As part of my 100 Albums project, I posted annual song playlists from 1989-2018. Since the project’s timeline goes back to 1965, that leaves 24 additional years to make playlists for. Rather than posting chronologically, I plan to curate a random year at a time on a whim; let’s begin with 1988 since I had started compiling songs for it some time ago.
As always, these playlists are totally subjective and meant to collect my favorite songs of a single year rather than attempt a record of what 1988 was actually like for me or most listeners at the time. I heard a lot of Guns N’ Roses and Richard Marx on the radio in ’88, but they (mercifully) won’t appear here. Truth be told, this was the year I started to pay close attention to Top 40 radio (having received a dual cassette boombox for my 13th birthday) and MTV’s Top 20 Video Countdown, so I was newly aware of a world beyond “Weird Al” Yankovic and whatever my parents listened to in the car.
A few actual top 40 hits do make the list: Sade’s refreshing, proto-trip-hop groove, Tracy Chapman’s unlike-anything-else-at-the-time breakthrough single, Erasure’s enduring dance-balladry, sublime one-hit-wonder When In Rome and of course, Information Society, also unlike anything else on the radio in 1988–I still marvel that this Latin freestyle techno-pop with sci-fi/Star Trek accents (from Minneapolis, no less!) reached number 3 on the Hot 100 that October.
Still, other musical worlds existed beyond such mainstream confines: They Might Be Giants’ sui generis quirk-pop, Leonard Cohen’s ballsy reinvention as a sophisticated, smokey-voiced chanteur, Cowboy Junkies’ indie slowcore Velvets cover, Talk Talk’s own transformation from second-string new romantics into ambient-leaning experimenters.
There was another world just beyond my reach–British pop fascinated in the late ’80s/early ’90s, from club songs that crossed over to the top of the UK charts (Yazz) to weirdo one-shots like Fairground Attraction and The Primitives. The old guard continued to innovate (Siousxie and the Banshee’s craziest, fizziest hit), surprise (The Fall’s sardonic-yet-faithful Kinks cover) and expand its horizons (both Morrissey and Pet Shop Boys turning ever more orchestral.)
All this plus a guitar-pop triple-threat from Down Under (The Go-Betweens, Hunters & Collectors, Crowded House), early Sam Phillips, late ‘Til Tuesday and to cap it all off, an ode to love from Catherine O’Hara’s beguiling younger sister. Like any other year for pop, 1988 contained multitudes.
Go here to listen to my favorite tracks of 1988 on Spotify:
- Information Society, “What’s on Your Mind (Pure Energy)”
- Prefab Sprout, “Cars and Girls”
- When In Rome, “The Promise”
- The Primitives, “Crash”
- The Church, “Under The Milky Way”
- Sade, “Paradise”
- The Go-Betweens, “Quiet Heart”
- Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car”
- Everything But The Girl, “These Early Days”
- Hunters & Collectors, “Back On The Breadline”
- Fairground Attraction, “Perfect”
- Morrissey, “Everyday Is Like Sunday”
- Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows”
- Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Peek-A-Boo”
- They Might Be Giants, “Ana Ng”
- Yazz, “The Only Way Is Up”
- Inner City, “Good Life”
- Talking Heads, “(Nothing But) Flowers”
- R.E.M., “You Are The Everything”
- Cowboy Junkies, “Sweet Jane”
- The Dream Syndicate, “Whatever You Please”
- Talk Talk, “I Believe In You”
- Sam Phillips, “What Do I Do”
- Erasure, “A Little Respect”
- Pet Shop Boys, “Left To My Own Devices”
- Was (Not Was), “Somewhere In America There’s A Street Named After My Dad”
- ‘Til Tuesday, “(Believed You Were) Lucky”
- The Darling Buds, “Let’s Go Round There”
- Roxette, “Dressed For Success”
- The Fall, “Victoria”
- Patti Smith, “People Have The Power”
- Crowded House, “Better Be Home Soon”
- Mary Margaret O’Hara, “You Will Be Loved Again”