Every week Chartlander travels back through time, landing in a different year on the official New Zealand singles chart in the hopes of (re)discovering forgotten Top 40 gold. Today we continue our tour of classic general elections in 1990.
The date is the 27th of October, 1990. Tonight the National Party will land a crushing victory over Labour in the general election, making King Country’s Jim Bolger the 35th prime minister of New Zealand.
The writing has been on the wall for some time. “We’re getting a National government in New Zealand, and all will be lost,” Chris Knox predicted at the end of a live television performance of his ‘Song For 1990’ earlier in the year.
A sardonic response to the nationalistic back-slapping of Sesqui 1990 – New Zealand’s 150th-anniversary celebrations – ‘Song For 1990’ was released on 10-inch vinyl EP on Flying Nun Records. It did not make the official New Zealand singles chart. Neither did the official song of Sesqui 1990, the anthemic ‘New Zealand – Kainga Tuturu’, written by Peter Blake and Simon Morris and originally performed by Nigel Lee.
The real sound of 1990 was at the cassingle racks of the country’s thriving music stores. It was MC Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This’ and Snap’s ‘The Power.’ It was Faith No More’s ‘Epic’ and Jimmy Barnes’ awesome ‘Lay Down Your Guns’. This was the soundtrack to the 1990 general election.
☝️ Number One
INXS – ‘Suicide Blonde’
What can this song tell us about the mood of a nation that elected a National government to power by an overwhelming majority? It didn’t go #1 anywhere else in the world – even in INXS’ homeland Australia it only reached #2 – so something about the fusion of Nile Rodgers’ signature Chic guitar and Charlie Musselwhite’s sampled blues harp clearly struck a nerve with New Zealanders heading to the polls. It’s a confident song but in retrospect seems clearly confused; you look back and wonder, what was anyone thinking?
???? Best Bets
#5: Neville Brothers – ‘Bird On A Wire’
There are hundreds of covers of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird On The Wire’ out there but this is the only sung by Aaron ‘The Human Oboe’ Neville and produced by Dave ‘The Eurythmics’ Stewart. Their shimmering modern take on the folk standard featured in a Mel Gibson / Goldie Hawn action movie of the same name.
#35: Go West – ‘The King of Wishful Thinking’
From the soundtrack to the hit 1990 movie Pretty Woman, ‘The King of Wishful Thinking’ is a break-up song that conceals layers of sad-guy heartbreak under a slick, upbeat pop veneer. Go West’s duo of Richard Drummie and Peter Cox star in the endearingly dorky music video.
Cover alert: Pop-punk band New Found Glory covered this song on 2007’s From the Screen to Your Stereo Part II.
#49: Taylor Dayne – ‘I’ll Be Your Shelter’
Written by pop songwriting machine Diane Warren, ‘I’ll Be Your Shelter’ is a rare rock excursion for an artist better known for high-energy dance singles. Taylor Dayne’s impressive voice totally rules on this, helping put it right up there with the era’s most uplifting rock ballads.
#42: Clarence Carter – ‘Strokin’’
Clarence Carter’s enthusiastic ode to “makin’ love” was first released in the US in 1984; it first entered the New Zealand charts in 1989, and in 1990 it was the year’s second biggest single, beaten only MC Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This’. Exactly how this happened may forever be a mystery but we should always be grateful for a song that asks questions like: “Have you ever made love… on a couch?”
???? Major Artist, Minor Hit
#37: Janet Jackson – ‘Black Cat’
From the sick opening panther roar sound effect to the final guitar squeal, it’s clear Janet Jackson is not taking any prisoners on this hard-rocking anti-substance abuse single from the Rhythm Nation 1814 LP. While the rest of the album was produced by legendary duo Jam and Lewis, Janet co-produced ‘Black Cat’ with their former Time bandmate Jellybean Johnson; it’s stylistic outlier in her singles catalogue, but it still totally rules. It peaked at #25 in New Zealand.
Cover alert: Grainy YouTube footage exists showing Britney Spears performing ‘Black Cat’ on her 1999 tour.
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#12: Bell Biv DeVoe – ‘Do Me!’
The week’s most overtly sexual chart song, somehow surpassing even Clarence Carter’s ‘Strokin’’, comes courtesy of Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe. With a chorus that repeatedly urges the listener to “do me baby” and verses with lines like “Girl let your hair down / Take off your clothes and leave on your shoes” and, alarmingly, “Backstage, under age, adolescent,” ‘Do Me!’ is about as horned-up as they come. It spent 18 weeks in the singles chart, peaking at #8.
Cover alert: ‘Do Me!’ earned the highest honour in popular music, being parodied by jokester Weird Al Yankovic as part of a polka medley on 1992’s Off the Deep End.
???????? Kiwi Flagbearers
Total this week: 4
“Haven’t you heard our Kiwi music? Maybe you haven’t it’s true. Haven’t you heard stations won’t play it, because it is not good for you.” – ‘Song For 1990’.
Despite the indifference to New Zealand music from commercial radio reported in ‘Song For 1990’, four New Zealand artists managed to make it onto the singles chart this week. Ngaire’s sweet cover of ‘To Sir With Love’ leads the pack at #4, MC OJ & Rhythm Slave’s ‘That’s The Way (Positivity)’ is #20, and Rikki Morris’ ‘Heartbroke’ #24. Long-forgotten Auckland band The Scissormen round out the local crew with their only charting single, the sophisticated Elvis Costello / Prefab Sprout-sounding ‘Rediscovering You’.
???? Cover Art of the Week
Janet Jackson – ‘Black Cat’
Previous episodes of Chartlander:
#3: June 14, 1984
#1: August 10, 1991
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.