I’ve been toying with the idea of a playlist series for this blog ever since the Carlton Shuffle bit the dust. Two things gave me the final push I needed to publish one of these things: the release of Taylor Swift’s album 1989, and my friend Andy Kellman‘s Twitter comment about the lack of great R&B from the year that T-Swizzle references in her album title.

Truth is, when compared to 1987 (which brought a slew of legendary pop/soul albums) and 1988 (hip-hop in full creative flower + the birth of new jack swing,) 1989’s a fairly uneventful year from a “great music” standpoint. Aside from another handful of legendary hip-hop albums (led by De La Soul’s 3 Feet High & Rising) and Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine (which I didn’t discover until my musical tastes evolved four or five years later,) I can’t think of any albums from ’89 that I would add to my personal list of “classics.” Oh, Rhythm Nation. And maybe Keep On Movin’.

At any rate, my 1989 playlist isn’t an accurate barometer of 1989’s most critically-adored music-after all, it contains Paula Abdul and the New Kids on the Block. It is, however, a very accurate barometer of the music I was actually listening to at that time. As a 13 year old Brooklynite who entered high school in the fall of 1989, I was already knee-deep in hip-hop, with a side of top 40 and the latest urban radio hits. Friday and Saturday nights were most definitely spent glued to the radio, listening to Chuck Chillout and Marley Marl. Most of the rock music I was exposed to was of the “hair metal/power ballad” variety, and at the time, almost all top 40 radio in New York was rhythm driven.

This 50-song playlist contains some songs you probably know very well, some you may not know at all, and a couple of songs that may cause you to scratch your head. The Jacksons, Diana Ross and Al Green all made bids to stay contemporary with the help of (respectively) Teddy Riley, Nile Rodgers and Al B. Sure! George Michael was omnipresent despite not releasing an album-he lent an assist to his bass player Deon Estus, then saw his sound and image ripped off by…Donny Osmond? The Bee Gees had their first top ten hit in a decade, while the New Kids’ Bee Gees rip “My Favorite Girl” has turned out to age the least of all the songs on the stunningly dated Hangin’ Tough album. As for “When The Children Cry”…well, let’s just say that the plaintive vocalizations of White Lion pulled the heartstrings of at least one sensitive kid in the ‘hood. Gloria Estefan’s “Don’t Wanna Lose You” edged out Don Henley’s “The End Of The Innocence” and Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting” as the easy-listening ballad choice, and I can say I was ever-so-slightly ahead of the curve on Lenny Kravitz.

There’s a big shout out for black rock in the form of Living Colour and Tracy Chapman, and NWA’s “Express Yourself” was the first West Coast-based hip-hop song (minus pop hits like “Wild Thing” and “Bust A Move”) to get major play from me, thanks to my cousin Alex (may he rest in peace.) He traveled with me and my family to Florida (by car) and although he loved Straight Outta Compton, “Express Yourself” was the only song my grandmother would allow him to play in a car full of kids-which led to me hearing it about 10,000 times in the space of a week…also, I was a year or so away from discovering “alternative rock” beyond the occasional R.E.M. song that crept up onto pop radio: “Love Shack” transcended the college rock tag in a way that few songs were able to during that time.

I am mad that neither Sheena Easton’s “The Lover In Me” nor Dino’s 24/7 album are on Spotify. I might also have added a spot for Chuck Chillout’s Talking Heads-sampling “Rhythm Is The Master” had it been available. Then there’s “Self-Destruction” by the Stop the Violence Movement and Big Daddy Kane’s It’s A Big Daddy Thing album. And Samantha Fox’s “I Wanna Have Some Fun.” Holy shit! And 3 Feet High And Rising! Spotify doesn’t have a lot of good shit!

You can see the videos for some of the music I couldn’t include below the playlist.

Any suggestions for future playlists? Hit me up in the comment section.


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