Remember the Time

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(Pictured: Vanessa Williams, 1992.)

The early 90s was no golden age for pop music. My re-listening to American Top 40 shows from the 90s has not always gone well. But let’s take a bash at the one from March 14, 1992. It uses Billboard‘s Hot 100 Airplay Chart, as distinct from the Hot 100 itself. Hot 100 Airplay would not have been as volatile as sales charts driven by Soundscan, and it could accommodate radio hits not released as physical singles.

You can listen to the show here; the cue sheet is here. My customary half-assed notes follow.

40. “Hazard”/Richard Marx
31. “I Can’t Make You Love Me”/Bonnie Raitt
30. “Until Your Love Comes Back Around”/RTZ
29. “I’ll Get By”/Eddie Money
28. “Mysterious Ways”/U2
15. “Tears in Heaven”/Eric Clapton
14. “I Can’t Dance”/Genesis
“Rock” as a thing was on its way out in the early 90s. U2 became their own genre, kinda, and managed to carry on for years thereafter; Genesis and Phil Collins had a bit of gas left in the tank, but only a bit. Eddie Money is on his last Top 40 hit; Richard Marx would have three Top 40 hits after this, Clapton two, and Bonnie Raitt one. RTZ featured Brad Delp and Barry Goudreau from Boston and would never return to the Top 40. 

39. “Live and Learn”/Joe Public
38. “Vibeology”/Paula Abdul
37. “I’m the One You Need”/Jody Watley
36. “Paper Doll”/PM Dawn
35. “You Showed Me”/Salt-n-Pepa
34. “What Goes Around Comes Around”/Giggles
33. “Too Blind to See It”/Kym Sims
32. “Keep It Comin'”/Keith Sweat
I like the organ line that keeps resurfacing in “Too Blind to See It,” even as I feel that there is practically no difference between it and the preceding six records. Hot take: the new jack swing/hip-hopification of pop created a lot of profoundly boring music.

There was a radio thing on this show that drove me nuts: the transition from Keith Sweat’s big beats at #32 to Bonnie’s bluesy ballad at #31 with Shadoe talking over the intro. Didn’t it occur to anybody on the production staff to put a jingle or something between them? It’s the kind of train wreck that a radio music programmer would usually try to avoid. Better to roll from Bonnie into “Until Your Love Comes Back Around” at #30.

27. “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”/Paul Young
26. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”/George Michael and Elton John
Paul Young’s taste in covers (and he did a lot of them) was pretty good. A lot of people love this version of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” but I am not one of them.

25. “If You Go Away”/New Kids on the Block
24. “Everything Changes”/Kathy Troccoli
23. “I’m Too Sexy”/Right Said Fred
22. “Romeo and Juliet”/Stacy Earl
21. “Uhh Ahh”/Boyz II Men
20. “Thinkin’ Back”/Color Me Badd
The show really blurs here. Hard as it is to believe, I may never have heard “I’m Too Sexy” past the first line until this show. The rest of it doesn’t ring a bell at all. Also:  “Uhh Ahh”? What kind of a title is that?

19. “Beauty and the Beast”/Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion
10. “Missing You Now”/Michael Bolton with Kenny G
2. “Save the Best for Last”/Vanessa Williams
Fossils: the jingly, echoey production on “Beauty and the Beast” and “Save the Best for Last”; Michael Bolton, veins standing out on his forehead as he yowls his devotion; and Kenny G’s noodling saxophone.

18. “It’s a Love Thang”/CeCe Peniston
17. “The Way I Feel About You”/Karyn White
16. “Breakin’ My Heart”/Mint Condition
13. “Finally”/CeCe Peniston
12. “Justified and Ancient”/The KLF featuring Tammy Wynette
11. “All 4 Love”/Color Me Badd
9. “Tell Me What You Want Me to Do”/Tevin Campbell
More new jack blur, although there’s something about “Finally” that appeals to me where similar records on the show do not. “Justified and Ancient” strikes me as a band thinking, “Who’s the most unlikely, buzz-generating person we could get to sing this?”

