The last year of the 80s decade reflects the usual and expected signs of changes in music that occur with the passage from one decade to the next. Some familiar artists still relevant as ever, some making their final Top 40 appearance, a few one hit wonders and, in the case of 1989, a surprising amount of new artists that would have a profound influence on the course of popular music in the decade to come. Yet as always, new and interesting interpretations of the love song. In 1989, Taylor Swift was born while we lost iconic songwriter Irving Berlin, passing the baton yet again in the never ending timeline of popular music.
Since beginning this project in January of 2014 with Love Songs from the Great American Songbook, the objective has been to find love songs sometimes by genre and sometimes by year. Using a variety of Top 40 to Top 100 lists, I first eliminate those with any suspect lyric suggesting uncertainty, infidelity, done-me-wrong or unrequited sentiments, and then omitting any otherwise lyrically acceptable love songs with proper nouns (guys/girls names). While no year beginning in the 1940s yielded no more than a dozen or so songs that met this standard even factoring in a margin of error, 1989 came up with eighteen great love songs without a struggle.
And to expand on the greatness of these eighteen love songs from 1989, I should add that ten of them went Gold selling over 500,000 copies, three went Platinum selling over a million copies and the five songs not achieving Gold or Platinum status still managed to chart within the Top 5 of the Billboard charts. So they aren’t just great because I say so but because the folks buying music in 1989 said so.
So before reading on, scroll to the bottom, press play, and listen to the eighteen mega-hit love songs that dominated the Billboard charts in 1989.
“Two Hearts” by Phil Collins
Not the first love song from Phil Collins solo career, and not the last. “Two Hearts” is an upbeat and joyful love song which made its chart debut in late 1988 and continued to climb up, up, up the Billboard charts peaking at the top spot (#1) in 1989. With echoes of a retro Motown sound, this fun ditty was part of a remarkable string of hits for the former Genesis front man and drummer that would continue for another decade.
“The Way You Love Me” by Karyn White
Before disappearing into relative obscurity, Karyn White would have a few more notable hits into the early 90s. “I Love The Way You Love” – the first single off of her self-titled debut album – first charted in late 1988 and would break break the Top 10 in early 1989 only to stall at #7 while still earning certified Gold status by the RIAA on March 9 of 1989. Produced by Babyface, it reflects a fresh R&B sound, not unlike that of Bobby Brown who dominated the charts the same year. It’s a danceable fun song that is unquestionably a love-filled love song.
“Born To Be My Baby” by Bon Jovi
Yet another song to make its chart debut in the latter part of 1988 (December 17), “Born To Be My Baby” was the second of five Top 10 hits from Bon Jovi’s album New Jersey, and peaked at #3 on the Billboard Top 40 in 1989. Like the title suggests, it’s a declaration of love with lyrics that suggest that regardless of the ups and downs of real life, there is no doubt in the unwavering love that shall overcome life’s challenges.
“When I’m With You” by Sheriff
The last song on this list to make its initial chart appearance in late 1988 and the first ballad on the list, it would become a hugely popular choice for a first dance at weddings for years to come, and is widely regarded as a “power ballad”. “When I’m With You” would climb to the number one position on the Billboard charts, become certified Gold, yet as classic and perhaps even iconic of a love song as it is, it would be the only Top 40 appearance for the band Sheriff and the epitome of a one hit wonder,.
“You Got It (The Right Stuff)” by New Kids On The Block
The return of the boy band came on like a tidal wave with the New Kids On The Block. Rocketing up the charts in early 1989 and quickly attaining the #3 spot on the Billboard Top 100 and becoming certified Gold, young girls would swoon over vocalists Jordan Knight and Donnie Wahlberg imagining the song was directed at them. This would be the first of two New Kids On The Block love songs in 1989, and would open the door for the boy band craze to come in the 1990s. The original title listing on the album was “The Right Stuff”, defining the qualities of the subject of the song, going as far as saying “you are the reason I sing this song”. Is that love or what?
“Lost In Your Eyes” by Debbie Gibson
A romantic and tender teen-fueled love song that is charmingly innocent in a way that only Debbie Gibson could deliver. Although not her first number one hit, and not her first certified Gold single, Debbie Gibson – like the New Kids On The Block – opened the flood gates for teen-centric female artists and vocalists that would dominate in the coming decade. Yet as teen-ish as ‘Lost In Your Eyes” may be, the sentiment is pure and dreamy in a “first love” kind of way, which is perhaps what made this song so appealing to the young girls of its time.
“Girl You Know It’s True” by Milli Vanilli
Shrouded by controversy, Milli Vanilli were perhaps mere scapegoats in a lip-sync witch hunt that seems acceptable and commonplace in today’s live performances. Aside from the bad rap and stripped awards, “Girl You Know It’s True” was a mega hit peaking at #2 and selling enough copies to be certified Platinum before their downfall into pop music’s hall of shame. regardless of authenticity, it’s a great song, and a direct and to the point love song that will forever evoke memories of it’s time while it’s catchy lyrics make it an almost irresistible sing-along.
“Eternal Flame” by The Bangles
The third slow ballad on this 1989 list, “Eternal Flame” hints at a question that asks if this love is real, but that hint is fleeting with a counter reassurance of a returned love, and as the listener I find myself confident of a positive response to the question ‘is this burning and eternal flame”. Yes, it most certainly is. This would be the last Top 40 appearance for this archetypal 80s girl group, reaching #1 on the Billboard charts while being certified Gold.
