it is, in fact, by Tears For Fears. Their sound is totally remodeled here, which is already impressive enough. Many have called this a “Beatles pastische” of sorts and… yeah, I can see this, and it does sound mighty good. What impressed me, though, is how political this song is from the get-go: “High time, we made a stand and shook up the views of the common man”. And the “politician granny” is certainly a reference to Margaret Thatcher. Somehow, though, this vision of an empowered society sounds less abrasive and angry as one would expect – in fact, it sounds pretty gentle, especially at that chorus. Anyway, it might be a bit hard for me to wrap my brain around this one at the moment, but I do know I dig it a hell of a lot, and in this year I’ll take all I can get!
57. “Soldier of Love” – Donny Osmond: Well… geez. I guess it’s better than his dweeby 70s output, but that’s not saying much considering he was a literal child. The music on this one is pretty cool, but then again it’s pretty standard pounding dance-pop stuff. Osmond himself isn’t bad – just kind of there. I wonder how many folks confused this track with an unreleased George Michael cut – probably a lot. Not much else to say except these lyrics are incomprehensible beyond belief (“Like a thief in the night, who can’t get enough / I am willing to fight, ’cause I’m a soldier of love”), and the “sha-la-la” parts are annoying. Yeah, I’m moving on from this disasterpiece now.
56. “I Like It” – Dino: Actually, forget what I said about the Madonna entry – this is mindless radio pop, through and through. This is really bad, but not in a way spending much time on. It’s just repetitive and doesn’t try very hard in any aspect of its existence. It just moves along like clockwork, from start to finish. Honestly, even typing any words about it is boring me to tears, so I’m gonna move on.
55. “Express Yourself” – Madonna: Yet another stellar Like a Prayer jam. I kind of wish this weren’t a song about getting a man’s attention, because the mood and energy of this song could work simply as a pick-me-up anthem on its own. The electronic production, complete with those peppy horns, is a real hip-shaker from start to finish. Madonna is as confident as ever here, giving probably one of my favorite performances of her career. The feminist declarations are a bit too watery for my liking (as I implied earlier), but I think lines like, “You deserve the best in life / So if the time isn’t right then move on” were certainly very much needed in 1989. Yeah, this holds up really well, and I love it.
54. “Satisfied” – Richard Marx: Alright, looks like Richard Marx had one more genuine arena rock hit in him before he nose-dived right into cheesy adult contemporary territory. This one, surprisingly, went to number-one, so I’ll keep this short in lieu of a longer review eventually. There’s some cool guitar stuff going on here (namely that main riff) and Marx himself sounds pumped-up enough to sound convincing, but the song itself suffers from a serious lack of distinct personality to carve it apart from the rest of ’em. Yep, that about sums it up, actually.
53. “Armageddon It” – Def Leppard: Heh… pun in title makes me happy. Anyway, I’ve got a pretty good track record with Def Leppard (save for “Pour Some Sugar on Me”), so I had relatively high hopes for this one. For the most part, the guitar groove moves along nicely and the “Gimme all of your lovin'” in the chorus is one hell of an earworm. The verses are where the song tends to falter a bit – namely in that the vocalist is far too mush-mouthed for me to get much of a semblance of what he’s saying without me squinting my eardrums. Additionally, the structure of the tune as a whole is a tad sloppy and disjointed… although, for the most part, this doesn’t stop me from getting into the vibe at the most important bits. Thus, I’d say that this is a win overall. Sure, what the hell?
52. “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” – New Kids on the Block: Ahh, and here we are: possibly the definitive New Kids song. Or, at least it’s the one that plays in my head whenever the group name is mentioned. While the buzzy production on these tunes continues to be a bit annoying to me, and the song structure doesn’t flow along as nicely as I think it does, the melody in the pre-chorus(es?) is satisfying in a consumable radio pop kinda way. The “Whoa, oh, oh-oh-oh” in the chorus is also catchy as hell, and makes me understand, for a brief moment, just why these guys were a big deal in the first place. But then again… “You’re the reason why I sing this song”? That’s just lazy. Meh, it’s barely passable.
