10. Good for Me — Amy Grant Amazon
9. Diamonds and Pearls — Prince & the New Power Generation Amazon iTunes
8. Tell Me What You Want Me to Do — Tevin Campbell Amazon iTunes
7. Masterpiece — Atlantic Starr Amazon iTunes
6. I Love Your Smile — Shanice Amazon iTunes
5. Tears in Heaven — Eric Clapton Amazon iTunes
4. Save the Best for Last — Vanessa Williams Amazon iTunes
3. Remember the Time — Michael Jackson Amazon iTunes
2. I’m Too Sexy — Right Said Fred Amazon iTunes
1. To Be With You — Mr. Big Amazon iTunes
Allow me to jerk you back to the ’90s, the decade I graduated from high school, graduated from college, and watched as my hair started to graduate from my head. And shortly after the week of March 14, 1992, I kissed a girl for the first time! Yeah! High five! High five! You in the back, gimme some! Wooo! Sure, I was already 16, but I’m a late bloomer in lots of ways (except for the graduating hair).
This entry of Chart Attack! marks the closest we’ve gotten so far to the present day, just as 1992 marks the last year that I was truly aware of what was new and popular on the radio. Geez, 1992, when did you get so old?
10. Good for Me — Amy Grant (download)
No, you’re good for me, you magnificent Christian songbird!
I genuinely like “Good for Me” (which peaked at #8), as well as “Every Heartbeat” and “Baby Baby,” all of which were big hits for Amy Grant, but they didn’t work their magic for me back in 9th and 10th grade. No, it took until just a few years ago for me to realize these are simply good examples of shiny mainstream pop. Just like household pets and small children, I too like shiny things, and I’m not afraid to admit it.
Grant, as you’re probably aware, started out as a teenage CCM (contemporary Christian music) artist in the ’70s, but in the mid-’80s she started to cross over into pop territory and quickly found success with “The Next Time I Fall,” a #1 duet with Peter Cetera. “Good for Me” is from Grant’s 1991 album Heart in Motion, a more-popular-than-Jesus success that generated five Top 40 singles in a little over a year, four of which reached the Top 10 (they also happen to be the first four tracks on the album).
Check out “Good for Me’s” guitar-and-organ duel at the 2:35 mark. See, the organ represents the Lord, and the electric guitar represents the Devil. Which will you choose, Amy?! Predictably, it’s a tie — the organ throws two nice jabs, but so does the guitar. The cosmic ballet goes on …
9. Diamonds and Pearls — Prince and the New Power Generation
Does anyone else remember 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls being somewhat of a comeback for Prince? It’s not like Mr. Prolific had gone anywhere or witnessed a huge drop in sales, but his three previous albums — the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack (1990), the Batman soundtrack (1989), and Lovesexy (1988) — were seen as critical and/or commercial disappointments. And even though no one was pretending that Diamonds and Pearls was another Purple Rain (1984) or Sign o’ the Times (1987), it generally received a pass from the critics and racked up four Top 40 singles (including the #1 “Cream”), the most from any Prince album besides Purple Rain.
Diamonds and Pearls introduced Prince’s Revolution replacements, the New Power Generation, although they had already made their film debut in Graffiti Bridge as members of his character’s band. The title track reached #3 on the pop chart (#1 on the R&B chart) and is something of a duet between Prince and Rosie Gaines, a singer and keyboardist in the NPG. I’ve always liked “Diamonds and Pearls,” and unlike “Gett Off” and “Cream,” there’s no dirty talk in it, so it’s safe for the kids. The closing lines — “There will be the time / When everything will shine / So bright it makes you color-blind” — do make me wonder if, somewhere in his past, Prince was rejected by a close-minded, materialistic white girl (certainly not my fellow Georgia native Amy Grant, so don’t even think it).
8. Tell Me What You Want Me to Do — Tevin Campbell
Back to the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack for a second: it featured Tevin Campbell’s first solo hit, “Round and Round,” which was written and produced by Prince. Earlier in 1990 Campbell had a #1 R&B hit with “Tomorrow (A Better You, a Better Me),” a cover/update of a 1976 Brothers Johnson instrumental that was featured on Quincy Jones’s Back on the Block (1989). So who added the lyrics for then-12-year-old Campbell to sing? Siedah Garrett, Michael Jackson’s backing vocalist on 1987’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” and recent Best Song Oscar nominee for Dreamgirls’ “Love You I Do.”
