This Week In 1991: March 31, 1991
Sometimes a band is just bubbling along, minding its own business, when one of their songs explodes and changes everything for them. That happened this week in 1991 when an indie rock group became the biggest band in the world almost overnight.
OK, it hadn't really been overnight, but thanks to that huge single, the band were suddenly selling 10 times as many records, winning MTV Video Music Awards and, later in the decade, selling out arenas. Not bad for the alternative radio favourites who'd only ever had one hit in Australia up until that point.
The biggest single this week in 1991 was still "Sucker DJ" by Dimples D, which held down the top spot for its second and final week.
Off The Chart
Peak: number 87
What were they thinking? After a flawless run of singles, the Belgian dance act rightfully bombed out with this track featuring brand new vocalists. They'd course correct quickly enough.
Single Of The Week
Peak: number 94
Poor Mondo Rock, things really were getting pretty dire for the band who'd once been regulars in the upper reaches of both the singles and albums charts. "I Had You In Mind" became the band's second single in a row to peak in the 90s despite not being that bad a song, just somewhat forgettable. Unsurprisingly, once a third single from Why Fight It? missed the top 100 completely, singer Ross Wilson broke up the band for a fourth time in its history. Except for the odd short-lived reunion in the past decade, this split stuck and Mondo Rock was no more.
Peak: number 54
In last week's 1986 recap, we saw the arrival of future top 10 hit "Harlem Shuffle", the lead single from The Rolling Stones' 1986 album, Dirty Work. Five years later, "Highwire", one of two new studio tracks included on live album Flashpoint, couldn't even cross the threshold into the top 50. Two things were at play here:
1) The Stones were transitioning from a band that had hit songs to a touring act who put out new music every so often
2) "Highwire" was an uncharacteristically political song from the band in which they expressed their opinion on the events that had led to that year's Gulf War.
And so, given "Highwire" was hardly "Start Me Up", number 54 is about as good as could be hoped for.
Number 49 "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M.
Peak: number 11
While the hit-making days of one of the world's biggest rock acts of the '60s, '70s and '80s were over, one of the most successful bands of the '90s were just coming into their own. R.E.M. had been releasing music since 1981, and had slowly but surely built a loyal indie rock-loving audience.
It took until their fifth album, Document, for them to land their first US top 10 hit with "The One I Love" - a chart feat they repeated with "Stand", a single from their major label debut, Green. In Australia, another track from Green, "Orange Crush", had provided R.E.M with their only top 50 appearance to date. Suffice it to say, they were hardly rivalling U2 at this point.
After a year off to recover from the Green tour, R.E.M. recorded their follow-up, Out Of Time, in the second half of 1990 and launched it early in 1991 with "Losing My Religion". Written around a mandolin riff composed by guitarist Peter Buck, the song is a tale of unrequited and obsessive love, compared by singer Michael Stipe to The Police's "Every Breath You Take".
As catchy as the song was, the track's music video played a huge part in helping "Losing My Religion" become the band's biggest Australian and US hit up until that point. Directed by Tarsem Singh, the arty clip was laden with religious imagery - and even featured Michael lip syncing to the track, something he wasn't generally a fan of doing. Unlike anything else produced at the time, it was the winner of that year's MTV VMA for Video Of The Year as well as five other categories.
As a result of all the attention, Out Of Time gave the band their first number 1 album in the US and the UK, and has sold over 18 million copies. We'd be seeing a lot of them on the ARIA chart from now on...
Number 34 "The Total Mix" by Black Box
Peak: number 24
And so, with four singles under their belt, Italo house pioneers Black Box released their inevitable mega mix - featuring only three of their chart hits on the 7" edit. Yes, "Fantasy" wasn't exactly the same pace as "Ride On Time", "I Don't Know Anybody Else" and "Everybody Everybody", but given the Earth Wind & Fire cover was their second biggest single, it'd would've been good to have worked it into the main version of "The Total Mix" somehow, although it did appear on the extended version. As we'll see in coming weeks, the producers behind "The Grease Megamix" didn't let tempo changes get in their way, so "Fantasy" could've had more of a presence here. As these kinds of singles went, "The Total Mix" wasn't bad in a haphazard sort of way. If you didn't own any of the songs already, it was a cheap way to add all three to your collection (kind of), but the mix lacked the finesse of Technotronic's "Megamix" - still the gold standard. And it has been taken off YouTube for now.
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1991:
Next week: two big stars, two often over-looked hits. An Australian legend and American diva debuted on the top 50 with singles that you don't hear much about anymore, despite the former being an ARIA top 10 hit and the latter being a US number 1.