Saturday, January 03, 2009

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


1988 was the beginning of many things. For one thing, it was the year I got married. But it was also the year that Yasser Arafat began his Intifada. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and Vice Admiral John Poindexter are indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States , in the Iran-Contra affair.

In March, Jesse Jackson became the first African-American to win a state's primary, when he defeated Michael Dukakis in the Michigan Democratic caucuses. However, Dukakis eventually won the nomination and led eventual winner George H. W. Bush by 22 points in the summer polls.

In May, near Carrollton , Kentucky , A drunk driver going the wrong way on Interstate 71 hits a converted school bus carrying a church youth group from Radcliff , Kentucky . The first reported medical waste on beaches in the Greater New York area (including hypodermic needles and syringes possibly infected with the AIDS virus) washes ashore on Long Island . A year later, this is mentioned in the Billy Joel classic “We Didn't Start the Fire.”

In sports, an ailing Kirk Gibson hits a dramatic home run to win Game 1 of the World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers, over the Oakland Athletics, by a score of 5-4.

And the year ended on a tragic note as 270 people are killed when Pan Am flight 103 is blown out of the sky over Lockerbie , Scotland . While responsibility was claimed by the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution and Islamic Jihad, The Libyan government sent a letter to the UN stating it has” accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials."

Beds Are Burning – Midnight Oil

This is a political song about giving native Australian lands back to the the Pintupi, who were among the very last people to come in from the desert. These 'last contact' people began moving from the Gibson Desert to settlements and missions in the 1930s. More were forcibly moved during the 1950's and 1960's to the Papunya settlement. In 1981 they left to return to their own country and established the Kintore community which is nestled in the picturesque Kintore Ranges, surrounded by Mulga and Spinifex country. It is now a thriving little community with a population of about 400. Known as Oils to fans, Midnight Oil is an Australian band from Sydney that originally performed as Farm from 1972 with drummer Rob Hirst, bass guitarist Andrew James and keyboard player/lead guitarist Jim Moginie. Vocalist Peter Garrett was studying at Australian National University in Canberra, he answered an ad for a spot in Farm, and by 1975 the band was touring the east coast. By late 1976, Garrett moved to Sydney to complete his Law degree, and Farm changed its name to Midnight Oil by drawing the name out of a hat.

Cult of Personality – Living Colour

This song opens and closes with famous quotes: "And in the few moments we have left, we want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand." This is Malcolm X, from his “Message To The Grass-Roots” speech in 1963. The point of it was to unify African-Americans. The ending quotes start with John F. Kennedy's famous "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." This is from his inaugural address in 1961. The significance of the quotes is that both were from men who were assassinated. Most of the song seems to be denouncing idolatry, but there is the one stanza containing the line, "A leader speaks, a leader dies." They also seem to make no distinction between "good" and "evil," as each time they mention a "hero" they pair them with an "enemy" - Mussolini and Kennedy, and Stalin and Gandhi. The final words are "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural address on March 4, 1933 . Roosevelt used the address to announce his "New Deal" program and encourage the citizens of the United States to overcome their economic problems as they emerged from the depression.

Never Tear Us Apart – INXS

INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence wrote the lyrics, which describe an instant connection between 2 people who form a bond that will last forever. Hutchence died in 1997. At his funeral service, his coffin was carried out of St. Andrews Cathedral by the remaining members of INXS and younger brother Rhett, as this song played in the background. In 2006 the song was voted "Nation's Favorite Lyric" by viewers of pay TV music channel VH1 in Australia. The video for the song, featured an extended intro and was filmed in Prague along with "Guns in the Sky" and "New Sensation."

Under the Milky Way – The Church

This haunting song was by far the biggest hit by this Australian new wave band, although they've had a long career. It was written about a place in Amsterdam called The Melkweg, which is Dutch for "The Milky Way." The Melkweg is an old factory building that houses a coffee shop, bar, movie theater and art space, and often hosts live music. It was frequented by Steve Kilbey, the band's front man. He co-wrote this song with bassist Karin Jansson. This was featured in the 2001 movie Donnie Darko . In early 2009, Second Motion Records will release multiple albums from Church band members in North America . Singer Steve Kilbey's latest record Painkiller will be released on Feb 17th, Marty Willson-Piper's new album Nightjar will be released on March 3rd , and a new Church album is slated for the spring of 2009.

