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Did VH1 Get It Right? A 90s R&B Discussion
The End of an Era
As we all know now, the 90s was the chronological and sentimental end to many things are culture has come to value. It was the last decade in which phone booths were readily available, VCRs were the pioneering technology of home theaters, and CDs were the final frontier of the music industry.
However, as we are further into the new century- we long for those things that seemly made life much simpler, sweeter, or more romantic. What can I say? We like to romanticize the past? And what is a more romantic part of the recent past than 90s R&B?
VH1 noticed this and thus compiled a list of what they consider the greatest R&B songs of the 1990s. And while they mentioned alot of great songs- some people, pundits, and fans felt otherwise. So I will deconstruct this list and also add in a few more suggestions as to songs that could have been included.
The Full List
Here's the complete list:
40. Bobby Brown, “Humpin’ Around”
39. En Vogue, “Hold On”
38. Jade, “Don’t Walk Away”
37. Shanice, “I Love Your Smile”
36. Boyz II Men, “Motownphilly”
35. Keith Sweat, “Twisted”
34. Aaron Hall, “I Miss You”
33. 702, “Where My Girls At?”
32. Johnny Gill, “Rub You The Right Way”
31. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, “Tha Crossroads”
30. Ginuwine, “Pony”
29. Tony! Toni! Toné!, “Feels Good”
28. Faith Evans, “Love Like This”
27. Silk, “Freak Me”
26. K-Ci & JoJo, “All My Life”
25. Lisa Stansfield, “All Around The World”
24. Whitney Houston, “I’m Every Woman”
23. Jodeci, “Come And Talk To Me”
22. TLC, “No Scrubs”
21. Guy, “Do Me Right”
20. Mariah Carey, “Fantasy”
19. Usher, “You Make Me Wanna”
18. SWV, “I’m So Into You”
17. Blackstreet, “No Diggity”
16. Mary J. Blige, “Not Gon’ Cry”
15. Brian McKnight, “Back At One”
14. R. Kelly, “Bump N’ Grind”
13. Brandy & Monica, “The Boy Is Mine”
12. Color Me Badd, “I Wanna Sex You Up”
11. En Vogue, “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”
10. Boyz II Men, “End Of The Road”
9. Aaliyah, “Are You That Somebody?”
8. Mary J. Blige, “Real Love”
7. Montell Jordan, “This Is How We Do It”
6. TLC, “Waterfalls”
5. R. Kelly, “I Believe I Can Fly”
4. Janet Jackson, “That’s The Way Love Goes”
3. Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You”
2. Mariah Carey Featuring Boyz II Men, “One Sweet Day”
1. Bell Biv Devoe, “Poison”
Songs That Are Right for The List
The following songs, in my opinion, fit the list perfectly and while their ranking is debatable- their impact is not neglected in the overall context.
"Where My Girls At?" 702- Coming in at at number 33, this song to me makes incredible sense. The 90s were all about two things: girl power and girl groups. Being there was no shortage of either, this song fits right in. And this song is all about women staking their territory on the dance floor and in love. Not only that but the hook is insanely catchy.
"Feels Good" Tony! Toni! Tone'!- At number 29, this song is representative of the style of R&B that dominated the early 1990s- New Jack Swing. Not only that, but 3T as they are sometimes referred to hit it big by playing their own instruments and writing their own songs. It was also a big club jam- how can you not dance to this song?
"Come and Talk to Me" Jodeci- Instantly flirtatious and sweetly approachable, the song did what it set out to do- have us wanting more. Jodeci was one of the most iconic groups of the era and this song was one of many that set them up as the requisite bad boys of R&B.
"U Make Me Wanna" Usher- This song, coming in at number 19, made me wanna buy Usher's breakout album when I was a kid. Not only that but it had a great hook and the video was the first of many by Usher to distinguish him as the new King of R&B. Besides, I think everyone in high school has felt this way at one point or another.
"Bump N' Grind" R. Kelly- Considering what's in today's songs, this song is fairly innocent now. But back in 1994, the song coming in at number 14 was all the rage- openly talking about sexual desires between two adults without mentioning the pretense of relationships or romance. It was like the sweatier, raunchier sibling of "Let's Get It On." You may not like it, but you sure do know it.
"This Is How We Do It" Montell Jordan- Not only was this song, clocking in at number 7 a catchphrase, it was a cultural phenomenon. And while it became so big that it ensured Montell Jordan remained a one-hit wonder, it never mattered. The song was that good.
"That's The Way Love Goes" Janet Jackson- While the mid-80s marked Janet Jackson's mass success and independence from her family- the 1990s were all hers. She proclaimed her unique style and approach to music by releasing this song. And she made no qualms about sharing her sexuality in this now classic slow jam.
Songs That Are Not Right for The List
These next songs are bound to be up for debate, but in my opinion, they have no business on the list. And if they did stay, they shouldn't have been ranked as high as they are.