There’s not much to say about “Tell Me What You Want Me to Do,” which is why I’m talking about other Campbell songs, but it does have some nice Mellow Gold elements. Start with the title. Be a man, Tevin! Don’t let this girl tell you what to do! Oh, wait … she’s crying. Does she cry a lot? All the time, you say? Yeah, my high school girlfriend used to do that. Drove me crazy. Sometimes I just wanted to say, “Look, tell me what you–” … ohhhhhh … now I see where you’re coming from.
But the song’s still pretty dull.
In April of ’91, Campbell appeared on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as a teenage R&B star named “Little T.” (For God’s sake, Fresh Prince producers, let the young man stretch!) In this not-so-special episode, Campbell sings “Happy Birthday” to Will’s cousin Ashley and then asks her out on her first date.
You know, a girl’s first date can leave a lasting impression on her for the rest of her life. The memories she takes with her and the lessons she learns can influence her self-esteem as well as the way she looks at her subsequent romantic interests. Therefore when Campbell was arrested in 1999 for soliciting oral sex from an undercover male police officer, I bet the Fresh Prince’s cousin died a little on the inside. I can symphathize, Ashley. How do you think I felt when the girl who gave me my first kiss turned out to be a completely different person?
Damn you and your sneaky Mission: Impossible-style masks, Mr. Vice-President! (In hindsight the saggy breasts made perfect sense, of course.) “Tell Me What You Want Me to Do” peaked at #6 on the pop chart but was a #1 smash on the R&B chart.
7. Masterpiece — Atlantic Starr
Two weeks ago Matthew Bolin wrote about Atlantic Starr’s “Secret Lovers” for his edition of Chart Attack! “Masterpiece” was the band’s third (and last) Top 10 hit, but — correct me if I’m wrong — it hasn’t had the staying power of “Secret Lovers” and 1987’s “Always” on Lite FM and R&B oldies stations. Or maybe it’s just an earworm that hasn’t worked its way into my brain the way those other two have.
Like previous Atlantic Starr hits, “Masterpiece” is another drippy ballad. As I type this, it’s dripping several unidentified fluids all over my computer, my desk, and my Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. Thanks a lot, A.S.! Or should I blame Kenny Nolan? He wrote the song. But guess what he cowrote in the ’70s with Bob Crewe? Well, for starters, LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade.” Hey, you’re not so bad after all, Kenny! (I just watched Carlito’s Way again recently, and “Lady Marmalade” is used masterfully near the end of that movie. But is Carlito’s Way a Brian De Palma masterpiece? Cahiers du Cinema called it the best movie of the ’90s. It’s never dripped anything on me, and that’s a good place to start, in my opinion.)
Nolan also wrote and performed “I Like Dreamin’,” which can be found on Super Hits of the ’70s: Have a Nice Day, Vol. 19 alongside Alan O’Day’s “Undercover Angel,” Mary MacGregor’s “Torn Between Two Lovers,” and David Soul’s “Don’t Give Up on Us.” Yet another treasure trove of Mellow Gold — how can we ever repay you, Rhino Records?
“Masterpiece” reached #3 on both the pop and R&B charts.
6. I Love Your Smile — Shanice (download)
Early last year I turned to Love 100.3 here in Chicago and heard “I Love Your Smile.” I had sort of a déjà vu moment — I wasn’t sure when I’d last heard the song, and I couldn’t remember a particular instance of hearing it 14 years prior, but it immediately screamed “10th grade” to me. Sure enough, it was a hit in early ’92.
I really like “I Love Your Smile,” but its sky-high cheese content must have escaped the attention of the American Dairy Council. I give you Exhibit A: “My boss is lame, you know / And so is the pay / I’m gonna put that new black mini on my charge anyway / ‘Cause I love your smile.” Shanice, just as a man shouldn’t be able to buy your love, you shouldn’t go into major credit-card debt to win his love. Besides, his primary objective is to get you naked, so why spring for new clothes?
The song’s lyrics are easily forgiven, however. Shanice was barely 18 when she cowrote and recorded “I Love Your Smile,” and the feeling of teenage romantic euphoria that she brings to the song is what makes it so memorable. Branford Marsalis’s light-jazz saxophone solo also helps, as does Narada Michael Walden’s sunny production.
