(Pictured: Linda Ronstadt with Aaron Neville, 1990.)
I was a bit surprised by my visceral negative reaction to the hits from August 4, 1990, earlier this week, although it fits with a half-assed theory of mine. It has always seemed to me that by 1990, pop culture had grown more tolerant of vulgarity than ever before. The change wasn’t evolution as much as a distinct click of the ratchet. All of a sudden, 2 Live Crew is acceptable for radio play; “Tic Tac Toe” refers to girls with “their legs across my shoulders” and brags about “making the bed squeak”; “Poison” is about a girl the singers have gang-banged; “Hanky Panky” is explicitly about rough sex. And it’s not just on the radio: Andrew Dice Clay (see below) becomes a star, and Married With Children obsesses over bodily functions. It would take somebody smarter than me to elucidate precisely why it happened when it did and what it meant.
So here’s some of the Bottom 60, with an asterisk.
49. “Do You Remember”/Phil Collins
62. “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven”/Phil Collins
In the mid-80s, I was in Top 40 radio when the Phil Collins album No Jacket Required produced four giant singles and stayed on the air for a solid year. The album . . . But Seriously (sweet mama I hate that ellipsis) seemed just as big when I got into AC radio in 1990. There were five singles and we played ’em all. The only one I care to hear now, however, is “Do You Remember.”
53. “Oh Girl”/Paul Young. The summer of 1990 was a good one for whoever was collecting royalties on the Chi-Lites’ catalog, between MC Hammer’s “Have You Seen Her” and this faithful “Oh Girl.”
69. “Club at the End of the Street”/Elton John. Elton’s album Sleeping With the Past is a tribute to 60s soul. It produced three solid singles, “Healing Hands,” “Sacrifice,” and this, which, if it’s remembered at all, may be for its animated video.
Now, the asterisk: that’s all I could manage to care about from the Hot 100. So I went over to the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary chart for the same week, where I found more stuff I was actually playing on the radio in the summer of 1990. (Positions are from the AC chart.)
5. “Take It to Heart”/Michael McDonald
21. “Skies the Limit”/Fleetwood Mac
As I wrote earlier this year, the pop and adult-contemporary charts tracked each other pretty closely for the better part of 20 years, until they didn’t anymore. “Take It to Heart” had made #98 on the Hot 100 in June during a two-week run on the Hot 100. “Skies the Limit” never made it at all.
20. “And So It Goes”/Billy Joel. According to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), “And So It Goes” is written in iambic tetrameter, and it has only a couple of rhyming lines. It is also a momentum-killer on the radio. It did not make the Hot 100 until October and got to #37.
29. “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”/Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville
41. “Adios”/Linda Ronstadt
Although she didn’t do much big Top 40 business after 1982, Linda remained a major hitmaker throughout the 80s, thanks to her standards albums with Nelson Riddle and the Trio albums with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind contained her last two big singles, “Don’t Know Much” and “All My Life,” plus the two songs mentioned here. Her career was not over in 1990, however. She would make eight (!) more solo albums, her last one coming in 2004.
34. “Sea Cruise”/Dion. In the pop-culture swamp that was 1990, Andrew Dice Clay’s vile, unfunny stand-up act and repulsive Brooklyn dude-bro persona didn’t stop him from becoming a star. He played the title character in 1990’s Golden Raspberry Worst Picture winner The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, the soundtrack of which contained Dion’s version of “Sea Cruise.” It did not make the Hot 100.
(Digression: Dion, who turned 81 last month, released a new album earlier this summer called Blues With Friends. The friends include Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, Van Morrison, Paul Simon, Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons, Joe Bonamassa, and Sonny Landreth. I haven’t heard all of it, but what I have heard is terrific.)
I had started working for an AC station in little Clinton, Iowa, in early 1990, because they had a job open and I needed one. I don’t regret taking the job, or the nearly four years I spent there. What I do regret is the tendency I had back then to let things happen to me instead of making them happen. But I’m not getting into that any further today.