The Songs Of The Summer: Episode #7: 1988

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Welcome to another Sun-Soaked episode of The Songs Of The Summer Series from friend and Contributing Author Ozmoe!

This week: Remembering 1988…


As a reminder or for those just joining us, I categorize a summer song basically as the fun tune you’d like to do at karaoke with your friends. It’s hummable, singable, danceable, and probably some other kind of optimistic labels I can’t think of right now.

tnocs.com summer charts expert ozmoe

If you were a dedicated music lover in the United States in 1988, there were two events that summer may have disturbed your passion for that hobby:

The first blow came in June, when Motown founder Berry Gordy announced that he had sold his company to MCA as a subsidiary. As virtually the only successful independent music label operating at the time, this act of consolidation sadly confirmed that the “good old days” – where artists could score a top 10 hit on a company not affiliated with any major music corporation – were vanishing.

The second hit in August, ironically in the same week Billboard celebrated the 30th anniversary of the launch of its Hot 100. Casey Kasem did his final American Top 40 radio show counting down the upper two-fifths of that pop chart every week. The show continued without him, but for many who grew up listening to the program for up to nearly 20 years (it began in 1970), it wasn’t the same, and it went off seven years later. It was another passing of an era in music.

But for most casual music fans, these events meant little in this leap year. Or Olympic year. Or presidential year. It all depended on how you celebrated events happening once every four years.

Their focus was on, as always, scoping out the next big summer song. That meant listening to the catchy, goodtime fun tunes that make you move your mouth, tap your feet… or just chill out in blissfulness, and let it wash over you.

To me, there’s a bevy of borderline cases to include in this category when surveying 1988’s hits between Labor Day and Memorial Day. If you like harder sounds, Poison’s Pour Some Sugar on Me and Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine would be top picks. Conversely, those more into a mellow mood may favor Al B. Sure’s Nite and Day or Cheap Trick’s The Flame.

But I think a summer song lies somewhere between these songs of swagger and sentimentality.

So here are my top picks for what I mean. Comment and rank your top three below, with one being your favorite. All are listed chronologically based on their Billboard Hot 100 peak.

• Daryl Hall & John Oates : Everything Your Heart Desires

Speaking of bittersweet passages in music, this was the last top 10 for America’s most successful duo. While it was upbeat, the song’s thumping studio sounds made the twosome appear to be trying to keep up with the latest trends on records rather than try something unique. Its video only seemed to add to the desperation. But if you just listened to the song, it was diverting enough, even though it may have fell a little short of connecting the same way as the “ear candy” from many of their earlier hits.


• Rick Astley: Together Forever

No, I didn’t pick this to upset Tom Breihan, who famously disliked Astley’s hits in his The Number Ones column on Stereogum.

Well, maybe a little.

But even if this is basically a rehash of Never Gonna Give You Up, well… it’s a formula worth following. Astley delivers the lyrics convincingly as always, and the production dares you not to move along with it. And considering how dominated by ballads the top spot was for most of June and July of 1988, it was an aural party that was a welcome to the ears for many.


• Pebbles: Mercedes Boy

In 1970 Janis Joplin sang an acapella Mercedes Benz, a tongue-in-cheek ode to wanting the title car. Eighteen years later, Pebbles compared herself to being as seductive as the vehicle in a question to attract a man. It was a hit sleek enough to dare you not to dance and sing along with her. Pretty clever, if you ask me. A year after this hit, Pebbles remained a big act when a male recording act named Dino became popular, too. My local radio station would run their songs back to back as a “Flintstones double play.” I still don’t know how I feel about that offering.


• INXS: New Sensation

By 1988 INXS was a new-ish sensation to the United States. But this was one of four consecutive top 10 hits that proved the Australian band was a forced to be reckoned with. Confidence flows throughout this cut from the very start, especially from lead singer Michael Hutchence, who knows how and when to flex the dynamism from his voice wisely here. Whenever I hear the chorus, I imagine how great it would be cranking this out while driving my convertible down a lonesome road. Then I remember I drive a subcompact and wake up from that fantasy.


• Steve Winwood: Roll With It

While Chicago had largely given up horns on its hits by the late 1980s, Steve Winwood was putting that sound front and center in this catchy number. It sounded like a cross between Motown and Stax in the 1960s. Fun fact: Roll With It was the only song in 1988 to be first the highest debut on the Hot 100 – and then the biggest mover on that same chart the following week before peaking at number one.


