Casual observers of this series have probably wondered, more than once, why Iâ€™m bothering to track those rock-era singles that, like a dolphin rejected from Sea World, couldnâ€™t quite jump through the brass ring. After all, who really cares about chart placements? And isnâ€™t Number Two practically as good as Number One, particularly when everybodyâ€™s making so much money? But if thereâ€™s one decade that proves why this stuff is vitally important â€¦ to somebody, at least â€¦ itâ€™s the â€™90s.
To put it simply, the Billboard Hot 100 charts of that decade were messed up. (I put it somewhat less than simply in a long-winded column last year.) The pop radio format split in two, resulting in charts that rarely reflected anybodyâ€™s actual listening experience. Major labels stopped manufacturing singles for many artists (mostly white ones) in an effort to sell more albums, which resulted in huge radio hits that never qualified for the Hot 100. The advent of precise technology for measuring retail sales and radio airplay resulted in singles topping the charts and staying â€¦ and staying â€¦ and staying. And as I discussed last week, superstars like Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Boyz II Men were so desperate to top the charts, and keep up with the competition, that they conspired with their labels to withhold the retail releases of their new singles until the songs peaked at radio, then flooded the marketplace with discounted product to ensure #1 chart debuts.
As a result of these and other, more random developments, the #2 singles of the â€™90s were a fascinating bunch. There were huge hits that were simply blocked by huger ones, and great songs that stalled behind ones whose popularity now leaves us scratching our heads. There were oldies that re-emerged after decades, and the two longest-running chart hits of all time (for the moment). So away we go â€“ and, as always, at the end of the column Iâ€™ll list some additional singles that were stranded at third base so we can argue which ones most deserved to score.
11. (tie) â€œRight Here, Right Now,â€ Jesus Jones; â€œP.A.S.S.I.O.N.,â€ Rhythm Syndicate; â€œEvery Heartbeat,â€ Amy Grant; â€œIt Ainâ€™t Over Til Itâ€™s Over,â€ Lenny Kravitz; and â€œFading Like a Flower (Every Time You Leave),â€ Roxette. What do these wildly disparate singles have in common? They all were blocked from the top spot during the summer of â€™91 by the same song, Bryan Adamsâ€™ treacly Robin Hood anthem â€œ(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.â€ (It was the first of three Adams soundtrack singles â€“ all of them god-awful, in my opinion â€“ to top the charts during the â€™90s.) Adams spent seven weeks at #1 while holding off five different competitors â€“ the highest number of second-place finishers thwarted by the same single since Percy Faithâ€™s â€œTheme from A Summer Placeâ€ was #1 in 1960. The only one of the five to earn a second week at #2 was â€“ surprise â€“ â€œP.A.S.S.I.O.N.â€ In honor of that fact â€“ and because its video is the only one of the five to feature fire (fire! fire!), scantily clad dancers and an atrocious white-boy rap — Iâ€™m happy to showcase it here.
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10. â€œBohemian Rhapsody,â€ Queen. What on earth is this doing here? Well, they know all about it in Aurora, Illinois.
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That scene from Wayneâ€™s World â€“ combined with strong recurrent play following Freddie Mercuryâ€™s death in November â€™91 â€“ sent â€œBohemian Rhapsodyâ€ rocketing back up the charts the following spring. It zipped past its initial chart peak (#9 in the spring of 1976) and eventually achieved the highest placement for a re-release of a true â€œoldieâ€ (i.e., a song more than a decade old) in Hot 100 history. Nowadays, thanks to a revision of Billboardâ€™s chart rules, such a feat isnâ€™t even possible; if it were, then early last month the entire Top 10 might have consisted of Michael Jackson songs.
