1995 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast

Politics lurches right, Madonna reins it in and Mariah goes Hip-Hop as Billboard names a Gangsta Rap song #1 on the year, but where is the Theme from Friends?

::start transcript::

Welcome! This is the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show and I’m your host Christopher Verdesi. Every week we set our sights on a different year in Pop music and culture and count down the top ten hits according to our exclusive recap of the weekly charts published at the time by the music industry’s top trade mag, Billboard. This week, we’re turning the clock back to 1995, a politically-charged year after Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America to shrink the government swept Republicans to control of the House of Representatives, and the GOP also won back control of the Senate.

Republicans had won Presidential races against the backdrop of the culture wars raging since the early ’70s, but flipping the House? That was new. 1955, the last time there’d been a Republican Speaker. The Culture Wars, accelerating in the ’90 and spilling over into national politics, and music was at the center.

For its 1992 chart year, Billboard had completely transformed its data collection for ranking songs and albums, switching from its 40-year-old system of retail and radio surveys to actual barcode scans for sales through Soundscan and airplay spins reported by Broadcast Data Systems. And the change was dramatic as the charts started reflecting what Gen-X was actually consuming. Suddenly, artists and whole genres considered fringy and underground were on top: Gangsta Rap, Punk, Alt Rock, all aggressively pushing the limits of public taste.

Zooming out with the benefit of hindsight, it was the inflection point between modernism and postmodernism’s elevation of low culture and inversion of Western civ’s “meta-narratives,” in religion, morality, aesthetics, everything.

Gen-X essayist Chuck Klosterman in his book The Nineties highlights 1994’s Reality Bites as the cinematic epitome of his generation’s pathological fear and loathing of “selling out,” with “selling out” defined as embracing, rather than rejecting, virtually any aspect of those meta-narratives.

And in ’95, with the Cold War over five years and the youngest Boomers now in their 30s, when Billboard unveiled its year-end Hot100 chart and a Gangsta Rap track was the #1 song of the year, it was like an exclamation point on all that. Was Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” really 1995’s most popular song though? Well, definitely an important milestone in the mainstreaming of Hip-Hop: one of the major themes of ’90s and ’00s, but no, it wasn’t. It was more like wishful thinking on the part of postmodern taste inverters and envelope pushers, not to mention Hip-Hop fans. It was only #50 on Billboard’s year-end Airplay ranking.

How it got to be #1 on the year-end Hot100, we’ll explore in more detail as the show goes on, but for now, suffice to say that the Hot100 was broken in 1995, and stayed broken all the way ’til Billboard fixed it for its 1999 chart year. So for those late ’90s years, ’95 to ’98, Billboard‘s Airplay chart, not the Hot100, is the best gauge of what was broadly popular, so that’s what we’ll be counting down here on our 1995 edition of Chartcrush: the top ten derived from Billboard‘s weekly Airplay chart that ranked the songs based on actual spins on a broad cross-section of radio stations.

#10 Sophie B. Hawkins – As I Lay Me Down

Kicking things off at #10, speaking of Reality Bites, after Lisa Loeb scored the first-ever #1 hit by an unsigned artist in ’94 (her song “Stay (I Missed You)” from the film), one of ’95’s big Indie Female sensations was our Singer at #10: her second hit after “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” in 1992 and one of the top Adult Contemporary hits of ’95 (#1 on that chart for six weeks), it’s Sophie B. Hawkins’ “As I Lay Me Down.”

What are those backing vocals saying in the chorus? If you thought “I like tacos,” you’re not alone. ’95, one of the last years that misheard lyrics could become memes, before fans could look ’em up on the Web. “Ooh La Kah Koh” is what they’re singing: just nonsense syllables.

Sophie B. Hawkins’ “As I Lay Me Down,” #10 on our Chartcrush Countdown of 1995’s biggest hits according to our exclusive recap of Billboard‘s weekly “Radio Songs” airplay charts. It also peaked at #6 on the Hot100. It was in the Christina Ricci coming-of-age flick Now and Then and an episode of Fox’s Party of Five, the family Drama that made stars out of Matthew Fox, Neve Campbell and Jennifer Love-Hewitt. Hawkins even guest stars in the episode.

#9 Hootie & The Blowfish – Only Wanna Be with You

At #9, a band that surprised everyone by scoring the bestselling album of 1995—by a mile. 12 million in its first year. As AllMusic writer Stephen Thomas Erlewine puts it, they “defined the mid-’90s mainstream in the wake of Alt Rock” by flipping the script on the conventional notion of artsy left-of-the-dial college Rock. They sounded Alternative, but were really anything but, making Alt Rock safe for local pubs, mom’s minivan and mainstream radio.

