1992 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast

Crossover becomes the norm as Billboard takes the charts digital, but Michael Jackson finds Pop’s new sweet spot and Boyz II Men set a new bar for weeks at #1.

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Welcome to the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, I’m your host, Christopher Verdesi. Every week on Chartcrush, we dive deep into a year in Pop music and count down the top ten songs according to our exclusive recap of the weekly pop charts published at the time in the music industry’s top trade publication and chart authority, Billboard magazine. This week on Chartcrush, we’re turning the clock back to 1992, a presidential election year, and in February, George H.W. Bush, running for a second term, did a photo op at a grocer’s convention and was on video expressing what appeared to be marvel and amazement at the computerized scanning of items at the checkout. Wow!

Well, by 1992, retail barcode scanners were already common, so in a front-page story headlined “Bush Encounters the Supermarket, Amazed,” the New York Times opinion page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, wrote that Bush “emerged from 11 years in Washington’s choicest executive mansions to confront the modern supermarket.” Well putting aside whether President Bush was out of touch with technology, no question that the music biz was. But ’92 was the year that  Billboard caught up by revamping its charts to reflect actual point-of-sale units captured by retail barcode scans for sales, and independently-monitored airplay data for radio spins. Up ’til ’92, the charts had been based on weekly phone surveys of record sellers and radio programmers, but now, cutting out the middleman, suddenly Heavy Metal, Hardcore Rap and Country albums were in the top ten, Alternative Rock was, well, Mainstream Rock, and Nirvana, NWA, Metallica and Garth Brooks were household names.

Soundscan, a startup under the auspices of Nielsen, the TV ratings people, pioneered barcode data collection in the music biz. They negotiated exclusives with several important retail chains that prohibited them from reporting their sales data to anyone else, including Billboard’s survey system. Which forced Billboard’s hand, and Billboard and Soundscan have been joined at the hip ever since. The album chart changed first; for the Hot100, Billboard waited ’til the last week of November ’91, the beginning of its 1992 chart year.

A decade earlier, the Sony Walkman had sped up Top40’s migration from staticky, mono AM radio to hi-fi stereo FM. But switching to FM, Top40 radio went from being music’s center of gravity on 50,000 watt blowtorch stations whose coverage areas spanned multiple states, to just another music genre on FM. MTV came along just in the nick of time to became music’s new center of gravity through the ’80s, but by the early ’90s even that wasn’t holding, and now, without Billboard’s survey panelists manning the barricades, genres flooded the charts and so-called “crossover” became the rule, not the exception. But to the extent that there was a musical center in 1992, you’re gonna hear it this hour. An act’s gotta have reach and mass appeal to score one of the top ten songs of the year, right?

#10 Color Me Badd – All 4 Love

Well the ’90s had its share of Pop superstars, but it had more than its share of one-hit wonders, especially early in the decade. Or, as is the case with our act at #10, three-hit wonders, with the hits all happening in under a year. Here is the multicultural contemporary R&B group from Oklahoma City, Color Me Badd. Their third and final top ten hit, “All 4 Love.”

The Superbowl halftime show evolved rapidly in the early ’90s, from marching bands and Up with People, to the must-watch Pop Culture showcase it later became. The first time a top Pop act headlined was New Kids on the Block in ’91, but that got pre-empted by an ABC News Special Report about the Gulf War. For ’92 it was Gloria Estefan, Olympic skaters and a marching band in a production titled “Winter Magic.” But the upstart Fox network, only on the air for a few years in ’92, counterprogrammed a football-themed live episode of its edgy sketch comedy show In Living Color at halftime, and tens of millions of Superbowl viewers changed the channel. The act we just heard at #10 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1992, Color Me Badd, was the musical guest. On the show they did their better-known breakthrough hit from ’91, “I Wanna Sex You Up,” but “All 4 Love” was their new single and it had just hit #1. Color Me Badd faded after their last top 20 hit in the Fall of ’92.

