This week in ’88: Rating the top 10 singles
Last week, EW’s own Paul Katz was sitting next to me as I wrote this column, and he offered up his theory on the popularity of ”I Think We’re Alone Now”: that it was the song playing during a Growing Pains episode about a pizza girl’s bosoms. Thanks to you kind readers, he and I both stand corrected — the song in question was in fact ”Could’ve Been,” which makes a lot more sense, dramaturgically. Paul offers this apology: ”Nuts. Mea culpa. My focus was on the boobs, not the song. And this is exactly why I don’t have my own online music column.” Way to help out, Flashbackers!
Many of you Madonna fans — the ones who didn’t immediately set their computers on fire and mail them to my house when they saw I gave ”Causing a Commotion” a B- — were also quite vehement that I need to watch Who’s That Girl and Desperately Seeking Susan immediately, if not sooner; I make it my solemn vow that I will do so before the end of 2006, and report back accordingly.
And finally, there was some chatter last week about whether I am focusing too much on the videos for these songs and not the songs themselves. In some situations, I don’t disagree — but I’m sure you can see the way that many of these tunes are inextricably linked to their visual components and it would be a shame for me to overlook that. After a childhood spent suckling at the teat of MTV, I find it hard to avoid seeing the comic-book illustrations of ”Take on Me,” for example, or the dancing ninjas of ”Total Eclipse of the Heart” whenever I hear the songs. In many cases, I am also just trying to give you guys a way to hear this stuff without having to shell out the cash on iTunes or hack through your company’s firewall to download them off LimeWire. Not that you’d do that. Because it is illegal.
Okay, then! On with the countdown. I am proud to present what I believe to be the strongest list we’ve yet encountered here on Chart Flashback: Ten songs. Ten artists. Every one a classic, and some of them actually legitimately good songs. I can play at least three of them on the piano to this very day. Sit back, plug in the headphones, and travel with me to a simpler time, won’t you?
Billboard‘s top 10 singles for the week ending Nov. 12, 1988:
10. ”Never Tear Us Apart,” INXS
This is a great band that holds a special place in the hearts of many; in fact, if Kurt Cobain hadn’t already gone all kablooey, Michael Hutchence’s early demise might stand as the defining musical death of our generation. (We shan’t talk about this whole ”Supernova” situation, which I find unfortunate in many, many ways, not least of which being the fact that they can’t actually call themselves ”Supernova.”) But I slapped a B- on ”Suicide Blonde” a couple weeks ago, and you kids let me hear it. I’m not saying you were wrong — I almost felt bad about the grade, given your response — but I want you to take a step back now, and listen to this song. Really listen! It is amazing. It is bluesy, it is dramatic, it sounds unlike anything else, ever. When Michael hits that ”Why-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yiii,” do you not feel it in your guts? Do you not feel the ghosts of every lost love, every doomed relationship, every crush you ever had flowing through you, almost doubling you over in pain and loss and longing as that sax solo hits? This is what an INXS song is supposed to sound like, Flashbackers. Never forget it. A
9. ”Kissing a Fool,” George Michael
The risk I take in doing too many charts from the same time period in close succession is that we end up with a lot of repeats on the artists, and here we’ve got another guy I smacked down on that 1990 chart (weirdly, George was one slot above INXS there, too): I declared ”Praying for Time” to be overly sentimental and self-righteous. But as we were just speaking of gut-wrenching longing and pain: Who does it better than George Michael? This is why I say he needs to stick to songs about dancing/breaking up. This is a track off the back end of Faith, after we’d gotten past the grind of ”I Want Your Sex,” the slightly-more-tolerable-’cause-you-can-dance-to-it social consciousness of ”Hand to Mouth,” and the weird funk of ”Monkey” (which my hometown radio station used to always kick off with the creepy sound of an actual monkey screeching) — and it couldn’t be more different than everything else on the album. It’s a slice of World War II-era cabaret heaven, of smoky rooms and low lighting and waitresses moving slowly through the dark delivering cocktails to the brokenhearted. Much like ”Never Tear Us Apart,” it makes me want to go do karaoke right now. Like I said: This is George Michael’s sweet spot. Maybe he’s so good at regret because he was in the closet for so long. A-
8. ”Baby, I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley,” Will to Power
It’s the original mash-up! Okay, perhaps that’s an overstatement, but really, who on earth sat down and said, ”I know! Frampton and Skynyrd! With a synth beat! The kids’ll love it! And then we’ll name ourselves after a Nietzsche book, just to make it that much stranger!” Whoever it was: genius. Somehow the two songs fuse together in the cheesiest possible way, and I’ll go ahead and admit right now that as a girl raised by symphony musicians, I may never have heard either of these songs before I got to college were it not for Will to Power. So thanks for that, you freaks. B
7. ”Groovy Kind of Love,” Phil Collins
Aaugh, this song drives me crazy. I’m not sure what’s worse: The song, or the fact that despite how horrible the song is, I cannot hate it. Why on earth could this be? I’m fairly certain my Stockholm syndrome has nothing to do with the movie Buster, which terrified me, and it certainly has nothing to do with good memories of slow-dancing (that would be ”One More Night”). For whatever reason, it is just one of those insidious little ditties that get in my head and make me sway back and forth against my will, sighing like a ridiculous child as Phil drools fourth-grade poetry class lyrics at a cough-syrup pace. Hypnotizing, really. Damn you, this song! C
