The hits from 25 years ago this week
This was a few years into what my pal Chris Molanphy calls the music industry’s “great war against the single,” which resulted in a lot of radio hits being ineligible to appear on the Hot 100.
R&B and hip hop hits, however, were still generally released as physical singles, meaning that they were at an advantage on the chart, as you can see below. All but the N II U and Deadeye Dick singles are in the accompanying playlist (which doesn’t include b-sides, either) — even the #1 on Billboard’s other charts!
TW LW TITLE Artist (Label)-Weeks on Chart (Peak to Date)
1 2 CREEP –•– TLC – 12 (1) — Dallas Austin’s greatest production, and TLC’s greatest single. That muted trumpet is sly, their vocals perfectly understated (T-Boz is a superb vocalist), and Austin somehow manages to make scratching sound smoove. Perfection.
2 1 ON BENDED KNEE –•– Boyz II Men – 11 (1) — Not about a marriage proposal, but praying to God that the song’s protagonist’s partner returns: a really up record. That spent six weeks atop the Hot 100, mind you.
3 3 ANOTHER NIGHT –•– Real McCoy – 23 (3) — Ah, mid ‘90s Eurodance.
4 4 ALWAYS –•– Bon Jovi – 18 (4) — By 1994, these posers were no longer caring about rocking, but instead concentrating on power ballads for suburban soccer moms. Jon Bon Jovi’s yelping is particularly excruciating on this pile of garbage.
5 5 TAKE A BOW –•– Madonna – 7 (5) — Amazingly, her longest-running #1 (7 weeks!) was this soft-n-easy Babyface production (he also provides backing vocals) that nearly could’ve come from the mid ‘70s. I love its parent album, Bedtime Stories, but find this to be its least interesting song; there’s no texture here, just gloss.
VIDEO: Ini Kamoze “Here Comes The Hotstepper”
6 6 HERE COMES THE HOTSTEPPER –•– Ini Kamoze – 20 (1) — Boyz II Men had tied Elvis Presley’s record of 16 consecutive weeks at #1 — 14 for “I’ll Make Love to You” (#15, below) and a pair for “On Bended Knee” (#2, above) — when their #1 run was halted by, of all things, a dancehall single from a new-to-America artist, Jamaican toaster Ini Kamoze. Riding a sample from Taana Gardner’s monstrous 1981 post-disco club smash “Heartbeat” (#6 Dance, #10 R&B, and a total non-starter on the Hot 100 — and which Carolla Dibbell called, in The Village Voice, “the street record of the year in New York, but nowhere on the national charts” [6/3/81]), Kamoze’s amiable, sing-a-long-able toasting, heard now, sounds like an obvious smash. But in its moment it was practically avant garde on the charts!
7 12 YOU GOTTA BE –•– Des’ree – 22 (7) — White people really loved non-threatening black female singers making pop — not R&B — records in the ‘90s. (See also: Farris, Dionne.) This will forever get Walgreens heavy rotation. It bores me to tears.
8 7 BEFORE I LET YOU GO –•– BLACKstreet – 15 (7) — It wasn’t enough for superproducer Teddy Riley to basically invent New Jack Swing, or to have a hugely influential R&B trio with Guy, or to produce half of Michael Jackson’s Dangerous — so after Guy called it a day, he formed another group, this one the quartet BLACKstreet. You most likely know them best for their ‘96 pop/R&B #1 “No Diggity,” but don’t sleep on their eponymous debut album, a real minor masterpiece of early/mid ‘90s R&B. Down a notch from its peak, this was the album’s biggest hit, a lush ballad that spent four weeks at #2 R&B. Because Riley knew from singers, you can safely assume that these guys could, and did, sing their asses off, and made this slow dance magical.
9 10 SUKIYAKI –•– 4 P.M. – 20 (9) — I guess this wishy-washy remake was a hit because dumb Americans thought it sounded like Boyz II Men? It possesses none of their magic, however, or uniqueness; this is as bland and generic as quasi-R&B male harmony quartets get. Tellingly, this #8 pop hit only scraped to #75 R&B.
10 8 I’M THE ONLY ONE –•– Melissa Etheridge – 26 (8) — Give her credit where it’s due: after coming out in 1993, Etheridge released her cheekily-titled fourth album, Yes I Am, and had her greatest success ever with it — a 6x platinum album, and her first top 40, let alone top 10, single, with this song. (The album spun off another pair of top 30 singles, as well.) This is a sturdy rock ballad that Etheridge sings the everloving hell out of.