• Jane Wiedlin Rush Hour

Having a former member of the Go-Gos singing solo is certainly an ingredient worth having for making a summer song. Indeed, another member of the group, Belinda Carlisle, had a top 10 hit in June with Circle in the Sand. But that tune wasn’t quite as breezy a delight as was Rush Hour, where Jane’s winsome vocals contrasted nicely against an urgent drumbeat, and strong guitar licks. Driving in traffic as a metaphor for passion is a pretty interesting gamble that pays off nicely in this concoction.


• Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine: 1-2-3

Gloria and the gang get right into the mood of this song by launching it with the catchy chorus. And for the next three and a half minutes, she and her band don’t let up. Her vocals are as tight as the musicianship on display. Don’t let the elementary nature of the title fool you. The lyrics indicate that Gloria is a woman on a mission to woo her uncertain lover.
“Come out of your shell, boy
You know we go like hand in glove
You’re afraid of giving in –
But I am never giving up on your love”

Given the strength of all performing, I think she definitely won him over.


• Johnny Kemp: Just Got Paid

Weekend anthems are always good to get radio listeners excited as Friday afternoon rolls around. This this helping of New Jack Swing is one of the go-to numbers for several stations even today. Johnny Kemp does a lot of vocal gymnastics and riffing to keep this interesting. His co-writer, Keith Sweat, and co-producer, Teddy Riley, ended up having longer musical careers. But for what some might call a one-hit wonder, this is a wonderful one for Kemp to call a hit.


Anything else you think I missed that was popular in the summer of 1988 and deserves consideration? Then comment and discuss with your vote below!

Otherwise, pick out your top three here! And get ready to do so again, same time next week, with another year on tap! 

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cstolliver
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cstolliver
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July 18, 2022 6:26 am

1988 was a rough year for summer songs, with so many of that year’s hits either ballads (“One More Try,” “Foolish Beat”), strutting rockers (the ones you listed) or would-be competitors that just didn’t peak high enough (“I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” “Indestructible”).

Sticking with your lineup, I’ll pick:
3) Just Got Paid
2) Mercedes Boy
1) Roll With It

A few for your consideration: Both the single remix of George Michael’s “Monkey” and Samantha Fox’s “Naughty Girls (Need Love Too)” cross new jack swing instrumentation with British pop to hit the summer sweet spot. And Poison’s “Nothin’ but a Good Time,” as goofy and strutting as Def Leppard or GNR, manages to carry a pop hook that sticks with you long after the song fades.

cstolliver
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July 18, 2022 7:01 am
Reply to  cstolliver

Oh, and how could I forget my favorite summer song for ’88? Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name” is more of a Southern summer song — langourous and lingering, rather than a sizzly, fizzy Northern summer song. Think of it as the late ’80s “Groovin’.”

mt58
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July 18, 2022 7:28 am
Reply to  cstolliver

I’ve always thought that there should be a name for this phenomenon:
When an artist’s follow/up, yet less successful record, is your “more favoriter” of the two.
I liked “Sign Your Name” better than “Wishing Well.”
As soon as I scare up some coffee, I’ll try to think of more examples.

thegue
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July 18, 2022 12:14 pm
Reply to  mt58

That’s almost always the case with me. I am “The Contrarian”.

mt58
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July 18, 2022 12:24 pm
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That’s kind of why we love you.

Hmm. “The Contrarian.”
I’d read an article with that title.

I’m just saying.

dutchg8r
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July 18, 2022 10:10 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

Oh yes, good call on Samantha Fox, Chuck! I was all about the “Monkey” remix that summer, that’s for sure.

And it was just as awesome screaming along to “Nothin’ But a Good Time” last week with Poison live as it was back when I was 14 in ’88. Definitely a timeless banger.

Phylum of Alexandria
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July 18, 2022 8:00 am

Yay, a summer during which I was alive and capable of remembering! Of course, given that I was still a child, I can’t always parse which memory took place in 88 versus, say, 87 or 89.

It doesn’t help that a lot of the Hot 100 picks for 88 were songs that were originally released in 87. Way to confuse me even more, listening public!

