The tail-end of 2010 seems a good time to catch up on the tail-end of 1989 and beginning of 1990 at Popular. Once again my comments have been brief, even when my scores have been high—which for most of 1989 they weren’t. Jive Bunny’s three UK number ones all drew a 1 from me (“like the musical intros round at a pub quiz, without any of the mystery”), and many others got poor-to-middling scores. Here are those that did better, apart from one I’ve held over for its own post.

Madonna, “Like a Prayer”, 25 March 1989

“Like a Prayer” was a watershed moment in my appreciation of Madonna, whose work held less and less interest for me in the late 1980s. This demanded attention, though, and when I shared a flat in 1991 with a Madonna fan it became my clear favourite.

I never thought of it as a 10, but now I know why: I’ve been listening to the wrong version all along, thanks to my non-fan impulse to get the compilation rather than the original album. The single mix (on the video) is clearly superior, and has to bump up the 8 I was considering.

I’m still shy of a 10, I think. In comparison to many of the late-’80s number ones it stands out, but something about it just doesn’t push my personal 10 button. So, a 9 for now.

Soul II Soul ft Caron Wheeler, “Back to Life (How Ever Do You Want Me)”, 24 June 1989

I hadn’t heard this before—it only reached number 45 in Australia, which may be why—but I like what I hear. Given the diet of sawdust and rabbit that surrounds it in 1989, “Back to Life” is positively Michelin-star-worthy, but I’d have to live with it a bit longer to go to an 8 or above, I think. For now, a definite baseline of 7.

What intrigues me is that this hit number 4 in New Zealand and stayed in their charts 25 weeks, compared to its 7 weeks spread over 7 months of dropping in and out of Australia’s in the high 40s. Sometimes comparing national charts feels like that experiment someone did where they gave arbitrary groups of similar students the same songlist to play and rank over time, and watched entirely different charts emerge.

Black Box, “Ride on Time”, 9 September 1989

This was an obvious landmark at the time, and points towards music I later came to love (like the Utah Saints), but I never owned it and still don’t feel the urge to today, which limits it to a 7 for me. The fuss about the sampling passed me by, thankfully.

Kylie Minogue, “Tears on My Pillow”, 27 January 1990

Never having heard this before, I’m surprised to find myself enjoying it. The woozy backing reminds me of some of John Lennon’s 1970s covers of golden oldies, not at all what I normally associate with SAW, so that’s less bad than I feared; and Kylie’s vocals seem fine for the material to me (again, never having heard the original). I wasn’t expecting world-weariness from a song called “Tears on my Pillow”; instead, it brought to mind the best line in Waiting for Guffman (“I’m going home and I’m gonna BITE MY PILLOW!”)—the kind of line only a teenager (or near-teenager) can deliver without sounding camp.

So, not too bad. 5.

Actually, if this was covered on the Grease soundtrack I almost certainly have heard it before, because the girls in my grade 5/6 class used to put that on the tape-deck all the time at school. So maybe some subliminal memory has made me better-disposed towards it. Strange, given that I couldn’t stand the stuff at the time.

I can imagine Kylie as one of those girls playing Grease on the classroom tape-deck in 1978, picturing herself as a future Olivia Newton-John.

Snap!, “The Power”, 31 March 1990

Still sounds good to me. Okay, it dips a bit after a fantastic intro, but still, it’s gittin’, it’s gittin’, it’s gittin’ kinda... 8.

After another listen I’m on the verge of changing my mind and giving it 9. You’ve gotta love a rap about intellectual property, “copywritten” ten years before Napster.

EnglandNewOrder, “World in Motion”, 9 June 1990

I heard this playing last week over the speakers of the skating rink in Princes Street Gardens here in Edinburgh. Even given our city’s reputation as the least Scottish city in Scotland, it felt a bit odd.

Naturally enough “World in Motion” didn’t top the Australian charts, managing only a peak of 21 (versus 4 for “Blue Monday”), and I didn’t encounter it until a few years later, after my infatuation with Republic prompted me to pick up their greatest hits CD. This was clearly a superior track, and the unpleasant undertones of the “Eng-er-lund” chant didn’t mean as much to me back then, so I rated it highly at the time. Nowadays, even though I’m well aware of the chant’s connotations, I still rate it, because the juxtaposition of hooliganism and New Order is so unlikely—a tension that makes the song more interesting and successful rather than less, to my ears. 8.

30 December 2010 · Music