51. “So Alive” – Love and Rockets: This is the closest that Bauhaus ever got to attaining a pop hit in the states, so of course I’m bound to love it. It’s probably not even worth mentioning that this was 100% riding off the coattails of INXS – from the low, bass-driven production, to the equally as dirgey lead vocals, to the gospel choir backup for seemingly no reason at all. Besides this, though, I dig this tune quite a bit, though not nearly as much as I did during my goth phase in high school. The verses are hypnotizing as hell (“I don’t know what color your eyes are, baby / But your hair is long and brown”) and the chorus, while simple, is a satisfying enough catharsis to make its mark. There’s not too much here in terms of actual substance, but the dark, dingy atmosphere of the record as a whole more than makes up for it. Yeah, I super dig it!
50. “My Heart Can’t Tell You No” – Rod Stewart: Uh…? It’s actually kind of ridiculous that we allowed Rod Stewart to stick around as long as he has. But I guess that’s just my own biases speaking. Anyway, after a few songs through the years that have been at least marginally interesting, we’ve now reached the dismal, autopilot phase of Stewart’s career. Stewart’s voice honestly doesn’t bother me as much as it general does, and there’s even some interesting stuff going on with the instrumentals (check out that bass!). Still… eh. I find it very hard to care much about this one beyond casual, unthinking acceptance. So I guess I’ll just leave it at that, then. Certainly could be worse.
49. “Hangin’ Tough” – New Kids on the Block: Here’s another NKOTB number… and dear lord, is it bad. I mean, geez. It has everything that the previous two singles from the group has against it, with the additional unsavory element of these boys posturing as tough and rowdy hooligans amidst terrible rapping, sampling, and… beatboxing? It’s not even slightly worth buying into… yet this topped the pop charts for one solid week. Sigh…
48. “Every Little Step” – Bobby Brown: Okay, so no matter where my opinions on Bobby Brown sway (and boy, do they sway), this is one single of his I will always stand by. The stretchy, bouncy New Jack Swing does little more than keep up the rhythm, but Brown himself sounds legitimately strong and kind of profound here. The chorus is simple and even a bit childish (“Every little step I make, we’ll be together”), but other lines like, “As a matter of fact, it blows my mind you would even talk to me” is sung with a believable tinge of vulnerability, unlike the macho posturing in songs like “Roni”. Yet despite the vulnerability, he never veers off course and remains a powerful, charismatic performer through and through. And yeah, the song is catchy as all hell. I loved this one as a kid and I love it now – deal with it.
47. “Love Shack” – The B-52s: After years and years of acclaim from a number of directions, The B-52’s finally nab a top ten hit! And boy, it could not have happened to a better song. Granted, “Love Shack” is far from my favorite song by the group, but I can also understand that much of their wackier early work bing less accessible to a wider audience. While I can understand the criticisms of this song, I also believe that this song succeeds at taking on a more polished form of the band’s sound, while still shining a light on the members’ strengths – namely Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider. I love every single weird hook here (“Glitter on the mattress, glitter on the highway), and the party atmosphere is infectious as infectious gets. It’s just a cute, unbridled, nonsensical, absolutely joyful tune that I find hard to dislike no matter how much it’s overplayed. Yeah, as much as I adore The B-52’s, this song is included in the love.
46. “Real Love” – Jody Watley: Welcome back, Jody Watley! While this one has the same fierce, loud snare percussion that her singles tend to encompass, I have a harder time connecting to this one than “Looking For a New Love” and “Don’t You Want Me”. The chorus just sounds a whole lot limper here, and Watley is slightly more disinterested in carving out her own personality through the journey of the track. Since Watley never had much of a great singing voice to begin with, I feel like there’s nothing really holding up this track besides a consistent rhythm that was too weak for Janet Jackson to undertake. It’s not bad, per se, but boy is it easy to forget.
