I was thinking (as I am wont to do) on how my somewhat dampened monomania regarding media remains my #1 marker for the passage of time. I can think back on events in my life and note how long ago they occurred, but it’s only with albums, films, and comics that the time-lapse really hits, you know? I don’t know why that is (nor do I want to turn this into some Nick Hornby-esque navel gaze), but I’ve found the same holds true for many of my friends and associates.
So with that in mind, I thought about taking a look back at those ‘Seriously? [X] is that old?’ moments. 10 years seems to recent (and simply not noteworthy enough), and 30 takes it to the range where I was certainly alive, but not exactly media-savvy. So 20 years it is.
The first quarter of 1988 feels like a good place to start, as the mix of music released captures an industry just on the cusp of a serious sea change. The whole year reads like a David and Goliath look at what made popular music. You had statesmen like Robert Plant grabbing his last round of real post-Zeppelin relevance with Now & Zen (which oddly enough, relied on a serious Zepplin vibe for the single ‘Tall Cool One’), while David Lee Roth wore out his welcome with the laughable Skyscraper. (For anyone who helped make ‘Just Like Paradise’ a #1 single: Shame on you.) I hate to rail on Hollywood Dave, but c’mon. An album so bad that Steve Vai left the band to tour with Whitesnake (ugh), and bassist Billy Sheehan left to form Mr. Big (double ugh). Peppered in the margins were releases like Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man (still one of my favorite albums ever), which wouldn’t grab any real mainstream attention until Concrete Blond covered ‘Everybody Knows’ for the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack two years later.
‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ will be 20 years old in March, for which I still haven’t fully forgiven Bobby McFerrin. Cheap Trick rolled out the original line-up for the slow-dance staple ‘The Flame’, and we got one last look at the highlights Eric Clapton’s career with the excellent box set, Crossroads. Sadly it’d only be two short years before the suck button got welded down for good. Talking Heads released their last studio album, Naked, putting a cap on an amazing run of albums.
So far Q1 looks much like the years preceding it, but wait! Here’s where the fun starts: The Pixies released Surfer Rosa (engineered by then unknown Steve Albini)! Morrissey releases his first post-Smiths album, Viva Hate! The Church scores a decidedly alt-sounding top single with ‘Under the Milky Way’! The world meets Icelandic art pixie Bjork for the first time as The Sugarcubes’ Life’s Too Good hits the shelves! Change is in the wind.
Certainly not a chart-burner, but Soul Asylum’s Hang Time was released in April (which I’ll always love for ‘Sometime to Return’), while my love for Erasure’s The Innocents often put me at odds with my pals, most of whom were digging QueensrÃ¿che’s Operation: Mindcrime. Hey, 20 years later I’m not embarrassed to still own that Erasure album. I bet my prog-metal pals can’t say the same about Mindcrime, now can you? I thought not.
4 months in, and 1988 is already a pretty weird and awesome year for music. Some albums (Viva Hate, for instance) feel 20 years old while others (Surfer Rosa) still feel current (helped in no part by the enduring influence of Black Francis and company). I’ll pick this up again in a few months, as this is a year wherein each quarter deserves its own space.
So after all this, what was the song/album that made me go ‘Holy crap, that’s really 20 years old!’? ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’. How sad is that?