#9 Jon Secada – Just Another Day

But speaking of Gloria Estefan, next up we have a Cuban-American Singer-Songwriter she discovered in Miami. Gloria sings backup on it and her husband Emilio produced. The Spanish version was #1 on the Hot Latin chart, so despite its pretty middle-of-the-road late ’80s Pop sound, it’s actually a significant Latin Pop crossover hit at a time when those were kinda rare. It only peaked at #5 on the Hot100, but stayed in the top 40 for 30 weeks. At #9 it’s Jon Secada’s “Just Another Day.”

Jon Secada’s “Just Another Day,” the #9 song on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 1992’s top hits. Gloria and Emilio Estefan were returning the favor after Secada co-wrote and sang backup on several of their solo and Miami Sound Machine tracks in the ’80s. He came pretty close with “If You Go” in ’94, but never repeated the success of “Just Another Day.” Mostly he became a darling of Adult Contemporary radio, and after that, the Broadway stage and Latin charts.

#8 Michael Jackson – Black or White

Now, our #8 song was #1 for seven weeks through the 1991 holiday season, Thanksgiving to New Years, all the way to the middle of January: the third longest stay at #1 of the year, yet it’s only the #14 song on Billboard‘s year-end Hot100. Wait, How’s that? Well, with the switch to Soundscan’s point-of-sale barcode data and monitored airplay for ranking the songs for the weekly charts, Billboard also changed how it ranks the year. From ’92 on, Billboard’s year-end rankings have nothing to do with how the songs performed on the weekly charts through the year. Instead, they just sum the underlying sales and airplay points, which could be different, say, for the #1 song in a strong, ultra-competitive week vs. a slow week. All weeks in reality: not created equal! Just one problem: no one else could see that underlying data.

Now here at Chartcrush, whether it’s 1950 or 2010, every year is ranked exactly the same way using the published positions on Billboard’s weekly charts. We can’t match the accuracy of summing underlying sales and spins, but what we can and do offer is a consistent ranking methodology across all the years there’ve been charts. So for ’92, the song that was #1 for seven consecutive weeks in the beginning of the year is in our top ten, and without further ado, here it is: the lead single from his eighth studio album, Dangerous, it’s Michael Jackson’s biggest chart hit since “Beat It” in ’83, “Black or White.”

Michael Jackson’s “Black or White,” #8 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1992. The deadly L.A. Riots hadn’t happened yet when it was a hit, but the video of Black parolee Rodney King’s beating by White and Hispanic cops after a high-speed chase had been on what seemed like continuous loop in the media for months, and the officers were on trial, so the song’s racial harmony message was right on point. And it wasn’t just the words. Michael seemed determined to find or define a new “consensus Pop sound,” not an easy task in ’92. But the fusion of Pop Rock, Dance, New Jack Swing and Hip-Hop was the fastest chart topper since The Beatles’ “Get Back” in 1969: just three weeks. No song had yet debuted at #1: that milestone was in ’95. The song? “You Are Not Alone,” by… Michael Jackson! Incidentally, the short Rap in the middle? A mystery Rapper. “LTB,” who’s not on anything else, before or since. Well a writer at Vice decided to get to the bottom of that so he did some digging, and turns out it was the producer, Bill Botrell.

#7 P.M. Dawn – I’d Die Without You

At #7 we have the song that was #51 on Billboard’s year-end Hot100 for 1992, but this time the discrepancy has nothing to do with Soundscan or the weighting of weeks. It’s a different issue that’s always been baked into Billboard’s year-end charts: songs’ chart runs getting split when they straddle two adjacent “chart years.” The song is #51 for ’92 in Billboard, and also #43 for 1993. Obviously, neither of those scream “massive hit.” And the same thing had happened with their breakthrough hit, #1 at the end of Billboard’s 1991 chart year and it wound up at a middling #44 because the ranking couldn’t factor the second half of its chart run.

