Whitney Pastorek remembers (and tries to forget) New Kids on the Block. Plus: her 2006 analysis of 1989 hits by Skid Row, Madonna, and others

By Whitney Pastorek
Updated September 18, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: The New Kids on the Block: Neal Preston/CORBIS

This week in 1989: Rating the top 10 singles

No intro this week. If I have to, I will run the disclaimer from last week again, though, so focus, people.

Billboard‘s top 10 for the week of Sept. 23, 1989:

10. ”Cold Hearted,” Paula Abdul
Not the song featuring MC Skat Cat, but good anyway. I can very clearly remember being in high school, talking to one of my girlfriends who was getting screwed over by the boy she was ”going” with at the time, and just thinking to myself, ”He is a cold-hearted snake! Uh-oh! He’s been telling lies! Paula Abdul warned us about this very thing!” (I’m pretty sure they broke up after I put this song on a mixtape for her.) Anyway, which part of this song is the best? Hard to say. Is it the ”take a take a nother nother look into his eyes and you will only see a rep-tile” rap? Is it the flurry of goth violins in the middle, rushing in and out like refugees from a neighboring Falco track? Or is it the Ooh. Aah!s? I looooove those Ooh. Aah!s. They make me feel empowered. Dang it, I really wish Paula wasn’t such a nutbag now, because she used to kick ass. B+

9. ”Hangin’ Tough,” New Kids on the Block
Have you ever listened to this song? Like, really listened? It is HORRIBLE. I mean, the New Kids have a certain level of kitsch value to their stuff (shall we again discuss the brilliance of ”Cover Girl”?), but this is just a really, really bad song. The one big fancy production trick is a traffic whistle, for chrissakes. Oh, and let’s not forget the unnecessary organ solo in the middle, followed shortly thereafter by a quick check-in with the ”strings” button on the Casio. In fact, the whole thing may have been recorded on a Casio. And there’s no harmony. Like, at all. And there’s bad beat-boxing. How in the hell did they hornswaggle us all? Do cute boys really have that much power? D

8. ”Miss You Much,” Janet Jackson
Sigh. I used to be able to do the dance to this song by heart. Now I can kind of do the hand movements and that’s it. Oy, I’m old. Where does the time go, Flashbackers? We spend so many days, weeks, months memorizing these nuggets that mean everything to us when we’re children, and then wake up one day 15 years later and discover all that’s left is, like, half a kick-ball-change and the second verse of ”Against All Odds.” Makes me wonder what I could have made out of myself if only I’d chosen differently. (Answer: probably not a whole hell of a lot.) But this is about Janet, not me — well, okay, it’s only tangentially about Janet — and hey, this is a great song. Vintage Rhythm Nation, awesome video (in a format she’s still trying to milk — albeit shirtless — in her latest, ”So Excited”), that reminiscent-of-”Control” factory ching-ching beat in the back… Good stuff. A

7. ”Shower Me With Your Love,” Surface
This week’s obligatory Song That Whitney Has Very Little Recollection Of comes direct from a New York trio of songwriters who, according to my research, wrote tracks for New Edition and Sister Sledge before recording for themselves. It’s pretty much your standard Ladies’ Choice Slow Dance material — nothing to write home about, but nothing all that objectionable, either. Had I attended any dances in high school, I probably would have spent the evening waiting for the DJ to spin this so I could find that special someone, but I was too busy reading science-fiction novels and playing Dark Castle on my Mac SE in 1989 to pay any attention to the fact that I wasn’t attending any dances… B-

6. ”Don’t Wanna Lose You,” Gloria Estefan
… which does not in any way negate the fact that every single time I hear this song, I get very sad about wasting 1989 playing some stupid videogame about a castle and memorizing the dance steps to ”Miss You Much” instead of finding myself a lunkheaded football player to make out with — a lunkheaded football player who would break up with me when he discovered my vast collection of pewter wizard figurines, forcing me to tape this song off the radio and play it over and over again until I finally found the courage to stand my ground. Am I the only one who thinks Gloria Estefan’s voice is wonderfully comforting? It’s so rich, so powerful, so full of knowledge and compassion, and I really feel like if I needed some advice I could call her up and she would come over and make me tea and listen to my sob story, then say something really wise in Spanish before insisting that I get my self-pitying ass out of bed, shake my body, and do that conga, because I know I can’t control myself any longer. B+

