30 Years of Music: 1989

This project has reminded me that there are never really “bad” years in music, only years where one should really pay more attention and not let cool-kid-opinion color what you like. 1989, at a glance, might not seem like all that special of a year, but I still had to think about how I would narrow down my picks to ten songs only. Let us get to these musical gems:


Cherish – Madonna

An all-time favorite Madonna song. Like a Prayer is an outstanding album in general, but “Cherish” is just so happy. The video has mermaids and dancing on the beach – what’s not to love? Some time when I’m talked into karaoke again, I should pick this song because it’s one of those that I can’t help but sing along to every single time I hear it. When my daughter was a baby, I would sing it to her, and she would stare back at me, completely unimpressed. FINE, kid, your brother and I can have Madonna dance parties, and I will begrudgingly buy you an Owl City CD, even though I don’t like them, because you love them. It’s all right.

Closer to Fine – Indigo Girls

My dad really liked Indigo Girls. Really, I think almost every lady-Canadian-singer-songwriter of a certain era, he liked – including Sarah McLachlan, Kate McGarrigle, among others. So even before I knew anything about music, I knew Indigo Girls. Great acoustic guitar work and excellent harmonies? Ain’t nothing wrong with that. They remind me of a certain breed of Missoula, Montana woman I have known, and so I am always happy to hear them.

People like to make fun of the jeans in this video, but if you were alive in 1989, I almost guarantee you wore jeans like this too. Don’t front.

The Magic Number – De La Soul

“Everybody wants to be a DJ / Everybody wants to be MC…”

I won’t pretend that I’ve ever learned all the words to this song, but I still love it. I’ve got it on one of those Q Magazine CD compilations, Ultimate Drive (great mix, by the way). I’ve never owned any De La Soul proper, unfortunately, but I always enjoy listening to them when someone puts them on. The title, of course, references the School House Rock song “Three is the Magic Number,” and there are samples from that original here. You can’t help but bob your head.

Here Comes Your Man – Pixies

I get “Here Comes Your Man” stuck in my head all the time, and now it will probably happen again now that I’ve written this. Can’t say I can really complain about that, but it’s funny how infectious certain songs can be. I think I’ve had a crush on Kim Deal ever since I knew who Kim Deal was.

I Won’t Back Down – Tom Petty

I’m not sure why the embedded video is labeled “Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.” I don’t think George and Ringo would appreciate the downgrade in musical status.


Sometimes people act like it isn’t cool to like Tom Petty, but do you know who starts singing along whenever someone plays one of his songs at the bar? Damn near everybody. You know the words to his songs whether you think you know them or not. Face it, friends, Tom Petty is a musical treasure. Now let’s sing: Heeeyyyy, Baby…

Deadbeat Club – The B-52s

Yes, The B-52s’ Cosmic Thing is best known for “Love Shack,” which is indeed a classic, but I appreciate this more understated song, “Deadbeat Club.” It’s a love letter to hanging out in Athens, Georgia, and so naturally, Michael Stipe appears in the video (as does original VJ Martha Quinn). This is another song that gets stuck in my head, especially the “Oh-oh” around the four minute mark.

Wicked Game – Chris Isaak

“It’s strange what desire will make foolish people do…”

Word, Chris Isaak. Word. And is this not one of the greatest videos of… ever-ever? Great googly-moogly. Look at those two. Many a teenager has had an… awakening, so to speak… while watching this, I bet.

I’ve heard several Chris Isaak albums, and they’re all quite good. This is the song everyone knows him for, but all of his subdued, Elvis-adjacent, surf-rock schtick is enjoyable. And does anyone else remember the TV show he used to have? I remember it being funny, even though I don’t remember any specific episodes.

Go Your Own Way – NOFX

I love a good punk cover; they’re so much fun. At first, you think that NOFX are going to mock the Fleetwood Mac original, what with the whiny first verse, but then the chorus kicks in with harmony, and it’s clear that they dig the song, even if they instead later sing, “If I could, baby I’d give you my socks!” When I was a high schooler who was into both punk and Fleetwood Mac, this cover was quite the discovery.

Rhythm Nation – Janet Jackson

Rhythm Nation 1814 is one of the first non-kids’ music cassettes I ever owned, and I still love the songs on it to this day. I had trouble deciding whether I should feature “Rhythm Nation,” “Miss You Much” or “Escapade.”  As a kid, I choreographed moves to every single song on the album, and my friends and I listened to it all the time. I wanted a key earring. I am now dancing while listening to this again. Get in.

Personal Jesus – Depeche Mode

I used to not really like Depeche Mode, but I’ve come around. Though I still wouldn’t say they’re one of my all-time favorites, it is hard to deny the catchiness of songs like “Personal Jesus.” Listen to that the guitar riff and drum machine beat. It’s dark and fantastic.


Now, when you’re done singing and dancing, consult this roundup of 1989 in music, and tell me your other favorites.

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.

16 replies on “30 Years of Music: 1989”

Many an afternoon was spent trying to learn the Rhythm Nation dance from a taped recording. I think I may still know how to do it, but I’m currently at work and such endeavors are frowned upon.

I have no shame in my love for Tom Petty. I saw him in concert with my family before I left for Korea and it’s in the top 5 of best concerts ever. “Won’t Back Down” is something of a Stephens family anthem.

And I will neither confirm nor deny that “Wicked Games” was a catalyst for my *ahem* awakening.

Rhythm Nation 1814 was incredible all the way around, but my pick would be Love Will Never Do (Without You)

For Full Moon Fever I’d have to go with Runnin’ Down a Dream (to this day Free Fallin’ makes me want to punch babies. It’s the only Tom Petty song I just cannot stand)

Sin and Head Like Hole – Nine Inch Nails (Pretty Hate Machine)

From Out of Nowhere and Edge of the World – Faith No More (The Real Thing)

Amazing and Tin Machine – Tin Machine (Is there anything David Bowie does that isn’t fantastic?)

Untitled and Pictures of You – The Cure (Disintegration)

And best of all, 1989 gave us Monty Python Sings, bringing us the perfection that is Lumberjack Song and Sit on My Face

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