This Week In 1994: October 23, 1994
Pop music and controversy have always gone hand in hand. From Elvis Presley's swivelling hips right up to Madonna's steamy fllm clips, the world had been shocked and/or titillated by musicians on a regular basis.
This week in 1994, possibly the most controversial song to ever enter the singles chart up until that point burst into the top 50 — and it did so in a week when Madonna herself also returned with new music.
At number 1 this week was "I'll Make Love To You" by Boyz II Men — a song with a title that might have been seen as racy decades earlier but was positively quaint in 1994.
Off The Chart
Number 96 "Can't Help It" by The Truth
Peak: number 87
The third single by the funk/rock band from Melbourne became their only to venture into the top 100. Drummer Nicky Bomba would go on to be a member of the John Butler Trio.
Number 88 "No One" by 2 Unlimited
Peak: number 70
It had been over for 2 Unlimited in Australia for a while, and this reggae-infused second single from Real Things didn't help matters — even I didn't really like it.
Number 86 "Basket Case" by Green Day
Peak: number 85
They'd had a solid start to their career with debut single "Longview", but this follow-up, about singer Billie Joe Armstrong's anxiety, didn't give the pop/punk trio a second hit. That would come soon enough...
Number 69 "Fireworks" by Roxette
Peak: number 68
Like 2 Unlimited, Roxette had pretty much come to the end of their chart success in Australia, although I did prefer this third single from Crash! Boom! Bang! to its predecessor, the album's title track.
Number 50 "Walkaway Lover" by Toni Pearen
Peak: number 35
One of Australian music's biggest mysteries is why the career of soap star-turned-pop star Toni Pearen went off the rails. After scoring back-to-back number 10 hits with 1992's "In Your Room" and "I Want You" from 1993, the former E Street actress released this third single after a gap of 18 months, by which point the country had moved on. In that time, Toni had started and ended a stint on another soap, Home And Away, playing Beth Armstrong between April and June in 1994 — surely it would have made sense to time a release to coincide with that? Much poppier than her previous two singles, "Walkaway Lover" had previously been released (as "Walk Away Lover") by British singer Sonia on her self-titled second album. Toni's debut album, Intimate, would finally surface in November, but thanks to the disappointing performance of "Walkaway Lover", it missed the top 50.
Peak: number 15
Three years after Harry Connick Jr's first, timid entry onto the Australian singles top 100, the jazz singer landed his first hit with this single from funk-influenced album She. The success of "(I Could Only) Whisper Your Name", which Harry co-wrote, spurred She on to new chart heights as well. Having debuted on the albums chart in late August, it reached its number 3 peak the week after this. Although Harry continued to register hit albums until 2009, this was his only major singles chart success.
Peak: number 13
The peaks of Pet Shop Boys' singles from Very had gone 17, 10, 34 and 63, which made this sudden resurgence of fifth release "Yesterday, When I Was Mad" a little unexpected. But a few factors worked in the song's favour. Firstly, the duo had just landed their biggest ever hit in Australia under the alias Absolutely Fabulous. Secondly, they began their first ever tour of the country on November 1 — a show which I enjoyed right at the front of the general admission section at Sydney's Entertainment Centre. Thirdly, the track had been remixed from its album version by Jam & Spoon. And fourthly, while there were other songs from Very that I would have preferred to see released ("One In A Million" and "A Different Point Of View", for example), the lyrics of "Yesterday, When I Was Mad" were Pet Shop Boys at their wittiest and most self aware, notably the line about them making "such a little go a very long way".
Number 46 "Eighteen Strings" by Tinman
Peak: number 16
In 1991, Pet Shop Boys had committed what was considered by some as musical sacrilege when they turned U2's "Where The Streets Have No Name" into a disco stomper. Taking a leaf out of their book was British producer Paul Dakeyne, who took the riff from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (although he recreated it rather than sampled it) and used it as the basis for this dance track, which had been originally promoed in 1993. Given a proper commercial release in 1994, "Eighteen Strings" made the UK top 10 and peaked not far below the Australian one.
Peak: number 18
Just when it appeared like the reggae wave of 1993 had well and truly abated, this collaboration between Jamaican DJ Leroy May (aka Red Dragon) and singers Brian Thompson and Patrick Morrison (Tony comes from his middle name Anthony) hit the ARIA top 20 following its UK number 2 peak. Not brothers — Gold is a stage name — Brian and Tony would return to the chart eight years later as guest artists on Shaggy's "Hey Sexy Lady".
Number 44 "I Miss You" by Haddaway
Peak: number 44
Haddaway's record company had skipped over this ballad for "Rock Your Heart", presumably thinking something more along the lines of "What Is Love" and "Life" would perform better in Australia. Funnily enough, "Rock My Heart" had missed the top 50, while the more emotional "I Miss You" peaked just inside when it was finally released as the German-based singer's fourth single.
Number 13 "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails
Peak: number 3
I wonder if Nine Inch Nails' runaway hit would have been as big had it not featured the line "I want to fuck you like an animal". The explicit lyric, which had the F-word muted out for radio play, certainly gained the second single from The Downward Spiral a lot of attention. As did its once seen, never forgotten music video. But even without those elements, I'd suggest "Closer" would have been successful. With its throbbing beat and climactic chorus, it's the type of song that turns a cult act into a mainstream sensation — albeit briefly, as it would turn out. Far and away the biggest hit of Nine Inch Nails career, "Closer" only spent nine weeks on the top 50, although its rapid drop down the chart suggests the single was deleted at the peak of its popularity to drive album sales. Given its lyrical content, the song is superficially assumed to be about sexual desire, but it's more complicated than that.
Number 5 "Secret" by Madonna
Peak: number 5
As Nine Inch Nails pushed the envelope, an artist known for doing just that actually toned things down as she returned to the chart with the first taste of her sixth album, Bedtime Stories. Reinventing herself once again, Madonna traded in the sexual overtones of Erotica and her usual dance-pop sound for an acoustic-flavoured blend of pop and R&B. Co-written and co-produced by Dallas Austin, "Secret" was what Madonna had always done best — a great song with a killer hook, and it duly became her 16th top 5 hit in Australia.
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1994:
Next week: one of the biggest — and, for me, most annoying — songs of summer '94-'95. Plus, a girl group returns minus a member.