It was #19 on the year going by the Hot100, but #9 looking at Airplay, it’s Hootie & The Blowfish, “Only Wanna Be with You.”

Hootie & The Blowfish, “Only Wanna Be with You,” #9 as we count down the top ten Airplay hits of 1995 on this week’s edition of The Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. They scored three other massive hits off their Cracked Rear View album, the breakout single, “Hold My Hand,” plus “Let Her Cry,” and “Time.” But later albums didn’t fare as well and the band went on hiatus in 2008. Singer Darius Rucker became a big Country star with eight Country #1’s from 2008 to ’18.

#8 Blues Traveler – Run-Around

While the O.J. Simpson trial was mesmerizing TV audiences in 1995, there were a couple notable deaths in the music world. Latin Pop singer Selena (dubbed the “Mexican Madonna”) / was shot and killed in a dispute over money, by a former fan club President. She was just 23 and on the verge of achieving major crossover success for Latin music, four years before Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.

And then in August, Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack. In their long strange trip since the mid-60s, The Grateful Dead? Never bigger than when Garcia passed away. They spawned a whole movement of Jam Bands in the ’90s: Phish, Black Crowes, Spin Doctors, Dave Matthews and the group with the #8 Airplay hit of ’95, who were David Letterman’s favorite band: more appearances on that show than any other act.

It comes out #11 on the year ranking the songs according to the Hot100, but #8 Airplay, it’s Blues Traveler’s “Run Around.”

“Run Around.” In 1991, a few years before that song made Blues Traveler stars, group leader John Popper was at The Arrowhead Ranch 15 miles from the site of the original 1969 Woodstock playing with a bunch of other Jam Bands, and got the inspiration to organize the H.O.R.D.E. Festival: Jam Bands’ answer to the Alt Rock festival Lollapalooza. H.O.R.D.E. ran for seven successful years during a decade of Summer music festivals: Warped, Lilith Fair, Woodstock revivals.

#7 The Rembrandts – I’ll Be There for You

Next up at #7 is the song that made everyone realize that the Hot100 chart was broken: again, why we’re counting down the top ten Airplay hits here on our 1995 edition of the Chartcrush Countdown Show instead of the Hot100, our usual go-to. It was Billboard’s #1 Airplay song for eight straight weeks in the Summer of ’95, but disqualified from the Hot100 because it wasn’t out as a single.

All the way up to the end of 1998, Billboard stubbornly clung to its rule that songs had to be out as singles in order to chart on the Hot100, which was problematic because increasingly, hits weren’t being released as singles. Labels wanted to sell $15 albums, not $4 singles, but besides, once the 7-inch vinyl 45 faded, fans didn’t have much use for cassettes or CD’s with just a couple songs.

Now the exceptions, R&B, Dance and Hip-Hop: genres with a tradition of multiple versions and remixes of hit songs going back to the late ’70s and 12-inch vinyl. So-called “CD Maxi singles” in those genres: hot items because you couldn’t get the remixes and extended versions anywhere else. So the Hot100 skewed heavily in favor of R&B, Dance and Hip-Hop, at the expense of “song-is-the-song” genres.

But Rock and Country, still as big as ever on the Album charts and on the radio. And in the case of the #7 song on our 1995 Airplay countdown, TV, thanks to NBC’s Thursday night primetime hit Friends. It was the theme song. It’s The Rembrandts, “I’ll Be There for You.”

Friends premiered September 22, 1994, just three weeks after show producers decided it even needed a theme song, tried to get R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People” but couldn’t, so recruited a Songwriter and Pop Rock Duo The Rembrandts to create one, and the result was “I’ll Be There for You.”

Friends was an immediate hit on TV but the whole first season you couldn’t buy the song in any format, until May of ’95 as Summer reruns were about to start and The Rembrandts tacked it on as the last track on their new album, L.P. But no single because the band didn’t write it and didn’t think it represented them, so the only way to get it was to buy the album. And before the end of the year, a million people did.

Finally in the Fall of ’95 with the release of the Friends soundtrack album for the premiere of Season Two of the show, “I’ll Be There for You” came out as a single and debuted at #17 on the Hot100, but that was after it’d become the first song ever to top the Airplay chart without being on the Hot100 at all over the Summer: the first of many like that over the next few years, it turned out, as Billboard continued its policy of disqualifying Airplay-only hits from the Hot100 all the way up to its 1999 chart year.

#6 Mariah Carey – Fantasy

At #6, the other extreme: a song that greatly benefitted from Billboard‘s singles-only policy. It was only the second single in history to debut at #1 on the Hot100, and by the end of ’95, that single was Double Platinum.

