REVIEW: Hadestown (Cast Album)

This was a commissioned review.

This is not a standard review topic for me, reviewing a stage show in audio form. To a great degree, I’m writing in the dark with half the show, arguably most of it, removed from my grasp. I only have the audio. I don’t know what anyone looks like or the visuals on the action. I can only review the audio. But this was the job. Let’s ride.

Why do myths endure? Why do we retell stories millennia old? One could argue it’s because the ideas of the stories never lose their punch. The Greek gods are characters as rich and reflective of man as it gets. We still relate to them. But is it not possible we revisit some stories because we long for the hope that one day the end will change and conversely that we revisit the tales we love fearing the joyful ending might yet change? And isn’t life defined by cycles we hope to change but are all too aware we can’t?

The musical, and it’s apparently an all sung one like Hamilton with no dialogue not in song, retells the story of Orpheus (Reeve Carney) and Eurydice (Eva Noblezada). If you know your mythology, you know the story. They’re in love. Eurydice dies. Orpheus goes to the underworld to bring her back. He’s told not to look back at her. He does at the last second. And the quest fails.

This is a timeless story. It’s been told over and over and over. It’s a story that even someone with a passing knowledge of mythology knows. And it’s a great story. There’s deep emotion. There’s a good love story. It’s a nice, solid, sturdy foundation for a musical. There have been several operas based on it in fact! It shows up over and over in literature. So why tell it again?

Well there’s two reasons. First, writer Anais Mitchell, who composed the entire thing start to finish, had a unique approach. This frames the story in the imagery of the depression era through a folk jazz soundtrack. This takes a classic myth and coats it in a distinct flavor far removed from the original culture that birthed the myth. And it’s fascinating because the myth gets applied to western culture in two ways.

The first is to give the story an American aesthetic. This is told through distinctly American music, jazz and folk. The characters have distinctly American accents. They dress in American fashion with largely a depression mining theme. The very image of mining, while hardly just American, has a deeply American cultural connection. This feels like a saga of Appalachia, not Greece.

But there’s a big one to be noted. This retells the myth through distinctly American values. Mitchell was raised in the Quaker faith, arguably the most American of backgrounds. It’s hard not to see how the musical reflects American ideas about mythology. Hades was famously at least a somewhat kind god in mythology. Here he’s filed off Satan. His marriage to Persephone might have begun with kidnapping but it was deeply loving. They barely tolerate each other here and honestly actively hate each other. There are very real American interpretations of very Greek myths here and it’s fascinating. That’s how mythology and storytelling works. We filter stories through our lenses.

And that’s a good reason, to filter it through us and show the similar values (love and fear of death) and the contrasting (religion) but another haunts me. The musical is about why we revisit stories, In fact that’s hard text. this is about why we retell tragedies: Because we hope that maybe, just once it will end differently. We know Orpheus will look back. We know Persephone will return to the surface. But what if this time Orpheus doesn’t? What if Persephone stays?

The answer is simple. It stops being that story. That’s the power of this work. It shows that no matter what changes you make, and it changes so much top to bottom, the core must be the same or it isn’t the story of Orpheus. And if it’s not that story, why are you telling it? It’s just a boring heroic epic with no lesson. The point of this story is that death is unconquerable and humanity is weak. No matter how invested we are in a happy ending and hoping just this once things change, we KNOW they can’t or it’s useless.

I stress this is a brilliant musical. You’d think I’d have a lot to say about the music but I don’t. It’s just great. t’s all more or less one straight flowing work and so I can’t highlight individual songs. I can say I love the style of music it trades in. I love folk and I love jazz. So I dug this. It’s my kind of music and it’s well done.

The performances are great. Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada are fitting clean classic romantic leads as Orpheus and Eurydice. Patrick Page and Amber Gray are their dark opposites as Hades and Persephone. Andre De Shields fittingly won a Tony for Hermes, the narrator.

Actual discussion of quality of a work like this is hard as hell. It won a lot of awards. It deserved them. It’s a powerful two hours. Definitely worth a listen on Spotify.

Review: Spider-Men by Brian Michael Bendis and Sarah Pichelli

This week there was a long discussion on Twitter about the accessibility of comics. There’s no denying manga is much easier to jump into with volumes clearly listed and actual beginnings to ends. American comics are complicated and there’s a mountain of lore. Now me? I love the challenge but I get why it’s scary.

It’s especially gotten frustrating if you’re trying to map what the movies adapt. Civil War was a great tight film and a sprawling mess of tie-ins on the page. Age of Ultron only used the title. WandaVision adapted several stories with almost nothing in common. And the worst example: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a simple film that adapted two stories with the one it shared a title with an ugly unpleasant confusing bloody book.

There was another story it adapted though. And that’s the one I was commissioned to write on. See while the concept of the movie was taken from the event, the actual plot bears a much greater resemblance to the fantastic Spider-Men by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli. And it’s a prime example of what entry level comics should be.

The plot is simple. Peter Parker chases a portal into a new universe. In that universe he discovers he’s dead, well known, a revered hero. He meets his successor in that universe, Miles Morales. He makes it clear Miles earned his place. They team up to fight Mysterio. Peter goes home.

This is such a great miniseries for a new reader. The premise is so clean that it doesn’t need explanation. If they’ve seen ITSV, and they definitely have if they love Spider-Man, they get the concept. You can see a lot of elements the film took from this book.

It’s also just brilliantly executed. The story is cleanly told from point to point. No weird techniques. Just get through it. And the art by Sara Pichelli is a lot of why. Her art is clear, crisp, and pulses with emotion. You look at it and you actually want to keep reading comics.

What I really love about this is the emotional side. This is a moving story and it’s moving because of the hook of what if you discovered your legacy mattered. Peter goes to a world where instead of constantly being hated, he was a hero. It clearly weighs on him as he sees that the other him was capable of being a great man and by proxy he himself is. When he goes to meet the other Peter’s family and friends it’s powerful stuff.

I should note the action is great too. Of course it is. The fun of a Mysterio story is it’s an excuse to get any other characters in as hallucinations. That’s all over it and the fights are good. The opening is great too. Just a classic Spider-Man stopping bad guys scene.

But there is an elephant in the room. This wasn’t actually a simple story. This was the 616/Ultimate crossover. The Peter who died had over 100 issues of canon. (He also undied because comics.) I’ve read all of them too. It’s nice that the story can read stand alone but yes it’s not actually that. It’s still an example of the lore comics are prone to.

But I think it’s a fantastic example of how that lore can be interesting to new readers. They like this? They will seek Miles’ origin (virtually identical to ITSV btw). If they’re interested in the dead Spider-Man’s story, they can pick up Ultimate Spider-Man. And they should. It’s a great book. This is stand alone enough but it’s got a lot of mountains in the distance worth running to.

