When I was in high school, the way you found new and good music was to do a lot of research. You had to buy Star Hits magazine, or imported issues of the British counterpart, Smash Hits. You had to read everything you could get your hands on about your favorite bands, and learn what their influences were, and then check out those bands, and then check out their favorites, and so on down the line. And you had to read the liner notes on your albums (we had albums back then), so you would know the details of everyone involved in the project. And then if you enjoyed, say, the saxophone playing on the Roxy Music albums, you would check out other projects that guy had worked on. Or if you were a big Nick Rhodes fan, his mention in an interview of David Sylvian would lead you to check out David Sylvian, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Japan. And from there you would develop a lifelong love of Ryuichi Sakamoto's work in film scoring, and decide to explore other Japanese musicians, and eventually find yourself one of the first die hard American fans of Shonen Knife.
If you were lucky, MTV would play some good videos, particularly on 120 Minutes on Sunday nights, and you would learn about some good new bands that way. This is where I learned about The Lover Speaks, a weird project produced by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. One of the best albums I ever bought, the one single, "No More I Love Yous," only ever got airplay as a video on 120 Minutes. Several years later, Annie Lennox covered this song, and everyone thinks it was her song to begin with, but I know better.
The other thing we had to do was make our way all the way downtown (Denver) to the cool record store, Wax Trax. Unless you had a driving friend who was willing to drive down there (it involved scary one way streets!) or a kind uncle in town for a week who would take you and your friends, this always involved an adventure on public transportation. It took almost an hour and a half to take the bus downtown (a twenty minute drive nowadays, what with improved public infrastructure and all), and you had to transfer at Alameda Ave. Then you had to walk from the downtown station up to Wax Trax on 14th Street. But once you got there, it was like magic... time stopped, you spent hours browsing the vinyl stacks for something new, something different, something no one else you knew had in their music collection. An album was about 6 or 7 bucks, but sometimes you would have to buy an import, which could run you anywhere from 14 to 30 bucks, depending on how rare it was. Remember the record store in Pretty in Pink? That was the Chicago location of Wax Trax. It wasn't a chain, but the owner had a couple of locations. All it was about was music-related posters on the walls, and albums. There might have been a handful of stickers and concert t-shirts for sale, but there was actually a place down the street and across called Across the Trax that sold music-related merch -- posters, shirts, buttons (or flair, as we call buttons on Facebook), bumper stickers, magazines, books.
This was all in the "punk" area of town, which was once the hippie area of town, and down the street from Wax Trax were several shops in which you could buy nice vintage clothing and crazy punk rock brands imported from England (Vivienne Westwood, and Doc Martens footwear). Our parents wouldn't let us dress that way so we could only browse and buy the occasional accessory. But the whole thing was so out of the realm of our daily suburban existence that it was always an adventure, and we would plan these trips downtown for weeks, saving babysitting money to buy albums and lunch, making lists of albums we wanted to look for, blocking out a whole day of vacation or an entire Saturday. I would go with Beth and Tanya and Katherine and Kama and Deanne, and sometimes with Thad -- he was always keen to drive downtown and get new music, too (in fact it was on one of these adventures that I convinced him to buy an album by The Damned, and after that he was really into The Damned, and he still listens to them to this day).
I know we all dreamed of actually working in the record store, but the people who did work there were too intimidating and cool (multiple piercings, mohawks, and Doc Martens) to ask for an application, so none of us ever did. Eventually we also discovered Twist and Shout on old south Pearl Street, but they never had quite what we were looking for -- back then, they catered to an older crowd, as much as they would like to deny it. So we didn't go there very often -- we were hardcore Wax Trax fans.
I can't decide which is better -- discovering music that way, or discovering music the way I discover it now. I'm not one of those people who age past 30 and start thinking that nothing new is ever good, or that the best years of my life happened between 15 and 21 (uch, how sad would that make my life!). So I love to browse new music on the computer, and nowadays, you don't have to gamble -- you can hear everything before you even buy it. The research is easier, and if the music is good, it's just as rewarding to hear as it was when I had to work really hard for it. I mean, good music is good music.
Anyway, below is my LiveJournal post which brought on all this nostalgia. The Billboard charts have never reflected my taste in music. But it was fun to look through them and see what was there those years.
The Music Meme: Where you find the Billboard Top 100 songs from the year you graduated form high school, bold the ones you liked, bold and underline the ones you loved, strike through the ones you hated, and ignore the rest.
