This Week In 1990: August 19, 1990
It's a question every singer in a group must ask themselves - when's the right time to go solo? Step out on your own too early and fans might be unhappy about you deserting a band they love. Leave it too long and by the time you release your own music, people might no longer care.
This week in 1990, the singer of arguably the world's biggest rock band at the time charted in Australia with his first solo single - and the timing couldn't have been more perfect. Not only did it reach the very top of the ARIA singles top 50, but it opened the door for future solo work and even a foray into acting.
Spending his final week at number 1 this week in 1990 was MC Hammer, whose mega-hit "U Can't Touch This" kicked the door wide open for rap in the Australian charts, with four more rap number 1s following in the next seven months.
Off The Chart
Number 100 "Harmony" by Absent Friends
Peak: number 92
You'd think they'd have learnt not to release songs with single-word titles starting with the letter H. Apparently not, as "Harmony" followed the pattern established by "Hallelujah" and "Hullabaloo" by charting in the 90s.
Number 85 "Poison" by Bell Biv DeVoe
Peak: number 64
Had it been released just a couple of years later, this US smash hit from the three "other" guys in New Edition would probably have been massive in Australia. A new jack swing classic.
Peak: number 72
Since "Without You" had done so well for them in the US, the glam metal band made it back-to-back power ballads. Australia continued to show very little interest.
Single Of The Week
Peak: number 133
In yesterday's 1985 recap, we saw them as part of The Revolution on one of Prince's finest: "Raspberry Beret". By 1990, Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman were up to their third album as a duo in their own right - and "Strung Out' was the lead single from that LP, Eroica. Despite their obvious contributions to Prince's mid-'80s output, Wendy & Lisa weren't able to attain the same level of success away from His Purpleness. Indeed, despite the plug on this week's chart, "Strung Out" was the pair's latest single to miss the ARIA top 100 completely. Meanwhile, is it just me or is the intro to this song a little reminiscent of the start of "Raspberry Beret"?
Peak: number 57
In America, second generation hitmakers Wilson Phillips made it two from two as they eased back in to the number 1 slot with this follow-up to "Hold On". It was quite a different story in Australia as "Release Me" yoyo-ed up and down the top 100 for weeks, never quite managing to break into the top 50 despite regularly making the breakers section between mid-August and mid-November. After the joyous pop perfection of "Hold On", I found "Release Me" a little on the bland side - a nice enough tune but with none of the oomph of its predecessor. In this case, I think Australia got it right by not rewarding the trio with another hit - but the unfortunate by-product of that was that the far superior "Impulsive" and "You're In Love" (both US top 5 hits) also failed to connect locally.
Peak: number 60
I was never a massive fan of this US number 2 hit - the only major single released by Reggie and Vincent Calloway in their guise as Calloway - but I was an admirer of the performers/songwriters/producers' work in the previous decade. As members of Midnight Star, the brothers had been involved in one of the seminal funk tracks of the '80s: "Midas Touch". Then, as songwriters and producers, they'd been responsible for songs like "Casanova" by LeVert and Natalie Cole's "Jump Start", but "I Wanna Be Rich" felt too much like a novelty record.
Fun fact: about this time, a friend of mine and I discovered that if you called record companies, you could find out when songs were going to be released locally. At his request, we called Sony Music (which was then called CBS Records) and asked when "I Wanna Be Rich", which we'd heard on American Top 40, would be coming out. The guy at CBS we spoke to was so impressed by our ingenuity - had no one really thought to do that before? - that he gave us each a promo copy of the album. And so began a lifetime of harrassing record companies.
Peak: number 23
If "I Need Your Body" had been a textbook example of how to launch a music career after leaving a hit TV show, then "The Machine's Breaking Down" is a classic case of how not to squander that start. From its incredibly dated Aussie rock-meets-dance sound to its terrible lyrics ("Lebanon, Irag, Iran/Ethiopia and Afghanistan/religion and politics, plunder and rape/while the weak cow down and pray for escape"), it really was an awful song.
