What was the best ’90s pop compilation: Kickin’ or The Rhythm? And which volume? Craig Major think it’s time to settle this debate once and for all.
For me, and an entire generation of New Zealanders coming of age in the mid-90s, the music of my youth only came in the following forms: the radio, cassettes of songs dubbed off the radio, and an ever-increasing number of compilation albums. In that pre-internet dark age, two compilation album series dominated the local musical landscape: Kickin’ and The Rhythm. I have fond memories of these albums and – if anecdotal evidence and the response to Warner Music’s Facebook post about The Rhythm series is a suitable litmus test – so do a lot of my contemporaries.
But in 2018, how do these albums hold up to revisionist analysis? Still bangin’ or so steeped in nostalgia that revisiting them will kickstart a wave of crippling ennui? Better yet, if I pit them against each other, can I find a “best” edition from the dozens released?
There is only one way to know for sure: a Kickin’ vs The Rhythm battle royale.
KICKIN’: A DANCE COMPILATION (1992) vs THE RHYTHM VOL. 1 (1990)
Kickin’ is tonally pretty consistent with a steady mix of “Yo DJ pump this party”-style dance tracks (including this one that literally uses this chant and was presumably written by a serial killer), techno, and upbeat R&B.
Conversely, The Rhythm Vol 1 has a lot more genre diversity. The dance anthems are in full effect, but sit adjacent to M.O.R. offerings from Hall & Oates, Seal and, um, Jesus Jones.
Weird outlier: ‘Here Comes the Supergroove’ by Supergroove. A funky early cut from one of my generation’s iconic local acts, it’s an outlier on this album because it’s more Beastie Boys than Vengaboys.
SCORE: Four Caterpillar boots out of 10
Weird outlier: ‘Rockin’ Back Inside my Heart’ by Julee Cruise – a track any Twin Peaks fan worth their salt might recognise as the song performed by the chipmunk-faced Cruise at the Roadhouse while Lara-Flynn Boyle’s character reconnects with human forehead James in season 2.
SCORE: Three confusing instructions on how to dance out of 10
KICKIN! 2 (1993) vs THE RHYTHM VOL. 5 (1993)
I used birthday money from my nana to purchase Kickin’ 2 on cassette and re-listening to it opened the nostalgia floodgates. This one starts strong but stumbles a few times with some cringe-heavy numbers.
I have no background with The Rhythm Vol 5, but like other early entries it features a more eclectic mix, opening with Prince and spanning hip-hop, dance and R&B genres across the lean 61-minute runtime
Weird outlier: ‘Power of American Natives’ by Dance 2 Trance. With a name that could only exist in 1993, Dance 2 Trance combined a repetitive beat with heavy-handed social commentary in this bizarre club track.
SCORE: Five wise men on the top of Wise Man’s Hill out of 10.
Weird outlier: ‘Deeply Dippy’ by Right Said Fred. This one is pretty dire but has an incredibly passionate sax solo if you’re into that kinda thing.
SCORE: Four awful lines about binge-drinking out of 10
Winner: Kickin’ 2
KICKIN! 5 (1996) vs THE RHYTHM VOL. 14 (1996)
Kickin’ 5 is an album full chock-full of popular music that failed to make any lasting impact. Remember Real McCoy? Yeah, me neither.
The Rhythm vol 14 starts with baby-making slow jams, middles out with hip-hop and finishes as a dance album featuring groups with names like “Corona” and “Tokyo Ghetto Pussy”.
Standout track: ‘Creep‘ by TLC – this volume’s only track that could convincingly be regarded as a classic in 2018.
Weird outlier: ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ by Rednex. One day aliens will sift through the rubble of our scorched planet and find our last remaining cultural artefact, a copy of Sex and Violins among the ruins of our civilisation. And at that moment they will know – KNOW – that the human race deserved its fate.
SCORE: Three black coffees (no sugar, no cream) out of 10
Weird outlier: ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by N-Trance. A bombastic reimagining of the Bee Gees’ disco hit with cheesy rap verses and bass cranked up to 11. I recall really loving this track in ‘96. It, uh, doesn’t hold up.
