First Hit #1: February 11, 1989
Straight Up is one of those songs that makes a career. For Paula Abdul, it made a new career. Abdul was probably best known for being a choreographer at this point in her career, something that is reflected in the somewhat self-indulgent tap-dance intro to the video for Straight Up – tap dancing is often self-indulgent. There was nothing wrong with her choreography career up to that point – she did the piano scene in Big, that’s a pinnacle right there – but for whatever reason she decided to become a pop star, and it was fantastic. Abdul made a perfect pop single in Straight up, a demand for clarity in a relationship that is also exciting, fresh and unique, in spite of it not being that far off from any prevailing trends. Abdul made something fun, and she had impeccable instincts – I’m not sure her voice has amazing range, but she knows exactly how to get the most out of it, and she has made a song that plays to her strengths as a singer above else. It’s an earworm, and it manages to feel fresh and exciting without going too far from what people want from their ’80s hits. Whatever she’s done in her career since, this is the song that changed her from Paula Abdul, choreographer, to Paula Abdul, star.
First hit #1: February 4, 1989
Listening to When I’m With You, I thought there was something wrong with the recording. I remembered the chorus being louder, hitting harder, and having more vocals. Then I realized, oh wait, my house isn’t filled with drunk people, that’s why. Sheriff has made the best song for drunk people, a ballad with a big, easy to remember chorus. Well, sure, for most people it’s just a bit of slurring between the words “Baby” and “You” but that doesn’t matter. It’s a song that engenders a certain community spirit, because it’s big, dumb, and a little bit fun. Which might seem to be an unkind thing to say about an eminently sincere love song, but who doesn’t go drinking with people they love in some way? It’s still totally perfect.
First Hit #1: January 21, 1989
The second single from Phil Collins’ big vanity project also happens to be the best single from the film. A Groovy Kind of Love, in spite of the title, was a dirge, but Collins can still have fun, and Two Hearts is evidence that Buster had some happy scenes too. It’s a pretty generic love song, though the chorus could easily be the tagline for an Ed Wood film (Two Hearts… Living in just one mind!), but it’s a fun one, and a bit of a throwback to doo-wop singles as well. Collins knows this – the video is a deliberate homage to ’60s variety shows – and he’s just has fun through the whole thing. It’s just a nice thing to hear on the radio, though I’ll confess that it might not be the most standout track of his career. Not every song has to be a career highlight, and with Two Hearts Collins has just made a song that I always kind of like hearing on the radio. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.
First Hit #1: January 14, 1989
New year, new attitude – at least initially – and Bobby Brown breaks through with a song brimming with bravado. At first, it just seems like a bit of dance pop with a defiant edge, as Brown sings about how he can do what he wants because, well, it’s right there in the title isn’t it? Celebrities often have these moments where they get angry at the world because of tabloid attention. But Bobby Brown has a bit more than that, he’s not just talking about being a pop star, though that’s certainly part of the narrative. It’s subtle – one mention of being a brother, a late-song rant in a live version of the song – but he implies that there’s something about being Bobby Brown that makes it more difficult for him to do what he wants than, say, Phil Collins. It’s not an overt mention of race, just a bit of a thread that gives the song a bit of a sharper edge than just a pop star complaining that he can’t do what he wants. Brown doesn’t come across as a saint in the piece – it’s also a song about how he likes to sleep around, it must be said – and in the years since the tabloid scrutiny has shifted, oddly and somewhat creepily, to teenage girls – which eventually lead to the Britney Spears cover of the same song. True, the official story is that the song is about him leaving New Edition, but the important thread is that Brown doesn’t know why he’s singled out by the tabloids, just that he has his suspicions.
First Hit #1: December 24, 1988
And so 1988 ends the only way it could, with a hair metal power ballad. Which is not a knock against Every Rose Has Its Thorn, which is about as good as this kind of thing gets. The guitar work is appropriately soaring and Bret Michaels’ voice is was made for this kind of thing. It’s a song both big and intimate, with the arrangement shooting for stadiums while Michaels reigns it in, keeping it intimate in defiance of the music his band seems to want to make. Poison is, normally, a pretty goofy band, but the rare serious song shows that somewhere under the teased hair there are humans, which might be why the ballad is always a big hit in hair metal. For whatever reason, Every Rose works for me, and I can’t think of a better sendoff for 1988.
First Hit #1: December 10, 1988
It’s always a bit weird when a band loses a frontman, even if the rest of the band members are eminently talented musicians who made major contributions to the band’s sound. So here we have Chicago’s first post-Peter Cetera hit, and it should be no surprise that the band hasn’t actually changed that much. The voice changed, and there aren’t any horns, but Look Away does sound like a Chicago song.
Look Away is also a breakup song, as the singer doesn’t want to admit his weakness as his partner goes off and finds someone new. It’s yet another entry in 1988′s Parade of Misery, which is still going strong in spite of Bobby McFerren’s best efforts. Look Away is a sad song, but it does have a bunch of bravado and guitars to try to de-emphasize just how sad it is. It fits with the nature of the song itself, he doesn’t want the subject to notice his pain, and what better way to distract from pain than to put all the power-ballad accouterments on the track?
Posted in 1988
Tagged Chicago, Look Away
First Hit #1: December 3, 1988
At one point in 1988, the most popular single was a medley of 70s hits performed by a group whose name was a reference to Nietzsche and whose members – according to the below video, at least – were possibly extras from the movie Roadhouse. This actually happened. The weirder thing is, it’s actually not bad at all.
It’s not that Will to Power actually added much to the proceedings. I genuinely like Baby I Love Your Way as a song, and while Freebird had a much more minor role in the proceedings it is also a pretty good song. Combined, and then dusted with a pinch of synthesizers and some female vocals, and you get a pretty good song. It’s not something that makes a compelling argument for its own existence, of course, since while it’s pretty good it’s not like either Baby I Love Your Way or Freebird were ever all that hard to find. It’s good because they’re working with good original material, and their changes neither add nor detract from the song in question. Thus, the single’s ascent to the pinnacle of the Hot 100 is baffling to say the least. If you read that opening sentence, those seem like words that could not be combined into a true statement in that order. Yet, here we are.