Now we move on to a decade where there’s perhaps an even greater sense of nostalgia displayed from kids alone – the 1990s. Get ready to smash those nostalgia glasses as things may get a little bit ugly. We start, quite naturally, with 1990; since the 1980s didn’t really end until about 1991 and given how naff the end of the decade was in the pop charts that doesn’t bode amazingly well for this year, does it?
Given what’s first up it’s easy to see that the 1980s weren’t truly over yet…
- Hangin’ Tough – New Kids on the Block – 2 weeks, January 7th to January 20th
What’s worse than a boyband singing the same mushy, boring, generic love ballads over and over? Having those same boybands try to sing about how tough they are, that’s what!
I seriously don’t get what writer/producer Maurice Starr was thinking, trying to make New Kids on the Block cool and trying to give them street cred but needless to say it falls flatter than a pancake. Right away from the chants of “Oh-oh-oh-oh-ooooh” and the plodding synths and drum machines this is a ridiculously uncool song. This only becomes clearer when the lyrics begin; these lyrics were very obviously written by an older man unsure about what most kids were actually like and feels like a pandering attempt to hip and radical. This obviously fails since none of the boys have any power or attitude in their voices, making lines such as “We’re rough!” and “If you’re gonna kick us down you know we’re gonna come back!” absolutely laughable. Combine that with an out of place keyboard solo that felt crammed in for no particular reason, scatting that sounds like the boys are releasing particularly tricky farts and the endless chanting of the “Oh-oh-oh-oh-oooh” that makes Hangin' Tough feel an eternity in length and you get an absolute embarrassment of a number which makes the generic pop ballads by NKTOB seem reasonable in comparison.
Mark Wahlberg must be pleased that his brother Donnie was a participant on this wretched number. Never could it be claimed that Good Vibrations by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch was the most embarrassing song to feature a member of the Wahlberg family.
- Tears on My Pillow – Kylie Minogue – 1 week, January 21st to January 27th
Good news. Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s ridiculous grip over the UK charts started to shrivel in 1990, to the degree where Tears on My Pillow was the sole number one the trio had this year, a ludicrous stepdown from last year. Indeed this is the last time we’ll see any member of the trio be involved in a number one single for a good while.
If you were expecting something mildly exciting then you clearly must be indulging in wishful thinking as Tears on My Pillow, a cover of a number by Little Anthony and The Imperials, is a true dirge of a ballad, right away from the plodding drumline and the flat saxophone line that makes this song so incredibly lifeless right from the get go. Kylie’s voice has developed a little bit but it’s still not amazing and it can only do so much anyhow with the incredibly generic lyrics that this sappy breakup number contains. It thankfully runs short at only around two and a half minutes but it’s ultimately a damning sign of how damaging SAW were to the pop charts with their boring and poorly produced songs. Thankfully they were approaching the end of the line and Kylie would get better over the 1990s, so every cloud does have a silver lining I guess.
- Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinead O’Connor – 4 weeks, January 28th to February 24th
Prince wrote over a thousand songs in his lifetime and one of the most successful was written originally for a spin-off of his, The Family. It’s crazy to think that the song that was at the time a minor note on his discography could be such a massive hit and the strength of its success can be put down to the work of Sinead O’Connor. From the opening bursts of “It’s been seven hours and fifteen days, since you took your love away” O’Connor is on top vocal duty throughout Nothing Compares 2 U, giving the song a strong confident quality to it as it makes coming off a breakup greatly empowering yet still vulnerable as the lyrics still admit to missing the partner despite all the newfound freedoms of being single. Musically the song is very haunting with the droning keyboard notes giving the song a spooky quality which is matched by the violin solo. This all adds up to make a song that’s ethereal in its beauty and is a testament to both the vocal power of Sinead O’Connor and the writing skills of Prince.
- Dub Be Good to Me – Beats International – 4 weeks, February 25th to March 24th
Norman Cook can probably be described as a chameleon in the world of music; bear in mind his last stop at the top spot in the UK was the entirely acapella Caravan of Love by The Housemartins. His next project would be his first foray into electronic music with the short lived Beats International. Relying primarily on a sample of The Guns of Brixton by The Clash (a year before the band themselves would get to the number one) this is a strong electronic song as a result of the sampling of an already funky bassline. Overlayed with pretty good vocals from singer Lindy Layton and some harmonica samples from the theme to Once Upon a Time in the West by Ennio Morricone and it leads to a solid dance number that’s well produced and sticks in your mind thanks to the memorable melody, even if it does go on a little too long and has an interpolation of Jam High at the beginning and end that is a little too goofy.