LDD: “More Than Words”/Extreme. Belinda from Johannesburg has written several times to an American named Eric, whom she met during a ski vacation in Austria, but she hasn’t received a reply. She wants to thank him … for changing her views on South African politics. Long Distance Dedications: different host, still mostly worthless.

8. “Make It Happen”/Mariah Carey
7. “Diamonds and Pearls”/Prince
6. “Good for Me”/Amy Grant
5. “To Be With You”/Mr. Big
4. “Masterpiece”/Atlantic Starr
3. “I Love Your Smile”/Shanice
“I Love Your Smile” was just off five weeks at #1 on the show despite being insert shrug emoji here.

1. “Remember the Time”/Michael Jackson
In my head, 30 years doesn’t seem very long ago. But then we remember the time when Michael was still a transcendent cultural figure, before the child-abuse allegations, and it suddenly seems like ancient days.

A couple of years ago, reader Adam was kind enough to send me a list of links to several of the Shadoe-era AT40 shows. I have some left, so we may do this again.

14 thoughts on “Remember the Time

  1. Spinetingler

    Man, with the exception of “Justified and Ancient” there’s nothing on there that I either remember or want to hear ever again.

    OK, I’d listen to I’m Too Sexy if it came on the radio.

    1. Alvaro Leos

      I’ll definitely stick up for “Make It Happen” (a delicious slice of disco/gospel fusion that has ‘inspirational’ lyrics that actually are) and both of Ms. Peniston’s hits. The main problem with dance music of the day was way too often disco divas shouting over repetitive beats. Peniston’s songs are much more like R&B in the singing style and songwriting, and I never understood why she never became a huge star.

  2. mackdaddyg

    This begins the era when I truly started to lose any sense of direction when it came to popular music. I remember a handful of these songs, but not many. This must have been the beginning of me digging even deeper into the older stuff to find new treasures rather than rely on what was being created at the time. This isn’t meant to put the music down (although I’m sure the snotty younger version of myself put it down nonstop), but it just stopped affecting me in any way.

    Thirty years later I’m still just as lost with current music, but am delighted that there’s still a lot of tunes from the first 30 or 40 years of rock and soul waiting to get my attention.

  3. Chris Herman

    By 1992, the Top 40 only provided a sliver of what was going on in popular music at that time. Music was dividing and sub-dividing itself into smaller and smaller segments that rarely interacted with one another. For example, looking at this chart, you’d have no idea that the grunge/alt. rock revolution was taking place. As for me, I no longer listened to Top 40 radio that much and mostly found myself tuned to stations that played classic rock and alternative.

    1. I was doing adult contemporary radio at the time, so I was not entirely plugged into what The Youths were listening to at the moment, but listening to this show it struck me how uncomfortably schizophrenic it seemed, and I didn’t do an especially good job of putting that feeling across in this post. I’m sure it made a kind of sense to listeners and programmers at the time, but now, the likes of Clapton and Phil Collins seem weirdly anachronistic on here, rich white English rockers in their mid-40s struggling to remain relevant amidst all the hip-hop kids. (I need to think about it some more, but it seems like Richard Marx found the formula, but he was from the hip-hop kids’ generation.) Just as MTV needed to happen in the early 80s, alt-rock needed to happen at this point.

      1. Alvaro Leos

        That’s the rub–Top 40 stations weren’t playing both Genesis and Salt-N-Pepa. The format had split into mainstream and rhythm subformats, and when Billboard started publishing those subcharts later in 1992 it was stunning how little they overlapped. Rhythmic Top 40 was much closer to R&B playlists than Mainstream Top 40. And then when you factor in how badly Top 40 fell in both ratings and station counts early in the 90s that’s a big reason so many of these songs don’t ring a bell.
        Billboard understood these problems and started adding alternative and hot AC stations to the Hot 100 panel in 1993. But by the time they started adding R&B/mainstream rock/country stations to the panel in 1998, both the single and the Hot 100 were near irrelevant.