Spider-Men is a blast. A quick, tight, done in 5 issues celebration of Spider-Man. It’s the book new fans need. And a reminder to old fans why we’re here.

The 5 Best Autistic-Coded/Autistic Characters in Film

I’ve been making a lot of lists. It’s time I got to an autistic one. So we’re looking at autistic coded or actually autistic characters. I’m being loose here. What I term autistic coded is what counts. But I’m generally seeking characters that feel like autistic people claimed with justification. I’m not putting tv characters. So sorry Spock and Abed. Another day. Only film.

Drax (Guardians of the Galaxy): Yes of course the MCU scores a spot. Drax is a very popular character in the community with good reason. Drax is hyper literal and incapable of lying. He says exactly what he thinks. He’s brutally honest. This could be a bad thing since many bad versions of us are like that. But it’s not because that’s not his only characterization. He’s a profoundly kind, loving man. He’s loyal to his friends. When he talks about his late wife, his eyes light up. Drax isn’t in any way a cold robot. He’s a wonderful portrait.

Billy (Power Rangers): The only explicitly autistic character on the list and the second superhero. He earns his spot by being a rare portrait of us as a twitchy bundle of nerves who talks way too much. Billy is us trying to put on a mask and failing horribly. His deep secret he reveals is known to every person in the room. But he’s another version who’s social, sweet, funny. He loves people.

Lilo (Lilo and Stitch): Those are both positive portrayals. And I’m not saying Lilo is negative but she does reflect those of us that just don’t fit in society. She’s traumatized. She’s dark. She doesn’t know how to play the societal game. It’s inevitable she befriends an alien. She’s an autistic kid portrayed right. A lot of frustration and exhaustion. No wonder she’s so popular with us.

Melvin (As Good As It Gets): Here you have a film where the language for high functioning autism was just breaking through before finally being discarded. Melvin is explicitly OCD but there’s a lot of autism here and they are comorbid often so I must see him as coded. Melvin is the symbol for those of us who mean well but trip over our own feet. He’s seen as an ass to everyone but he wants to do right and he wants to be kind. He’s just lost on expressing it. I can’t say enough good about Jack Nicholson’s richly deserved Oscar winning performance. He conveys so much with just tiny gestures and looks. I saw this film just after being diagnosed. I revisit it often.

Barry (Punch Drunk Love): It never got better than this. A man who wears the same clothes every day, can’t talk to people, has a wild plan, and most importantly has meltdowns. Hollywood avoids meltdowns because they’re messy and ugly. Adam Sandler is known for playing angry characters so this should have been a bad laugh but he and Paul Thomas Anderson find the soul of the moment and make Barry the most honest portrait possible. When he breaks down, it’s ugly and raw and real. Barry is us and in this moment we were seen.

That’s my list. Will I ever do the worst? Maybe but probably not. I’ve made it clear what those are. I’d rather celebrate.

The Best Songs of 1985

And so we go halfway into the 80s. It’s weird that I feel like 10 blog entries will just be a wind up to the 90s and 2000s. But I’m going to truly shine there. The music is second hand until 1989. There are stories coming next.

But until now I’ll study the 80s. My brother entered the world in 1985. So this is the world of his origin. And that’s all I really have to say about this year. Because damn. We’re about to look at 10 certifiable classics. Almost all are iconic. All are as good as it gets. This is a playlist for the ages. And I had to cut great great songs for it. Don’t You Forget About Me wasn’t this good. Born in the USA missed the cut! Truly I could do an alternate 10 this good. But this is my list.

Let it be known that in 1985, a massive hit song came from a concept album about a chess tournament. An iconic song. And not a song about anything except the direct plot of the musical. Not a love song. A song about chess! There isn’t a weirder song this decade. So without further ado.

10 Murray Head- One Night In Bangkok. What a bizarre but genius song anyway. Music by the guys from ABBA, lyrics co-written by the great Tim Rice. Performed not sung. This was something rare and wild. And I love that it exists because it’s lyrically genius. This is indeed a number from a concept album and it creates such a rich image in your mind. Credit to Head too who is so gloriously weird and unlike anything this decade. Not a normal song but thank god.

There are so many great important artists I’m going to have to reach to get on. I’m looking up when the Talking Heads had singles because they didn’t have hits. I want to cover the best artists. And I’m relieved that this next act had a hit so I can give love to a truly original pair.

9 Eurythmics- Would I Lie To You. Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart are legends. And this was a risk for them, going from synth pop to classic r&b and dammit I prefer this to Sweet Dreams. This song is a perfect blend of Memphis blues and British pop. Lennox sounds fantastic on the song though she always does. This is high energy done right. There’s so much adrenaline in this song and lyrically it shines. Just a great song between two worlds and killing in both.

Ok so when it’s all said and done I vastly prefer Starship to Jefferson Airplane. Somebody to Love is great but nothing else. However there’s a number of Starship songs I blast. And of course this is one.

8 Starship- We Built This City. That this song is about San Francisco judging by a reference only cements my theory this is the ultimate Boomer act. Because of course this is where things landed. But I have no cynicism about the song. For one thing I think it’s about being frustrated by facing the decade of greed and seeing that the dreams you had aren’t working out. That’s in the lyrics. But also this song just goddamn kills. This is a song to blast and sing along to. Even the silly lyrics. Hell especially those. This is a song with no irony and it makes you want to feel that. It rocks. And there are 7 songs I like more. Wow.

I love Prince. Of course I love Prince. But I love a specific version of Prince. I respect When Doves Cry and Little Red Corvette Prince as a truly genius artist. But I love happy Prince. Nobody made joy seem as great in the 80s as Prince.

7 Prince- Raspberry Beret. This song just makes me smile. What a cool happy song about a first love. A lot of artists did 50s throwback music this decade but Prince did a 1985 version of a 1955 song and I love it. This feels like such a gleeful ode to youth and acknowledging that you’ve moved on but the memories rule. The images are so specific too which gives it that 50s feel. It’s a story song really. And it’s funky. God it’s funky.

One of the worst crimes against film music is the score to The Princess Bride. Mark Knopfler made the chintziest, most aggressively fake score in film history. The whole film suffers from it. There are musicians who’ve transitioned so well to film it became their full jobs like multiple Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Knopfler ain’t one. But he kicked ass at his day job.

6 Dire Straits- Money For Nothing. I’m an unabashed guitar geek and the hook on this is one of the best of all time. The riff, a deliberate attempt to sound like Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, is just a beast. Honestly if that was all this had, this would still make the list just because it’s so fricken perfect. But you’ve got a great song at the core, a song about the resentment the working class feels towards celebrities. Knopfler’s lyrics are as hardcore as the riff. This is a funny, satirical track.

