This Week In 1990: December 9, 1990
What do Pseudo Echo, Wa Wa Nee, Midnight Oil and The Church all have in common? Despite a run of hits in Australia, they all only had one song reach the US top 40. This week in 1990, a single debuted on the ARIA chart that would go on to give another popular local band their sole American hit.
And, thanks to its rather controversial subject matter, the song in question was more successful in the US than any of the tracks by those other bands. The single was also huge in Australia, becoming one of the first number 1s of 1991.
Meanwhile, the song that would be the final number 1 single for 1990 spent its third (of seven) weeks on top of the chart. Yep, "Unchained Melody" by The Righteous Brothers was still the most popular single in Australia.
Off The Chart
Number 94 "Public Enemy No.1" by Public Enemy
Peak: number 68
So far in 1990, three singles from Fear Of A Black Planet had reached the top 100 but not the top 50. Another two would do the same, but first, the rap group's 1987 debut single made a belated appearance.
Number 86 "Tall Timber" by Skyhooks
Peak: number 66
The novelty of having Skyhooks back sure wore off quickly, with this follow-up to "Jukebox In Siberia" not getting anywhere near as high on the chart. The lack of a video probably didn't help matters.
Number 50 "Moneytalks" by AC/DC
Peak: number 21
In Australia, this second single from The Razors Edge wasn't especially noteworthy - it did OK on the top 50, but it's by no means one of AC/DC's biggest hits. And although this isn't the song I was talking about at the start, "Moneytalks" also had an interesting impact on the Billboard Hot 100, where it remains the highest-charting single ever released by the band in America. With its US peak of number 23, "Moneytalks" charted 12 places higher than runner-up "You Shook Me All Night Long". Perhaps it was palatable enough to get more widespread radio play (which contributes to the American chart) than other singles. For me, it was in one ear and out the other with this track - but I'm hardly the target audience.
Number 49 "Piece Of My Heart" by Jenny Morris
Peak: number 24
I also wasn't that taken with this single - a cover of the song originally recorded by Erma Franklin in 1967. But then I've always disliked "Piece Of My Heart" no matter who is singing it - even performers I otherwise like, such as Jenny Morris and Beverley Knight. A one-off single between Jenny's Shiver and Honeychild albums, her take on "Piece Of My Heart" remains the only version of the song to reach the Australian top 50. Even the most famous version, by Big Brother And The Holding Company (which was fronted by singer Janis Joplin) didn't do well here - although the album that recording was taken from, Cheap Thrills, did hit the top 5 in 1968. Jenny would return in 1991 with that next album and her biggest hit single ever.
Peak: number 4
Here's another remake of a song originally released in 1967 - but this time, that first version wasn't actually a single. Bob Dylan's recording of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" was included on his eighth album, John Wesley Harding, and featured on the B-Side of single "All Along The Watchtower". In the hands of Robert Palmer, who recorded the song for his covers-heavy album Don't Explain, the folk song was transformed into a pop/reggae hit, due in no small part to the involvement of UB40 in the update.
Although Robert didn't manage any further top 50 hits from Don't Explain, the top 5 success of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" did reignite interest in UB40's own covers project Labour Of Love II - as we'll see in the coming months. Fun fact: one of the newly composed songs on Don't Explain was a track called "Light-Years" that Robert co-wrote with Divinyls, which brings us nicely to...
Number 45 "I Touch Myself" by Divinyls
Peak: number 1
By now pretty much just the core duo of singer Chrissy Amphlett and guitarist Mark McEntee aided by touring and session musicians, Divinyls had been spending some time collaborating with external songwriters since we'd last seen them on the ARIA chart with "Hey Little Boy". Besides their work with Robert Palmer, the pair co-authored this little ditty about self-pleasure with Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, the team behind "Like A Virgin", "Eternal Flame" and "True Colors".
It didn't take a genius to work out this was going to be massive - songs so explicitly about sex, even if this tune was about sex with oneself, are pretty much guaranteed to be chart smashes. But just how much of a global phenomenon "I Touch Myself" turned out to be was a little bit of a surprise for the band who'd been very much a local concern since their 1981 debut.
Not only did "I Touch Myself" give Divinyls their first and only Australian number 1 hit, the track also reached number 4 in the US (where they'd previously got no higher than number 76 with "Pleasure And Pain") and number 10 in the UK (where they'd never charted before). The novelty of the lyrics - there are very few songs so blatantly about masturbation - certainly worked in the single's favour.
But it was always going to be tough to follow such a cheeky track - and, as we'll see in coming months, all the subsequent singles from accompanying album Divinyls struggled on the ARIA chart. It was worse in countries where Divinyls didn't have an established reputation, and the band found it impossible not to become one-hit wonders in the US and the UK.
Number 39 "Pray" by MC Hammer
Peak: number 7
Next up, we have a rapper who is often mistakenly referred to as a one-hit wonder in Australia. Yes, "U Can't Touch This" was a pretty huge single, but MC Hammer recovered from the (Australian) chart failure that was "Have You Seen Her" to land a second top 10 hit locally with another sample-led track. Lifting its main hook from "When Doves Cry" by Prince, "Pray" also features a less obvious sample from Faith No More's "We Care A Lot". It's also boasts an incredibly repetitive lyric, with the word "pray" featuring no less than 147 times. Guess he wanted to, er, hammer the point home. Sorry.
Listen to this week's new entries on my Spotify playlist of all the top 50 hits from 1990:
Next week: the final top 50 chart for 1990, featuring the song that kept "Pray" from reaching number 1 in the US, a new entry by another rapper who'd enjoyed a number 1 hit in Australia in 1990, plus debuts by INXS and The Soup Dragons. Plus, a look at the controversial (among chart fans) end-of-year listings.