Greatest Un-Hits: Dave Koz’s “You Make Me Smile” (1993)

In 1992-93, while you were listening to Soundgarden, Spin Doctors, and SWV and wearing your clothes backwards like a damn fool, the guy absolutely dominating the music industry in terms of albums sold was free of trends, youth culture, and, if you ask most anybody, talent. Kenny G. was absolutely killing it.

Both a thoroughly ’80s musician if there ever was one, and his subsequent reign as king of the elevators and the waiting room, Kenny G.’s career as a purveyor of neutered jazz for people who are very fragile and hate music peaked in the early ’90s. In addition to topping various jazz and adult contemporary charts, his stuff was selling so well that he scored top 30 hits on the big pop chart: “Forever in Love” (doo-doo-dee-doo-dee-doo-doo-dee-doo) hit #18, and “By the Time This Night is Over” (dee-dee-doo-doo-dee-doo-doo-doo-doo-deeeeee)  reached #25. Those singles came from Breathless, Kenny G.’s sixth album, which sold more than 12 million copies, placing it among the bestselling albums ever. (It even went to #2 on the R&B album charts, which I just plain do not understand.)

With 12 million copies, that put Kenny G far beyond the sad, sad smooth jazz soccer mom market, in other words, throwing the doors to the mainstream wide open for other background noise-providing jazz instrumentalists. Like Dave Koz, the Kenny G. of the tenor sax.

1993 was the tail end of VH1’s format as MTV for aging dorks. Which means Koz’s “You Make Me Smile” got a lot of airplay, hitting that channel’s top 20 most-played videos for weeks. Koz is presented as a shiny happy handsome-enough guy in a colorful blazer and a Jason Priestley haircut that looks just like the kind of guy your mom would like your sister to settle down with. In other words, the human equivalent of smooth jazz.

Koz still couldn’t manage to really ride the Kenny G. smooth-ass gravy train. “You Make Me Smile,” while sounding exactly like a Kenny G. song during the reign of Kenny G. barely scraped onto the adult contemporary chart at #20; it didn’t even make it to the jazz chart.

  • Brett Alan

    How to hit #2 on the R&B chart:

    Step 1: Get enough play on R&B stations that Billboard declares you eligible for this chart. It doesn’t have to be a lot; land a song on the R&B singles chart, even towards the bottom, and you’ve done that. Kenny G did get played on some of the softer “adult R&B” stations, so no problem.

    Step 2: Sell a lot of records in markets that have a black population. Once you were eligible for the chart, it really didn’t matter (I’m not sure if this has changed at all) who bought the record or what store it was purchased at, so long as the store was in a market that had at least one R&B station.

    So Kenny G didn’t really need to be selling to R&B fans (or to black people) to get near the top of the R&B album chart.