9. (tie) â€œLovefool,â€ the Cardigans; â€œI Believe I Can Fly,â€ R. Kelly; â€œDonâ€™t Let Go (Love),â€ En Vogue; â€œOne Headlight,â€ the Wallflowers. Toni Braxtonâ€™s â€œUnbreak My Heartâ€ didnâ€™t achieve quite the same feat (for the purposes of this list) that Bryan Adams had, but it did fend off these four challengers during its 11-week reign in the winter of â€™96-â€™97. And all four were pretty great; any one of them could have earned a place on this list on its own. Hereâ€™s the thing, though â€“ only two of them actually reached #2 on the Hot 100. The other two, â€œLovefoolâ€ and â€œOne Headlight,â€ were never released as singles; each ascended to the #2 position on the Hot 100 Airplay chart (the former for eight weeks, the latter for five) but never qualified for inclusion on the big chart because Billboardâ€™s rules at the time didnâ€™t allow it. And hereâ€™s the other thing: The biggest hit of the winter of 1997 wasnâ€™t really â€œUnbreak My Heart,â€ whose 11 weeks atop the Hot 100 were built on only two weeks atop the airplay chart, and one atop the sales chart. No, the most-heard song of the season was No Doubtâ€™s â€œDonâ€™t Speak,â€ which spent 16 weeks atop the airplay chart and became the second-biggest radio hit of all time. But â€œDonâ€™t Speakâ€ never appeared on the Hot 100, either, because a physical single was never released. (See my aforementioned column from last year for details of another, even bigger hit that suffered a similar fate.) If all this is so confusing that youâ€™ve skipped to the bottom of the paragraph â€¦ well, thatâ€™s how screwed up the Billboard charts became during the â€™90s.
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8. â€œAll I Wanna Do,â€ Sheryl Crow. Back in the days when we still published a â€œChartburnâ€ column around these parts, that panel of â€œexpertsâ€ had a knock-down-drag-out over the merits of â€œAll I Wanna Do.â€ Iâ€™m still a fan of it, I must say â€“ its lyric, a poem by Wyn Cooper that Crow found in a used-book shop, is still a breath of fresh air after all these years. It went on to win the Record of the Year Grammy and launch Crowâ€™s superstar career â€“ even though the second-biggest Hot 100 hit of all time, Boyz II Menâ€™s blecchy â€œIâ€™ll Make Love to Youâ€ (14 weeks at #1), kept the sun from ever coming up over Santa Monica Boulevard during the fall of â€™94. Sheryl and Eric — take us to the bridge!
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7. â€œTears in Heaven,â€ Eric Clapton. Iâ€™m not going to repeat the oft-told tale of 4-year-old Conor Claptonâ€™s death, and the massive outpouring of sympathy that drove daddy Ericâ€™s single up the charts during the spring of â€™92 — and then, the following winter, steered Clapton onstage for approximately 87 Grammy-award acceptance speeches. By which point, after weâ€™d all watched Clapton push his glasses up his nose a million times while he played â€œTears in Heavenâ€ and â€œLaylaâ€ on MTV Unplugged, we were all ready for Slowhand to pick up his electric guitar again. â€œTears in Heavenâ€ is still a great, heartbreaking song, of course. By the way, it was blocked from the top by Vanessa Williamsâ€™ â€œSave the Best for Last.â€ She has her own tales of heartbreak to tell, Iâ€™m sure. I’d like to hear them — the more detail the better, please.
6. â€œMy Lovinâ€™ (Youâ€™re Never Gonna Get It),â€ En Vogue. It was during my treatise on the #2s of the â€™70s that I lamented the inability of a mature, brilliantly performed soul classic (â€œYouâ€™ll Never Find Another Love Like Mineâ€) to surpass a substance-free turd like â€œShake Your Bootyâ€ on the pop charts. Well, here we have a stone-cold brilliant single from the finest girl group of the â€™90s (suck it, TLC and SWV and all other three-lettered wannabes) â€¦ and, wouldnâ€™t you know, it was stomped by Kris Krossâ€™s utterly inane â€œJumpâ€ during the spring of 1992. Well, itâ€™s nice to know that En Vogue got the last laugh â€“ when was the last time you heard â€œJump,â€ anyway? â€“ because â€œMy Lovinâ€™â€ really had it goinâ€™ on: fab vocals (of course), a happeninâ€™ guitar riff lifted from James Brownâ€™s â€œThe Payback,â€ and a hot-hot-smokin’-hot video. Some people think the groupâ€™s follow-up clip, for â€œGiving Him Something He Can Feel,â€ is even hotter â€¦ but as far as Iâ€™m concerned the latter clip gives entirely too much camera time to the gawking dudes, rather than letting the rest of us gawk ourselves.