45. “Rock On” – Michael Damian: So, you remember the original of this song? By David Essex? I covered it wayyy back in my overview of 1974’s top 100 songs (from May 2016!!!). The sparseness of the production and eye-roll worthy lyrics initially turned me off – while I’ve since softened on it, I still can’t see the appeal. This song is essentially exactly the same in every way, only with more 80s guitars and synthesizers thrown in. It’s just as unworthy on ones time… yet it still topped the Hot 100. Yeah, I don’t know either.
44. “Batdance” – Prince: For what it’s worth, Prince’s Batman soundtrack is incredible. And while I don’t know why exactly I enjoy “Batdance” so much… I certainly know that I admire the hell out of it! Alongside a slinky funk groove, Prince throws together a bunch of audio from the film, alongside his own guitar playing and percussion… and some other stuff, just for the heck of it. It’s messy as messy can get, but it’s Prince. And it made it to number-one, so maybe one day I’ll allow myself to fully decipher this weird and wonderful tune. Or, as best as I can do, anyway.
43. “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” – Great White: I was shocked to find that this was actually a 1989 recording… until I realized that it’s a cover of a song from the mid-70s, which made a lot more sense. This efficiently captures the mood of the southern rock boom from the era through the sound alone, with its honky tonk pianos and stiff, rhythmic guitar licks. Lyrically… well, it’s about sex with groupies, and nothing much else. Besides the slick groove incorporated in this band’s sound, there really isn’t much else here to marvel at. Honestly, unless you turn your brain off completely, it’s a pretty boring song. Though, turning your brain off certainly does help at making it more palatable… so there’s that. I dunno – moving on.
42. “Bust a Move” – Young MC: Considering the poorly aged qualities for which much rap music from the 80s is pretty notorious, it’s pretty awesome that we’ve got something as sleek and well-crafted as “Bust a Move”. Sure, the song’s lyrics don’t helm much more of a responsibility than ensuring that the subject of the song gets laid, and lines like “No fine girls, just ugly faces” shines an ugly light on just how women were barred from being anything more than conquests for rappers in the scene. These disappointing setbacks aside, the sampling and basswork here are so damn fresh and funky. It’s just a really enjoyable party song, even all the way to the present day. It offers a refreshing glimpse into rap’s capability to really succeed in the mainstream, a mindset that seems so quaint now. Anyway, just bust a move!
41. “The Lover in Me” – Sheena Easton: We haven’t seen Sheena Easton rear her head around these parts since her “Sugar Walls” stirred up controversy back in ’84. One would presume that this just about killed her career – but it turns out she has one more top ten single in her! It’s clear here that she’s attempting to jump on the freestyle trend that this latter end of the decade seems to love. While she’s not exactly bad here, it’s clear that she’s letting the punchy production do all the talking, while she tends to blend into the background of a hundred other performers like her. As for the production… well, it’s alright. The whole thing is pretty generic, save for Easton’s famously distinct pipes, but not even those are flexed much. Overall, it’s fine; I certainly wouldn’t mind it being played in rotation with some of her other big hits.
40. “Good Thing” – Fine Young Cannibals: I love Fine Young Cannibal’s cover of “Suspicious Minds” from earlier in the decade – but yeah, that’s definitely not what we’re talking about now. As if we haven’t heard enough 60s nostalgia, this single pumps up some typical Motown-era soul chords, embellished by a some handclaps and other jaunty percussion. It’s a groovy little song, though I fail to see if there’s enough solid substance here to make the style very worthwhile. It did go to number-one, so I’ll leave it here. It’s alright.
39. “Born to Be My Baby” – Bon Jovi: Here’s yet another loud, bone-headed Bon Jovi arena number, and… well, it’s basically “Livin’ on a Prayer”. Okay, not exactly, but the verses definitely push that direction (“We both got jobs ’cause there’s bills to pay / We got something they can’t take away / Our love, our lives”). This is probably the most sonically congested I’ve heard them sound on any of their records. Everyone involved just sounds so incredibly aimless, as if they’ve been assigned a few roles to play, then they got drunk the previous night and forgot to rehearse, so to compensate, they all agree to just play their instruments as loud as possible. The guitar solo is exceptionally painful – but yeah, this isn’t quite as “Lay Your Hands on Me”, but it ain’t good.