Still, I do have memories of certain songs. Such as The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo,” which was everywhere, so much so that even I was sick of it. To me, that is the summer song of 1988, like it or not.

From this list, my top ones are:

  1. Gloria Estefan & the Miami Sound Machine: 1,2,3
  2. Rick Astley – Together Forever
  3. INXS – New Sensation
  4. Steve Winwood – Roll With It
  5. Pebbles – Mercedes

The others I’m not so hot on, or just not familiar, though you also mentioned “Sweet Child of Mine,” and that’s a definite contender for the top pick, even over “Kokomo.”

Other songs to consider: Natalie Cole’s “Pink Cadillac,” Information Society’s “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)”, Kon Kan’s “I Beg Your Pardon.”

Virgindog
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July 18, 2022 10:22 am

I love the INXS and Jane Wiedlin songs but I really have to go with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ “I Hate Myself For Loving You.” It’s heavy and breezy at the same time, fun with a touch of snark, and a little punky. Totally up my alley.

Pauly Steyreen
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July 18, 2022 10:52 am

For me, the song of the summer was most definitely in the Poison / GNR milieu. “Sweet Child o’ Mine” most likely.

But for a general consensus song of the summer, I’d go:

1. New Sensation
2. Mercedes Boy
3. 1-2-3

Ask me my favorite among the list, and Jane Wiedlin wins easily. She was always my favorite of the Go-Go’s. That whole band was steeped in the LA punk scene before they broke with bubblegum pop, so they brought a hard-earned edge to their confections.

JJ Live At Leeds
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July 18, 2022 11:47 am

Jane Weidlin no contest out of those picks. Followed by INXS and then a long way back would be Gloria. Rick Astley and Together Forever drove me crazy, just no.

Quite the contrast in options over in the UK that summer. KLF scored their first #1 in their novelty Timelords guise with Doctorin’ The Tardis – shame about the Gary Glitter association though. That was followed by Bros who despite being the subject of mass hysteria from teenage girls, including my sister, only managed the one chart topper with I Owe You Nothing. Things went real bad with Glenn Medeiros’ Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You spending 4 weeks on top but that was blown away by Yazz and The Only Way Is Up beating that with 5 weeks.

mt58
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July 18, 2022 12:44 pm

Speaking of the downfall of Gary Glitter:
I imagine that it must’ve been great fun to grow up watching TOTP.

What was the reaction from people who watched Jimmy Seville when they were kids, after he had his spectacular fall from grace?

Was it just a case of, “well, there’s another celebrity who has behaved terribly”, or was there a larger sense of a loss of innocence?

JJ Live At Leeds
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July 18, 2022 1:46 pm
Reply to  mt58

Jimmy Saville; now thats a subject with a lot of unpacking. Firstly, yep it was fun growing up with TOTP, Jimmy’s time as regular presenter had passed by the time I was watching but he still popped up occasionally. By the 80s his main TV gig was Jim’ll Fix It in which kids wrote in with whatever their dream was and Jim made it come true. For one teenage girl it was to be swept off her feet by Simon Le Bon. On a horse. Wearing armour.

In Jimmy’s case there were a lot of rumours about his behaviour while he was alive but through intimidation and protecting his reputation by raising millions for charity and befriending royalty, politicians, the police and others in positions of power he made himself untouchable. There were plenty of playground jokes about Jimmy, little did we know the truth was even worse. Based on that it wasn’t so much a loss of innocence with him as it just confirmed what a lot of people suspected.

I wouldn’t say either that it was a case of there goes another terrible celebrity as the weirdness of his personality, the extent of his crimes and the speculation about just how depraved they were made him a special case way above the other 1970s personalities that it turned out had been abusing their fame with predatory behaviour.

Now Rolf Harris though, that one took me by surprise. He always seemed so fun and genial. Many happy hours of childhood watching Rolf’s Cartoon Club forever tainted.

Last edited 1 year ago by JJ Live At Leeds
cappiethedog
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July 18, 2022 2:48 pm
Reply to  mt58

Nia Peeples, as you know, hosted the American version of TOTP. I think the producers were aware of JS and selected a host that couldn’t be any more different.

dutchg8r
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July 18, 2022 10:26 pm
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There was an American version of TOTP?!

