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Official Article

Top 10 Pop Culture Touchstones of 1989

It’s a New Year and while most people are looking forward, we here at RetroDaze like to look back. So let’s set the rewind button for 30 years and witness the 1980's drawing to a close as we celebrate the arrival of 1989.

By years end, we had a lot to cheer about. 1989 was a very good year at the movies, toy stores, on the radio and TV. It was the year I turned 7 years old and really began to take the initiative in my connection with pop culture that made a lasting impression on my life and retro collections. With that in mind, let me share with you my 10 favorite pop culture touchstones of 1989.

New Kids On The Block, Hangin’ Tough

When it came to music, there was no bigger group for me than New Kids On The Block. This may seem odd coming from “not a 7 year old girl”, but I originally bought the Hangin’ Tough cassette tape because I was trying to have common ground with which to break the ice with girls in my class and ended up actually digging the music of “the Bean Town Posse”.  Songs like “My Favorite Girl”, “Cover Girl” and “Please Don’t Go Girl” (OK, so their music was clearly aimed at the female demographic) gave me a basis for how to be cool AND romantic. 

I even grew out a little rat tail hairstyle over that year, so that I could look more like Donny Wahlberg. Yes, eventually I watched the Saturday morning cartoon show, recorded lip sync music videos on the family camcorder and bought the dolls (not action figures), but that is a story already told back on RetroJunk.

The Return of Swamp Thing

I’ve already sung the praises of Tim Burton’s Batman in a previous article, but there was another DC Comics character that made his “muck” on the movie scene that summer, a leafy green hero named Swamp Thing. I actually discovered this movie during a network TV broadcast around 1991 because it’s theatrical release was limited, but I watched the VHS tape constantly for a decade after that taping. My family owned a copy of Wes Craven’s original (and dismal) Swamp Thing on Video Disc (look it up) and it was always so boring to me, but this sequel kicked up the comedy-action in a major way and even added Heather Locklear as the lead! 

The biggest improvement though was the costume. The original looked like somebody got a green rain coat melted to their body (granted, that was the look of the original comics design), whereas this redesign was buff and covered in leafy, gooey, swampy stuff like the design from the Alan Moore run on the character. The movie is goofy, sci-fi monster fun that is endlessly re-watchable. I even own the movie novelization and recent blu-ray release because I can’t get enough!

America’s Funniest Home Videos

It’s hard to explain the phenomenon that was this funny video show that swept the nation and somehow endures to this day, even in the age of YouTube fail videos. It was Bob Saget from Full House in front of a live studio audience showing video submissions featuring dogs pushing rocks with their noses, toddlers accidentally whacking their Dads in the nuts with plastic baseball bats and babies being babies (so many babies). Thrown on top of the “hilarity” were goofy puns and voices from Bob and the winner voted on by the audience got $10,000. I loved the show so much that I got the board game version for Christmas, but really just wanted to watch the included VHS featuring iconic moments from the show. I even enjoyed the spin-off show, America’s Funniest People hosted by Saget’s Full House co-star Dave Coulier and Daisy Fuentes.

Kenner Police Academy Action Figures

In my time writing for Retro-Daze, I don’t think I’ve really mentioned how big the endless stream of Police Academy movies were in my childhood. I got a kick out of the living sound effects machine, Michael Winslow as Sgt. Jones and seeing George Gaines from Punky Brewster crossing over from TV to movies as Comdt. Lassard was a real thrill. While the first 2 films were not at all appropriate for kids (I didn’t see them until years later) the majority of the sequels were cartoony, slapstick nonsense that was perfectly palatable for the elementary school set. 

That must be how the show got turned into an action figure line by Kenner. The toys were based on a short-lived cartoon series that I never saw, but my buddy had toys of Tackleberry, Mahoney and the rest of the force in his toy closet. Of course my absolute favorite was Bobcat Goldthwait’s, Zed because he came packaged with a lime green skateboard and his action feature were pants that fell down to reveal comical boxer shorts. That was high comedy to a 1st grader.

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs

I was a regular visitor to my elementary school library in 1989, but aside from books about movie monsters, this title was absolutely my favorite. If you ask me, the novel turned musical, Wicked owes a lot to this book’s concept of hearing the other side of the story from a fairy tale villain’s point of view. It was a mind-expanding read that packed a lot of laughs. I got a big chuckle out of the idea that all the Wolf wanted was a cup of sugar to make a cake and that the Big Bad moniker was a creation of the media looking for a headline. This retelling of the 3 Little Pigs story has endured so much, that we own 2 copies in our home to this day.