38. “Don’t Rush Me” – Taylor Dayne: Interestingly enough, Taylor Dayne’s first four singles sound distinct enough that they can be told apart from one another with minimal effort. You can’t say that too often with new pop stars! This actually might be my second-favorite of her songs I’ve heard so far, behind “Tell It to My Heart”. The rhythm isn’t quite so loud and aggressive, and the synthesizers opt for a sweeter, sunnier sounding rhythm. Moreover, Dayne gets a chance to show off her truly impressive vocal ability, and that chorus is genuinely pretty good! I still doubt she’ll release anything with quite as lightning-in-a-bottle levels of amazingness as “Heart”, but if this is the next best thing, I can’t complain.
37. “When I’m with You” – Sheriff: This song is interesting, in that it held absolutely no one’s attention during its first release in 1988. It’s only after the band had broken up the following year did the song finally gain traction, eventually climbing all the way up to number-one! Truthfully, I don’t see anything particularly special about this song, besides it being luckily rediscovered around Valentine’s Day and, thus, tapping into the heartstrings of many. Every single line here is a cliché, the tempo plods along unconvincingly, the ending key change sounds absolutely copy-pasted on, and that final note is annoying. Ugh, next!
36. “Buffalo Stance” – Neneh Cherry: Man, Neneh Cherry should have absolutely blown up after this one. Nonetheless, she only attained one more top 40 hit to date, which is just shameful. The mere sound of this record practically predicts the future with every second of its existence. The brilliant melding of energetic dance-pop, booming house music, and fierce, feisty hip hop… it’s so damn inspired and there’s absolutely nothing else that sounds like it in this year – or any other, for that matter! Neneh has such a vibrant personality and the way it weaves in and around the utterly unpredictable instrumental is hella admirable. The chorus hook is beautiful (“No moneyman can win my love / It’s sweetness that I’m thinkin’ of”) and all the other little vocal parts are… honestly, beyond words. I don’t have the capacity to really profess my admiration on this one. Probably a few dozen more listens are in order…
35. “If I Could Turn Back Time” – Cher: I admire the hell out of Diane Warren, even though I know she has essentially written the same song dozens of times, repurposing them for whatever artist of her choice. In this case, though, I think she got it right. That explosive chorus is perfect for the chesty vocal strength of Cher, leading it to be an instant sing-along classic. The verses are relatively weaker on that front and the generic AOR production isn’t doing the song any favors either. Then again, that was a hell of an ambitious choice to place the key change right at the center of the chorus. Who would’ve expected that?? Anyway, this is quite alright.
34. “When I See You Smile” – Bad English: Cool, another romantic power ballad. The chorus to this one pretty much turns me off immediately – “When I seeee youuuu smiiiile…”. And after that, some more empty lines – “I can face the world, I see a ray of light”… Oh wait, this was Diane Warren too! Now I’m sad. But yeah, it’s about as useless as it sounds, made even worse by some absolutely gaudy keys and the blandest lead vocalist this side of Warrant. Yeah, hard pass.
33. “Wild Thing” – Tone Loc: Oh great… Tone Loc again… So as I mentioned earlier, this introduces Loc’s signature move of keeping a staccato electric guitar riff embedded in the rhythm of the tune. It’s an inspired choice, and it certainly seems to work better here than in “Funky Cold Medina”. Like “Medina” and “Bust a Move” this song is about… getting laid. Yeah, I’m pretty sure this is gonna stay a trend in hip hop music for a long, long time. Thankfully, the surprise transphobia from “Medina” seems pretty absent here – but it is replaced with an unneeded diss at sex work in the final verse. What gives, man?? Anyway, I would certainly much rather listen to “Wild Thing” than the other song, but it’s still too stiff and spare for me to give very much of a damn about. So, there’s that.