It’s weird how little classic rock has made this list. I love rock music. When we get to the 90s, I’m going to make the case that yeah a lot of what we consider classic in the 90s truly was. But look, the 80s were the age of synth pop and that’s what drove the list. If you don’t like hair metal, and I don’t, you had very few options. However, some of those options were just plain great.

5 John Mellencamp- Lonely Ol’ Night. John Mellencamp was meant to be a 50s/60s rocker and was sadly born too late for it. This song fits that golden age of rockabilly so perfectly. This is just a vintage rock song in the best way. It’s about needing someone in a stressful time and it sounds like denim and leather. Mellencamp is one of a kind in that way. He never got outside sounding like a guy from rural Indiana and he never needed to. Just a classic style rock song.

OK so time to make the hardest right turn I can possibly make from the raw organic rock of Mellencamp back to sophistipop. I don’t generally list songs that have faded from cultural memory on these lists because honestly I agree with the hits. Also, the ones that fade faded so I don’t get to hear them. This list is all about access. Thankfully, I heard this next song because it’s sublime.

4 ABC- Be Near Me. What I love about this song is what I feel nostalgic for about malls. It’s a completely artificial, heightened experience in the best way. It’s all so inviting and glistening. I keep noting synth work and this is what I love about it. This was an age where the extremes of it were being played with. The keyboards and drum machines are immaculate. That’s not to take away from Martin Fry’s vocals which are arch in a way that plays up the song’s ridiculous quality. Nothing about this song feels real but you want to live in it anyway.

Time to get funky. The 80s were such a great time for r&b steeped in that intense funk vibe driven heavily by acts like Prince and the powerhouse producing team of Full Force. I hated leaving Cameo’s Word Up off the list. I’m not making the same mistake twice.

3 Morris Day and The Time- Jungle Love. One of the greatest tracks of its kind. This is what a good sleazy jam sounds like. It’s in your face sexual with a killer beat. It’s easy to say the song gets its charge from co-writer/most of the instrument player Prince but Morris Day’s delivery is the whole reason the song works. He sells every word with just the most satisfied grin. This is a party song. You can’t hear it and not have a good time.

I have a lot of nostalgia linked to Bruce Springsteen. A good friend of mine in high school was a massive fan of his so on every trip, that’s what he blasted. And I never complained because why would I? It was Bruce Springsteen! Incredible music that was a perfect soundtrack to a great time. I love the man. I love his music. And I’ll always think of his music in that warm fuzzy glow of the past. So no shock what’s coming.

2 Bruce Springsteen- Glory Days. While his more political masterpiece Born in the USA was this year, I prefer this one because this is the best song about nostalgia ever. It doesn’t damn nostalgia as the thought process of those who’ve failed in life but it doesn’t celebrate it either. It’s honest and says we’re all caught in it and that’s fine. It’s a funny, bold song. That it makes a great sing along is perfect because it’s universal. This is what thinking about your past feels like. It’s bittersweet and it’s warm and it’s joyful.

What do the 80s sound like in my head? I’ve thought about that a lot doing this project. The 80s were a diverse time. You had a lot of boomer nostalgia. You had new wave. You had hair metal. Rap was just getting going. So one exact sound? That won’t be a thing. But if I had to try, a British accent, crystal synth sounds, and deceptively heavy subject material sounds right. Yeah, the 80s sounded like that to me. Especially one specific song.

1 Tears For Fears- Everybody Wants to Rule the World. It really doesn’t get more 80s than this. A song about the quest for power as the Cold War was both white hot and about to cool forever. It’s just vague enough to work in the Reagan culture and just punk enough to still feel fresh 36 years later. It’s heavily synth driven but also propelled by fantastic guitar work by Roland Orzabal. Curt Smith does probably his best work with the group on vocals. This is a machine of a song. Pure propulsive power. It didn’t get better in 1985.

Next time: The year of my birth. 1984

One Year Later

I have in my mind an image of how losing my job at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette would go. I get in my car and I flee across the state. I run because I’m scared and I’m humiliated. I want to escape my shame. I want to completely break down. I spent 12 years thinking my firing would end in Memphis or Texas. Probably Memphis.

I don’t imagine it would go like this. Some tears. A panic attack. Then I sit at home and with the soothing comfort of a Smirnoff Ice, I get on Indeed and I fire application after application. I cuddle on the couch with my wife but I’m strong. I don’t do anything rash or insane. I fight on.

Of course the latter is what happened when indeed I was fired from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and my career in newspapers ended in disgrace. I screwed up. They fired me for it. That’s kind of all I want to say about that. This isn’t about that anymore. But it is about acknowledging the anniversary. It’s also to make a point. What happened that day wasn’t the worst thing that could possibly happen to me though I thought it was for decades. It was even a blessing.

I have to first explain why I felt like my world would collapse. It’s because of all that I sunk into that job. 8 years of school. A year of training at the Dover Times and looking for work. Years of looking for work outside of the ADG to no avail. The industry I trained to be in falling apart completely. Yeah I felt like I needed that job. But one afternoon it was gone. And I’m left to wonder why I didn’t fall apart. Except I’m not. I know why I didn’t.

The fantasy is you go crazy and nobody blames you. You get to be insane for a day and that’s fine. The reality is I have a family. I couldn’t get in my car and go to Memphis and cry. I have a wife and daughter. Lola went to stay with family that night but Amanda was there and she wanted to help me and I wanted that. So yeah, instead I cuddled with her and drank a delicious hard blackberry.

Then for a month I fought my ass off to get a new job to take care of my family. I had a few moments of wallowing but mostly I threw every fist I could and I worked to take care of my girls. And it only did take a month to land me at Flag and Banner. It was a short crisis because I made it short.

So what do I make of the last year? I know that I’m a much better, much stronger person for the last 12 months. I know that nothing is unendurable. I know that my family comes first. I know that if I fall I’ll get up again. I know that I am more than I thought I was a year ago.

I’m better off emotionally because my schedule is finally the same as my wife’s. I’m better off being on a 9-5, Monday through Friday run. My life is so much better because I’m at a job where someone can fill in for me and I don’t have to always be there. I know my mental health is immeasurably better.

I’m not humiliated by what happened. I’m not traumatized by it. I was for a time, definitely. And I’m probably lying to say I’m not bothered on some level. Of course I still am. But it was just business. I failed at my job and they had to cut me. It’s not a moral judgment on me. Things didn’t work out.

I’ve also finally confronted the truth. The job I had was a good fit for me 12 years ago. But it changed and so did I. You don’t get mad that your clothes don’t fit when you gain weight. The newspaper industry became somewhere I didn’t belong and my priorities changed in a way that I couldn’t put that job first. That’s just the truth.

