1989 was once described by TV host Vernon Kaye as ‘the year of the Roses’. He meant 1489, of course, when the battles between the Houses of York and Lancaster (or is it Stark and Lanister?) were known as the Wars of the Roses. 500 years on The Stone Roses were everywhere, with their self-titled debut album mashing dance rhythms and guitar rock to create a hybrid genre that crashed onto Top of the Pops. The Roses were absent from NOW 15, which emerged during summer 1989.
The big hits that year in the States, which would not wake up to dance-rock hybrids for a good while, were Like a Prayer by Madonna, Miss You Much by Janet Jackson, Right Here Waiting by Richard Marx and two tunes by boyband New Kids on the Block, the One Direction of their day. The year ended with a song that shouted moments from history (We Didn’t Start the Fire by Billy Joel) and a tune about homelessness (Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins). Milli Vanilli had two more number ones, while Simply Red covered If You Don’t Know Me By Now and had a massive number one during the summer.
Fine Young Cannibals topped the chart with both She Drives Me Crazy and Good Thing. It’s the latter that takes its place on NOW 15, in between Mystify by INXS and Rooms on Fire by Stevie Nicks, which were also big Transatlantic hits. In fact, there are lots of powerful rock songs on the compilation: Queen (I Want It All), Simple Minds (Kick It In), Roxette (The Look, a US number one hit) and Transvision Vamp (Baby I Don’t Care) are among the first five songs on the first side of vinyl, first tape and first CD.
Paul McCartney is on NOW 15 twice in innovative collaborations. One of them is My Brave Face, which was written with Elvis Costello; the other is a version of Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey for Ferry Aid. Catalogue also comes from Kirsty MacColl, who reinvents the Ray Davies song Days with the help of her producer and husband, Steve Lillywhite.
Fellow sixties star Cliff Richard closes the first disc with The Best Of Me, who is touring to celebrate his sixtieth year (60 years!!) moving it and being wired for sound. Cliff had two Christmas number ones – Mistletoe and Wine in 1988 and Saviour’s Day in 1990 – but this was his last chart-bothering period. There was still a market for soppy ballads, expertly sung, in 1989. Cliff’s longevity, and extreme patience in a very trying period in the 2010s, is to be admired. He really is a Cliff…
Danny Wilson’s The Second Summer of Love is poppy and fun. With lyrics that mention ‘acid in the rain’, the summer of 1988, where drugs fuelled a youth culture which was predicated on love for one’s fellow man, is memorialised, but why has Danny chosen mandolins to mark the moment?!
That song is never played today, and neither are Cry by Waterfront – which sounds like 1989 – nor Violently (Your Words Hit Me) by Hue and Cry, which is a gorgeous ballad. Swing Out Sister are only ever on the radio with Breakout. You on my Mind was the first release from the follow-up album, a UK top 10 release. The band are still active, which is great.
Disc 1 is entirely white; disc 2 is almost entirely black. It begins with the evergreen Soul II Soul song Back to Life (However Do You Want Me), still one of British pop’s greatest moments. Nenah Cherry returns with Manchild, while Bobby Brown emerges from boyband New Edition with the terrific Every Little Step.
Elsewhere, it is Gladys Knight who sings the Bond theme Licence to Kill, while Natalie Cole pipes up with Miss You Like Crazy, a power ballad that sounds like a song that Whitney rejected for being too Whitney sounding. It was written by three men, one of whom was Gerry Goffin, who really didn’t need the money at this point. It got as high as number 2 in the UK, proving that on this side of the pond we like sappy, soppy, drippy love songs. We also like gothic pop, as shown by the presence of Lullaby, a barely whispered sung tune by The Cure, which will form part of their fortieth anniversary set on their 2018 tour, which comes to Hyde Park in London on July 7.
The underground is still represented on NOW compilations. Inner City (Do You Feel What I Feel), Double Trouble and the Rebel MC (Just Keep Rockin’) and D-Mob (It’s Time to Get Funky) are to be found on NOW 15, along with the 808-assisted sound of Donna Allen’s Joy and Pain, a mix of funk guitar, synths and sax to sell some slinky r’n’b. It cannot be more 1989 unless it were a comedy pastiche.
It’s Alright was a plea for peace from Neil Tennant, as the familiar programmed drums underscore his warblings on global friction being overcome by the power of music. Having split from SAW, Bananarama had a huge hit with Cruel Summer, while Norman Cook had a hit under his own name with MC Wildski with Blame it on the Bassline.
And so to the year’s major success. In 1989, the law had not yet come to spoil the fun of sampling other people’s records to have your own hit song. De La Soul were the last hiphop group to enjoy copyright-free sampling to its fullest. Their album Three Feet High and Rising is a masterpiece, taking other sounds and adding the famous ‘Daisy Age’ rapping of the group. Say No Go was the sixth of seven singles from the album (Me Myself and I was the fifth, The Magic Number was the seventh and both are played on radio often today), which was placed in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress. Public Enemy, 2Pac, Sugarhill Gang, Lauryn Hill, NWA and Run-DMC are the only other hiphop acts to be represented. See the full list at LOC.gov.
Even more successful than De La Soul was Jive Bunny, which remains a curio in British pop. Amazingly, he is in residence as part of the Absolute 80s Weekender series this year at Butlins resorts (June 15-18, September 21-24, September 28-October 1). Swing The Mood strings together the Glenn Miller standard, Rock Around the Clock and Shake Rattle and Roll by Bill Haley & the Comets, Wake Up Little Susie by the Everly Brothers, At The Hop by Danny and the Juniors and three songs (Jailhouse Rock, All Shook Up and Hound Dog) by Elvis Presley. Instead of fronting it himself like Norman Cook, DJ Andy Pickles got an animated bunny to do so.
Andy is only a part-time DJ now, pouring his energy into U-Explore, an educational technology company. I wonder if he swings the mood in meetings too…