32. “Eternal Flame” – The Bangles: Strangely enough, even though there’s a lot here that would reasonably qualify it as one of the most trite, sugary-sweet, absolutely dreadful love songs (not the least of which being its sickly lyrics and predictable progression)… I do enjoy this one. There’s just something about Susanna Hoffs’ girlish vocals that stir something in me – likely, it’s the sense that this is being sung by someone probably to young to know what romance entails, yet feels it with every fiber of their being. I dunno. This went to number-one, so I’ll write more later.
31. “The Living Years” – Mike + The Mechanics: This one also topped the charts, so I’ll keep it short. Essentially it’s the late-80s version of “Cat’s in the Cradle”, though somehow more maudlin and hammering in the point much more obviously. There are some beautiful bits here and there, including some of the lines and that blissful guitar line. However, the backing choir in the chorus may have been a bit too much… It’s ok, though.
30. “Forever Your Girl” – Paula Abdul: I’ve been waiting this entire list for this gal to pop up, and here she is: Paula Abdul, one of the biggest power players of 1989! Admittedly, though, this is far from her best song. Her ambition and attitude is certainly enough to keep one listening, but the melody and lyrics here (and even some of the production choices) sound like some D-grade Madonna stuff. It’s not awful, but probably best forgotten than dwelt on.
29. “Toy Soldiers” – Martika: And speaking of something that sounds suspiciously Madonna-esque – this one suspiciously contains vibes of “Live to Tell”, for sure. Seriously, though, this also carries a whole lot more on its shoulders, with its lyrics taking on some pretty rough subject matter. The inclusion of the children’s choir is a little much (why was this such a trend this year?), but Martika sings the hell out of the whole thing. The chorus alone is pretty impactful. Yeah, I dig this dark shit, for sure.
28. “Baby Don’t Forget My Number” – Milli Vanilli: And yet another one of the biggest acts of the year – Milli Vanilli! Obviously, despite them being majorly successful, they were unfortunately a totally fake band… but lets look at a few of their giant hits before the veil was lifted. This one’s got one hell of a great dance-pop instrumental, with some peppy pianos and guitar licks that really get the mood going. The rapping is dated to a hilarious effect and the chorus isn’t quite as impactful as it thinks it is. Nonetheless, this isn’t the worst thing in the world and is catchy enough to hold my attention for four minutes.
27. “How Can I Fall?” – Breathe: What in the world? This band’s previous hit was such an utter nothing of a song, how in the world did they manage another hit? Very well then… this is yet another slow, faceless adult contemporary ballad from the late 80s and almost not even worth talking about. I guess I can get on board with the mild catchiness of the chorus if I try hard enough, and the inclusion of electric guitars pumps the general pulse ever so much. Overall though… yeah, I’m gonna forget all about this as soon as I finish typing this sentence. Aaand now it’s gone.
26. “I”ll Be Loving You (Forever)” – New Kids on the Block: Of course the biggest hit of a relatively danceable pop artist is a dreary slow ballad – this is 1989, after all! Boy, this sucks. If it weren’t for the utter absurdity that is “Hangin’ Tough”, this would easily be the worst from NKOTB. The lyrics are embarrassing enough, but the never-faltering falsetto is just plain awful. Not worth investing time in if you’re over the age of eleven.
25. “Like a Prayer” – Madonna: Madonna totally peaked at “Like a Prayer”, as well as its accompanying album. While the video is obviously a huge factor to its fame, the song itself is also a perfect conglomeration of everything that makes Madonna so damn appealing. From the sweet/sultry lyrics (“I hear your voice, it’s like an angel sighing”), to the purely catchy chorus, to the numerous ebbs and flows the song takes throughout its five-and-a-half minutes. The more downbeat bridge is particularly powerful, and probably Madonna’s finest moment. Can’t wait to write more on this chart-topper at a later time.
