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.