5. ”Cherish,” Madonna
Yes, as you can see, in 1989, all I wanted was for Cupid to take his aim at me. But alas, he did not, so there was nothing to do but play another four levels of Dark Castle. Confession: I never owned the Like a Prayer album; in fact, True Blue was the only Madonna record I needed until Immaculate Collection came out. (I think my devotion was partially due to the fact that the True Blue tape was blue. Do you remember that? Back in the era when tapes were still boring white plastic, and then one day you opened the Madonna cassette and it was, holy crap, blue? That was so cool.) Anyway, things had started to get almost uncomfortably mature right around this point in Madge’s career — hello, Black Sex Jesus and flaming crosses! — and ”Cherish” remains one of her last lighthearted party-time numbers until ”Beautiful Stranger” in 1999 (no, ”Ray of Light” doesn’t count as party-time, because it is about yoga, and yoga is not to be taken lightly). It’s so sunny, so perfect, so optimistic. Reminds me of a time when I had hope. Man, I’m depressed this week. A

4. ”18 and Life,” Skid Row
This is not as good a song as I remember it being. Do I remember it having a slightly more mysterious feel? Have I lost sight of my teenage ideals if I think it’s kind of boring now, especially in light of Sebastian Bach’s hysterically unexpected performance (as basically himself) on Gilmore Girls? Hmm. I still like the harmonies in the chorus, I still like the guitar work… Maybe I’m being too hard on it. Hang on, let me really listen.

Well, I do now certainly understand the bottle being my best friend better than I did when I was 14. But for some reason, this track hasn’t hung with me. (Not like ”I Remember You,” has anyway. I still sing that one almost daily.) Maybe if I’d actually killed someone when I was a teenager I’d be a little more attached. B

3. ”If I Could Turn Back Time,” Cher
True story: I was driving in L.A. a couple weeks ago and listening to the local ”Jack” radio station when one of their stupid promos came on and said, ”You’re stuck in traffic…” then launched into the first couple bars of this song, made that record-needle-screeching noise, and said, ”Aren’t you glad we aren’t playing Cher?” And then they followed the promo with… Elton John’s ”Candle in the Wind.” I’m not sure there’s any reason to act snobbish about the former Mrs. Bono’s finest single if you’re going to follow the mockery with Elton John, especially not that Elton John. Just sayin’. Anyway. What I like the most here is that it’s really Cher singing. No computer assistance like that freaky twitter in ”Believe,” just pure, thick-throated, lung-blasting singing. It’s the simple power of the belt, people. Works every time. This song would have been awesome even if she hadn’t danced pants-less on an aircraft carrier, but because she did dance pants-less on an aircraft carrier, she gets bonus points. A-

2. ”Heaven,” Warrant
Verses suck; chorus rules. Isn’t that hair metal in a nutshell? And thanks to the quality of this chorus, in fact, I can almost forgive Warrant for the whole ”Cherry Pie” fiasco. Note I say ”almost.” (We’ll not mention the way there’s something vaguely reminiscent of a band trying to cover Aerosmith’s ”Angel” and Poison’s ”Every Rose Has Its Thorn” at the same time going on here.) C+

1. ”Girl I’m Gonna Miss You,” Milli Vanilli
The high-pitched whistle you’re hearing through the internets right now is my soul officially fleeing my body to get away from this song. I’m trying to pretend like I don’t know Milli Vanilli was all a lie and take myself back to that innocent time when they seemed like an exceptional — nay, Grammy-winning! — band, except I’m pretty sure I hated this then, too. The whispery verses are a total rip-off of LL Cool J’s ”I Need Love” (if LL had sung instead of rapped), it is entirely too slow (so slow it verges on the narcotic), and the entire thing goes down like a slice of processed cheese product (store brand, not even Kraft). What I really can’t believe is the way the vocals on the chorus are out of tune about 85 percent of the time, which means it’s possible that whoever was doing the singing for Rob and Fab actually sucked just as bad as Rob and Fab. Don’t think about that for too long. The tragic irony will blow your mind. D