Rounding the Quarter-Century Pole

February 13, 1989 was a Monday. I found someone to cover for the class I was teaching (IIRC, I had one section of Calculus III that semester, which met on MWF) so that I could spend the day in KY with my parents. The guess from here is that I opted to take a long weekend to visit them on the occasion of my 25th birthday, since I’d gone back to IL so soon after Christmas.

I do remember a couple of things about the day. Dad was working at Fifth Third Bank in downtown Cincinnati by this time—he was in charge of the huge underground vault where the safety deposit boxes resided. (It was his final job; he retired from it in early July of 94). I drove over from Florence to visit with him awhile (despite the size of the vault, he generally wasn’t all that busy). Then I met up for lunch with my college friend Cathy, who still lived in the area and was working as a computer programmer for a big company downtown.  Before I went back across the river, Dad handed me some money, with instructions to buy myself a present.

Maybe I’m what you might call hard to shop for. Martha tries to pry ideas out of me come February and December each year; I’m frequently not very forthcoming. And I suppose I hadn’t given Mom and Dad much to work with this time, either. I cruised on over to the Florence Mall, about a mile away from the folks’ house. I don’t know if I purposely avoided going to the record stores, but somehow music didn’t seem like what they would have had in mind for me that day. Anyway, I wandered around a while, and finally landed in a gift shop on the upper level. Among their displays at the front of the store were a few plates featuring Japanese Chokin Art (engraving on copper). I saw one with two birds, one in the air, the other on a bamboo stick, hovering over a pretty flower. Something about it struck me just so. It wouldn’t be useful in the least, but I quickly decided this decorative piece was to be my gift from Mom and Dad.

I’ve had the plate on display pretty much ever since, through four apartments and two houses. Each time I changed coordinates between 89 and 97, I wrapped the plate and accompanying stand snugly in their red box, and out they would come in the new location, ready to be set up somewhere, often a fold-up bookshelf.  For the past twenty-plus years (except at the holidays), it’s resided on the mantle in our living room. I get that it’s hardly a valuable piece—there are scores, if not hundreds, of similar pieces available on eBay right now for about half of what I think I paid—but I confess it’s got a dear place in my heart. I usually think about its provenance whenever I intentionally look its way.

Top 40 wasn’t my main scene by early 89, but I’ll still take a gander at the 2/18/89 Hot 100 and see what pops out at me, a la Len O’Kelly:

#94: Ratt, “Way Cool Jr.”
This song was part of an inside joke amongst those in my office, one that’s not worth attempting to explain here. Kate, my officemate Will’s fiancée, had seen Ratt in concert (a fact that caused her some embarrassment in retrospect, I think) while she was an undergrad in California. Maybe that helped make her aware enough of this song to want to poke fun at it. It had peaked at #75, and as it happens, this was the last week evah on the pop charts for Steven Pearcy and company…

#76: Metallica, “One”
…and as Laura Nyro so aptly noted, there’ll be one chart act born to carry on.  Here’s the first Hot 100 week for Metallica. “One “and “Enter Sandman” are the only songs of theirs that have lodged in my consciousness, and I’m okay with that.  This would reach #35.

#75: The Timelords, “Doctorin’ the Tardis”
John introduced me to Doctor Who in the summer of 87 after we’d moved out of the dorm into the apartment on Elm St. in Urbana. It was fun learning about the various incarnations of the Doctor (I saw episodes with Tom Baker, Colin Baker, Peter Davison, and Sylvester McCoy across the grad school years), and the low-budget Daleks were simply the best. The Doctor sure left a lot of death and destruction in his wake, though.

We noticed this song on the charts at this time, but no station in C-U (so far as I knew) was playing it. When I eventually heard it, I was surprised to learn it was essentially a riff on Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part Two.” It was a big #1 song in the UK but could only muster a peak of #66 here, which is about all it deserves.

#69: Traveling Wilburys, “End of the Line”
I owned The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 by this point and was listening to it with some regularity. It was somewhat disappointing to see the singles fail to make the Top 40 (this one only got to #63); other faves included Harrison’s “Heading for the Light,” Orbison’s “Not Alone Any More,” and Petty’s “Last Night.” The Dylan pieces are not among his best.

#64: Boy Meets Girl, “Waiting for a Star to Fall”
I’ll cop to buying this single toward the end of 88. I found it super-charming, the sound of falling in love. (Don’t @ me.)  It’s working its way down from a #5 peak.

#40: Roy Orbison, “You Got It”
Orbison’s unfortunate death in December 88 occurred just weeks after Vol. 1 was released and less than two months before his own Mystery Girl came out. I’m probably repeating myself here, but the sheen in Jeff Lynne’s production efforts in the 80s and 90s overall doesn’t sit well with me. That said, this was a more than deserving hit, getting as high as #9.

#34: Bangles, “Eternal Flame”
It’s steaming toward the top (it’d get there on April Fools’ Day). It’s a good enough song, but the Bangles were definitely past-peak by this time.

#25: Karyn White, “The Way You Love Me”
The first of her four Top 10 hits; I remember this one and “Secret Rendezvous” most. Her first album was co-produced by Babyface, the second by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (White spent most of the 90s married to Lewis). I didn’t appreciate this, which is falling after reaching #7, enough in real time.

#24: Breathe, “Don’t Tell Me Lies”
I was glad to hear something a little peppier from these guys (although “How Can I Fall?” had plenty of personal appeal). A cute number that reached #10.

#18: Erasure, “A Little Respect”
Overall I’m not all that big on Erasure—I guess I think Clarke’s synth work tends to be too much of a focus—but this is a fine tune. It would soon reach #14.

#16: Mike and the Mechanics, “The Living Years”
There are songs out there about father/son relationships that make me well up (I’m looking at you, Harry Chapin), but for some reason “The Living Years” just leaves me cold. As we all know, this made #1, beating ”Eternal Flame” there by one week.

#2: Tone Loc, “Wild Thing”
This was somewhat amusing the first ten times I heard it, and I admit that there are moments of cleverness, but the oversexed narrator on this and its twin, “Funky Cold Medina,” got to be a tad much. They’re still both big hits on SiriusXM’s 80s on 8, though.

#1: Paula Abdul, “Straight Up”
Great dance tune, very reasonable option for the top of this chart, and the one I like best from Abdul. There’s sass and attitude to spare here; Arsenio Hall’s appearance in the video certainly didn’t hurt the song’s chances of breaking through. The variation in how she approaches singing the title phrase at the end is a winner, too.


There are a couple of songs on this chart that will get featured in separate posts over the next few weeks. I probably skipped over some other decent stuff, but this is too long as it is. Let’s close with a couple of Wilbury tracks. Nice tribute to Orbison in the first one.


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