Just over a week ago I looked back at my favourite albums of 1988 and promised the final year of the Eighties would be up next.
Well, here it is. My list covering my personal top ten albums of the final year of that decade – 1989…
1. Aerosmith “Pump”
This was the year that I first got to see Boston hard rock legends Aerosmith live in concert, at the Birmingham N.E.C., and the year that they released what I believe to be their best ever album “Pump”.
This was the band’s tenth studio album, and their most successful to that point. In fact only “Get A Grip”, the follow-up from 1993, can match “Pump” in terms of chart performances and sales figures.
There were three chart singles in the UK from this record – “Janie’s Got A Gun”, “The Other Side” and “Love In An Elevator”, whilst the album contained other corkers such as “Young Lust”, “Monkey On My Back”, “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even” and my favourite “Hoodoo / Voodoo Medicine Man”.
The whole band were on fire, Steven Tyler’s vocals sounded great, Joe Perry looked like the guitar god that he was and this was one Aerosmith album that didn’t contain a single duff track.
2. Dan Reed Network “Slam”
This is a band that should have had a lot more success than they ultimately did. A multi-ethnic hard rock / funk group, Dan Reed Network’s second album “Slam” was produced by Nile Rodgers of Chic fame.
It was the single “Tiger In A Dress” that first brought the band to my attention, and I was a big fan of the album by the time they secured a slot opening for the Rolling Stones on their “Urban Jungle” tour.
The group would go on to have bigger chart success in the UK with 1991 album “The Heat” before disappearing, but for me “Slam” is the best of the band’s three albums, with superb tracks like “Doin’ The Love Thing”, “Come Back Baby”, “All My Lovin'”, “Make It Easy” and “Stronger Than Steel” ensuring that the album still gets regular airings on my system.
3. Eric Clapton “Journeyman”
I’d not been a particular fan of Eric Clapton’s work, big hits such as “Layla” and “Cocaine” aside, until his eleventh solo studio album “Journeyman” came out and changed that, making me go back and discover all his past treasures.
A number of singles were released to promote the record, including “Pretending”, the excellent “Bad Love” and “No Alibis”.
The album mixed bluesy material with harder rocking tracks but worked brilliantly from start to finish and remains my favourite Clapton album, probably followed by “24 Nights” – the live album that chronicled his stints at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990/91 (and the unofficial recordings from those dates) – as it (and they) capture Clapton at one of the peaks of his powers.
The Cream years and Derek & The Dominoes are hugely important too, not forgetting the John Mayall album from 1966, but for quality songs, superb guitar playing and a great polished sound “Journeyman” is the one for me.
4. FM “Tough It Out”
A band new to me in 1989 were British melodic rockers FM. First introduced to my ears by their single “Bad Luck”, the band boasted great catchy rock songs with singalong choruses and really good instrumentation, all topped off my the wonderful voice of Steve Overland.
So impressed was I that, together with a mate, I saw the band perform on their subsequent UK tour twice in a week – in Bristol and Manchester – and they were just as good live as on record (in fact drummer Pete Jupp was even better than I expected).
As well as “Bad Luck”, the album produced two more singles in “Someday (You’ll Come Running)” and “Everytime I Think Of You” and was crammed full of top tunes, any one of which could conceivably have been a hit. The band are still making really good music to this day, but “Tough It Out” will likely always be the best to me, as it was perfect for the time.
5. King’s X “Gretchen Goes To Nebraska”
In all honesty I can’t remember for the life of me how I first discovered King’s X, though it was most likely from Tommy Vance’s brilliant radio show on BBC Radio 1, the Friday Rock Show, which was an invaluable resource in the days before the internet!
Regardless, I can recall picking up a vinyl copy of “Gretchen Goes To Nebraska”, the band’s second album, and being really impressed. The record contains different elements – Beatles-like vocal harmonies, heavy guitars, great melodies, psychedelic sounds, tight grooves, progressive passages etc.
Two singles were used to promote the record – “Over My Head” and “Summerland”, and other notable tracks include “Everybody Knows A Little Bit Of Something”, “Mission” and “Don’t Believe It (It’s Easier Said Than Done)”. Whilst not massively successful commercially the album is generally regarded as a highlight of the band’s catalogue.
6. Marillion “Season’s End”
Tape cassettes were still popular in 1989 and it was an impulse purchase in a motorway service station on a late night drive towards the end of that year that saw me picking up “Seasons End”, the first post-Fish album from Aylesbury progressive rock band Marillion.
I had already heard the lead single “Hooks In You”, which was similar in sound to “Incommunicado” (my least favourite Marillion single) and was interested to see what the rest of the album would sound like, if not expecting great things.
The good news was that “Hooks In You” didn’t give a true flavour of things. Epic numbers like “The King Of Sunset Town”, “Seasons End”, “Berlin” and the sublime “Easter” all went to demonstrate that there was very definitely life after Fish.
“The Uninvited Guest” was also released as a single, as was “Easter”, albeit in edited form. The latter remains one of the most beautiful Marillion songs, and the album a marker that this was a band that would continue to grow and expand their musical vision and produce stunning music for years to come.
7. Mötley Crüe “Dr. Feelgood”
Although for some it is the “Girls, Girls, Girls” album from 1987 that best represents Los Angeles hard rock band Mötley Crüe, for me it has to be “Dr. Feelgood”.