2 demerits to Dutch for failing to know that pop culture tidbit. I suddenly feel so terribly lost….. 🙃

cappiethedog
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July 18, 2022 8:58 pm

Who was the audience for “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You”? Big in Japan(lots of local acts found success there), but big in the U.K.? The Pogues, Billy Bragg, New Order, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Glenn Medeiros…

JJ Live At Leeds
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July 19, 2022 2:06 am
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Frankly I have no idea who was buying NGCMLFY. All of the acts you listed were chart regulars with a lasting legacy and were critically acclaimed. At the same time though pop was running riot and generally dominating the top end of the charts as Stock Aitken Waterman were taking over. No idea how Glenn snuck through though. Maybe they felt ashamed of themselves afterwards as the follow up stalled outside the top 40 and we thought that was it. He did get to #12 in 1990 with the Bobby Brown collaboration, She Ain’t Worth It but that might have had more to do with Bobby and sounded vastly different to his chart topper.

thegue
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July 18, 2022 12:12 pm

Nope, you had it right the first time: “Pour Some Sugar On Me” was THE song of the summer.

  1. It peaked at #2 on July 23.
  2. It spent all summer in the Top 40.
  3. It was played more than once at every graduation party I attended (my best friend at the time graduated in ’88, and I went to more than one prom that summer)
  4. Riding around in Philadelphia, my friends and I were stopped at a red light when four black kids pulled up next to us, singing PSSoM as loudly as they could. We found the station they were listening to, and joined them. It was EVERYWHERE.

A distant second would’ve been “Just Got Paid”, and the My Gallant-esque “Roll With it” even further behind to Secretariat.

dutchg8r
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July 18, 2022 10:33 pm
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I love that tidbit about singing PSSOM with your neighboring cars! Reminds me of when our HS band went to play a Sixers game I think, so kids on the bus were singing half the Hysteria album basically. Anyway, for some reason I totally freaked folks out as I was belting along with the gang on Pour Some Sugar On Me. Apparently, some had figured I was this shy girl who had no personality or something. I believe my response was – no, I just don’t ever talk cause my friends won’t ever shut up.

😁

cappiethedog
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July 18, 2022 8:49 pm

1) Rush Hour: This was the year I saw a slaughterhouse in Faces of Death at a friend’s house and Jane Wiedlin swimming with dolphins. 2) New Sensation: I didn’t get “Need You Tonight”. I like this song better. I can’t believe the title track for Listen Like Thieves stalled at #54. What a great chorus. 3) Just Got Paid: Just heard it for the first time. It’s a new song to me. I like it.

lovethisconcept
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July 18, 2022 10:23 pm

1.Roll with It Steve Winwood is an artist that I think Tom got completely wrong on the mothership. A little justice here

2.New Sensation “When the sun comes like a god into our room” Just wonderful.

3.Just Got Paid Just fun.

dutchg8r
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July 18, 2022 10:23 pm

You’re gonna make me be the a-hole to call out the fact that Def Leppard was the act behind Pour Some Sugar on Me, not Poison. 😉

Hey, I just wrapped writing up my concert review of that gig, I’m a little too consumed with Def Lep at the moment, I can’t help it! (Spoiler Alert)

From your list ozmoe, it’s Johnny Kemp all the way. That was totally one of my top jams that summer, followed closely by Mercedes Boy.

As much as I love INXS’ Kick album, New Sensation was my least favorite; can I sub in Never Tear Us Apart instead, pretty please?!

Dance Fever
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July 18, 2022 11:42 pm

Ah, yes, here we are. I know it didn’t hit Number One until September of this year but “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is my summer song of ’88.
I won’t go into deep detail but those of familiar with my response to Tom’s dismissal of this song brought out all the great qualities in his website and made it one of the most responded to responses in the history of TNOCS.
I know all the reasons Tom hated the song but as a parent, It only brings back memories both good and sad.
As I said back when his review was released, you can hate it, revile it, make fun of it but I will always remember it as a song when my step-daughter was a vibrant, beautiful young lady.

Aaron3000
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July 19, 2022 6:30 pm

I’m with thegue regarding Def Leppard’s “summer song” qualifications: “Pour Some Sugar On Me” is eminently hummable, singable, and (yup) danceable, so it takes #1 for me. #2 is Jane Wiedlin and #3 is INXS. All three of those are stereo-cranked windows-down driving bangers.

Last edited 1 year ago by Aaron3000
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