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This week in 1995: Rating the top 10 singles

How do 1995 hits by TLC, Blues Traveler, and Seal hold up today? Whitney Pastorek gives ’em another listen

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TLC: Michel Linssen / Redferns

This week in 1995: Rating the top 10 singles

OK, people. So last week I lamented the recent state of movie soundtracks, and how they just don’t make ’em like they used to — i.e., where is the ”Power of Love” for this generation? — and several of you jumped down my throat. ”Um, hello, have you forgotten ‘My Heart Will Go On’?” you hollered. ”Aerosmith’s ‘Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing’? Whitney Houston’s blockbuster version of ‘I Will Always Love You’?” Those are very good questions. Sadly, the answers to your questions are: I’m trying to; no; and she’s no Dolly Parton. With the exception of Eminem and ”Lose Yourself,” from 8 Mile, I consider most of the songs you guys mentioned more like blights on the national consciousness than outstanding examples of the form. But technically, you win: Those soundtracks were big. Maybe it’s just me that got small. Sniff.

Anyway, this week’s countdown is riddled with soundtrack hits, just for all of you out there keeping me real. Ain’t none of them as good as ”Power of Love,” but whatevs. I think if we’ve learned anything here at Chart Flashback, it’s that the nostalgia center of my brain is located nowhere near common sense. Also, after much reflection, I would like to revise my grade for Vertical Horizon’s ”Everything You Want” (No. 7 after the link) from a C to a B, because I cannot get that damn song out of my head.

Now, on to Billboard‘s top 10 singles from the week ending Aug. 26, 1995:

10. ”One More Chance/Stay With Me,” Notorious B.I.G.
In all honesty, I did not like this song when it came out. This is because in 1995, my appreciation for hip-hop did not transcend the Beastie Boys/my ability to quote every word of ”Ice Ice Baby.” But something weird happened about four years ago: I discovered that I felt like an idiot for never giving rap a shot. And so my friend Sarah put together a starter pack for me, with Public Enemy, Dr. Dre, N.W.A, Wu-Tang, and Snoop, and I went out and bought Ready to Die on my own (’cause I found the title so cheerful). Sure enough, I liked a whole lot more of it than I thought I would. So, I can’t claim to be an expert, but I think this is a very good song. On the album, it’s mostly Biggie’s voice over a very quiet DeBarge sample and his wife Faith singing the chorus; the single was more produced, smoother, had fewer cuss words and whatnot, but still, if you’re gonna listen to a song by a dude who was eventually gunned down under circumstances that remain unsolved to this day, I suppose this is as good a way as any to go. B+

9. ”Run-Around,” Blues Traveler
Moving now to the complete and utter opposite end of the musical spectrum, we find a song that I loved when it came out, and remain very fond of to this day. That is because I am white. Oh so white. And for some reason, the sight of a fat man sweating into a harmonica while wearing a fishing vest doesn’t upset me as much as it should. Anyway, I’m sure the first time I heard these peppy acoustics and rockin’ bongos I started bopping my head this way and that; I also think I immediately sat down and figured out how to play this on the guitar. Look, I worked at a summer camp at the time. I can also play Hootie’s ”Hold My Hand” and that one Sister Hazel song. We all come from somewhere, people. P.S. Am I the only one who thinks John Popper looks really weird now that he’s skinny, like something is eating him from within? I mean, I know I should be proud of him for making that life-saving change in his body and whatnot, but yick. Him and Roker just creep me out. A-

8. ”Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days),” Monica
For the second time I face a Monica song on the countdown, and for the second time I find myself being underwhelmed by her voice. I remember it being much stronger, don’t you? Is it just that she came before the American Idol era, before vocal histrionics became all the rage? Was everything really that much simpler just 10 years ago? Or has R&B production grown so much as an art form that they’ve learned to take these relatively inexperienced young singers and crank up the volume (both literal and metaphorical) on their tracks to make them sound like Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, who sang the song ”Freeway of Love,” which came in at No. 5 on last week’s list, and which I will never forget ever again? Also, what is with the background on this track? It sounds like they recorded it next to a duck pond. C+

7. ”He’s Mine,” Mokenstef
It’s another one of these mysterious tracks that I swear I cannot recall for the life of me, but the geniuses of YouTube have it right here. Mokenstef (or, if you wanna get real specific, MoKenStef) hit this very conversational, straightforward, kick-glide ballad with all the confidence of a less-successful En Vogue; there’s not a lot to complain about, but then, there’s not a lot to write home about, either. One of these days I’m gonna take a line from every single one of these generic R&B songs and smoosh them together to make the biggest-selling single of all time. C

