This Week In 1991: December 22, 1991
Every so often, a song comes along that completely changes the face of popular music. This week in 1991, the ARIA chart welcomed a rock track that would usher a whole new genre into mainstream consciousness: grunge.
Grunge would come to define the '90s - and for a number of years it put pure pop on the back-burner as record companies all clambered for their own angst-ridden, self-loathing, flannelette-wearing band. Needless to say, I wasn't thrilled.
A song I was thrilled about was still number 1 this week in 1991. "Black Or White" by Michael Jackson spent a fourth week on top. Actually, with this chart, it spent a fourth, fifth and sixth week at number 1, since this top 50 was actually for the three weeks ending January 5. But since it's not labelled as that, we're looking at it now.
Off The Chart
Peak: number 88
The 1985 power ballad from Theatre Of Pain was rejigged to promote the hard rock band's first compilation, Decade Of Decadence. At least this time it made the ARIA top 100.
Number 91 Beats And Pieces by The Godfathers
Peak: number 91
Following The Wonderstuff's recent tour souvenir EP, fellow British rockers The Godfathers released this collection comprising three singles and two album tracks.
Number 83 "The Show Must Go On" by Queen
Peak: number 75
Made all the more poignant by the recent death of Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury, this Innuendo track served to promote the band's new Greatest Hits II album.
Number 44 Dreams On Fire by Boom Crash Opera
Peak: number 44
1991 was a bit of an odd year for Boom Crash Opera. Founding member Richard Pleasance, who was unable to perform with the band due to his tinnitus, put out his debut solo album, but returned to the studio to work on this stop-gap EP, which wasn't among BCO's best work. First track "Holy Water", which was used to promote the release, showcased a harder sound for the band. That wasn't a problem in itself - but the song just wasn't up to their normal standard, which may well explain why the EP progressed no further. Boom Crash Opera would be back on track in 1992, but would their third album be more successful?
Peak: number 30
As you'll see below, he ended 1991 with the year's top-selling single (as if there was ever any doubt), but the chart-dominating days of "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" were behind Bryan Adams by the time this third single from Waking Up The Neighbours was released. The fact the album hadn't left the top 10 since its debut at the start of October might've had more than a little something to do with that since there's nothing wrong with "There Will Never Be Another Tonight" other than it being fairly unremarkable. The type of radio-friendly rock track that Bryan could've released at any point in the previous six years, it at least helped ensure Waking Up... stayed put in the top 10 up until March.
Number 33 "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana
Peak: number 5
So much has already been written about "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that I'm not going to wax lyrical about Nirvana's breakthrough single here. After all, this is a blog about pop music written by someone who was never a fan of grunge. What I will say, though, is that as far as the Australian singles chart was concerned, the rock anthem was a game-changer.
The Nevermind album had already been hovering around the top 10 for a month by the time its lead single made the top 50 - and the song made quick work of its trip to the ARIA top 5. Like many songs that alter the face of popular music, part of the appeal of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was that it sounded like nothing else on the chart. Together with the recent success of Metallica, it signalled a shift towards harder rock sounds than we'd been used to from the likes of Bon Jovi, Poison and even Guns n' Roses, and vocals that were more screamed than sung.
Not only did Nirvana change things musically, but they also became the voice of a disaffected generation - something frontman Kurt Cobain was never that comfortable with. Very quickly, the rock acts that'd been successful in the '80s and so far in the '90s had to adapt or suffer the consequences of suddenly being out of step with the times. Naturally, where Nirvana led, so many others followed - and we'll see the impact of the success of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and the rise of grunge as a significant musical genre as we venture into 1992.
For me, while I could appreciate the catchiness of the hook in "Smells Like Teen Spirit", my taste in music meant I was more welcoming of Tori Amos's remake and Tinman's sampling of the guitar riff for "Eighteen Strings".
And the next 50:
51. “From A Distance” by Bette Midler
52. “Break In The Weather” by Jenny Morris
53 “How to Dance” by Bingoboys featuring Princessa
54. “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.
