This Week In 1991: October 27, 1991
Australia had taken its time getting into hip-hop music and, up until mid-1991, the big rap hits had pretty much been the obvious ones. From songs like "Walk This Way", "U Can't Touch This" and "Ice Ice Baby" that were based on well-known hooks to quotable anecdotal raps like "Bust A Move", "Wild Thing" and "Things That Make You Go Hmmmm...", our taste in hip-hop had been fairly predictable.
That started to change as 1991 drew to a close. This week that year, two entries on the ARIA singles chart were hip-hop songs that weren't your typical hits. Yes, one was still based around a very recognisable sample, but its laidback style wasn't something we were used to seeing in the top 50.
For the second week in a row, "Rush" by Big Audio Dynamite II held down the number 1 spot, but with two big singles hurtling into the top 5, its day on top seemed numbered. As it turned out, the way it was knocked off number 1 wasn't what anyone was expecting.
Off The Chart
Number 99 "Rock Your Heart Out" by AC/DC
Peak: number 76
After managing three top 30 singles from an album for only the second time in their career, it was pretty much inevitable that a fourth release from The Razors Edge would spoil AC/DC's run.
Number 79 "Chorus" by Erasure
Peak: number 77
In the UK, this lead single from the album of the same name became the synthpop duo's sixth top 5 hit. In Australia, it was lucky to venture into the top 100, more's the pity.
Peak: number 57
Australia hadn't jumped on board the Bonnie Raitt bandwagon in 1989-1990 when Nick Of Time became a multiple Grammy Award-winning phenomenon. That album peaked at number 58 locally whereas in the US, it was a chart-topping multi-platinum success. The blues rock singer/songwriter made some headway on the ARIA chart with "Something To Talk About", which almost became a hit both in October 1991 and again in February 1992 when it returned to the top 100 for an extra 10 weeks (and a high of number 68) after she'd won another Grammy for it. There was better news for parent album Luck Of The Draw, which reached the Australian top 20 — still the best placing of her 45-year career.
Peak: number 55
Next up, a hip-hop group who were having trouble making any further headway on the ARIA chart. Yep, once again, Public Enemy peaked just outside the top 50 with their latest release, the first single proper from Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Back. "Can't Truss It", which dealt with the topic of African American slavery, became Public Enemy's first hit on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 50 (although selling over half a million copies).
Number 50 "Lovesick" by Gang Starr
Peak: number 13
Public Enemy were regulars in the bottom half of the top 100 by now, but hip-hop duo Gang Starr had also been releasing music since 1987 without any chart success whatsoever... until this week in 1991. Taken from their second album, Step In The Arena, "Love Sick" was about as different a rap song from the politically driven "Can't Truss It" as you could hope to hear. The more laidback album version of "Love Sick" was re-energised by John Waddell and it's the jazzy upbeat mix below — unimaginatively titled Upbeat Mix — that became a hit. With its blaring horns, tinkling piano and hypnotic bass line, "Love Sick" was one of the coolest songs of the year, and unlike any previous rap hit in Australia. It was also the only top 100 appearance for rapper Guru and DJ Premier.
Number 46 "Give It Away" by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Peak: number 41
Their Stevie Wonder cover, "Higher Ground", had given them a taste of top 50 success and this original track edged them ever closer to the top 40. The first single lifted from future chart-topping album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, "Give It Away" was another genre-defying hybrid that, if nothing else, certainly made you sit up and take notice. The black and white video courtesy of director Stéphane Sednaoui was also an attention-grabber and although neither song nor clip were particularly up my alley, I could see why people were so excited by the musically adventurous band. Who knew they were about to really explode?
Peak: number 16
From a song that pushed music forward to a release that delved into the past — something Tina Turner was doing in general with the release of her first greatest hits collection, Simply The Best. One of the last singles by Tina and her former husband and music partner, Ike, "Nutbush City Limits" was written about Tina's home town and had charted at number 14 in 1973. The formation dancing favourite was given a rather soulless remix for inclusion on the album, which mostly side-stepped that earlier part of her career — "River Deep - Mountain High" the only other song from that era to be included. It's not surprising Tina had as little reference to Ike as possible on Simply The Best given the tumultuous nature of their relationship and the fact that in January 1991, she had declined to attend the ceremony inducting the two of them (among others) into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
Number 40 "Sometimes It's A Bitch" by Stevie Nicks
Peak: number 18
Here's another female music veteran who was releasing her first greatest hits album, Timespace: The Best Of. You couldn't half tell it was coming up to Christmas, could you? Unlike Tina Turner, Stevie Nicks released one of the new songs included on the album as its first single. Co-written by Jon Bon Jovi, "Sometimes It's A Bitch" found Stevie in pop/rock rather than dance/pop mode, and as a result, it's not one of her solo efforts I'm that fond of. Like the video for the new version of "Nutbush City Limits", the clip for "Sometimes It's A Bitch" is worth a look for all the archive footage.
Number 39 "Hole Hearted" by Extreme
Peak: number 24
After 16 weeks, "More Than Words" was still in the upper half of the chart and it was joined on the top 50 this week by the follow-up. Acoustic sing-along "Hole Hearted" might've been significantly more spirited than its ballad predecessor, but it was still atypical of the rest of the Pornograffitti album — and was actually a cassette and CD bonus track not found on the vinyl version. Clearly Extreme's record company knew they had to keep the commercial releases coming before too many people cottoned on to the fact that these hits weren't what the rest of Extreme's material sounded like.
Number 36 "Something Got Me Started" by Simply Red
Peak: number 29
If someone asked me whether I like Simply Red or not — admittedly not something that happens that often — I'd have to clarify which Simply Red they meant. You see, I'm not a fan of the biggest hits from Mick Hucknall and co., songs like "If You Don't Know Me By Now", "Holding Back The Years" and "Fairground". So if that's what they were referring to, I'd say no. But, I do like quite a lot of the band's less successful singles. Like this moody lead release from Stars, which felt like the natural successor to "A New Flame" and "The Right Thing". Like all the singles from Stars and the album itself, "Something Got Me Started" was way less successful here than in the UK, where the song reached number 11, and Stars was the highest-selling album in both 1991 and 1992.
Peak: number 7
The top 50 had already played host to a number of hip-hop songs that sampled previous hits to great effect — I mentioned three of them at the start of this post. So what made this breakthrough hit by hip-hop duo P.M. Dawn (brothers Attrell and Jarrett Cordes) any different? It may have been based around the instantly recognisable guitar hook from Spandau Ballet's "True", but for me, the style of "Set Adrift On Memory Bliss" was completely different to the likes of "Pray" or "Ooops Up".
The under-stated rap by the late Attrell (aka Prince Be) was closer to Neil Tennant's spoken vocal in "West End Girls" than the in-your-face posturing of Vanilla Ice or Salt 'n' Pepa. And, the laidback feel of the song had more in common with non-hits by De La Soul (who'd scored instead with "Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)" and its answering machine gimmick) and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's game-changer, "Summertime". There's no discounting the likelihood that "Set Adrift On Memory Bliss" would not have been as big without that snippet of "True", but it really did feel like Australia had welcomed a completely new type of hip-hop hit.
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1991:
Next week: new singles from some of the biggest acts in the world — a female singer following up her world-conquering debut album, a male artist whose latest album had blasted into the top 5 a couple of weeks earlier, a live release from the biggest band in Australia and the return of the biggest band in the world with a song that did something only two other singles had so far achieved.