Clearly, someone thought it would score Tina huge points to sing a pop tune that "meant something", but no one deserved this to be inflicted onto them. Unfortunately, Australia was still quite ill at ease with out-and-out pop, but all those references to drug addicts and bloody news footage just served to alienate Tina's existing audience, never mind luring in potential new fans. Even though "The Machine's Breaking Down" did well to reach number 23, not even the release of a perfectly good pop single later in 1990 would be enough to restore her to chart glory... but that's a story for another post.
Number 42 "LA Woman" by Billy Idol
Peak: number 34
And now here's a song that proves that even when an artist gets everything pretty much right, they're not guaranteed a big hit. Unlike Tina Arena, Billy Idol followed up his top 10 single ("Cradle Of Love") with a single that, on paper, made perfect sense. Sounding like a sequel to 1986's "To Be A Lover", Billy's cover of The Doors' "LA Woman" was exactly the sort of record he should've been making.
Not only did the song lend itself perfectly to his synth-laden brand of rock, but interest in The Doors had been building to a crescendo since the mid-'80s, with the release of best of and live albums in the previous few years winning over a new generation of fans. Billy's appearance, with the assistance of a cane, in the music video for "LA Woman" following his accident earlier in 1990 should also have made the release all the more noteworthy.
But a minor chart hit was all this single turned out to be - here in Australia and overseas as well. Perhaps Billy was a year too early with his Doors remake, since The Doors biopic, in which Billy had a small part, wouldn't be released until 1991.
Number 15 "Chain Reaction" by John Farnham
Peak: number 6
In 1988, John Farnham proved his comeback album, Whispering Jack, had been no fluke as follow-up Age Of Reason was another huge success in terms of hit singles and album sales. But could he do it again in 1990? He got off to an OK start with the lead single and title track from his 14th studio album, Chain Reaction. Something of a change of pace from previous lead singles "You're The Voice" and "Age Of Reason", "Chain Reaction" switched out big production and rousing choruses for a more understated, acoustic feel - and fell five places short of topping the chart.
Whether or not those two things are related, I don't know, but the rapid arrival of the more typically Farnsey-sounding "That's Freedom" in just six weeks' time (and one week before the release of the album) suggests John's record company might just have wished they hadn't been so adventurous. Still, a number 6 chart placing is nothing to be sniffed at - and the lack of a number 1 single didn't stop Chain Reaction from storming to the top of the albums chart upon release and logging five weeks on top.
Number 5 "Blaze Of Glory" by Jon Bon Jovi
Peak: number 1
Here was a risk of a different kind - stepping away from a massively successful rock band for a solo record, but if anyone was going to be able to pull it off, it was Jon Bon Jovi, who'd developed a god-like status among fans over the past five years. Plus, since people seemed to use his name and the band's name interchangeably (as in: "I love Bon Jovi, he's so hot!"), there were probably a lot of people who didn't realise "Blaze Of Glory" wasn't the band's new single.
It certainly sounded like Bon Jovi - especially "Wanted Dead Or Alive", which had been used by Young Guns II screenwriter John Fusco as mood music while he penned the script for the Western film. Jon, who'd got a hold of the script from star Emilio Estevez, didn't feel the Slippery When Wet track was appropriate for the movie and wrote "Blaze Of Glory" instead and recorded it on his own since Bon Jovi was on hiatus... so the story goes. So inspired was Jon by the sequel's screenplay that he ended up writing a whole album, which served as the movie's soundtrack - and he even got to make a cameo in the film as well.
The risk, such as it was, paid off and "Blaze Of Glory" stormed into the top 100 at number 5 (the year's highest debut, shared with "Better The Devil You Know"). The song went on to reach number 1 and stay there for six weeks, surpassing "Livin' On A Prayer" (a number 3 hit in 1987) as the biggest hit Jon had been - and ever would be - involved with in Australia. The song was also a number 1 in the US, where it was knocked from the top by Wilson Phillips' "Release Me".
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1990:
Next week: as one Australian band finds itself going down the dumper, another makes a good start to its similarly short-lived chart career.
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