How do 16-year-old songs by INXS, Mariah Carey, and Janet Jackson hold up today? Whitney Pastorek gives 'em another listen

By Whitney Pastorek
Updated October 31, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: INXS: Russell Young / Retna

This week in 1990: Rating the top 10 singles

Hello, Flashbackers! Hope you enjoyed last week’s very special photo-gallery-style Chart Flashback, and that you also took a second to read our FAQ. (If not, might I encourage you to do so now?)

We’re moving into a three-week stretch of Whitney being out of town and so forth, so I’m gonna stockpile these suckers and try my best to keep up with your comments from the road. When I get back, we can talk about all the ways in which I am wrong. But for now, just sit back, relax, and enjoy the greatest hits of the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and beyond.

Well, okay, it’s just gonna be the ’90s for now. And then some ’80s after that…

…and don’t forget that the week of Nov. 12 = Escape Club coming in at No. 1 on a chart I believe may be the greatest Top 10 in history. Trust me. You’re not going to want to miss it.

And now, Billboard‘s Top 10 singles for the week ending Oct. 27, 1990:

10. ”Everybody Everybody,” Black Box
The first song on the countdown is coming to you today in two flavors: Regular or Freaky. I’ll leave it up to you which video you prefer, because both are guilty of the same crime: Neither stars Martha Wash. Who? Oh, come now, surely you’re familiar with one of the great injustices of our time? Martha Wash, better known as one half of the Weather Girls (”It’s Raining Men”), sang the vocals on this and many other Black Box tracks (as well as that C+C Music Factory song with all the dinging, but when it came time to cut a video, she was not included. Why? Well, is it clearer if I tell you the original name for the Weather Girls was Two Tons O’ Fun? Yeah, so poor Martha shops at Lane Bryant, if you know what I mean, and the Eurotrash experts behind Black Box decided they’d be better off marketing their vocalist as a model who looks a bit like a drag queen. Cruel as that decision may be, they did have a point — Wilson Phillips didn’t put Carnie up front all that often, either. (Sometimes they hid her behind a rock.) I have a number of thoughts about this whole thing, the first of which is, Man oh man, did we like drag queens, women who look like drag queens, and videos featuring a bunch of Milli Vanilli dance moves silhouetted against a white background in the early ’90s! I miss that time. And second, gotta give Martha her props for suing to get credit for her vocal work, thus setting a precedent that protects vocalists who don’t look like models and/or drag queens to this very day. Oh, and the song? B

9. ”Suicide Blonde,” INXS
Hmm. I’m not sure this song is the best argument for bands that get back together after a ”hiatus.” (Talking to you now, matchbox twenty. Stay broken up, please.) Is it great to hear Michael Hutchence and his awesome Aussie voice? Always. Is the guitar riff hot? Indeed. But in retrospect, does anyone else think it sounds like a track they found in the basement and decided to spruce up a bit cause they needed the cash? B-

8. ”Praying for Time,” George Michael
Oh, hello, it’s my least favorite George Michael song of all time! Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but really — if it’s not ”Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me,” then don’t get mushy at all, you know what I’m saying? This is just sort of an overly sentimental, bleeding heart ballad about how the world sucks and God stopped paying attention or some such thing, and George whispers most of it, which bugs me. I want George to let it out. I want him to let his voice soar, I want the place he goes on the line ”the rich declare themselves poor” to be the only place he ever goes, and I want this song to be about dancing, or breaking up, or other ultimately inconsequential things because it is just way too self-righteous for me today. Not even the French horn bit there at the end helps. I will now be listening to this as a palate cleanser. C+

7. ”Close to You,” Maxi Priest
Here we come to the point in the countdown where I seriously assess how badly people are going to go nuts if I give the Maxi Priest song a higher grade than INXS. I don’t know what to say. For whatever reason, I find this song immensely appealing. It’s sexy without resorting to a lot of unh-unh slow jam nonsense, the vocals are smooth like Yoo-hoo, and I just feel sorry for poor little Maxi. His heart still bears a scar, people! B+

6. ”Can’t Stop,” After 7
I love it when I come across these songs that I don’t remember all that well. I’ve started to wonder if they just happened to be on the radio in Houston every time I switched the dial over to country or something, because at least in the case of After 7, I’m quite certain I would have remembered any song that involved a chorus that went, ”I’m diggin’ on you / you’re diggin’ on me / we’re diggin’ on we,” had I ever heard it before. (No, seriously: are they actually saying ”we’re diggin’ on we”??? That cannot be real.) Anyway, I’m not crazy about this track — it sounds like they put ”Hot Fun in the Summertime” in a blender — but then I watch the super-multicultural video (seriously, that thing is like the first season of A Different World) and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Sure, they’re like 40 years old, but they’re so dang adorable when they dance! B-

