The 50 Best Songs of 1989
by Linda Ryan | June 6, 2013
Welcome to The 50, a Rhapsody scheme in which we attempt to compile the biggest, best, most historically remarkable songs of every year. Our list of 50 tracks -- presented here in no particular order, ideally flowing like a time-traveling DJ set -- has been argued over and (grudgingly) agreed upon by our full editorial staff. Please enjoy.
When it comes to music, the end-of-decade years are always so interesting to look back on. When it comes to ferreting out trends in music, hindsight really is 20/20. And 1989 is no exception. The end of this particular decade saw myriad popular styles and genres still going for the tinny electronic beats and big production sound that helped define New Wave just a few years before. Artists in pop (New Kids on the Block's "Hangin' Tough," Fine Young Cannibals' "She Drives Me Crazy"), R&B (Jane Child's "Don't Wanna Fall in Love," Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation"), and rock (Don Henley's "End of the Innocence," Richard Marx's "Satisfied") all fell under the hypnotic spell of thin-sounding programmed beats.
But that's not to say all programmed beats were flat. On the contrary, the dynamic beats used in Soul II Soul's "Back to Life," N.W.A.'s "Express Yourself" and The Beastie Boys' "Hey Ladies" still stand as solid testaments to sampling nearly 25 years later.
Meanwhile, after a decade of candy-coated, syncopated fluff and monster power ballads, things were about to get real. Really real. George H.W. Bush took the mantle from Ronald Reagan and ushered in his Thousand Points of Light era; Neil Young wasn't the only one who bristled at the idea. Meanwhile, Reagan's heavy-handed/closefisted ally, English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, instituted her infamous poll tax, which finally disgusted enough people to oust the Iron Lady the following year. Struggles for independence heated up areas such as Poland, Haiti and Paraguay, culminating most spectacularly in the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the shocking events at Tiananmen Square.
Where controversy and repression go, so music follows. The seeds of music's counterrevolutions -- gangsta rap and grunge -- budded and blossomed in 1989 with Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" and Nirvana's "About a Girl." Madonna also did her bit to fight the power with her controversial "Like a Prayer" video, which cost her a lucrative endorsement deal with Pepsi.
While it hasn't all aged gracefully, the music from 1989 still remains near and dear to our hearts. Hit play and let the flashback begin!