Throwback Thursday: 1986

For many years I’ve been saying that 1986 was a crap year for music. I prove myself wrong with this week’s Throwback Thursday playlist. Listen to these gems! How did I get this so wrong until now? My theory is this: In 1986 I was still listening to top 40 radio more than other formats. While there were many great hit songs in ’86 (as evidenced by the playlist below), there was also a lot of garbage songs that were successful on the pop chart. My thoughts of all those garbage songs outweighed my fond memories of all of the good songs. Well, no more, missy! Nineteen eighty-six was a good year for music. The proof is in the pudding (pudding meaning this week’s Throwback Thursday playlist).

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A Prince Playlist

I missed Prince’s debut album, For You, when it was released in 1978. My first exposure to him was hearing “I Wanna Be Your Lover” on the radio. It became a hit when I was in high school. Good song. Then I saw the video. Not what I expected. Before then I thought Prince was a trio of Black women, like The Emotions. My first visual exposure to Prince and already he was throwing my expectations.

His third album, 1980’s Dirty Mind, got a fair amount of press in music magazines, and its cover art made an impression. I was interested in the guy.

“Controversy” was a single my freshman year in college. The song grabbed me, and so I bought the 45, my first Prince record.

The life-changing moment came the following year, when I heard “1999” on KISS-FM in Boston. Holy crap! It blew my mind. It sounded like nothing else on the radio at that time or any other time. At that moment I became a big fan. I got a ride into Harvard Square, went to the Harvard Coop (the university’s bookstore/ record store/ probably other things I can’t remember store) and bought the 1999 album. (The same day I bought Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Can you believe the two albums came out a month apart? What a time to be alive!)

From that point on I was a certified Prince fanatic. I bought the first four albums. I bought subsequent albums on the days of release. I bought the twelve-inch singles, and eventually the CD singles. And for quite a stretch there Prince continued to blow my mind. I’m still awed by his genius and marvel at how he thought to do unconventional things with his music, such as removing the bassline from “When Doves Cry,” the only number one on the dance chart to not have a bassline.

I’ve met many great talents over the years. Brian Wilson. Tina Turner. Smokey Robinson. Norman Fell. But nothing compared 2 meeting Prince. It was in 1988. He didn’t say a word, though he did sign my work stationery:

Putting together a Prince playlist and disciplining myself to keep it to thirty songs is a tough task, especially as a Prince fanatic, but I persevered. I’m not saying these are his thirty best songs, nor are they his thirty most popular songs, nor are they my thirty favorites of his songs. It’s a mixture of all three of those categories (which, of course, have a lot of overlap). I threw in some of the hits others had with songs he wrote. It’s by no means complete, but it’s a start.

(The Spotify embed feature is STILL broken. Here is the link: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3TrbpWDHR6CzcYRHmvSrRA?si=4367f868ddcf4e52)

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Throwback Thursday: 1980

Nineteen eighty wasn’t a game changing year on the US pop chart. It wasn’t 1964. It wasn’t 1991. For the most part it was music business as usual. The death of disco was greatly exaggerated. Just ask any member of Lipps, Inc., should you have any idea what any member of Lipps, Inc. looks like. Seventies hit makers stayed on the charts. Paul McCartney. Diana Ross. Stevie Wonder. Barbra Streisand. The Captain & Tennille did it to us one more time, it meaning having a hit single. A few outsiders snuck into the top 40 with sounds unlike the rest – Devo hit with “Whip It,” Gary Numan with “Cars,” and The Vapors with “Turning Japanese.” In the coming years more such weirdos would make their presence known.

While many of 1980’s hits were great singles, many classics were born outside of the mainstream. Releases such as Bob Marley & the Wailers’ “Redemption Song,” Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Peter Gabriel’s “Biko,” Prince’s “When You Were Mine,” David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes,” and Funky 4 + 1’s “That’s the Joint” are often referred to as classics these days. In 1980, not a single one of them troubled the US Hot 100. Change was on its way. In 1980, rap wasn’t a fixture on the top 40, though its influence was heard in Queen’s #1 smash “Another One Bites the Dust.” The next few years saw #1 hits from Peter Gabriel, Prince, David Bowie and a rap song, plus a top ten reggae song.

Today’s Throwback Thursday playlist shines a spotlight on 1980.

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Throwback Thursday: 1992

It’s Throwback Thursday, and on today’s playlist we go back to 1992. Compiling this list made me notice (or remember) what a kickass year for music 1992 was. The success of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a top ten pop hit around the world months after it was sent to alternative radio, came as a complete surprise to the band’s record label and management, and seemed to kick open the doors for weirdos and freaks (I use those terms affectionately) to find their place in the sun and on the charts.

The left field entries weren’t solely from the guitar rock field. Shakespear’s Sister’s “Stay” was a song (or two songs) that stood out from the pack and was not something one would have expected from a former member of Bananarama and someone who co-wrote and sang backup on Eric Clapton’s hit “Lay Down Sally.” And Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” endures all these years later.

To me this era was a golden age for hip hop. Arrested Development, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Kris Kross, Das EFX, Sir Mix-A-Lot and House of Pain hit creative peaks, while rap duo P.M. Dawn hit number three with “I’d Die Without You,” an unexpected ballad with nary a hint of the hip or hop.

Nineteen ninety-two was the year we met Mary J. Blige and Billy Ray Cyrus. It was the year many more people got to know Red Hot Chili Peppers, k.d. lang and En Vogue. And while new names were dotting the Hot 100, there was still room for more hits from Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Whitney Houston and U2.

Here are thirty musical highlights from 1992, a year that most definitely was not wiggida wiggida wiggida wack.

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Throwback Thursday: 1984

Madonna! Prince! Bruce! Michael! Chaka! Cyndi! Rockwell! Boy! The best of 1984’s pop stars/hits made a mark that remain part of our consciousness nearly forty years later. The influence of upstarts who didn’t crack the Hot 100 – The Smiths, The Replacements, Run-D.M.C. – has been acknowledged in the years since. For those who wish to relive those days, for those who wish they were living then, and for those who wish to associate 1984 with something other than a misunderstood piece of classic literature or the most recent Wonder Woman movie, this playlist is for you. Happy Throwback Thursday!

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Throwback Thursday: 1988

Nineteen eighty eight was, on the US pop music chart, one of those in-between years. The “New Wave” British invasion had greatly subsided and England wasn’t as much of a presence on the charts as it was a few years earlier. Rap was increasing in popularity and hitting the top 40 more frequently, though it was still a far cry from the dominant position it holds today. Of the hip hop song’s on today’s playlist, only two made it onto the Billboard Hot 100 – LL Cool J’s “Goin’ Back to Cali,” which peaked at #31, despite selling a million copies, and Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two,” which peaked at #36, despite selling two million copies. Alternative music lived up to its genre name as an alternative to the music on the pop chart, so if you wanted to hear Sonic Youth or The Dead Milkmen or The Primitives, you had to tune into college radio or the stations on the left side of your FM dial. Those artists, alongside U2, R.E.M. and INXS, could be found on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart, which premiered in September of 1988. New Jack Swing tracks from artists such as Keith Sweat remained popular on Black radio and crossed over, while Black artists such as Tracy Chapman and Living Colour failed to make much of an impression on Black radio. So-called Hair Metal was a presence on the pop chart; grunge would help fix that in a few years. Configuration-wise, CDs outsold vinyl LPs for the first time in 1988, though cassettes outsold both.

Here are thirty of 1988’s finest:

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