- The Power – Snap! – 2 weeks, March 25th to April 7th
How many damn adverts has this song been in? This song’s been used and overused in adverts for everything from B&Q to Coco Pops and even Pampers, using solely the now infamous electronic guitar riff and the choral shouts of “I’ve got the power!” It’s an earworm of massive proportions and naturally gives off the image of people being cool, strong and in control when the song is on. But that’s only a small part of the song and we also have to deal with the verses which, to be blunt, are a bit crap. Rapper Turbo B is poor with his flow and has an annoying voice to boot, almost shouting his lines. But perhaps that’s in response to the bad mixing where the beat seems to be trying to drown him out. Penny Ford also isn’t a great singer as her other contributions to the song are rather tuneless and strained. Throw in an irritating guitar solo and it’s clear why this song is known for the chorus and the chorus alone – the rest of the song is pretty weak.
- Vogue – Madonna – 4 weeks, April 8th to May 5th
Dick Tracy is comfortably the best film that Madonna has starred in and therefore it makes sense that one of her best hits comes from the soundtrack of that film. Vogue is a seductively slow and intoxicating number right from the haunting high pitched keyboards that begin the song. The song then develops into becoming a glorious dance song with a funky bassline and drum beat, which works with the minimalistic keyboard lines. Madonna’s vocal work is great too, having a very seductive flair to it and delivering the lines with an understanding power – the whispers of the title only serve to make things that much more exciting. The rap at the end of the song that namechecks plenty of classic movie stars is a bit goofy thanks to Madonna’s somewhat robotic vocals, but overall Vogue is a top notch song thanks to the infectiously danceable melody and beat and Madonna’s sex appeal and powerful voice seeping all the way through the song.
- Killer – Adamski and Seal – 4 weeks, May 6th to June 2nd
Long before he compared his baby to kiss from a rose on the grave, Seal was providing the vocals to this enjoyably infectious dance track. His vocals give Killer a great deal of power and though it was early days for him you can see the potential that was opening up to him for the future, although his work on the verses are generally a little bit better than on the chorus. Musically the song is a fine dance number; Adamski’s melody is upbeat and tuneful and has a killer (boom boom!) bassline to it. The song does feel a little incomplete though with its somewhat minimalistic instrumentation, often relying solely on the synthesised bass. More damning is the out of place ending where the music shifts into relying upon long synthesiser notes and irritating beeping electronic sounds and somewhat misplaced attempts in the lyrics to be deeper (“Racism in amongst future kings can only lead to no good, and besides, all our sons and daughters already know how that feels”). But aside from that this is a solid house number and a good starting point for Seal’s career.
- World in Motion – New Order – 2 weeks, June 3rd to June 16th
In the 1990s we saw the rise of a minor new trend on the music charts – the football anthem – and the first of these songs is still the best. Written for the 1990 FIFA World Cup, World in Motion is easily the most joyous song that the legendary New Order (who I controversially much prefer over Joy Division) have ever written and despite contrasting wildly with their gloomier other songs this is a still an absolutely cracking song. Kicking off with legendary football commentary over the top of Gillian Gilbert's somewhat ominous keyboard line (specifically using the immortal “They think it’s all over – well it is now!”) the song kicks into a far more upbeat rhythm with its glorious earworm of a keyboard riff. Though the vocals of Bernard Sumner still have a gloomy and foreboding edge to it the lyrics of rising to the top and never giving up in spite of adversary still work and have a wonderfully inspiring quality to it – Sumner’s vocals almost give the song a gloriously working class feel to it and makes it feel like a true rise to the top. The football elements are wonderfully used all the way through; there’s the aforementioned football commentary, as well as the chorus and the final verse at the end that give the feeling of being at a match, especially with the chants of “EN-GER-LAND!”. Meanwhile the rap from Liverpool star John Barnes is a little cheesy but still works because of its total earnestness and, once again, the uplifting spirit to it. This all adds up to an absolute epic, a song that can be loved by those who don’t even like football and proof that New Order could work by being upbeat. When the 2018 World Cup rolls around you can guarantee that I’ll be blaring this one a lot… until England inevitably crashes out after the first round of course.
