1. Geto Boys, "Fuck 'Em." Imagine the worst-possible gangsta rap group of your nightmares. The Geto Boys would fuck that group up. They're everything that is said to be wrong with gangsta … misogynist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, violent, lacking any redeeming value whatsoever. (Well, actually, some of their songs DO have "socially redeeming value," but we'll skip that for now, because shuffle play didn't give us one of those.) "Fuck 'Em" samples Scarface (hey, it was original back in 1990), does a fine dj-scratch on the title phrase, and lays out a series of antagonistic screeds that probably scares people who thought the Ramones were really hoodlums. I first heard this song driving down the highway with my friend Tom … we'd asked Neal, who was also with us, to bring some good tunes we might like, and "Fuck 'Em" was the best of them all … we couldn't quit laughing. Your mileage may most certainly vary. As the lyrics to this song go, "Fuck the motherfuckin' critics, fuck newspapers, fuck the radio stations, and fuck your parents against rap. We buried ya fuckin cockroaches." (As a teacher, I feel obliged to quote these lyrics as well: "You call yourself teacher, but what's bein' taught? How to fuck kids and not get caught? How can your teacher reach ya? They're too busy in the hall tryin' to fuck the other teacher.")
2. Katy Moffatt, "Child Bride." Shuffle play gets a bad grade for this one. I could try all night and never come up with a reasonable explanation for the segue between Geto Boys and Katy Moffat. She was born in Texas?
3. Koko Taylor, "Tired of That." In the late 80s, Taylor, who had been a mainstay on the blues circuits for a few decades, was involved in a serious car crash that almost killed her. Around the same time, her husband of some 35 years died. In 1990, she reappeared with this album, titled Jump for Joy. Thing is, she seemed pretty old when she was in that crash, but she was only a year or so older than I am now. I guess I'm pretty old, too. Now in her 70s, and she's still got it, as the video link shows.
4. Snap!, "The Power." Probably the first song on this list that most people who read this have heard before. A lot catchier than "Fuck 'Em," I suppose. This is one of those tracks that demonstrate the astounding reach of hip-hop across the globe. Snap! was the product of a couple of German producers (the next time you hear this song, remember that the masterminds behind it are named Michael Münzing and Luca Anzilotti). For "The Power" they sampled Chill Rob G (without permission, of course) while adding an obscure rapper named Turbo B. and Turbo's cousin Jackie Harris on vocals. Oh, that isn't Harris belting out "I'VE GOT THE POWER!" For that, the producers sampled another singer entirely, Jocelyn Brown of Kingston, North Carolina. Sounds like a mess, but in fact "The Power" was one of the most mesmerizing/ubiquitous/irritating songs of 1990.
5. Madonna, "Vogue." New decade, same person atop the charts. This one was released first as a single … it ended up on an album of songs related to the movie Dick Tracy. When it hit #1 in the U.K., the song it knocked off the top slot was … "The Power." The Yet Another Famous Video From Madonna is especially recommended to fans of her breasts.
6. Sinéad O'Connor, "Nothing Compares 2 U." Due respect to everything else on this list, but here is the song of the year. And due respect to Madonna, Queen of the Videos, but the video for this song was the Best Video of that year's MTV Video Music Awards. Like the recording, it makes the most of its minimalist approach. There is little that I hate more than cheap emotional appeals … there is nothing cheap about that video.
7. LL Cool J, "Mama Said Knock You Out." Shuffle play is really doing a bad job of creating a flow. "Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years."
8. Mojo Nixon, "Don Henley Must Die." You'll know whether or not Mojo is your cup of tea just by looking at the song titles from this album: "Destroy All Lawyers," "Perry Mason of Love," and "Put a Sex Mo-Sheen in the White House." Or maybe you just need to hear a few lyrics from this song:
He's a tortured artist
Used to be in the Eagles
Now he whines like a wounded beagle
Poet of despair
Puffed up with hot air
He's serious, pretentious and I just don't care
Don Henley must die
Don't let him get back together
With Glenn Frey
9. World Party, "Sweet Soul Dream." Karl Wallinger, who is World Party, has had a long and varied career in music, but the apex was probably this album, which included #1 hits and was named album of the year by Q magazine. Yet to me, he's a one-hit wonder, not because I think his music is bad, but because "Sweet Soul Dream" is so much my favorite of his songs that it's the only one I ever play. I seem to be the only person who feels this way, which is why the video link is to the hit … I can't find one of my fave.
10. Garth Brooks, "Friends in Low Places." I sleep with the radio on. That's not exactly true … the radio is on, but I have an earphone, a "pillow phone" actually, so the music doesn't bother my wife. One night I fell asleep listening to a ballgame, and I guess the station that carried the game was a country station the rest of the time, because when I awoke in the middle of the night, I heard the chorus to this song. I was so clueless at the time that I was the one person on the planet who had not, up until that time, actually heard "Friends in Low Places." I awoke just as the crowd begins singing along, and in my stupor, it was one of the most touching things I'd ever heard … I wanted to cry into my pillow, thinking of this poor soul who didn't have his woman but had all of those loud friends from those low places. To this day, when I hear the song, I can only ignore it for so long … when the crowd starts singing along, I always join them. I can't help myself.