This Week In 1990: July 29, 1990
Of all the musical oddities I've recapped while writing this blog, few singles are as random as the ballad duet that debuted on the ARIA chart this week in 1990. Simultaneously, the first solo record from a member of a massive boy band and the English-language debut for a big Japanese singing star, it was an unlikely pairing.
And while the boy bander escaped the release relatively unscathed, going on to enjoy some final hits with his group before their inevitable demise (and eventual resurrection) and later pursuing an acting career in which he's mostly played a detective, the Asian celebrity was never heard from on these shores again. As I said: random.
Meanwhile, at number 1 this week in 1990, MC Hammer continued his stay at the chart summit with "U Can't Touch This" and solidified his position by snaring the top slot on each of the state charts as well. Seemed Hammer time wasn't going to be over for a while.
Off The Chart
Number 77 "I Didn't Want To Need You" by Heart
Peak: number 64
Following up a chart-topping smash with a power ballad penned by Diane Warren made perfect sense - pity this second single from Brigade wasn't one of Ms Warren's best.
Peak: number 61
49ers frontwoman Dawn Mitchell sure had something to smile about in the video for this follow-up to "Touch Me". Unlike last time, when she valiantly did her best to sell herself as the singer of the Italo house track, the vocals heard in "Don't You Love Me" are hers. That's not to say the song is all original. Far from it. In between a vocal hook stolen (well, the writers weren't credited) from Jody Watley's "Don't You Want Me" and just about everything else lifted from "You Make Me Funky" by MC Magic Max, there was very little that was not taken from other tracks here. Not quite as great a song as "Touch Me", "Don't You Love Me" was still a solid dance tune that seemed to suffer from the sudden disinterest in Italo house that had befallen Black Box's "Everybody Everybody" as well.
Peak: number 33
Intended for Donna Summer, given instead to club favourite Lonnie Gordon, "Happenin' All Over Again" was the only Stock Aitken Waterman-produced release not by Kylie Minogue or Jason Donovan to reach the UK top 10 in 1990. It was a massive comedown for the songwriting and production trio, who had dominated the British chart for the previous few years, landing seven UK number 1 singles in 1989 alone.
The thing was - it was also one of their only decent songs from that year, with the Hit Factory churning out some absolute rubbish by the likes of Kakko, Romi & Jazz, LA Mood and Grand Plaz in 1990. Who? Exactly. But SAW had done some of their best work for Donna Summer's Another Place And Time album in 1989, so they clearly made more of an effort for "Happenin' All Over Again" than the rest of their 1990 output. In Australia, the song followed the pattern set by Donna's "This Time I Know It's For Real" by being a minor hit here until it was covered 16 years later by post-Australian Idol girl group Young Divas.
Peak: number 11
The aforementioned Kakko (real name: Kakuko Yamagata) wasn't the only Japanese singer trying to break into the English-speaking market in 1990 - and while she turned to British producers Stock Aitken Waterman in the hopes of landing a Western hit single, Seiko Matsuda went one better: convincing a member of the biggest boy band in the world to duet with her. And not just any member of New Kids On The Block - no, Seiko bagged bad boy Donnie Wahlberg.
But despite Donnie's vocal ability being better than, say, Danny Wood's or Jon Knight's - even he couldn't prevent this most saccharine of ballads from being a complete mess. For one thing, Donnie and Seiko's voices didn't blend together well at all - in fact, at times "The Right Combination" (a misnomer if ever there was one) sounds more like cats fighting in an alleyway than music (case in point: the "for love" shrieking match at the 1:04 mark).
Then there was Seiko's stilted delivery (case in point: the "ooh-ooh" at the 2:21 mark) and heavy accent, which made this seem more like a Fast Forward parody than an actual pop single. Astonishingly, "The Right Combination" was lapped up by Australian NKOTB fans - let's face it, that's who we have to thank for this almost making the top 10. By reaching number 11, the song did better here than in the UK by 33 spots and in the US by 43 positions. Well done. Australia.
Number 44 "Back Street Pick Up" by The Angels
Peak: number 23
I'm going to keep this brief since I feel like all I ever do is try to find something interesting to say about lesser-known singles by The Angels - and the only thing of note (as far as I can tell anyway) about this follow-up to "Dogs Are Talking" is it would end up being the band's final top 30 appearance in Australia. Correct me if I'm missing something.
Number 33 "Every Little Thing" by Jeff Lynne
Peak: number 31
It had certainly been a busy few years for Mr Lynne. As well as being one-fifth of The Traveling Wilburys, he'd co-produced albums for three of his band-mates (George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty) and also worked on his debut solo record, Armchair Theatre. Given how successful all those other projects had been and the fact that Electric Light Orchestra had been a pretty popular band in Australia in their time, it's a little surprising how little impact this ELO-esque lead single and the album itself had. It wasn't just in Australia that Jeff struggled - the album was almost universally ignored. Perhaps that omnipresence in the previous couple of years worked against him?
Number 18 "Hanky Panky" by Madonna
Peak: number 6
Next up, an artist whose omnipresence didn't seem to work against her one little bit - with yet another single from Madonna flying towards the upper reaches of the ARIA top 50. It was also yet another risque release from the Queen of Pop, although her ode to spanking may have raised more eyebrows had it not all been so tongue in cheek. The second single from Madonna's Dick Tracy soundtrack, I'm Breathless - and the first to actually showcase the jazz and swing elements heard throughout most of the album - "Hanky Panky" became her 18th top 10 hit in Australia. It's also one of my least favourite of her singles - feeling more like a novelty record than a pop song. Knowing when to move on to the next thing, Madonna quickly shifted to her next project after "Hanky Panky", with her final single release for 1990 really getting critics hot under the collar.
Number 9 "Lay Down Your Guns" by Jimmy Barnes
Peak: number 4
He may not have been as consistent as Madonna on the singles chart, but when it came to albums, there were few artists with as good a track record as Jimmy Barnes, whose four solo efforts up until this point had all peaked at number 1. A couple of months before the release of his fifth album, Two Fires, its lead single returned him to the ARIA top 5 for the fifth time in his career (following "Working Class Man", "Good Times", "Too Much Ain't Enough Love" and "When A Man Loves A Woman").
If it'd been sung by almost anyone else, I would've quite liked "Lay Down Your Guns" which had an incredibly catchy verse and bridge that unfortunately just felt like they were being tortured by Jimmy's shouting vocal style. The pop sensibility of the song was no doubt down to co-writer Rick Nowels, who'd been behind Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is A Place On Earth" and "Leave A Light On", and was one of a number of big-name American writers recruited to contribute to Two Fires.
After working with the likes of Desmond Child and Jim Vallance on Freight Train Heart, Jimmy also collaborated with Diane Warren and Holly Knight this time around, likely a result of his new US deal with Atlantic Records. It might not have performed so well in the States, but Two Fires duly became Jimmy's fifth number 1 album in Australia when it debuted at the top in September.
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1990:
Next week: two male singers who each enjoyed a top 10 hit in 1988 return - one with a radically different sound. Plus, two very different soundtrack singles debut, and a long overdue chart hit finally arrives on the top 50.