- Sacrifice/Healing Hands – Elton John – 5 weeks, June 17th to July 21st
After over twenty years of creating many epic piano ballads and rockers (and a few less than epic ballads and rockers) Elton John finally achieved a solo UK number one single in the UK (Don’t Go Breaking My Heart was, of course, a duet with Kiki Dee). Sacrifice isn’t his best number though, being a slow paced, overlong and slightly syrupy ballad. It’s not too bad, having a somewhat soulful keyboard melody to it but the lyrics are a little corny, as they concern the end of a relationship but never really feel sad enough to pull through, whilst the chorus is quite repetitive. More damning is Elton’s vocals; there are points where he is clearly straining to get to the high notes of the song which leads to him sounding like his voice is about to crack from all the pressure. It’s no real surprise that following the album that this came from, Sleeping with the Past, he would consistently sing in a lower register that’s more suitable to him at his age. Ultimately Sacrifice isn’t terrible but it is a bit weedy for Elton’s standards.
Healing Hands is a fair bit better, having a somewhat upbeat and exciting feel to it, sounding in the verses like a slightly slower version of I’m Still Standing. Elton’s voice dips into the lower register for the verses and it works much better, whilst he delivers a really good piano solo in the middle. The song does suffer from a somewhat jarring truck driver’s gear change in the chorus and the lyrics aren’t anything too special. But ultimately this is one of those cases where the lesser known side of a single is the better track than the more publicised number.
- Turtle Power – Partners in Kryme – 4 weeks, July 22nd to August 18th
I likely don’t have to tell you this but in the late 1980s and early 1990s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were absolutely EVERYWHERE, with their cartoon series going strong, plenty of merchandise all over the place and their own live action film being released with involvement from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. But sometimes a trend can go ridiculously overboard and it’s those situations that lead to something like Turtle Power, a rap song about the Ninja Turtles. The song actually has a somewhat spooky ambiance to it early on with the vocoder vocals and sinister synthesiser line. But that all comes crashing to a halt as soon as the rap itself begins. Now, I’m not expecting a rap song based upon the Ninja Turtles to be super serious – I don’t think f-bombs and n-bombs would be quite appropriate for the spirit of the characters. And indeed, the lyrics that reference characters such as April O’Neill and Shredder and elements such as the turtles’ love of pizza are quite appropriate to the silliness of the series. But the problem with Turtle Power lies with the vocals, with the rap flow being very slow and weak and the rapper himself sounding bored with the material – it’s like he knows the song’s stupid and he thinks he’s above the material and so he slums it in. This turns Turtle Power into what could be an enjoyably silly song into a complete bore in spite of the influence of the Turtles.
Also it seems to claim that Raphael is the leader of the Turtles. Did you even listen to the show’s theme song, Partners in Kryme? Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines, Raphael is cool but crude and Michelangelo is a party dude! No wonder the rest of the song was naff!
- Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini – Bombalurina and Timmy Mallett – 3 weeks, August 19th to September 8th
Not content with one crappy novelty song topping the charts in 1990 we get a second one immediately afterwards! Britain, why do you do this shit?
It may surprise you that Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini has existed since 1960 as its content of idiocy seems to be clearly more suited to the 1990s. And dumb is the term that we can use comfortably for this rendition by a band created by kids TV show host Timmy Mallett. The song begins with an almost interesting sounding dance melody but then makes a horribly jarring shift into the annoying chorus. Mallett sings on the verses and his vocals are terribly dull, with no emotion in the lyrics he sings; makes sense given the crappy lyrics but it’s still ridiculously bland to listen to. Same goes with the female vocalists Dawn Andrews and Annie Dunkley, both of whom sound like they’re just ready to collect their paychecks and leave. Add on annoying vocal effects that run all the way through, such as the chants of “Oh yeah!” in the chorus and the squeaky background vocals in the verses, and add on the fact that it goes on for far too long and you have a dreadful novelty song that’s about as funny as sunburn.
