The next installment of my project to review the year-end Hot 100’s of every year of my existence takes us to a kind of K-T line for pop music. 1991 was a very interesting year in that music is on the brink of a major shift, so the rules are kind of different. Dance pop rules the airwaves, hair metal is making its last gasps at life and soft rock is king. The charts are just kind of… weird. After listening to the top 100 songs on the charts from that year I think the best way to describe 1991 is meh. There were few songs that I would term “bad”, but there’s not a ton of “great” either. The middle ground, however, is packed with singles of all stripes. With that in mind, here’s how the bottom of my rankings shaped up. If you want to see Billboard’s full list, you can click here.
Before we really dive into the list, here’s a few tracks that were just good enough to miss the bottom 10:
– The Escape Club – I’ll Be There – Some shaky vocals on an otherwise lifeless track, even for an early 90’s ballad.
– UB40 – Here I Am (Come and Take Me) – Pretty standard reggae cover that manages to drain all the soul and feeling from the original.
– Warrant – I Saw Red – Written after the lead singer caught his girlfriend in bed with Richie Sambora, it’s weak sauce given the subject. It takes two-and-a-half minutes to get to any shred of a passion in the vocals.
– Paula Abdul – The Promise of a New Day – Man, are the back-up vocals distracting and not in a good way. Add the weird synth bells and you a track musically trying way too hard.
With that out of the way, here’s the worst of the worst from ’91.
10. Stevie B. – Because I Love You (The Postman Song) – Year-End: #12, Peak #1
Let me start by saying that this is a guilty pleasure of mine. It’s is 90’s bad in all the good ways. But it is at its core a bad some. Stevie is emoting like crazy, but the music clearly never got the memo because it never rises with him. It just sits in the background, letting the reverb on the vocals distract you from the words. Which is probably good, since you’ll miss Stevie slipping into 3rd person for a bar.
9. Rythm Syndicate – P.A.S.S.I.O.N. – Year-End: #40, Peak: #2
Blue-eyed R&B that strips all of the soul out and leaves you with a bland dance beat that’s… alright. Nothing special there. If there’s a silver lining, there’s a pretty bitchin’ guitar solo in the middle, but it’s way too short before the bland vocals step on it.
8. Timmy T – One More Try – Year-End: #5, Peak: #1
Have to confess to another guilty pleasure with this one. However, comparing this to my last guilty pleasure on the list, this is objectively worse. There is more to the backing track but it’s not great with a weird waa effect on the synth bass line, which just disappears for the chorus. Where does it go? To the island of rejected Moog samples? Also, Stevie B. is a nominally better singer than Timmy T.
7. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch – Good Vibrations – Year-End: #20, Peak: #1
Feel it, feel it. This one lives in the core of the 90’s nostalgia planet, but the only useful thing from this track is the female vocal sample. Thankfully, Marky Mark became a pretty good actor, so we could forget about his weak flow over these Casio keyboard demo beats and chords.
6. UB40 – The Way You Do The Things You Do – Year-End: #71, Peak: #6
Another plastic cover from a band that I’m not convinced released a single that wasn’t a reggae cover. Once again, they strip out any passion or pop from the original for their bland remake. I’d put the original classic from the Temptations here as a palate cleanser, but we’re here to hurt not heal.
5. Madonna – Justify My Love – Year-end: #21, Peak: #1
Coming at the tail end of what we’d think of as Madonna’s classic period, this song is barely one. The back beat is pretty bland, using strings to try to round it out. Madonna’s vocals are there but that’s about it. She’s basically doing a poetry reading over this electronic beat. It probably sticks in the pop culture psyche more for the erotic video than for the track itself.
4. Hi-Five – I Like The Way (The Kissing Game) – Year-End: #8, Peak: #1
Bland boy band R&B that gets incredibly repetitious, like headache inducing repetitious. You’d think the record was skipping by the 2:30 mark if, you know, non-hipster people still listened to vinyl. Now, I know they’re teenagers when they release the song, but seriously? “Playing the kissing game”? I know I wasn’t a teen for much of the 90s, but I don’t remember games of 50’s style Spin the Bottle being prevalent at parties. Painfully bubblegum on all levels here.
3. Gerardo – Rico Suave – Year-End: 89, Peak: #7
Press play and you’ll be puking. Where to begin here? How about the fingernails on a chalkboard vocals? Maybe the paint-by-numbers beat, even by early 90’s standards? Well what about the brainless lyrics that would make more sense coming from Johnny Bravo (Buzzfeed-style reference!)? Wrap it all up and you’ve got a tight package of blah that’s not even enjoyable in a cheesy, nostalgic way.
2. Another Bad Creation – Iesha – Year-end: #54, Peak: #9
Can I make an even more esoteric reference than Johnny Bravo? How about this one: this track is 1991’s version of Aaron Carter’s 1997 cover of “Crush On You”. It’s kids singing about things they don’t understand, trying to cleverly dress up a quick cash-in on being new jack swing’s Kris Kross. Now, I’m not saying this track killed new jack swing as a musical genre, but it may have pushed it onto life support. The best part of this song are when the vocals drop out and you’re left with just that familiar backbeat.
The Worst Hit Song of 1991: Vanilla Ice – Play That Funky Music – Year-end: #57, Peak: #4
Why did we give this man another hit? Why is the sample here so terrible? Why you gotta throw in a diss line at Kid n’ Play? What did they ever do to you? “Spaghetti with a spoon?” Is there a worse attempt at a diss than that? Ice, we get it, you’re white. there’s no need to include a Nazi comparison to hammer that home. Seriously, “steppin’ so hard like a German Nazi”? What the serious fuck?
If you’ve made it this far, you deserve some good music to get this rap out of your brain. So meet me back here tomorrow when I’ll feed you nothing but the best with my list of the Best Hit Songs of 1991.