Back to the decade that spawned Friends, Starbucks and Harry Potter

Various Artists – Now That’s What I Call 90’s Pop (Universal / Sony) review

Eleven number one hits

The 1990’s were a time of incredible prosperity and technological advances. Record companies were selling unprecedented amounts of CDs and, as a result, artists were still making money from the sale of their recorded music (imagine that, right?). Now That’s What I Call 90’s Pop attempts to sum up the Top 40 side of things with this new collection.

The set starts out with a quartet of songs from the late Nineties, beginning with Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.” In a way, this song was way ahead of its time, sampling the groove from Sister Sledge’s “He’s the Greatest Dancer” (which is essentially a Nile Rogers/Chic track). While Smith’s rap now sounds incredibly tame, the groove is still undeniable, and the song sounds right at home with hits of the last few years like Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” or Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk.”

Two of the decade’s biggest teen pop stars, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera are represented by their debut singles. While Spears never really topped the urgency of her first single, “…Baby One More Time,” Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” has a decidedly funky tone, and was a precursor of bigger things to come in the following decade.

Because Boys II Men had massive success with their ballads, we often overlook their debut single, “Motownphilly,” which was upbeat, and is arguably the one that still holds up the best. The song contains a rap from Michael Bivins, who is also featured on “Poison” from Bell Biv Devoe (because of clever sequencing, both songs sound great back to back).

Dance floor anthems were all the rage in the Nineties, as Wreckx-N-Effect encouraged us to “just shake your rump” on “Rumpshaker,” while Martha Wash provided the soaring “everybody dance now” to “Gonna Make You Sweat” from C+C Music Factory. “Humpin’ Around” was a big hit for Bobby Brown, but it wasn’t one of his finer moments, while one-hit-wonder Montel Jordan’s “This is How We Do It” still gets lots of play in the clubs today.

Things make a big shift with the eerie “Missing” from Everything But the Girl. Tracey Thorn’s fantastic vocal over the remixed Todd Terry track creates a desperate tension not often conveyed in a pop song. Even though the band released several albums in this same style, “Missing” remains their only Top 40 hit in the US. There’s also a remixed version of Sheryl Crow’s first single, “All I Wanna Do.”

“MMMBop” is actually a pretty good pop song from Hansen that suffers from lousy production (especially the dumb DJ scratching on the chorus). The band would turn out to be capable of much-headier material, but were not able to repeat this single’s success.

Former Menudo member and Latin star Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” is still good fun.

How many Billboard #1’s did New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys have??? NONE! Which is a pretty big surprise. “Step By Step” is okay, but never really takes off. The vocals are so-so, the shouted “step by step” is kinda dumb and the production is too watery. “I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys is the exact opposite, opening with an acoustic guitar, and great vocals, it’s one of the few songs in the entire Boy Band genre that still holds up.

Probably the biggest part on the disc that’s dated is the rapping. Freedom Williams may have been a big deal back then, but it sounds like kindergarten freestyling now. In fact, the ladies from Salt-N-Pepa do a much better job than just about anyone else.

This is either where music totally went south or just good fun. That’s a decision I’ll leave up to you. —Tony Peters