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ALEX COHEN, host:

Back now with Day to Day.

(Soundbite of song "Hey Jude")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Hey Jude...

COHEN: 1968 was quite a year. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, man landed on the moon, and this song came out. All year long, NPR has been looking back in a series called Echoes of '68. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The first moon landing actually took place on July 20, 1969.]

(Soundbite of song "Hey Jude")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Remember, remember...

COHEN: OK, OK. We get it. 1968 was a really important year. But for those of us who weren't around then or barely remember it, it's been a little bit hard not to feel left out this year during all these 40th anniversary celebrations. So today, on the last day of 2008, we decided to look back 20 years instead to 1988.

(Soundbite of song "Sweet Child O' Mine")

COHEN: To help us remember the year that was, I spoke with Russell Scott and Patrick Young, creators of the social networking site Retroland. Patrick says, musically speaking, 1988 was defined by the heavy metal band Guns N' Roses.

(Soundbite of song "Sweet Child O' Mine")

GUNS & ROSES: (Singing) Ooh, ooh, sweet child of mine...

Mr. PATRICK YOUNG (Creator, Retroland): Rock stars started to dress up like superheroes. They were wearing spandex and lipstick and big hair. And it was - could've lasted for a while until Nirvana came around in the 1991 and ended the party.

COHEN: Besides Guns N' Roses, what else was going on in 1988 that's worthy of remembering now? What do you think, Russell?

Mr. RUSSELL SCOTT (Creator, Retroland): A very significant debut occurred on MTV called "Yo! MTV Raps." And what that did was really put in the living room for the first time rap music, which really made a permanent change in popular music.

(Soundbite of song from "Yo! MTV Raps")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Yo, yo, yo, yo, Yo!

COHEN: One writer noted that January 1988 was the year that Prozac first hit the market. And about that same time, 1988, was also the year that this song...

(Soundbite of song "Don't Worry, Be Happy")

Mr. BOBBY MCFERRIN: (Singing) Don't worry. Be happy...

COHEN: "Don't Worry, Be Happy" came out. What was going on in American culture that that song kind of became the song of the year?

Mr. YOUNG: There's always been a place in popular culture for what's essentially the novelty song. And I think that that really was just the right song at the right moment. I don't know. I would throw it to Russell. Do you have any ideas?

Mr. SCOTT: Just based on what historically was happening at that time. That was, I believe, the savings and loan, the echo of what's going on now...

COHEN: Yeah.

Mr. SCOTT: That was a bailout, and the bailout then was the outrageous sum of $2 billion, which now, we laugh at, probably the beginnings of what was to become a recession.

(Soundbite of song "Don't Worry Be Happy")

Mr. BOBBY MCFERRIN: (Singing) The landlord say your rent is late He may have to litigate Don't worry...

COHEN: On your website, people can post their memories of what was going on in any given year. And I was looking through 1998, and I had a total blast from the past. Someone posted about Count Duckula, the cartoon duck. I just was one of those things I'd completely forgotten about. What are some other TV shows that came out in 1988 that we can look back fondly on?

Mr. YOUNG: If I just threw out one title that really defines an era of children's entertainment,"A Pup Named Scooby Doo."

(Soundbite of TV show "A Pup Named Scooby Doo")

Mr. CASEY KASEM: (As Shaggy) Well, it's about time for our in-between snacks. Snacks, Scoob.

Mr. DON MESSICK: (As Scooby Doo): Yeah, what's...

Mr. YOUNG: In mid-1980s, there was this movement in the Saturday morning animated field where they would take properties and reduced them to babies, so we have "Muppet Babies." We had "Pink Panther and Son." We have...

COHEN: Did the superheroes, didn't they have their own babies?

Mr. YOUNG: Yup. And this was one of - and there was also "Tiny Toons," with the baby Bugs Bunny of that next generation. But in terms of what was significant, "The Wonder Years" debuted, and that was in 1988, a show that was looking at 1968. So it's very appropriate for us to be discussing right now.

(Soundbite of TV show "The Wonder Years")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DANIEL STERN: (As Kevin Arnold) But in a way, those really were the wonder years for us. They're in the suburbs. It was kind of a golden age for kids.

COHEN: You guys collect all sorts of stuff from all sorts of years, and you've brought in for us today a couple of items from 1988. Russell, what do you have here?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, I brought in the California Raisins album "Meet the Raisins" because they were a pop culture phenomenon in 1988, so much so that they brought the "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" song back into the Top 40. And we brought in a Willow action figure, which was from a Lucasfilm presentation.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Unidentified Man: From the creator of "Star Wars" and the director of "Cocoon," "Willow."

Mr. SCOTT: It's a very small action figure.

COHEN: This is - I think that's maybe all of an inch and a half.

Mr. SCOTT: Yes.

COHEN: Even with all this good stuff that you guys have brought in, there might be some folks out there who say, you know what? 1988, ah, still not that much of a significant year. Can you give us some closing arguments here? Why is 1988 an important part of American history?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, 1988 first saw compact discs outselling vinyl records, which was a pretty big deal. And I think it's so interesting now, as we see iTunes become the number one music retailer, and compact discs and physical media like that sort of going the way of the dodo bird, I think it's very telling. And between 1988 and 2008, you've seen an incredible paradigm shift in how we consume media.

Mr. YOUNG: A different way to look at it is what we gained and what we lost, and we gained Haley Joel Osment and Vanessa Hudgens.

COHEN: Two child stars because Haley Joel Osment was the kid from...

Mr. YOUNG: "The Sixth Sense."

COHEN: "The Sixth Sense." And Vanessa Hudgens of...

Mr. YOUNG: "High School Musical."

COHEN: Yes.

Mr. YOUNG: What I was going to say was, 1988 was possibly, if not the last time, it was winding up the era of a shared experience where there are only so many channels. There were only so many popular culture icons. For example, in 1988, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy line came out and dominated. So every boy a certain age has affinity for that. And what we're seeing now is, the sense of shared culture is fragmenting all of the things that we're talking about - as silly as they sound, were shared by an entire pop-culture-consuming generation.

COHEN: Russell Scott and Patrick Young of retroland.com. Thanks for coming in and chatting about 1988.

Mr. YOUNG: Thank you very much.

Mr. SCOTT: It was a lot of fun.

COHEN: If you want to share your 1988 memories, go to our blog. It's npr.org/daydreaming.

(Soundbite of music)

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

You know, I remember rolling my eyes at that song back in 1988. Now, I'm kind of hoping it's prophetic. 2008, no, it didn't end up so great. But hey, 2009. Fine? Er? Let's hope. Happy New Year everyone. Day to Day is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.

COHEN: I'm Alex Cohen.

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