The Taylor Swift Guide to 1989: 20 Pop Songs That Foreshadowed New LP - Rolling Stone
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The Taylor Swift Guide to 1989: Breakers Gonna Break, Fakers Gonna Fake

From the Bangles to Billy Joel, the boldest, weirdest genre-crossing jams from Taylor’s inspirational year

Neneh Cherry and Taylor Swift

Neneh Cherry and Taylor Swift

David Redfern/Redferns; Jeff Kravitz/MTV1415/FilmMagic

Taylor Swift shocked the world when she explained the inspiration behind her new album, 1989. "I was listening to a lot of late-Eighties pop," Tay said. "I really love the chances they were taking. I love how bold it was. I love how ahead of its time it was." Girl, you know it's true. 1989 remains one of the weirdest years in pop history, as hip-hop and house music bumrushed the radio. It was the year Billy Joel wanted to rap, while rappers wanted to sample Billy Joel. The New Kids happened. So did Milli Vanilli.

Taylor knows her Eighties stuff — the brilliance of "Shake It Off" is how she pretends to be a Swedish pop star pretending to be American, which is the most 1989 move imaginable. You can tell she's obviously been studying her Roxette cassingles. Like she says, "I started delving into the late Eighties. It was apparently a time of just limitless potential."

So here are 20 songs that sum up the glorious pop chaos of 1989 — the good, the bad, the "Funky Cold Medina." It was a year when there were no boundaries — artists wanted to invade each other's turf, plunder each other's style, violate each other's copyrights. Nobody could tell what was underground or pop. Lawyers hadn't ruined sampling yet. Plagiarism was hot. Gender segregation was out. These tunes define the electric-youth spirit of 1989 the way Taylor describes it: "Bright colors, bold chances, rebellion." In the words of the great philosopher Young MC: You want it? Baby, you got it.

Neneh Cherry and Taylor Swift

The Bangles, “Eternal Flame”

Goop heaven, just piling it on, keep repeating that first verse over and over, why not — shameless pop overkill, a Number One ballad from a band of Paisley Underground indie apostates who decided to parody 1989 with the same humor they'd used to parody 1967. And in response to Susanna Hoffs' questions: (1) yes, I feel your heart beating (2) totally understand (3) same (4) not dreaming (5) eternal. So eternal.

Neneh Cherry and Taylor Swift

The Jungle Brothers, “Tribe Vibes”

The utopian hip-hop anthem, announcing a D.A.I.S.Y. Age full of Native Tongue mystics with Afrocentric consciousness ("Work by day, ritual by night, the vibe holds the tribe and it keeps it real tight"), except it's not an exclusive, purist kind of tribe — it's the kind with room for guitar solos sampled from the Bee Gees. (And jokes about the Bangles.) "Tribe Vibes" wasn't a hit, but it defined the pop landscape. Everybody listening to the radio in 1989 wanted to be part of this tribe on some level.

Neneh Cherry and Taylor Swift

The Escape Club, “Wild Wild West”

For people who liked INXS but were scared off by Michael Hutchence's raw sensuality, the Escape Club offered this actually-kinda-dreadful novelty hit. It had the proto-"Shake It Off" beat and sour synth-horns and a rap about "headin' for the Nineties," though the song was long forgotten by New Year's Eve. The Escape Club looked like one-hit wonders, but their second hit "I'll Be There" was a genuinely moving ballad, so you never can tell.

Neneh Cherry and Taylor Swift

Kon Kan, “I Beg Your Pardon”

Canadian synth-pop, ripping New Order while sampling a Sixties country oldie ("I Never Promised You a Rose Garden") and a bunch of disco-freak party chants. Any other year, this would have been a hipster art project; in 1989 it was Top 40 radio.

Neneh Cherry and Taylor Swift

Enuff Z’Nuff, “New Thing”

Metal got really weird in 1989, after being already long-past-insane for the previous few years. It was the only radio-ready form of guitar music, yet it was going through constant personality crises, because every band kept trying to raise the glam ante. Enuff Z'Nuff got glammer than glam in their first hit, "New Thing" — hippie neon peace-sign acid-house power-pop metal. "Get high on a new thing," indeed.

Neneh Cherry and Taylor Swift

Soul II Soul, “Back II Life”

Like Ten City, Soul II Soul aimed for adult soul realness, at a time when the only imaginable style of realness was ridiculousness. So the U.K. groove theorists in Soul II Soul added a little ridiculousness to the formula, with Jazzie B's keytar and manifesto: "A happy face, a thumping bass, for a loving race." 25 years later, "Back II Life" still sounds like the future, especially if you're really high.

Neneh Cherry and Taylor Swift

Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, “What I Am”

Hippie-chick poetry with wiggly Deadhead bass. The weird part: KRS-One declared this his favorite album of 1989. Suddenly, we were living in a world where hip-hop's Afrocentric philosopher king was totally cool with Edie Brickell getting cosmic about smiling dogs. "I'm not aware of too many things/I know what I know, if you know what I mean/Uh, do ya?" She later married Paul Simon.

Neneh Cherry and Taylor Swift

Paul Simon, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, John Madden, Spud Webb & Mickey Mantle, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”

An utterly bananas video where Rhymin' Simon tricks out his 1972 pseudo-rican oldie with two Queens hip-hop heroes, showing off his street cred with true mathematics from Madden and lip-synching from Mickey Mantle. (Garfunkel wept.) Basically, you can't understand what the hell 1989 was about until you process the fact that this video actually happened.

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