“I Love Your Smile” spent three weeks at #2 on the pop chart but four weeks at #1 on the R&B chart. Shanice had another Top 10 pop hit in early ’93 with “Saving Forever for You,” which was featured on the Beverly Hills, 90210 soundtrack. Click on that link and check out who else was on this compilation: Paula Abdul; Color Me Badd; Vanessa Williams (we’ll get to her in a second) and Brian McKnight duetting on the Top 5 hit “Love Is”; Jody Watley; contractually bound Giant Records recording artists Geoffrey Williams (a personal favorite from the early ’90s), Jeremy Jordan (I love how allmusic.com’s Matt Collar describes Jordan’s single “The Right Kind of Love” as having a “Todd Rundgren-meets-Andy Gibb melodic hook” that “almost qualifies it as a classic of the decade” — ’tis true!), and Tara Kemp; and, last but not least …
The cosmic ballet goes on …
5. Tears in Heaven — Eric Clapton
Originally featured on the soundtrack to the Jennifer Jason Leigh-Jason Patric movie Rush (1991), for which Eric Clapton composed the score, “Tears in Heaven” was written in memory of Clapton’s son, Conor, who died at the age of four in March of ’91 when he fell out of a window on the 53rd floor of a New York City apartment building. Rush was a flop, but “Tears in Heaven” certainly wasn’t, peaking at #2 for four weeks and winning Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the Grammys in ’93; Clapton’s Unplugged album, which featured a live version of the song, won Album of the Year.
“Tears in Heaven” was all over the radio in ’92, which led many people to wish that the song itself would go to heaven and never come back, but it’s impossible not to be affected in some way by Clapton’s musical expression of his grief. That being said, did you ever see the “Teardrop Award” sketch on Mr. Show?
Comedy = tragedy + time, so it’s a good thing that in March of ’92 this sketch was still six and a half years away from being created. While we’re on the subject of Mr. Show, may I also recommend “The Audition”? The writing on that show is hard to beat.
4. Save the Best for Last — Vanessa Williams
In 1991 Vanessa Williams released her second album, The Comfort Zone. It contained a smart, slick, gender-reversed cover of the Isley Brothers’ classic “Work to Do” (one of my all-time favorites despite the sexist lyrics, which were already out of touch by the early ’70s) and a nice ballad called “Just for Tonight.” But it also contained this overplayed number, which hit #1 on the pop, R&B, adult contemporary, and airplay (“overplayed” isn’t just a matter of opinion here, you see) charts.
“Save the Best for Last” contains the line “Sometimes the sun goes ’round the moon.” I’m no science expert, but I’m 99.9% sure that’s not possible, Vanessa. Stop screwing around with the cosmic ballet!
The rest of “Save the Best for Last” boils down to this: “I’ve always loved you and wanted to be with you, but you only saw me as your best friend. So there I’d sit and listen to you whine about all the other girls you were going out with when you could’ve been going out with me. Finally, as Todd Rundgren might say, you saw the light and realized, ‘Wait a second … my best friend is Vanessa Williams! And she’s so much hotter than all these other girls I’ve been with! I mean, it’s a little cocky of her to call herself “the best,” but … wait, what am I saying?! Why am I even having this internal monologue? Vanessa Williams is standing right in front of me! She was in that movie with Schwarzenegger! I loved that movie! Hey, how come she’s Vanessa L. Williams when she’s in movies? Hmm … is it because of that other actress named Vanessa Williams who was on the first season of Melrose Place? I should look that up on IMDB. Gee, I hope my Vanessa won’t mind if I turn my back on her for a couple minutes so I can look at another Vanessa on the Internet. I mean, if she’s waited this long for me, she can wait two more minutes, am I right? Of course I’m right. Okay, logging on … let’s see … hey, here’s something interesting — my Vanessa was in the movie Soul Food, and this other Vanessa was in the Soul Food TV series. I wonder if my Vanessa already knows that– … hey, where’d she go? … wow, I guess she couldn’t wait two more minutes.'”
3. Remember the Time — Michael Jackson
Remember the time when Michael Jackson was getting weirder and paler but wasn’t yet being accused of molesting little boys? We all thought Michael was being silly describing his skinny, high-pitched self as “dangerous,” especially after telling Wesley Snipes how “bad” he was in that Martin Scorsese video, but look what happened. We can’t say Jacko didn’t warn us.
