1993 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast
Music is fragmented the second year of the Soundscan era on the charts as Gen-X takes charge, but genres are blossoming and R&B and Hip-Hop rule the Hot100.
Welcome to the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’m your host, Christopher Verdesi. Every week on Chartcrush, we do a deep dive into a year in pop music and count down the top ten songs according to our recap of the weekly pop charts published at the time in the music industry’s leading trade publication, Billboard magazine. This week, we’re counting down the top ten hits of 1993, the year when the two big defining features of pop in the ’90s came into focus: brokenness and dysfunction!
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” to borrow a catchphrase from the decade’s hottest TV sitcom, Seinfeld. Actually, for most fans in the early ’90s, brokenness felt like a good thing: an exciting thing! Artists in every genre were casting off mainstream formulas and pushing outside the box. As a fan, whether you were into Hip-Hop, R&B, Rock, Country, Dance or even New Age, it felt like Springtime after a long Winter, or like after the collapse of an empire, when all the provinces break away and become a patchwork of tribes doing their own thing.
Really, things were only “broken” from the point-of-view of the former overlords, the Baby Boom generation. And wouldn’t you know it: on the timeline, ’93 was the year the generation that came after the Baby Boom, Generation-X, born 1965 to ’80, hit its cultural peak: the five years before the youngest members of any generation turn 18.
It hadn’t been easy dislodging the Boomers. In fact, with music it might never have happened without a dramatic change that Billboard made to how it compiled its charts in 1991, switching to real point of sale and airplay data collected by Soundscan and Broadcast Data Systems, and scrapping its system of weekly retail and radio surveys. Slate writer and Gen-X chart geek Chris Molanphy has called the start of the “Soundscan Era” “the B.C./A.D. moment” of pop charts, when the illusion of a pop “mainstream” was shown to be a fiction, and the overdue flowering of Gen-X’s disparate left-field musical tastes could begin.
Of course, the downside: compared to other eras, there was no longer a common pop music language: an idiom or set of songs that everyone knew. As New York Times writer Eric Weisbard put it in his 2000 article “Pop in the 90’s: Everything for Everyone,” “The music world pays a price for diversity. Our new heroes are often only heroes to a few.” The Top 40 still existed, but no one wanted to hear all of it, and no broadcaster, not even MTV, was playing all of it.
So pop was broken and fractured: the first defining feature of ’90s music. The other? Dysfunction. And there I’m referring to Billboard‘s Hot100 chart. The Hot100 was conceived in the late ’50s as a definitive weekly ranking of the most popular records in the land. Scrapping the survey system improved accuracy, but at the same time, the music format that’d been the pillar of the Hot100 for decades was going extinct: the vinyl 45rpm single. Billboard reasoned that cassette and CD singles were just replacing 45s, but it never worked out that way. CD singles were great for genres that released multiple versions of songs, like Hip-Hop, Dance and R&B: actually a huge improvement over vinyl 12-inch singles. Artists could now put out CD “maxi-singles” with four, five, even six different remix versions of the same song, and those were hot items. But in genres that typically only released one version of a song like Rock and Country, fans had little use for tapes or CDs with just a couple of tracks on them. So with Billboard still insisting that songs be in U.S. stores as singles to chart, the Hot100 quickly skewed toward genres where maxi-singles were selling, and it took a series of massive radio hits not charting at all for Billboard to finally drop the rule and make the Hot100 a songs chart. That didn’t happen until the 1999 chart year. But in ’93, all this talk of chart dysfunction was still just that, talk, and nine of Billboard‘s top ten Hot100 songs of the year were also hits on the R&B charts.
#10 Meat Loaf – I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)
On our Chartcrush ranking though, it’s eight out of ten, and the first of the two non-R&B songs is at #10: the triumphal return to the U.S. charts after over 12 years by an act whose offbeat rock opera in 1977 had bubbled up out of nowhere at the height of disco to become one of the bestselling albums ever. Health and legal problems through the ’80s prevented him from following it up, but in ’93 he mended fences with his original collaborator, songwriter Jim Steinman, and did a sequel. Bat out of Hell 2 didn’t do quite as well as the original, but its lead single was his biggest-ever hit. At #10 it’s Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).”
