I haven’t done one of these for a while, so I figured it was time. In case you’re new around here, “Worst Years In Music” is a feature I write every now and then where I take (most of) the Top 100 songs of any given year (according to Musicoutfitters.com) and give ’em a good shellackin’. I’ve already done 1988, 1990, 1996, 1997, and 1998 (doing things in order is for lame-os), so I figured what the hey, it’s 1991’s turn.
In 1991, blah blah seventh grade blah blah girls blah blah I was a nerd blah.
“Blah” is a good word for this year on the Top 100, actually. Mind you, this is just before Nirvana and just after The Eighties, so no one knew what they were bloody doing. Popular music in 1991 sort of showed up, fell to the floor, flopped around, and then sort of died. For the most part. And, for every ray of hope – REM, the KLF, Seal – there were a million Gerardos.
Part one: songs 100-60, below the cut.
100. Shiny Happy People, R.E.M.
I can think of at least four things to like about this much-maligned ditty:
Thing one: It’s a satire of Chinese political propaganda. No, really. Wikipedia says so.
Thing two: the lady from the B-52s sings on it.
Thing four: Because Michael Stipe regrets ever writing it (or so he once told Space Ghost), it’s really funny to ask him to sing it. Go ahead. He’s cute when he’s angry.
99. The Motown Song, Rod Stewart (feat. The Temptations)
What Rod’s doing here is, he’s singing a song about how much he loves Motown in a style that is sort of like Motown with a legendary Motown group as his back-up band. The end result is sort of like “Crocodile Rock”, except not any good.
95. Freedom 90, George Michael
“Freedom” was a big buzzword in the early nineties, on account of Ronald Reagan tearing down that wall and Nazi Russia stopping being Communists or whatever. While Europe was experiencing all those winds of change from the Moscva down to Gorky Park, the music of choice of many young people was….. no, not The Scorpions, though lord knows they tried. I am of course referring to house/indie music, of the Stone Roses/Happy Mondays variety. “Freedom 90”, therefore, is what Happy Mondays would sound like if they didn’t hate the gays so much.
94. O.P.P., Naughty By Nature Members of my specific generation (which I believe is “Generation X… no, Y… no, wait, what are we?” or Gen-XNYNWWAW for short) – i.e. those of us between the ages of 25 and 30 – will remember the exact moment when you realized just what
Naughty By Nature was talking about in their one hit, “O.P.P,” and how – ooh – naughty that song was, and how much we giggled, and how the grownups didn’t get it unless they really listened to what those rap people were saying and oh lord in heaven weren’t they just shocked that one could get away with such a thing on the radio.
Nowadays, if you’re interested in OPP, all you have to do is figure out how to disable the Parental Controls on your Dad’s Sony Vaio. Kids these days don’t know what they’re missing.
Something else I’ve noticed about Gen-XNYNWWAW: Play this song, and we start booty shakin some’ serious. This is such a wonderful mix of influences – funk, soul, and europop – that it could only have been written by a DJ from the Ukraine, a DJ from Tokyo, a sweet country girl from Ohio, and Bootsy Collins.
No, really, Bootsy Collins plays bass on this track. Yes, the Bootsy.
89. Rico Suave, Gerardo
Ah, the Latin Elvis. That’s how Gerardo seriously refers to himself, which I guess makes sense, as he’s a Latin American dude who’s decided to rip off the black man by rappin’ in Spanish. Nowadays, in a post-Eminem era, we’re kind of okay with non-blacks rapping. At the very least, it doesn’t necessarily single out said non-black rapper as a massive tool.
However, Gerardo was a massive tool.
Seriously, if you weren’t there and you don’t understand why Nirvana was so important, watch this video. Then, imagine a world where this nonsense was considered muy caliente.
88. Everybody Plays The Fool, Aaron Neville
Speaking of Gerardo, the hit Fox cartoon show Family Guy is known for its random mining of late ‘80s pop culture. Not surprisingly, Gerardo’s name has been dropped a couple times. Considering Herbert, the creepy old man with the hots for Chris, has sang a song or two on the show, I’m sort of surprised they’ve never had him bust out an Aaron Neville hit. Their voices, really, are quite similar.
Am I right or what?
85. Real Real Real, Jesus Jones
Speaking of Family Guy references, here’s Jesus Jones. I guess their name is pretty clever. They had that other song, “Right Here, Right Now,” which I remember. I don’t know this one, though. All I can say is that I sort of assume Jesus Jones, 10,000 Maniacs, Crash Test Dummies, and Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians are all now living in a commune in Vermont where they sip coffee, read poetry, and feel collectively smug about not owning a television.
84. Piece Of My Heart, Tara Kemp
Speaking of hippies, this is Tara Kemp’s cover of the Janis Joplin classic wait, no it’s not. This is some boring white lady singing over a Casio drum loop. You really don’t have to watch the video all the way through, but it is a prime example of an EZ Bake Dance Video. Back-up dancers? Check. Unnecessary costume changes? Done. Vaguely industrial setting? Yep. Purple lights? Uh-huh. Muscular black man? There he is. Lighting effect where we only see a band of light across the singer’s face? Gotcha… and so on.
