1988 was a wild year for pop music. Hair metal was peaking in popularity, and everyone from Patrick Swayze to Bobby McFerrin to Tone Loc were scoring massive hits. Millions of teenage girls first met the New Kids on the Block, and George Harrison emerged from a five-year recording hiatus with a cover of a 1962 James Ray song. It shot to Number One on the charts – the last time any member of the Beatles pulled that off. Here’s a look back at 15 hits you won’t believe are a quarter of a century old.
“One More Try,” George Michael
When the former Wham! member released this ballad about a cautious lover, he was enjoying a run of five straight top 10 solo singles. While many had guessed Michael was gay, he later said he kept his sexuality secret because he didn’t want his mother to fret about AIDS.
“Got My Mind Set on You,” George Harrison
In the summer of 1963, several months before the Beatles arrived in America, Harrison visited his sister Louise, who had moved to the tiny mining town of Benton, Illinois. While in Benton, the Beatle sat in with a local band, purchased a Rickenbacker guitar and picked up a copy of the R&B song “Got My Mind Set on You” by James Ray.
More than two decades later, he was feeling nostalgic when writing songs for his album Cloud Nine (“When We Was Fab” being the obvious clue), and he included a bouncy cover of this tune. Now just as nostalgic as the original was in 1988, Harrison’s cover became his second Number One solo song.
“Never Gonna Give You Up,” Rick Astley
In 2008, Astley confessed to a Los Angeles Times reporter that he thought his huge hit was “naff” – British slang for cheesy or tacky. But of course, that would make it the ideal meme two decades later. Astley, known for his coiffed hair and naff songs, released the dance pop tune in 1987, and it was popular enough to be one of the biggest hits of 1988.
Despite its success, Astley was written off as a forgotten Eighties act when this song became the basis of a popular Internet prank known as Rickrolling. To Rickroll someone, all you had to do was send them a link to this song disguised as something else.
“Listen, I just think it’s bizarre and funny,” Astley told the Times. “My main consideration is that my daughter doesn’t get embarrassed about it.”
“Sweet Child o’ Mine,” Guns N’ Roses
Front man Axl Rose isn’t a touchy-feely kinda guy. But he wrote this hard rock ballad about then-girlfriend Erin Everly, saying she was the first person who’d inspired him to write a “happy love song.” The couple wed at Cupid’s Chapel in Vegas four years later, but it wasn’t long before Cupid bailed on their relationship. The couple split after a month, and in 1994, Everly – daughter of Everly Brothers star Don Everly – sued Rose, saying he had battered her repeatedly.
Everly later married a businessman and had three kids. Rose is reportedly still single.
“Pour Some Sugar on Me,” Def Leppard
In 1984, drummer Rick Allen was driving his Corvette Stingray through the English countryside when another driver ran him off the road. Allen flew out of his sunroof, but his left arm remained inside the car. Even though surgeons failed to re-attach the arm, Allen was already plotting how to play drums again while in the hospital. After 10 months of rebuilding his strength and perfecting an unusual left-foot technique that would compensate for a lost arm, he was ready to record two weeks after his hospital release.
At his suggestion, the band named its next album Hysteria. “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” prominently featuring Allen’s drumming, became the group’s biggest seller to that point. Today, Allen often helps wounded veterans – and continues to drum with the band.
“Man in the Mirror,” Michael Jackson
Siedah Garrett had never written a song before Quincy Jones (who produced her band Deco) invited her and songwriters he knew to a meeting to come up with material for Jackson’s next album. Jones’ missive was simple – “I just want hits, that’s all I want” – and Garrett went to work with a little-known writer named Glen Ballard (who went on to co-write “Jagged Little Pill” with Alanis Morissette.)
Garrett recorded a demo for “Man in the Mirror,” and Jones loved it. In 2009, a portion of the song was played during Jackson’s funeral.