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5. â€œYou Were Meant for Me,â€ Jewel. Ms. Kilcher earns her lofty position on this list not because her song, released in November 1996, is a pop classic â€“ in fact, every time I hear it I canâ€™t believe it wasnâ€™t laughed off the radio, with lyrics like â€œI got my eggs and my pancakes too / I got my maple syrup, everything but you.â€ No, Jewel is here because, by the time â€œYou Were Meant for Meâ€ finally dropped off the Hot 100 in April 1998, it ranked as the longest-running single in the chartâ€™s history at 65 weeks. It was helped along by its B-side, â€œFoolish Games,â€ which became a Top 10 hit on its own and kept the singleâ€™s sales figures aloft for six additional months. To get an idea how bifurcated pop radio had become by the late â€™90s, consider that â€œYou Were Meant for Meâ€ stalled at #2 behind Puff Daddyâ€™s â€œCanâ€™t Nobody Hold Me Down,â€ and later moved back to that position for an additional week behind Notorious B.I.G.â€™s posthumous â€œHypnotize.â€ How many radio stations do you think were playing all three of those songs at the time?
4. â€œHow Do I Live,â€ LeAnn Rimes. By the time Jewel finished her 15-month run on the Hot 100, the single that would break her longevity record was already on its own downward trajectory. Teen country chanteuse LeAnn Rimes, who at the time was hyped as the second coming of Patsy Cline, was commissioned to record Diane Warrenâ€™s sad-but-syrupy confection â€œHow Do I Liveâ€ for producer Jerry Bruckheimerâ€™s film Con Air. But once it was finished Bruckheimer rejected Rimesâ€™ version as too immature and poppy, and not at all Cline-ish. He gave the job to Trisha Yearwood instead, and she turned in a far more nuanced rendition that would earn her a #1 country hit and a slew of awards. Rimes, however, was not to be denied, and so Curb Records released her version in direct competition with Yearwoodâ€™s â€“ an occurrence that was common until the â€™50s (five versions of â€œMelody of Loveâ€ charted simultaneously in 1955), but rarely seen since. Yearwood won the battle on the country charts, but Rimes swamped her on the Hot 100, spending four weeks at number two and dominating â€œmainstreamâ€ pop radio for nearly six months. Her failure to ascend to #1 can be laid, along with a bazillion bouquets of flowers, on the gravesite of Princess Diana; her death inspired Elton John to release the biggest-selling single in history, â€œCandle in the Wind 1997,â€ and that singleâ€™s performance at retail made Rimesâ€™ chart-topping mission impossible. Still, â€œHow Do I Liveâ€ remained on the Hot 100 for 69 weeks, smashing Jewelâ€™s record by a full month. It finally dropped off the chart in October â€™98, almost exactly 10 years before Jason Mrazâ€™ single â€œIâ€™m Yoursâ€ peaked at #6. The significance of that fact is that â€œIâ€™m Yoursâ€ remains on the Hot 100 right now at #35, in its 68th week. If it lasts two more â€“ and thereâ€™s no reason to doubt it will â€“ it will render â€œHow Do I Liveâ€ a historical footnote, chartwise. (Perhaps its chart run eventually will last as long as the live video below.) Oh, well, LeAnn â€“ at least youâ€™ve still got Eddie Cibrian (if US magazine is to be believed).
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3. â€œWhoomp! There It Is,â€ Tag Team. Depending on where you lived and which subset of Top 40 radio you listened to, this was the song of the summer of 1993 … or, at least, its title was the phrase you couldnâ€™t get out of your head. The story of â€œWhoomp!â€ is perhaps unparalleled in pop history. During the spring of 1993, two songs emerged from the deep South that were different in nearly every way, except for their shared chorus. The first one to chart, by the Miami-based crew 95 South, was titled â€œWhoot, There It Isâ€ and eventually climbed to #11 on the Hot 100. A month after that songâ€™s chart debut, along came the Atlanta-based Tag Team with â€œWhoomp! There It Is,â€ and â€œWhoomp!â€ really took off. It sold more than 4 million copies and topped Billboardâ€™s singles sales chart for a whopping 16 weeks. Its failure to reach #1 on the Hot 100 is, again, indicative of the split at Top 40 radio by that time; â€œWhoomp!â€ never climbed higher than #9 on the airplay chart because many â€œTop 40 Mainstreamâ€ stations werenâ€™t spinning it at all. As it was, â€œWhoomp!â€ cooled its heels for seven weeks at #2 on the big chart, stuck behind UB40â€™s abysmal reggaefication of Elvisâ€™ â€œCanâ€™t Help Falling in Love.â€ These days â€“ apart from their continued prominence at sports arenas nationwide — both â€œWhoomp!â€ and â€œWhootâ€ are perhaps best remembered by pop linguists tracking the origins of the enduring catchphrase â€œWoot!â€ If you must, you can explore the bickering over the etymology of â€œWoot!â€ here.
