30 Years of Music: 1988

1988 has me going a bit oddball in comparison to my usual tastes, but a few All-Time Favorite Songs shuffle into the mix. And once again, I realize that Young Me had some rather telling crushes.


First We Take Manhattan – Leonard Cohen

It was only a few years ago when I first heard this song. Literally, I stopped what I was doing and said, “What am I listening to?” The Europop beat mixed with Leonard Cohen’s distinctive voice and the strangely happy backing vocals makes “First We Take Manhattan” a rather unusual song, and the black and white video further ups the strange factor.

I’d like to thank you for the items that you sent me [laugh] / the monkey / and the plywood violin / I practiced every night / now I’m ready / first we take Manhattan / then we take Berlin…

Maybe the song isn’t supposed to be funny, but sorry, I’m laughing.

Where is My Mind? – The Pixies

I used to have a friend who referred to this song as “The Whale Song” for the Oooh-ooohs in the background. It’s easy to forget how bare bones this is when we probably most associate it with the “bigness” of Fight Club. To be honest, I’ve always liked “Where is My Mind,” but I almost didn’t include it because it’s one of those songs I’ve heard a gerbillion times at local open mics, and I’d kinda like it if maybe those musicians would quit playing the same three songs every time they come out. Stop ruining The Pixies for me, guys.

I Wanna Be Your Dog – Joan Jett and The Blackhearts

“I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges is already one of my favorite songs, and Joan Jett does a fantastic cover of it. When I saw her live a few years ago, she played it. That show was so much fun, and it was free. I brought my kids and they were instantly fans.

Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution – Tracy Chapman

My dad had this album and I’d put it on occasionally. It’s pretty good as a whole, and this is a great opener. I especially like the “run run run” bridge. Unfortunately, when it comes to the politics of income, perhaps not much has changed for the better since 1988.

Don’t Believe the Hype – Public Enemy

Classic hip-hop, get in. “Learn the words / you might sing this” – And now Public Enemy are about to inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t really have much else to say except this is a great song, and you should play it a few times in a row right now.

Mother – Danzig

In Alphabet Soup: The Letter M, I mentioned that elementary-aged me had a crush on Glen Danzig. And again, I have to laugh at how early the seeds can be planted in regard to what we find attractive. Nice arms and shoulders? Sign me up.

Physical considerations aside, yes, this really is one of my All-Time Favorite Songs of Ever. I have Danzig’s first album in my car, and it’s great to play loud and sing/yell along.

Teen Age Riot – Sonic Youth

In high school, I had a boyfriend who was into (what seemed like) every lo-fi, noisy alternative band out there. Most of it, I couldn’t fully enjoy, but I liked a decent chunk of Sonic Youth and a little bit of My Bloody Valentine. He tried to get me into Dinosaur Jr. as well, but it just wasn’t my thing. And yes, maybe “Teen Age Riot” is the one song anyone who is aware of Sonic Youth knows, but that’s fine. It’s well-recognized for being a good tune, and I’m glad that it’s not all about the instrument feedback.

Dangerous – Roxette

And now for something completely different.

I asked for “a Roxette tape” for my eighth birthday and so received Look Sharp! I used to love watching their videos on MTV after school, and I had such an unrealized crush on the lady-singer, Marie Fredericksson. Watching this video again now, I am pleased to see that it was totally justified. The other singer, Per Gessle? Not so much. I never really had a thing for him.

I still maintain that Roxette is a poppy good time, and I still know all the words to this song.

Handle With Care – Traveling Wilburys

This is another All-Time Favorite that I mentioned in Alphabet Soup, and it’s the song I sang with my friend Ryan (who also does an excellent acoustic “Mother”), in one of my periodic attempts at increased braveness. I love both the original and the Jenny Lewis and Conor Oberst cover, and Dr. Song once wrote an excellent post about this album, so I’ll let her do the talking.

Stand – REM

I know that I’ve talked about REM a lot so far in this series – the 1980s were a very kind decade for them – but “Stand” is great (yes, I keep using that adjective too, but if it ain’t broke…), and the video, with all its silly dancing, cracks me up. All the people in it are sort of dorky and normal, and now I’m probably going to have this song stuck in my head for the rest of the day.


With that, reacquaint yourself with 1988’s music here, and then tell me your favorites in the comments.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

12 replies on “30 Years of Music: 1988”

Oh R.E.M. I had the cassette of Green, and listened to it ALL THE TIME my freshman year of high school. The video for Stand was all over MTV and I taught the kids I babysat to dance like the people in the video .Good times.

Roxette also screams high school to me- we used to blast that while driving around town in my friend’s Cavelier.

I learned to drive in the summer of ’88, so all of these songs sound like freedom to me. Coming from a city in the middle of a corn field, (my life is a Tom Petty song) 1988 was the first year the world seemed big to me, and I wanted to drive to every corner of it.

“Where Is My Mind” will always make me think of the first Boy Dorm party I went to in college, where I ended up making out with a ridiculously odd/hot fella on a pile of coats. Good times. (And wow, do I miss making out with cute boys.)

This song will always be 1988 to me, however, because it’s the first song that played on the car radio during my first solo trip.

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