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” Bobby McFerrin
Meher Baba, an Indian spiritual leader, was best known for his 44-year vow of silence, which even Gandhi couldn’t break. But even without words, he inspired the Who song “Baba O’Riley” and this jazzy, reggae-tinged a cappella tune. McFerrin got the idea for the song after spotting a poster in San Francisco featuring an expression popularized by Meher Baba: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
Wanting to capture that simple gesture, he recorded this feel-good vocal highlight, which became the first a cappella song to reach Number One. While Meher Baba remained silent until his 1969 death, McFerrin continues to be vocal, teaching and performing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
“She’s Like the Wind,” Patrick Swayze
While best known for his acting, Swayze was also a dancer, choreographer and singer-songwriter who co-wrote this love song for his wife. The song was originally intended to describe Jamie Lee Curtis’s character in the movie Grandview, U.S.A., but it wound up on the wildly successful soundtrack for Dirty Dancing.
“Orange Crush,” R.E.M.
A year after a Rolling Stone cover story declared them “America’s Best Rock & Roll Band,” R.E.M. was one of its biggest. The same year the band signed a multi-million dollar deal with Warner Bros., it released this song – its first Number One on the alternative charts. The band went on to release nine more albums, yielding many hits, before calling it quits in 2011.
“(You Got It) The Right Stuff,” New Kids on the Block
In 1988, 100,000 New Kids fans a week would dial 1-900-909-5KIDS, and they would be greeted with the message: “Hi! We’re the New Kids on the Block. Now here’s some ‘right stuff’ just for you!” Three- to five-minute daily messages would follow, bringing joy to fans and loads of moolah to the Kids franchise. The brainchild of Maurice Starr, who had previously assembled New Edition, New Kids became a boy-band sensation, their images plastered on lunch boxes, doll faces, comic books and a Saturday morning cartoon.
Today, the youngest Kid is 40, but fans – now far from tweens themselves – still think they have the right stuff. In 2008, the group reunited for a tour that featured Lady Gaga as a supporting act, and they continue to perform.
After the Smiths broke up, Morrissey asked Stephen Street, a former Smiths engineer and producer, to write some songs with him. Figuring the band would get back together, Street collaborated on what he considered to be some Smiths B-sides. This one, Morrissey’s debut solo single, charted better than any Smiths song.
While Morrissey and Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr are constantly asked about a possible reunion, it seems highly unlikely. Street went on to produce Blur, the Cranberries and the Kaiser Chiefs.
While touring stadiums in 1987, members of U2 became fascinated with American music, especially black Southern music. So as the band rocketed to mega-stardom, it decided to channel the roots of American rock in its album Rattle and Hum. The band recorded at the famous Sun Studio in Memphis, covered Jimi Hendrix and collaborated with B.B. King. This one, partially inspired by the Stooges‘ song “1969,” features the famous Bo Diddley beat.
“Wild Thing,” Tone Loc
In Spike Lee’s 1986 film She’s Gotta Have It, rapper Fab 5 Freddy beckons the film’s heroine, “Let’s do the wild thing! I mean, let’s get loose!” Inspired by that scene, Matt Dike and Mike Ross – two white twentysomethings starting a hip-hop label – decided to write a song. Fab 5 made a few demos with them, but he didn’t quite have it. So they recruited a gravel-voiced unknown named Anthony Smith, a.k.a. Tone Loc.
Tone-Loc, who later had success as a voice actor, wrote some lyrics for the song, but they were too X-rated. Most of the more subtle yet suggestive lyrics were written by Young MC, while a sample of Van Halen‘s “Jamie’s Cryin'” provided the main riff.
“Handle With Care,” Traveling Wilburys
While working on his comeback album Cloud Nine, Harrison called on a few pals to help come up with a B-side to his single “This Is Love.” He was joined by Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan at Dylan’s home studio in Malibu, where they recorded “Handle With Care.” When Warner Bros. Records heard the song, the label knew it was too good for a B-side and suggested a larger collaborative project. The guys took on fictitious names in a band initially named the Trembling Wilburys. Less than two months after the Wilburys’ first song was released, Orbison died.
“Is This Love,” Whitesnake
Videos for the band’s two biggest hits, “Is This Love” and “Here I Go Again,” featured singer David Coverdale’s leggy girlfriend, Tawny Kitaen, whose wind-blown hair, short dresses and writhing on expensive cars quickly became iconic. Coverdale later said this power ballad was initially intended for Tina Turner, but a Geffen exec wasn’t having that.
Coverdale’s 1989 marriage to Kitaen lasted only two years. She later appeared on The Surreal Life and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.