Billboard listed the album version on its charts, and that’s what Adult Contemporary and most Top40 stations played, but much of the song’s success was thanks to a remix (only on the single) by Bad Boy Records mogul Puff Daddy featuring Wu Tang Clan Rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard that crossed it and the artist over to the Hip-Hop audience just as that was about to become an essential career move for Pop Singers who wanted to stay relevant.

And no one was a bigger Pop Singer in the ’90s than she was. That’s not hyperbole, she literally was Billboard‘s top charting act of the ’90s decade. It’s Mariah Carey’s ninth #1 hit, the lead single from her 1995 Dream Lover album and our #6 Airplay hit of the year, “Fantasy.”

Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy,” #6 on our Chartcrush Countdown of 1995’s top hits ranked from Billboard‘s weekly “Radio Songs” Airplay chart. It was also Billboard‘s #7 year-end Hot100 song.

That remix version I mentioned: it was a bold move and a big deal in ’95 for a star of Mariah’s caliber to embrace Rap like that, and she did it against the bluntly-expressed wishes of her mentor, label boss and hubby Tommy Mottola, a first-wave Boomer 20 years her senior who, like most Boomers, was immune, even hostile, to the pull of the Postmodern Gen-X sounds and sensibilities that transformed pop culture in the early ’90s.

Mottola couldn’t stop that remix, but he did quash her Alt-Rock band Chick, whose 1995 album Someone’s Ugly Daughter would’ve no doubt caused more than just a ripple if it’d come out with her original vocals instead of her friend Clarissa Dane’s overdubs as the band’s subbed-in frontwoman. Mariah’s involvement, a closely-guarded secret until her memoir spilled the deets in 2020.

By the way, that catchy bass line in “Fantasy?” It’s a sample from “Genius of Love,” by Tom Tom Club, the Talking Heads spinoff, that immediately caught on with Rappers upon its first appearance in 1981. No fewer than 85 Hip-Hop records using that sample before Mariah got a hold of it in ’95.

#5 Dionne Farris – I Know

Moving on, our #5 Airplay hit of ’95, also out as a single, and it just missed the year-end top ten on the Hot100 at #11, by a Singer who, despite getting her start in the epicenter of Hip-Hop (New York), got involved with the Atlanta Alternative Hip-Hop group Arrested Development and sang on their big hit in ’92, “Tennessee.” From there future American Idol judge Randy Jackson signed her to a solo album deal on Columbia, and this was her debut single from the album. It’s Dionne Farris’s “I Know.”

One-hit wonder Dionne Farris’ “I Know:” the #5 radio Airplay song of 1995 as we count down our top ten derived from that chart here on our 1995 edition of Chartcrush. She cut a follow-up album, but the label (same as Mariah Carey’s, Columbia) declined to release it, citing creative differences, and after that she quit music altogether to raise her daughter. But in 2007, she released the album herself on iTunes.

#4 Real McCoy – Another Night

At #4, another of the five songs in our Radio Songs-derived top ten countdown that were also in the top ten on Billboard‘s year-end Hot100 singles chart. This one, a crossover from the Dance chart. Again, Dance, one of the genres that continued selling tons of singles in the ’90s thanks to extended Club, House and Special mixes not available anywhere else.

And the four-minute Radio version caught on, thanks to Arista Records boss Clive Davis, who’d struck gold in 1994 breaking Reggae-tinged Swedes Ace of Base in the U.S. and was looking to repeat that trick with this German Euro-Disco outfit that’d suddenly caught on in Canada. Well, Ace of Base they weren’t, but they were 1995’s Club Culture triumph: Billboard’s #1 New Pop Group of 1995, with three other Hot100 hits during the year besides our #4 song. It’s The Real McCoy with “Another Night.”

“Another Night” could easily have been the song that Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell’s Roxbury Guys on SNL bobbed their heads to in their rayon suits cruising clubs for women, but instead they chose a lesser Euro-Disco hit from ’93, Haddaway’s “What Is Love.” “Another Night” never topped the Radio Songs chart. It peaked at #2. But it was on the chart longer than any other ’95 hit: 44 weeks. And 45 on the Hot100, where it holds the record for most weeks at a chart position besides #1: 11 at #3.

#3 Madonna – Take a Bow

So, Mariah Carey, the top Pop Diva of the early ’90s, breaking out of her Adult Contemporary box in ’95 to embrace the Gen-X Postmodern taste inversion. Well, our act at #3 here on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1995: Billboard‘s top charting act of the ’80s, a constant provocateur and envelope pusher, to the point where multiple scholars and books have highlighted her as the central figure of Postmodernism, and she did the exact opposite from Mariah in ’95, even apologizing for putting everyone through the ringer.

