The Final Episode Of ‘The Fantastic 40’: Episode 12: Top-40 Chart Domination for 1991

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It’s been a fun tour of The Fantastic 40 of each year from 1980 to 1991:

A review of my personal journals of the artists whose work dominated Billboard’s Top 40 for a calendar year.

And this week, we’re up to the final installment.

In 1980…

I began dutifully keeping track of the year’s top artists as a high school junior and senior who listened practically every week to Casey Kasem counting down “American Top 40” on U-93 in South Bend, Indiana.

Eleven years later, I was back in South Bend as the arts and entertainment editor at the hometown paper, The Tribune.

Its weekly subscription to Billboard magazine allowed me continued access to the Hot 100, even as radio countdowns splintered between “AT40,” now with Shadoe Stevens, and Kasem’s rival “Casey’s Top 40.”   

Somehow, neither show interested me much. The Shadoe AT40 sounded like it was going after the audience of rival countdown, “Rick Dees’ Weekly Top 40.” And Casey’s show, whenever I heard it, sounded like the original AT40 but not as tasty – say, what Hydrox is to Oreo.

So, from 1992 on, music and I were on more casual terms. Weekly dates were out of the question.

What were the tales of 1991?

The trend: The trends of previous years unite.

As in 1983 and 1984, artists spun off multiple hits from an album. As in 1990, hard-edged R&B-oriented pop caught on. As in 1989, the newbies dominated. And as in 1986, women dominated the airwaves. In 1991, for the first time, the top three artists were solo women:

Mariah Carey at No. 1,

Amy Grant at No. 2,

and Whitney Houston at No. 3.

Paula Abdul…

and Cathy Dennis rounded out a Top 10 that was 50% solo women (and with the Martha Wash-powered C&C Music Factory at No. 4, sounding more than that).

New artists:

The freshmen in the 1991 yearbook included:

Tevin Campbell (40),

Firehouse (17),

Boyz II Men (14),

Color Me Badd (5),

and C&C Music Factory (4).

Amy Grant was among the several artists making their Fantastic 40 debuts, who had charted previously. Others included:

R.E.M. (18),

LL Cool J (21),

Luther Vandross (23),

Salt ‘n’ Pepa (24),

Surface (28)

and UB40 (36).

Final bows:

Artists who wouldn’t return to the Billboard Top 40 after 1991 include:

Styx (34),

Roxette (12),

and Nelson (22).  

  

Time and again:

Hats off to artists from previous years who continued to make a name for themselves in 1991:

Bryan Adams at Number 10, back-to-back with…

Rod Stewart,

Gloria Estefan at No. 30,

and Prince at No. 31 (with the New Power Generation).

Only in 1991:

The year had more than its share of flashes in the pan, including:

Gerardo (38),

Black Box (39),

Natural Selection (37),

Rhythm Syndicate (25),

Tara Kemp (16),

Hi-Five (13),

Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch (31),

Londonbeat (26),

Another Bad Creation (20),

Jesus Jones (19),

and Extreme (9).

Some of these artists would have at least one more hit – but not enough to return them to the year’s top artists.

Looking at acts like Gerardo, Tara Kemp and Marky Mark reminded me why I drifted away from AT40 and Billboard’s weekly charts.

Their music just wasn’t resonating with me, and I realized I was moving away from the Top 40 sound toward more of an adult, sometimes eclectic, mix.

Still, it was fun to see what dominated the airwaves the decade that contemporary pop music was my lingua franca.

I hope you enjoyed the journey, too.

14

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Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 31 years (9 legal).

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mt58
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November 21, 2023 4:24 am

Three- actually… make that 40 cheers for Chuck!

Congratulations on a fun, informative, and nostalgic ride! Well done – and atta boy!

Last edited 2 months ago by mt58
Phylum of Alexandria
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November 21, 2023 7:37 am

I like the brash side of the late 80s and early 90s, Funky Bunch included. Times they were a-changing, though, and the tough image of Marky Mark would very soon look tame compared to the hard characters that came to define 90s rap and R&B.

In any event, it’s been a Joyride. Thanks for the tour!

rollerboogie
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November 21, 2023 8:53 am

Thank you, Chuck for this look back. My musical journey took an opposite turn to yours, in that I lost touch with pop music around ’84, after high school, and didn’t connect to any of the trends until the early 90s. My younger sister started making me mix tapes of house music and other adjacent styles, and I found that I liked it. I didn’t really dig much deeper on my own or revisit those years until Tom started covering the 90s in The Number Ones. Commenters were posting all sorts of dance music from those years, some I recognized, but much of it I didn’t. I made playlists of many of the dance tracks that were posted either by Tom or in the comment section, for both the years 1990 and 1991. Much of it was house, though a few new jack swing songs and some other danceable genres made an appearance. I still listen to those playlists from time to time, particularly ’91. I never connected with dance music again quite like I did at that time, and it was fun to see some of the names in your column today.

Last edited 2 months ago by rollerboogie
Virgindog
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November 21, 2023 9:32 am

This has been a fun series, Chuck. Looking forward to whatever you have up your sleeve for us next.

1991 was when hair metal was fading out and we were waiting for the next hard rock trend.

Meanwhile, in Seattle….

