In 1994, The Hottest Hit On The Planet Was: “Please Forgive Me” by Bryan Adams and…
And I don’t mean Mutt Lange, who produced and co-wrote the thing.
Let’s spare a moment to feel sorry for Bryan Adams, a rockstar with so little rockstar charisma that he was upstaged by a dog.
They didn’t want to overdo it. Anything more than a dog would have totally outshined poor Bryan. It wasn’t even a particularly good-looking dog. It was a bit of a mutt.
Bryan Adams was the kind of 80s rock star who still thought that footage of your band playing in the studio made for mesmerizing content. That might have been enough in the 80s but by the 90s, we expected more. So, we got a dog.
Bryan was so upstaged by the dog, that when the time came to design the artwork for “Please Forgive Me” they didn’t go with a photo of Bryan.
They went with a photo of the dog!
As though the label recognized that the fans couldn’t remember what the song was called and just knew it as “the dog song.” Except it wasn’t “the dog” on the CD cover at all. It was just “a dog.” For the dog in the video, and the dog on the CD cover are… completely different dogs!!!
What’s going on here, Bryan?!?! Were you unable to track down the dog? Was the dog being difficult and starting to make diva demands? What’s going on?!?!?
“Please Forgive Me” could have belonged to the soundtrack of a movie set in, or based on a character from Medieval Times. Or at least featuring such a quantity of swashbuckling sword fights that we might as well call it Medieval Times. It’s about the only Bryan Adam’s hit of the early-mid 90s that wasn’t.
Bryan had already sold countless copies of Robin Hood associated “Everything I Do (I Do It For You.)”
Robin Hood was set in the late 12th century, during the reign of Richard The Lionheart and his evil brother Prince John. That’s right smack-bang in the middle of Medieval Times.
“Please Forgive Me” was followed by “All For Love” with Rod Stewart and Sting, a song from The Three Musketeers soundtrack. The Three Musketeers was set in the 17th century, so not technically Medieval Times, but close enough,
Then there was Don Juan DeMarco in which Johnny Depp is under some strange delusion he is Don Juan, the words greatest lover. Don Juan DeMarco was set in “modern times”, but the legend of Don Juan originated around the same time as The Three Musketeers was set, so again, close enough.
The Three Musketeers were swashbuckling adventurers. Don Juan was the world’s greatest lover. Bryan Adams is none of these. What was it about Bryan Adams that made Hollywood think “medieval folk singer”? Was Bryan even in possession of a single mandolin? Or lute?
So maybe we should feel grateful to “Please Forgive Me” for not soundtracking the Black Plague, The Great Fire Of London or a Copernicus biopic.
But no, “Please Forgive Me” is way too boring for that. Way too boring, and way too long. Worse still, they seem to be making it longer on purpose, by playing it in slow motion. It goes for six minutes, but only contains two verses! Plus, a bridge. A song with just two verses and a bridge has no right to go for six minutes!!
Sure, it’s not as long as Meatloaf’s (11:55!) “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That.)”
But at least the Loaf had bombast going for him. Also pre-choruses, post-choruses, and a bridge that’s practically it’s own song! (it’s a 7) Bryan does not have bombast. He didn’t when he was soundtracking swashbuckling adventures and he certainly doesn’t now!
He’s just groaning in slow motion, playing against the clock, trolling the radio stations who were already playing at least one Bryan Adams song every hour, daring them to let him take up two slots instead of one, squeezing out whichever other balladeer they may have wanted to play…
Perhaps Michael Bolton’s unforgivably bad “I Said I Loved You… But I Lied” (it’s a 1.)
Both songs have a lot in common.
- Both songs were written by Mutt
- Both songs were written with the same premise
In Boring Bolton’s case, it’s written like an almost-joke “I Said I Loved You… But I Lied…”(and then, big twist!)… because it’s more than love I feeeeel insiiiiide”.
In Bryan’s case? You may have thought that Bryan is asking for forgiveness because he has cheated or something. No.
Bryan is asking for her forgiveness because… (big twist!) he can’t stop loving her!
Because he loves her a little more than he should!! It’s not impossible that Bryan is apologizing for being a stalker. It’s always the ones you least suspect.