82. Silent Lucidity, Queensryche
This song was later released on the Razor & Tie compilation Songs That One Guy Who Worked At The Video Store And Played Realms Put On A Mix Tape To Impress That Girl Who Painted The Sets For The Drama Club And Whose Name Was Probably Jen, 1992.
81. Round and Round, Tevin Campbell
Okay, see, I remember Tevin Campbell, because he was like fifteen when this song came out. Fifteen seemed a reasonable, attainable age when I was eleven years old, so the fact that he had a song on the radio and in a Prince movie was really, really impressive.
Tevin would later get busted for soliciting a male prostitute, but not in a fun George Michael kind of way.
80. Get Here, Oleta Adams
This song had something to do with the first Iraq war and WZOU, bless their heart, played it constantly. They even played a version inter-cut with clips from local families, where you’d hear Denise Shaughnessy from Medford sending her love to Lt. Joey DiCarlo, and so on. It’s actually a cover, but it took on a new Significance in 1991. In 1991, before dawn broke on the age of irony, it was kind of cool to be “Significant.”
79. Wicked Game, Chris Issak
There are songs so beautiful, so beloved, and so haunting that it’s nearly impossible to sum them up in a single paragraph, much less a snarky single paragraph. “Wicked Game” is one of those songs. It’s just so damn good that it belies any attempts to describe it. Having said that, whenever I hear it, all I can think of is Ross and Rachel doing the nasty at the Natural History Museum.
I couldn’t find a picture of that. Sorry.
78. Something To Believe In, Poison
There are songs so beautiful, so beloved, and so haunting that it’s nearly impossible to sum them up in a single paragraph, much less a snarky single paragraph. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” is one of those songs. Then Poison decided to rewrite it as “Something To Believe In.” Oh, sure, they added counterpoint harmonies and Significance and a verse about Bret’s best friend dyin’ a lonely man, but the two songs have such a similar structure that you can’t help but smell the cigar smoke of the ubiquitous record label jackass ridin’ the band to “write another ‘Every Thorn Has It’s Day’, would ya?”
Then again, it had to be Christmas Eve when they gave him the news about his best friend, didn’t it? ::sniff:: I’ll be all right…
77. Place In This World, Michael W. Smith
So, at #78 we have Poison asking for “Something To Believe In,” and at #77, on the exact opposite side of the theological spectrum, we have Michael W. Smith trying to find his “Place In This World.” Either self-searching angst reached new heights in 1991 on its own, or people were really, really sick of the Reagan/Bush years. Either way, my Mom, a religion teacher at a Catholic high school, would play this song for her classes, and those yearning adolescent tears would just pour.
76. I’ll Give All My Love To You, Keith Sweat
I don’t remember this song, but the title reminds me of “Eight Percent Of My Love” from Square One TV, and anything that reminds me of Square One TV is okay with me.
75. Crazy, Seal
According to allmusic.com:
“The general mood captured on his debut album is refreshing for the early-’90s mediocrity of post-hair metal and manufactured synth bands.”
You can see what we’re up against here. Seal’s always been a pop musician, but compared to most of the stale bread nonsense here, he’s practically punk. “Crazy” is one of my favorite songs, partially because the production is so nifty (what’s with that staggered synth pad hook in the background? Sooooo coool…) but partially because it’s just really well written and Seal’s got an amazing voice. You seriously need to go listen to Seal’s acoustic version of “Crazy” right now. RIGHT NOW!
I’m sorry. I seem to have turned into a Fruit Gushers kid. I’ll try to restrain myself hence.
74. Too Many Walls, Cathy Dennis
Around the time of this single, Cathy Dennis did two extremely 1991-ish things:
Thing one was co-writing a song with David Morales for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze soundtrack. It’s the song right after Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap,” and it’s called “Finding The Key To Life.”
Thing two was dropping out of the MTV Club tour after the third show, after accusing a member of Milli Vanilli of sexual harassment. I can’t say for sure, of course, but Milli (or Vanilli) was probably guilty as charged. They seemed like the type.
If you can think of anything more 1991-ish than the Ninja Turtles, Milli Vanilli, or accusing someone of sexual harassment, I’d be glad to hear it.
73. Signs, Tesla
It’s pretty easy to get Tesla mixed up with Extreme, as both bands seemed to be taking different approaches to reach the same goal. However, Extreme was much more methodical, preferring a step-by-step approach to their craft, whereas Tesla was more experimental and susceptible to wild flights of whimsy. The two bands naturally
shared an intense rivalry, culminating in Tesla’s accusations of sabotage by Extreme fans. Extreme eventually won the day, obtaining 1,093 United States patents for their endeavors, while Tesla died in poverty in their New York tenement in 1943.
72. Here I Am (Come and Take Me), UB40
71. The Way You Do The Things You Do, UB40
No, u b 40. I wuz 40 last tiem.