Just like those Amy Grant songs, I didn’t care much for “Remember the Time” back in ’92, but a few months ago I heard it again and now I love it. It has a great chorus that conveys aching nostalgia, nagging regret, and oh-my-God-that-was-my-last-shot-at-happiness paranoia all at once, and it features a mostly vocal-tic-free performance from Jackson. I still think the John Singleton-directed video, costarring Eddie Murphy, Iman, and Magic Johnson, was overblown, but did we expect anything less from the Gloved One in that department? Nope.
In January of ’92, Jackson’s Dangerous was replaced at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart by Nirvana’s Nevermind, in some ways signaling the real beginning of the ’90s in terms of the industry’s long-term trends. Written by Jackson, Bernard Belle, and new jack swing architect Teddy Riley, “Remember the Time” peaked at #3 on the pop chart but spent two weeks at #1 on the R&B chart.
2. I’m Too Sexy — Right Said Fred
In 10th grade I taped this song off the “I’m Too Sexy” cassingle, which a friend from my church youth group had let me borrow. (The B side was the Spanish version of the song, which begins with “Soy tan sexy que mi amor …”) On my tape “I’m Too Sexy” is immediately followed by the Beatles’ “Martha My Dear,” so whenever I hear the ending of the song now, I expect the opening piano chords of “Martha My Dear” to come next.
But Right Said Fred and the Beatles are also connected in the wonderful world of music trivia: “I’m Too Sexy” was RSF’s debut single in the U.S. and it went all the way to #1, the first time a British band had accomplished that feat since the Beatles did it with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in 1964. And according to allmusic.com’s Stephen “Spaz” Schnee, judging Right Said Fred solely on the merits of “I’m Too Sexy” would be like hearing the Beatles for the first time by way of “Yellow Submarine” and thinking, That must be what all their records sound like. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that there probably isn’t anything equivalent to “A Day in the Life” or Abbey Road‘s side-two suite in RSF’s discography (yet).
Does anyone else remember “Don’t Talk Just Kiss,” the U.S. follow-up to “I’m Too Sexy”? It didn’t make it into the Top 40, but it did get airplay. Much like “I’m Too Sexy,” it’s fun but even more disposable, and I bet it sounded really good in dance clubs in the spring of ’92 if you were drunk and horny (the two generally go together), especially the chorus: “Don’t talk just kiss / We’re beyond words and sound / Don’t talk just kiss / Let your tongue fool around.”
By the way, Fred was the guitarist; his brother Richard was the singer. “I’m Too Sexy,” which will obviously be the lead in their obituaries, spent three weeks at #1.
1. To Be With You — Mr. Big
Was this the last gasp for hair-metal power ballads before grunge and alternative music shifted the whole damn paradigm for the remainder of the ’90s? (Sorry if you were more hard rock than hair metal, Mr. Big, and there’s not a lot of “power” in your acoustic triumph, but I’m still going to lump you into this category for the time being.) If that’s the case, it’s not a bad way to go out; I like the “Official 1992 Summer Camp Singalong” quality of “To Be With You.” Lyrically, it flips the point of view of “Save the Best for Last” — in this case, Mr. Big is hoping his female best friend will save him for last. Actually, “best friend” doesn’t sound quite right. How about “underage groupie”? Now we’re talkin’! Yeah! High five! Wooo!
“To Be With You” was the San Francisco band’s largest hit (see what I did there?), holding the #1 position on the pop chart for three weeks. (Strangely, it didn’t even make a dent on the R&B chart. Your loss, black Americans!) They returned to the Top 40 a couple more times, but thanks in part to that whole “shifting paradigm” thing I mentioned, Mr. Big’s days of arena rockin’ were on the wane. But you know what else was responsible for Mr. Big’s marketplace shrinkage? I’ll tell you what:
Oh sure, call me a bitter ex-boyfriend, but I have my sources. The real “Mr. Big” has wielded his power over the years in ways you could never imagine. Follow the money, music lovers. Follow the money.
Well, that’s it for this week of Chart Attack! Thank you, Jason, for the opportunity to stroll down memory lane.
Thanks again, Robert, for attacking the charts so deftly, although if that hook from “I Love Your Smile” doesn’t leave my head by this evening, I’m deleting this post. Everybody, don’t forget to check out Robert’s blog Mulberry Panda 96, and come back next week for our fourth – and last – guest-written CHART ATTACK!