Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published February 25th 2020
Good songs from a mediocre year
I recently had a look at the films of the year 2000, noting that that year, when so much seemed to change, was already twenty years ago. As if to punctuate that, the day that article went live I received an invitation to the thirtieth birthday of someone I'd known since she was five years old. She was born in 1990. Thirty years ago! How could the nineties be so long ago?
The Gulf War began… 30 years ago was not all good times.
Now, I can't go to her party, but I told her I'd put together a mix-tape (well, mix-mp3-collection… I miss mix-tapes!) of songs from the year she was born. And, because I was listening to those songs, I decided that a column could come from it as well.
I mentioned in my column on the songs of the year 1989 that music was in a state of flux at this time. But 1990 was dominated in the charts by a lot of over-emoted power ballads, and more and more rap/hip-hop songs. But the charts are not the be-all and end-all, and to my mind, you really do need to look elsewhere for your good songs of the year. I was in my second year of university, and so was around a lot of alternative music of the time, and I went to a lot of local live venues. It's a shame that many of those bands did not release albums because some of that music deserves to have been preserved. This is also when I started being an aerobics instructor, and so I heard a lot of newer songs through that avenue as well.
Before I start anything, there will be a cover versions list to follow because there were 10 outstanding cover versions (plus one). I think there are a couple of songs that would otherwise have been on this list that will instead be on that one to come.
As usual with this sort of list, there are a number of "almost there" songs. Not as many as some lists of songs of the year, I know, but still, there are a few: 'Back Street Pick-Up' by The Angels; 'Bottle' by Doug Anthony All Stars (yes, a serious song by these guys); 'Cherry Pie' by Warrant (cheesy but I like it!); 'Don't Call Me Dude' by Scatterbrain (same here); 'Every Little Thing' by Jeff Lynne; 'Friends In Low Places' by Garth Brooks; 'Hold On' by Wilson Phillips (this was close); 'It Must Have Been Love' by Roxette; 'Jukebox In Siberia' by Skyhooks (comeback song that showed they still had something); 'Just The Way It Is, Baby' by The Rembrandts; 'Love Waits' by The Angels; 'Praying For Time' by George Michael; 'Sadeness (Part 1)' by Enigma (another that was really close); 'Suicide Blonde' by INXS; 'That's Freedom' by John Farnham; 'The Forgotten Years' by Midnight Oil; 'U Can't Touch This' by MC Hammer (yes, I don't mind this song…); 'Unskinny Bop' by Poison (and another cheesy song to close). Please note that even though I know all the lyrics, have been caught doing the video clip's dance and sometimes use it as training music, I actually don't like 'Ice Ice Baby' by Vanilla Ice.
Before we start, here's a really good instrumental from 1990: 'Calypso' by Jean-Michel Jarre. Not as well-known as some of his earlier works, that's a shame because this is a glorious piece of music.
Regular readers will also know I tend not to include comedy songs in these lists. There were two magnificent comedy songs from 1990, though. The first was Eric Idle's 'One Foot In The Grave', the title song from the BBC comedy series of the same name. But I prefer 'Dead Elvis' by Doug Anthony All Stars. First broadcast on ABC-TV's The Big Gig, it did not make it to an album until 1990, so here it is. (Warning: a little NSFW.)
'Aria On Air' by Malcolm McLaren Presents The World Famous Supreme Team Show
Originally released as the B-side to the track 'Operaa House', this song probably became well-known in the UK because it was used in a British Airways advert. As for me, I was a bit of a fan of Malcolm McLaren, so I found it when I bought the album Round The Outside, Round The Outside. I spent ages trying to find which classical piece it was, but discovered McLaren and Greek composer Yanni had actually written it. This is not a song inspired by classical music, this is a modern classical piece that is so wonderful, and is not even ruined by the techno beats through it. The use of the human voice as an instrument is really well done. I love this track.
'Burn For You' by John Farnham
From the gorgeous acoustic guitar to the well-written lyrics, this song is made awesome by one thing and one thing only – John Farnham's voice. Where his so-called comeback track 'You're The Voice' was a bombastic showcase of how well he could belt out an anthem (it truly is a great song), this song shows how well he could actually sing. He emotes without going over the top (way too common in too many singers, especially the so-called divas), and he sounds like he means it. He was one of the three songwriters, so it probably did mean something for him. It certainly sounds like it. I have a good friend for whom this is her favourite song ever, and she really loves the version he did with just him and guitarist Tommy Emmanuel on the TV show Hey, Hey, It's Saturday!; I couldn't find that on YouTube, but if you ever do find it – stunning.