2. â€œMissing,â€ Everything But the Girl. Whoâ€™da thunk, during all those years when Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt were playing navel-gazing ballads and smooth bossa nova without really denting the American consciousness, that all they needed to scale the heights of pop radio was one good dance mix? (Or, seemingly, twenty of them.) â€œMissingâ€ started as a nice, midtempo track off the duoâ€™s eighth studio album, Amplified Heart, during the fall of 1994. (Thorn later admitted that they had intended â€œMissingâ€ to be a dance track in the first place, but wimped out and removed the house-music elements theyâ€™d recorded.) It wasnâ€™t until nearly a year after the albumâ€™s release that Todd Terryâ€™s remix broke out of dance clubs and onto pop radio â€“ and it was seven months after that before â€œMissingâ€ climbed to #2, where it was vanquished by the biggest hit in Hot 100 history. (That would be Mariah Carey & Boyz II Menâ€™s â€œOne Sweet Day,â€ which I honored last summer in this space with the title â€œWorst #1 Song of the â€™90s.â€) I never thought I’d see Tracey and a bevy of go-go dancers on the same stage, but I guess there’s a first time for everything.
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Apologies to my colleague Jason Hare, and to fans everywhere of Popdose patron saint Michael McDonald, for my failure to include Warren G. and Nate Doggâ€™s â€œRegulateâ€ on this list. I know Iâ€™m supposed to pay McD his props whenever possible, but what can I say? I keep forgettinâ€™. Anyway, here are some of the decadeâ€™s other #2 hits, along with the songs that kept them from climbing One Step Closer to immortality. (sorry)
â€œPump Up the Jam,â€ Technotronic (Michael Boltonâ€™s â€œHow Am I Supposed to Live Without Youâ€); â€œCradle of Love,â€ Billy Idol, and â€œPower,â€ Snap! (Mariah Careyâ€™s â€œVision of Loveâ€); â€œI Wanna Sex You Up,â€ Color Me Badd (Extremeâ€™s â€œMore than Wordsâ€); â€œI Love Your Smile,â€ Shanice (Right Said Fredâ€™s â€œIâ€™m Too Sexyâ€); â€œUnder the Bridge,â€ Red Hot Chili Peppers (Kris Krossâ€™s â€œJumpâ€); â€œIf I Ever Fall in Love,â€ Shai, and â€œRumpshaker,â€ Wreckx n Effect (Whitney Houstonâ€™s â€œI Will Always Love Youâ€); â€œNothinâ€™ But a G Thang,â€ Dr. Dre (Snowâ€™s â€œInformerâ€); â€œAll That She Wants,â€ Ace of Base (Meat Loafâ€™s â€œI Would Do Anything for Loveâ€).
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Also, â€œTotal Eclipse of the Heart,â€ Nicki French (Bryan Adamsâ€™ â€œHave You Ever Really Loved a Womanâ€); â€œNot Gonâ€™ Cry,â€ Mary J. Blige, and â€œSittinâ€™ Up in My Room,â€ Brandy (Carey & Boyz II Menâ€™s â€œOne Sweet Dayâ€); â€œNobody Knows,â€ Tony Rich Project (Celine Dionâ€™s â€œBecause You Loved Meâ€); â€œItâ€™s All Coming Back to Me Now,â€ Ms. Dion, and â€œI Love You Always Forever,â€ Donna Lewis (Los Del Rioâ€™s â€œMacarenaâ€); â€œBitch,â€ Meredith Brooks (Puff Daddy & Faith Evansâ€™s â€œIâ€™ll Be Missing Youâ€); â€œWalking on the Sun,â€ Smash Mouth (Notorious B.I.G.â€™s â€œMo Money Mo Problemsâ€); â€œFrozen,â€ Madonna (K-Ci & JoJoâ€™s â€œAll My Lifeâ€); â€œYouâ€™re Still the One,â€ Shania Twain (Nextâ€™s â€œToo Closeâ€); â€œKiss Me,â€ Sixpence None the Richer (TLCâ€™s â€œNo Scrubsâ€); â€œLast Kiss,â€ Pearl Jam (Jennifer Lopezâ€™s â€œIf You Had My Loveâ€); and â€œBack at One,â€ Brian McKnight (Santanaâ€™s â€œSmoothâ€).
Iâ€™ll be back soon to wrap up this series with a look at the Aughts â€“ and to question how in the world classics like â€œSince U Been Gone,â€ â€œCrazy,â€ and â€¦ um â€¦ â€œFergaliciousâ€ failed to reach the top.