11 14 THE RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT –•– Corona – 12 (11) — Fun fact: Corona wasn’t a woman, Corona were a group! These Italians — and the Italians sure can whip up some trashy Eurodance, can’t they? — were at their US peak with this, which made the top 10 in 12 European countries, plus Australia and New Zealand, and was the #1 single of all of 1994 in its home country. It’s mid ‘90s Eurodance, so you should know exactly what it sounds like without even having to hear it.
12 9 I WANNA BE DOWN –•– Brandy – 18 (6) — Simple and effective, both as a midtempo R&B groove and as an intro to Brandy Norwood, who’d end up one of the bigger debuting stars of the decade. As her voice matured, it got better, however; this one’s a little too candied for my taste.
13 13 YOU WANT THIS / 70’S LOVE GROOVE –•– Janet Jackson – 15 (8) — The sixth and final US single from 1993’s janet. was its sixth and final top 10, peaking at #8. This rides a tough-yet-cushy groove with a smartly-used Supremes sample — Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, they’re geniuses — and a super-sexy, confident vocal from Jackson. She’s a genius, too.
14 16 HOLD MY HAND –•– Hootie & The Blowfish – 17 (14) — They get such a hard time, for no good reason; Cracked Rear View is full of solid pop-rock, sung by one of the better singers to debut in the decade. (I stan hard for Darius Rucker’s country material, especially.) I’ll take both “Let Her Cry” and “Only Wanna Be With You” over this, but I still think this is alright.
15 11 I’LL MAKE LOVE TO YOU –•– Boyz II Men – 25 (1) — 14 weeks at #1. I mean, that’s not an easy task. Babyface wrote and lushly produced it, but it wouldn’t have gotten over without those big-ass Boyz II Men voices and harmonies. At the time, it was only the second song to spend as long atop the Hot 100 (Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” being the first); it’s now one of 10 which have topped the chart for 14 weeks or more, which is still a pretty exclusive club.
VIDEO: Tom Petty “You Don’t Know How It Feels”
16 21 YOU DON’T KNOW HOW IT FEELS –•– Tom Petty – 9 (16) — If you like Tom Petty with harmonica and acoustic guitar, then you’ll like this. I find it a bit plodding for my taste.
17 15 TOOTSEE ROLL –•– 69 Boyz – 30 (8) — This is how I like my big dumb ‘90s rap records: really big, really bassy, and really, really dumb. And of course, about asses. Isn’t it funny that most of ‘em (cc: Tag Team, 95 South) were by one-or-two-at-best-hit-wonders?
18 20 THE SWEETEST DAYS –•– Vanessa Williams – 12 (18) — How were supersoft Adult Contemporary ballads like this making it into the top 20 in the mid ’90s?! Like everything Williams does, this is gorgeously sung. Unfortunately, the song is as bland as orchestrated pop gets.
19 27 IF YOU LOVE ME –•– Brownstone – 8 (19) — On its way to #8 pop/#2 R&B peaks, this was the first hit (and only pop hit) for the female R&B trio signed to Michael Jackson’s MJJ Music label. They’d go on to another pair of R&B top 10s, and deserved better (much like their compatriots Jade, below), because they sang like angels and had some hot tracks, like this midtempo shuffler. (Their follow-up single, “Grapevyne,” is one of my favorite singles of the ‘90s, and I can’t recommend it enough.)
20 24 EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK –•– Jade – 10 (20) — A red-hot, easygoing R&B jam that deserved to be a much bigger hit, here at its peak. (And it only got to #15 R&B!). This was the final hit for the female trio — the mid ‘90s were the era of male R&B quartets and female R&B trios — but shouldn’t have been. A hidden-in-plain-sight gem.
21 30 BANG AND BLAME –•– R.E.M. – 2 (21) — Last year was the 25th anniversary of R.E.M.’s Monster, and it received the deluxe edition it deserved, and which David Bash covered here at RNRG. Lauded at the time, then subsequently derided, I think its rep has returned to where it should be: this is a damned strong, surprisingly rocking record from Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe. Second single “Bang and Blame” works, though I prefer the preceding single (#40, below).
22 19 CONSTANTLY –•– Immature – 10 (17) — Each generation needs it teen idols, and the ‘90s were a particularly flush period for R&B boy bands. The members of Immature all turned 13 in 1994, but that didn’t keep them from notching a pair of top 20 hits on both the R&B and pop charts, this ballad and its predecessor “Never Lie” (which made it to #5 on both charts). From men whose balls had dropped, this ballad might be convincing, but not from a bunch of barely-teenagers.