- The Joker – The Steve Miller Band – 2 weeks, September 9th to September 22nd
Levi’s Jeans strike back with another number one single that hit the top spot by an appearance in their ads, over fifteen years after the song was originally released and hit the top spot in the US. And it’s great to see The Joker rise to the top of the charts as it’s a pretty grand song. The whole song has a greatly seductive quality to it with its slow and pulsating bassline and the performance by Miller himself – not to mention the wolf-whistles created by the slide guitar. Though the song can be seen as having somewhat cheesy lovey dovey lyrics, especially in the second verse where the innuendos truly come out swinging, it benefits from almost knowing that and playing them up as part of its sex appeal. The best part of the song easily comes from the slide guitar solos after the chrouses that’s guaranteed to get you pulsating with its sincere grooviness. This creates a downright classic rock epic that oozes charm and excitement and it’s great to see it finally hit the top spot, even if it only came about because of being in an advert.
- Show Me Heaven – Maria McKee – 4 weeks, September 23rd to October 20th
Remember Days of Thunder? That attempt by Tony Scott, Jerry Bruckheimer, Don Simpson and Tom Cruise to recapture the energy of Top Gun only using NASCAR as the primary setting? If you claim you do then I have more than a feeling that you’re being dishonest with me. Despite its obvious inadequacies Days of Thunder actually had a surprisingly good soundtrack, including the first appearance of Guns N’ Roses’ cover of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and the gloriously uplifting The Last Day of Freedom by Whitesnake’s David Coverdale. But just like Top Gun it was the love ballad that was the biggest draw from the album, and Show Me Heaven is far inferior to Take My Breath Away – kind of like Days of Thunder was to Top Gun, really. The vocals by Maria McKee are quite feeble, sounding strained in places and becoming quite irritating with how shrill they get at many points, especially in the chorus. The music is also very bland, with the thing that stands out being the annoyingly loud bass drums in the verses that threaten to drown out the rest of the song, and the lyrics are standard love ballad fare that are greatly uninteresting. This all adds up to an absolute snoozer of a love ballad that gives no indication to any sort of potential excitement of a film about NASCAR racing.
- A Little Time – The Beautiful South – 1 week, October 21st to October 27th
Another individual to break out from The Housemartins, Paul Heaton didn’t merge out as far as Norman Cook did with his new band The Beautiful South, opting instead to maintain the pop rock of his old band. And though it’s worked out fine for them overall it hasn’t been perfect as A Little Time proves, a somewhat dull and sappy break-up duet. Musically the song’s pretty decent if nothing thrilling, a slow moving and generally upbeat piano and guitar number with some interesting additions such as a trumpet solo and what appears to be recorders in the third verse. Additionally, the verses slow down to allow for the appearance of somewhat sinister synths and the song really benefits in a strange way from this whiplash; it’s something exciting and quite dark. The vocals though are a bit weak; Dave Hemingway doesn’t have much to his tones and sounds quite lightweight and Briana Corrigan sounds quite obnoxious with her lilting and sometimes fairly squeaky voice. The idea of a duet between two arguing partners is quite a good one but A Little Time isn’t exciting enough to make that work and comes off as a fairly weedy and rather forgettable ballad.
- Unchained Melody – The Righteous Brothers – 4 weeks, October 28th to November 24th, biggest selling single of the year
It says a lot about the poor state of the UK charts at the time when a 25 year old song was the biggest selling song of the year. After only going to number 14 upon its original release in 1965 a use in the romantic fantasy box office juggernaut Ghost put Unchained Melody back into the public consciousness once again and let it rise up to the top in the UK. The true factor that manages to put this song over the top is the sterling vocal performance from Bobby Hatfield; he demonstrates a wide range in his vocals, going from a shaky bass vocal in the beginning of the song right up to hitting the highest notes and he helps to make this song a classic. Musically it’s nothing too great to write home about and lyrically it is a little clichéd but Hatfield sells the song with so much power that you’ll scarcely care.