Now Billboard can’t fix this problem and continue to publish their year-end rankings before New Years, but they could go back later, once all the songs have completed their chart runs, and issue revised rankings. Just sayin’. They don’t, though, so countless “year-straddling” hits over the years have fallen through the cracks. Well, here at Chartcrush, with the benefit of hindsight we can factor every song’s entire chart run and rank it in whichever year it was strongest. So not only does that breakthough hit, “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” get rescued from oblivion (it’s our #6 song of 1991), this one is #7 for 1992. It’s R&B/Hip-Hop duo PM Dawn, with “I’d Die Without You.”

“I’d Die Without You,” PM Dawn repeating in the top ten on the year in back-to-back years here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. Early in ’92, a diss war between PM Dawn and Bronx Rapper KRS-One ended with KRS and his Boogie Down Productions posse rushing the stage, violently ejecting PM Dawn and taking over the gig. The incident generated some headlines, but didn’t affect PM Dawn’s chart mojo. “I’d Die Without You,” #3 for four weeks in the Fall and our #7 song of the year.

#6 TLC – Baby-Baby-Baby

Now, the ’90s biggest Girl Group debuted in 1992! The concept was a trio with a quirky, fun, tomboyish, Hip-Hop style to contrast against what the established Girl Groups had going on. Producers and managers put them together, but their chemistry is what made them instant stars. That, plus being on R&B’s hottest label, LaFace, and label honchos L.A. Reid and Babyface producing and co-writing several of their songs, including their big breakthrough that’s our #6 hit. The second single off their first album Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip, it’s TLC’s “Baby-Baby-Baby.”

TLC’s “Baby-Baby-Baby” at #6 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 1992’s biggest hits: the only song on their debut album that doesn’t have a verse by their resident Rapper Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez. “Baby-Baby-Baby” had the misfortune of peaking at for #2 for six straight weeks behind the #1 song in our Countdown that we’re gonna hear in a few minutes, so they had to wait ’til their second album in ’95 to score their first #1, “Creep.”

#5 Snap! – Rhythm Is a Dancer

Electronic Dance Music (“EDM”) has had an interesting history on the U.S. Pop charts. For a while in the early ’90s, the Rave scene in Europe and the U.K. seemed on the verge of becoming the next big thing Stateside, with House and Techno-derived dancefloor fillers like Madonna’s “Vogue,” C + C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat;” Londonbeat’s “I’ve Been Thinking About You;” EMF’s “Unbelievable” and Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch’s “Good Vibrations” all hitting #1 on both the Dance Club Play chart and the Hot100 in ’90 and ’91.

Now a lot’s been made of Billboard’s switch to Soundscan unleashing genres that’d previously been underperforming on the charts. With EDM, the opposite happened. After the switch there wasn’t another #1 EDM hit on the Hot100 ’til “The Macarena” in 1996! Well our #5 song never got to #1, but it was on the chart 39 weeks, and 14 in the top ten. That’s longer than any of the pre-Soundscan EDM #1s I just mentioned.

Formed in ’89 by two German producers with an ever-changing lineup of American Singers and Rappers, they scored one of the first big Eurodance/EDM hits with “The Power” in the Summer of 1990, but this one was the early ’90s’ biggest Dance crossover hit and the #1 hit of the year in Europe. It’s Snap! featuring American singer Thea Austin, “Rhythm Is a Dancer.”

Snap!’s “Rhythm Is a Dancer,” our #5 song of 1992 here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. It got a lot easier and a lot more affordable to create Electronic Dance Music with the proliferation of synths, MIDI and sequencers. And pagers made it possible to organize impromptu Rave parties in random places. What American EDM was missing in the early ’90s was a big, culturally galvanizing event like Lollapalooza, the touring festival that put Alternative Rock and a distinct Gen-X lifestyle front and center. Or a movie like Cameron Crowe’s Singles, set in Seattle just as Grunge was breaking through. After “Rhythm Is a Dancer,” EDM crossover hits got pretty sporadic, and Raves, Eurodisco and even Dance Clubs slipped below the mainstream radar in the U.S., with the possible exception of Saturday Night Live‘s Roxbury Guys: Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan and Jim Carrey sometimes when he was available, bobbing their heads to Haddaway’s “What Is Love” in the car, in the bar. It took ’til the late ’00s, when American EDM festivals started drawing Woodstock-sized crowds for electronic music to return to the top of the Hot100.