Aaron3000
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November 21, 2023 12:54 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

… Sir Mix-a-Lot was getting ready to tell us what he likes? 🙂

Oh yeah, that other stuff too…

Last edited 2 months ago by Aaron3000
JJ Live At Leeds
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November 21, 2023 12:44 pm

One last trip around the block and its another bumper year in the game of; Sorry, who are you?

A series best ten of the 40 never had a UK top 40 hit;

Hi-Five
Tara Kemp
Firehouse
Another Bad Creation
Rhythm Syndicate
Surface
Natural Selection
Nelson
Gerardo
Tevin Campbell

Of those the only ones I’ve heard of are Nelson, Rhythm Syndicate, Natural Selection and Tevin Campbell.

More surprises come from my fellow countrymen. None of EMF, Londonbeat, Jesus Jones and Cathy Dennis had particularly long chart careers, whether at home or abroad. By the mid 90s they were all pretty much done though Cathy Dennis would transition to being a successful song writer.

Then there’s UB40 who it’s surprising took so long to get here after a decade of ubiquity at home. By 1990 they’d already had two #1s, 14 top 10s and 25 top 40s here. There were still a whole lot more to come as well.

By this point they’d become a byword for blandness. It had started so well, the first couple of albums showed off their reggae influences and mined dark social commentary before a gradual shift to a mix of covers and inoffensive reggae-lite love songs.

Thanks for the many weeks of nostalgia and education Chuck. Look forward to whatever you have for us next.

Phylum of Alexandria
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November 21, 2023 2:17 pm

If you don’t know ABC, you have to check out “Iesha.” It’s an adorable slice of early 90s signifiers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDPIK7Fz_g4

JJ Live At Leeds
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November 22, 2023 11:44 am

Given that the likes of Kriss Kross, MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice and Marky Mark had some success here and Fresh Prince was popular on tv I could easily see ABC achieving similar. Its got the novelty value that could have appealed to the same demographic as Kriss Kross. They didn’t even make the top 75 let alone top 40, not sure what stopped them getting noticed over here.

Phylum of Alexandria
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November 22, 2023 12:27 pm

Uh-oh.

Don’t try to compare them (no!) to Another Bad Little Fad.

They’re the Macs and they’re bad, give you something that you never had.

JJ Live At Leeds
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November 22, 2023 1:46 pm

I apologise for diminishing their musical integrity.

Please don’t utilise your badness to give me something that I’ve never had.

Phylum of Alexandria
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November 22, 2023 2:28 pm

Don’t worry about me, but make sure not to kross Mac Daddy or Daddy Mac!

danieruw
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November 29, 2023 2:04 pm

Both Hi-Five and Surface were subjects in “The Number Ones”. Not sure if you were there back in virtual 90 and 91. Hi-Five’s story is particularly sad.

blu_cheez
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November 21, 2023 5:38 pm

This was a delightful series – thank you!!

mt58
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November 21, 2023 6:35 pm

Chuck was very generous and giving me some leeway on the record art for his series.

I thought it would be fun to not choose the obvious hit by the artist, but perhaps one of their minor follow-ups. I won’t say “flops,”because after all, if it hit the top 40 well, that counts as a “successful” record.

stobgopper
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November 22, 2023 4:18 pm

Londonbeat FTW!

Sorry to see this column end. Of course, looking forward to whatever you have planned next.

cappiethedog
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November 25, 2023 6:37 pm

My English instructor at Leeward Community College was a script doctor. Post-production for Baraka was done at Skywalker Studios, so he got to hang out with Lawrence Kasdan for two weeks as The Phantom Menace was just getting started. That sort of gig. (He and Kasdan recommended Haley Joel Osment as Young Darth. He was promptly fired. Kasdan got to stay.) LCC, in the aughts, was a backwater school. It’s a little better now. But back then, it was surprising to meet somebody who worked in the entertainment industry, even on the periphery. He collaborated with some remarkable people, though: Robert Bolt, Arthur C. Clarke, and he could call John Sayles for advice about our local TV anchor’s vanity project, an undistributed film called Moonglow. His name is Joe Moore(Milo O’Shea once called my teacher well-before dawn, sounding very drunk: “Bob. Bob. He can’t act. If this film sees the light of day, I’ll kill myself.”) Why is our newsreader a megalomaniac? I bet you didn’t know Pat Sajak had acting aspirations. He’s been here multiple times, acting with his buddy. I passed on free tickets for The Odd Couple. But my teacher wrote spec scripts. I still have a copy of an Abyss-knockoff called Vortex Blue. Dennis Quaid was interested. And he had an in. He was so excited. To my best recollection, this was our exchange in his office.

TEACHER: Rick Dees Productions is handling Vortex Blue.
ME: Rick Dees? The “Disco Duck” guy?
TEACHER: …

With a withering look, he eventually answered: “Yes, “cappie”, the “Disco Duck” guy. Please leave now.”

Shadow Stevens. Wow. I haven’t though about him in years. I don’t remember him doing AT40. I remember Dees, though. If he isn’t going to perform “Disco Duck”, why am I listening to this? Casey Kasem was irreplaceable.

I enjoyed this series a lot.

And now I’m going to stream two Styx songs I have no memory of.

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