Just got word that Lenny Kravitz's album Let Love Rule is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year with a special expanded edition to commemorate this less than landmark event. I mean, I'm sure his fans are appreciative, but in the whole scheme of things, it doesn't seem anywhere near as interesting as Swine Flu, Susan Boyle, or learning about government officials who don't pay their taxes and whoever Jon and Kate plus eight are. Besides, I went looking back to 1989 to see what I could find. Frank Sinatra might not say it was a very good year but in retrospect it doesn't look that bad. Which could conceivably mean that the future is getting worse.
But I like to stay positive. What is amusing is how many of these albums were seen to be important at the time and now can either be had in cut-out bins or are never mentioned where fine conversations about music are being held. Either an entire generation has developed cultural amnesia or we were all wrong in the first place. It might be time, though, to break some of these albums out and see how they "hold up."
Let me know.
Pere Ubu--Cloudland: This was the album I picked as my favorite of the year. I've since forgotten what the other nine were. But then I've forgotten most of the past 20 years, however, people tell me I've done some pretty embarrassing things and owe them quite a bit of money. This was the avant-garage band's "pop" album and it proved to have songs you could hum.
24) Lou Reed--New York: Lou Reed is one of those people who knows if you act serious, people will take you seriously. Reed is like a professor of rock 'n' roll. He's old, uses big words, intimidates the undergrads and has plenty of support staff around to make excuses when he's not in his office during office hours.
Madonna--Like A Prayer: So, does this qualify as "mid-period" Madonna? This was still part of her first decade of dominance, but in pop terms, lasting more than a few years allows you to qualify for senior status. And really at this point she had a longer career than, say, the Velvet Underground.
22) The B-52's--Cosmic Thing: This was one of those that came out of nowhere. Sure, the B-52's had a couple of great party hits back at the beginning of the decade, but there was nothing to suggest that they'd get the music industry's ear again, no matter how catchy their material. "Old" is for people like Bob Dylan. Last I checked Fred Schneider was not considered a folksinger. Maybe he should be.
Don Henley--The End Of The Innocence: Half the songs on this album have gone on to become anthems for people who shop in Dollar Stores. Not because the songs represent them, but because you can't go looking for cheap sunglasses and batteries without hearing "The Heart Of The Matter" or "The Last Worthless Evening." It's what they play. And even weirder, it all seems so new to the people working in these places.
20) The Rolling Stones--Steel Wheels: I remember people debating whether or not this was actually any good. And I remember people listening to it over and over trying to convince themselves that they would like it as much as Let It Bleed someday. And since it was the first Stones album that everyone bought on CD instead of vinyl, it cost more and sounded "better." Except I don't think its reputation turned out so good.
Billy Joel--Storm Front: Any album with a song as polarizing as "We Didn't Start The Fire" surely makes a list remembering that era. Oddly, I didn't mind it so much and I've never cared for Billy Joel. And maybe that's how it has to be. You have to care in the first place.
18) Neneh Cherry--Raw Like Sushi: At the time I didn't think she was the future of music, but I thought "Buffalo Stance" and "Kisses On The Wind" were two really fab singles that were a lot more interesting than albums by kids who couldn't tune their guitars. They sound pretty dated in a cutesy way now, but then again early Husker Du albums still sound pretty horribly produced and I still like them.
The Cure--Disintegration: This was one of those pleasant surprises. I'd about given up on the band, figuring they'd exhausted their playing field as all great bands eventually do. But they came out swinging hard with this one. Bob Smith never should've sold "Pictures Of You" to advertising, though it was his right. I just always thought of him as being "less Townshend" than that.
Bonnie Raitt--Nick Of Time: There was a brief time when respect for your elders was something that could happen in pop music. I guess it still can. But usually it only happens to those with already well-established careers. Not that Raitt was an unknown, but she was NEVER a superstar. She was a cult fave at best. And suddenly she represented an entire new demographic that always existed. Older people who weren't dead but who also weren't 20 years old. How shocking!
14) Indigo Girls--Indigo Girls: There were--and still are--thousands of coffeehouse folksingers in the world. Most go home to a day job and some travel the world on a meager existence, hoping for better days. These two young ladies came to represent and were rewarded with being imitated, covered and worshipped. If you've never heard "Closer To Fine" performed at an open mic, you haven't done your time. You must be one of those people who also thinks "Brown Eyed Girl" is an obscure oldie.
Ice T--The Iceberg: Freedom Of Speech Just Watch What You Say: Before he became an actor on cop shows, Ice-T was once the bad hombre, the outlaw, the guy railing against the man! He was the guy getting the parking tickets, not giving them out.
12) Negativland--Helter Stupid: Negativland never did become very popular but they caused plenty of controversy by appropriating other people's material and doing some pretty whacked out things with it. That they enraged U2 and Casey Kasem has to be worth something!
Nirvana--Bleach: Upon its initial release, not many people paid attention. Just the usual people who were already buying albums by bands no one else had every heard of. So in 1989 to own a copy of Bleach was no more a statement than owning an album by the Screaming Trees. It didn't make you smarter or hipper than anyone else. And chances are most people you knew had bought Soundgarden's Louder Than Love album instead.
10) Tom Petty--Full Moon Fever: So chock full of hits--"Free Fallin'," "I Won't Back Down," "Runnin' Down A Dream," "Yer So Bad"--it makes you wonder why Petty ever bothered to join back up with his old band. He did what Mick Jagger only dreamed about--became a successful solo artist!
De La Soul--3 Feet High And Rising: There was a lot of talk about these fellas when this album debuted. And nowadays, it's pretty much "Who"? They named a later album De La Soul Is Dead and it seems they pressed their luck. Maybe if they'd called it De La Soul Comes Alive, they'd be a lingering presence on the music scene, Then again, it didn't work for Sly Stone no matter how many times he told us he was back.
8) Motley Crue--Dr. Feelgood: The weird thing about experiencing a band in their "heyday" is that often it doesn't feel like their heyday but just another day of business as usual. You expect this stuff to be huge and popular and everywhere. It's when it stops working that you wonder why people have stopped caring. Will the same thing one day happen to chocolate milk?
Red Hot Chili Peppers--Mother's Milk: RHCP had been a novelty act for most of the decade. I mean, just look at those freaky dudes! The ones wearing the socks over their private parts and playing like steroid-induced jocks where 10 notes is never enough. And suddenly they were a serious band who still managed to keep their sense of humor. Like a funky Van Halen!
6) Neil Young--Freedom: Young had recorded enough lousy albums at this point to make you wonder if he'd completely lost his mind. Heck, his old record company sued him for not making albums representative of his style. So what does he do once he moves to another label? Makes an album that sounds like "Classic Neil Young." The defense rests?
Skid Row--Skid Row: At the time, SR were a band from New Jersey that no one from New Jersey had heard of. Years later, I learn they're legends. Or at least Sebastian Bach is someone who can amuse the masses like he's one part David Lee Roth, two parts Ted Nugent and fill-in-your-favorite-train-wreck here...
2) Aerosmith--Pump: By the late 1970s, Aerosmith were considered damaged goods, a band with no future and they began leaking members and replacing them with guys who couldn't pick up the necessary slack. But then the group cleaned up, got their original line-up together and resuscitated the band as if they'd never been on life support a day in their lives.
Nine Inch Nails--Pretty Hate Machine: Popular in its day and pretty much a signal of the harder music about to come with the 1990s. The days of pastel and glossy synths were about to be over and the mud was about to fly.