Friday Five: September 1988

It’s not that 1988 didn’t produce any memorable pop, rock, or R&B hits–it’s the year of George Michael’s “Faith,” for example–it’s just that many of the more successful songs from the year aren’t as enduring as songs from other years.

Maybe it’s a product of where music was at the time. Big hair rock, pop ballads, and dance pop seemed all equally popular, and college (or alternative) radio was climbing towards the mainstream. This musical polyglot is kind of characteristic of the charts for most of the rock n’ roll era, so maybe it’s not unusual. The dearth of really ensuring, standout hits that have survived the ages is the more interesting thing.

Apparently, September 1988 is a good reflection of the year as a whole. You’ll know the songs, or you won’t, but only one of them has stood the test of time to achieve the iconic status I’m talking about. And even that only sat atop the Hot 100 for two weeks.

5. “Peek-A-Boo” by Siouxsie and the Banshees
I don’t know this song and I really don’t know much at all about the music of Siouxsie and her banshees. I know they had fans–passionate fans if my world were any indicator–and I know they had a lot of success. I bet this song is not indicative of their best, either artistically or in terms of sales, but it’s a historic song for this month of 1988. In the second week of September, Billboard debuted their “Alternative” charts, meant to capture music that was big but not as “commercial.” This was the first #1 song on those charts.

4. “Finish What Ya Started” by Van Halen
Van Halen had become “Van Hagar” in 1985 and still managed to continue their success of the David Lee Roth era. They had a hit album in 1986 (5150, which topped the level of success they had with their monumentally successful album 1984) and followed it up with 1988’s OU812. This was a decline for the band in terms of sales, but it produced a set of hit singles including this late addition to the album. It peaked at #2 on the “Mainstream Rock” charts in early September and then began its quick decline. It’s a catchy song, yes, but it’s also a great microcosm of the kinds of simple masculinity that built big hair rock in the era.

3. “Another Part of Me” by Michael Jackson
Michael was a factory churning out musical success in the 1980s and early 1990s. At his best and most successful, those songs entered the popular cannon of music in ways most artists only dream of. Not all were songs that get a lot of play today, but they were still hits for the time. His album Bad was the first in history to produce five consecutive #1 songs. This was the sixth, which hit the #1 spot on the R&B charts in September 1988 even though it only made it to #11 on the Hot 100, ending his record-setting streak. It was a known song already, having been written and recorded for his 1986 3D Disney movie “Captain EO.” The video gives us none of that (after all, it was still playing at Disney’s parks) but instead goes live to show what Michael loved to show–just how big a cultural phenomenon he was.

2. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
I was a teenager in my sophomore and then junior year in 1988 and, like most teenagers, my friends and I had strong opinions about music. This was one of those songs that you either liked or hated, at least in my little world. At the time, I probably said stuff about it that suggested I was in the “hate” camp. I mean, it was kind of easy pickings for hard rock fans. But I didn’t really hate the song. First, it was catchy–like the kind of catchy that when you hear it it sticks with you for most of the day. Second, lots of people–friends and family–loved the song. But the most important reason was Bobby McFerrin himself. The man was everywhere on TV and he was a really nice guy. Plus, he played all the “instruments” on this song because all of them were just him and the sounds he made with his voice and body. It hit #1 on the Hot 100 in the last week of the month where it stayed for two weeks. And trivia note: it was from the movie Cocktail, starring Tom Cruise.

1. “Sweet Child O’Mine” by Guns N’ Roses
Out of all the songs on this week’s list, this is arguably the only one to have achieved that iconic status. Funny thing is, it only hit #1 on the Hot 100 for two weeks before fading away! Of course, it was a hit on the rock charts, too, but it only peaked at #7 there. Fans were fickle in 1988. That said, the song grew to be the biggest song for a hard rock band that had lots of big songs and, in many ways, it is the 80s hard rock ballad song of the era. It’s a contender for that title because of its “legs” in our culture. Its cultural endurance owes a lot to the video (equally iconic) but also to the blend of ballad tendencies, with pop and hard rock. It’s as solid song as the band ever produced, and it still deserves listening to, 31 years later.