24. “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” – Simply Red: It’s been a while since we had a Gamble & Huff composition on the charts – but here we are! Of course, it’s a smoother R&B song repurposed for the softer pop tendencies of the 80s. While it’s true that the instrumental is quite a bit blander than Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ original, as well as the backup vocalists sounding like they’d rather be anywhere else, the lead vocalist puts his all into the more emotional swells of the tune. Besides this one positive quality, though, the entire song moves along at too sluggish a pace for me to find the willpower to decipher much more out of it. It’s a ballad about infidelity – what more do you need to know?
23. “I’ll Be There For You” – Bon Jovi: So, you know how I mentioned my nostalgia goggles with all those Guns N’ Roses entries? Well, I must mention that it also applies here, since I did really enjoy this song as a youngster. There are parts here and there that I now realize are almost bafflingly stupid (“I’ll be the water when you get thirsty, baby / When you get drunk, I’ll be the wine”), it still all goes down smoothly enough that I tend to enjoy it slightly more than all those other dull power ballads. I know, I know… but still, it’s alright!
22. “Listen to Your Heart” – Roxette: I’m a filthy millennial, so I mostly recognize this song for the cover DHT did in the 2000s. Looking back, though, this is definitely a superior cover. The toned-down keyboards are still zestful enough to give the song the emotional resonance it needs, and vocalist Marie Fredriksson sounds absolutely gorgeous, despite the overall stiffness of the tune. I don’t love this, but it’s a good one still!
21. “Blame It on the Rain” – Milli Vanilli: This might be the quintessential Milli Vanilli song, if there ever was one – it’s certainly the one most people remember. Or at least, they remember the chorus, which is punchy enough to just work. Like “Baby, Don’t Forget My Number” the instrumentals do some pretty cool things here, but the melody in the verses just hang limply atop everything else. The song as a whole just comes off pretty sloppy, but has enough positive qualities to barely squeeze by with a passing grade. Eh, sure.
20. “Two Hearts” – Phil Collins: Top twenty, yay! Here, Phil Collins pairs with legendary Motown producer Lament Dozier to create this song, which is essentially a late-80s take on Motown – like FYC’s “Good Thing”, but sunnier and catchier. Honestly, I’m very much a fan of this – it’s the strongest Collins has sounded in years and the chorus especially is a real treat. It’s nothing to compare with his best stuff, but I super dig it, nonetheless!
19. “On Our Own” – Bobby Brown: I’ve been aware of this song back when I was avidly searching for music made for movie soundtracks (this was for Ghostbusters II), but I had no idea it was this big of a hit! Bobby Brown as a hypeman for the Ghostbusters honestly works pretty well – this song has some nice New Jack Swing production and Brown doesn’t do a bad job at keeping up with its energy. The sung bits of, “on our own…” in the chorus is honestly a pretty compelling hook, and the chorus itself is fun as hell (“Well, I guess we’re gonna have to take control!”). There’s even a third-act rap verse that is all Ghostbusters-y and stuff! Sure most of this is pretty cookie-cutter in both the contemporary R&B style and the role it plays as a soundtrack cut, but it’s pretty damn fun nonetheless.
18. “She Drives Me Crazy” – Fine Young Cannibals: Is this the most 80s-sounding pop-rock song to come out of the 80s? Well, that snare drum is definitely giving me the impression anyway. Besides that, though, I really dig that big, booming chorus even if it feels a couple measures too short. The falsetto in the verses takes some getting used to, but after a few listens, the mere vibe of the record kind of falls into place. Not sure what else to say about this one – it’s a good one, though!
17. “The Look” – Roxette: While this song is pretty solid overall, I still enjoy it a bit less than “Listen to Your Heart”. The guitar/synth groove is funkier, for sure, but I’m not too huge of a fan of the speak-singing in the verse. I guess there’s just not enough Marie Fredriksson in here for me to be totally fulfilled, but that might be my own personal bias. In any case, “Walking like a man, feeling like a hammer” is one hell of a line, and I’ll always come back to this song for that alone (as well as the guitar).
