You Got It (The Right Stuff)

New Releases in New Zealand, 23 July 1989

You Got It (The Right Stuff), New Kids On The Block

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The first single off the album Hangin’ Tough was Please Don’t Go Girl and it has a super confusing video.  It begins with a woman leaving one of the band members.  As she gets into the cab to go the rest of the band shows up.  The 14 year old boy in the band – who looks young for his age – then takes over the vocal and leading man role and begins pining for the woman.  Two problems: (1) is she in a relationship with both members of the band? (2) the 14 year old is small and she is a grown-ass woman.  I guess that leads to problem three which would be the age of consent.  Anyway it’s weird.

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I think the worst thing you could do if you were a bloke in Kāpiti in 1989 would have been to openly like New Kids On The Block.  Aside from the fact that they were stupid there was this thing where they were trying to have a sort of tough image which was tragically misplaced and lame.  Watching them doing their bobbing up and down dance, pointing their fingers and saying “we’re rough!” was about as convincing as Miami Vice‘s depiction of crime in Florida.  The lyrics on the song Hangin’ Tough are… well, this kind of thing:

Everybody’s always talkin’ ’bout who’s on top
Don’t cross our path, cause you’re gonna get stomped

By who, Donnie?  By who?

Donnie Wahlberg takes the lead on this song and at one point in the video does a pelvic thrust that makes you feel a bit like you felt when your teacher farted in class and everyone just froze in a terrible awkward silence.

Maybe the worst thing about New Kids On The Block (outside their music – I couldn’t quite get through all of Hangin’ Tough; I guess I wasn’t tuff enuff) was that they sort of appropriated black culture but did it so whitely that they invented a whole new awful thing.  Vanilla Ice was about to take this new horrible thing to new heights later in 1989.

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Tiffgiff

So I googled “Tiffany now” and the internet showed me her Playboy spread which is something I didn’t know had happened, and it felt a little like someone took my secret crush of 1989 turned it into a glass menagerie unicorn and then stood on it.  The HuffPost had a helpful article about why she did this to herself.  I think it boiled down to publicity.

Tiffany’s fame was weird and her quick descent coincided with NKOTB’s rise.  New Kids were booked to open for her and then became the bigger act and she ended up opening for them.  *Awkward*  The internet tells me that she dated one of NKOTB but I can’t tell which one: all white guys look the same.

New Kids were on Full House (and – FunFact – Fuller House).  My older daughter became obsessed by Full House and has watched every season twice.  This means that I have vicariously watched every season too.  I watched when it was first out for a time, and then didn’t because  – well let’s just say, we grew apart.  Watching it as a 40 year old was nostalgic.  Comforting.  Sitcoms are like that I suppose.  They’re the equivalent of your favourite spot on the couch.  The show was pretty consistent to the end but it did get lame with its guest appearances, and Tanner family holiday plot lines that were thinly veiled tourism promotions.

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Something happens though.  You’re watching New Kids and Tiffany videos, checking out old Full House clips and you suddenly find that you just want to smash yourself in the face, throw the computer across the room and run screaming into the street.  It’s all so mediocre and thin and trite.  Is it called bubblegum pop because after an initial dose of sweetness it’s just a wad of flavourless  crap?

The Beatles were not hitting any great heights with I Saw Her Standing There, but Tiffany’s version strains even that song’s minimal soul out and leaves a plasticky husk of cellophane nothingness.  The ballads on Hangin’ Tough (some were top five hits) are straight from the paint by numbers playbook of canned tears ballads.  Also, thanks for wrecking leather jackets and ripped jeans for everyone, Donnie.

When people wax lyrical about the 80s they should keep this crap in mind too.  Greatest Hits of the 80s compilations are usually untroubled by any Tiffany or New Kids tracks.  The only nostalgia it is possible to muster is of the generic “I was young back then” kind which could also be applied to Piano By Candlelight CDs or Phantom of the Opera double LPs.

I tried really hard to fit in and like Phantom of the Opera.   I never made it though.  Which was liberating.  It meant I didn’t have to like Evita, or Cats, or even ironically like Jesus Christ Superstar.  That saved me a lot of time.  Time I of course wasted on other things like listening to Jarre records, but at least I didn’t have to take Michael Crawford seriously.  Fuck that.

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New Releases in New Zealand, 23 July 1989

  • New Kids On The Block – You Got It (The Right Stuff)
  • Colette – Ring My Bell
  • Sam Brown – Can I Get A Witness?
  • The Black Sorrows – Chained To The Wheel
  • The Doobie Brothers – The Doctor

Let Love Rule

New releases in New Zealand, 1989

Let Love Rule, Lenny Kravitz

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I heard the lead single off this album once on TV and bought the album which was a pretty bold move for cash poor 1989 self.  One reason I may have loved the song Let Love Rule is because it remains the only song I have ever figured out how to play by myself.  What helped was that it is an incredibly simple song using 12 bar blues.  Also luck helped I imagine as there are plenty of simple songs using 12 bar blues (everything by AC/DC?) that I wasn’t able to figure out.  The only other song I worked out was Knocking On Heaven’s Door, but in this case I wasn’t trying to play that song and I believed – for about 24 hours – that I had just written an amazing original song.

