Our guest writer this week is no stranger to CHART ATTACK!, having contributed a fantastic write-up of March 23, 1985 a while back. Please welcome back our good friend Carlos Ramirez!
In this week’s CHART ATTACK! I’ll tackle three New Edition-affiliated entries (four if you count manager Maurice Starr), a song even Diane Warren wants to forget about, and two singles that should have already found a home in your record collection.
I’ve been a music junkie for most of my 33 years on this planet. My first loves were Kiss and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack when I was four. That pretty much set the musical course I’ve been on ever since. If it has hooks, I’m going to give it a fighting chance; that helps explain all the Badfinger, TKA, and Dokken songs on my iPod. I’d like to thank Jason and the rest of the Popdose family for having me as a guest contributor this week. Long live Curtis Stigers! (Take it easy — just a joke!)
10. Poison — Bell Biv DeVoe Amazon
9. The Power — Snap! Amazon
8. Enjoy the Silence — Depeche Mode Amazon
7. Rub You the Right Way — Johnny Gill Amazon
6. It Must Have Been Love — Roxette Amazon
5. Cradle of Love — Billy Idol Amazon
4. I’ll Be Your Shelter — Taylor Dayne Amazon
3. Hold On — En Vogue Amazon
2. She Ain’t Worth It — Glenn Medeiros featuring Bobby Brown Amazon
1. Step by Step — New Kids on the Block Amazon
10. Poison — Bell Biv DeVoe (download)
Growing up in Queens, New York, in 1990, it was nearly impossible to turn on pop and R&B radio without a New Jack Swing-flavored track jumping out of your speakers. Teddy Riley was widely credited with pioneering it, but the sound’s finest moment came courtesy of a much lesser known studio rat. Expertly produced by Dr. Freeze, who went on to work with Color Me Badd and Michael Jackson, Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” is like the genre’s very own “Satisfaction” or “Crazy Train.” The dizzying brew of synthetic snare claps, doo-wop-styled background vocals, tinny keyboard jabs, and Ricky Bell’s smoothed-out vocal hooks make for an irresistible and instantly memorable listening experience.
Featuring former New Edition members Michael Bivins, Ronnie DeVoe, and the aforementioned Bell, BBD had a firm grip on the pop, R&B, and rap charts with their dirty new sound. Bivins would go on to use the exact same formula for his protegÁƒ©s Another Bad Creation on tracks like “Iesha” and “Playground.”
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9. The Power — Snap!
“The Power” has a rapper (Turbo B.) on it, but there’s nothing even close to authentic “rap” about it. If a DJ would’ve spun the track at a hip-hop club back in the day, it would’ve killed the dance floor quicker than a Cathy Dennis single. Okay, that’s a stretch, but trust me, black and Latino kids were not pumping Snap! in their boomboxes.
Written by Germans Benito Benites and John “Virgo” Garrett III, “The Power” actually sounds like something an American football team would commission for an upcoming season. ESPN must’ve gotten the same vibes I got, because they included the song on their hugely popular Jock Jams compilation series in the early ’90s. Really, without American sports, where would “groups” like Snap!, 2 Unlimited, and the Movement still get airplay?
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8. Enjoy the Silence — Depeche Mode
Maybe it’s the wimpy goth label that they’ve been unfairly labeled with or the fact they usually choose to work with keyboards rather than guitars, but Depeche Mode have never received the kind of praise they justly deserve. Actually, 85 percent of the credit should go to founding member Martin Gore. The guy might look like he’s the overnight manager of an S&M store in Munich, but for the better part of three decades Gore has written single after single of undeniable synth-pop. Back in junior high, it seemed like the only people who liked Depeche Mode were the Korean kids. I never understood that. Maybe it’s the same kind of phenomenon that makes Morrissey so huge in the Mexican-American community.
Originally conceived as a ballad, “Enjoy the Silence” was wisely transformed into a potent blend of icy keyboard chords, twangy guitar licks, and the kind of driving backbeat that was custom-made for nightclub sound systems. The song, along with the rest of the Violator album, is some of Mark “Flood” Ellis’s best production work. Billy Corgan even hired Ellis for the Smashing Pumpkins’ seminal album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995), on the strength of these particular sessions. The iconic Anton Corbijn-directed video was an MTV staple, with lead vocalist David Gahan trying his hardest not to look impressed. Covered by such wide-ranging artists as Keane, HIM, Matthew Good Band, Tori Amos, and many others, “Enjoy the Silence” has become a modern standard of sorts.
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7. Rub You the Right Way — Johnny Gill (download)
Oh, how I love the ’80s! There were those Friday nights watching episodes of Benson. Eddie Rabbitt singles getting played on pop stations. And don’t get me started on those Cannon-produced American Ninja films! But the ’80s also was the last decade in which a musician could release several commercial failures and still hold onto his or her major-label contract. Before Johnny Gill filled the empty slot Bobby Brown left in New Edition, he made two albums for Atlantic Records that never really caught on outside of some minor charting. His 1984 duets album with the higher-profile (for the time) Stacy Lattisaw, Perfect Combination (released on Cotillion), garnered solid reviews, and the title track peaked at #10 on the Hot R&B chart, but it failed to make Gill a household name.
After his gospel-tinged vocals made him a breakout star on the New Edition album Heart Break (1988), their label, MCA, wisely gave the singer a new solo deal. His first MCA album, Johnny Gill, went on to double-platinum status and yielded four hit singles, the biggest being “Rub You the Right Way.” The Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis-produced single definitely had the New Jack Swing vibe that was working so well for Bell Biv DeVoe at the time; Gill’s album even knocked BBD’s “Poison” out of the top spot on the Billboard album chart in June of the same year. “Rub You the Right Way” also comes from a time when an R&B single didn’t have to have a rapper appear on it to get airplay. T-Pain, I’m looking at you!