55. “Show Me Heaven” by Maria McKee
56. “Pray” by MC Hammer
57. “Sexy (Is the Word)” by Melissa
58. “Hot Chilli Woman” by Noiseworks
59. “Freedom 90” by George Michael
60. “Fading Like A Flower (Every Time You Leave)” by Roxette
61. “I'm Free” by The Soup Dragons featuring Junior Reid
62. “I'll Be Your Baby Tonight” by Robert Palmer / UB40
63. “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” by Jimmy Barnes / John Farnham
64. “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch
65. “Hold Me In Your Arms” by Southern Sons
66. “Cry For Help” by Rick Astley
67. “Don't Cry” by Guns n' Roses
68. “Just Another Dream” by Cathy Dennis
69. “What Comes Naturally” by Sheena Easton
70. “Cream” by Prince & The New Power Generation
71. “Operaa House / Aria On Air” by World Famous Supreme Team Show
72. “It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over” by Lenny Kravitz
73. “Shocked” by Kylie Minogue featuring DNA
74. “I Gotcha” by Jimmy Barnes
75. “Do You Want Me” by Salt ‘n' Pepa
76. “Walking In Memphis” by Marc Cohn
77. “On The Way Up” by Elisa Fiorillo
78. “Miss Freelove '69” by Hoodoo Gurus
79. “Love Takes Time” by Mariah Carey
80. “All 4 Love” by Color Me Badd
81. “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” by P.M. Dawn
82. “Cherry Pie” by Warrant
83. “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak
84. “Mary Had A Little Boy” by Snap!
85. “Can't Stop This Thing We Started” by Bryan Adams
86. “It’s Only The Beginning” by Deborah Conway
87. “Gett Off” by Prince & The New Power Generation
88. “Early Warning” by Baby Animals
89. “Iesha” by Another Bad Creation
90. “What Do I Have To Do” by Kylie Minogue
91. “Every Heartbeat” by Amy Grant
92. “Play That Funky Music” by Vanilla Ice
93. “Candy” by Iggy Pop
94. “Slave” by James Reyne
95. “Just The Way It Is, Baby” by The Rembrandts
96. “Emotions” by Mariah Carey
97. “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” by Janet Jackson
98. “More Than Words Can Say” by Alias
99. “Touch Me (All Night Long) by Cathy Dennis
100. “Let's Kiss (Like Angels Do) by Wendy Matthews
After last year's problematic end-of-year chart, the top 100 for 1991 seemed to be a much more accurate summary of the biggest sellers of the previous 12 months. As I mentioned above, Bryan Adams's 11-week chart-topper predictably took out the title of number 1 single for the year, but there are few more things to note that weren't foregone conclusions.
In runners-up position was Tingles by Ratcat - the release that still holds the record for the longest climb to number 1 within the top 100. It was one of 22 entries by Australian (or Australian-based) performers on the annual list. Interestingly, the local acts that performed best for the year - Ratcat, Melissa, Daryl Braithwaite, Divinyls and The Screaming Jets, who all made the top 20 - never featured on a year-end top 50 again.
Solo female singers (and rappers) put in a pretty good showing, appearing on 28 of the top 100, compared to 25 singles by male solo acts (although it'd be 29 each, if you included Salt 'n' Pepa, Heavy D & The Boyz, Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch and Prince & The New Power Generation's two singles in the tallies).
Unless I'm forgetting something, besides Bryan Adams's smash hit, there were another eight soundtrack singles on the top 100 - all but one of them ("Show Me Heaven" at number 55) inside the top 50.
In terms of genres, 11 of the top 50 were songs predominantly comprised of rap - a situation that would have been unimaginable just a couple of years earlier. Dance, heavy metal, reggae and R&B tracks also rubbed shoulders with all varieties of pop and rock tunes, producing a more diverse annual countdown that ever before. The stage was set for a musically exciting 1992.
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1991:
Next time: speaking of which, we kick off our flashbacks to 1992 with the arrival of two massive duets - one by a pair of singers who'd worked together before, and the other, a collaboration few would ever have predicted. Plus, a second hit for a man who had a hard time keeping his clothes on.