The Top 100 Songs of 1988 according to Billboard (the thing with Billboard lists is that they reflect the nation in its entirety, not regional tastes, so people on the east coast might have been listening to other songs in heavy rotation that someone in the middle of the country never even heard; and prior to 2000, these were based on sales direct from the record company and radio airplay in large markets, not MTV, medioum or small market rotation, or actual sales to the public):
1. Faith, George Michael. Actually, I kind of secretly still like this song.
2. Need You Tonight, INXS
3. Got My Mind Set On You, George Harrison
4. Never Gonna Give You Up, Rick Astley. But "Together Forever" was better.
5. Sweet Child O' Mine, Guns N' Roses
7. Heaven Is A Place On Earth, Belinda Carlisle
9. Hands To Heaven, Breathe Sadly, I was just trying to find this on iTunes the other day but couldn't remember the name of the song. This was a late 1988 thing, so we were all into in the dorms.
12. Wishing Well, Terence Trent d'Arby
14. The Flame, Cheap Trick This was me and my boyfriend Chris's "song." *snerk*
19. Pour Some Sugar On Me, Def Leppard
22. Shake Your Love, Debbie Gibson
23. Simply Irresistible, Robert Palmer
25. Hungry Eyes, Eric Carmen Everyone loved this song because it was on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
31. Endless Summer Nights, Richard Marx I can't even remember this song, I just remember that I liked it and was really embarrassed about it. Like, you people are the first people I've ever confessed this to.
32. Foolish Beat, Debbie Gibson
34. Angel, Aerosmith
36. The Way You Make Me Feel, Michael Jackson Hated it then, but secretly like it now because of Center Stage.
37. Don't Worry, Be Happy, Bobby McFerrin Sadly was huge fan of this song. It was so new and different sounding. What does that tell you about the state of music in 1988???
38. Make Me Lose Control, Eric Carmen This is such a lame song, but I liked it.
39. Red Red Wine, UB40
40. She's Like The Wind, Patrick Swayze Sadly, everyone loved this song after Dirty Dancing was such a hit. Patrick Swayze could have done anything and we'd have all swooned.
42. Kokomo, Beach Boys I mean, it was sort of un-American to not like this song. It was from Cocktail!
44. Together Forever, Rick Astley Rick Astley was so cute.
50. What Have I Done To Deserve This?, Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield
54. Out Of The Blue, Debbie Gibson Yes. I confess. Debbie Gibson rulz.
56. Desire, U2 Not high on my list of U2 faves, but it was definitely a fave at the time -- I mean, look what else was on!
57. I Get Weak, Belinda Carlisle This was one of those great songs where you would listen to it and go, "God, I wish I could feel that way about someone too."
58. Sign Your Name, Terence Trent d'Arby What the hell happened to Terence Trent d'Arby?? He was so good.
63. Mercedes Boy, Pebbles
65. New Sensation, INXS
66. Catch Me (I'm Falling), Pretty Poison
68. Rocket 2 U, Jets
69. One Good Woman, Peter Cetera
70. Don't Be Cruel, Cheap Trick
71. Candle In The Wind, Elton John Please. You were coldhearted if you didn't like this song. Everyone liked this song. Even guys.
73. Say You Will , Foreigner
74. I Want Her, Keith Sweat
75. Pink Cadillac, Natalie Cole
77. Electric Blue, Icehouse If I heard this song right now, I would still love it.
79. Don't Be Cruel, Bobby Brown
80. Always On My Mind, Pet Shop Boys
81. Piano In The Dark, Brenda Russell Featuring Joe Esposito -- I don't even know this one. It probably sucked.
82. When It's Love, Van Halen I was a fan of Sammy Hagar pre-Van Halen, and loved him as their lead singer too.
84. We'll Be Together, Sting
85. I Hate Myself For Loving You, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts
87. Nite And Day, Al B. Sure
88. Don't You Know What The Night Can Do, Steve Winwood
89. One Moment In Time, Whitney Houston
90. Can't Stay Away From You, Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine
91. Kissing A Fool, George Michael
92. Cherry Bomb, John Cougar Mellencamp I don't like this one any more, but I do have it on a mix tape from that year, so I know I liked it then.
94. I Found Someone, Cher
95. Never Tear Us Apart, INXS I had sex with a really hot guy with this song playing on repeat. Too much information? Too bad!
96. Valerie, Steve Winwood I heard this on the radio the other day and I still kind of like it. I mean, I didn't change the channel or anything.
