Below is an overview of the 10 most popular songs of 1990, taken from the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 chart.
#10 – “Blaze of Glory” – Jon Bon Jovi
Jon apparently wrote this song on a napkin while eating lunch with Emilio Estevez and Kiefer Sutherland at a restaurant. Later, Jon showed up with a guitar on the set of Young Guns II and performed the song for screenwriter John Fusco, who had used Bon Jovi’s 1987 song “Wanted Dead Or Alive” as mood music while creating the original Young Guns. Fusco ultimately fell in love with the song and decided to use it in the film.
The music video was shot on top of The Rectory near Moab, in eastern Utah. A helicopter flew in everything needed for the shoot. Jon and the team camped out on top of the towering cliffs for three days to prevent the hassle of flying to and from a hotel.
#9 – “Cradle of Love” – Billy Idol
Billy was in a terrible motorbike accident before filming this video. His Harley was struck by a vehicle because Idol ran a stop sign while intoxicated. The song’s video had to be shot differently because Idol couldn’t walk.
David Fincher, the director, decided to have Billy exclusively appear on huge screens, singing from the chest up on the walls of an apartment. The idea worked, and the song swiftly rose to the top of the charts as the video received a lot of air-play on MTV.
#8 – “Hold On” – En Vogue
This was the first single released by En Vogue. Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy (from the group Club Nouveau) wanted to put together a female act and held auditions. Only five girls showed up for the audition, and four of them — Herron, Robinson, Ellis, and Jones – were precisely what they were searching for. They wanted the ensemble to have both style and substance, as well as confidence and personality without arrogance.
The premise of this song is an “answer song” to Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “Who’s Lovin’ You,” a heartbreaking song about a guy who didn’t appreciate his girlfriend until she was gone. The first verse of “Who’s Lovin’ You” is repeated in the opening, establishing the “answer song” concept with the story of breakup and remorse. This intro was frequently reduced or deleted entirely by radio stations so that the song could get directly to the beat.
#7 – “Another Day in Paradise” – Phil Collins
In December 1989, The New York Times published an interview with Collins where he described how the song came together: “It was begun at the piano. I started playing and put it down on a tape so I wouldn’t forget it. Then I decided to see what would happen when I started singing. When I began, the words just came out, ‘She calls out to the man on the street.’ I didn’t set out to write a song about the homeless. Those were just the words I happened to sing. It was only then that I decided that was what the song would be about.”
Collins was confronted with the issue of homelessness when recording this song in London. He recalls exiting the studio and seeing a destitute mother begging for money with her two children. While the song raises awareness of the issue, it also made him understand that he behaved in the same way as everyone else when presented with it.
“What (the song) deals with is people’s awkwardness with it. When it happened to me, I just walked straight past. I thought, I’m doing the same thing as everybody else… I felt awkward. I didn’t ignore her but at the same time I didn’t stop and give her some money… That’s what the song deals with, people just sort of starting to pretend it’s not happening.”
#6 – “Vision of Love” – Mariah Carey
This was the first single released by Mariah. Before she was discovered she was a backup singer for Brenda K. Starr, who brought her to a label party in Manhattan, where a demo of this song ended up in the hands of Tommy Mottola, Sony Music’s CEO. After listening to part of the tape in his limo on the way home, Mottola went back to the party to find the singer, but she already left and no one knew who she was. Mariah received a message on her answering machine a few days later inviting her to sign with the label.
Carey won the Grammy for Best New Artist and “Vision of Love” won the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance. She went on to become one of the best-selling female artists of the 1990s, thanks to the popularity of this song.
#5 – “Vogue” – Madonna
In 1990, the word “vogue” was incredibly popular. Not only did this song become a big hit, but the magazine Vogue was enjoying a resurgence under Anna Wintour’s leadership, and the group En Vogue had their first breakthrough hit with “Hold On.”
In the Gay community, there was also a dance fad known as “Vogueing,” in which dancers made elaborate hand gestures and frequently stopped to pose. Madonna’s status as an icon in the gay community was cemented with this song, when she introduced the dancing style to the mainstream.
Debi Mazar, Madonna’s best friend, first saw the Vogue craze while out clubbing. She was fascinated by the way these men would “Strike a pose” by holding their bodies in unique positions. Madonna pitched the concept to Shep Pettibone, a New York producer with whom she had recently started working, and the two collaborated on the song.
#4 – “Poison” – Bell Biv DeVoe
The classic debut single by Ricky Bell, Mike Bivins, and Ronnie DeVoe marked a new course for R&B and set the tone for where the genre was headed in the 1990s. The New Edition members were looking for new opportunities following their chart-topping album. After former member Bobby Brown became a solo sensation and New Edition was on hiatus, Bell, Bivins, and DeVoe decided to form a trio.
Bell would explain, “Our music is mentally hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip, with a pop-feel appeal to it. We want to be the first to express this kind of music. We knew what we wanted to do.”
With its thumping beat and “never trust a big butt and a smile” lyrics, “Poison” was a bold new approach to R&B that would define the genre in the 1990s. New Edition was all about dressing up and wearing suits. BBD brought it back to the streets.
#3 – “Nothing Compares 2 U” – Sinéad O’Connor
#2 – “It Must Have Been Love” – Roxette
#1 – “Hold On” – Wilson Phillips