Producing five hit singles in the US – just two, “Dr. Feelgood” and “Without You” would be UK hits – the album became the biggest selling album of the band’s career.
The group were at the peak of their commercial career and cemented the record’s success by appearing at the one-off Moscow Music Peace Festival in August ’89 along with Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions and others and their own massive 154 date world tour from October ’89 through to August ’90.
Singer Vince Neil would leave the group before the next studio album and, although he was to return just a few years later, they would never recapture their former glories and sales successes and are currently undergoing their final world tour. But back in ’89 with albums tracks like “Rattlesnake Shake”, “Sticky Sweet”, “Kickstart My Heart” and “She Goes Down” the band were dynamite.
As an aside, I did feel at the time that if I was ever to have a tattoo on my bicep it would be of the dagger / snake motif on the album cover. It never happened but then never say never…
8. Paul McCartney “Flowers In The Dirt”
I am not a massive fan of the former Beatle’s solo work, it seems to be more miss than hit in terms of quality to my ears. However, in terms of a single body of work I do find his “Flowers In The Dirt” to be head and shoulders above anything else in his solo career.
His sixteenth studio album outside of the Beatles – therefore including solo and Wings albums – it was his most successful since “Tug Of War” in 1982 and produced four UK hit singles in “My Brave Face” (number 18), “This One” (18), “Put It There” (32) and “Figure Of Eight” (42).
McCartney collaborated with Elvis Costello on four of the album’s twelve tracks and Costello also sang on “You Want Her Too”. The album was released to great critical acclaim and was followed by McCartney’s first big tour in a decade, with 103 shows between September ’89 and July ’90. The tour was captured by the fantastic double live album “Tripping The Live Fantastic” in 1990.
“Flowers In The Dirt” meanwhile is a really good adult pop record, with at least the first ten tracks being of the highest quality, including my particular favourites “Distractions”, “You Want Her Too”, “This One” and “We Got Married”.
9. Rolling Stones “Steel Wheels”
“Steel Wheels” was the Rolling Stones nineteenth studio album (twenty-first in the US) and first since the patchy “Dirty Work” in 1986.
Preceded by the hit single “Mixed Emotions” the album saw the light of day in August, two days before their huge 115 date “Steel Wheels” / “Urban Jungle” world tour kicked off in the US. I was lucky enough to catch the band perform in Cardiff on that tour, and they were excellent.
“Steel Wheels” is my favourite Rolling Stones album from the eighties, feeling more consistent in quality than the others released during that particular decade. More singles were released from the record including “Rock And A Hard Place”, “Almost Hear You Sigh” and “Terrifying” and other great tracks on the album are “Can’t Be Seen”, “Sad Sad Sad”, “Slipping Away” and the unusual and brilliant Eastern-flavoured “Continental Drift”. Great stuff.
10. Whitesnake “Slip Of The Tongue”
Released in November ’89, “Slip Of The Tongue” was Whitesnake’s eighth studio album, and the follow-up to the hugely successful “1987” album which had seen David Coverdale’s band move away from the bluesy rock on the early albums into a pristine sounding hard rock band and made them big stars in the US.
None of the musicians who had appeared on “1987” were members of the band by the time Coverdale came to record “Slip Of The Tongue” as he had recruited new band members for the “1987” tour. Touring guitarist Vivian Campbell had subsequently quit, and due to a wrist injury the then-current sole remaining guitarist Adrian Vandenberg was unable to participate either.
As a result guitar maestro Steve Vai was brought on board to record all the guitar parts on the album and join Vandenberg in the line-up for the next world tour. Although at the time Coverdale was quoted as saying that Vai was “weaving sonic tapestries from hell” he was later to remark that “Slip Of The Tongue” was the least Whitesnake sounding record in his band’s catalogue.
There is much truth to that, and for many Vai’s playing (or over-playing, depending on your point of view) was the problem and I will admit that I wonder how much better the album might have sounded had Vandenberg performed on it instead of Vai.
Despite that, this is still a good record. As with the previous album, this one also had a re-recording of an older Whitesnake song present, and issued as a single, in “Fool For Your Loving” (originally recorded in 1980). The other UK singles, both hits in 1990, were “The Deeper The Love” and “Now You’re Gone”.
There is plenty of Coverdale’s trademark humour / sexism (delete as appropriate) on tracks like “Slow Poke Music”, “Cheap An’ Nasty” and “Kittens Got Claws” – sample lyric “…you wear those skin-tight dresses with your g-string tuned to A…”. In addition there are some brilliant epic sounding tunes, “Sailing Ships” and “Judgement Day” being the pick of the bunch. Not the best Whitesnake album perhaps, but still way better than most hard rock albums from the time.
Politics, football and movies is 1989? – Margaret Thatcher was in her third term as the Prime Minister of the UK, reaching a decade in the job in May, whilst George Bush became President of the USA in January. In football Arsenal won the old First Division and the FA Cup went to Liverpool. In cinemas, top films released included “Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade”, “Batman” and “Back To The Future Part II”.
Elsewhere, tragedy struck in April during the FA Cup match between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool when 96 died as a result of the Hillsborough Disaster, a fatwā was declared over Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel “The Satanic Verses”, the BBC dropped TV series “Doctor Who” after twenty-six years and Sky began broadcasting in the UK for the first time.
OK, so that all of the eighties done. So what’s next? Seventies? Nineties?… Time will tell…