“I’m going to be a good girl this year, I swear,” she said on video with a little girl in her lap. “Secret,” the lead single from her 1994 album Bedtime Stories topped out at #3 on the Hot100, but the second was #1 for seven weeks and topped the Airplay chart for nine. It’s Madonna, “Take a Bow.”

It ain’t easy being the vanguard of a cultural sea change for ten years! Feminist lightning rod Camille Paglia for one, got it, calling Madonna in a 1990 New York Times op ed “the true feminist” for exposing “the puritanism and suffocating ideology of American feminism, which is stuck in an adolescent whining mode.”

So pushing limits worked in the ’80s and early ’90s. Why change? Well after MTV banned her video for “Justify My Love,” and after she almost got arrested for obscenity in Canada on her Blonde Ambition tour, her Girlie Show tour that made Blonde Ambition look tame by comparison, and finally, her bizarre, profanity-laced smell-my-panties appearance on Late Night with David Letterman in ’94, the eyebrow-raising had turned to serious public doubts about her sanity. So doing a 180 and cleaning it up seemed like the most shocking thing she could do for ’95, and with Bedtime Stories it paid off.

When “Take a Bow” hit #1, Madonna dethroned Carole King as the Female songwriter who had written the most #1 songs in chart history.

#2 Boyz II Men – On Bended Knee

And our act at #2 became the first act since The Beatles in 1964 to replace itself at #1 on the weekly Hot100 with a different song. Decades old chart records falling like dominoes in the ’90s.

Incidentally, The Beatles scored their first top ten Hot100 hit since the ’70s / in 1995, “Free as a Bird,” from their Anthology project. At #2 though, this group’s sixth Hot100 top ten hit since their chart debut in ’91, and their third #1, after “End of the Road” in ’92 and, more recently, “I’ll Make Love to You.” That’s our Chartcrush #1 song of 1994 and the one our #2 song of ’95 replaced to match that Beatles milestone. It’s Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee.”

So Mariah Carey, the top charting act of the ’90s on the Hot100; Boyz II Men, the top charting group of the decade, “On Bended Knee,” the #2 Airplay hit of 1995, and even bigger things were right around the corner. Their collaboration with Mariah, “One Sweet Day” hit the charts in December 1995 and stayed at #1 on the Hot100 for 16 weeks, another record broken. That one it stood until 2017.

#1 Seal – Kiss from a Rose

And that gets us to our #1 song according to the Billboard year-end Airplay chart: a sleeper hit. When the artist first wrote and recorded it all the way back in 1987, he was embarrassed by it; says he just threw the tape in the corner. Then five years later during the sessions for his second album, he dusted it off and gave it to his producer Trevor Horn to work on, and it peaked at #20 on the Hot100. Not bad for a throwaway song, right?

But then, it was selected for the hottest movie of 1995, Batman Forever and re-entered the chart, went all the way to #1, became the #1 Airplay single of 1995 with 10 weeks at #1, and won all the awards at the Grammys. It’s Seal, “Kiss from a Rose.”

“Kiss from a Rose,” Seal, the #1 song on our Chartcrush Countdown of 1995’s top Airplay songs, propelled by its appearance in the blockbuster Batman Returns. Over on Billboard‘s year-end Hot100, it was #4. Seal’s cover version of The Steve Miller Band’s “Fly like an Eagle” went to #10 in 1997, but he never came close to repeating his unexpected success with “Kiss from a Rose.”


So that’s our top ten. As I’ve been saying, lots of differences between what was happening on radio in ’95 and the Hot100 with Billboard‘s rule about songs having to be out as commercial singles to be eligible to chart. Four of the year’s top ten Airplay hits we just heard in the countdown didn’t make Billboard‘s year-end top ten on the Hot100 despite being out as singles.

Our #10 song, Sophie B. Hawkins’ “As I Lay Me Down” was Billboard‘s #39 Hot100 hit of 1995 and #76 for ’96 since its chart run extended all the way to the end of March. Hootie & Blowfish’s “Only Wanna Be with You,” which we have at #9: Billboard‘s year-end Hot100 had that one at #33. Our #8 Airplay hit, Blues Traveler’s “Run-Around” was #14 and Dionne Farris’ “I Know,” our #5 song was #11 on the year-end Hot100. And of course, The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There for You,” which we have at #7, didn’t make the year-end Hot100 at all because it wasn’t out as a single during its eight week run atop the Radio Songs chart.