Shattered Dreams – Johnny Hates Jazz

This song, lamenting a romance that ended in betrayal, was the first track from the group's debut album, and its first single release. It became a Top 5 hit and also accomplished the rare feat of having two separate peaks in its chart run: it climbed to #2, then slipped to #3, then rose back to #2 for two weeks. There was no Johnny in Johnny Hates Jazz; this English Pop group was named for a Jazz-hating mutual friend of the three original members, Calvin Hayes, Mike Nocito and frontman Clark Datchler (who wrote this song). Ironically enough, the group got its big break while performing at a Jazz club, where they were discovered and eventually signed by Virgin Records. Turn Back the Clock spawned JHJ's only two major US hits (the other was "I Don't Want To Be A Hero", #31). The album itself didn't sell well in the States, though it topped the UK album chart and produced a few more UK hit singles. The group's fortunes turned sour after their initial success. Datchler went solo in 1988, citing personal differences with Hayes and Nocito. They found a replacement and released one more album, Tall Stories, in 1991, but proved unable to carry on when Hayes was badly injured in a car wreck that same year. In 2007, Hayes and Nocito reunited JHJ (with yet another lead singer) as part of a multi-act 1980s nostalgia tour of the UK.

Fast Car – Tracy Chapman

The song is a complex narrative tale of generational poverty. The song's narrator tells the story of her hard life, which begins when her mother divorces her jobless, alcoholic father, forcing the narrator to quit school in order to care for him. Eventually, she leaves her hometown with her boyfriend in hopes of making a better life. Despite her employment at a grocery store, she falls victim to the cycle of poverty, as her life begins to mirror her mother's: her boyfriend remains largely unemployed and becomes an alcoholic. She is left alone with her children while her boyfriend spends time drinking with his friends. Finally, after getting a job that will support her family, she has an epiphany. Despite wishing for a better life, she must make the best of her situation, and tells her boyfriend to take his "fast car and keep on driving." The final refrain is sung in variation, changing from "We gotta make a decision, leave tonight or live and die this way" to "You gotta make a decision, leave tonight or live and die this way." Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Chapman began playing guitar and writing songs at the age of eleven. She was quickly accepted into the program “A Better Chance” which enabled her to attend Wooster School in Connecticut; she was eventually accepted to Tufts University. In May 2004, Tufts honored her with an honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, for her strongly-committed contributions as a socially conscious and artistically accomplished musician. Chapman often performs at and attends charity events such as Make Poverty History, amfAR and AIDS/LifeCycle. Although she has never openly discussed her sexuality, novelist Alice Walker revealed that she had had a relationship with Chapman in the 90's.

Waiting For a Star to Fall – Boy Meets Girl

Boy Meets Girl are American songwriters George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam. In an interview with (a key contributer to these lists) about this song and explained how they got together. Shannon : "We met at a large Seattle socialite wedding for one of the Boeing daughters of Boeing Airplanes. Then we met again later when I went to see George and his singing partner at the time at a club and thought, 'Wow, they're really good. And cute.'" George: "I had been pretty smitten by Shannon when I first saw her at the wedding. It was Susan Boeing of Boeing Companies, and all the Seattle musicians at the time were hired to perform some function at the wedding, either performing at the wedding or the after party or something. I was singing in the choir in the loft, and Shannon was singing the solo, so her voice was going out throughout the entire church, and I thought, 'Oh my goodness, where did that voice come from?'" Shannon : "We met a year later and I ended up joining his duo at the time to make it a trio so we could have extra harmony layers. We played the Seattle club scene and up and down the coast, until we got stone tired of playing clubs and dealing with people who were on their way to being drunk, and then well past that line. We ended up moving down to Los Angeles after we wrote and recorded a batch of songs, and sent tapes out and actually got a response from one of those wild card tapes we sent out. George and Shannon were married throughout the '90s and broke up around 2000. They have a daughter together and continue their musical partnership. In 2003, they released The Wonderground , an album dealing with the complexities and emotions of their relationship.

The Valley Road – Bruce Hornsby and the Range

Following his wildly successful debut album, The Way It Is, as well as winning a Grammy Award for Best New Artist, Hornsby released Scenes from the Southside, which many critics noted due to their "more spacious" musical arrangements, allowing for "more expressive" piano solos from Hornsby. The song "Jacob's Ladder" was featured as well, having originally been written by Hornsby for musician friend Huey Lewis. Lewis' version became a number one hit from his album Fore! Scenes from the Southside was successful as an album, once again offering slices of "Americana" and "small-town nostalgia," but it would be the group's last album to perform so well in the singles market. In 1988, Hornsby first appeared on stage with the Grateful Dead , a recurring collaboration that would continue until the band's dissolution. Hornsby went on to appear on stage frequently as a guest before becoming a regular fixture in the touring lineup for the Dead a few years later. During the late 1980s and early 1990s Hornsby worked extensively as a producer and sideman, notably producing a comeback album for Leon Russell, an idol of Hornsby's. In 1989 Hornsby co-wrote and played piano on Don Henley's big hit "The End of the Innocence". In 1991 he played piano on Bonnie Raitt's popular hit "I Can't Make You Love Me". Hornsby would continue to feature both of these songs in his own concerts. He also appeared on albums by Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Squeeze during this time period. Lately, He has also been writing songs for a Broadway Musical, titled SCKBSTD. One song from this project, a playful biographical tune about real-estate tycoon Donald Trump titled "The Don of Dons," has made several appearances in setlists during Hornsby's early-2007 solo piano performances.