“Like A Prayer” by Madonna
While this song was acclaimed by music critics, and achieved massive commercial success, the music video that followed brought on protests and a boycott decree from the Pope himself, causing ongoing controversy bordering on scandalous… Which likely delighted Madonna. The accusations of the video ranged from having racist imagery to Christian blasphemy by combining sexuality with religious imagery. In spite of the uproar, “Like A Prayer” reached number one on the charts, went Platinum, and when listening to the lyrics unfettered by the drama surrounding the controversial video, “Like A Prayer” is as pure a love song as any.
“Forever Your Girl” by Paula Abdul
The second Top 4o appearance of Paula Abdul was also her second chart topper cruising to the #1 spot like “Straight Up” only a few months earlier. Her second appearance fell short of her debut Platinum certification, but “Forever Your Girl” still managed a certified Gold status. As the title suggests, the theme and lyrics of this hit promise forever and ever love, and a reassurance that no matter what other suitors may offer, it cannot change her heart.
“Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler
Although previously recorded starting in 1982 by Roger Whittaker, and Lou Rawls and Gladys Knight in following years, it took Bette Midler’s 1989 recording for the movie Beaches to climb this lyrically meaningful and profound love song to number one on the Billboard pop charts, RIAA certified Platinum, and two Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year in 1990. Although no newcomer to the pop charts, this was the first #1 for Bette Midler and was to be her second to last Top 40 appearance.
“I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” by New Kids On The Block
The New Kids On The Block strike yet again, this time with a straightforward title. Debuting in the Billboard Top 40 on April 22, 1989 and climbing to the #1 spot less than two months later on June 17 of the same year earning them their second certified Gold record and their first number one chart hit. In the end, this tune dominated the Top 10 for six weeks, the Top 20 for eight weeks and the Top 40 for a grand total of fourteen weeks that summer, which should come as no surprise to women who were between the ages of 13 and 16 in 1989.
“Angel Eyes” by The Jeff Healey Band
The second one hit wonder love song on this list is an interesting yet likely oft forgotten tune in the midst of so many blockbuster mega hits. The relatively unknown Canadian Jeff Healey – who sadly died of lung cancer at 41 in 2008 – was a blind Jazz and Blues-Rock vocalist and guitarist who reached the #5 Billboard spot with this somewhat self deprecating but humbly endearing love song which asks “What are you doing with a clown like me?” and “What did I ever do to win your love?”
“Heaven” by Warrant
Not to be confused with the Bryan Adams song of the same name from 1985, Warrant was an American Glam Metal/Hard Rock band, and as was the tradition of that genre, this was considered their “power ballad”, to which concert-goes would traditionally lift their lighters. This would be Warrant’s highest charting hit peaking at #2 and achieving certified Gold status by the Recording Artists Association of America. Like most other “Hair Bands” of the 1980s, Warrant would fade into chart oblivion in the early 1990s.
“Cherish” by Madonna
This tune is Madonna’s second love song on this list and her eighteenth Top 40 hit to date, and she would go on to chart thirty more as of 2008. “Cherish” was light and fluffy compared to “Like A Prayer”, void of any major controversy which is perhaps why it peaked at #2 and failed to sell enough copies to go Gold or Platinum. Regardless, it’s a happy love song well suited for a bridal shower or wedding. A little known factoid is that as a nod to the 1960s love song “Cherish” by The Association, Madonna lifted several verses directly from that song, although her version is an entirely different song.
“When I See You Smile” by Bad English
The third “power ballad” on this list of love songs for 1989, and again by a band classified as Glam Metal/Hard Rock, yet a closer look at Bad English finds veteran rocker John Waite – formerly of the 1970s band The Babys and having a small string of solo hits in the early 80s – on lead vocals, making the genre association of Glam Metal/Hard Rock slightly suspect. In any case, this chart-topping certified Gold #1 hit is unquestionably a slow ballad as well as a love song with powerful lyrics that scream “I love you”.
“(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me” by Paula Abdul
Paula Abdul climbed into the Billboard Top 40 in October of 1989 with yet another fun-filled love song, making her the third artist with two great love songs on the 1989 list. Although similar in title to the earlier Karyn White song listed second on this list, here we find an entirely different song and sound arguably unique to Paula Abdul with an auto-tune effect that would become almost commonplace two decades later. “It’s Just The Way That You Love Me” peaked at #3 on the charts, but would be sandwiched in by three #1 hits both before and after giving the former Lakers dancer a total og six #1 hits overall.
“Don’t Know Much” by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville
Aaron Neville had his first hit in 1967, and Linda Ronstadt had hers in 1968. While Mr. Neville faded into virtual obscurity in regard to the popular music scene for over two decades, Miss Ronstadt was pumping out hits through the 70s and 80s, while earning Grammy Awards, American Music Awards and a plethora of other awards as well as collaborating with countless artists. How the two came together in 1989 to record “Don’t Know Much” is unknown, but the collaboration resulted in a love song for the ages. Chart position and Gold certification aside, this love ballad speaks to the certainty of true love in an otherwise uncertain world.
And so ends the second to the last decade of the Twentieth Century, and although the popular love song as a form of expression finds a way to remain consistently familiar while sometimes redundant and even childlike, it also explores new poetic, insightful and inspirational ways of conveying the great joy of love. And just as people of all ages fall in love, there seldom fails to be a love song that speaks to and accurately represents each generation and each stage of love. Like the maturely crafted lyrics of “Wind Beneath My Wings” or “Don’t Know Much”, to the youthful and innocent love reflected in songs like “Lost In Your Eyes” and “I’ll Be Loving You Forever”, we never seem to run out of new ways to say “I love you”.
Love the love…
Sources: The Billboard Book of Top 40 [Pop] Hits and The Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B Hits by Joel Whitburn and Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits by Fred Bronson.