I love the time I had there. I love the people I met. I miss them. I miss the work too. God I loved the work and there’s still a part of me that misses it. I love what I had and that’s always going to be true. But it’s over and I am at peace with it being over.

What matters in my life is still here. Amanda. Lola. My friends. My family. My hobbies. I’ve even made peace with the saga of hunting for the Black Flame books, mostly by having a lot of them on my phone. Hell there’s more in my life now as I think of Sarah, Lolita, and Ivory. I love my new job too. I’m happy at Flag and Banner. There is more to Austin Shinn than there was a year ago.

I failed. That’s ok. I didn’t fail at being a person. I just failed at my job. At being a good, moral man who makes the world better, I think I’m okay. I’m defined by many things in my life. Not my job. What a wonderful lesson.

The Best Songs of 1986

1986 is the kind of era I love to look at as a critic. This is a moment where on one hand there’s a lot of the bland pop that I griped about about in 1987. But there’s still some genius synth stuff. There’s some rock. This is a year where everything is so strong even honestly the bland pop is great.

Just for fun, as you read this list know that Mr. Mister’s two hits, Peter Gabriel’s legendary Sledgehammer, the lovely Sara from Starship, Word Up! and Your Love all couldn’t crack this list. What we have here is THAT good.

This list is going to extremes. That’s deliberate. 1986 was a year of extremes. And we’re beginning on a good pick for the worst song. It’s a song I’ve laughed at many times before. But there’s something wonderful about being full throttle unironic. Sincerity kicks ass. And this song is wonderful for it.

10 Peter Cetera- Glory of Love. In all seriousness, 1986 was a great year if this was number 10 because this is a great song. And it’s the only great song Peter Cetera was associated with aside from the Az Yet cover of Hard to Say I’m Sorry. This is a song that works because not once does Cetera do less than sell this song. He is just belting on it. There’s no restraint at all. And that’s kind of perfect and amazing. It’s the cheese of the 80s at its best.

I hate that I had to leave Steve Winwood’s Roll With It off my 1988 list. It’s a great song. 1988 was just that good. Steve Winwood is a genius. I mean he had a hit song he co-wrote and did much of the work on before he was 18! That’s a talent. Well I’m not making the same mistake twice.

9 Steve Winwood- Higher Love. As great as Roll With It is, Higher Love is his masterpiece. A gospel infused song complete with Chaka Khan on backup vocals, this is an 80s power track done perfect. It’s another song with no restraint but it’s elevated by the lyrics. The singer has deep doubts and he’s worried about the world. If confusion and fear can sound powerful, they do here. It’s all down to that command. Bring me a higher love. A classic. Oh and the Whitney Houston version is glorious.

We screwed up making Prince a joke. He was an immensely complex man. At once he seemed to be an ethereal fairy man and a violent abuser. He seemed sexless and was a legendary force of raw sexuality both as a persona and as a person. He was multitudes. I’m saying all of this because we’re jumping to another classic and I have no good lead in.

8 Prince- Kiss. There’s not a lot of restraint to Prince which makes this song a rarity for him. Because this is as tight as a pop song gets. It’s almost minimalist really. But it works. Prince’s squeaky vocals work great here. It’s almost a cute song due to his work. And it encompasses why I find him fascinating. We aren’t done with Prince in the 80s and we’ll find him wildly over the top but I like him holding back because the result is wonderful. The song is exactly what it should be. What pop music needed.

Ok so I don’t want these lists to be nothing but Genesis and their members. It gets repetitive. The problem is it’s the 80s and they were utterly on fire. Two legendary solo artists and an underloved side band descended from the band while the original project was killing it. 1986 was their year. So here we are.

7 Genesis- Invisible Touch. This was cut early from the list but it stayed in the playlist I listened to and I kept playing it all the way through because this is that great so fine, it makes it on. Seriously this is everything I love about the group. It’s pure power and that’s the point of the song. It’s about obsessive love for someone you don’t really know but you know you’re fixated on. It’s just nothing but intensity. The drum machine work here is so incredible, programmed of course by Phil Collins who sounds great here. It’s one of the band’s favorites rightly.

The next song is one I confused with another song for the longest time. I later figured out it wasn’t that song. But it’s still great. Even if there’s obvious problems.

6 The Human League- Human. This is entirely on the production and vocals. The lyrics are famously terrible but I kind of love them anyway for being so incredibly cynical. It’s a song trying to excuse bad behavior. There’s so many songs about that and this is the great one. And again the production. This song sounds fantastic. It makes cheating sound poetic. That’s almost impossible but it nails it. This is a floating dream. It’s gorgeous in a way it shouldn’t be.

So what was the song I had Human confused with? Surely it wasn’t also in 1986?

5 Level 42- Something About You. Blame another British band also using a line about being human. This gets the advantage because it’s a better song. Not as well produced but nothing is topping Full Force in their prime. What makes this better is how incredible the sections are. There’s three different songs here and they’re all just fantastic. Very different moods each time but all center around being in love. And that’s what love is. A lot of weird shifting feelings. This song takes flight.

I don’t think a lot of songs that were popular in the 80s wouldn’t be hits if released today. Prince’s peak songs for example would happen any time and be smashes because they’re timeless. Invisible Touch still feels modern. Duran Duran would dominate now. But there’s a few that needed that weird bubble. A song about a movie that would never get made in 2021? Only now.

4 Falco- Rock Me Amadeus. I love this weird as hell song. It’s a song about how Mozart was a rock star inspired by the movie Amadeus (which jokes aside is actually one of the most beloved Best Pictures ever). I love it because while it sounds nothing like Mozart, it sounds big and that’s what it should sound like. And I think that’s why it connected with people. It’s like Gangnam Style. You don’t need to get the words. You get the point. Just a giant bold song about how classical music was rock music. Love it.

:sigh: Genesis. I keep coming back to Genesis. So here we are again.

3 Mike + The Miracles- All I Need Is A Miracle. It amazes me there are two songs I like more this year because this is so quintessentially 80s. This is what the decade sounds like. Full synthetic. Keyboards that are almost a farce. Lyrics with no subtlety. Just a loud declaration of everything the decade did right. This song is joyous and bold. You can’t not feel it listening to it. Is it deep? No. But Mike Rutherford had plenty of chances to be deep with Genesis and his other tracks. This is blissfully simple lyrically and over the top otherwise.

One hit wonders are actually fairly rare on these lists I’ve noticed. Like we think of the 80s as the age of such but most acts were huge at home like Falco or actually had second hits as we will eventually see. Hell I True one hit wonders just aren’t a thing usually. But these guys only had one shot. They only got one song in the year end 100. They cracked the top 100 one more time once and that was it. But damn what a shot.