When faced with so much bad music, it’s natural to look for a villain to blame. It is clear that Mutt Lange – the common element between “Please Forgive Me” and “I Said I Loved You… But I Lied” – is that villain.
I don’t forgive him. “Please Forgive Me” is a 3.
Meanwhile, In The Coolest Band On The Planet Land:
It’s “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys!
Or as I like to call it, “No Sleep Til Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
You can’t tell me this wasn’t Jake Peralta’s favourite music video growing up.
And I don’t mean “the coolest band on the planet” just in the first couple of months of 1994 – although they certainly were that – but The Coolest Band On The Planet Ever!!!
And the reason the Beastie Boys were The Coolest Band On The Planet Ever!!! was their love of other cool shit. Beastie Boy lyrics sometimes seem to be made up of little more a list of cool shit that they love. Spend a day reading the Genius entries of Beastie Boys songs and come out the other end with a Doctorate in Cool Shit. Or at least a list of cult 70s films and jazz and funk records you need to investigate.
Also, food. A lot of food. For three skinny guys, the Beastie Boys seem to rap about food far more than Biggie Smalls.
As a side effect of their love of cool shit, the Beastie Boys don’t care about your genre rules. All they care about is cool shit!! Distorted guitar-fuzz! Cool! Put it in!! Hip-hop record scratching? Cool! Put it in! Put lots of it in! Put so much of it in that it’s pretty much the primary instrument.
Lyrically… well, there aren’t that many lyrics on “Sabotage” as that would get in the way of the more important parts of the song: the build-ups, the record scratching, more build-up, more record-scratching, all leading up to an immensely satisfying moment of release: “WWWHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY???????!!!!?!?!!”
There’s not quite as many moments as usual where you might need to stop the tape, and – since this is 1994 and the Internet is still a baby – run to the local library.
There’s “Watergate” but I think you know that one. You don’t need to look that one up.
Really, the only obscure pop culture reference on “Sabotage” for crate-diggers to get excited about was the one about Buddy Rich flying off the handle.
What was that all about? Buddy Rich is famous for two things:
- Being the world’s greatest jazz drummer
- And yelling at his band
He yelled at his band so much – once threatening to fire his trombonist for having a beard – that his pianist secretly made a bootleg tape of them: “The Bus Tapies.”
Which is a cool thing to know, and which you now know, thanks to the Beastie Boys. “Sabotage” is a 10.
Meanwhile in Björk-Land:
It’s “Big Time Sensuality” by Björk!
(and yes, okay, sure, I’m reusing some of my content from virtual 1994… but I’ve also added to it)
I spent much of the 90s having a crush on Björk.
There are many, many good reasons why one might have a crush on Björk, and sure, yes, the accent was a large part of it. But mostly it was because of Björk constantly being excited about everything! Such positivity was distinctly lacking in the grunge-drenched mid-90s,
This wasn’t just apparent in her songs, but also, in her interviews. Here she is being interviewed by Rolling Stone in 1993:
“I’ve got just one life, and that’s sad because there are too many brilliant things out there.”
“I’d love to be a nurse in Africa and a ballet dancer in New York and run a children’s music school in China and a cafe in Peru.”
“There’s so much that I want to do that I haven’t got time for.”The ever excited and delightful Björk
To my knowledge Björk still hasn’t gotten around to opening a café in Peru.
And here she is again, the next year:
“To me the future will be about being able to do all things at once.”
“You can be, like, a really good businessman and also be a mother and also be really into health food, and you can do basketball —just pick up the best things.”The ever inspirational and crush-worthy Björk
Björk needs to release a quote-of-the-day calendar.
So when a Björk sings a sex song, then obviously this is going to be an overexcited sex song. I mean, I know Björk says it’s not a sex song, that it’s more about the love she has for her friends and something about the difficulties she has with booking air tickets because they make Björk feel trapped (like me, Björk often goes off on a tangent… we’d be so perfect together!)… but who is she kidding? As if “something HUUUGE is coming up” is not about an erection… I mean, C’MON!
