This Week In 1991: October 13, 1991
First impressions are everything - and this week in 1991, the debut singles by three quite different acts arrived on the ARIA top 50. All three made a suitable splash - two especially so.
There was the first single by a new vocal harmony quartet who'd been discovered by Michael Bivins of New Edition and Bell Biv DeVoe, and would go on to be bigger than both those groups combined.
Then, there were the debuts singles by two group with frontmen that liked to get their shirts off. Both were instantly iconic pop tracks that would prove impossible to live up to.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg of the great pop music from this week in 1991. Indeed, it's weeks like this that make up for every time I have to write about Jimmy Barnes or recap yet another song by The Angels or feign interest in some dreadful novelty single.
There was even a brand new number 1 after the 11-week reign of terror by "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You". Having patiently waited in the number 2 spot for four weeks, "Love... Thy Will Be Done" by Martika finally wrangled a single week as Australia's highest-selling single.
Off The Chart
Number 92 "I'm On Your Side" by Divinyls
Peak: number 92
Their last single, "Make Out Alright", had missed the top 100, so Divinyls went with the other track co-written by Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg from their self-titled album. But "I'm On Your Side" was no "I Touch Myself".
Number 78 "Satisfied" by Kate Ceberano
Peak: number 71
If "Every Little Thing" had been a chart disappointment, then this follow-up was a disaster. Possibly not the best song to have gone with as second single, but "Satisfied" deserved better.
Single Of The Week
Peak: number 105
Australia may have welcomed dance music onto the top 50 in the previous few years, but locally produced club tracks had yet to make much of an impression. That continued to be the case with this homegrown single by S-Witch, who I presume were so named to avoid confusion (and legal issues) with the American R&B group Switch. Written by S-Witch's singer Alston Koch and Tambi Fernando (who'd penned a couple of songs for Pepsi & Shirlie), "It's A Shame" was a catchy enough piece of dance/pop that, despite missing the top 100, was still included on Hits 4U '92.
Peak: number 64
Her first post-Eurogliders project, the soundtrack to Come In Spinner, had been a roaring success, and so Grace Knight followed that with another batch of jazz and blues standards on the Stormy Weather album. And what song is more standard than the much-covered Little Willie John tune, "Fever"? Grace's version, which was released as the project's lead single, was a pretty straightforward cover - and while it wasn't a massive hit, Stormy Weather did make the top 20. Of the many versions of "Fever" released in Australia, the only one to reach the top 50 remains Peggy Lee's remake, which got to number 2 in 1958.
Peak: number 57
I'm not really surprised this third solo single by Cathy Dennis bombed in Australia despite it following two consecutive top 20 hits and it reaching the US top 10. As much as I like "Too Many Walls", it's not the sort of song that fared that well locally - not really a big ballad and not really a big pop tune. Fun fact: Cathy wrote the lyrics to "Too Many Walls" to an instrumental track composed by The Art Of Noise's Anne Dudley.
Peak: number 57
Here's another former US top 10 hit that peaked at exactly the same position as "Too Many Walls" on the ARIA chart - and was just as unlikely to be any bigger given Australia had never embraced the freestyle music genre. The latest in a line of singles that owed what little success it had in Australia to exposure on American Top 40, "Temptation" was singer Corina Ayala's only hit in the States.
Number 47 "All 4 Love" by Color Me Badd
Peak: number 9
Great songs like "Too Many Walls" and "Temptation" might have missed the top 50, but this second local release by Color Me Badd had no such trouble, going on to become the group's second consecutive top 10 hit. In America, where it was the quartet's third single, "All 4 Love" became their second number 1 hit in early 1992, following in the chart-topping footsteps of second single "I Adore Mi Amor". As we'll see in coming months, it was a good move for Australia to follow the UK's lead in terms of what order to release Color Me Badd's singles. With its perky beat and good use of a sample from "Patch My Heart" by The Mad Lads, "All 4 Love" was always going to do much better than syrupy "I Adore Mi Amor", as we'll see in coming months...