2 Sly Fox- Let’s Go All The Way. This song happened on the radio because of Prince. It’s the same ultra sexed up sound and it fits that niche. I can’t imagine a universe where it was a hit without that precedent and it just plain kills. It’s funky as it gets. This still sounds out there and dangerous. The lyrics are gold too. Lots of great wordplay. This is what a Friday night sounds like in your dreams. It’s dark, sexy, and a blast. Only one hit for this group but all one needs.

So we go out with a song that mirrors the #10 song. A love song by a former frontman of a major group named Peter. This wasn’t a giant hit. It didn’t make the year end list even. But like with 1987, it’s an iconic song and one that only sounds better each passing year. And yes. Genesis is involved here too.

1 Peter Gabriel- In Your Eyes. Like Kiss, this just speaks for itself. It’s a great song and we all know it. But it’s deceptive in its genius. It’s simple. Gabriel doesn’t wail. His delivery is almost aloof. He’s surprised by joy not amazed. He’s happy and at peace. And in a decade without restraint this song sounds startling. It’s almost a joke how refreshingly light it is. But it’s not a joke. Gabriel is fully sincere. This song is a transcendent dream. As perfect as it got.

Next: 1985 won’t be forgotten

The 10 Best Songs of 1987

I’ve been open about stealing this idea. Todd in the Shadows did 10 worst lists s for several years including this year. I’m not original is my point. But I am an optimist. I choose to look back happily. So here I am at 1987, which he made seem like a wasteland. And you know what? It is. 1987 is a profoundly awful year in film. I don’t want to hear any griping about the quality of films now when Jaws the Revenge and Superman IV happened this year. As for the music? It’s definitely dull. Looking at this list, I found way less that I struggled to cut. But I’ll say this. The good is great. So no more wasted time.

My number 10 isn’t what I’d call a great song. With its juvenile lyrics and barely put together production, it’s hard to truly defend it. Hell the band itself doesn’t now. But you know what? The 80s were so slick and put together that we need one juvenile blast. And it’s coming from an iconic group at least.

10 Beastie Boys- Fight For Your Right. Just so that we’re clear, satire being lost on people is nothing new. This is a prime example of that. The song laughs at muscle headed frat boy culture. That they adopted it is their fault. The song is iconic. It shreds so damned hard still and I stress, next to Is This Love it must have felt atomic. I said I don’t call it great. That’s absurd. This is an awesome song.

The 80s were immeasurably better for us having Billy Idol. Few people who were cool then seem cool now. Billy Idol just had that flinty badass quality that cuts across time. But when you marry that to a silly song, somehow he seems even cooler.

9 Billy Idol- Mony Mony. Not the last Tommy James and the Shondells cover on this list. The 80s had a strange relationship with the 60s. Acts that were big in the 60s were big then but also covers were huge. This is a prime example. Nobody’s burning up the charts with a cover of Everywhere. Oh yeah, the song. That’s the thing. This refuses description. It’s just pure bouncy glee. It’s so shallow. But it’s exactly the right mood you want. Pure bubblegum.

Staying on 60s nostalgia, I hate it. It’s the biggest load of garbage. For one thing, the 60s were way more conservative than credited. Go look at the pop charts. Go look at the movies. For another, the boomers eventually faded into the plastic culture the 60s rebelled against. I’m 37 and I’m far too cynical to endure that junk. So if a great 60s band sells out then in my book, they simply found their truth.

8 Starship- Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now. I love this song and I think I love it mostly because it doesn’t feel cynical. Which it should since it’s co-written by the ultra cynical Diane Warren. But regardless this song just works. Everything about it feels like it’s meant to be shouted. And honestly I believe Grace Slick more here than on say White Rabbit. She gives her all here. Too bad the film this is on is an atrocity. Moving on.

There is no way Fleetwood Mac ever should have recorded another album after Rumours. It’s virtually impossible to imagine a group of people that actively recorded an album about how much they hated each other would ever work together again. The album should have finished and they should have gone to different continents. But they kept going for far longer. And we won.

7 Fleetwood Mac- Little Lies. There’s no denying Fleetwood Mac in the 80s was a different band. They rolled with a less organic, more out there sound and it fit them. I love Big Love, a track exclusively by the boys, from this year. But Little Lies is the band at its dreamiest aside from Everywhere even as once again it’s a call out to toxic relationships. And it’s honestly their bluntest. This was co-written and sung by Christine McVie who always seemed to have the band’s sarcastic side and her clear, emotional vocals contrast beautifully with lyrics about willful self delusion. This song is sarcastic, cynical, and ethereal.

I noted that nostalgia seems weirdly decompressed now. We don’t have nostalgia for the late 2000s even though they’re as far away and honestly further than the 80s nostalgia of the 90s. The idea of Rolling in the Deep as a nostalgia song is horrifying. But the next song was a nostalgia song in Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, a (great) movie that is now 24 years old and used it when it was 10 years old like that is now. Please stare in awe at the creeping specter of death.

6 Wang Chung- Everybody Have Fun Tonight. How do I have a song with the lyrics Everybody Wang Chung Tonight on my list? Because I can’t imagine this list without it but that really is absurd self promotion. Especially from a group that SHOULD SO NOT have had THAT name. But dammit a classic is a classic. I love that this song feels like an order to have fun and you will obey. It sounds like a perfect party. It’s so bouncy and goofy. It’s pure ridiculousness and vintage 80s.

Let’s go to the mall! Yes I promised last time we would hit the mall queens. And we are indeed. First, I pose a question. Should covers count for this list? A cover song after all is road tested. It’s been a hit once and it’s not unexpected it’ll be a hit again. I think you can argue I’m cheating to put one on. But I already had one last list and I had a great Tommy James cover down this list. And I’m going to put another one here.

5 Tiffany- I Think We’re Alone Now. Look, this song always works and it always works because it never feels dated. It always feels like a perfect anthem of youthful rebellion. And I like this version a lot. Tiffany wasn’t a great singer and I’m not shocked this was her biggest blip on pop culture. But this is a perfect update. It feels like the 80s response to the original. It’s a perfect little bubblegum song made to play for the 80s. It’s slick and glossy like the malls it was made to blare in. And it perfectly captures the moment.

The worst trend of 1987 was the constant trend of boring droning music. So much of 1987 seemed like it was on Sominex. Why did we have so many songs that were just slow, tuneless regretful music. Only once this year did it fit. But it fit hard.

4 Crowded House- Don’t Dream It’s Over. On paper this is everything I hate about the year. It’s restrained. It’s sluggish. It’s very minor key. But that’s the point. This is a song about a troubled relationship and trying to find peace. The song sounds like someone trying to be diplomatic and it fits. It’s a perfect anthem for trying to make things work. It’s also sonically just a dream. That perfect sloping rhythm just works. It soothes so much. I also really love Something So Strong from the band this year but this is the classic.

