August 1990 belonged to a new artist, the one and only Mariah Carey. Carey had the perfect launch with her first single, “Vision of Love,” a striking ballad with a sound both captivating and unlike anything else on the radio at the time. It still stands out as one of her best musical moments, instantly establishing some classic Carey singing tactics—the melisma, the multi-octave range and the spine-tingling (or some would say ear-splitting) high note. “Vision of Love” spent 4 weeks at #1, the entire month of August. It tied “Because I Love You” and “Nothing Compares 2U” as the longest-running #1 hit of the year. “Vision of Love” was the first of Carey’s now 18 #1 hits. She'd earn her second before 1990 ended.
With Carey lodged at #1 for the month, a trio of singles had to be content with #2 peaks. Leading that group was Billy Idol’s “Cradle of Love,” his second biggest hit after 1987 #1 “Mony Mony.” Although it only peaked at #2, it was among the ten biggest hits of the year on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end chart. It’s racy video was a favorite on MTV in the summer of 1990, showing a young temptress sashay through and demolish the urban apartment of a nebbish yuppy.
British act Snap!’s recent UK #1, “The Power,” hit #2 in the US. The third #2 of the month was Janet Jackson’s “Come Back to Me,” the fifth consecutive top 5 hit from Rhythm Nation 1814 and the first and only ballad released as a single from that album. This subdued, gentle ballad has always been a favorite of mine. The track received an enhanced mix for the single release, with additional synth and string elements. I also once heard a version of this without the drums (Shadoe Stevens played it on American Top 40) that I also really liked and would love to track down. Internationally, this was not a major hit—it only reached #20 in Britain—but it is Janet Jackson’s only #1 hit on the US adult contemporary chart. Along with “Let’s Wait Awhile,” “Again,” and “Any Time, Any Place,” its one of the few hit ballads Jackson’s had.
Following in the footsteps of Bobby Brown and Bell Biv Devoe, a fifth former member of New Edition embarked on a solo career in 1990. Johnny Gill’s first single, “Rub You the Right Way,” became his first of two top 10 hits, hitting #3 in August. In addition to the standard version, a dance remix, which I prefer to the original, was also quite popular.
Go West scored their biggest hit with “King of Wishful Thinking,” a #8 hit. After Natalie Cole’s “Wild Women Do” and Roxette’s #1 hit “It Must Have Been Love,” it was the third hit single from the Pretty Woman soundtrack. Other top 10 hits in August included Michael Bolton's "When I'm Back on My Feet Again," his third for the year; "Girls Nite Out," the only major hit ever for Tyler Collins; and "Jerk Out," the biggest hit ever for The Time, a group assembled by Prince that included a number of guys who, by this time, were already notable producers, such as Jellybean Johnson, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
Most of Britain's August top 10 hits had already been hits in the US: Madonna's "Hanky Panky," which was a much bigger hit in the UK, reaching #2; MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This," which hit #3; and a double A-side release of Roxette's "Listen to Your Heart" (a #1 hit in the US in 1989) and "Dangerous," which peaked at #6.
The most notable single that wasn't yet a hit in the US was DNA and Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner," a dance remix by DNA of Vega's a capella song from her 1987 album Solitude Standing. Although Vega was well known, she was a not a major force on the pop charts, and "Tom's Diner" remains her only major hit in the UK (in the US, she'd previously had a top 10 hit with "Luka"). The single, inspired by Tom's Restaurant in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, was a smash, spending 3 weeks at #2. Later in the year, it peaked at #5 in the US and also hit #1 in some European countries.
Also making the top 10 were Soup Dragons, with "I'm Free" (#5), Blue Pearl with "Naked in the Rain" (#4), and Prince with "Thieves in the Temple" (#7).