'Dogs Are Talking' by The Angels
The Angels are one of those bands that I always felt should have done so much better in the world at large. From their early days, they had singable songs, exemplified Australian pub rock, had great musicians and had a charismatic front-man in Doc Neeson (who sadly passed away in 2014). They were so good that when they released the album Beyond Salvation in 1990 it stood up against the best of their back catalogue. It is one of the great unsung albums in Australian music, and this track is, to me, an absolute stand-out. It has a chorus we could sing along to in concert (and, yes, I did – they are one of my very favourite live acts ever) and it just pumps along at a hundred miles an hour. Such a great song; it deserved better.
'Freedom! '90 ' by George Michael
I was not a fan of Wham! in the 80s. I did not mind a couple of their songs, and 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go' was always fun at Blue Light Discos, but not a fan. Then they broke up and George Michael released Faith; that album was not too bad. However, 1990 saw him release Listen Without Prejudice, Vol 1 and I found myself enjoying a lot of it, so I bought the cassette. This song was definitely the highlight, and one of the best songs of George Michael's canon. The catchy chorus, the smooth vocals, the music that doesn't overwhelm the singing made this one of the finest pop songs of not only the year, but all of the 90s.
'Still Got The Blues' by Gary Moore
To regular readers, it would be no secret that I am a huge fan of Gary Moore, one of the foremost rock guitarists ever. His mastery of the blues was superb and even if the public at large did not seem to have the same love, I always liked him. This is the title track of one of his very best albums. Even though blues guitarists often shine most when in front of a live audience (and Live From London includes a stunning version of this track), this song sounds just as good from the studio. The crisp, clean playing, the heartfelt singing, it is one of the greatest blues tracks of the end of the twentieth century. That is not hyperbole.
'The Great Song Of Indifference' by Bob Geldof
This is another song that was under-rated by the public at large. The album it comes from (Vegetarians Of Love) is a little patchy, but this track is such a magnificent highlight that it made me go out and buy the whole thing. The lyrics are a protest song style, but done in a unique and entertaining way. Geldof goes over the litanies of the world, but says he does not care about them. It's a nice literacy concept and used so well here.
'The Obvious Child' by Paul Simon
Paul Simon made a rod for his own back with the Graceland album, one that made him a worldwide superstar because, let's be honest here, it was a magnificent album. But he had to follow it up. It took four years, but Rhythm Of The Saints came out in 1990. Where Graceland was based on South African rhythms, this album came with Latin-American sounds. And the percussion-led 'The Obvious Child' was my favourite track from the album. I love the drumming throughout and Simon's melodic voice is, as always, such a pleasure to listen to. It is all but forgotten nowadays; that is something that should be rectified.
'The Thunder Rolls' by Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks was one of those few country stars who successfully crossed over into the mainstream charts and whose music was bought by people from all walks of life. He is one of my favourite country stars, I'll admit, but that's because (I think) a lot of his stuff has a definite rock feel to it. And 'The Thunder Rolls' is my favourite of his songs. It tells a definite, if not depressing, story and has nice storm sound effects and is sung so well. And yet it does not lose its country feel, thanks to some fine musicianship. Great song.
'Thunderstruck' by AC/DC
Oh, come on, regular readers knew this song had to be here after I dedicated an entire column to it. This magnificent piece of straight-ahead rock and roll showed that AC/DC were not going to slip quietly into the 90s. Great guitaring – rhythm from Malcolm Young as well as lead from Angus Young – and Brian Johnson's voice make this one of the best from AC/DC's extensive catalogue of great songs. In 2017 I was asked to put together a personal AC/DC greatest hits album; 30-odd tracks, but I named it after this track. So, so good.
'Wind Of Change' by Scorpions
My liking of this song gets me a lot of grief from people who have known me for a long time. It's cheesy, opens and closes with whistling, is power-ballad rock-pop at its finest and the lyrics are so earnest it is almost nauseating. I love this track. It is a song of hope, released at a time when there was a sense of hope in the world, following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989… although the Gulf War did start in 1990, so hope was definitely needed. It sends chills through me still. And I think this is a nice track to finish this list of ten.
There you have it. 1990 was not the greatest year for music, I admit that, but some of what was there was actually quite good. I think the tracks here are a nice, eclectic mix, from ballads to rockers, neo-classical to country – 1990 certainly had something for everyone, no matter what you were into music-wise. And, for the record, the mix-tape (for lack of a better term) I will hand over next week consists of 60-odd songs, which should give a decent mix of music and make for a weird thirtieth birthday party. I hope she enjoys it. And I hope you enjoyed this look back at thirty years in the past.
And to think, this was the epitome of 1990 technology...