So I covered Tiffany above. She had a great mall song. But what was the best. I’m going with my #3. And I credit the writer. Tiffany used a cover for gold but to truly know what the sound was, to make the perfect song for a teenage girl, you had to actually be 14.

3 Debbie Gibson- Only in My Dreams. What a marvel this song is. It’s so simple it could be a hit on any decade. The sentiment is so timeless. And again, I put that down to the songwriter, Gibson herself, being 14 when she wrote it. Because that’s the thing. It sounds like a 14 year old girl’s idea of love and that never comes out so unfiltered. Definitely not in 1987. The production on it is also absolutely perfect. This is such a happy place song for me.

Covers have dominated a lot of discussion on this list with two covers on it. But now the coin is flipping. The band Disturbed is really great at covers. Their cover of If I Ever Lost My Faith in You is fantastic. They did a great and remarkably faithful take on The Sound of Silence. But while I like their cover of this next song, they couldn’t touch the classic.

2 Genesis- Land of Confusion. This is such a weird song for this year. Nothing else sounds this violent or this tense. It’s a bleaker than bleak look at the darkness of the world and it really shows off how great Phil Collins is at expressing seething rage. While we think of the 80s as the greed era, it was also a deeply political and angry time. That’s what this reflects. This belongs to the 1987 that gave us Wall Street. And it just hasn’t lost one second of power.

I had to change how I do this project. See I was limiting myself to the top 100 for the first two rounds. And I stand by those lists. My number ones each year are among my absolute favorite songs. But as I’ve done research for future lists, there are great songs that do not make the year end lists. And when I get to the 1990s, I’m going to focus so hard on alternative and country that the lists are irrelevant basically because that’s not what I listened to. So I’m opening it up. And that starts here. Not a giant hit. But iconic.

1 The Cure- Just Like Heaven. Yeah this is one that wouldn’t have made it on without research and that’s a mistake. Because Just Like Heaven has to be here. And it has to be number one. And yes technically it had its peak in 1988. I don’t care. It’s mostly a 1987 single as it peaked 1/9. This is just everything I love about a song. Getting lost madly in emotion and completely living in the vibe. Robert Smith is known for his darkness but damn does he make this song seem so thrilling. As he should since he based it on a trip with his future wife. It’s exactly what the song feels like. It’s bliss.

It’s going to be very silly next time in 1986.

Here and Now

I didn’t plan on writing about the state of my life but I realized I had to. I’ve written a lot about when my family has had a crisis. It’s new to write about me being the center. So let me write it out.

This morning I finished my course of medicine for an infection of my lung that was severe enough I went to the hospital without insurance and lost a week of work to rest with. What the infection is isn’t completely clear. It might have been pneumonia or a related condition. The point is my lung is damaged and it’s going to take time to heal. I still have a bit of soreness and that may take months to fix. I’m ok with that.

The experience of going to the emergency room as a patient was surreal because I’ve been where Amanda was, caring for a loved one, so often. But this time I had to be weak. And it was a weird thing to be the one shaking and crying from pain and fear. I got a good course of treatment there though.

The one thing the experience stressed was the pandemic is a raging fire. They were overwhelmed there. They wouldn’t have let Amanda even be with me were I not autistic and she not forcing their hand. Take this seriously I beg you.

I spent the next week doing what I was supposed to be doing. I rested on my bed. I watched movies. (Review on The Long Halloween tomorrow.) I read books. I got mental health time as much as physical health.

But I was ready to go back to work. And I worked two days last week. Maybe a bit too much. I kinda overdid it. Steroids, and I was on one, make you hyper. I was a good worker but I needed to slow down.

Unfortunately there’s yet more crisis ahead. My daughter’s day care is closed. Three days this week she’s covered. Not sure about two of them. I can’t know. One day at a time.

I write because I want a record of where I am. I’m tired. I’m a month out from one year past my old job. I got my retirement fund from it. I’ve started spending it. Medical expenses. Set up a needed subscription to instacart. I’ll dribble it here and there.

Friday I saw one of my best friends to the train for the last time for now. That hurts. Just saying.

But I pause and I look in the mirror. I’m tired. I’m more tired than I’ve ever been. And that’s ok. The last 18 months have been hard. And I’m simply putting it in wax that I, Austin Shinn, survived.

The 10 Best Songs of 1988

So I’m gonna do this. From here on out, every Wednesday, I’m going to post my 10 best songs from a year in the 1980s and I’m going in reverse order. Y’all dug my 1989 review and I’m glad. Let me stress that this blog will still be autism focused btw. I’m going to write up my ER trip soon. But these are neat and cool so let me fire them here.

I noted 1989 was a great year. 1988 might be better. 1989 is where you can see things getting weird for 1990, and yes my plan is to do the 1990s after this, but in 1988 everything was still high and tight. All the trends were in place but they were just better. I even have a few songs on this list from genres I wasn’t high on last list. Lots to cover. Let’s go. Oh and this time, I am reinstating the one song per artist rule. There aren’t any examples as impossible to leave off like last time.

I’ll be blunt. I don’t get much hair metal. When I do get to the 90s, it’ll be clear why. I think the survivors became great rock bands but I’m not a hair metal guy. However, I have exceptions. And if you do a really great power ballad, then you make my list. They don’t come better than this, y’all.

10 Cheap Trick- The Flame. If all power ballads were The Flame, I would love them. The problem is they’re all transparent ploys for their female audience. This though? This is amazing. This drips sincerity. The song sounds truly heartfelt even if it’s just as manufactured. And talk about power. So many power ballads are soft. Not this. It’s a loud, screaming cry. The best of the best.

The 80s have an image of being tacky. True. The thing was by 1988 that was largely muted. The 80s got tasteful. INXS was huge this year with material that still feels sexy and classy and not on my list I fear. But that was the thing. The songs that were big have aged great. Nothing is too humiliating. Except this.

9 The Escape Club- Wild, Wild West. This song is impossibly tacky and everything wrong with culture in the 80s. It has gunshot sound effects and it talks about heading to the 90s as if that was an exciting thing. It’s very guilty pleasure. But you know what? It’s a good guilty pleasure. This is an unspeakably silly song and I kind of have to love it. Part of it is that it’s so catchy. You hear it and you won’t forget it. But I think it’s also just such a symbol of a culture looking to a neon future blindly. We need songs like this.

For the longest time, there was a song where I knew the tune but not the words. I could hum it but I didn’t know it. Then I learned it. Same for a 70s soul song. Knew the tune, not the words. The soul song was Ace’s How Long and if you read my last entry, you know what’s coming.

