This Week In 1991: January 13, 1991
In yesterday's trip back to the first ARIA singles chart of 1986, we saw a new entry by a band on the cusp of breaking up. Before long, the singer would embark on a hugely successful solo career. By 1991, he'd had about as much of the spotlight as he could take.
This week in 1991, the latest release by the singer in question reached the top 50 and was accompanied by a music video in which he didn't even appear. He was famous and popular enough to get away with it, but it would be the point of no return as far as his career was concerned... in more ways than one.
Meanwhile, an artist who was seemingly lapping up his new-found fame finally knocked those pesky Righteous Brothers off the number 1 spot. "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice rolled up to the top for the first week in a three-week stay.
Off The Chart
Number 100 "One And Only Man" by Steve Winwood
Peak: number 100
No surprise this lead single from Refugees Of The Heart was a much bigger hit in the US, where it reached the top 20. Steve co-wrote this with former Traffic band-mate Jim Capaldi.
Number 99 "Cross Of Love" by Stray Cats
Peak: number 94
The rockabilly band's latest attempt to recapture their early '80s glory came with a much harder sound than on previous hits "Runaway Boys" (number 15 in 1981) and "(She's) Sexy And 17" (number 21 in 1983).
Peak: number 65
This song - taken, coincidentally, from the album Stray - actually sounds more like Stray Cats. Joining Aztec Camera for the single was Mick Jones from The Clash and Big Audio Dynamite.
Number 88 "I Don't Have The Heart" by James Ingram
Peak: number 78
He'd reached the ARIA top 40 twice with two duets (alongside Patti Austin and Linda Ronstadt) and the US number 1 spot with this big ballad, but Australia was largely unmoved.
Peak: number 60
There comes a time in every former teen star's career when they decide to mature their sound and image. That point came for Debbie Gibson with her third album, Anything Is Possible. Released when she was 20 years old, the 16-track (12 on vinyl) epic saw her co-write songs for the first time in her recording career - with legendary Motown songwriter and producer Lamont Dozier no less. "Anything Is Possible" was one of the fruits of that collaboration and its brooding sound was a far cry from "Shake Your Love" or "Electric Youth" - although Debbie couldn't resist including a big of formation dancing in the video.
Unfortunately for Debbie, the transformation didn't pay off, with the single doing worse than all but one of her previous singles in the US, while in the UK, not even a PWL remix could help the song rise above number 51. In Australia, the track also under-performed when compared to the first hit from each of her previous two albums (although a number 60 position was on par with a lot of her other releases) - and this would be the last time we'd see Debbie inside the top 100.
Peak: number 59
Last week, we saw hip-hop group N.W.A. achieve their first top 50 hit, but once again fellow rappers Public Enemy fell just short - for the fifth time in under a year. With their debut single still on the top 100 after making a belated appearance in late 1990, the group charted with this latest release from Fear Of A Black Planet. After more intense tracks "Fight The Power" and "Welcome To The Terrordome", "Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man" showed the lighter side to Public Enemy - and if any track was going to break through to a more mainstream audience, it would've been this. But at this point, Australian preferred rap to come from the likes of MC Hammer, Young MC and this week's chart-topper, Vanilla Ice.
Peak: number 51
So this is what happens when you let Danny Wood sing lead? To be fair, the reason "Let's Try It Again" failed isn't entirely the fault of the boy band's fourth main singer, who'd never featured on a fully fledged single before. The main problem is it's a terrible song - dated and cheesy, with cheap-sounding production. Even in 1991. Also working against NKOTB at this point in their career was a) the fact that music trends were moving away from pure pop and b) the group's unrelenting release schedule had caused them to wear out their welcome. As we'll see in coming months, problem a) was addressed, while problem b) was ignored as the five-piece pressed on in the hopes that they could weather the storm.
Number 49 "Anything Is Possible" by Icehouse
Peak: number 49
Just when it looked like Icehouse was back on track, this follow-up to "Miss Divine" returned the band to the bottom end of the chart - a region they were becoming all too familiar with thanks to under-performing singles "Jimmy Dean" and "Big Fun". Truth be told, like those other flops, "Anything Is Possible" was incredibly ordinary and it seemed that the band that'd had a pretty much flawless run of singles during the '80s had lost the magic as soon as we hit the '90s. Seems like this particular song title was cursed, with Icehouse's "Anything Is Possible" proving to be the band's final ever top 50 appearance.
Number 44 "Little Darling" by Jimmy Barnes
Peak: number 39
Here's another Australian act struggling with their latest single, but in Jimmy Barnes's case, it was his first single of the 1990s not to ascend to his customary chart heights. After two singles co-written with some of the world's best songwriters, "Little Darling" was entirely Jimmy's handiwork - and even a non-fan like me found it somewhat pedestrian. Good news for Jimmy was that he had another sure-fire hit from Two Fires up his sleeve and he'd be back in the top 10 before long.
Peak: number 1
Just when you thought we'd never get to a decent-sized hit this week - here's a future chart-topping single by a British band with an American singer that had its first hits in the Netherlands. Londonbeat's biggest single up until this point had been "9 AM (The Comfort Zone)", which I seem to remember being given odds to take out the 1988 UK Christmas number 1. It didn't come close to achieving that, but this lead single from the band's second album, In The Blood, almost reached the top in Britain.
"I've Been Thinking About You" actually dated back to Londonbeat's first album, Speak, but the cheery dance/pop track was left on the shelf until album number two - when it became a worldwide smash. Following its UK number 2 success, the song went all the way in the US and Australia, where it ruled the chart for four weeks. Two videos exist for the song - the original clip is below, while there's a link to an alternate music video made for the US market in the song title above.
Number 38 "Freedom!" by George Michael
Peak: number 18
After releasing a simple lyric video for "Praying For Time", the lead single from Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1, George Michael once again opted not to appear in the music video for the album's next single. Instead, "Freedom!" (aka "Freedom! '90", to avoid confusion with Wham!'s 1984 single "Freedom") was accompanied by a clip featuring five of the world's most successful models, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz and Christy Turlington, miming the song's lyrics.
Written about George's desire to "play the game" a different way, "Freedom!" made it clear he was turning his back on his pop star image of old. To really hammer the point home, the jukebox, guitar and leather jacket from the "Faith" video exploded in flames in the David Fincher-directed clip. Obviously, even though George wasn't actually onscreen, the music video was noteworthy - and expensive - enough to go on high rotation.
As a result, the single was another top 10 hit for him in the US. In Australia and the UK (where it reached a disappointing number 28), "Freedom!" wasn't as big as you might have expected a second single from a George Michael album to be. As we'll see in coming months, George's insistence to shy away from publicity would go on to have implications beyond low chart positions with his relationship with his record company souring due to his stance.
Number 22 "Fantasy" by Black Box
Peak: number 3
After the relative failure of the Italian dance group's previous effort, "Everybody Everybody", in the UK and Australia, it made sense for them to change tack. Slowing the tempo down, Black Box released their cover of "Fantasy", originally a smooth funk single which reached number 25 for Earth, Wind & Fire in 1978. Putting aside the thumping piano house for a second went down a storm, with the single restoring Black Box to the top 5 in both countries - and giving model Katrin Quinol the chance to flounce around in a flowing white dress while lip syncing instead of having to keep up with sampled lyrics and high-energy dance moves. Vocals on the track were, once again, actually provided by Martha Wash.
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1991:
Next week: one of the best dance tracks of the entire decade debuts - and once again came with some Martha Wash-related controversy. Plus, another dance act sneak into the top 50 to break their one-hit wonder curse (not that anyone remembers!).