Back to the Front: 1989 in Music

I went to my first concert in 1989. Bon Jovi was touring their latest, New Jersey, at the since-demolished Silver Stadium in Rochester, NY, and Skid Row opened for them. I was in 2nd grade. The only thing I remember from the show is sitting next to my best friend in the bleacher seats with cotton balls in my ears feeling like a dork (my mom made me wear them!), yet overcome by this conviction that I wanted to experience as much music as I possibly could until forever. Even when I got old.

Turning back to 1989, with the end of the Reagan administration, the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and the Berlin Wall falling that year, it follows that musicians were reaching as far into the future as the world around them. There are several albums from '89 that to this day I keep thinking came out after Cobain died. They didn't. They just sound like they did.

That year, keg-party rappers, Beastie Boys, studied sophisticated sampling techniques and laid them over aggressive break beats that would shape the sound of hip-hop's post Golden Age artists with their release, Paul's Boutique. Check out the Annotated Lyrics to this album for a dip into the goody bag of samples these guys used. It's enough to make Girl Talk giggle.

Meanwhile, nearly ten years after New Order's flux-capacitor rise to power out of the ashes of Joy Division, the best live dance band on the planet unleashed Technique, bringing the sun-drenched clubs of Ibiza to the dank CBGBs of the states. The rave club DJs of the following decade owe every last glow stick to this record.

If the front half of the '90s was driven by the often opposing forces of grunge and Brit-pop, then the road back home leads to Pixies' Doolittle and The Stone Roses' self titled record, respectively. Doolittle's fuzzed out guitar riffs and scream along lyrics are balanced by some of the catchiest rock hooks not written by Kiss. For me, Pixies prove that the beautiful and the profane share the same bungalow. The Stone Roses drew from Ray Davies' ear for phrasing and his love for all things UK, washing it in a dreamy haze that continues to float out of my car's windows on the sunniest of summer days.

Other visionary rock albums from 1989 include The Cure's Disintegration, Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine, and Faith No More's The Real Thing. All of which share far more in common with the decade that followed their release than the one that led up to it. Hmmm, somehow neither Bon Jovi nor Skid Row made the cut? But both of them led me to music, so they'll always have a place in my heart, if no longer in my ear.