Whatever the reason is, Björk gets so excited that she starts singing in her own made-up language. I dare say you assumed that it was all Icelandic. I did, and consequently spent close to an hour trying to find an English translation of all the random sounds towards the end of “Big Time Sensuality”, only to find out that it is mostly gibberish
(Björk quote about the non-English words in her songs: “Sometimes Icelandic words, but mostly gibberish”). The lyrics for “Human Behaviour” on Genius literally say “(gibberish.)”
Björk’s favourite gibberish word “Alsemanche.” She uses it in “Joga”, she uses it in “Pagan Poetry,” she uses it in “Headphones.”
She doesn’t use it in “Big Time Sensuality” – I don’t think she’d invented it yet. But it does feature another of Björk’s favourite Björkisms: “un bieathafter.” I think. I don’t really know. I don’t really know what to think anymore.
Some sounds of course don’t need translation. “YEE-HOW!” means “YEE-HOW!” in any language.
There are two “Big Time Sensuality”s:*
The album version which is all playful organ stabs and ticklish basslines,
And there’s the shimmering Fluke Minimix from the riding-through-New-York-on-the-back-of-a-truck video, Björk so filled with joyness that she flutters her eyelashes, giggles like a school girl, makes faces and wiggles her finger at the camera, then gets up real close to tell us all a secret. That “it takes cour-age… to enjoy it… the hardcore… and the gentle… big… time… sensuality.”
Björker words have never been spoken:
“Big Time Sensuality” is a 10!
*Well there’s more of course, David Morales did a “Def Club” remix which is quite good, some guy called Dom T did a remix, and there’s something called a “Lionrock Wigout Vox” whatever that means –
Meanwhile in Slacker Land:
“Cut Your Hair” by Pavement!
What you need to understand about Pavement is that – at least by the standards of critically acclaimed indie rock bands – they are laugh. Stephen Malkmus could probably be a stand-up comedian. He certainly has the face for it.
Just consider this verse from their 1997 indie rock hit “Stereo” (it’s a 9):
“What about the voice of Geddy Lee
How did it get so high?
I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy?”
One of the other Pavement guys buts in:
“I know him, and he does”
“And you’re my fact-checkin’ cuz”
“Fact-checkin’ cuz” is what I call anyone now in possession of a fact. On those occasions when I remember to. Which is never.*
Pavement were comedians enough that they thought it would be funny to make up stories about getting into fistfights with Jason Priestly on the set of “90210”. They were right: it was.
Or getting into a feud with Billy Corgan after turning the twangy ballad “Range Life” into a dis-track of The Smashing Pumpkins and getting kicked off Lollapalooza for their troubles.
Also: the Stone Temple Pilots. Pavement were dissing bands in their lyrics long before New Radicals (“Range Life” is a 9, “You Give What You Give” is a 10)
Then there’s “Cut Your Hair,” a treatise on the ridiculous state of the rock’n’roll industry. “Charts are like a puzzle”, Stephen observes, a clear indication that this song was written in the 90s.
Also the importance of hair in relation to rock’n’roll as the Pavement guys complement each other on their “pretty nice haircuts”, discover a new favourite band whose only stand-out quality is the drummer’s hair, before forbiding musos with ‘BIG HAIR!!” from ever even thinking of joining Pavement.
Floppy hair though? Pavement are totally fine with floppy hair.
The world is still trying to figure out whether Stephen is yelling out “career, career” towards the end, or “Korea, Korea”! I personally suspect it’s “career, Korea, career, Korea” and that Stephen was prophesizing the emergence of BTS like some pop-guru Nostradamus. I wonder what else has Stephen predicted?
“Cut Your Hair” is an 8.
*I am devastated to report that not a single “fact-check” website has used “fact-checkin’ cuz” as its name. You may now be wondering if Stephen Malkmus came up with the phrase “fact-check,” so I checked that fact, and no. The phrase was in common-usage as early as the mid-70s, such as in a 1976 article about author Gail Godwin who had been employed by The Saturday Evening Post as a fact-checker a decade earlier.
So there you go. I’m your fact-checkin’ cuz.
Meanwhile in R&B Ballad Land:
“Breathe Again” by Toni Braxton!