Number 43 "Motownphilly" by Boyz II Men
Peak: number 32
One vocal harmony four-piece with a new jack swing classic deserves another, right? Like "All 4 Love", the debut single by Boyz II Men took the sounds of decades past - doo-wop and, as the song name suggests, Motown and Philadelphia soul - and gave them a modern twist. Combined with lyrics that describe the group's formation and discovery by Michael Bivins (who provides a guest rap), as well as name-checking Bell Biv DeVoe and Another Bad Creation (also a Bivins signing), "Motownphilly" is a literal introduction to Boyz II Men. But, it only told half the story. Not only could the quartet perform jaunty upbeat songs - and pull off the formation dance moves to go with them - but they could sing ballads in perfect four-part harmony as well.
The original version of debut album Cooleyhighharmony was divided into two equal halves - five uptempo tracks like "Motownphilly" and five slower songs, including the album's three other singles, "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday", "Uhh Ahh" and "Please Don't Go". Despite all reaching the US top 50, none of those other songs initially ventured into the ARIA top 100 (although a re-release of "It's So Hard..." just would in 1993). And yet, it would be big, emotional ballads that would eventually provide Boyz II Men with their greatest success in Australia - starting in just over a year's time with a song that would end up being tacked on to a revised version of Cooleyhighharmony.
Peak: number 33
They'd ended their first decade together with retrospective album Collected Works and another attempt to turn "Throw Your Arms Around Me" into a hit, so where to next for Hunters & Collectors? Overseas, as it turns out, to work with international producers. "Where Do You Go?" was the first track released from recording sessions with Nick Sansano, who'd worked on albums for alternative band Sonic Youth, and hip-hop acts like Run-DMC and Public Enemy. The single wasn't that much of a departure for Hunters & Collectors - that would come, though, with the rest of their upcoming seventh studio album, Cut, which was produced by Don Gehman and would see the light of day in a year's time.
Number 30 "Get A Leg Up" by John Mellencamp
Peak: number 21
Next up, a musician who had worked with Don Gehman throughout most of the '80s but was now producing his own albums. And, for 1991's Whenever We Wanted, he was doing it all under a new name... kind of. After being known as John Cougar Mellencamp since 1983's Uh-Huh and before that as John Cougar, the singer born John Mellencamp finally went with that as his professional moniker. The back to basics approach applied to his music as well, with "Get A Leg Up" as straightforward and old-fashioned a rock song as you could ask for. Not that I was really asking. I'd quite liked a lot of John's singles in the '80s, but by 1991, I'd moved on.
Number 27 "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred
Peak: number 1
Was there ever any doubt this would be as massive as the Fairbrass brothers' bulging muscles? The debut single by British trio Right Said Fred, the infinitely quotable "I'm Too Sexy" teetered on the precipice between pop classic and novelty horror - and for me, ended up as the former. A dig at runway models who think they're too sexy for... well, pretty much everything, the song was massive just about everywhere, reaching number 1 in Australia and the US, and getting stuck at number 2 for six weeks behind Bryan Adams in the UK. One of those songs I can listen to only occasionally now, it became an inescapable pop culture phenomenon in 1991. Although most people consider them to be one-hit wonders (which they were in the US), Right Said Fred actually had two more top 40 hits in Australia.
Peak: number 4
Like Right Said Fred, this next act is often wrong referred to as a one-hit wonder and this song is now viewed as something of a novelty, given the fact that jeans-dropping, Calvins-flashing Marky Mark grew up to become serious actor Mark Wahlberg. An original member of New Kids On The Block, Donnie's younger brother quit the boy band before they released any music and went on to form his own, edgier (in sound if not in name) group. Given the New Kids connection - Donnie was even on production duties - success was all but guaranteed.
The fact that "Good Vibrations" was no cynical cash-in like "Biscuit's In The House" but instead a properly good song based around samples from Loleatta Holloway's "Love Sensation" (which had already been raided for Black Box's "Ride On Time"), the dance/rap track deservedly became a huge hit. A number 1 single in the US and a top 5 hit in Australia, "Good Vibrations" was everything New Kids wished they could achieve with their attempts at an edgier sound. But could it last?
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1991:
Next week: the return of one of the most consistent female singers of the late '80s and early '90s, and an Australian pop star jumps to a brand new (but old) beat.