If you listen to the radio tonight, the chances are you’ll hear a lot of records by New Kids on the Block, Janet Jackson, Phil Collins, Paula Abdul, Michael Bolton, M.C. Hammer, Aerosmith, Bell Biv Devoe, Taylor Dayne and Wilson Phillips.
They were the 10 most popular recording artists of 1990--according to Billboard magazine--and radio programmers, too, love to reminisce on New Year’s Eve.
Not that they are doing us any favor with a musical count-down based on this year’s pop charts.
It was bad enough being bored by most of those artists during the last 12 months without having to be subjected to them again on a night reserved for celebration.
Each of us probably enjoys the music of two or three of the names, but there is such little genuine creative spark in the over-all list that we are reminded why pop radio continues to be a wasteland.
Instead of seeking records that challenge and inspire, stations specialize in music that comforts by recycling proven formulas or that entertains on a superficial level.
The good news is that time has a way of over-riding the the sales charts and honoring the true achievements of a given year.
Look, for instance, at the charts from 10 years ago. How many of the 16 records that made No. 1 on the Billboard weekly sales list in 1980 tell us about life that year or represent a link to the serious pop currents of the past decade?
The records: K.C. & the Sunshine Band’s “Please Don’t Go,” Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You,” Captain & Tennille’s “Do That to Me One More Time,” Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall,” Blondie’s “Call Me,” Lipps, Inc.'s “Funkytown,,” Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Coming Up,” Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic,” Christopher Cross’ “Sailing,” Diana Ross’ “Upside Down,” Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Barbra Streisand’s “Woman in Love,” Kenny Rogers’ “Lady” and John Lennon’s “Starting Over.”
Remember, 1980 was the year that gave us such breakthrough albums as the Clash’s “London Calling,” Bruce Springsteen’s “The River,” Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light,” “Prince’s “Dirty Mind,” the Pretenders’ “The Pretenders” and X’s “Los Angeles.”
And what about this year?
Here are the records that reached No. 1 on the pop charts during 1990: Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise,” Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract,” Janet Jackson’s “Escapade” and “Black Cat,” Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet,” Taylor Dayne’s “Love Will Lead You Back,” Tommy Page’s “I’ll Be Your Everything,” Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Madonna’s “Vogue,” and Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love.”
Plus: New Kids on the Block’s “Step By Step,” Glen Medeiros’ “She Ain’t Worth It,” Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” and “Love Takes Time,” Sweet Sensation’s “If Wishes Came True,” Jon Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory,” Wilson Phillips’ “Release Me,” Nelson’s “Love and Affection,” Maxi Priest’s “Close to You,” George Michaels’ “Praying for Time,” James Ingram’s “I Don’t Have the Heart,” Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight” and Stevie B’s “Because I Love You.”
My guess, again, is that no than four will be considered significant a decade from now.
This year-end edition of the Alternative Top 10 offers a New Year’s Eve countdown that is likely to stand the test of time--the singles and album tracks that represented the richest currents of pop music during the year.
But first, some honorable mentions--focusing on artists whose records twisted pop boundaries.
* Was (Not Was)’ “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” (Chrysalis)--A marvelous update of the old Temptations hit that not only adds an aggressive rap consciousness, but also combats the sentimentality of the original song by confronting “Papa” for having abandoned his family.
Sample rap: I want to forget the little bit I know / And make sure I never sink so low / ‘Cos I want my kids to grow up and know / That I was always there because I loved them so.
* Dwight Yoakam’s “Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Lose” (Reprise)--Los Angeles-based Yoakam isn’t highly regarded in Nashville, but he brings a rock sensibility to country. In this lively, bittersweet bar-room tale, he recalls earlier links between country and rock--both in the Johnny Cash records of the ‘50s and the Buck Owens hits of the ‘60s.
* Tevin Campbell’s “Round and Round " (Paisley Park/Warner Bros.)--When is the last time Prince got upstaged on his own album? You may have to go all the way back to Michael Jackson and Frankie Lymon to find a teen-ager who make a record quite as ear-catching as this.
* Ice Cube’s “Who’s the Mack” (Priority)--M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice may have brought rap to the mainstream during 1990, but the artistic pulse of the music remains in the hard-core artists, including Los Angeles’ Ice Cube. The language is still too blunt for radio, but the theme--about less obvious ways to hustle--is less brutally combative than most of Ice Cube’s recordings.
* Tony! Toni! Tone!'s “The Blues” (Wing)--This Oakland outfit mixes traditional and modern R&B; currents with invention and humor.
* C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat” (Columbia)--Splendid dance record with a clever mix of rap and frenzied, gospel-edged vocal outbursts.
* Concrete Blonde’s “Joey” (I.R.S.)--The drama and passion of old Phil Spector hits mixed with contemporary rock anxiety.
Now, the official New Year’s Eve countdown:
10. Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” (Capitol)-- A rowdy, good-natured underdog tale by the man who is at the forefront of country music’s return to classic blue-collar themes and honky-tonk musical character.
9. Neneh Cherry’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Chrysalis)--A bold reworking of the Cole Porter standard in which a hip-hop beat heightens the drama and punch of Cherry’s AIDS awareness message.
8. Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart” (Elektra)--Irresistible dance-floor spunk from a concept-conscious New York trio.
7--Jane’s Addiction’s “Stop” (Warner Bros.)--More than anything else on record by this hard-rocking Los Angeles band, “Stop” reflects the almost intoxicating energy surge that the group offers in its best moments on stage.
6. The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On” (Warner Bros.)--Something to play whenever someone says that rock ‘n’ roll has lost its power and heart.
5. Faith No More’s “Epic” (Slash/Reprise)--One of the most radical rock records in ages: a blend of rap, metal and punk that that is a marvelous update of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.”
4. Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” (Geffen)-- The former Eagles co-leader’s best songs continue reflect on personal relationships in ways that also seem to define the times. Sample lines: These times are so uncertain / There’s a yearning undefined / . . . people filed with rage . . . / How can love survive in such a graceless age?
3. Madonna’s Vogue (Sire)--No record better defined mass pop culture in 1990, from the dance-based exuberance and fashion consciousness to the continuing video drift toward style over substance. “Vogue” had style and grace and wit: “Strike a pose,” indeed. One of two records on the list that actually made it to No. 1 during the year.
2. Public Enemy’s “Welcome to the Terrordome” (Def Jam/Columbia)--One of the most emotionally charged bursts of artistic fury since Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” days. A five-minute declaration and defense of a rapper’s musical style and artistic impulses.
1. Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” (Chrysalis)--It may be an old Prince song, but the vocal was simply astonishing . . . so passionate, intimate and inspired that that the record could either be taken as an expression of spiritual longing or romantic loss. One reason why O’Connor was the artist of the year in pop.