It's hard to believe that 1989 was thirty years ago. While, at the time, you could feel that the peak day-glo, Swatch-watch-wearing, yuppie dreams of the early '80s were long gone and in their place an even more jaded set of aspirations lacking in all subtlety and nuance.
Commercially speaking, we'd traded Missing Persons and Duran Duran for Warrant and White Lion, A Flock of Seagulls for a Motley Crue, and "Don't You Want Me Baby" for "Girl You Know Its True".
R.E.M. had signed to the Bunny, the B-52's were strangely mainstream all of a sudden, and the biggest band out of New Jersey wasn't named after a street.
Even the stuff most of us liked back then sounds hilariously dated, production-wise, but there are at least five albums that haven't aged a day in thirty years, it seems.
De La Soul - 3 Feet High And Rising
I'm not gonna lie, De La Soul helped me get into hip hop. As a musician, I was just a wee bit insulted by most of what passed for hip hop because all it did was steal from white music. Ironic, that, but if I wanted to hear somebody talk over Foreigner riffs, I could pretty much attend any backyard kegger and at least be treated to much better rhyming.
In the case of De La Soul, I recall reading one or two reviews that mentioned the trio's psychedelic influences, took one look at the cover art, and dropped the needle on the gateway drug of hip hop.
Listening to the album today is lot like watching "The Blues Brothers" movie, where you find yourself thinking time and time again that there is NO F'ING WAY that movie could be made today.
In much the same way, 3 Feet High And Rising is so chock-full of easily recognizable samples - whether they be a bass line lifted from an O'Jays tune or dialogue from a kids' cereal commercial -that they couldn't afford the manpower to clear all samples, much less pay for them.
Debbie Harry - Def, Dumb & Blonde
In a perfect world, Blondie should have been signed to Sire Records, but we'll take Debbie Harry signing to Seymour Stein's label as a consolation prize because it showed that albums with multiple producers and a cavalcade of name-brand session players doesn't always have to suck.
Admittedly, by 1989, I had come to really miss the presence of Ms. Harry, whose voice is as recognizable (and necessary for survival) to this writer as oxygen is to human lungs.
Of course, I wasn't expecting something that sounded like early Blondie or, for that matter, later Blondie, but, please let it be better than Koo-Koo (Harry's ill-fated solo debut produced by the normally solid Nile Rodgers.and Bernard Edwards) or Rockbird (whose sole US single was penned by "Big Bang Theory" and "Two & A Half Men" creator Chuck Lorre, which tells you all you need to know about said album).
Sure, Def, Dumb & Blonde is a fluffy pop confection that doesn't claim to be anything else, but it is a pure delight seeing the Chapman-produced Harry-Stein tracks out-kick the Thompson Twins crap this album was built around and how this album was a necessary step in getting Blondie back together.
In fact, Chris Stein's "Lovelight" is a stylistic tour de force that makes you wonder how long he's been holding onto such a track and which Blondie album it could have saved (The Hunter, perhaps?).
Danny Wilde - Danny Wilde
In those pre-internet days of the late 1980's, when bands got dropped, unless you were very tenacious in keeping up with their careers, you never knew what happened to them.
Thus, when power pop act Great Buildings disappeared in the early '80s after one album for Columbia, this fan was left to wonder what happened to its members until a copy of this album landed in the cut-out bins alongside a copy of his previous Geffen release, Any Man's Hunger.
Considering that I would also find his very first solo record, The Boyfriend, in yet another cut-out bin a week or so later, I not only caught up on Wilde's activities for the past seven years, but I also procured his entire solo output (three albums) for the princely sum of $8.
Considering that acts like Henry Lee Summer and other heartland rockers were all over the charts in those days, one is left wondering how the hell Danny Wilde (the album) failed to even chart.
Sure, the songs will never appeal to the Pazz and Jop crowd, but if a tune like "California Sunshine" (that, with lines like "Go to jail, make bail, have another cocktail", celebrated '80s Cali debauchery in all its wholesome glory) doesn't at least dent the Top 40, then something is definitely wrong with this picture.
I'll be the first to admit that I skip right past "Velvet Chains" every time - not because it's an awful song, but because its chorus sticks in my head for months afterwards. I can't even risk posting the song here for fear of that sticky hook burrowing its way into my head.
The rest of the album is as solid as it gets though, but good luck hearing for yourself, as this album isn't on Spotify and not all tracks can be found on YouTube.
Perhaps try your local cut-out bin. :)
Hoodoo Gurus - Magnum Cum Louder
Beginning with 1984's Stoneage Romeos, one would listen to a Hoodoo Gurus record and marvel at the stunning pop craftsmanship, the flawless production, the spirited performances, and think that there was no way the same band could surpass it, then they'd release Mars Needs Guitars and prove themselves capable of improving upon perfection.
Third album Blow Your Cool saw Elektra looking for ways to sneak the band into the Top 40, like inviting the Bangles to sing back-up on "Good Times" and "Party Machine", but all that did was get the band dropped when it didn't work.
Oh, it did one more thing by firing the band up to make one more damn perfect album in Magnum Cum Louder; a record whose only mistake was being released in the States by RCA Records.
The lead-off cut "Come Anytime" is the sort of song that guys like Burt Bacharach dream about writing, yet, despite a shit-ton of modern rock radio airplay, didn't chart as a commercial pop single.
That's right, it didn't even chart, leading the band them,selves to ask by album's end "Where's That Hit?"
Chris Isaak - Heart Shaped World
At the time of this album's release, I wasn't what you might call a Chris Isaak fan, but I appreciated what he was trying to do on his self-titled debut effort and made a mental note to keep up with his new music.
To my ears, Isaak had arrived almost fully developed on his first record while his second record actually managed to fulfill any leftover promise from the first, leaving him with nothing to do on his third album but repeat himself, right?
Turns out Mr. Isaak wasn't as much of a one-trick pony as we suspected and actually managed to write one of the great songs of the 20th century, "Wicked Game".
Remove "Wicked Game" from this album and Chris Isaak's career goes a completely different direction, but that's no fault of Isaak, who wrote his fucking ass off for this record and, for once, the world actually listened.