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1989 Songs Of The Year

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published March 17th 2019
1989 really did have some good music
Looking back at 1969, 50 years ago, got me thinking – what about 1989, thirty years ago? I've done 1999 and 1979, even 2009 so, why not? This was a big year in music – hair metal was being replaced by grunge, 80s pop was being replaced by what evolved into electronic dance music, old warhorses were releasing awesome albums while new up and comers were making themselves known. Music was in a state of flux.

On a personal note, this was my first year at university, in a new environment, out of my comfort zone, and the first year my sport started to pick up nicely. I had not only lost contact with Barbara and Clare, but also a really good friend Mel went to America, and that was it for us as well. I think I upset her, but I certainly never heard from her again. I found I didn't quite fit in at uni, and I was seeing a much older girl (sort of). I had a lot of time to myself, and music was there. Always there.

In collating this list, I went through my music collection. Over a hundred songs made my initial list! That is almost as many as 1987, 1981 and 1982! So I did some culling and lots of listening, and got the list down to a much more manageable size. I did not realise that the music from 1989 was that good. At the time it felt a little bleh after the highs of 1987 and 1988, but with the value of hindsight, it was a surprisingly good year.

1989, Berlin Wall, history
Oh, and in 1989, some wall in Berlin was pulled down…

So, as usual, to start, the "almost there" pre-list. And, yes, it is long. 'About A Girl' by Nirvana; 'Americanos' by Holly Johnson; 'Another Day In Paradise' by Phil Collins; 'Baby I Don't Care' by Transvision Vamp; 'Batdance' by Prince (with one of the great 12 inch mixes); 'Belfast Child' by Simple Minds; 'Buffalo Stance' by Neneh Cherry (so very close); 'Cry In Shame"' by Johnny Diesel & The Injectors; 'Dancing In The Storm' by Boom Crash Opera; 'Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)' by Mötley Crüe (yes, Mötley Crüe… don't judge); 'Hump Music' by No Face (one of those odd tracks I bought and I just enjoy); 'I Go To Extremes' by Billy Joel; 'I Remember You' by Skid Row; 'I Wish It Would Rain Down' by Phil Collins; 'I Won't Back Down' by Tom Petty; 'Janie's Got A Gun' by Aerosmith; 'Leave A Light On' by Belinda Carlisle (another one so very close); 'MacArthur Park' by Jeff Duff Orchestra (if you've never heard this cover song you need to); 'Onion Skin' by Book Crash Opera; 'Pet Sematary' by The Ramones; 'Poison' by Alice Cooper; 'Pretending' by Eric Clapton; 'Roam' by The B–52s; 'Rock On' by Michael Damian; 'Runnin' Down A Dream' by Tom Petty; 'Swing the Mood' by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers (stop judging me); 'The Invisible Man' by Queen; 'Tucker's Daughter' by Ian Moss (off a great album Matchbook); 'Veronica' by Elvis Costello (so incredibly close this one!); 'Way Of The World' by Max Q (forgotten Australian gem); 'When I See You Smile' by Bad English (I mean it - don't judge); 'Wicked Game' by Chris Isaak; 'You Got It' by Roy Orbison; 'Young Years' by Dragon. Whew! And, I think, a sort of eclectic mix here.

As usual, I don't tend to include comedy songs, but this one is just an absolute classic, so here's the best comedy song of 1989.
'Money For Nothing/Beverley Hillbillies' by 'Weird' Al Yankovic

From the vastly under-rated film UHF (released for some stupid reason as The Vidiot From UHF in Australia), this song just so perfectly mimics the music of the Dire Straits song and throws the Beverley Hillbillies theme into it seamlessly. That is just perfection. And the video clip is another spot-on parody. Wow.

With all that in mind, here's the list proper! One song per artist, released in or from an album released in 1989 are my only rules. This is another long list, so give yourself some time to really enjoy all on offer here.

'Head Like A Hole' by Nine Inch Nails

I have been a fan of Nine Inch Nails for nigh on thirty years now, and this song (or 'Closer') was one of the catalysts for that. I think it was termed "industrial rock", but I loved the lyrics and the driving beat, fuzz-tone guitar and just everything about it. Then it was used in one of the best 4 Corners stories the ABC did and… yeah. Great song.

'Free Fallin'' by Tom Petty

My first encounter with Tom Petty was his duet with Stevie Nicks, and the frankly brilliant Pack Up The Plantation live album. Then I sought out as much of his early catalogue as I could, and continued to get new stuff. This song is one of the best from an excellent – and somewhat under-rated – canon. His passing was too early; I think he had much more to offer.

'I Drove All Night' by Cyndi Lauper

Too many people think Cyndi Lauper's career started and stopped with She's So Unusual, or maybe the rock'n'wrestling connection. But her creative output has rarely diminished. Despite being seen by many as a Roy Orbison song, the Cyndi Lauper original release of this track (although I believe Orbison did the first demo… it's all a little confusing) is just as good, with the emotion in her voice just beautiful. I actually prefer her version, for what it's worth.

