American Top 40 Flashback EXTRA: December 15, 1990


The full program! –

The full chart (Sadly, this chart does not have its own dedicated page; I’m not sure if they’re trying to hide it, or what. You can find it by scrolling down)

Note: I’m not planning on covering the pop charts from the 1990s in this feature– I think it’s too recent to be really interesting– but I found this full episode of Casey’s Top 40 on Mixcloud and thought it was too fascinating to pass up.

Note 2: The chart used by Casey’s Top 40 is the Radio and Records airplay chart, which has several differences from the Billboard chart. Notably, “Do the Bartman” was #35 on the airplay chart, but never received a proper single release in the US and was therefore ineligible for the Billboard Hot 100.

How’s the chart as a whole?

This is, by far, the worst historical pop chart I’ve ever seen. The worst musical trends from the late 80s have intensified, and that the attempts to replace or supplement the established artists with something new have been either artistically barren, or too weird to succeed on a massive scale (or both). You can pull apart the strands of this chart and find every genre in dire straits:

-Rock: Everybody wants to be Jon Bon Jovi, and nobody can achieve even his modest level of artistic success. This is the era of the mononymic, power ballad slinging hair band. Some superstars are just between albums, and others have drifted into adult-contemporary blandness.

-R&B: New Jack Swing is the sound of the moment, and it’s fresh and fun, infusing the genre with some hip-hop swagger and jazz cool. At least the uptempo songs are. The ballads are dreadful—basically the inspiration for Mr. Show’s Three Times One Minus One parodies, and they seem like the genre’s true moneymakers right now.

-Hip-hop: Hip-hop is having its big pop breakout with… MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. The rhymes and the song-length samples on this week’s rap songs are dumb and obvious… and it feels very faddish, like a bubble about to burst.

Dance: House music is having a big international moment. It fares alright on this chart– there’s a decent amount of diversity, ambition and cross-genre pollination– but there are also atrocities like Madonna’s “Justify My Love” and way too many anonymous ballads by artists native to the dance world, like this week’s #1.

This single snapshot sells 1990 a bit short (flipping through the year’s oher charts, I seem “Nothing Compares 2 U,” “Roam,” “Poison,” “The Humpty Dance,” “Epic,” “No Myth” and “Enjoy the Silence”), but not by a lot. This just wasn’t a year built for long-term durability; it’s more like a placeholder year with a few stabs at experimentation thrown in. Fittingly, songs from this year don’t really fit in the current pop radio landscape. They’re too soft for contemporary-leaning formats, and not classic-sounding enough for oldies formats. At best, they might show up on a “retro”-themed programming block, or as spice on a JACK-FM-type format. And honestly, it’s not a big loss. This week gets a hard F.

Forgotten gems

#22 – Steve Winwood, “One and Only Man”

Steve Winwood, reunited with Traffic bandmate Jim Capaldi, holds down the fort for rock with some degree of grit and soul, virtually alone on this chart (INXS gets half a point).

#9 – George Michael, “Freedom! ’90”

Can a song be this iconic and still “forgotten?” Well, the video is more iconic than the song, and (54 million YouTube views notwithstanding) MTV and VH1 aren’t the cultural forces that they used to be. The song itself has fallen down the same radio black hole that has engulfed most other songs of the era. More than that, I don’t think that the song gets the respect it deserves. The song’s structure and funk sound (updated with a Latin flair) remind me of Norman Whitfield’s ’70s Temptation epics. In fact, George would cover “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” just a year later, so I’m pretty sure he had it in mind as a model. It’s a heck of a tough trick for a pop megastar to pull off, and not many do better than George does here– this is better than Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream,” for instance. And while the autobiographical lyrics seem to reflect petty celebrity concerns, the subsequent revelation of George’s sexuality gives the song some added poignancy.

Worth a listen

#35 (airplay chart only) – The Simpsons, “Do the Bartman”

Setting aside the “bad boy” rap, it’s an uptempo New Jack Swing song ghostwritten by Michael Jackson, which counts for something on this chart.

#25 – Cathy Dennis, “Just Another Dream”

A hooky and likable dance-pop track from the woman who would go on to cowrite “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” “Toxic,” “I Kissed a Girl,” and, oh my God, a zillion other pop songs in the coming decades. Good for her.

#34 – Elisa Fiorillo, “On the Way Up”

When we last heard from Fiorillo in 1987, she was serving as a bargain-bin Madonna for DJ Jellybean; now she’s got Prince writing her songs. She ends up somewhere around Paula Abdul, but it’s definitely an upgrade.

#31 – Hall and Oates, “So Close”

Hall and Oates’ final Top 40 hit is a solid song but lacks any style and lands firmly in the middle of the road– thanks, producer Jon Bon Jovi.

Justly forgotten

#23 – Donny Osmond, “My Love Is a Fire”

Who let Donny Osmond come back sounding like a mix between New Kids on the Block, Cameo and Richard Marx? Only in 1990.

#8 – Poison, “Something to Believe In”

I think I found the Horace Loeb to our wannabe Three Times One Minus Ones.

#10 – Damn Yankees, “High Enough”

#18 – Winger, “Miles Away”

#24 – Nelson, “After the Rain”

#21 – Alias, “More Than Words Can Say”

So many godawful power ballads by bands who would be irrelevant just a year later.

#38 – Soho, “Hippychick”

When I started listening to my local alternative rock radio station in 1996, this would still get played occasionally, and it sounded extremely dated and out of place even then. And it was always a bummer to hear that opening and then hear it not develop into “How Soon Is Now.” I find it kind of shocking that this made it all the way up to the top 20– the Smiths weren’t chart-toppers in America, and the lyrics are baffling without an in-depth explanation.

#14 – Ralph Tresvant, “Sensitivity”

I get the sense that I’m not in the target audience for this near-whispered nice-guy loverman routine, but I’m just not feeling this, and the harder hip-hop accents just sound weird.  And this version is, ugh, 8 minutes long.

#26 – Candyman, “Knockin’ Boots”

#15 – 2 in a Room, “Wiggle It”

More dopey hip-hop from a couple of flashes in the pan. Also– Tone Loc was big enough to push a protege into the top 10?

Is the #1 worthy?

Stevie B, “Because I Love You (The Postman Song)” – I think it says something that the only video I can find of this song is a grainy copy with Portuguese subtitles.  I have absolutely no idea how this song made it to #1. The singer is bad, the song is bad– heck, it doesn’t even sound professional. It sounds like one of the hordes of amateur YouTubers whose songs have gone viral in the last decade because people liked to gawk at them. He had his roots in the Miami freestyle, so maybe his dance hits are better? Nope.

Song that I would banish from the radio forever

Do songs from late 1990 even get played on the radio anymore?

Bubbling under

“Hard to Handle” by the Black Crowes; “Deeper Shade of Soul” by Urban Dance Squad. It would take the charts months to fully recover from this set of songs.

Across the pond

Surely the Brits have better taste than the Americans this week, right? Well, the #1 is “Ice Ice Baby,” and whatever this is is also on the chart.

Top five

#9 – George Michael, “Freedom! ’90”

#11 – Deee-Lite, “Groove Is in the Heart”

#17 – Janet Jackson, “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”

#22 – Steve Winwood, “One and Only Man”

#7 – DNA featuring Suzanne Vega, “Tom’s Diner”

Honorable mention: “Feels Good,” “Do the Bartman” (airplay only), “So Close,” “Fairweather Friend,” “Just Another Dream,” “Disappear” (airplay only)