16. “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” – Milli Vanilli: This is the only one of Milli Vanilli’s three number-one singles that stayed at the top for two weeks. Honestly, it’s far and away my favorite of the three. The Casio keyboard is incredibly kitschy, but somehow circles back around to charming. Same with the tuneless rapping by Fab, the pathetic saxophone bits, the hilarious falsetto by Rob. It’s all so bizarre and probably terrible, but it somehow hits all the right buttons for me… yeah, I can’t explain it either.
15. “Heaven” – Warrant: Funny – I just used Warrant as a punchline earlier in this overview, and now here they are! Yeah, this is one of those quintessential Power Ballads that never fails to bore me to tears. There are a lot of corny lines here – “I don’t need to be a Superman / As long as you will always be my biggest fan” being one of the more saccharine. I also hate how he calls his beloved his “little girl”, and how that ending key change is lazy a fuck. I don’t know why, but I’m always anticipating the chorus as being the same chorus as Europe’s “Carrie” – that’s how formulaic all of these had become at this point. Anyway, this isn’t impossibly dreadful; just another one of these to add to the pile.
14. “Don’t Wanna Lose You” – Gloria Estefan: I wish I liked Gloria Estefan more, but every time she releases another one of these insipid, forgettable ballads, it makes it all the more harder to do so. Thankfully (for now), this one topped the charts so I don’t have to say too much about it at the moment. And good, since I’m struggling to say anything more about it than that single sentence up above. Actually, I think I’m done now. Yeah, moving on.
13. “Lost in Your Eyes” – Debbie Gibson: And now it’s Debbie Gibson’s turn to take the adult contemporary ballad – and of course this one topped the charts, and of course it’s her biggest hit this year. To be fair, she sings the tune pretty well and the emotional resonance here is far more pronounced than any number of ballads we’ve uncovered this decade so far. She’s definitely got the talent to make something like this work – and ultimately, it does. It’s just not totally for me, I think.
12. “Waiting For a Star to Fall” – Boy Meets Girl: This song feels like it’s tailor-made for me to love it… and honestly, that might be where the bulk of its problems lie. This duo was the husband-wife team who was previously better known for writing “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” for Whitney Houston, and after listening to this track, this fact comes as no surprise at all. The melody is certainly airy and catchy, especially in that infectious chorus, but there’s also a certain synthetic quality about it that rubs me the wrong way in ways I can’t fully articulate. Everything just feels so deliberately tacked-on, almost manipulative in its attempts to stir up some of that shimmery, good 80s feelings. To my ears, it just falls totally flat. Yeah, do not like…
11. “Right Here Waiting” – Richard Marx: And here it is – the very first ginormous ballad by Richard Marx that cemented him int he doldrums of the adult contemporary field forever. This is probably the absolute pinnacle of late-80s lameness, but I never minded it too much. There are some schlocky lyrical turns here and there, sure, but I think Marx sells the mood better than any number of hair-metal rockers doing the same thing around this time. Not worth the hate, in my opinion.
10. “Giving You the Best That I Got” – Anita Baker: Top ten, yay! Although “Sweet Love” is the song I most strongly associate with Anita Baker, it’s this one that was actually her highest ranking song on the Hot 100! And, well… I’m not nearly as smitten with this one. The sensual power so evident in “Sweet Love” (and basically the entire rest of Rapture) is so dissipated here, instead replaced with some wispy instrumentals and a relatively limp, smooth-jazzier sound overall. Baker is still performing her vocal acrobatics with flair, but there’s not nearly as much going for this one. Do I still enjoy it? Well, of course – it is Anita Baker, after all. But I’d much sooner leave this behind than spend much time mulling over it.
9. “Baby, I Love Your Way / Freebird Medley” – Will to Power: It’s the late 80s, so of course we have another limp 70s-inspired chart-topper in the mix. I love the melody to Peter Frampton’s composition too damn much to leave this in the dust completely, but boy does this all sound as uninspired as hell. The twinkly keys do absolutely nothing for me; same for those laughably synthesized trumpets. This is just a wholly empty bit of sonic nothing… ugh.