23 22 SHORT DICK MAN –•– 20 Fingers – 21 (14) — I recall hearing this in the summer/fall of ‘94 and laughing, emphatically, at how ridiculous it was. I never, however, imagined it would become a top 20 hit on the Hot 100, but I wasn’t counting on the power of sales: people heard it, one way or another (largely not on the radio, even with the edited “Short Short Man” available), and they bought it. This basic bitch of a Chicago house track is dumb but effective.
24 25 I’LL STAND BY YOU –•– Pretenders – 25 (16) — Ah, 1995, when the Pretenders could notch a fluke top 20 hit with an inspirational ballad. It was a weird time.
25 17 ALL I WANNA DO –•– Sheryl Crow – 26 (2) — You know what’s the best thing about the record that introduced the world to Crow? The specificity of its lyrics: “He lights every match in an oversized pack, lettin’ each one burn,” to wit, or “The bartender looks up from his want ads.” This song is universal because of its details; that’s what makes it great.
26 18 SECRET –•– Madonna – 17 (3) — As opposed to “Take A Bow” (#5, above), at least this one thumps a little. Thank co-producer/co-writer Dallas Austin (see also #1, above).
27 45 CANDY RAIN –•– Soul For Real – 4 (27) — Rocketing up the chart, heading for a #2 pop/#1 R&B peak, this debut single by a would-be Jackson 5 (four brothers from New York, discovered / mentored by rapper Heavy D) was as good as it got for ‘em; they only had one other hit of any significance, the follow-up “Every Little Thing I Do” (#11 R&B/#17 pop), before flaming out. But what a glorious, sunshine-kissed record this is! One of the ‘90s most sparkling R&B singles.
28 23 TURN THE BEAT AROUND –•– Gloria Estefan – 19 (13) — Ah, 1995, when Gloria Estefan (in the waning days of her pop-hitmaking career) could still hit the top 20 with, I kid you not, a Vicki Sue Robinson cover. Estefan does nothing to freshen it up, so it’s fine but just kind of there.
VIDEO: Crystal Waters “100 Percent Pure Love”
29 26 100% PURE LOVE –•– Crystal Waters – 36 (11) — I never imagined the dance diva who brought us “Gypsy Woman” three years prior would taste another bite of the top 40 apple, but with this reunion with producers the Basement Boys, that she did. I love “Gypsy Woman,” but just find this one annoying-catchy (as opposed to annoyingly catchy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
30 28 HOW MANY WAYS –•– Toni Braxton – 18 (28) — This was actually a double-sided single, along with “I Belong to You”; both were smash hits at R&B radio, where the single made it to #6. At this point, Braxton’s debut album had been out for 18 months, and this was its fifth and final single (including “Seven Whole Days, which, while never a commercially-released single, had a video and hit #1 on the R&B Airplay chart). This lush ballad gets over on Braxton’s creamy contralto, one of the best to ever make records.
31 41 BIG POPPA / WARNING –•– Notorious B.I.G. – 3 (31) — Everything about this record (the A-side) works, from Sean Combs’s brilliant use of the Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets” to Biggie’s mush-mouthed delivery. Welcome to the RRHOF, B.I.G.
32 52 STRONG ENOUGH –•– Sheryl Crow – 5 (32) — As opposed to “All I Wanna Do” (#25, above), this sounds like amateur night flop sweat. The production is coffeehouse-limp, and its lyrics ring false. Fortunately, she’d do much, much better as her career continued.
33 33 MENTAL PICTURE –•– Jon Secada – 10 (33) — This Estefan protege had his sixth — and final — top 40 (and top 10 A/C!) hit with this somewhat gloppy ballad that soars on the chorus in spite of itself. To paraphrase Jackson Browne, that boy could sing, but he wasn’t a great judge of material.
34 34 I MISS YOU –•– N II U – 9 (34) — They have their own Vevo channel! It contains three videos, two of which are versions of this drippy ballad. It will shock you, absolutely shock you, to learn that N II U were a male vocal quartet, won’t it?
35 29 PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH –•– Barry White – 17 (18) — You wanna talk about unexpected R&B smashes of 1994? How about a Barry White comeback, his first pop top 40 — or for that matter, Hot 100 — single since 1978! On the R&B chart, he’d still been charting, but had only made that chart’s top 10 once since ‘78, albeit with his 1991 comeback “Put Me in Your Mix,” which stunningly made it to #2. So the pump was, as they say, primed. Gerald Levert co-wrote and produced this — which makes total sense when you hear this slow, silky sex(y) jam — and it returned the icon to the top of the R&B chart for the first time since 1977’s “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me.”
