What is it about the music of our youth? As part of research for a story I’m writing set in 1988, I started looking up the popular music that year. My source, for now at least, is Youtube, and I’ve stumbled across compilation of the number 1 hits of that year. I discovered popular music in late in 1987. I remember my friends Gabe and Manny dancing around in French class singing “Faith” by George Michael. Curious as to what they were up to, I went home that afternoon and turned on Dial MTV.
You see, for you young’uns, when I was was a kid, MTV (Music Television) used to show these things called music videos. Every afternoon, they had a show counting down the top ten requests of the day. I remember quite a few of this songs broadcast that day.
“Faith” by George Michael
“The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson
“Shake Your Love” by Debbie Gibson
“Cherokee” by Europe
“Is This Love” by Whitesnake
“Heaven is a Place on Earth” by Belinda Carlisle
“Hold on to the Nights” by Richard Marx
The other three would have aired prior to my getting home from school. Somehow, I got hooked and Dial MTV became a mainstay of my weekday afternoons. I started listening to KIIS FM, L.A.’s Top 40 station. It was like someone had flipped a switch and I began to discover what all my peers already knew. Popular music was cool.
And so it was that 1988 was my first full year as a popular music fan. Was it a great year? I don’t know, but watching that compilation brings those days back to me in a very fun way. It all seems brash and confident and optimistic. Looking back at the compilations for surrounding years, 1988 seems like it was something of a sweet spot for me.
Michael Jackson hadn’t completely lost it. Madonna was in a pretty good phase. Whitney Houston was in her prime. From Hair bands to Paula Abdul to the original Rick Roll, somehow the top 40 had plenty of variety and it all worked.
Well, most of it worked. How “Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car” got to number one may remain a mystery.
Still, it was a time when popular music was fun. Was it cutting edge? Probably not? Was it even good? Who can say? Will some kid who’s fifteen today see a compilation of today’s music in 2035 with the same nostalgia that I look at 1988? Probably. It’s probably not about the music as an objective thingm but more about how it relates to what’s going on in a person’s life?
For me, 1988 was that transtion point, albeit a late one, from childhood into adolescence. There was first love via a long distance relationship. I moved from junior high to high school. I joined the swim team. It was a time of infinite possibility, and I had a soundtrack.
It wasn’t long before my tastes moved more toward rock, which would soon descend into the grunge of the ’90’s. Looking at the compilations for 1989 through 1991, the year I graduated high school, I found myself recognizing fewer and fewer songs as genres diverged with the turning of the decade.
But for me, 1988 was that sweet spot. What year was it for you?