8. “Girl You Know It’s True” – Milli Vanilli: And this – the song that launched the legends who were Milli Vanilli. Like everything else in this godforsaken year, this is pretty embarrassing in its explicit vapidity (“Girl, you know it’s true / Oooh, ooh, ooh, I love you”). The only exception with this one is that it can actually get me jamming along to that stupid-ass chorus after a couple listens or so. I’d be kidding myself if I tried to call this anything more than empty, repetitive, Eurotrash… but it’s pretty catchy empty, repetitive, Eurotrash…
7. “Wind Beneath My Wings” – Bette Midler: Yeah, I saw Beaches once. And yeah, there may or may not be an embarrassing video of me singing this song at a sixth-grade talent show in existence. Doesn’t mean this song is any good – it’s pretty atrocious, actually. The chintzy keyboards suck all life out of anything in its general vicinity and they don’t stop. Midler is hamming it up to degrees than are pretty outrageous, even for her. The song goes on a full minute-and-a-half too long. It’s just… bad, bad, bad.
6. “Cold Hearted” – Paula Abdul: Another Paula Abdul chart-topper! This one is pretty dang forgettable – maybe even more so than “Forever Your Girl”, in that there are others that sound just like this that could replace this one so easily. Nonetheless, this has got some punchy New Jack Swing production that I can’t quite push away so easily, and even Abdul herself has a stunning, spunky personality I can totally get on board with. It’s fine!
5. “Miss You Much” – Janet Jackson: Oh my god, finally something good! Seriously, this year has been one of the most dismal as far as number of truly great singles go. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis really step their game up here, with immense, textured production that is just a real treat to the ears. Jackson gives one of her best performances here, with a bucketful of vibrancy and utter badassery. The song is punchy, catchy, and always leaving the listener at the edge of their seat with every turn. I just love this so much.
4. “Straight Up” – Paula Abdul: And time to follow this up with one of the other great woman pop tunes of this year. By the way, in case anyone is interested, this year gave us thirty-seven tracks credited to at least one woman. Not exactly the 50/50 split that it should be, but it is also the second-best year of the 80s as far as numerical representation is concerned (right behind 1987’s impressive forty tracks by women!). Anyway, it’s not hard to see why this one was the biggest of them all. It was Paula Abdul’s breakthrough single and while her singing has never been great (certainly not here), she has enough bombastic personality and pop appeal to more than make up for it. And you can’t ignore that chorus!!
3. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” – Poison: Blah, blah, blah – I already wrote about this chart-topper at length, you can click on that link right there to read. When all is said and done, though, it is pretty astounding that out of the huge, clunky mess of power ballads that this year pooped out, we got one that actually plays the part pretty solidly. I’m still not convinced it’s anything particularly amazing, but relatively speaking, it’s pretty dang exceptional.
2. “My Prerogative” – Bobby Brown: I have no idea if Bobby Brown amounted to much after 1989 (guess we’ll find out later?), but this is definitely one of his more shining moments. It comes off a bit try-hard in its “all grown up” flexing, but the New Jack Swing production is fun and buzzy anyway. I probably wouldn’t be able to stomach this being overplayed for months on end, but for what it is, I can’t complain. Mmmhmm… yeah…
1. “Look Away” – Chicago: Okay, WHAT. So, I have now at least somewhat covered 1,000 of the biggest hit singles throughout the course of the 80s – and we end this whole decade, widely known as being among one of the most influential in all of pop music history… with fucking Chicago. It’s even more of a slap in the face, considering that this song hit number-one for two weeks in December of 1988. Oh well, I guess this is what we deserve. In a year terribly congested with pitiful excuses of power ballads, why not end it all with possibly the granddaddy of them all. This isn’t even awful in an interesting way – it’s just soulless and devoid of anything remotely worth pondering upon. Even more perplexing is that there are no horns here, considering how much both Chicago and the entirety of the late 80s loves their horns. Don’t worry though – there’s a needless key change at the final chorus, so at least we’re in proper ’89 fashion!! Well, let’s look at the bright side anyway – at least there’s no Peter Cetera on this track. Ugh, I’m so done. Bring on the 90s.