    2. Jake

      My local top 40 was trying to play most of this in 1992, and it was JARRING to even a 10 year old me. I have an old cassette of it and it’s then current singles by Tesla, Eddie Money, Nirvana, Billy Ray Cyrus, Celine Dion, Ozzy, Mariah, and CeCe All jammed together. By 1993, they had gone more rhythmic top 40 with a huge slice of grunge (both Stone Temple Pilots Plush and Disarm by Smashing Pumpkins topped their airplay chart).

      1. To Alvaro’s point: I looked at Radio and Records from the same week, and CHR stations *were* playing nearly all of it. As Jake notes, the fragmenting of formats into sub-formats didn’t start in earnest until somewhat later in the 90s, although you can see it starting in 1992, with R&R publishing New Rock and NAC charts alongside the traditional AOR and Adult Contemporary charts.

  4. Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty (the men behind the KLF) were raconteurs, to put it mildly: publishing a how-to guide for achieving a #1 record with little to no budget or talent (in their case, “Doctorin’ the Tardis”, the Doctor Who/Gary Glitter/Sweet mashup that topped the UK charts in ’88); promoting singles with graffiti on other advertisers’ billboards, burning a million pounds cash in profits and leaving a dead sheep at the entrance of a BRIT Awards afterparty. Roping Tammy Wynette into the mix was just another name-in-the-papers lark.

    As much as I hated “Finally” on first listen, it’s most likely my favorite in the countdown. “Too Blind to See It” might be second: that record blew up in Houston a good month before a commercial single was issued (and only a 12″ at first; I finagled the promo-only remix CD from a label rep). On the further subject of record-store clerk perks, “Remember the Time” holds sentimental value as the first label-sanctioned listening party I ever attended was an affair for Dangerous, at least a week before street date.

  5. Alvaro Leos

    I was looking at the Nov 3 1992 issue of Billboard, the first issue to print seperate Top 40/mainstream and Top 40/rhythm-crossover. Only three songs are in both Top 10s, and only 14 in both Top 40s. Maybe I’m misinterpreting these charts, or the two magazines were measuring things differently? Either way we call all agree however bad the fragmentation issue was in 1992, it got a lot worse later on.

    1. Aaron McCracken

      The fragmentation was certainly there already (of course it got more drastic over the next few years). Billboard’s use of monitored airplay by this point gave a “truer” picture of the divisiveness, but even in R&R you can check out their Parallel charts and see that the major market stations were already more Rhythmic leaning in contrast to the smaller markets. During the 1980s songs that cleared 60% of R&R’s CHR airplay panel (“Breakers”) generally did so either the week they debuted in the Top 40 or even the week before that; by contrast, songs in 1992 were hitting the 20s before making Breaker status, and by 1993 one tune (“Hey Mr. DJ” by Zhane) peaked in the CHR top ten without ever clearing 60% of the panel in a single week. True, there were definitely some stations out there that still attempted to play everything, but not to the extent of the mid ’80s heyday.

  6. Wesley

    Beside U2, I’d argue that by this time Prince became his own genre, and though his big hitmaking days were dying down, he was such a superstar that he didn’t need to worry about top 40 airplay or lack thereof, unlike most of his contemporaries. Indeed, if there was one artist on this chart hurt by the fragmentation in formats going on in radio, it was the man at the top, Michael Jackson, who soon learned that he couldn’t be all things for all people. Yeah, I know the allegations hurt him too, but if they hadn’t happened, I still don’t see how Jackson could be a player on a chart where the likes of R. Kelly and other rappers would soon predominate.

    But please do a few more columns like this. And thank you Adam for sending jb these links.

  7. Pingback: Right Now – The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

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