Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1988

by Benjamin Ray

The year 1994 comes close, but 1988 was the true banner year for hip-hop, the year that the movement burst through with classic after classic. Given the moribund state of pop and a lack of good mainstream rock, it was only right that hip-hop and alternative rock would step up.

You can argue about which one was more influential or controversial, N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton or Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, but both albums brought fame to their groups and called attention to social issues being ignored. And although those two are held as the best, pretty much every rap album of this year was fantastic: Eazy Duz It (Eazy-E), Power (Ice-T), The Great Aventures of Slick Rick, EPMD's Strictly Business, Boogie Down Productions' By All Means Necessary, Jungle Brothers' little-heard Straight Outta the Jungle, MC Lyte's Lyte As A Rock and Ultramagnetic MCs' Crtical Beatdown. This also was the year for debuts by Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie, a good album in Eric B and Rakim's Follow The Leader and the hit "Parents Just Don't Understand" from DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince.    


In the alternative scene, Jane's Addiction married the badass attitude of Los Angeles with the freaky weirdness of psychedelia and the New York art scene on Nothing's Shocking to create a classic. Not to be outdone, the Pixies offered the stark Surfer Rosa, Sonic Youth offered the dissonant, difficult Daydream Nation, the Cowboy Junkies had the sparse acoustic The Trinity Sessions, My Bloody Valentine debuted with Isn't Anything, the Pogues saw their finest hour on If I Should Fall From Grace With God and the Church released "Under The Milky Way." Seattle bands Soundgarden (Ultramega OK) and Mudhoney ("Touch Me, I'm Sick") also made tentative appearances in what was a growing Northwest musical scene.

Mainstream rock continued to offer big hair, big booming drums, wads of cash and little soul. Bon Jovi continued its run at the top with New Jersey, Poison hit with "Every Rose Has a Thorn," Van Halen the forgettable OU812 and Rod Stewart's "Forever Young." Much better was U2's half-live Rattle And Hum, Living Colour's "Cult Of Personality," Robert Plant's Now & Zen (Jimmy Page's Outrider wasn't nearly as successful) and Ronnie Montrose's little-known Speed Of Sound.

Hard rock and metal offered up a true classic in Queensryche's concept album Operation: Mindcrime, Megadeth's So Far, So Good...So What?, Iron Maiden's Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, Suicidal Tendencies' best album How Will I Laugh Tomorrow and Metallica's harsh ...And Justice For All, which debuted new bassist Jason Newsted (although you could barely hear him).


The list of pop music hits that have gone forgotten is a mile long, though several songs from 1988 still survive in Muzak stations everywhere, such as Phil Collins' "Groovy Kind of Love," Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," Anita Baker's "Giving You the Best That I Got," Enya's "Orinoco Flow," the Beach Boys' "Kokomo," Steve Winwood's "Roll With It," the Pet Shop Boys' "Always On My Mind," Eric Carmen's "Hungry Eyes," UB40's "Red Red Wine" and, worst of all, Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy." We also had albums from George Michael (Faith), Tracy Chapman ("Fast Car," "Give Me One Reason"), Terence Trent D'Arby's Introducing The Hardline and Prince's Lovesexy.

Other songs to check out from 1988 include the Primitives' cheerful acoustic "Crash," Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative," Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself For Loving You," M/A/R/R/S' "Pump up the Volume" and Robert Palmer's "Simply Irresistible." And, if you're so inclined, the supergroup Traveling Wilburys offered the loose and fun Vol. 1, unlike nearly anything else from this interesting year.

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

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