We spent Saturday night at my sister’s up in the Philadelphia ‘burbs and attended a costume party in celebration of my brother-in-law’s birthday. We had a great time chatting with their neighbors and friends. Clay and I originally set out to be Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton but over the course of the night, we morphed into recent Powerball winners from Houston (check out my Instagram for photographic evidence). I learned that platinum blonde is not my color and Clay learned that it is extremely difficult to eat hors d’oeuvres while wearing a fake beard. And on the drive home the following morning, Clay and I put our Amazon Music subscription to good use and spent the three hours working together the most epic late 80s/early 90s adult contemporary playlist.
This was the music on the radio while our parents drove us to practices, sleepovers, and the roller skating rink. When we listen to these songs today (usually in a grocery store), we’re not only met with nostalgia but also the realization that these are actually pretty damn good songs. Perhaps your mom would fan herself while watching a Michael Bolton music video on VH1 or your dad would belt out the chorus of I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) with the passion of Jean Valjean. And if you were anything like 8-year-old me, you preferred the adult contemporary station on your battery-operated boombox and thought it didn’t get much better than Bette Midler in Beaches.
There is a particular sound associated with adult contemporary music from this era (we set the parameters of music released between 1987 and 1993) that evokes an ethereal vibe (probably the pan flutes) that instantly puts me in a good mood. This list features too many saxophone solos to count (does anyone else think that there are far too few saxophone solos in popular music today?) and enough synthesizer to power Cleveland. You will see that Michael Bolton makes the list twice because we couldn’t agree on the best Michael Bolton song during that period and that we didn’t discriminate based on age, race, or creed.
The Ultimate Late 80s/Early 90s Adult Contemporary Playlist
- One Heartbeat by Smokey Robinson (1987)
- Heaven is a Place on Earth by Belinda Carlisle (1987)
- Waiting for a Star to Fall by Boy Meets Girl (1988)
- If I Could Back Time by Cher (1989)
- How Can We Be Lovers by Michael Bolton (1989) (Karen’s choice)
- Don’t Know Much by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville (1989)
- Soldier of Love by Donny Osmond (1989)
- Hold On by Wilson Phillips (1990)
- From a Distance by Bette Midler (1990)
- Steel Bars by Michael Bolton (1991) (Clay’s choice)
- (Everything I Do) I Do It For You by Bryan Adams (1991)
- I Will Remember You by Amy Grant (1991)
- Just Another Day by Jon Secada (1992)
- I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston (1992)
- Why by Annie Lennox (1992)
- Simple Life by Elton John (1992)
- King of Wishful Thinking by Go West (1992)
- The River of Dreams by Billy Joel (1993)
- Power of Love by Celine Dion (1993)
- I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) by Meatloaf (1993)
- In the House of Stone and Light by Martin Page (1993)
And just for fun – here are the best music videos from the list. Enjoy!
King of Wishful Thinking by Go West. After you watch this deliciously early-90s video, be sure to check out the shot-for-shot remake that Jimmy Fallon and Paul Rudd did earlier this year.
Fun fact – this song was Donny Osmond’s comeback hit after a radio station promoted it via a mystery artist campaign – read more about it here.
The “We can work it out!” in a pained yell at 2:37 is EVERYTHING and gives me life.
What are some of your favorite adult contemporary songs for this era? Did any of your favorites make the list? Do you disagree with any of our selections? Let’s talk grocery store music…