Sunday, January 02, 2011

Music of 1990: December

This is the last of this series. If I have time, I have an albums post I'd also like to do.

United States

In the US, the biggest hit of December was Stevie B's "Because I Love You (The Postman Song)," far and away the singer's biggest hit, although not his only one. He had a couple of singles that reached the top 40 in 1989. In 1990, he hit #29 with "Love Me for Life," then #15 with "Love and Emotion" before finally reaching #1 with hits fifth top 40 hit. "Because I Love You" is a tender love ballad with minimal instrumentation--pretty much just keyboard, synthesizer and some light drumming. Although it was one of the year's biggest hits, in retrospect, it's a pretty lightweight song that doesn't really hold up. Stevie B followed it up with his second-biggest hit, "I'll Be By Your Side," which hit #12 in early 1991, and he had one more top 40 single in 1995.

With "I'm Your Baby Tonight," Whitney Houston worked with Babyface to transform her '80s pop sound into an edgier '90s R&B/pop sound. It's a great track, one that I've actually appreciated more with age. It became the singer's 8th #1 hit in early December, the first single from her third album, also titled I'm Your Baby Tonight.

After reviving her pop music career in 1989 with the #1 hit "Wind Beneath My Wings," Bette Midler released Some People's Lives in 1990, which became the most successful album of her career. Its first single, "From a Distance," was a major hit for the singer, hitting #2 and receiving a Grammy Award nomination for Record of the Year.

The coolest hit single of December 1990 was Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner." As remixed by DNA, it gave Vega her second and last major pop single, following her #3 hit from 1987, "Luka." (see the August post in the UK section for more info).

Wilson Phillips finished out 1990 with a third top 5 hit, "Impulsive," another mid-tempo pop song, although by hitting #4, it was their first single to miss the top spot. They would have one more #1 hit in 1991, "You're in Love," before their chart fortunes would fade away (although, as John will attest from his recent interview with them(!), they are still around and going strong).

Rockers Poison had their last major hit with the ballad "Something to Believe In," which hit #4. It was their sixth and last top 10 hit. Two more top 40 singles from 1990 album followed in 1991, but weren't major hits.

George Michael's "Freedom '90" was another notable release from the singer. This, more than any other track on Listen Without Prejudice, stated his desire to step away from the sexy pop singer image cultivated for Faith, to make music on his own terms. The video, like that for "Praying for Time," does not feature Michael, although it does include images of Michael burning the props from his Faith days, including his iconic leather jacket going up in flames and the jukebox from the "Faith" video exploding. The video also features a number of big-name supermodels lipsynching to Michael's lyrics, including Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista. Such a great song--another one that I appreciate more today than when it came out.

United Kingdom

In Britain, the biggest single of the month was Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby," a recent US #1 that spent 3 weeks at #1 in the UK. It relinquished the top spot for Cliff Richard's "Saviour's Day," which was the Christmas #1. The single was Richard's 13th #1 hit and third Christmas #1. His most recent #1 hit in 1999, "Millennium Prayer," gave the singer his 14th #1. At present, he is tied with Westlife for the third most #1 hits after Elvis Presley (21) and The Beatles (17). Madonna is a close fifth with 13 chart-toppers.

Speaking of Madge, she had a hit in December, "Justify My Love," which reached #2. The track was the first single released from The Immaculate Collection, her greatest hits set released in late 1990. That album deserves its own entry (I really need to write that too, okay this series is going to extend into 1991 a bit). "Justify My Love" is sexy spoken-word song with a minimal arrangement produced by Andre Betts and Lenny Kravitz, the latter also doing backing vocals. The song is great of course, but it was its racy video that got it the most attention. As directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, the video was stylishly filmed in grainy and black and white and featured highly sexualized images of Madonna and other leather-cladded friends (including her then-boyfriend, Tony Ward) romping through an old hotel. Famously, MTV banned the video, which led it to be released on videocassette as the first ever video single. It sold handsomely.

English indie rock band EMF achieved major mainstream success with "Unbelievable," an upbeat track that hit #3 in Britain and, the following year, #1 in the US. Another British band, The Farm, also had their biggest hit in December with "All Together Now," which hit #4. The song was inspired by the famous Christmas Day truce of World War I during which soldiers from both sides put down their arms and actually met in "no man's land" to exchange gifts.

Rod Stewart and Tina Turner teamed up for a top 5 remake of "It Takes Two," a song originally released in the '60s by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston. Despite Stewart being pretty big in the US at the time, this was not released there. As cool as that is, my vote for coolest hit single in Britain for December goes to "Falling" by Julee Cruise. The austere, synth-laden track, in its instrumental form, was the theme song to the acclaimed but short-lived series Twin Peaks. It's quite lovely and it's cool that it was a hit. In the US, the single was popular on modern rock stations, but was not a mainstream hit.

Also reaching the top 10 in December were "Mary Had a Little Boy" (#8) by Snap!, the group's fourth top 10 hit, and "This One's for the Children" (#9), another top 10 hit for New Kids on the Block, which had been a US hit the previous holiday season.

Finally there was "Wicked Game" by Chris Isaak (#10), a seductive song with a gentle guitar melody under his expressive, crooning vocal. The single was also a top 10 hit in the US the following year. Its black and white video, directed by Herb Ritts, is certainly the sexiest music video ever made.


John said...

Thanks for the link. In comparison to other parts of the year, December seems downright boring.

ww_adh said...

The British side seems more interesting. I love "Wicked Game" and the Twin Peaks song, and of course "Justify My Love."