This Week In 1990: November 18, 1990
After a slow start in Australia, rap music was off and running in 1990. Two hip-hop singles had already been to the top of the ARIA top 50 by this stage in the year — and this week, a third rap song that would go on to top the chart made its debut.
And what a single it was. A career-defining record that has come full circle over the years — from being loved at the time of its release to being derided shortly after and back to being acknowledged as a bona fide (if guilty pleasure) classic.
Another '90s classic ascended to the top of the Australian chart this week in 1990. "Groove Is In The Heart" by Deee-Lite knocked "Jukebox In Siberia" from the number 1 position — although it would only stay there for one week.
Off The Chart
Number 97 "Holy Smoke" by Iron Maiden
Peak: number 93
A brief top 100 appearance for this lead single from the No Prayer For The Dying album — a song which conveyed the band's attitude toward American televangelists like the Bakkers.
Number 96 "Walk On" by Chantoozies
Peak: number 96
Having shed five of their eight members, the three-piece Chantoozies were struggling to get back into the top 50. Solution: release another cover version as their follow-up to this flop.
Number 93 The Weddings Play Sports (And Falcons) by Weddings Parties Anything
Peak: number 93
Their mainstream breakthrough was just over a year away, but in the meantime, the popular live band released this EP of songs originally recorded by The Sports and Jo Jo Zep And The Falcons.
Number 70 "The Space Jungle" by Adamski
Peak: number 70
Brilliant UK chart-topper "Killer" (which launched vocalist Seal) had received no attention whatsoever in Australia, but this mediocre follow-up somehow made the top 100? Travesty.
Peak: number 61
Not even a brand new single from charity album Red Hot + Blue could lift Neneh Cherry out of the chart doldrums, with this cover of the Cole Porter classic that dated back to 1936 placing in the same vicinity as previous top 50 misses "Manchild" and "Kisses On The Wind". Like all the other tracks on the AIDS benefit compilation, "I've Got You Under My Skin" gave the song made most famous by Frank Sinatra (and also covered by The Four Seasons) a major makeover. In fact, very little of the original tune remained, with Neneh's version transforming the song into an edgy rap track.
Number 50 "From A Distance" by Bette Midler
Peak: number 8
Here's another cover version, but in this case the original recording of "From A Distance" by country performer Nanci Griffith was more or less unknown, leaving the way clear for this remake by Bette Midler to become the definitive version. Similar in style to her last big hit (and cover), "Wind Beneath My Wings", Bette's take on "From A Distance" was the lead single from Some People's Lives, her first studio album in seven years.
Despite lyrics that plead for peace and harmony, the big ballad became associated with the Gulf War that broke out around the same time as the single's US release — incidentally, my favourite bit of the song is when Bette dramatically emphasizes the last word in "even though we are at war" (around the 2:50 mark). Helped along by the link, "From A Distance" reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won the Grammy for Song Of The Year.
In the UK, Bette even managed to out-perform Cliff Richard with her version. The two singers both released their recordings of the tune at the same time in the UK, with Cliff's single initially peaking higher, reaching number 11 as opposed to number 45 for Bette. But, crafty Bette re-released her version in mid-1991 and it went all the way to number 6. In Australia, as well as Bette reaching the top 10 for what would be the final time, there was the obligatory Fast Forward parody, which in this case was kind of an easy target.
Number 47 "The Obvious Child" by Paul Simon
Peak: number 42
The last time we heard new music from this half of Simon & Garfunkel, it was with his Grammy Award-winning number 1 album Graceland, which spent five weeks at the top across 1986-87 and yielded the number 2 smash "You Can Call Me Al". But while the similarly world music-influenced follow-up album, The Rhythm Of The Saints, reached number 3, this lead single featuring Brazilian drumming ensemble Olodum didn't crack the top 40.
Number 44 "Rhythm Of The Rain" by Jason Donovan
Peak: number 44
Here it is: the final top 50 appearance for one-time chart sensation Jason Donovan. And what a dud single to go out on. Like "Sealed With A Kiss", "Rhythm Of The Rain" was originally recorded in the early '60s and chosen by producers Stock Aitken Waterman (although I'm sure Pete Waterman was really to blame) for Jason to remake in the hopes that it would have cross-generational appeal.