6. ”Desire,” U2
5. ”One Moment in Time,” Whitney Houston
You know, going back now and looking at old Whitney Houston performances, it’s hard to believe none of us saw that whole doodie bubble thing coming. But even cynics have to admit: The woman could sing. I have always been proud to have her for a namesake (”My name is Whitney. I’m from Houston.” ”Heh-heh, Whitney Houston.” ”Yeah, I’ve never heard that one before.”) and I must say her recent explorations of, um, ”other prerogatives” depressed the hell out of me; let’s hope she’s ready to climb out of the gutter and get back to inspiring us. This song was a one-off, written for the 1988 Olympics (do Olympics still get their own theme songs?), and it is not her best work. Still, it can be seen as a precursor to both ”Greatest Love of All” and ”I Will Always Love You,” as it features lyrics perfect for reciting in an ironically solemn way, as well as a kick-ass key change in which her clarion voice pierces the sky. So this week, Flashbackers, I want you to remember that you’re a winner — for a lifetime — if you seize that one moment in time. Make it shine! B+
4. ”Bad Medicine,” Bon Jovi
I love Bon Jovi but I don’t like this song. It’s like a bulldozer, and not in a good way. There’s just too much going on, too many lyrics, too many different guitar FX, and Jon sounds like he’s hurting himself with all the shrieking. I’m not sure how they could have fixed this problem — although I think taking out about half the crash cymbal stuff might have helped — and I’m not sure that anyone else is on board my hate train here. I just know that if given a choice between listening to ”Bad Medicine” and ”Bed of Roses,” I will choose the latter almost every single time. And that’s not a good thing. B-
3. ”The Loco-Motion,” Kylie Minogue
Whee!! Party fun time remake! Come on, baby! All right. I know we all worship at the shrine of Ms. Minogue, but can we please be honest with ourselves and agree that this song is really freakin’ annoying? I mean, it started as a joke, right? Wasn’t it like a karaoke party that snagged her a record contract? Hell, if you heard me sing this song at karaoke, you’d think seriously about signing me — there’s nothing to it! It’s just dumb. Squeaky and dumb. And I don’t want to do the brand new dance, thank you very much, because I am not 9 years old. ”Can’t Get You Out of My Head” was at least mature nothingness. Sorry, people from everywhere else besides America. I may have fond memories of this tune, but that just ain’t enough today. It’s kind of, like, not good. C+
2. ”Kokomo” (From the Cocktail Soundtrack), the Beach Boys
A story, if you will: The neighborhood in which I was raised was a strange one, a sort of nouveau riche paradise in which old, sprawling ranch houses on huge lots were being gradually torn down so developers could squeeze four red-brick monstrosities onto that single plot of land. Kids got BMWs on their 16th birthdays, or Eddie Bauer edition Ford Broncos; most everyone ”summered” somewhere; Roger Clemens bought property and we used to egg his house. My parents were nowhere near nouveau riche, but had the sense to sniff out a good school district, and so we moved onto the very outskirts of this neighborhood, a couple hundred yards away from the freeway and an apartment complex where people kept shooting each other and setting things on fire. And so there I was, a scrubby preteen with but one pair of Guess jeans to her name (Guess jeans we bought at Marshall’s), trying to make it at a junior high where girls thought nothing of owning six or seven different Liz Claibourne purses, or spending $20 on a hair clip, or throwing away the entire contents of their lunch because they just didn’t feel like eating it, every single day. I tried desperately to fit in. And fitting in, come eighth grade, meant only one thing: Ballroom dancing lessons. I suspect this is because we were all supposed to participate in cotillion later on, which by the time I hit high school it was clear I was far, far too angry to do; mostly, it just kept us busy on Monday nights. We’d stuff ourselves into dresses and suits, they’d crowd us into a room at Second Baptist Church (a.k.a. ”the Baptidome”), this creepy man would put on music, and we would dance. And every single week, we would dance to this song. The creepy man (oh, to remember his name!) loved this song. Therefore, unlike those who associate the Beach Boys’ repetitive, sugar-smack jingle with Elisabeth Shue and Tom Cruise making out on a beach or whatever, I will always associate it with sweaty palms, itchy dresses, uncomfortable pantyhose, and standing petrified against a beige wall in a church rec center, hoping I’m not the last girl picked to do the foxtrot. It’s a wonder I didn’t turn out a lot angrier, frankly. B-
1. ”Wild, Wild West,” the Escape Club
Put your flags in the air and launch them up and down, kids — here’s the song that made me choose this countdown in the first place. It’s one of the weirdest songs ever recorded, in my opinion, and I really have no idea what it’s about. What happens in the wild west? Why is that where we want to be when the ’90s happen? Why doesn’t the sheriff have anything better to do than hang out on the radio, especially when there are gunshots ricocheting all over the local bar? What’s with the reggae rap breakdown? And could the video be more upsetting, from a fever dream perspective? Who cares! It’s got an infectious beat, a great horn section, and the band namechecks itself. Also, I think they’re making fun of America. But hey, if it results in this awesomeness, I shan’t call them terrorists. They are just Escape Club, and they are here to rock you. Also, maybe to shoot you. Hard to say. A-