'Another Chance' by Georgia Satellites

I received the album this track comes from (In The Land Of Salvation And Sin) when I worked for a magazine in the late 80s, early 90s as a reviewer. Just another album to review. But, no – I really enjoyed this one and gave it the best review of any album I did in that magazine (ah, the days when record companies gave us albums to review, free of charge!). And this track was my favourite from it (that and 'Dan Takes Five', according to my original review, though nowadays, I feel this one is definitely the better), just a gentle acoustic track with incredible lyrics. Forgotten, but undeservedly so.

'I Want It All' by Queen

Now, this song has come up before, but it still stands – one of my favourite Queen songs, with the nice break-down in the middle setting it apart from other tracks of its ilk. A great rocker from a great band, one of the best ever. And this track, one of their later ones, stands out as amongst their very best.

'Sowing The Seeds Of Love' by Tears for Fears

This track has such a different sound, from almost psychedelia to start to a soaring chorus, that it really stands out in the year. I liked a few of their singles, but found their albums a bit patchy; still, a great song is a great song, and this is certainly that.

'Rockin' In The Free World' by Neil Young

Neil Young has been producing music for over 50 years. And in all that time, he never shied away from saying things as he saw them. This brilliant rocker is a case in point: it rails against where he saw America headed under George Bush (the first one) (hence "A thousand points of light…", one of Bush's campaign slogans). The fact it was co-opted by Trump shows that people still misuse songs because they are too caught up to understand them. Oh, and there were two versions released, acoustic and electric. I prefer the electric.

'We Didn't Start The Fire' by Billy Joel

A history of the world (particularly the USA) during Billy Joel's life-time. I had an acquaintance who derided this song as just Joel listing off a bunch of things. Mind you, he was always an arrogant guy, full of his own self-importance. Anyway, this song is not just a list – its rhyming scheme is well done, it is pretty much in chronological order, and it does show what sorts of things were important in one man's life (sport has a big show, for example). I think this song is so well done, and I don't think it's been replicated since.
For what it's worth, the video is pretty lame. There have, however, been a heap of fan-videos made, and this one is one of the better ones:

'Bad Love' by Eric Clapton

Yes, another reference to Eric Clapton! I know! But he is one of the best guitarists ever (if not the best) and his material is always going to shine out. Journeyman is a fantastic album, with so many good songs, but I like this one best, and the guitar solo in it is very fine indeed, and Phil Collins on drums does not over-power proceedings, but adds that taste of 1980s pop goodness he knew how to add. That Clapton still releases great albums is truly inspiring. However, this song stands out as amongst his best.

'Sling Shot' by Jeff Beck with Terry Bozzio and Tony Hymas

I was very remiss in not putting this in my best instrumentals list, but at the time I was in more of a 1960s/1950s mood. However, the album it comes from (Guitar Shop) is a great instrumental album and this track has become one of my work-out tracks at the gym, so I am falling in love with it all over again. Beck was rarely better and his two companions complement him perfectly. This album is all but forgotten today; that should be rectified.

'O Fortuna' by Apotheosis

The only reason this was not put in my classical music column was that I made a conscious decision not to include opera. Look, I don't know why I like this track, but I bought the CD single and even used it when I was an aerobics instructor in the early 90s. Just the old Carmina Burana music by Carl Orff done with a techno beat and driving rhythms (also done by FCB with their 'Excalibur'), this track is a bit of great dance music. And, of course, opera.

'Epic' by Faith No More

There was a term for this rap-rock hybrid style of music, but I can't remember it and really couldn't be bothered looking for it, but that doesn't matter – this song was everywhere for a while in 1989, and deservedly so. Rapped verse, sung chorus and a powerhouse feel throughout. I need to belatedly thank Macca for getting me into this song at the time as well.

'Good Girls Go To Heaven' by Pandora's Box

Ah, one of Jim Steinman's projects, with a great album and this song from it, later covered my Meat Loaf. I do prefer this version, though. The singing is all power, and the lyrics are typical Steinman, over-the-top goodness. You can't go past his work, and this is a great track from the year.

'Blush' by The Hummingbirds

My favourite song of 1989, from the vastly under-rated loveBUZZ album. An Australian band, this was their biggest hit (they also had 'Alimony') and then… that was it, apparently. The harmonies are brilliant, the lyrics a little disturbing but well-written and the musicianship on show is smooth without being flashy. A great track that still gets some love nowadays (though not enough), and it deserves every bit of it.
Hummingbirds, lovebuzz, album, cover
loveBUZZ album cover

And there you have it – 15 songs from a year that stands up surprising well 30 years later.

So, what did I get wrong? What else should have been there? Comments, questions, suggestions for other columns, etc. are all gratefully received.

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Why? 1989 had some really good music!
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