Friday Five: 1988

I was a sophomore/junior in high school in 1988. I guess the obligatory middle-aged guy thing to say about that is that it feels like yesterday. To be honest, it really doesn’t. It mostly feels like a long time ago, although thinking about it as three decades is a kind of head trip.

It feels a little less old when I hear music from those times. Whether they were songs I loved or not, so many of them were so indelibly seared into my brain that they feel ever-present.

Here are five major “pop songs” from 1988. I won’t say these are the best. I will say that each is part of the soundtrack of those times for me, so much so that they fall into that “ever-present” camp described above.

5. “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” (Billy Ocean)
I honestly can’t remember what I thought of Billy Ocean back then. He wasn’t the style of music I was buying (that was more hard rock and heavy metal), but I listened to a lot of Top 40 stuff on the radio and on MTV. I most associate the song with the movie License to Drive, starring a young Heather Graham, which was kind of made for teenage boys, I guess.

4. “Close My Eyes Forever” (Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne)
I had no idea who Lita Ford was until “Kiss Me Deadly” (the lead single from her 1988 album Lita) was released. A former member of the “all-girl” hard rock band The Runaways, she was everywhere in the heavy metal/hard rock magazine world after that. This single–one of the best of the hard rock ballad genre–is a duet with the metal man himself, something of an intentional argument against the false representation of Ozzy (and other metal acts) as “pro-suicide.”

3. “Parents Just Don’t Understand” (DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince)
Talk about indelibly seared into my brain. There was a time when entertainment didn’t have Will Smith. This song is the start of the era when it did have him. Pre-TV show, pre-movies, he was just a rapper with a kind of clean, pop twist. This was big on MTV, maybe even bigger there than on the radio.

2. “My Prerogative” (Bobby Brown)
The former member of New Edition, an R&B-teenage-boy-band, Bobby Brown broke out on his own in the mid-80s to some minor success. He became huge with his 1988 album Don’t Be Cruel, also the name of the lead off single. This follow up was as big a hit, and a staple at dances in the late 80s.

1. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (Guns N’ Roses)
It’s kind of hard for me not to put this song at the top. Not only was it a favorite of mine from the year, but it kind of solidified the place of GNR at the top of the hard rock heap, too. That says something about the place of metal-ish music at the time. The album came out the summer of 1987, and the first single released on heavy metal stations was “Mr. Brownstone.” Endless touring and “Welcome to the Jungle” took them to the mainstream Top 40. This song made them music legends.

October 15, 1988

Today is the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s game-winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

Gibson’s dinger is one of the most memorable home runs in baseball history, and certainly the greatest in Dodgers’ history. It came in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, when the Dodgers faced the Oakland A’s.  (The boys in blue would win the series 4 games to 1.)

Gibson came up in the bottom of the ninth, two outs, with the tying run (Mike Davis) on first. The count went 3-2 before he lifted one over the right field fence.

A lot of folks might forget that Game 1 also included a grand slam by Jose Canseco, the source of the A’s 4 runs in that game (and, incidentally, his only hit in the series).  I never forget that. It was a trauma I lived with for hours waiting for the end result of that game to unfold.

I bring that up because that made the home run all the sweeter. Of course, Gibson wasn’t even in the line up that night, the stalwart workhorse sidelined by leg injuries that left him hobbling. As Vin Scully said that night, if he had hit it anywhere in the park they might have thrown him out at first.

The call by Scully–who was broadcasting for NBC at the time–is so familiar to baseball fans. But I didn’t get to hear it until the replay.

On October 15, 1988, I was 16 years old and I was working the night shift at my first job, Taco Bell (on Colima Rd., just past Azuza Ave.). I brought my walkman along and listened when I could, usually running off to a supply closet to check in. I listened to the entire 9th inning in that supply closet–alone, in the dark, with a walkman.

This is what I heard: Don Drysdale calling the play-by-play.

I started screaming when Gibby hit the home run. I was a little more excited I think than Drysdale! I went out to tell everybody what happened, but they didn’t understand baseball enough to get it. I mean, a scenario that every kid who has ever played imagines him or herself being in just transpired. In real life!

It’s one of my fondest memories. That night, I felt like Don Drysdale and I shared something special.