Our survey takes us now to 1990. On TV, America was being entertained by the antics of an oddball family called the Simpsons. In the news, we were worrying about political instability in Russia and the spectre of war in Iraq. And in the world of technology, sales of Encyclopedia Britannica reached an all-time high, while something called “the World Wide Web” was just being launched. Strange times, eh?
We start off the decade with 26 songs, including Phil Collins’ carryover, the first rap song to reach #1, and a cover of a song from one of Prince’s side project bands.
On all these polls, some years were good, and some were bad. Finally we have a year where I just have no opinion on any of these songs. I try. I try to scrape my brain for my emotional reaction to “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “Vogue” and “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” and there’s just. nothing.
Embarrassingly, most of the songs this year I don’t even recognize, at least not by title. But even the ones I recognize I may as well not. By 1990 I had become completely oblivious to the culture’s pulse.
From the perspective of someone who wasn’t old enough to really be aware of contemporary music at the time, it’s almost as this era has fallen down a black hole as far as radio goes. Most classic rock/oldies/“classic hits” stations seem to have a hard cutoff date of 1989 for their playlists, and most adult contemporary stations don’t seem to go much further back than the late '90s, so almost none of this music gets airplay anymore.
I voted for “Black Velvet” because it’s one of the only songs on this list I do know and like.
Well, there are only about a half dozen songs I recognize, and about a half dozen artists I’ve never even heard of before.
Phil Collins takes this, and only because I traveled to Spain on vacation with a couple of friends that year and remember hearing that song as we strolled the beaches of Marbella, it really was another day in paradise.
I went with Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Other ones I considered are Janet Jackson’s “Escapade,” Alannah Myles’s sizzling, swampy shuffle in “Black Velvet”, and Madonna’s fun dance number “Vogue,” but beyond that, I’m not really feeling a lot of love for 1990. (There’s a couple songs here that I don’t recognize for some reason, too. I think this is when I started to pay a little less attention to the Top 40 and started getting into early 70s blues rock like Zeppelin, IIRC.)
Yeah, it seems to be a year over-represented with pleading mid-tempo love songs. There’s a shortage of really “fun” pop on here. Of course, I did end up voting for one of the love songs, but Sinead’s heart-felt take is hard to resist. It’s a gorgeous performance and stands head and shoulders musically and emotionally above anything else here.
Seeing this chart makes me realize just how much better and diverse Top 40 pop music gotten in the last ten years, especially the 2010s. It’s like another golden age of pop. (I’m sure plenty of curmudgeons here will disagree, but just look at that chart. Ugh. Today’s chart music is so much more fun and interesting.)
Finally, 1990 when the ballad is dead and people can start dancing again. Ice Ice Baby is such a fun song. Shame that Van Winkle went nuts after everyone made fun of him because they didn’t understand sampling and Suge Knight stole all his money.
Well, a Prince cover is better than nothing, I suppose.
And that probably explains why this was the year I would first listen to the rap my roommate and his friends would listen to, and think “Hey, this is pretty good! They really know how to work a studio!”
This is the first year where I couldn’t hum half the songs cold and while I might recognize them if I heard them, the titles mean nothing to me. Inevitably, most of these songs are by female artists (though the one that got my boat is also the She with the wonderful Prince cover), though I’m equally clueless by anything from a boy band.
This is Sinead’s year. Her version of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” is de-fucking-finitive. I mean, I thought the Family’s original a cappella version, with Paul Peterson on lead vocals, was pretty good, but hers is revelatory (and it wasn’t even the best track on I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, which remains one of my ten favorite albums, in any genre, ever).
So, yeah, I voted for “Nothing Compares 2 U”.
Other good number ones from this year - and there aren’t many - are “Escapade”, “Vogue”, “Praying for Time”, and (I’m not ashamed to say) “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection”.
As regards “Blaze of Glory”: What is it with feather-light hair bands wanting to make ersatz, bastardized “country” (<— not really) music? First there was “Wanted Dead or Alive”. Then there was Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”. And now this turd. What gives (or, to be more accurate, what gave)? Any theories?
I was deep into my Metallica-fellating phase during this time. (Said phase would last another four years, approximately.) But I still watched MTV voraciously, so I am familiar with most of these titles, even if I can’t actually tolerate the majority of 'em.