What wouldn’t you do for love? Hmm. A worthwhile question that millions pondered while Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” rode the charts in late ’93 into ’94. Something sexual? Something criminal? Some extraordinary sacrifice? There doesn’t seem to be an answer in the lyrics, but in a 1998 episode of VH1 Story Tellers, Meat Loaf wheeled out a chalkboard with the lyrics and, using a pointer, tried explain that “that” in the song refers to all the things people do that screw up relationships: cheat, lie, “stop dreaming of you every night of my life,” et cetera. But that’s an answer to a different question, isn’t it? What won’t you do when you’re in love? As for the question posed in the title: what won’t we do for love, the head-scratching continues.
#9 SWV – Weak
R&B girl groups, never bigger than in 1993, with R&B trio En Vogue following Latin Freestyle trios Expose and Sweet Sensation onto the pop charts in 1990, joined by TLC in ’92. At #9, another trio that joined the fray in ’93 and were the #2 overall singles artist of the year, with three top tens during the year. Their breakthrough was a #6 hit in February, “I’m So into You,” but in the summer, this one got all the way to #1. From New York, it’s Coko, Taj and LeeLee: Sisters with Voices, abbreviated SWV: “Weak.”
SWV’s, “Weak,” #9 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1993. Later in the year, the trio hit big again, peaking at #2 on the Hot100 and #1 on the R&B chart for a straight seven weeks, with a remix of their debut single, “Right Here:” a mashup with a sample of Michael Jackson’s 1982 song “Human Nature.” SWV stayed hot for another five years, splitting up in 1998 over creative and interpersonal differences, and “Weak” was their only #1 hit.
#8 Shai – If I Ever Fall in Love
From girl R&B groups to boy R&B groups: Boyz II Men had already been charting massive vocal harmony hits for nearly two years by ’93, but R&B fans couldn’t get enough. So when our act at #8 first came on the radio with their silky a capella smoothness, it was love at first hear. They scored three top tens, all in ’93, which made them the year’s #3 overall Hot100 singles artist, but the first was their biggest. Formed by four seniors at Washington, D.C.’s Howard University as a side hustle and catapulted to instant stardom, it’s Shai, “If I Ever Fall in Love.”
Shai, “If I Ever Fall in Love,” our #8 song here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show for 1993. S-h-a-i, according to a 1993 article in the Hartford Courant newspaper, a Swahili word for “personification of destiny,” but if you look it up on Google Translate, it means “tea.” Hot or iced, not specified. What we just heard is an edit of the album version that’s also in the video, with backing track by group leader and co-producer Carl “Groove” Martin. Some stations, though, played an a capella version. It never got to #1, but it nearly broke the record for weeks at #2: eight weeks in the runner-up spot behind the song that did break the record for weeks at #1. You bet we’ll be hearing that one later.
#7 Silk – Freak Me
So, in 1991 after Boyz II Men first hit, Brooklyn, New York’s Uptown Records tasked an intern, future hip-hop mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, with molding another male R&B vocal group into a “bad boy” version of Boyz II Men. Motown’s Boyz sang about romance and love; Uptown’s bad boy slow-jammers Jodeci would sing about seduction and sex, and present as edgy, dangerous hip-hop characters wearing Timberland boots and baseball caps. Well it worked! Jodeci’s “Come and Talk to Me” was the #1 R&B song of 1992. But New Jack Swing impresario Keith Sweat thought he could go even further, and it was quite a scandal when the male R&B quintet he’d just plucked out of Atlanta topped not only the R&B charts, but the Hot100 for two weeks in May with as debauched and explicit a record as had ever been a hit on the pop charts. It’s our song at #7: Silk’s “Freak Me.”
Silk, “Freak Me,” #1 for eight weeks on the R&B chart; two on the Hot100, our #7 song of 1993 here on the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. Keith Sweat, co-producing and even co-writing the songs on Silk’s double platinum 1992 debut, Lose Control. The hits dwindled by 1999, but Silk continued putting out albums and singles with the same lineup into the 2010s.
