This Week In 1989: May 7, 1989
Originally posted as 25 Years Ago This Week in 2014. Updated in 2019.
It was hardly "War", "Fight The Power" or "We Shall Overcome", but this week in 1989, a protest song (allegedly) for the house music generation debuted on the ARIA singles chart. It only spent one week in the top 50 and didn't generate much publicity in Australia, but it was a different matter altogether in the UK, where the song originated.
Of course, the sentiment of the song - radio plays too much music for oldies and not enough that appeals to younger listeners - was just as relevant in Australia, given FM radio's refusal to play dance, rap or R&B music. But, two perky teenagers from Liverpool in the north of England weren't going to win that battle here.
Winning the battle for number 1 this week in 1989 was Madonna's "Like A Prayer", taking its tally of weeks on top to four. But, another challenger was closing in fast (well, fast for the Australian chart, anyway).
Off The Chart
Number 96 "Sweet Jane" by Cowboy Junkes
Peak: number 81
Five years before it was included in Natural Born Killers, this cover of the Velvet Underground single from 1973 was released as the Candian band's debut single.
Peak: number 90
Not to be confused with the identically named song by fellow female rocker Lita Ford from around the same time, this catchy tune really should have been more successful.
Number 50 "The Beat(en) Generation" by The The
Peak: number 50
Three years after "Infected" gave him a top 30 hit in Australia, Matt Johnson sneaked into the top 50 with this lead single from the Mindbomb album. This time, however, The The was an actual band (including The Smiths' former guitarist, Johnny Marr, among its members) instead of just Matt with a bunch of session musicians. Musically, The The sounded nothing like they had on the more electronic "Infected" - a song I quite liked. Whether or not that had anything to do with the lacklustre performance of "The Beat(en) Generation" here (although not in the UK, where it was the act's biggest hit of the decade), I'll let you be the judge.
Peak: number 23
"Desire" and "Angel Of Harlem" had almost made me think I might be ready to like U2 again after not enjoying any of their songs since 1984, but they lost me once more with this third single from Rattle & Hum, a collaboration with blues singer and guitarist BB King. Seems I wasn't the only one in two minds about the Irish rockers at that point, with Rattle & Hum (the album and movie) dividing critics and resulting in a bit of a backlash against the seemingly pious band. They'd win the world (myself included) over again with their next album and accompanying radical shift in direction, but that was all still a couple of years away.
Number 43 "I'd Rather Jack" by The Reynolds Girls
Peak: number 43
Plucked from obscurity by Pete Waterman to front his diatribe against radio programming in Britain, Aisling and Linda Reynolds would prove to be a turning point in the career of producers Stock Aitken Waterman. Their UK top 10 success with "I'd Rather Jack" proved the point that the Hit Factory could turn just about anyone into a music star. As a result, the message of the song - which was valid enough - was overshadowed by the backlash against SAW that resulted.
The impetus for "I'd Rather Jack" seems to have been the 1989 BRIT Awards, where SAW acts were virtually ignored despite the producers' records being permanently on the UK chart throughout 1988. Such ubiquity had inevitably led to critical derision and stuffy old radio programmers leaving the Hit Factory's songs off their playlists. All that prompted Pete to dream up "I'd Rather Jack" - and the song's lyrics couldn't have made his message clearer:
Can't they see that every generation/Has music for its own identity?/
But why the DJ on the radio station/Is always more than twice the age of me?
Who needs Pink Floyd, Dire Straits?/That's not our music, it's out of date/
Demographic stereo/They never play the songs we know
Golden oldies, Rolling Stones, we don't want them back/I'd rather jack than Fleetwood Mac
In Australia, where no one had any idea what jacking was, the song ended up as a bit of a curiosity. The title was a reference to house tracks like Steve "Silk" Hurley's UK number 1, "Jack Your Body", Hithouse's "Jack To The Sound Of The Underground" and the "Jack Mix" series by Mirage. At the time that, as well as carrying the ARIA chart, record stores also kept a regular dance chart on their counter and it came with little symbols to specify the genre (house, acid house, high-energy, etc.) of the tracks. When no one in my Year 9 music class had heard of "hip-hop" and people assumed I was making the genre up when I mentioned it, it was clear house music had also passed many local music fans by.
I wasn't that crazy about "I'd Rather Jack" - and you might just have noticed I was and still am a bit of a SAW fan. I found the melody uninspired and those sisters with their terrible dance moves weren't my idea of pop stars. As it turned out, the track was the only hit for the girls, who faded back into obscurity shortly after. In fact, very little is now known about Linda and Aisling, who couldn't even be tracked down for the recent Hit Factory reunion concert.
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1989:
Next week: more new entries (so I won't bang on about one song for so long!) - including the solo debut of one of the '80s hardest working singers, the arrival of the biggest Swedish act since ABBA and that Tina Turner re-release people have been getting excited about in the comments section. Before then, I'll conclude my trip through my top 100 songs for 2003.