Side One of Let Love Rule is good.  Side Two begins to get a bit boring.

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The bad girl of The Cosby Show was Lisa Bonet which was in the final leg of its run in 1989.  She had been in Angel Heart, she had left the spin off Different World because she was pregnant, she married Lenny Kravitz who she shares some writing credits with on this debut album.

Most people my age will have watched The Cosby Show growing up.  Something that feels pretty awkward now given all the information we have about Bill Cosby and how he was behaving even then.  When it first arrived I thought that show was hilarious.  Because Bill Cosby played a father and a doctor in the show the revelations about his actions feel worse; like it’s always worse when you hear what a Catholic priest has been up to.  I realise that Cosby was only acting, but he did also take that persona and cross it over into other areas by writing books about fatherhood, love, marriage and childhood.

I’m not sure why people were briefly fascinated by Lisa Bonet.  Perhaps it was partly because she seemed to be trying to run against the squeaky clean image of Denise Huxtable.  She definitely did not behave much like Denise in Angel Heart.  Sadly most of the rebellion off screen involved taking her top off and getting pregnant which is not that progressive.

I didn’t see Angel Heart until a long time after it was released.  I remember it as being incredibly stylish with a great soundtrack.  Watching clips now makes me wonder about my judgement on both of these things.  The chicken and egg thing?  The names?  Perhaps it stands up as a cult movie, but the soundtrack is fucking annoying.

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Kravitz had no hits off Let Love Rule in New Zealand, but he had hits later.  I remember the very exciting sound and video for Are You Gonna Go My Way?  I also remember listening to it recently and thinking how thin it was.  Take away the lighting rig from the video and it is also a very thin video featuring models dancing self-consciously in single file and a band you feel was picked on their cool retro appearance playing the song.

Does it sound like I don’t like Kravitz?  I think I feel let down by him.  Which is not dissimilar to how I feel about the whole Lisa Bonet deal from the late 80s.  They both seem to exist in a very lightweight and beautiful version of alternative.  I don’t think either of them are faking anything just that they’re maybe not that sharp or interesting in fact; that what they wore and how they looked indicated something interesting that wasn’t in fact there at all.

I may as well be talking about myself of course.  Getting my hair permed.  Wearing cowboy boots.  Buying biker jackets.  Just a pasty white kid from Kāpiti underneath it all and not that interesting.

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Koos van den Akker is the man who made the “Cosby Sweater”.  There is a short film of him on Vice.  I think this screen shot captures the issue:

FFS

The caption is important: “To my eye, this looks good”.  It was a moment in the film where I briefly thought: “Are we looking at the same thing?”  but by that point he had already shown us about twenty sweaters and tops which were so garish and awful that I knew he wasn’t joking.  Truth be told, I didn’t see the ugliness at the time; at the time I thought his sweaters were cool.  Things change.

What do we do with The Cosby Show now?  It’s fairly straightforward to stop listening to Michael Jackson, but The Cosby Show was an ensemble.  He didn’t even really write it, and there was a good cast.  Watching Phylicia Rashad and Cosby together is great.  Rashad was a real asset to that show and played her character perfectly: right between warm and steel.

I don’t think I was watching The Cosby Show by 1989.  It did get worse.  Less funny.  The children grew up – a problem The Simpsons has never had to face – and sitcoms very rarely deal with time well.  Sitcoms are repetitive and cyclic; the tensions never resolve.  If they try to resolve the tension they are often simply restating it in a new form like they did in Cheers.  Kids growing up wrecks it all and there will be that inevitable moment where they get in some new little kids to replace the original little kid who got too big.

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Listening to Lenny Kravitz again has been almost identical to listening to him in 1989.  I think the first time I listened to Let Love Rule I thought it was great and I listened to it a few times.  However, looking at how dirty my LP is I think I have not taken it out and listened to it again since 1989.  The thirty year break made me think: “oh! this is actually better than I thought” – but by the second listen I was already getting bored.

The Cosby Show on the other hand?  Irritatingly good.

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New releases in New Zealand, 16 July 1989

  • Cliff Richard – The Best Of Me
  • Kylie Minogue – Hand On Your Heart
  • Natalie Cole – Miss You Like Crazy
  • Neville Brothers – Sister Rosa
  • Robin Beck – First Time