8 Paul Carrack- Don’t Shed a Tear. For someone who only had one hit under his own name, I assure you Paul Carrack is probably thrilled with his career. That said, his one hit is the kind of song we need. It’s a breakup song where the singer is perfectly fine moving on. It’s pure strength. It’s not angry or vicious though. The relationship was bad and it’s a good thing it ended but there’s no threats. He’s just happy to move on. And so will we.

One of the hardest cuts I had to make last list was How Can I Fall? by Breathe. That is an absolute beast of a song and really it belonged on the list. It’s about a man ready to leave a woman and he knows it’s a bad idea. It’s mature and it’s great. But it didn’t fit. Well. I’m not making that mistake again.

7 Breathe- Hands to Heaven. This is of the same cloth. These guys only had these two songs to make a dent in the states and really they’re so similar to Fine Young Cannibals in that way. The song is about having one night to be with someone before you have to go. Why? Maybe he’s in the army. Maybe it’s work. Maybe it’s a one night stand. The point is it’s a limited situation. We’ve all been there. And it’s never sounded this good. This thing could’ve been recorded on silk. Sophisti-pop at its best.

I’m going to spoil it for future lists. Joan Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll will not make my best of list in 1982. That’s partially because there’s a lot of really great songs in 1982 and that’s partially because that isn’t one. It’s not a song I like. It feels manufactured and forced. Jett sounds bored on it honestly. And I know what she sounds like when she’s not.

6 Joan Jett and the Blackhearts- I Hate Myself For Loving You. There is not one bad part of this song. From its beat to Jett just going for it on the vocals, you can tell she means the hate part. This is a song about loving someone awful and shredding yourself for it. There were a lot of great women in rock in the 80s and Jett was the real deal. This song still feels raw and anthemic.

So, I should note that I do listen to the songs before I put them here. And that costs songs spots often I fear. Last list, I listened to what I thought was a lock and slashed it because it wasn’t what I remembered. But things can go differently. One song I thought had had all its power drained by overplay shocked me and earned a spot.

5 Robert Palmer- Simply Irresistible. This song has become such a stock song for movies and ads it’s easy to forget it utterly beats you over the head with its power. The percussion on this song is a beast. Palmer’s vocals are full force powerful. The video’s imagery has permanently made this a relic of what was sexy in the 80s but the song is a bit more timeless than credited. It helps that Palmer clearly loved the same soul songs I love and gives a bit of that energy to what truly is an 80s powerhouse. This one holds up.

There’s no way my lists won’t ultimately be steeped in the women of the 80s. I’m soft this year but next year, I expect more to pop up. I love Mall Pop. I love women in rock. And I respect the queens of the 80s. And I definitely respect The Go-Gos. They were broken up by 1988 but front woman Belinda Carlisle had two hits this year. Heaven is a Place on Earth is one of the hardest cuts on this list. But I’ll argue her other song is that good.

4 Belinda Carlisle- I Get Weak. Weak is a funny word for the title because this is the opposite of that. This is a song that makes being deeply in love with someone seem profoundly strong and seductive. Carlisle had one of those great voices it seemed you could only have in the 80s, throaty and smoky. The song is steeped in that crystalline synth vibe that the decade thrived on. The song also has exactly the right perfect pacing. It goes slowly, building to full force with the titular declaration. Nothing weak at all.

I’m drawn very strongly to the retro vibe of a lot of 80s music. I love 60s music. I could easily do a column on every year of that decade and just never go low on music to list. So a cover of a 1962 song by the guitarist of the ultimate 60s band? Easy.

3 George Harrison- Got My Mind Set On You. There’s not much to say here. This is just an impossibly tight song. It doesn’t hurt that Harrison, of course on guitar and killing, was joined by ELO’s Jeff Lynne on bass and keyboards as well as producing. This is a jam session song of the best kind. The song has that classic energy through and through.

The number one song of 1989 was a bad Chicago song and that bugs me. The 80s were a great decade. We could’ve done better. And I think in 1988 we did.

2 George Michael- Faith. I used tight for the last song. This is tighter. This song is all restraint. The lyrics are spit in a way that makes delivery seem like it came from a straight jacket. The guitar riffs are quick blasts until a good rolling solo. And the thing is that’s the point. The song is about a man debating losing control in love. He’s been hurt. This should sound like this. All music should sound this good.

My number one song comes from a fascinating artist. A guy who had three massive hits in the US. He fought the industry hard, even rejecting the dance pop he was known for to move into the soul he loved. In 1993, tired of the industry, he retired and actually stayed away for 7 years. He did this at 27, to be clear. He only returned in the 2000s and has kept a low profile in the US but has actually had quite a bit of success in the UK largely sticking to what he wants to do. I say all of this to say that while I absolutely love the memes and jokes associated with this song, I respect Rick Astley.

1 Rick Astley- Never Gonna Give You Up. I have a theory this song is a meme precisely because people love this song. How can you not? This is the best example of what you’d see out of the industry machine. It’s just as finely crafted a pop song as it gets. Astley didn’t write the song but his vocals are the thing that makes it next level. He sounds great and the whole thing is infused with joy and life. This was a big hit then. It’s a phenomenon now. It’s timeless and that’s wonderful. He truly never will give us up.

Next time: Todd in the Shadows bemoaned 1987 as a terrible year in a great video. I’m going to see if that’s true.

Music for Occupational Therapy: The best songs of 1989

Note: this is a co-venture with my friend Angie Aguayo. We both chose a year vital to us in music and wrote it up. See her take on 2007, a genius year, here.

When I think of music I think of 1989. That was the year I first noticed the things my mom was listening to. It was the year my taste was formed. It was when everything I would be into for the rest of my life was set. There isn’t one song on this list I rediscovered and most of these songs are classics.

But what do you make of the year as a whole? When I examined the top 100 singles I was struck by what an eclectic year it is. The last blasts of 80s synth pop dropped. We got some all time classic rock. The outer edges of R&B rose up. And there’s a lot of godawful droning adult contemporary.

Just to give you perspective, here are songs not on my list: Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Right Here Waiting, The Promise, Listen To Your Heart, Once Bitten Twice Shy, Welcome to the Jungle! On Our Own I had to cut from this list in the last cull! think about how good the music is when the songs I listed aren’t in the top 10 for me. 1989 ruled. And here’s 10 reasons why.

Let’s look at a group it’s all too easy to mock. The 1980s ended musically with their exposure if you ask me. But here’s the thing? Does it matter that they were frauds when you hear the music? Nah. It only matters that proper credit be given.

10 Milli Vanilli- Baby, Don’t Forget My Number. Charles Shaw, Brad Howell, and John Davis are the men who actually performed on the album and I want to credit them here because they were three brilliant session men who gave us some incredible pop hits. This is my favorite but Girl You Know It’s True and Blame it on the Rain are so good. This gets the edge because the beat is sublime. Just a great song.