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6. It Must Have Been Love — Roxette
Written by the male half of this Swedish pop duo, “It Must Have Been Love” would eventually reach the top of the Billboard singles chart and stay there for two weeks. Per Gessle had written, recorded, and originally released the song in 1987 as “It Must Have Been Love (Christmas for the Broken-Hearted),” but the track didn’t make any waves. When the producers of the movie Pretty Woman approached Roxette’s camp looking for a ballad, Gessle changed a few lines around, then added some vocal layering and handed in the song. The single became inescapable that summer.
A few years ago I went through a period where I devoured all the Swedish pop I could get my hands on. During this time, I discovered Gessle’s first band, Gyllene Tider. Expecting more of the soft-rock hooks I’d come to know from the vocalist-songwriter, I was surprised to hear a chorus of jangly guitars and the kinds of vocal melodies usually favored by American power-pop should-haves like Shoes and the Plimsouls. Gyllene Tider enjoyed teen-idol status, but a few attempts to break into the U.S. market fell short. Check out their biggest Swedish single, “Flickorna PÁƒ¥ TV 2,” where the band flirts with the herky-jerky rhythms the Police had already mastered.
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5. Cradle of Love — Billy Idol
If you take out Idol’s vocals, “Cradle of Love” sounds like a mid-’80s ZZ Top B-side — and that’s being kind, folks! Everything from the overly processed, faux bar-band guitars to the by-the-numbers piano riffs age this song. It was the first single off Idol’s Charmed Life album, which was guitarist Mark Younger-Smith’s debut with Idol’s band. The addition of Younger-Smith was highly debated at the time because he was replacing longtime Idol sideman Steve Stevens, who was a big deal within the guitar geek community. I never understood what all the commotion was about — it’s not like people bought Billy Idol albums for the guitar solos.
The video for “Cradle of Love,” directed by David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club), had me and all of my teenage friends going crazy that summer! After the initial buzz Betsy Lynn George got during the video’s heavy rotation — she plays the gorgeous jailbait — her career, sadly, never got off the ground. Trust me, I looked for her! I did some research for this CHART ATTACK! entry and it seems like the last thing she was in was called Lurid Tales: The Castle Queen. Sounds like a 3:30 AM Skinemax movie to me!
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4. I’ll Be Your Shelter — Taylor Dayne
I’ll admit it — I’m a David Foster, Holly Knight, and Desmond Child fan. But Diane Warren Á¢€¦ I just can’t do it, man! Outside of a few of her ballads I can’t stomach her schmaltzy lyrics and uninspired vocal arrangements; “I’ll Be Your Shelter” sounds like something you would hear in the background of a Lifetime movie of the week. Warren actually wrote the song with Tina Turner in mind, but she turned it down. However, Turner recorded the Warren cowrite “Whatever You Want” for her Wildest Dreams album in 1996.
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3. Hold On — En Vogue
There was something very Tony! Toni! TonÁƒ©! about this song, and upon further inspection it came to my attention that it was actually penned by the team of Foster & McElroy, who also wrote many of the male trio’s hits. En Vogue was the production team’s attempt at a modern-day version of the classic Motown girl groups; they went about it the Lou Pearlman way by auditioning singers and then creating a group around the four strongest candidates. “Hold On” was one of En Vogue’s biggest singles, as was 1992’s “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It),” and an interesting distinction the songs share is that they both sample James Brown’s funk classic “The Payback.” Does anyone else remember when Dawn Robinson left the group and they became EV3? Anyone? Crickets.
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2. She Ain’t Worth It — Glenn Medeiros featuring Bobby Brown (download)
Written by Antonina Armato, who also wrote my eighth-grade prom song, Brenda K. Starr’s “I Still Believe,” “She Ain’t Worth It” went on to conquer the top spot on this chart. I wish someone had video footage of the meeting where this unlikely duet was conceived. Bobby Brown must have walked away with a fat check — it’s the only way I can work it out in my head. The dysfunctional R&B singer was sitting pretty on both the R&B and pop charts at the time, so why else would he team up with a wimpy Hawaiian pop singer like Medeiros? We all know Brown has no shame, though, seeing as how he recently appeared on CMT’s Gone Country (his son Landon appeared on MTV’s Rock the Cradle).
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1. Step by Step — New Kids on the Block
During the late-’90s boy-band renaissance, I caught a lot of flak for liking ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys, and even Take That. But once you got past their admittedly cheese-puff image, these groups released some stellar material. Unfortunately, Maurice Starr and the New Kids on the Block never had someone like Max Martin in their corner.
This heaping pile of horse manure actually turned out to be NKOTB’s biggest-selling single. I had a crush on this girl Lisa back in high school, who I remember was head over heels in love with Danny. Danny!!! The guy looks like a bouncer from a cheap guido club in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Wait a second, did I just say “cheap guido club”? Isn’t that kind of redundant?
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Carlos Ramirez works in the music business on the marketing side. He got his start at Roadrunner Records in 1994 and currently works at Total Assault. He’s also a contributor at IGN.com, Ultimate-Guitar.com, and TheGauntlet.com. His favorite album is Billy Joel’s The Stranger.
Thanks so much, Carlos! See you guys in a couple of weeks for another CHART ATTACK!