98. Nothin' But A Good Time, Poison
99. Wait, White Lion More embarrassing than liking Debbie Gibson...
That is a 100 percent accurate list, but, since it's for the whole of 1988, more accurately depicts the first half of my freshman year of college than my senior year of high school. To get an accurate picture of the "music" They played my senior year of high school, we have to go back to 1987 (and watch how many songs I cross out):
3. Shake You Down, Gregory Abbott. I don't even know what the fuck this is. I'm sure it sucked.
5. Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now, Starship
6. C'est La Vie, Robbie Nevil
7. Here I Go Again, Whitesnake This is the one with the video where she dances on the hood of his car. Everyone liked this song, even nu wave hipsters like me.
9. Shakedown, Bob Seger
10. Livin' On A Prayer, Bon Jovi
11. La Bamba, Los Lobos This was another song that no one could quibble with. Plus it turned a lot of people on to Los Lobos, who are awesome.
13. Don't Dream It's Over, Crowded House Weirdly, my best friend Katherine had to go all the way to Venezuela on summer vacay and bring this tape back and that's when we first heard it. But then later it got popular here too.
15. With Or Without You, U2
17. Head To Toe, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam I always thought this song was by someone else. But I liked it.
19. Mony Mony, Billy Idol
21. Lady In Red, Chris De Burgh
22. Didn't We Almost Have It All, Whitney Houston
23. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, U2
25. Notorious, Duran Duran
26. Only In My Dreams, Debbie Gibson
27. (I've Had) The Time Of My Life, Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes Another Dirty Dancing classic.
28. The Next Time I Fall, Peter Cetera and Amy Grant Yes, I confess. Huge fan of this song. Loved it. Hate it now, though, if that's any consolation.
29. Lean On Me, Club Nouveau
30. Open Your Heart, Madonna
32. (I Just) Died In Your Arms, Cutting Crew
33. Heart And Soul, T'pau Sort of. I mean, T'pau was kind of edgy.
35. Keep Your Hands To Yourself, Georgia Satellites Yes. But I hate it now.
37. Control, Janet Jackson
38. Somewhere Out There, Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram
39. U Got The Look, Prince
40. Land Of Confusion, Genesis
41. Jacob's Ladder, Huey Lewis and The News The only Huey Lewis song I ever really liked, as far as I recall. And I couldn't even sing it to you now -- I just remember liking it.
43. You Got It All, Jets
44. Touch Me (I Want Your Body), Samantha Fox
45. I Just Can't Stop Loving You, Michael Jackson and Siedah Garrett
46. Causing A Commotion, Madonna
48. Let's Wait Awhile, Janet Jackson
49. Hip To Be Square, Huey Lewis and the News
50. Will You Still Love Me?, Chicago
51. Little Lies, Fleetwood Mac
52. Luka, Suzanne Vega
54. Don't Mean Nothing, Richard Marx
55. Songbird, Kenny G
56. Carrie, Europe
57. Don't Disturb This Groove, System
58. La Isla Bonita, Madonna
59. Bad, Michael Jackson
60. Sign 'O' The Times, Prince
61. Change Of Heart, Cyndi Lauper
62. Come Go With Me, Expose
63. Can't We Try, Dan Hill
64. To Be A Lover, Billy Idol
65. Mandolin Rain, Bruce Hornsby and the Range
66. Breakout, Swing Out Sister Ohhh yeah. Loved the Swing Out Sister.
67. Stand By Me, Ben E. King
69. Someday, Glass Tiger Yes, I dug this band. They were Canadian.
70. When Smokey Sings, ABC This was a nice retro-sounding tune.
72. Rhythm Is Gonna Get You, Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine
73. Rock Steady, Whispers
74. Wanted Dead Or Alive, Bon Jovi
75. Big Time, Peter Gabriel
76. The Finer Things, Steve Winwood
77. Let Me Be The One, Expose
78. Is This Love, Survivor
79. Diamonds, Herb Alpert
81. Big Love, Fleetwood Mac
82. Midnight Blue, Lou Gramm Another song I weirdly loved.
83. Something So Strong, Crowded House
86. Brilliant Disguise, Bruce Springsteen
88. Who Will You Run Too, Heart
89. Respect Yourself, Bruce Willis
90. Cross My Broken Heart, Jets
91. Victory, Kool and The Gang
93. Doing It All For My Baby, Huey Lewis and The News
94. Right On Track, Breakfast Club
95. Ballerina Girl, Lionel Richie
97. I've Been In Love Before, Cutting Crew
98. (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right To Party, Beastie Boys
99. Funkytown, Pseudo Echo Everyone loved this song -- the dweebies, the geekoids, the jocks -- they all adored it.
This has been quite the interesting trip down memory lane. And Trent, if you're reading this? I never want to hear you bitch and moan about the sad state of music again. Because as you can see, it can always get worse. And we didn't have the internet back then.