Just when pop music seemed to be growing flabby and totally predictable, rock’s wacky assortment of brawling Young Turks and eccentric ‘60s survivors combined to provide fans with another year of outrageous events and nutty behavior.
Who’s to say who pulled off the strangest stunt:
Was it KLOS-FM’s Mark & Brian, who celebrated Elvis’ birthday by flying to Memphis, where the deejays did their morning show from Graceland? (They were thrown out when a security guard became suspicious and spotted a hidden transmitter in their umbrellas.)
Was it the pop duo Was (Not Was), which according to Hits magazine hired doubles to play them at a concert gig in Minneapolis while they were in Toronto finishing a film score?
Or was it Guns N’ Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin, who was arrested this fall for urinating in the galley of an airplane on a flight from Indianapolis to Phoenix after he found all the restrooms occupied?
Perhaps the oddest couples of all were rock stars and their corporate sponsors. After saying in March that it stood “completely” behind its $5-million Madonna ad extravaganza, Pepsi-Cola announced on April 4 that it had dropped plans to run any more Madonna ads, following complaints and boycott threats by religious groups. Meanwhile, the Who’s Pete Townshend, a self-confessed recovering alcoholic, played a summer tour sponsored by Miller and Budweiser breweries.
On the other hand, Tom Waits sued Frito-Lay, claiming the firm used a Waits sound-alike in a Doritos radio ad campaign. Bette Midler won $400,000 in damages from the ad agency that used an ex-Midler back-up singer to mimic her voice in a Mercury Sable commercial. And most wondrous of all: MTV, which had refused to air Neil Young’s “This Note’s for You” video, claiming it contained too many product plugs, proceeded to give the banned video its Video of the Year award this fall.
Any way you look at it, 1989 was a banner year for pop follies. To celebrate the music world’s clown princes, our yearly roundup of dubious achievements, inglorious moments and show-biz misadventures:
SLIM JIMS OF THE YEAR: According to the Washington Post, several flabby members of Bon Jovi, namely bassist Alec Such and drummer Tico Torres, underwent painful liposuction treatment after image-conscious bandleader Jon Bon Jovi reportedly told his group-mates to either shape up or ship out.
PROMOTION OF THE YEAR: The 2 Live Crew, a Florida-based rap group known for their sexually explicit lyrics, signed an endorsement deal to tout Homeboy condoms for the Boston-based Custom Condom firm, which in return included Homeboy condoms in the group’s albums and tapes.
ROCK MANAGER OF THE YEAR: San Francisco Giants manager Roger Craig received a host of congratulatory telegrams after his team’s playoff victory, including one from the Grateful Dead: “I didn’t know anything about them,” Craig said. “I thought they were a funeral home.”
NUPTIALS OF THE YEAR: When pop performer Mojo Nixon married his longtime girlfriend this summer, the couple tied the knot at a San Diego go-cart track. They exchanged vows through bullhorns and took the traditional “wedding lap” in go-carts after being showered by balloons reading “I Married a Big Foot.”
LAWSUIT OF THE YEAR: Ex-Beatle Ringo Starr won a permanent injunction last month from a federal judge blocking the release of a 1987 solo album, claiming he and other musicians recorded it while drunk. (Starr recently underwent detox treatment for alcoholism.)
GOLDEN GLOVES OF THE YEAR: To Motley Crue’s Vince Neil, who punched Guns N’ Roses’ Izzy Stradlin backstage at the MTV Awards this fall, prompting Izzy to respond: “Fortunately Vince is a powder puff and can’t do much damage.”
SEANCE OF THE YEAR: The seventh L.A. Guitar Show featured a first-ever Rock Seance, with the intention of contacting such dead pop legends as Elvis, Duane Allman, John Lennon and Buddy Holly. No tables shook, though two spectators claimed they felt Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix speaking through them.
IKE TURNER ARREST OF THE YEAR: Ike Turner, whose long string of drug busts began in 1970, was arrested again last May by West Hollywood police for possession of rock cocaine. The bust came shortly after Turner appeared on Arsenio Hall’s TV show, claiming most of his arrests had been caused by police mistaking baking soda for cocaine. (Hall responded: “Ike, what are you doing snorting baking soda?”)
MICHAEL JACKSON DISGUISE OF THE YEAR: To the Gloved One himself, who was asked to leave a jewelry store in Simi Valley last spring when employees became suspicious of a customer wearing a wig with a phony mustache and false teeth. When a security guard took him outside the store, the pop star peeled off his mustache and said: “I’m in disguise. I’m Michael Jackson.”
FASHION TREND OF THE YEAR: Japanese teens have become such huge rap fans that they don’t just wear Fila warm-up suits and Air Jordan sneakers. A Los Angeles Herald-Examiner fashion story last summer reported that they go to rap clubs with the ultimate fashion statement--they paint their faces black.
VISIONARY OF THE YEAR: Asked about his video channel’s programming strategy, then-MTV chief Lee Masters told GQ magazine: “We think ‘stupid’ is a great part of what we do, and I say that in a very positive sense. I think stupid is wonderful today. . . . If you’re a 17-year-old, you still like cars, you still like girls and you still like rock ‘n’ roll--even if you’re a Young Republican kid. And I think stupid is part of that. It’s a universal.”
PROMOTION OF THE YEAR: The always-irreverent Rhino Records organized a “Day of the Dead” promotion in October where the store offered a $1 discount on any album made by a band with a deceased musician, complete with the ad slogan: “No record’s a stiff at Rhino.”
HUMBLE ROCK STAR OF THE YEAR: When Jon Bon Jovi was slapped with a trespassing summons after sneaking onto the Wollman ice-skating rink in Central Park with his girlfriend last summer, Rolling Stone reported he repeatedly complained to security guards: “I know I’m trespassing. I’m Bon Jovi. Do you know me? Do you have kids? They know me.”
FRIENDLY RIVAL OF THE YEAR: Badmouthing CBS chief exec Larry Tisch’s move to sell CBS Records to Sony for a measly $2 billion in 1988, Geffen Records chairman David Geffen told The Times earlier this year: “I just wish Larry Tisch would sell me something.”
ALBUM TITLE OF THE YEAR: Playfully hyping a new compilation of cuts from bands signed to its label, Restless Records called the anthology: “Only 39,999,999 Behind ‘Thriller.’ ”
CHAUVINIST OF THE YEAR: Slick Rick, who explained in Spin magazine the attitude behind his new song, “Treat Her Like a Prostitute,” by saying: “Say there’s a girl that you like a lot, but you don’t know nothing about her. The best way to see if she’s a nice girl or a tramp is to treat her like a tramp first. If you treat her good first, you’ll never know.”