- Ice Ice Baby – Vanilla Ice – 4 weeks, November 25th to December 22nd
Not a rip-off of Under Pressure because he changed a note! That’s an actual excuse made by Vanilla Ice once he got hit with charges of plagiarism for his biggest number. Even if he had properly credited Queen and David Bowie right from the start he would still be guilty of murdering an absolute classic as Ice Ice Baby has become a song that’s lived in infamy and for absolute bloody good reason. Vanilla Ice is an atrocious rapper, with his flow being incredibly weak and his voice being incredibly annoying as he appears to be yelling the verses all the way through. This makes any attempt he tries to be tough sound absolute laughable; he’s so feeble he makes New Kids on the Block look like NWA. Speaking of which, the lyrics are absolutely horrendous, ranging from obnoxious and unconvincing bragging that falls flatter than a crepe (“Take heed cause I'm a lyrical poet”), strange metaphors (“My style's like a chemical spill, feasible rhymes that you can vision and feel”) and just general absolute lunacy (“I'm killing your brain like a poisonous mushroom, deadly when I play a dope melody”). This all adds up to a song that stands as one of the worst rap numbers ever produced and is rightfully a laughing stock in the world of popular music. Not even Ninja Rap from the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film was as stupid as this song.
- Saviour’s Day – Cliff Richard – 1 week, December 23rd to December 29th
What the hell even is a Saviour’s Day even meant to be? Cliff is a very open Christian and so would likely not compromise on the whole Christmas name – hell, he namechecked the holiday plenty of times just a couple of years ago with Mistletoe and Wine! So what is this event supposed to be all about? Answer me, Cliff – you making me mad before I got into listening to the song!
For what it’s worth Saviour’s Day is a significantly better listen than Mistletoe and Wine. But to say that isn’t saying much is a complete understatement as this is still a song by Cliff Richard. That automatically guarantees that it’s going to be lifeless, sappy and poorly sung. All those things come to fruition almost immediately; Cliff’s vocals sound ridiculously strained and become greatly annoying as a result. The lyrics are full of the general sappiness of cheer and splendour on Christ- oh, excuse me, SAVIOUR’S Day (which becomes even stranger as the lyrics seem to allude to Jesus many a time – so is this Christmas or not Cliff? It’s political correctness gone mad!), and the music is a cacophony of overproduced drivel, with an annoyingly shrill pan whistle that runs through much of the song and the dated synthesisers that form most of the melody (including the particularly annoying trills near the end). Add on the fact that it goes on for a soul drainingly long time and you have further proof that Cliff Richard was at his worst when singing about Christmas (yeah, I called it what it is, Cliff. Stop trying to make Saviour’s Day happen, it’s not going to happen). What makes matters worse is that of his three major Christmas hits (we’ll get to the third one later) this is the one that’s the least bad.
Oh, and if that wasn’t depressing enough Saviour’s Day meant that Cliff Richard was the only person to score a UK number one single in every decade in the 20th century since the charts began in the 1950s. He thankfully wouldn’t have another one in the 21st century but it’s still a sorry state of affairs that such a prestigious record was held by a man with such a nauseatingly sappy discography. For shame, Britain.
FINAL THOUGHTS – I went into 1990 with ridiculously low expectations. 1989 was such a painful year and kept the Dark Age of pop music thriving, and it’s often been said that the 1980s didn’t really end until the end of 1991. As such, I was expecting absolutely nothing for 1990 and by some degree I had my expectations exceeded. There were a few really good songs that hit the top spot this year, and not just the oldies that made it thanks to being used in a film or advert. Notably however the songs that were bad were really terrible, whether it be a boyband trying to prove their street cred and failing, a rapper trying to prove his street cred and failing or a sappy Christmas song (at least that one wasn’t trying to prove any street cred). These all make 1990 seem worse on the surface than it was; in reality it was a meh year, nothing great but leaps and bounds better than the previous two years. Certainly for once we did better than the US – they began the year with Michael Bolton and only went downhill from there…
- BEST SONG – World in Motion (Whilst The Joker is better, it was released in 1974 so I decided to not give it the title in the interest of fairness.)
- WORST SONG – Ice Ice Baby
Hope you enjoyed reading this countdown. If you want to see more from me, give my Facebook page a like: (https://www.facebook.com/CineCynic1996/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel) and if you really enjoy my work both in reviews and countdowns you can buy me supper thanks to Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/CineCynic1996). Got a few more film reviews in the pipeline before moving onto 1991 but keep your eyes peeled and it'll be up soon!