#6 Snow featuring MC Shan – Informer
So if a White guy in Miami named Robert Matthew Van Winkle can score a #1 hit in the early ’90s as rapper Vanilla Ice, can a White guy from Toronto, Canada named Darrin Kenneth O’Brien top the charts with a Jamaican Dancehall Reggae number? Sure, why not? And Mr. O’Brien isn’t the only White Reggae artist in our countdown. He came by his love of Reggae honestly though; Toronto’s Jamaican population exploded in the ’70s and ’80s and is the metro’s largest ethnic minority. At #6, it’s Snow, featuring Queens, New York rapper MC Shan, who also produced: “Informer.”
“Informer” not only topped the Hot100 for seven weeks in March and April, but also the Rap Songs and Dance Singles charts. Snow proved to be a one-hit wonder despite continuing to release music steadily into the ’00s and ’10s, but in 2019, Puerto Rican Reggaeton and Dancehall star Daddy Yankee featured him on his “Informer” influenced single “Con Calma,” which made it to #22.
#5 Janet – That’s the Way Love Goes
Well as you’re hearing, lots of new voices on the R&B landscape in 1993. Lots of new voices in every genre in the early ’90s. But at #5 is an established star whose album released in 1993 was her first in four years, and it debuted at #1 on the album chart when it dropped in May. At the same time its lead single rocketed to #1 on the Hot100 its third week and stayed on top for eight weeks. It’s Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes.”
Right after “That’s the Way Love Goes” was a hit, Janet Jackson made her feature film debut opposite rapper Tupac Shakur in John Singleton’s drama Poetic Justice, which helped update her image. Rolling Stone heralded her 1993 album, titled with just her first name and a period, as a cultural moment in which she announced her sexual maturity, after taking charge of her life on her album Control in ’86, then commanding a dancing army to fight society’s ills on Rhythm Nation in ’89. With the ’90s diva era already in full swing and Mariah, Celine and Whitney scoring hits, a handful of critics called out Janet Jackson for subpar vocals. “Looks good, sounds bad,” a Boston Globe headline said. But it didn’t matter much. “That’s the Way Love Goes,” the first of six top ten singles from the album. and the #5 song in our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of the biggest hits of 1993.
#4 UB40 – (I Can’t Help) Falling in Love with You
At #4, the other White reggae act I mentioned. They’re a U.K. group that started out in the late ’70s, but only got noticed Stateside after their album of reggae covers hit in ’83. “Red Red Wine,” a #1 hit from that after it was reissued in 1989. Then in ’93 their second #1, a cover of a 1962 hit by Elvis Presley that got a big big boost from being on the soundtrack of the Sharon Stone erotic thriller Sliver, it’s UB40’s version of, “(I Can’t Help) Falling in Love with You.”
#4, UB40, “(I Can’t Help) Falling in Love with You,” which a writer at AllMusic.com pinpoints as completing UB40’s transition from a reggae band to an adult-contemporary band that plays reggae-pop. It also paved the way for 1994’s big overnight success story, the Swedish reggae-pop outfit Ace of Base.
#3 Mariah Carey – Dreamlover
Well we’re getting down to the small numbers here on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1993. At #3, the lead single from the third album in as many years by not only the top diva of the ’90s, but the top Hot100 act, period. She had at least one yearly top ten hit in six out of the decade’s ten years, and ’93 marks the first of four consecutive years, ’93 to ’96. ’92, one of the years she missed because of the mixed reaction to the gospel and ’60s soul influence on her sophomore album Emotions. So she returned to pop and scored her seventh #1. Here’s Mariah Carey’s “Dreamlover.”
Mariah Carey’s, “Dreamlover,” the lead single from her album Music Box, #1 for eight straight weeks in September and October and the #3 song of 1993 here on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown. Mariah returning to pop on that song, this time with a bit of a hip-hop feel absent from her earlier hits, thanks to producer Dave “Jam” Hall, who was fresh from producing Mary J. Blige’s debut, What’s the 411, in ’92.
#2 Tag Team – Whoomp! (There It Is)
1993 was a big year for Hip-Hop, especially the West Coast and Death Row Records, with Dr. Dre, who’d just split from gangsta group N.W.A., planting the G-Funk flag on the charts with the year’s #6 album, The Chronic. Before the year was out, Dre’s protégé Snoop Dogg, featured on The Chronic‘s biggest hits, dropped his debut album on Death Row. Dre and Snoop’s “Nothin’ but a G Thang” just misses our countdown at #11, leaving our song at #2 the lone hip-hop cut in our 1993 Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown. And they’re a one hit wonder out of Atlanta! A mainstay at sporting events for decades, not to mention aerobics classes, frat parties and Spring Break beer halls, it’s Miami Bass duo Tag Team, “Whoomp! (There It Is).”