5. ”Love Takes Time,” Mariah Carey
Oh, hello, it’s my most favorite Mariah Carey song of all time! Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but really — I’m pretty sure she nailed this one. And to everyone out there who’s gotten so upset at me time and time again for not giving this woman her props, listen up, ’cause I’m not going to repeat myself: With its combo of soft trills and a bridge powerful enough to hold up most of New Jersey, ”Love Takes Time” strikes the perfect balance of all the things that make Ms. Carey one of the greatest vocalists of this or any other century. If she’s going to be on every single chart of every single week of the ’90s, at least there are songs like this to make it bearable. So can we all just get along now? A

4. ”Giving You the Benefit,” Pebbles
Okay, am I going insane, or does this song this song have essentially the exact same rhythm track as ”Can’t Stop”? I think we’ve moved into that dark period in our country’s fine musical history where all of a sudden, it wasn’t enough to just have a drummer — no, you needed a drummer and a beatbox and a synth loop and some dude whacking a steel pole with a ball-peen hammer, plus if at all possible some handclaps and a little vox FX in there, too. It’s too much, producers! Oh, if only you could go back and reallocate some of that vigorous percussion to the folks who really needed it, like gloopy ol’ George Michael up there. Anyhoo. Pebbles! Loved this song when it was called ”Girlfriend,” not so crazy about it now. C

3. ”Ice Ice Baby,” Vanilla Ice
Chart Flashback is proud to present a new feature: Whitney Types Out The Lyrics To Songs From Memory Until She Forgets The Next Line!

All right stop. Collaborate and listen. Ice is back with my brand new invention. Something. Grabs ahold of me tightly. Flow like a harpoon daily and nightly. Will it ever stop? Yo, I dunno. Turn off the lights, and now glow. To the extreme I rock a mike like a vandal light up the stage and wax a chump like a candle Dance. Bumrush the speakers that boom. I’m killin’. Your brain. Like a poisonous mushroom. Deadly. When I play a dope melody. Anything less than the best is a felony. Love it or leave it. You better gain way. You better hit bullseye the kid don’t play. If there was a problem yo I’ll solve it check out the hook while my DJ revolves it Ice (etc.). Now that the party is jumpin’. With the bass kicked in and the speakers are pumpin’. Quick to the point to the point no fakin’, Cookin’ MCs like a pound of bacon. Burnin’ em. If they ain’t quick and nimble. I go crazy when I hear a cymbal on a high hat. With a souped-up tempo. I’m on a roll. Time to go solo. Rollin’ in my five point oh got the ragtop down so my hair can blow. The girlies on standby waitin’ just to say hi. Did you stop? No. I just drove by. Kept on pursuin to the next block… Something-something… AIA BEACHFRONT AVENUE!

Crap. B

2. ”I Don’t Have the Heart,” James Ingram
If Chicago’s ”Look Away,” an Amy Grant Christmas album, and this song had a baby, it would = ”I Don’t Have the Heart.” It’s a very nice song, just a little overwrought, wouldn’t you agree? I know James Ingram is sacred to some people, but to me he’ll always just be one-half of the love song from An American Tail, and I will give him the respect usually afforded to a man of such esteem. Also, because I am lacking anything else interesting to say about this song — seriously, it’s a very nice song, just a little overwrought, wouldn’t you agree? — I would like to direct your attention to this version of Ingram’s signature song, ”Just Once,” as sung by some girl who records herself singing along with Taylor Hicks and then puts it up on YouTube. C+

[P.S.: For all those wondering how long I’m going to keep linking to that Amy Grant/Peter Cetera video, the answer is: Until they take it away, my friends. Until they take it away.]

1. ”Black Cat,” Janet Jackson
What is so amazing about Janet Jackson and the entire Rhythm Nation 1814 album is that even the 92nd single off that record is still better than 80% of the crap on this list. Most hair metal bands would have paid a lifetime in spandex to come up with that guitar line, and then Janet goes and melds it with her funky-fresh backup singers and suddenly you can dance to it — and believe you me, it is not easy to make ”You’re gonna die” into a danceable lyric. I haven’t owned Rhythm Nation since it came out on cassette (I didn’t get a CD player until late 1992), and I just ordered it off Amazon; will keep you advised as to how I’m doing remembering all the moves to ”Miss You Much.” B+