Even more insipid than "Sealed...", this cover of the song first released by The Cascades was the latest in a line of dreary old ballads that SAW foisted on to their artists (it's worth listing the others again — with links! — if you can stomach them: "End Of The World", "Hey There Lonely Girl", "Tears On My Pillow"). Deservedly not advancing any further than this entry position, "Rhythm Of The Rain" was about as uncool a single as Jason could have released — and for once I didn't blame the Australian public for turning their back on him.
Number 42 "Miracle" by Jon Bon Jovi
Peak: number 8
With "Blaze Of Glory" now in free-fall — dropping 10 spots on this week's chart — it was time for a second single from Jon Bon Jovi. "Miracle" was also taken from Jon's Blaze Of Glory album, but was one of the songs "inspired" by Young Guns II rather than one that actually appeared in the movie — in fact, that was true for all but three tracks on the album. I wasn't a fan of "Blaze Of Glory" but could see why it was such a big hit, whereas with "Miracle", I couldn't understand it doing so well on the chart, apart from the fact that Jon was exceedingly popular at the time. But it's nowhere near as good as any number of Bon Jovi songs that had stalled in the top 30. Watch out for future Friends star Matt Le Blanc, who appears as one of Jon's motorcycle-riding squad in the music video — there's a clear shot of him at the 1:57 mark.
Number 37 "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice
Peak: number 1
I've never been a particularly big fan of this breakthrough hit for the rapper born Robert Van Winkle, but it is undoubtedly — and justifiably — one of the most significant singles to hit the charts in 1990. Although he initially tried to deny it (and later wrote his pretence off as a joke), "Ice Ice Baby' was based around a sample from "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie.
No credit for the sample was originally given, but that changed pretty fast — especially since, as Vanilla Ice notes, "Ice Ice Baby" quickly sold millions of copies. Turns out, it wasn't the only songwriting dispute. In terms of his own contribution to the record, Vanilla Ice wrote the lyrics back in 1983 when, as a 16-year-old rapper, breakdancer and occasional law-breaker, he was involved in a drive-by shooting.
Often incorrectly described as an '80s hit, "Ice Ice Baby" did actually have its first release in 1989. It was included on the independently released album, Hooked, and on the B-side of his first remake of "Play That Funky Music" (a second version of which became his other big hit in 1991). Discovered hiding away on the flip side, "Ice Ice Baby" soon became the more popular track and resulted in major label interest — all of which led to a full release of "Ice Ice Baby" in 1990.
In Australia, the single became the third rap track for the year to reach number 1 — a sure sign that music tastes were changing locally. What's more remarkable is that neither of the other two ARIA chart-toppers, "U Can't Touch This" and "Bust A Move", had reached number 1 in the US, and "Ice Ice Baby" became the very first fully rapped track to top the Billboard Hot 100. Draw whatever assumptions you like from that fact.
Number 30 "Strong As Steel" by Tina Arena
Peak: number 30
It was a case of too little too late as Tina Arena tried to make up for the error in judgment that had been "The Machine's Breaking Down" by releasing the title track of her debut album. A remake of the Diane Warren-penned mid-tempo tune first recorded by British sibling band Five Star in 1987, "Strong As Steel" should've been Tina's second big hit single in Australia. Instead, it peaked where it entered the top 50.
Number 27 "Cult Of Snap!" by Snap!
Peak: number 27
With all the big songs debuting this week, it's kind of surprising to see that the week's highest new entry was the worst of the four singles taken from Snap!'s debut album, World Power. It's also a little odd that the tribal dance track progressed no further after such a flying start — but number 27 is about as good as this song warranted. Snap! would be back with a better effort — and improved chart position — for their next single.
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1990:
Next week: as Australian-artist triple-play, with three of the less-remembered singles by Midnight Oil, Southern Sons and Daryl Braithwaite. Plus, another one of the songs that really made 1990 suck (for me).