Tag Team, “Whoomp! (There It Is),” the #2 song on our 1993 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. It never got to #1, peaking at #2 for seven weeks in August and September. But it stayed on the Hot100 for 45 weeks, until April of ’94: the longest chart run of any song in 1993. At the same time, a similar song, “Whoot,” (with a “t”) “There It Is” by a Miami bunch called 95 South made it to #11. But it was a total coincidence! Both had lifted the phrase from strip club vernacular, and, fun fact, on July 26, both appeared on Arsenio Hall’s syndicated late night talk show in a charity battle of the bands fundraiser for Midwest flood victims.
#1 Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You
Now leading off his Year-in-Charts article for 1993 in the December 25 issue, Billboard‘s new “Chart Beat” columnist Fred Bronson observed that “the race for the #1 single of 1993 was over when the year began.” When the first Hot100 chart of calendar ’93 appeared, the song had already been #1 for five weeks, and it stayed there for another nine. 14 weeks total, a new record.
So who scored this amazing chart coup? Well, her career wasn’t exactly on the skids, but since blowing everyone away with her vocals on her amazing string of 1980s dance and pop crossover hits and starting the whole diva thing, she turned to R&B on her third album in 1990, and by ’92 there was serious competition in the pop diva space. Mariah Carey, cranking out albums and chart-topping singles like it was going out of style, Celine Dion ramping up, and newcomer Toni Braxton debuting on the Boomerang soundtrack.
But in the Fall of ’92, ads for the new Kevin Costner movie started showing up on TV. Not only did the singer co-star in the film (her acting debut), but she had six new songs on the soundtrack, and the impossible-to-ignore climactic key change moment in one of them was the centerpiece of the ads. Well the single was #1 even before the movie hit theaters, and by Christmas, Whitney Houston was again the undisputed queen of diva-dom. The #1 song of 1993 by a mile, from The Bodyguard soundtrack, “I Will Always Love You.”
From 1993’s #1 album, The Bodyguard soundtrack, Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You,” the #1 song of 1993: a cover of a song Country diva Dolly Parton wrote in 1973 when she split from her business partner and mentor Porter Wagoner to start her solo career. It’d been a #1 hit on the Country charts twice, first in 1974 and then again in 1982 when Dolly re-did it for a movie she co-starred in with Burt Reynolds: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. But then Whitney Houston’s version in ’92 and ’93 made it one of the biggest hits in Hot100 history. Not surprisingly, Whitney was the top singles artist of the year with four chart hits including three top tens, all from The Bodyguard.
So there you have them, the top ten songs of 1993 according to our Chartcrush ranking. Now of the songs we heard in our countdown this hour, only one was absent from Billboard‘s official published year-end top ten for 1993. At Chartcrush, we count every song’s full chart run in whatever year it scored the most points, so Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything for Love,” which straddled ’93 and ’94, comes out the #10 song of 1993 on our ranking. At Billboard, though, they have to split a chart run like that and factor it into both years, so it’s buried in the mid-30s on both their ’93 and ’94 year-end rankings.
Now the song from Billboard‘s 1993 year-end top ten that Meat Loaf displaced? Their #9 song: another memorable hip-hop vocal hook supplied by new jack swing producer Teddy Riley, whose brother was in the group, Wreckx-n-Effect.
#13 on our Chartcrush ranking for 1993, Wreckx-n-Effect’s “Rump Shaker.” Teddy Riley’s rap verse written by a 20-year-old Pharrell Williams, one of his earliest credits.
And that’s gonna do it, for our 1993 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. On our website, chartcrush.com, you can get a written transcript and a link to stream this and other Chartcrush countdown shows on Spotify, plus chart run line graphs and other fresh extras. Every week, we count down a different year from the beginning of the charts in the ’40s all the way up to the present, so tune again, same station, same time, for another edition of Chartcrush.