6. ”Gangsta’s Paradise” (from the movie Dangerous Minds), Coolio feat. L.V.
Mad props going out to my old roommate Vella, who used to listen to this song on repeat at a very, very high volume and pledge her undying love to Coolio and gangsta life, despite being just as white as me and originally from Whittier, Calif. I hated this song because of her. Now, though, I guess it’s not so bad. I mean, I love Stevie Wonder, and this is a pretty hot sample (from ”Pastime Paradise,” off Songs in the Key of Life; buy it immediately if you haven’t yet). It also makes me think of Michelle Pfieffer, and she’s very pretty. Coolio, though — well, Coolio is bringing his own score down here. First, his hair is stupid. Second, he’s double-tracked his rhymes with this underlayer that’s just slightly more growly than his regular voice, because he’s trying to be all street and whatever, but the truth is that in 1995 the real gangstas were all much too busy, you know, planning ways to gun down other gangstas to worry about contributing darkly pseudo-inspirational songs to the soundtracks of mediocre Michelle Pfeiffer movies. B-

5. ”I Can Love You Like That,” All-4-One
True story: I hear this song every single time I go to the supermarket. And I’m not sure what the universe is trying to tell me, but I will say that there is nothing worse than being a single girl all alone in the big city, standing in the canned foods aisle of C-Town, and hearing All-4-One profess their collective undying love to some chick who probably has someone to do the shopping for her. And then the key change hits, and I put down the can of generic beet salad I’ve been staring at for the last three minutes and six seconds and start crying. And then, invariably, just to rub it in, the lite-rock station follows this with the Counting Crows’ version of ”Big Yellow Taxi.” A-

4. ”Colors of the Wind” (from the movie Pocahontas), Vanessa Williams
Hey, be careful what you ask for, kids. In all our soundtrack chatting, we haven’t even addressed the super-freaky ’90s phenomenon of songs from Disney movies hitting it big. How anything with animated squirrels in its video ever captured the heart of America is beyond me, but man, did we love these songs. ”You learn things you never knew/ You never knew,” Vanessa sings. Question: Is she just emphasizing her point in a ”so I can, so I can” sort of way, or did someone actually write that we were learning things so unknowable that never once did we suspect we didn’t know them, and then sit back and go, ”Dude, that is DEEP!!” and leave it in the song just to see if anyone noticed? It is truly one of the great mysteries of life, right up there with the pyramids and Donald Trump’s furry-Möbius-strip hair. Anyway. Not a strong example of the genre. Can I get a little ”Whole New World” up in here? D+

3. ”Boombastic/In the Summertime,” Shaggy
Yay! I love novelty reggae! Oh, all right, stop yelling; I know Shaggy’s no novelty — he’s actually Jamaican! But isn’t any reggae song that climbs the pop charts in the States by definition a novelty? And anyway, what’s so very interesting here, people? You can’t tell me it’s his lyrical brilliance: ”Boombastic,” in terms of lucidity, seems to rank one small step above ”Here Comes the Hotstepper.” The whole damn thing makes me sleepy. And do we even need to address the decision to cover a Mungo Jerry song? No. No, we do not. C-

2. ”Waterfalls,” TLC
Possibly — nay, probably one of the 10 best songs of the ’90s, and hands down the winner of the Song Lyrics That Are Really Funny to Recite at Inappropriate Times in Order to Defuse Tension, Especially When People Are Crying contest. For real, you should try it sometime: The next time someone you know is all upset because they don’t know what to do, just very calmly and without any irony say, ”Don’t go chasin’ waterfalls, [insert name of upset person]. Please. Stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to. I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all… but I think you’re movin’ too fast.” It’s hilarious. Anyway. As we all know, TLC faced a tragic end and an even more tragic attempt at rebirth, trying to bounce back after the death of Lisa ”Left Eye” Lopes by staging a reality television show in search of a new group member. The show faced the misfortune of both being very, very bad and coming on during the same summer as the first season of Rock Star (INXS’ attempt at the same thing, which fared much better), and I haven’t the foggiest idea of its outcome except that, truthfully, I don’t want TLC to come back with some chick they found at a mall in Atlanta as their rapper. The history of this group is just too strong to mess with. I hereby deem them the Nirvana of R&B. A

1. ”Kiss From a Rose” (from the movie Batman Forever), Seal
Funny story: Remember that one time I told you guys I used to work at a summer camp? Yeah. Well, I was the counselor in charge of the talent show every session (yes, it was called ”Star Search”), and besides having the responsibility of choreographing the opening dance number (yes, it was set to ”A Star is Born” from Disney’s Hercules, which probably goes a long way toward explaining the D+ I slapped on ”Colors of the Wind”), I was also responsible for auditioning the campers’ acts and then helping them put said acts together in time for the show. This process usually transpired over the course of less than 24 hours. And one particularly challenging session, a young lady came in and performed a truly beautiful sign-language routine to this song. I was overcome with emotion and immediately cast her in the show, only to find out later that day that the young lady had never really sat down and figured out the signs for, like, 75 percent of the song and was just faking it by waving her hands around and making super-intense facial expressions. Cut to: me sitting with the young lady in the camp office, holding a sign-language book in my lap (we won’t even go in to how I found a sign-language book in the middle of rural Arkansas) and helping her figure out the proper way to express ”To me you’re like a growing addiction that I can’t deny” in a way that is appropriate for small children to watch. Not to mention that, seriously, what are the lyrics even about? So. Painful. But it’s a pretty song, and I think Seal’s voice is cool, and it was certainly the best thing about Batman Forever, so… B+