But Billboard‘s year-end Hot100 had five other songs in the top ten that we didn’t hear this hour in our Airplay-derived ranking, so in the time we have left, let’s take a look at those.

#30 Montell JordanThis Is How We Do It

At #10, Billboard had a six-foot eight R&B Singer whose first single used a ubiquitous Hip-Hop sample like Mariah Carey did with Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” on “Fantasy.” Here it was Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story,” one of the most sampled tracks of all-time. It’s Montell Jordan, “This Is How We Do It.”

The first non-Rap record on Def Jam after its acquisition by PolyGram, Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,” Billboard‘s #10 Hot100 song of 1995. It notches in at #30 on our Airplay ranking we counted down the top ten from earlier.

#36 Monica – Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)

At #9 on Billboard‘s year-end Hot100 was the debut by a 14-year-old R&B Singer that was in the top ten for 14 weeks but only got to #2. If it’d gotten to #1, she would’ve dethroned Little Peggy March as the youngest Female with a #1 hit ever. Little Peggy March was 15 in 1963 when “I Will Follow Him” topped the chart. It’s Monica’s “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days).”

Before Britney vs. Christina in ’99, there was Brandy vs. Monica, two Black Female Teens. Brandy hit first with “I Wanna Be Down” and “Baby” in the first half of the year, both top tens, but Monica’s “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)” got all the way to #2. Neither Singer topped the chart ’til ’98, when they teamed up on “The Boy Is Mine.” “Don’t Take It Personal” was #36 on our Airplay ranking.

#19 TLC – Creep

Billboard‘s #3 and #2 Hot100 songs of 1995 were both by the ’90’s top charting Girl Group on the Hot100, but neither song was among the top ten Airplay hits we counted down this hour. Both were in the top 20 though. The one Billboard had at #3 was #19 on our Airplay ranking. Radio, generally more conservative about what goes on the air than fans about what they buy, and it’s a song about revenge cheating that topped the chart just weeks after the trio’s Rapper, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, burned down her boyfriend’s Atlanta mansion. It’s TLC’s “Creep.”

Considering how big they were in ’92 when their first album dropped, surprisingly, “Creep” was TLC’s first #1 hit on the Hot100. It only got to #3 on the Airplay chart though.

#17 TLC – Waterfalls

The third single off their 1994 CrazySexyCool album got to #2 though, and was #17 on our ’95 Airplay ranking, #2 on Billboard‘s year-end Hot100. The song that kept Monica’s “Don’t Take It Personal” from hitting #1 and breaking Little Peggy March’s record for youngest Female chart topper, it’s “Waterfalls.”

Tionne, Lisa & Chilli, TLC with “Waterfalls,” a song about AIDS and drug violence, and best video at the MTV Video Music Awards, a first for a Black artist.

#43 Coolio – Gangsta’s Paradise

As I said at the top of the show explaining why we were going with the Airplay chart for our ’95 Chartcrush Top Ten countdown, the Hot100 had ceased to be an accurate ranking of the nation’s top hits with Billboard sticking to its rule that songs had to be out as commercial singles. Until they finally changed that at the end of ’98, several top hits: absent from the Hot100. The Friends theme “I’ll Be There for You,” the most glaring omission in ’95.

Well the flip-side of that: looking at the Hot100, several songs that were out as singles appear much more popular than they really were, and no hit makes that point better than the song Billboard ranked #1 for 1995. It was #50 on their year-end Airplay ranking so how can it be the year’s top hit?

Besides the Soundtrack album it was on, the tough school Drama Dangerous Minds starring Michelle Pfeiffer, the only way fans could buy the song for its first three months in release was the single. That also boosted it on the Hot100, and a Gangsta Rap track being named the year’s #1 hit was a milestone in the mainstreaming of Hip-Hop. Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.”

Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” featuring Singer L.V., Billboard‘s #1 Hot100 song of 1995 but only 50th on its Airplay ranking. No profanity on any version of that song thanks to Stevie Wonder, who made it a condition of sampling his 1976 song “Pastime Paradise” for the beat. Ironically, though, it’s one of the least Pop-oriented tracks by a Rapper, Coolio, who many have criticized for leaning too hard into Pop.

And with that, we’re gonna have to close out our 1995 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, but if you like what you heard and you want more, visit our website, chartcrush.com for a written transcript of the show, and a link to stream the expanded podcast version on Spotify, plus bangin’ extras like our full top 100 chart and interactive line graph of the actual chart runs of the songs we heard this hour. We do that for every year, 1940s up to now, and it’s all on the website, again, chartcrush.com.

I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. Thanks for listening, and don’t forget to tune in again next week, same station and time, for another year, and another edition of Chartcrush.

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