#4 Vanessa Williams – Save the Best for Last

Next, a vindication and comeback for the first Black Miss America: Miss America 1984, who had to give up her crown after nude photos from a few years before showed up in the men’s magazine Penthouse. Instead of spending years fighting about it in court, though, she dropped her lawsuit and turned to music. Soon she had a #1 Dance hit with the title cut from her 1988 debut album The Right Stuff. And “Dreamin’,” the downtempo hit from the album, made the top ten on both the Hot100 and the Adult Contemporary charts. Her Outstanding New Artist win at the 1989 NAACP Image Awards set the stage for our #4 hit. #1 for five weeks March into April, it’s Vanessa Williams, “Save the Best for Last.”

Vanessa Williams, “Save the Best for Last,” #4 on our 1992 edition of The Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show and Billboard’s #1 Adult Contemporary song of ’92, from Williams’ second album The Comfort Zone. Her next Hot100 top ten was “Love Is” from the first Beverly Hills 90210 soundtrack album, a duet with Brian McKnight. And that was Billboard’s #1 Adult Contemporary song of 1993: two years in a row with the #1 AC song. She scored again in ’95 with “Colors of the Wind” from Disney’s Pocahontas and stayed hot on both the Dance and AC charts into the ’00 while also winning multiple awards for her acting roles on TV: the bitchy boss on Ugly Betty in the late ’00s and Desperate Housewives in the early ’10s. And in 2016 she was appointed head judge of Miss America, complete with a public apology.

#3 Sir Mix-a-Lot – Baby Got Back

I mentioned that thanks to Soundscan, Hip-Hop songs started regularly topping the Hot100. Well our #3 hit is “exhibit A.” As far as Pop radio was concerned, it was hobbled by, number one, being a Hip-Hop song at all, but number two, it was way too raunchy for broadcast, at least during the day, so it barely even registered on the Airplay chart. But it still topped the Hot100 for the entire month of July (five weeks), and that was thanks to all the giggling teen Gen-X-ers who went and bought the single. Was it a Novelty hit? Or a serious comment on female body image and racial stereotyping? Well whichever side of that ongoing debate you come down on, it certainly was iconic. In a 2002 Friends episode, Ross gets his baby daughter to laugh for the first time when he sings it to her. In ’09, it was in an ad for Burger King’s SpongeBob Kids’ Meal toys. In 2014 Nicki Minaj based her entire song “Anaconda” on a line and sample from it and scored a #2 hit. And in 2020, none other than former Alaska Governor and Veep candidate Sarah Palin sang it on The Masked Singer. Our #3 song of 1992? Seattle’s Sir Mix-a-Lot: “Baby Got Back.”

Sir Mix-a-Lot (real name Anthony Ray) was against putting out “Baby Got Back” as a single, but after the track he picked instead about police harassment went nowhere, his producer, legendary Def Jam Records founder Rick Rubin, got his pick, and that was “Baby Got Back.” It moved up the Hot100 quickly but stalled at #5 and took six weeks to inch up to #1. Once on top, though, it stayed for five weeks and racked up the most weeks in the top ten since Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” in ’82. After “Baby Got Back” faded, Mix-a-Lot put out a similar song, but this time instead of butts, the focus was on the other female attribute that young straight men have been known to obsess over. That song, “Put ‘Em on the Glass,” didn’t chart anywhere, and Sir Mix-a-Lot, despite “Baby Got Back’s” enduring legacy, was a one-hit wonder.

#2 Kris Kross – Jump

OK, we’re down to #2 here on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 1992’s biggest hits, and it’s the fastest that a previously unknown act’s debut single has risen to #1 since Nebraskan Folk-Rock duo Zager & Evans’ Boomer doomsday anthem “In the Year 2525” in 1969: just four weeks! Also a duo, these two kids from Atlanta, Chris Kelly and Chris Smith, a.k.a. Mac Daddy and Daddy Mac, friends since first grade and barely into their teens, discovered in a mall by producer Jermaine Dupri, who first put Atlanta on the map for Hip-Hop in the ’90s. But in ’92 Dupri, at 19, was just a few years older than the two kids. Dupri later said he’d never seen anyone so focused on being cool. So he taught them some Hip-Hop chops, produced their record in a few months, and its debut single also set a new record for weeks at #1 for a Hip-Hop track, eight. At #2 it’s Kris Kross’s “Jump.”