When We Was Fab – George Harrison

In 1987, former Beatle George Harrison retuned to hit making with the release of his Cloud Nine album. Produced by ELO-frontman Jeff Lynne, the album re-established Harrison as a critically-acclaimed and commercially-significant recording artist. It was to be George Harrison's final studio album released during his lifetime. Following the release of the relatively unsuccessful Gone Troppo in 1982, and Harrison 's increasing frustrations with a changing musical climate, he decided to halt his recording career for other interests, such as film production with his own company, Handmade Films. The odd soundtrack or charity song would surface during this period, but otherwise it was a musically silent period for Harrison. Part of Harrison 's strategy for his comeback was making himself seen. He appeared with Ringo Starr at the Prince's Trust Concert that June performing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and was actively involved in promoting the upcoming album. In October, Harrison 's cover of Rudy Clark's obscure early 1960s song "Got My Mind Set on You", (which Harrison had wanted to record with the Beatles in the early days) accompanied by a humorous video, was released and stunned everyone by reaching #1 in the US and #2 in the UK — heights Harrison had not achieved in almost fifteen years. A few short weeks later, Cloud Nine was released with very high anticipation and was promptly lauded by critics worldwide as Harrison 's best album since All Things Must Pass in 1970, sending it to #10 in the UK and #8 and platinum status in the US. "When We Was Fab," his Beatles tribute, also proved a successful follow-up single, reaching the Top 30 in both the UK and US.

Missed Opportunities – Daryl Hall John Oates

After dominating the pop charts for much of the decade, Hall & Oates took a break from the recording studio and while they released the album Live at the Appolo (featuring Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin, of Temptations fame) and performed live at Live Aid, it was not certain they would ever join forces again. Daryl Hall soon released a successful solo LP and although John Oates did not have a solo hit as a singer, he did earn a Top 10 credit as producer of the 1988 Icehouse hit "Electric Blue." However, by 1988, the duo came back together under a new record label (Arista Records) and they recorded Ooh Yeah! - which included the hits “Everything Your Heart Desires” (#3 hit in May 1988 - their last to make the top ten), “Missed Opportunity”, and “Downtown Life.” This was to be the last Hall and Oates album - other than greatest hits packages - to enjoy platinum success. Hall & Oates did one more album for Arista called Change of Season. The album's first single, "So Close" (co-produced by Jon Bon Jovi) hit #11 on the pop charts and was their last major hit. Despite the fact that Ooh Yeah! and Change of Season went platinum and gold respectively, they were perceived as disappointments. It was during this time that album and single releases were credited as Daryl Hall John Oates , with the '&' or 'and' missing between the duo's names.

Bonus Track

Tweeter and the Monkey Man –The Traveling Wilburys

"Tweeter and the Monkey Man" is a song by rock music supergroup The Traveling Wilburys (consisting of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty) that first appeared on the 1988 album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. The songwriting credit is to all members of the band and is published by Bob Dylan's Special Rider Music. Dylan also sings lead on the song's verses (with the rest of the group joining in on the chorus sections). The lyrics of the song tell the gritty story of the title characters — a transsexual drug dealer nicknamed Tweeter and her partner in crime, known only as The Monkey Man — and their nemesis the Undercover Cop. This song is sometimes regarded as a playful homage to Bruce Springsteen's songs. The lyrics include the titles of many Springsteen songs, and the song borrows many of Springsteen's themes and settings. For instance, the setting of the song itself is New Jersey , Springsteen's home state, and places like Rahway Prison and Jersey City are mentioned by name. Springsteen song title references include: "Stolen Car", "Mansion on the Hill", "Thunder Road", "State Trooper", "Factory", "The River", and the song made popular by Springsteen but written by Tom Waits, "Jersey Girl". Additionally, "Lion's Den" and "Paradise" are each mentioned and prominently enunciated in the song, each being the title of a Springsteen song released after the Traveling Wilburys album. In the Traveling Wilburys DVD (released as part of their 2007 box set) the making of the song is described. George recounts that Dylan and Petty were discussing "Americana shit that we didn't understand." The conversation was taped, and later translated by the group into the basis of the song. The chorus was originally part of a verse, but was chosen later for the refrain.


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