36 32 WILD NIGHT –•– John Mellencamp & Me’Shell Ndegeocello – 36 (3) — You wanna talk about unexpected pop smashes of 1994, nay, the unexpected smash of ‘94? How about John Mellencamp, then seven years on from his last top 10 single (late ‘87’s “Cherry Bomb”), covering a 1971 Van Morrison record, with (then seen as) neo-soul bass player Me’Shell Ndegeocello as his duet partner — and getting all the way to #3 on the Hot 100? The pair get together like peanut butter and jelly, sounding perfectly matched, and their version of “Wild Night” is a blast. Also note how long it hung around, then in its 36th week on the chart and still in the top 40.
37 36 NEW AGE GIRL –•– Deadeye Dick – 23 (27) — Novelty songs: a great way to craft a career. ‘90s novelty songs: deadly.
VIDEO: Deadeye Dick “New Age Girl”
38 35 WHEN CAN I SEE YOU –•– Babyface – 33 (4) — Coming off of producing Toni Braxton’s debut (#30, above) and much of Boyz II Men’s II (#2 and #15, above), Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds was in the midst of his own Imperial Phase, mostly as a producer and songwriter. (He won the 1993 Grammy for Producer of the Year, and would do so again in ‘96 and ‘97.) But he saved some of his midas touch for himself, particularly on this acoustic guitar-centered ballad, which became his biggest pop (#4) and AC (#10) hit. It’s lovely, but unfortunately belies just how much he loves James Taylor. (I saw him live in the mid-’10s, and he covered “Fire and Rain.” Ugh.)
39 31 DECEMBER 1963 (OH, WHAT A NIGHT) –•– The Four Seasons – 25 (14) — Oh, dear sweet christ. So what happened here is: the original song, released in late 1975, topped the chart in the UK, the US, and Canada in the spring of 1976. At the time, it spent an absurdly long 27 weeks on the Hot 100 — not a record, but still a damned long stay on the chart. In 1988, defiantly mediocre Dutch DJ Ben Liebrand remixed it, and in 1993, the Four Seasons’ label, Curb, picked it up for American release. It came out in ‘94 and proceeded to spend another 27 weeks on the chart, this time peaking at #14 — and because this was a remix, not a re-recording, its chart stats counted along with the original, giving “December 1963” a combined 54 weeks on the Hot 100, a record at the time. As for the record itself, well, Liebrand is a remixer in the barest sense of the term: he adds a shuffle-beat and a few effects and thinks he’s reinvented the fucking wheel. And I could happily, gloriously never hear Frankie Valli’s voice again as long as I lived — so, I’m not a fan of this, suffice it to say.
40 37 WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY, KENNETH? –•– R.E.M. – 19 (21)
The benzedrine is still strong as Stipe and co. embark on their first major tour since Green.
#1 on Billboard’s other charts:
R&B: “Creep,” TLC — See #1 (above), except that it was spending its eighth week atop the R&B chart.
Country: “Gone Country,” Alan Jackson — I’ve never been sure if Jackson is inviting listeners to “[go] country” — the format was at a huge peak in the mid ‘90s — or if he’s mocking new fans for trying on someone else’s clothes. Either way, it’s a catchy little number delivered with his trademark charm.
Dance/Club Play: “I Get Lifted,” Barbara Tucker — An absolute deep house classic, co-written and produced by Masters at Work’s Louie Vega and the second of Tucker’s seven Dance/Club Play chart-toppers. This will take you to church, even though it’s not gospel.
Adult Contemporary: “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” Eagles — For their comeback, they sanded all the edges off of everything that might have made them remotely interesting in the first place, which wasn’t much to begin with. What was left was a puddle of rain on the side of the PCH, mixed with motor oil run-off and maybe some bird shit.
Mainstream Rock: “Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do),” Van Halen — Do you remember that Balance existed? I didn’t. The completely unmemorable lead single from their final Van Hagar record.
Modern Rock: “When I Come Around,” Green Day — They sanded all the edges off of punk, including everything interesting about it. I’d rather listen to the Eagles, even “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” and that’s saying a lot.
Billboard 200: The Hits, Garth Brooks — Ah, the first of his many “YOU HAVE TO BUY THIS NOW!” scams on his fanbase. Such a sweet guy. Sure, this is an impeccable collection, mainstream ‘90s country at its finest, but after screaming about it being “limited time only,” he’d later end up releasing a myriad of variations on this throughout the next 25 years.
AUDIO: January 28, 1995 Pop Top 40 playlist