Anyone who had a pulse in the early ’90s remembers the two kids wearing their clothes backwards who gonna make you “jump! jump!” Unlike Zager & Evans, Kris Kross did make the charts again after their big debut hit, six more times. But “Jump” was their only top ten. Its eight-week run at #1, late April to June, spanned the destructive Rodney King riots in L.A.

#1 Boyz II Men – End of the Road

Now back at #6 we heard TLC’s big hit “Baby-Baby-Baby,” which I mentioned never hit #1 because for six weeks it was stuck behind what became the #1 song of the year 1992. Well, we’re down to #1 here on our 1992 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, and after TLC dropped down to #3, this song still had another seven weeks to go on top, which broke the Hot100 record with 13 weeks at #1. Produced and written by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Antonio “L.A.” Reid, who also wrote and produced TLC, it’s on the same soundtrack (the Eddie Murphy romantic comedy Boomerang) that also had our #7 song, PM Dawn’s “I’d Die Without You.” Here’s the #1 song of 1992, Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.”

“End of the Road,” Boyz II Men: their first #1 after coming close in ’91 with their debut, “Motownphilly,” and their a capella smash “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.” “End of the Road,” #1 for 13 weeks, August to November and the #1 song of the year no matter how you slice or dice it. Later in the ’90s, Boyz II Men broke their own record for weeks at #1 twice, first with “I’ll Make Love to You,” 14 weeks in 1994, and then their duet with Mariah Carey, “One Sweet Day,” 16 weeks in ’95 and ’96. That record stood ’til Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” racked up 19 weeks on top in 2019.

Bonus

And that’s our top ten here on our 1992 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. In the little bit of time we have left, let’s shout out the three songs that made the top ten in Billboard’s year-end Hot100, but got nudged out of our top ten.

First up, our #12 song was Billboard’s #8 song of the year: an important entry because it highlighted Alt Rock’s crossover appeal after the switchover to Soundscan.

“Under the Bridge” by Lollapalooza headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers: 12 weeks in the top ten, May to July, just before the tour got underway: the biggest Alt Rock hit on the Hot100 the year Grunge arrived with Nirvana’s breakout hit “Smells like Teen Spirit” all over MTV. “Teen Spirit” only got to #6 on the Hot100 though because the fans that made Nirvana’s Nevermind, the #3 album of the year didn’t have much use for the single.

At #7, Billboard had the second hit by the ’90s first R&B Girl Group.

“My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It),” En Vogue’s second top ten after arriving in 1990 with “Hold On:” the first of the modern R&B Girl Groups. TLC, SWV, Xscape, 702, Allure and Destiny’s Child… they all came after. Billboard has “My Lovin'” at #7 on the year; our ranking puts it at #13.

Billboard’s #6 song had almost the exact same chart run as Vanessa Williams’ “Save the Best for Last.” The two songs debuted a week apart, and for 20 of the next 26 weeks that they were both on the chart before exiting the same week, they were just one or two positions apart.

“Tears in Heaven” was Eric Clapton’s song for his four-year-old son Conor, killed after falling out a 53rd story window in New York. It was the most successful single of his career.

Well, I hate to end the show on such a sad note, but that’s the hour. I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. Thanks for listening! Be sure to visit our website at chartcrush.com, where you’ll find written transcripts and streamable Spotify versions of this and other Chartcrush Countdown Shows, plus chart run line graphs and other legit extras. Also, check us out on TikTok @Chartcrush. Every week on this show we count down a different year from the beginning of the charts in the ’40s all the way to the present, so tune again, same station, same time, for another edition of Chartcrush.

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