Nintendo Fruit Snacks

I spent a whole article singing the praises of fruit snacks from my youth, but somehow one significant release of the late 80s slipped through the cracks. Just 4 years out from it’s debut in America, the Nintendo marketing machine was in full swing by 1989 and one of their most delicious licensed products were Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda fruit snacks. Actually, these designs were based on the sequel games to those blockbuster NES titles, which is how we ended up with Wart, Mouser and Shy Guy shaped pieces in the mix. My buddy, Andy kept these in stock at his house and they were always a desired treat. For some reason I remember the Link shield piece being the sought after “chase” shape we both hoped to find in a package. Plus, anything coming out of a gold box was instantly more special.

Game Boy

Speaking of video game icons in the palm of your hand, the Nintendo Game Boy was released this year and that little grey brick went everywhere with me. I spent that first year playing Tetris like most kids and credit my ability to swiftly pack a moving truck to those hours spent on the Russian puzzle game. This battery-hungry device made family road trips fly by and the tiny cartridges were just fun to collect. For some reason I never bought Super Mario Land, though I was fascinated by the tiny Mario Bros adventure. 

Instead my library of games grew the next year with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan and Bart Simpson in Escape From Camp Deadly. I justified the need for an official canvas carrying case with the purchase of Spider-Man 3 and my absolute favorite, Kirby’s Dreamland. Game Boy was such a revolution that it showed up in movies and TV shows as part of the youth culture and you can read my article all about it here.

President George Bush

Obviously I was not into politics as a pre-teen (can’t say I really am now either), but George H.W. Bush became President in 1989 and I saw him more as a comedic sitcom character, along with his bumbling vice-president, Dan Quayle.  I remember President Bush’s famous statement about hating to eat broccoli and thinking he was on the side of children everywhere, a real American hero. His famous catchphrase, “Read my lips, NO NEW TAXES” was a favorite schoolyard impression of mine, though I had no idea what he was talking about. 

Of course Vice-President Quayle will forever be remembered for misspelling “potato” on a news broadcast (mistakenly adding the letter “E” to the end) and I don’t think he ever lived that down in the popular consciousness. I also remember Arnold Schwarzenegger being friendly with President Bush at the White House leading workouts for kids, so that really upped his superstar status.  With his recent passing, I was reminded of what an omnipresent part of my life President Bush was, kind of like a wacky Grandpa with a funny voice who talked to me through the TV.

Doritos Salsa Rio Chips

Returning to the snack aisle, we have an interesting entry in the history of tortilla chips. Around this time, Doritos had Jay Leno as their spokesman on TV and print ads. I guess he had been a regular guest host on The Tonight Show before getting the gig full time, but prior to his rivalry with David Letterman, I just knew him as “The Doritos Guy”. Though Cool Ranch was the clear winner for kids everywhere, I specifically remember when the Salsa Rio flavor came out this year because they had that drawing of chili peppers, onions and tomato on the package, which I used to convince my Mom that these were somehow a healthier chip choice for me, “Look Ma, vegetables!”

Reebok Pumps

There was no bigger revolution in footwear in the 80s, than the introduction of the Reebok Pump. As far as kids were concerned, there was the invention of printing press and this sneaker. You were cool if you wore Pumps, end of story. The gimmick was that you could squeeze the basketball on the tongue and the shoe would tighten around your foot when it filled with air. It also had a pressure release valve if you pumped it to the point of pain (which many did). Thought touted as an advancement in sportswear engineering, Pumps were really just a fun toy you could wear on your feet and brag about at school. So did I ever have a pair?

The answer is yes, but I got them used at a garage sale years later when the shoes’ popularity had been eclipsed by the L.A. Lights sneaker in 1992. So I got some of the fun, but none of the glory.

So what are some of your favorite moments of 1989?  I actually got a chance to produce a special song for the wedding anniversary of our illustrious leader, Vaporman87 with words and music by his lovely wife. This rockin' track featuring Mel Zorro, contains some lyrics about 1989. So why don’t you get ready to rock out with “Let’s Go Back” and let me know if it’s a hit.

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OldSchool80s Posted on Jan 12, 2019 at 03:10 AM

Good stuff as usual, but how about some of the movies from 1989? Batman, Indiana Jones

Vaporman87 Posted on Jan 08, 2019 at 10:09 PM

Pumps, Doritos, Dan Quayle... they all scream 1989. Well done sir. This could just have easily been fodder for Dr Timewarp.

I love that you had to work in Let's Go Back somehow. LOL. Nice.

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