Welcome, boomers! Pull up a chair. VH-1 has videos for you. In this segment, Don Henley will stand in a barley field scowling at the young man he will sullenly deflower. In another, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards ogle each other like a drunk middle-aged couple who remember why they dug each other’s ass cracks. Hours later, Elvis Costello’s sprightly anecdote about his grandma fading into senility. Bob Dylan will also appear in “Everything is Broken,” his “The End of Innocence” with U2’s producer (who appears on this list, inexplicably).
But men and women in the middle of their journeys also had skills. Neil Young and Lou Reed made raucous guitar albums with songs whose verses gave the impression that USA Today was 7-11 reading during a tour pit stop. Post-punk acts The Cure and XTC, a decade into careers that at last showed signs of turning American sales around, released acclaimed albums, only one of which is widely considered their apex by people not me; Disintegration appears in the second category on the strength of every non-“Lovesong” single and “Plainsong.” The JAMC released two of their best singles on an otherwise thudding redundancy of an album. Bizzer Bonnie Raitt would have the last laugh, exploiting a Grammy win for one of rock’s best restarts (you couldn’t even call it a comeback), although the superior album she released in 1991.
Finally, I’m one of those luckless sods who prefers Dean Wareham in Luna and his appearances in Noah Baumbach films to his seminal work in Galaxie 500. And 2015’s biopic Straight Outta Compton reminded audiences, especially younger ones, of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre’s canonicity, but the album’s cultural weight supports Eazy-E and MC Ren in ways their verbal imaginations can’t. I recognize the Daisy Age told its own fictions too.
Goodbye, Weird Plutocrat Guy, one-third responsible for the first exciting presidential race of my lifetime. Empty the pockets of H. Ross Perot, called “H.” Ross Perot by Dave Barry, and the following aphorisms jingle like fresh dimes:
If someone is blessed as I am is not willing to clean out the barn, who will?
The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.
If you see a snake, just kill it — don’t appoint a committee on snakes.
With ears like coffee mug handles and a twang as crinkled as old rattlesnake skin, Perot captured enough of the popular imagination to give Governor William Jefferson Clinton of Arkansas and President George H.W. Bush, called “Poppy” by Soto, a scare in the spring and early summer of 1992. His message was resentment applesauce, sweetened by the knowledge that Americans will trust a rich moron over a poor intellectual. Campaigning against a federal government in which many of his politician friends were very good to him, he convinced the newly elected Clinton to commission Al Gore into looking at “waste in government.” In reality, this cornpone charlatan loved playing Wise CEO at the — I use the word deliberately — expense of his brutalized employees. In a well-trod tradition, he became yet another billionaire who believed rules for the poor, as demonstrated by his paying for his own commando squad — an example of how dearly he loved his country, according to NRO’s Jim Geraghty, who thinks irony is what you use on a wrinkled shirt. This neat little idea no doubt inspired Oliver North to contact him for payoff money, we learned. He endorsed the means testing of Social Security. What thanks did he get from the GOP establishment? Why, smearing his daughter with incriminating photos before her wedding! Perot said he dropped out of the race in July based on this nugget.
Entertaining crackpots are for Carl Hiassen or Thomas Pynchon novels.
I knew ranking him would produce fascinating results: here’s a guy with a catalog vast enough to place in every category, and white enough to endure despite its natural redundancy. Resistant to scrutiny, obsequious to a work ethic that encompasses disco boogie, the AOR thud, and pop with an electronic gloss, Bryan Adams can’t help the crap he writes and sings. His rasp is his idea of reality. But he represented a middle ground between Def Leppard and Shania Twain in the Poppy Bush Interzone. Continue reading
Like Jeff Bridges and Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman formed part of a new generation of actors whose coming of age as the studio system collapsed allowed them to flit from lead to supporting performances. And like Bridges, Hackman is an actor without vanity. Without resorting to makeup, costumes, or accents — without changing a note of his timbre and always looking rumpled except playing from one of his gallery of corporate lawyers — he is subtly different in every role. His only equivalent is the far more technical Vanessa Redgrave. Continue reading
More black voices: say hello to En Vogue, Tony Toni Tone, and the emboldened former members of New Edition (“Poison” gross — the characters dismiss as “Poison” the girl they all took turns fucking). The year when freestyle went soft: The Cover Girls, Sweet Sensation, and Stevie B. Oddities too: Sinead O’Connor topped the singles and album chart in a chart fluke; I often wonder how she would’ve fared in the Soundscan era. Think too of Bette Midler’s “From a Distance,” which, as Bob Christgau pointed out at the time, sneaked deism into the top ten (note the chorus).1990 also boasted material lost in the dustbin of history: Tyler Collins’ “Girls Nite Out,” Exposé’s “Tell Me Why,” and Glenn Medeiros featuring Bobby Brown’s #1 “She Ain’t Worth It.” Perfect Gentlemen’s “Ooh La La (I Can’t Get Over You)” I hadn’t heard at all. Continue reading
Year One of the Poppy Bush Interzone saw the wave of teen stars peak and crest: Debbie Gibson’s followup to #1 “Lost in Your Eyes” failed to go top ten, Tiffany squeaked one top ten, the Wham!-indebted Boys Club the same. Two exceptions: Martika and the anti-drug and rather good “Toy Soldiers” and New Kids on the Block, who dominated pop for sixteen months, starting with the #3 success of “You Got It (The Right Stuff”) in February 1989 until “Tonight” in September 1990. Continue reading
Boomer rock triumphed in 1988: the year began with #1s from the barely functional CSNY and in the last quarter saw two singles from the Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels top the chart for a collective ten weeks. Not one single from Dirty Work or Undercover did that. Aerosmith consolidated their comeback with the loudest, busiest of their singles. Eve the Doobies scored a pop top ten with a Tom Johnstone vocal and guitar work that made Eric Clapton’s “Pretending” sound like “Sister Ray.” Amid this tastefulness, Don Henley released “The End of the Innocence,” Bruce Hornsby-composed rat-tat-tat “The Way It Is, Part II” that’s meaner to the reluctant virgin he threatens to deflower than to tired old elected king Ronnie Reagan.
At last a woman elbows into this men’s club, a former lover of Don Henley’s, here to rebuke him with her own crystal visions. Fresh off a successful world tour in Fleetwood Mac without their second most crucial member, Stevie Nicks got off coke and, thanks to what she says was an unscrupulous psychiatrist, started on Klonopin. Before she receded into the fog of lethargy, she recorded The Other Side of the Mirror, her first sober album since 1975. Rupert Hine confuses Nicks for Rush, so many songs have billowing synth parts that fans of “Show Don’t Tell” will recognize, but those synth parts suit the dreamy material, her strongest batch of songs in a decade. Blessed with crisp drumming, unrhymed lyrics, and a daffy chorus that only one person could have written (“Well, there is magic all around you/If I do say so myself”), “Rooms on Fire” joins “Stand Back” on the short list of Stevie solo tunes I’ld play to a skeptic.