This Week In 1991: July 14, 1991
Last week, we saw that the key to continued success for a rock band in 1991 was to look forwards and not backwards - trying something new instead of going with what had worked in the past. This week that year, two more rock acts earnt themselves massive ARIA chart hits by doing something completely different.
For one, it was the choice to issue not one, but two new albums. For the other, it was the decision to stop fighting the inevitable and release the most commercial track on their latest album as a single.
A song at the other end of the musical spectrum ascended to number 1 this week in 1991. "Read My Lips" by soap star-turned-pop princess Melissa brought an end to the chart-topping reign of "The Grease Megamix".
Off The Chart
Number 100 "All Mixed Up" by The Twins
Peak: number 74
As big a Stock Aitken Waterman fan as I am, even I thought this was a phoned in "Better The Devil You Know" rip-off for weak-voiced Neighbours stars Gayle and Gillian Blakeney.
Number 98 "24 Hours" by Betty Boo
Peak: number 94
Even though this was as good a single as "Doin' The Do" or "Where Are You Baby?", the British rapper never recovered from her dropped mic scandal in Australia.
Number 94 "State Of The World" by Janet Jackson
Peak: number 94
The eighth (seventh in Australia since we skipped "Alright") and final single from Rhythm Nation 1814 was the lowest charting, but certainly not the worst track lifted from the album.
Peak: number 10
Like the two rock bands we'll get to later, it made sense for Lenny Kravitz to try something different as well. Despite critical acclaim, record buyers hadn't exactly rushed out in droves to buy any of his previous singles. His best effort on the ARIA chart up until this point had been the number 36 position achieved by "Let Love Rule". And so it was out with the retro rock and in with a throwback single of a different style. With its Philly soul strings and Motown beat, "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" showed a softer side to Lenny - and it was one that resonated with the public. The catchy-as-all-get-out song became his first top 10 hit in Australia, the US and almost in the UK.
Peak: number 37
It'd slowly been climbing the top 100 for the previous two months and finally the former UK number 2 dance smash made its way into the top 50 for the duo comprised of Damon Rochefort and Steve McCutcheon. Featuring rapper MC Mikee Freedom and singer Sharon D Clarke, "(I Wanna Give You) Devotion" wasn't anywhere near as big in Australia, but its sustained popularity in clubs kept it in the top 100 for 22 weeks in total.
Peak: number 11
Next up, a club classic that was a big hit in Australia - and just about everywhere else in the western world. With its nagging (i.e annoying and almost out-of-tune) "la-da-dee" hook and much-sampled keyboard riff, there was no doubt "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)" was going to be huge. It's one of those songs that gets stuck in your head whether you like it or, in my case, not. It was also a rare dance track with something substantial to say (about homelessness, obviously) and was actually written by Crystal Waters with Ultra Naté in mind. When producers The Basement Boys heard Crystal's demo recording, they liked it enough to give it the green light - and a club star was born.
Peak: number 11
Here's another dance track with a topical point to make - although the breakthrough single by Yothu Yindi wasn't intended to come with a club-friendly beat. Written by members of the Indigenous group with Paul Kelly and Peter Garrett, the original version of "Treaty" was a response to the lack of progress by the Australian government on a promised treaty that would formalise the rights of the country's original landowners.
After that version failed to make much of an impression, the Filthy Lucre team approached Yothu Yindi's record company with the idea of a dance remix. The majority of the song's English lyrics (which included some of the more pointed criticism) were dropped, a pumping beat added and a new, less political music video made. The makeover worked. Not only did the revised version of the track become a chart smash, but it received the ARIA Awards for Song and Single Of The Year in 1992, and raised awareness of an important social and political issue.
Number 37 "Love And Understanding" by Cher
Peak: number 23
She'd been on a bit of a roll since her 1987 music comeback, racking up four big hits in as many years. But this was where the good times ended for Cher - well, for now, anyway. The lead single from her Love Hurts album, "Love And Understanding" would be her last top 50 appearance for seven years, with subsequent singles from the album and her next one, (mostly) covers collection It's A Man's World, all missing the mark. Like previous singles "If I Could Turn Back Time" and "Just Like Jesse James", "Love And Understanding" was written (and co-produced) by Diane Warren.
Number 34 "People Are Still Having Sex" by LaTour
Peak: number 17
Proving the old adage that sex sells, this irritating dance track peaked 20 places higher than the far superior single by Nomad. The handiwork of American musician, DJ and voiceover actor William "Bud" LaTour, the song consists of a minimal dance track over which the deep voiced performer intones about how, well, people are still having sex. For me, it was the musical equivalent of someone reading a shopping list over elevator music. Still, it was a hit so what do I know?
Number 30 "More Than Words" by Extreme
Peak: number 2
Funk metal band Extreme had been making a name for themselves with fans of that style of music since 1989. It's just that there was only a certain amount of those fans, meaning the band's success had been rather limited up until this point. Listen to early single "Kid Ego" to get a sense of what they typically sounded like. Their second album, Extreme II: Pornograffitti, and its first two singles, "Decadence Dance" and "Get The Funk Out", had more or less preached to the converted.
But Extreme had an ace up their sleeve in the form of ballad "More Than Words", which anyone who wasn't tone deaf could tell was a monster hit single in waiting. Written by singer Gary Cherone and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt, the tender love song relied on the interplay of the two band members' voices, as they harmonised over a simple acoustic guitar line. A number 2 hit in Australia and the UK, and a chart-topper in the US, "More Than Words" was one of 1991's biggest global hits - but fans of the tune suddenly rushing out to buy Pornograffitti were in for a bit of a rude shock.
Number 4 "You Could Be Mine" by Guns n' Roses
Peak: number 3
In the late '80s, Guns n' Roses had redefined rock music, providing a refreshingly raw and rebellious antidote to the glitz and glamour of hair metal. As the Poisons and Warrants of the world faded away in the early '90s, the path was cleared for the Gunners to dominate further, which is exactly what they proceeded to do. The band released Use Your Illusion I and II, two albums of mostly unreleased material ("Knockin' On Heaven's Door" had previously appeared on the Days Of Thunder soundtrack), and lifted eight singles from them over the next few years.
"You Could Be Mine" was the first - a furious blast of aggressive rock that spent 13 weeks in the top 10 and ended up as 1991's fifth highest-selling single despite never getting higher than number 3. The track was taken from Use Your Illusion II, which would debut at number 1 in September (with Use Your Illusion I right behind at number 2). "You Could Be Mine" also featured in the highly anticipated Terminator sequel, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, scenes from which feature in the music video below.
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1991:
Next week: the arrival of the song that would end up as the longest-running number 1 since 1978 and, naturally, be the year's biggest seller. Plus, Mariah Carey continues to under-perform in Australia.