Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1989

by Benjamin Ray

1989 seems to be one of those "lost years" in music, sandwiched between the end of one major movement and the beginning of two others, but the year was, in fact, full of great music. From comebacks to big debuts, from solid rock to game-changing R&B, from intelligent mainstream pop to the rise of Britpop, this is a year worth rediscovering.

This was the year that a little punk band from Seattle called Nirvana released the low-fi, cheap Bleach, perhaps the most inauspicious debut ever from a band that would change music. The debuts of Nine Inch Nails ("Head Like A Hole") and The Stone Roses also pointed the way toward alternative rock in the '90s; the latter more or less started the whole Britpop movement and remains a great album. The Red Hot Chili Peppers also debuted new guitarist John Frusciante, taking their career in a new, more funk-metal direction with the cover of "Higher Ground."

The Cure's dark, driving Disintegration was one of the better albums of the year, with other alt-rock highlights including the Pixies' Doolittle, XTC's Oranges & Lemons, Bad Religion's punk classic No Control and Faith No More's "Epic." The Indigo Girls' "Closer To Fine" and Edie Brickell's "What I Am" also came out, pointing the way toward the female led singer-songwriter movement that would take over the mid-‘90s and spawn Lilith Fair.


Mainstream rock included Aerosmith's Pump (their final great album), Billy Joel's Storm Front ("We Didn't Start The Fire"), Tom Petty's solo Full Moon Fever ("I Won't Back Down," Runnin' Down A Dream"), Jeff Healey Band's "Angel Eyes," Stevie Ray Vaughan's excellent In Step and Joe Satriani's Flying in a Blue Dream (with the fantastic "Big Bad Moon"). Hair metal singles included Skid Row's "18 And Life," Great White's cover of "Once Bitten Twice Shy" and Motley Crue's "Dr. Feelgood."

Hip hop, having turned a corner in the preceding years, was now offering groundbreaking and solid albums left and right. The most controversial were 2 Live Crew's Nasty As They Wanna Be (the reason the Parental Advisory sticker was created) and Public Enemy's Fear Of A Black Planet (featuring "Fight The Power). The Beastie Boys matured quickly with the sample-heavy stew of Paul's Boutique, not a big hit at the time but one that has risen in stature over the years. Other rap highlights include MC Lyte's Eyes On This, EPMD's Unfinished Business, D.O.C.'s No One Can Do It Better (produced by Dr. Dre), Kool G Rap's Road To The Riches, Too Short's Life Is Too Short and especially De La Soul's creative 3 Feet High And Rising. And, of course, who can forget Tone Loc's "Wild Thing" and Young MC's "Bust A Move?"

Having been out of the spotlight for a while, the Rolling Stones came back with the very good Steel Wheels and Neil Young the even better Freedom, which would have a big impact on the grunge bands soon to make it big ("Rockin' In The Free World" is one of the best songs of the year). The Doobie Brothers also came back with "The Doctor," but that didn't last, and both Bob Dylan's Oh Mercy and Eric Clapton's Journeyman were solid, if unremarkable, efforts to continue the brand.


Pop music, having turned away from new wave, saw solid efforts like Madonna's Like A Prayer,  Chris Isaak's moody "Wicked Game," Luther Vandross' lovely "Here and Now," Roy Orbison's comeback "You Got It," Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 and the Fine Young Cannibals' "She Drives Me Crazy." Other pop singles of the year included "Loveshack," "Eternal Flame," Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time," "Right Here Waiting," "Toy Soldiers," "Pop Muzik," "Back To Life" and Paula Abdul's Forever Your Girl album. Regrettably, this was also the year of Milli Vanilli and New Kids On The Block's Hangin' Tough.

Country music also saw several major debuts from Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black and Lorrie Morgan, all of whom would become huge stars in the '90s. The year still belonged to Randy Travis, Reba McEntire and Alannah Myles "Black Velvet," but change was in the air.

And that, friends, is the Year That Was in music.

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