paulaabdulstraightup“What is this? ’80s music day?”

“Actually, it’s 1989, all day baby!”

“Well, I lived through this music once. Why are you forcing me to do it again?”

This was a conversation this morning between me and my wife, who tends to like her own combination of music regardless of decade or individual years, while I, on the other hand, like to compartmentalize into little boxes with everything. And there was no littler box than 1989 when it came to music. There really was no exploration or furthering of musicianship in 1989, not clearly identified by its popular music anyway.

bobbybrownThe number one song in 1989 was “Look Away,” by Chicago, a band that has produced pretty much the same song over and over again. But it was a good song the first time and it’s still good in this incarnation. Fast on its heels was the biggest song of Bobby Brown’s solo career, “My Prerogative.” I can almost hear it again now without hearing Britney Spears’ reinvention of it from the ’00s. The beat screams ’90s even though it clings to the late ’80s in time of release.

Rounding out the top 10 were:

Every Rose Has Its Thorn – Poison
Straight Up – Paula Abdul
Miss You Much – Janet Jackson
Cold Hearted – Paula Abdul
Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler
Girl You Know It’s True – Milli Vanilli
Baby I Love Your Way – Will To Power
Giving You The Best That I Got – Anita Baker

One thing that calls out to me from this list was how popular Paula Abdul really was in the late ’80s/early ’90s. With songs like “Straight Up,” she made a huge name for herself, then followed it up with “Cold Hearted,” the anthem against all men who can’t show emotions and who protect secrets. I’ve always loved her voice, even though it was never the strongest one, but it was her beats that made her different, the flow of the music that made me want to dance. That still makes me want to dance every time I hear her.

millivanilliLike my wife said, one thing about the late ’80s is that it was an imminently forgettable time for those who were seniors in high school or college students back then. They were so focused on their schoolwork that any “extras” were truly that: extras. Music was pretty much for background with them. Their tastes would generally run to early ’80s because they had less responsibilities then. So groups like The Police and Echo and the Bunnymen, and individual artists like Pat Benatar and Prince were more their speed, their comfort music they were already familiar with.

For me, though, and other Generation Xers who were born in the mid to late ’70s the late ’80s were a coming of age time for us. It was and remains our comfort music, what we go back to when we need reassurance that we matter in this world. Songs like “Toy Soldiers” by Martika bring back those lazy summer days when the whole world was ahead of us but we didn’t have to be a part of it yet. The music still resonates because the time still resonates, and it’s still so glorious.

Yes, even “Blame It On the Rain.”



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