This Week In 1990: August 12, 1990
And then a new artist comes along, with the vocal range to carry on... right up the chart - but who could have predicted that the female singer who debuted on the ARIA singles top 50 this week in 1990 would go on to become one of the world's all-time most successful music acts?
Decades before she received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, Mariah Carey was just another fresh-faced young female singer trying to make a name for herself. And while that face, along with her wardrobe and grasp on reality might have altered over the years, that spectacular vocal style, which was like nothing that'd been heard before, has remained the same, generating dozens of hits and spawning countless imitators in the years since.
An artist whose influence on the world turned out to be much more limited than Mariah's held down the number 1 spot this week in 1990. "U Can't Touch This" by the running man-dancing, baggy pants-wearing MC Hammer stayed on top for a fourth week.
Off The Chart
Number 95 "Home" by Iggy Pop
Peak: number 95
He'd had an unexpected smash with future Rage theme "Real Wild Child (Wild One)" in 1986, and legendary performer Iggy Pop would strike again with a song from 1990's Brick By Brick album - but not this lead single.
Peak: number 53
Like Iggy, Hothouse Flowers would find success with a song from their 1990 album, Home - but once again it wasn't the lead single that did the business for them. Despite treading a fairly similar piano-led folk/rock path to their two minor hits, "Don't Go" and "I'm Sorry", "Give It Up" narrowly missed the top 50, while Home bounced in and out of the albums top 50, never reaching higher than number 40. Things would change - dramatically - after the release of the album's second single and Home would end up topping the albums chart in March 1991.
Number 48 "Harley & Rose" by The Black Sorrows
Peak: number 24
Fifth album Hold On To Me had proved to be the long-awaited breakthrough for Jo Camilleri's latest musical project, with the LP reaching number 7 and one single, "Chained To The Wheel", also making the top 10. While "Harley & Rose" the single didn't perform quite as well, the tale of two lovers did become the blues/rock band's second biggest hit, while the album of the same name outperformed its predecessor, peaking at number 3.
Number 47 "Big Fun" by Icehouse
Peak: number 47
What a difference a couple of years makes. In 1987/88, Icehouse could do no wrong, with a string of five top 30 singles (including two top 5 hits) from the Man Of Colours album, which spent 11 straight weeks at number 1 in late 1987. In 1990, "Big Fun" became the band's second single in row to peak at number 47. The truth of the matter is that "Big Fun" (like earlier flop "Jimmy Dean") just wasn't up to scratch. Seriously, "yo ho ho ho, big fun"? You've got to try harder than that, Iva. And while "Jimmy Dean" was the second new track from a greatest hits collection and could be excused for being under par, "Big Fun" was the lead single from new album Code Blue - the follow-up to Man Of Colours - so expectations were high. Big disappointment, more like it.
Number 45 "Vision Of Love" by Mariah Carey
Peak: number 9
When she burst onto the scene in 1990, she was dubbed "the new Whitney Houston" thanks to her penchant for big ballads sung with her just as big voice, but Mariah Carey quickly became appreciated as an artist in her own right and forged her own significant musical legacy - changing forever the way pop songs were performed. And it all started with her debut single, "Vision Of Love".
The song starts off normally - if slightly dramatically - enough, before we're gently led through a sweet verse and chorus. So far, so unremarkable. But if the octave jumps and initial vocal tricks in the second verse and chorus don't make you sit up and take notice, then the bridge really amps up the excitement as Mariah sings with what we think is her full voice. Oh no, not by a long shot.
Verse three pushes things further with its call and response vocals, but then, coming into the third chorus, Mariah lets rip with what will become her trademark special talent. At the 2:45 mark, she hits a note that sounds like an old school kettle boiling - then takes it a couple of notes higher. I remember hearing that for the first time and knowing this was truly something new - and it all seemed so effortless.
Then, just when you think you've heard all her tricks, Mariah uses about 37 notes to sing the word "all" in the song's final line - and a superstar is born. For better or worse, that melisma vocal style would likely not be as much a part of modern singing as it is were it not for Mariah and "Vision Of Love".
A four-week number 1 in the US (the first of 18 to date there), "Vision Of Love" did well to hit the top 10 in Australia, where hyper-emotional ballads (especially ones by Whitney) had often under-performed. As we'll see in the coming months, while she continued to make the ARIA top 50 with subsequent releases, it would be another three years before she bettered the chart peak of her debut hit.
Peak: number 20
From an artist who would notch up several worldwide number 1 hits in the years to come, we move now to a singer following up her one and only global chart-topper with a song that was about as different to "Nothing Compares 2 U" as you could get. More in line with the rockier feel of her only other previous top 50 appearance, "Mandinka", "The Emperor's New Clothes" deals with Sinéad's relationship with drummer and producer John Reynolds, the father of her son, Jake.
Number 38 "Cuts Both Ways" by Gloria Estefan
Peak: number 38
I've never liked this Gloria Estefan ballad - the fifth and final single from the album of the same name - and listening to it again now just after I've played "Vision Of Love", it sounds as dull as ever. I don't know what's worse - the sleep-inducing chorus that starts the song or the bizarre shift to a more upbeat verse (or bridge, or whatever it is) which just accentuates how boring the main part of the song is when it shifts back down a gear. Not surprisingly, it wasn't a great success here, in the US (where it reached number 44) or the UK (number 49). The next time we'd hear from Gloria, it would be with her return to the stage following months spent in physical rehabilitation after her tour bus was hit by a truck earlier in 1990.
Number 37 "Southern Sky" by Paul Norton
Peak: number 37
OK, so last single "I Got You" hadn't worked. What to do to try and score another big hit like "Stuck On You"... How about something with a bit of nationalistic theme? Starting off with the line: "It was Australia Day, 1985", this third single from Paul's Under A Southern Sky had all the ingredients of an Aussie rock classic - except maybe a hook that didn't sound like a dirge. I'm guessing the prominent female vocal on the track is Paul's wife, Wendy Stapleton of Wendy & The Rocketts fame (biggest hit: "Play The Game", number 28 in 1983), who had joined her husband's band - a reversal of the situation several years earlier when Paul had played guitar for her. It'd be a couple more years before new music would emerge from Paul - but this would be his final top 50 appearance.
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1990:
Next week: the solo debut from the lead singer of one of the biggest bands in the world, plus the return of one of the biggest male artists in Australia. And, after a great start, a local female artist loses all her chart momentum with a dud follow-up single.
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