As I said, On Our Own by Bobby Brown was the absolute last song cut. And I cut it because I listened to the song I cut for it this morning taking my daughter and my nieces to day care. I have nostalgia for Brown. But look there’s no way I can be forgiven for putting that song over a true classic.

9 Young MC- Bust a Move. In the birth pains of rap, you saw a lot of junk litter the charts. When I write about 1990, and I intend to, I’ll look at how bad the joke rap was. But this? Impossibly tight. Impossibly smooth. It’s also a bit of a joke but it’s a great joke. How do you act in an awkward situation? Bust a move! Have fun! That’s the eternal power of Bust a Move. It’s a celebration of just having a good time told through some of the bounciest rhymes. This is definitely too low.

Confession: I think Madonna wasted more talent than the average artist dreams of having. An underrated vocalist of the classic vamp mode and a genius at finding collaborators to use her right, I feel like 1990-1997 marks a genius burning their talent first to shock then chasing awards she wouldn’t ever get. While I get that she shocked for a reason, what did she say? Nothing. Except once.

8 Madonna- Like a Prayer. Look, pointing out spiritual and sexual ecstasy are the same is an old observation. But this still shocked a lot of people, especially in the wake of The Last Temptation of Christ. And like that film, everyone involved still had epic success because they made a masterpiece that outlived the controversy. This song is a straight up powerhouse on every level from her never better vocals to the choral work. But it’s the blunt force of the euphemisms that makes the song work. There’s no getting around how shocking the song still feels and taking on the church will never stop being stunning.

I want to talk about an unsung legend. Paul Carrack had one hit under his own name, the perfect Don’t Shed a Tear, but as a traveling vocalist, he’s an icon. Squeeze’s Tempted? That’s him. How Long by Ace? Yup. He’s played so many instruments with so many iconic artists. One of the coolest guys you’ll ever read about. He notches an entry on one of his for hire jobs.

7 Mike + the Mechanics- The Living Years. Paul Carrack was the voice of the decade, know him or not. What I love about this song is how it looks at guilt over failing to have a relationship with your father. It’s sonically pristine but so steeped in grief. You hope you are never thought of life this and you hope you do all you can as a son.

European dance music has always been a big deal going back to waltzes. Every decade has a version. The 80s felt harder edged and slicker while the 1990s felt bouncier and more female led. Think Real McCoy and Ace of Base. But all trends have overlap. As proof, I point to here.

6 Roxette- The Look. Confining Roxette to one decade is actually a huge error. They had hits as late as 2000 in America with the utterly sublime Wish I Could Fly. But they never came close to the genius of this pop masterpiece. Which is funny because the verses are utter nonsense and only existed as something to sing. But they work. They sound amazing. This song is silly, delightful, perfect.

The grand enigma when you look back at 1989 is what happened to Fine Young Cannibals. The group had everything going for them with two monster hit songs and a movie star level frontman in Roland Gift whose distinctive vocals were instantly recognizable. And after 1989? They only recorded a couple more songs and nothing more. Had the continued on, they might have been more. But their story ends sharply in 1989. But damn what a story.

5 Fine Young Cannibals- Good Thing. A song about a man confused by a woman who left him, it purposely evokes 60s soul. And that’s what makes it magical. The whole song is just this bouncy throwback filled with a great jangly piano and absurdly great vocals by Gift. It feels bold like the 80s but also like you could hear it next to those classics. Just a perfect, perfect song.

I want to stress there is some junk on this list. The biggest song this year was Look Away by Chicago. Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings was huge too. Inspiring pap and droning adult contemporary were in many ways the sound of the late 80s. So to have a song so profoundly amazing as the next song at only 93 is absurd. But here we are.

4 Michael Jackson- Smooth Criminal. This would be higher on my list but it’s been covered by everyone. That doesn’t stop it from being perfect. From the moment it begins, this is an atomic force of energy. Michael Jackson’s image looms large but you forget he could crush the delivery and he absolutely murders here. And talk about a perfect beat. This was produced by Quincy Jones at his utter best. I love that the song and video consciously evoke film noir because this is the hyper slick 80s version we need. It’s Smooth Criminal. What else do I say?

One weird thing I’ve done is consciously avoid rock. Of course I have. It was almost all hair metal and I’m sorry but hair metal is atrocious start to finish. Either it was sickeningly sincere or grossly leering. And I hate both. Nothing wrong with being horned up. But make it sound appealing.

3 Love and Rockets- So Alive. In my opinion, synth music was never better in the 80s than it was in the late 80s. And it was never as perfected as it was here. The members of this band started in Bauhaus and you can tell. This whole thing is a dark, sexy journey. It’s a seduction and all of it works. It feels like something you hear whispered by a bonfire in the woods illicitly drinking. I know a lot of the music of the 80s feels aged badly but this feels like it could be any time. It just happened to be in the 80s.

Like it or not, your parents taste is in you. All of us have it. And look, this was a year when I was 5. Of course all the music I heard was filtered through my mom. My mom loved Like a Prayer for example. I know that whole album, which is fantastic. My mom also loves Rod Stewart. So here we go.

2 Rod Stewart- My Heart Can’t Tell You No. Rod Stewart is one of the greatest interpreters in pop music history. He isn’t a songwriter. He’s an actor. And he sells every word. This is a song on the same tier as Me and Mrs. Jones, a song about how incredibly awful infidelity is filtered through the third person’s perspective. He hates it. He hates himself. He can’t hate her. This is such a dark song but with some utterly fantastic production and Stewart never sounding better, it’s amazing. You can’t not listen to it.

So. For my number one, I’m breaking a rule I keep. And I probably won’t keep it on future lists either. But I try to. One song per artist. I want variance. But my hand is forced here. One group had two songs so great the list looked wrong without them. They were THE sound of 1989. And never again.

1 Fine Young Cannibals- She Drives Me Crazy. I don’t think this is remotely a controversial choice for the best song of 1989. How can it be? There isn’t one thing bad about it. If Good Thing is all throwback, this is 1989 to the second. It’s full force synth with an aggressive sound. But the lyrics don’t get lost. This is like Good Thing a song about a woman who frustrates a man though in this case she strings him along in an abusive relationship. But you get why he stays. Gift just sells the joy he feels even as he’s in hell. The song is a dark joke really but it’s the most satisfying dark joke ever. We only got two iconic singles from this band but 1989 and pop music wouldn’t be the same without them.

So that’s 1989. What will I do from here? For one thing for my book, I’m doing top 10s of 1999-2016. This is a test run at that which is why it’s here. I’m planning to look at 1988, 1990, and possibly 1987 and 1991 as well since Todd in the Shadows covered their worst lists. But for now? This was you looking at what I heard on the way to Iccupational Therapy.