"Humpin' Around" Bobby Brown- I think Bobby Brown is a great R&B artist, but by the 1990s he had lost his touch. I will not go into the motivations for why he lost his touch as that is also debatable, but to my way of thinking this song- in at number 40- is a complete wash. It's not quite "My Prerogative" and it is not as catchy as "Every Little Step"- therefore I think we would be better served keeping this song off this list.
"Tha Crossroads" Bone Thugs-N-Harmony- My main objections to this song have to do with the integrity of the genre and the list itself. Even though they have harmony in their name, I consider this a rap song. And that's reason enough to leave it off. The 90s were also a sensitive time for many of us R&B fans as the genre was slowly being overrun with hip-hop cameos and beats. And to me this song-at number 31 on the list- is one of the many sore spots in that transition.
"I'm Every Woman" Whitney Houston- No offense to the dearly departed, but this song, coming in at number 24, is definitely not up to the standards of great R&B covers. As it was part of the Bodyguard soundtrack- I somewhat consider this a throwaway song compared to Whitney Houston's other singles from that album. And the 90s dancebeat is too simplistic for a song that has so much character and depth as this Chaka Khan classic.
"Do Me Right" Guy- I like New Jack Swing as much as the next person, but this song-at number 21- is not that memorable to me. Maybe because I literally do not remember it at all but what I heard is not impressive compared to Guy's other singles such as "Let's Chill" and "I Like."
"Not Goin' Cry" Mary J. Blige- While she is the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, this song does not to me define Mary J. Blige in the 1990s. It's not like "Be Happy" which adequately reflected a lost young woman on the verge of success, nor is it "Real Love" which is probably one of the best first singles by an artist ever. It's a great woman scorned song- but I would not consider it an essential MJB song.
"One Sweet Day" Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men- I honestly love this song but it is so sad and stirring it belongs to another list altogether. It's hard to hear. In fact it's one of those songs I consider only playing in a very specific mood but not on regular rotation. Is it a great collaboration? Most definitely. But not enough to stay on this list.
Songs That Are Missing But Should Not Be
If I had my way, this would have been a countdown of at least fifty songs or one hundred even. And some songs I was waiting for but they never appeared for one reason or another. However, I think they should be included.
"I'm Ready" Tevin Campbell- I had a hard time accepting Tevin Campbell was not on this list at all. To me, he is one of the greatest young singers to come along since Stevie Wonder. And while his later career did not end up the same way as Stevie Wonder's- this song still deserves respect. Not only that, but Tevin Campbell had quite a good run for the first half of the 1990s. That was evidenced by his appearance on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and his songs being regularly covered on the New Mickey Mouse Club by some impressive future chart toppers. He deserves at least one shout out and this song is a perfect fit.
"Kissin' You" Total- If you think Total was only a cereal back in the day, you are very wrong. They were among the first signees of Diddy's Bad Boy label and frequent collaborators. This song was one of their best offerings. Simple and sweet, it was reminiscent of young love in full bloom. Not only that but it proved that great R&B could be made without all the bells and whistles.
"Before You Walk Out of My Life" Monica- While Monica is on this list alongside Brandy, she deserves her own spot as well. She may not have reached the same pinnacles of mainstream success as Brandy but she had the same amount of talent, if not more. It is hard to believe this song was recorded and released while she was only a teenager but it goes to show the depths of her talent and abilities.
"Unbreak my Heart" Toni Braxton- Even though she has recently joined the ranks of stars with reality shows, Toni Braxton reinvigorated her career and the breakup song with this classic in the late 1990s. I had a hard time accepting this song not being on the list. I mean, who didn't know it? Either way- this song is a classic through and through.
"I Gotta Be" Jagged Edge- Another song that I absolutely adore by a group that did not get their fair share of accolades. The harmonies and the lilting simplicity of this song is enough to make one think of long summers spent with first loves and slow dances with first crushes.
"One in a Million" Aaliyah- The late, great Aaliyah really did carve her own niche with her team of super-producers- Timbaland and Missy Elliott. But this song is just beautiful. And timeless. If it does not bring a smile to your face, then I do not know what will.
I probably could go on in this portion but you get the gist.
In the End
What matters most, beyond the rankings and the debates is the VH1 was smart enough to recognize the best songs of the era. To me it represents the last full decade of a genre that has since been overrun with concerns for mass appeal and mass sales. That is not to say there are no great R&B artists left but let's be honest R&B does not hold the same place in music or pop culture that it once had in the 1990s.
And I think the reason this list hit a nerve with so many people is because it signifies what we think of as a simpler time- a time in which we did not have to strip down at airports, go to school with medal detectors, or put a GPS on our relatives to keep track of them.
As with all great eras of music, it will always have a place in the social, emotional, psychological, and cultural history of the people.
- Oh No They Didn't! - VH1′s 40 Greatest R&B Songs Of The 90s
While many musical historians look at the 90s as the decade in which “alternative” and hip-hop music exploded from the underground into the mainstream, we here at VH1 haven’t forgotten that the decade was flush with a nu