SCORE: Five “let me hear ya say wey-oh”s out of 10
Winner: The Rhythm Vol 14
KICKIN 8 (1997) vs THE RHYTHM VOL 17 (1997)
K’8 is top-heavy with oonst-oonst dance tracks and levels out with R&B as the album progresses. It also opens with the fucking Macarena because the song was essentially a pandemic back in ‘97.
Rv17 shuns the eclectic approach of its preceding volumes and delivers an almost entirely hip-hop or slow jams-centric experience from woah to go.
Standout track: ‘Chains’ by Che Fu and DLT. An incredible local track criminally absent from most discourse about classic Kiwi music.
Weird outlier: ‘X-Files Theme’ by Triple X. It’s, umm… it’s the X Files theme tune sped up and laid over a thumping beat with a DJ jeering the words “X… Files…” into a mic. It ain’t good.
SCORE: Three sweet dreams of passion through the night out of 10
Standout track: ‘‘Cold Rock a Party’ by MC Lyte. A kick-ass party anthem by a bad-ass female emcee. This was one of the first tracks to feature the up-and-coming Missy Elliot.
Weird outlier: ‘Too Much Heaven’ by Jordan Hill. Why was the mid-90s obsessed with covering the Bee Gees? This rehash contains 100% more Mariah Carey-esque warbling and is performed by a woman who looks like Taylor Swift’s older cousin.
SCORE: Three gross, uncomfortable euphemisms for Mark Morrison’s libido out of 10.
Winner: There’s no “winner” here. Rhythm vol 17 clinches it by default with exactly zero M-People songs compared to Kickin 8’s one M-People song.
KICKIN’ (1992) vs THE RHYTHM VOL 14 (1996)
A predominantly dance album versus a predominantly hip-hop and R&B one. Both volumes have high points and guttural lows, but only Kickin’ features ‘‘Sesame’s Treat’ – an absolute hate crime of a song that sounds like Fatboy Slim went on an MDMA bender and fucked a Tickle Me Elmo. This alone gives Rhythm Vol 14 the winning edge.
Semi-final winner: Rhythm vol 14
KICKIN’ 2 (1993) vs THE RHYTHM VOL 17 (1997)
More genre diversity in Kickin’ 2 than its predecessor, and again this Rhythm is almost entirely hip-hop / R&B. Rhythm vol 17 has exactly one fun party jam (the aforementioned ‘Cold Rock a Party’) while Kickin 2 has at least four.
This round goes to Kickin’ 2: Kick Harder
Semi-final winner: Kickin’ 2
THE RHYTHM VOL 14 (1996) vs KICKIN’ 2 (1993)
I have strong and distinct memories of enjoying both of these albums during my formative years. But nostalgia is a funny thing, its rosy sheen can tint even the shittest music with affection and longing.
Music historians might not agree, but I feel like hip-hop and R&B tracks generally age better than music from pop or dance-centric genres. For this reason, I’d argue that The Rhythm series is viewed as somewhat respectable in the cold light of 2018, while the Kickin’ series is a largely a time capsule of now-cringey material that was “fun” when Beavis and Butthead Do America was in cinemas.
I had too much internal angst about crowning a final champion between these two albums, so I did what any other lazy white guy would do and crowd-sourced the decision. Of the randomly selected people I polled, 100% of them came to a consensus.
End of an era
Revisiting all these albums (and battling the effects of prolonged Ace of Base exposure) confirms that even the best editions from each series have a skewed bad-song-to-good-song ratio. Sadly no amount of memories for using ‘Here’s Johnny’ from Kickin’ 6 to test a munter friend’s subwoofer make these albums any better.
My Kickin / The Rhythm days all but stopped in late ‘96 after I discovered Triple J’s Hottest 100 vol 4, a double-album with tracks that shook my musical upbringing to the core. Also around this time brand-new-thing “The Internet” made it possible to download a single song in a matter of hours, hammering another nail into these compilation albums’ jewel case coffins.
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Both Kickin’ and The Rhythm lurked around in record stores until the early-2000s, but now leave a legacy as artefacts, musty Hypercolour memories of house parties, road trips and school discos from years gone by. Every few years an entire generation around my age will remember these albums and think things like “Huh, Kickin’ 5 was pretty cool…”
But they’ll be wrong.
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