Why exactly were ballads so oppressively omnipresent in the mid-90s – or, more specifically, in the three-year period from 1992 to 1994 – with the seemingly complete domination of the charts by Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Boyz II Men?*
Artists whose run of uber-hits might justify being referred to as an Imperial Phase, if not for the fact that they weren’t particularly good?
What exactly was happening during this period? What happened, I truly believe, is that the centre did not hold.
Let me explain what I mean by that:
If we begin with the premise that “underground” music is the left, and “adult contemporary” is the right, the 80s had been full of artists that… although largely rejected by extremists at both ends of the spectrum, were able to bridge the mass market “centre” in the middle, and hence conquer the charts.
First there was New Wave, then the New Romantics, then Hair Metal… all three originated in a sort of underground, but all were full of characters who wanted to be pop stars.
- Who wanted to have pop hits.
- Who wanted people to like them.
- Who wanted to be friends.
The 90s “alternative rockers” were not interested in any of that. The very word “alternative” was a rude rejection of the entire “mainstream” or “centre” audience and ethos, and the “centre” gave them what they wanted by rejecting them in turn, embracing instead the friendlier – if blander – faces of Mr Big and Billy Ray Cyrus and Bryan Adams.
That’s on the white side of the equation, but a similar thing was happening with Black music. Michael Jackson, Prince and New Jack Swing – pop stars who wanted to be liked, even if they were too shy to be friends – were replaced by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube.
Dr. Dre and Ice Cube did not look as though they wanted to be friends.
“The centre” was a vacuum**. The ballads were sucked into the vacuum and took over.
And the Queen Of R&B Ballads was Toni Braxton.
Daughter of an opera singer, she was perfect casting for such a role during the Celine Dion Hegemony. She had previously been a member of The Braxtons, with her sisters, every single one of whom – Traci, Towanda, Trina, and Tamar – started with a “T.”
With a novel family-friendly hook like that, it’s amazing they never took off.
But Toni did, rising to the top with “Breathe Again”, in which Toni appears to claim that if her man breaks up with her, she will kill herself.
And so, one of the definitive moments of “the centre’s” turn away from the foreboding shadows of grunge and gangsta rap, and towards the safety and security of light and fluffy ballads, may actually have been the darkest song of all.
“Breathe Again” is a 5.
*How omnipresent were ballads? So omnipresent that half of the Billboard Number Ones on the Rhythmic Charts were songs without any rhythm!
** That’s not to say that there weren’t pop stars pitching themselves to “the centre”, Ace Of Base for example, were definitely doing that. Although, ironically enough, they came from the political ultra-right.
Meanwhile, in Chill-Out Land:
“Return To Innocence” by Enigma…
and “Sweet Lullaby” by Deep Forest!
Three years after introducing the world to the wonders of Gregorian-monks-chanting-over-chilled-out-house-beats, Enigma were back.
This time: introducing the world to the chants of the Amis peoples – the largest of the many indigenous peoples of Taiwan – over the top of Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks.”
The specific chant being sampled? A little ditty called “Weeding The Paddyfield Song.”
So naturally the video had to show the life – the backwards life – of a man in Spain. Also a unicorn.
Sandra, 80s German pop star, and wife of main Enigma dude, Micheal Cretu, also provides some breathy and pseudo-philosophic vocals about “love, devotion, feeling emotion” which is nowhere near as sexy as her orgasmic gasps on “Sadeness (Part I.”
Enigma were not the only ones using surprising samples from all over the world. About the same time that “Return To Innocence” was racing up the charts, Deep Forest’s “Sweet Lullaby” – a track about two years old – was doing the same.
“Sweet Lullaby” sampled an actual lullaby of the Baegu and Fateleka peoples of the Solomon Islands, just east of Papua New Guinea. So obviously the video was recorded… pretty much everywhere but.
“Return To Innocence” is a 7. “Sweet Lullaby” is a 9.
What a crazy time it was to be alive!
To hear these, and other 90s hits, tune into DJ Professor Dan’s Twitch stream Saturdays, 8 PM Melbourne time, 9am London time, 1 AM L.A. time (of the night before), middle of the night before), New York time!!!
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