UB40 came out of the same stew as The Specials, but took a decidedly different path. While The Specials combined Carribean music and reggae with working class punk, thus basically inventing ska as we know it, UB40 replaced “punk” with “adult contemporary.” Both are perfectly valid forms of white expression, but it’s telling that their biggest US hit, “Red Red Wine”, is a cover of a Neil Diamond song. UB40 will be played on booze cruises from here to eternity, though, and that’s quite an achievement. So don’t be too hard on ‘em, rude boyz.
70. Cry For Help, Rick Astley
In the year or two since I started writing these accursed things, Rick Astley has taken on a shiny new cultural significance. In my “1988: WYIM” post, I contrasted his diminutive, geeky British frame with his deep, soul-infused pipes, and mentioned how totally 1988 the song was, especially – apparently – in the UK. And, being me, I had to go and drag Doctor Who into it.
Then someone – someone very weird – invented “Rickrolling,” the process wherein an unsuspecting internet user is duped into clicking a link that will cause a video of Rick singing “Never Gonna Give You Up” to appear on their screen. For instance, someone sends you a link that promises undeniable proof that a certain celebrity has been caught in an illegal and unsanitary position, and you click it, because who are you to pass up a tasty morsel of Perez Hilton-age nonsense, and lo and behold, Rick is telling you that he’s never going to give you up.
Rickrolling: the whoopee cushion of the new millennium.
69. Love Takes Time, Mariah Carey
So does listening to the lesser hits of Mariah Carey. Therefore: no.
68. Show Me The Way, Styx
Saying “Styx was still around in 1991,” is a little bit like saying “You can stand an egg on its end if you’re standing on the equator during the spring equinox.” It sounds patently ridiculous, and yet there’s some evidence it may be true. I know we sang this song in chorus my senior year (1997!) and that our choir director introduced the song at our spring concert as “a song the kids are listening to these days with a positive message.” As most of us hadn’t heard the thing before Mr. B plunked out the Soprano II part on the old Bosendorfer, this seemed real strange.
But, dude, we sang a Styx song in high school chorus. Thanks, Mr. B.
67. Now That We Found Love, Heavy D. and The Boyz
Heavy D (and, I would assume, The Boyz) built their biggest hit single off the hook from a Third World song, and probably did more for post-modernism in music than anyone else. If you think I’m blowing smoke outta me tailpipe, consider this: only a year before, Vanilla Ice had to weasel his way out of accusations of plagiarism when he sampled the bass line from Queen’s “Under Pressure” for “Ice Ice Baby.”
Ain’t no one steppin’ to Heavy D, and he sampled the entire chorus, built a whole new song around it, and used the phrase “hunky dory” completely un-ironically.
65. I’ll Be There, Escape Club
It’s tempting to think of Escape Club as a one-hit wonder, because their only song that anyone can hum is “Wild Wild West.” In fact, they had two other minor hits that cracked the charts: “Shake For The Sheik”, which sounds like INXS trying to be The Clash, and this one. You don’t really have to go looking for it – it’s a lot like “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5, in an alternate universe where it was written by Echo and the Bunnymen.
However, if you do go looking for it, you’ll probably find that the person who posted it on YouTube has written something like “written after the death of a friend, this song has touched the hearts of millions.” Well, I’m a big jerk, then.
64. Around The Way Girl, LL Cool J
LL Cool J stands for “Ladies love cool James.” That’s right – LL Cool J isn’t just a funky fresh MC, he is also a complete, declarative sentence. Word up, indeed.
An “Around the way girl” is actually just a girl from “the hood,” you know, just everyday people, nothing flashy – the sort of woman who could keep a playa grounded. Not to be confused with a girl who’s “been around the block.”
63. Sadeness Part I, Enigma
I think this was probably the pre-Nirvana breaking point for pop radio. At the very least, it was a symptom of a music industry choked by endless hair metal ballads and faceless dance-pop acts and countless Rick Astley singles.
“That’s it!” cried radio programmers. “I am sick of all three of those things! Give me something… anything even remotely interesting and different! Besides Seal, I mean! Not that I’ve got anything against Seal! ‘Crazy’ is a really good song! But, please God, no more Michael Bolton! No more songs called ‘I’ll Be There!’ No more Rod Bloody Stewart! Rod Bloody Stewart is 65 years old!”
And so, the radio programmers found a gun, probably left behind by Ted Nugent when he stopped by the station to promote his latest super-group Damn Yankees. And these programmers were either just about to end it all or kidnap Paul from The Wonder Years and force him at gunpoint to morph into an Alice Cooper clone, when suddenly, out of nowhere, there came a beat. And then a Gregorian chant. And then came a little MIDI Pan Flute melody. And then, lo and behold, a woman stating, earnestly, seductively: “Sade, dis-moi!” And the radio programmers rejoiced, for this, this was not Rick Astley. This was not Michael Bolton. This was… well, they really didn’t know what the fuck it was, but it was weird.
And that’s how an ambient techno song about the Marquis de Sade having a crisis of faith in French became a #1 hit in America.
62. Time, Love and Tenderness, Michael Bolton
Pretty soon, however, everything went back to normal.
TO BE CONTINUED!!!