The Hits of 1989: Last Year of the Great 80s!
New music and great debuts abound
In 1989 George Herbert Walker Bush became the President of the United States. It would be his only term in office, mostly because he reneged on his promise not to raise taxes. World events were at center stage this year, as the Berlin Wall and the East German Government were torn down, and the two halves of Germany were reunited for the firs time since World War II. Chinese dissidents in Tiananmen Square become worldwide television celebrities as they conduct a protest that will end in tragedy for hundreds, but not before one man in front of a tank becomes an eternal symbol for the struggle against tyranny. Intel marketed the 486 processor, raising the bar for personal computer performance. Microsoft introduced the Office suite of programs which included a word processor, a spreadsheet, a database, and a presentation program. In Japan, the Nintendo company starts selling the Game Boy handheld video game unit.
What happened in 1989's music?
1989 was a generally good year for rock and roll. Dance pop was waning in popularity, new genres were showing up, and inspiration was stirring. New rock and roll hall of fame inductees included The Rolling Stones, The Temptations, Dion, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Bessie Smith, The Soul Stirrers, The Ink Spots, and Phil Spector. Speaking of the Rolling Stones, this year saw the first of the great comeback albums and tours. Steel Wheels reunited Keith and Mick after a couple of years of fighting and bickering like an old married couple, and the tour was one of the most successful in rock history, paving the way for comebacks of all kinds. All the former Beatles were active on the charts, as was Bob Dylan. After a tour with the Grateful Dead as his back-up band, he released a live snapshot of the performances, and almost everyone agreed it was the worst thing he had done since Self Portrait. Then he surprised us all by releasing Oh Mercy, an atmospheric set of great new songs, recorded in New Orleans with atmospheric producer Daniel Lanois, and once again redeemed himself.
The top five hits on the worldwide sales chart were Like a Prayer by Madonna, Eternal Flame by the Bangles, Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins, The Look by Roxette, and Love Shack by the B-52s. Not a bad line-up, but quite a contrast with the top 5 singles in the US: Look Away by Chicago, My Prerogative by Bobby Brown, Every Rose Has its Thorn by Poison, Straight Up by Paula Abdul, and Miss You Much by Janet Jackson. Maybe the dancers were getting tired, maybe it was just the last year of the decade.
Big Ones and Good Ones
Many debuts clogged the CD and LP racks this year,and there were quite a few classics released. First albums appeared by Clint Black and Garth Brooks, signalling a resurgence of cute guys in hats with good songs. Debuts by Shawn Colvin, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana and Green Day graced the best-selling lists. Notable was the rise of hip-hop and rap with classics by De La Soul - 3 Feet High and Rising, Tone Loc with Loced After Dark, and yes, everyone's favorite, 2 Live Crew and Nasty As They Wanna Be. Other great records released included Madonna's Like a Prayer, Don Henley's End of the Innocence, Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty, and the Indigo Girls. It was a good year for music, with lots of hybridization and innovation going on. Maybe for the first time in musical history, a music lover could find quality rock, rap, country, punk, and dance pop all on the same charts.
The biggest trend of 1989 was the embryonic appearance of what came to be known as grunge rock. Born in the great Pacific Northwest and raised on punk, alternative and heavy metal, bands started forming right and left and creativity flowered along with flannel shirts and Doc Martens boots. Soundgarden made their major label debut on A&M records (a sure sign that a GRUNGE SCENE existed), Nirvana recorded a very tentative debut called Bleach, Screaming Trees with Mark Lanegan screaming released their 4th record (obviously they were unsung pioneers), and Mother Love Bone dropped their debut Shine. All of these bands had in common a rebellious streak, an independent attitude like the punks of 20 years ago, and a determination to sound on record like they sounded live. They would become better at it as time passed, but in this last year of the 80s they were the best hope for a new decade of rock and roll.