I’m going to take a break from my usual K-pop reviews to write about the boyband that, in fact, set the modern-day trend for boybands everywhere. Backstreet Boys weren’t the first boyband in showbiz, but they were the world’s biggest as far as success went, and still the best selling boyband of all time!
But first, my history with Backstreet Boys.
The first time I read about the Backstreet Boys was back in the December 1994 issue of Live & Kicking magazine. I now wish I had kept the issue safe, since it was supposedly their first interview to a British magazine. In the issue, L&K were attending one of Backstreet Boys’ showcase performance at some American mall. It was in 1995 I heard their first single on radio, “We’ve Got It Goin’ On” — which only just managed to crack the UK top 40. Followed by “I’ll Never Break Your Heart,” which too lurked out around the 30s on the UK charts.
It wasn’t until 1996 when “Get Down” broke in to the UK top 20, and I remember seeing the Backstreet Boys for the first time on Top of The Pops. That was followed by “Anywhere For You” and the group’s breakout hit single, “Quit Playing Games”. After that, Backstreet Boys re-released “We Got It Goin’ On” and “I’ll Never Break Your Heart” in the UK to better success. By now, Backstreet Boys were one of the best boybands in my school-going world.
Then came 1997. Oh-my-god. ‘Backstreet’s Back‘ was released. That summer of 1997 was particularly exciting for me. “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” and “As Long As You Love Me” were unstoppable on radio and the videos were equally popular on Channel [V], which was a music channel worth watching back in the day. I returned after the summer holidays of ’97 to a school where practically everyone had either of two string backpacks: Backstreet Boys or Titanic. It was that year when girls were going gaga over Leonardo DiCaprio and everyone else was dancing or listening to the Backstreet Boys. Practically every friend of mine owned a copy of ‘Backstreet’s Back‘.
Then the boys made it big in their home country and lead the wave of the teen pop craze that followed. Even though I turned into a ‘N Sync fanboy, I never disliked Backstreet Boys. The singles off ‘Millennium‘ were exciting, but I thought the rest of the album was “meh”. I liked ‘Black & Blue‘ more as a album.
There are two British bands that I consider among my favourites from the 2000-era. First is Coldplay, the other is Keane. When I first Keane’s breakout hit “Somewhere I Only We Know” in early 2004, I decided to give their debut album Hopes and Fears a listen. The rest – as any Keane fan today will say – is history. I played the living crap out of that album! In office, I would play it for my co-workers. At home, I would have it on repeat. It was such a good album, from start to finish, I wouldn’t skip any of the tracks. It’s a modern-day classic, no doubt!
Keane followed it up with the brilliant Under the Iron Sea (2006) which I loved just as much. The then three-piece band strayed away from the norm two year later with Perfect Symmetry. I’ll admit, although the album contained some favourites like “You Haven’t Told Me Anything” and “Again and Again,” for the first time I wasn’t hooked on repeat listening to a Keane album. The band continued their experimental journey with 2010’s Night Train, an EP containing songs that were a mix of styles and genres, but still somehow retained the Keane touch.
This Cuban-American singer was fairly popular in the early 1990s. “Just Another Day” was top ten hit for John Secada, and I have fond memories of listening to “Just Another Day” in the evenings of Bahrain. Somehow, it seems to be best time to listen to this song.
Naughty by Nature – “Hip Hop Hooray“
From the album 19 Naughty III, this was another favourite of mine growing up in the ‘golden era’ of hip-hop (in my opinion). This song was everything I liked (or wanted) in hip-hop. Heavy beats, the bass, slick rhymes… it was all I needed to bob my head wearing a hoodie!
Kris Kross – “Jump”
For every bit of the real gangsta hip-hop there was, there were the mainstream silly acts too. Kid ‘N Play had the dude with the funny hair, and then there was Kriss Kross. Two young black kids – Mac Daddy and Daddy Mac – whose unqiue concept was wearing their clothes backwards! Funny as it all sounds, “Jump” was a massive hit when it came out and Kriss Kross’ only number 1 song. “Warm It Up,” their follow up single did alright, but “Jump” is still their most memorable song. I loved it then — and I still do!
Vanessa Williams – “Save The Best For Last”
I don’t remember when exactly this song came but I remember listening to this song on chilly days, be it in early months of the year or towards Christmas. The first number one for this former Miss America-turned-singer-turned-actress, “Save the Best for Last” is still one of the best ballads from the 1990s.
Arrested Development – “Mr. Wendal”
As a kid, I guess I always remembered this song as the one that began with the “Arrhh-ahhh-ahhhh” scream. I club Arrested Development and Tribe Called Quest in the same bucket because both groups made hip-hop with social conscious. Arrested Development’s sound was also quite different from the other hip-hop groups at the time.
House of Pain – “Jump Around”
Still regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time! It’s the one song House of Pain will be always remembered for (also, they didn’t have many other hits). Among the few respected hip-hop groups not fronted by a black man, but instead, by an Irish-American named Everlast.
Wreckx-N-Effect feat. Teddy Riley – “Rump Shaker”
Produced by ‘new jack swing’ pioneer Teddy Riley (who is now contributing to K-pop), “Rump Shaker” is another hip-hop classic. And another one-hit wonder. Reasons for liking this song? Thumping bass, hard-ass beats and a catchy trumpet hook. Hip-hop was so simple back in the day No over-producing, no auto-tune.
Funny, just read up on this song on Wiki and turns out, even a young Pharrell Williams helped out with the lyrics when working with Teddy Riley then.
Das EFX- “They Want EFX”
I remember my brother owning their album ‘Dead Serious’ on cassette. (Ahhhh, cassette tapes :)) One highly influential hip-hop group, Das EFX were especially renowned for their lyrical delivery and the ending words with “-iggidy”. Loved their rapping style and the album was pretty good too. “Mic Checka” was another good song off the same album.
Snow – “Informer”
Ahh, the “a-lickey boom boom down” song! Or at least that’s how most people remembered it. One of the most unintentionally hilarious songs ever made. Even to this day many can’t figure out the lyrics. Snow was a white rapper and reggae performer from Canada (of all the places!) and “Informer” was his only no. 1 smash hit. If you actually read the lyrics, you will realize it is English that he’s speaking… but the song is still mostly gibberish
Snow disappeared for much of the 1990s, but he got my attention again back in the early 2000s when he made a comeback in his native Canada with a new musical style. Check out “The Plumb Song” and “Everybody Wants to Be Like You” — they’re both really good, and vastly different from “Informer”!
Genesis – “I Can’t Dance”
As a kid, I didn’t know much about the history and legacy of Genesis (for that matter, Phil Collins too), but I fondly remember this song and especially its video. The simple ‘walking dance’ behind the white background… it’s just iconic Gensis now. As I grew older and learnt more about Genesis, it’s only then I realized this same album produced some of my favourite Genesis songs: “No Son of Mine,” “Jesus He Knows Me” (another brilliant Genesis video) and “Hold on My Heart“.
The Shamen – “Ebeneezer Goode”
Despite the growing influence of American hip-hop, radio airplay was still mostly British chart music. And this no. 1 song was one of my favourites! I still know the lyrics to the first verse by heart and love rapping along as I listen to it Of course, when I was 10, I didn’t know what the song was even about. Only now did I learn “Eezer Goode, ‘Eezer Goode …” is basically saying “Es are good, Es are good”. (E = ecstasy)
Take That – “It Only Takes a Minute”
If there was one boy band that dominated the British charts in the early 1990s, it was Take That. The then 5-member group were at the early stages of their stardom and this was their first top 10 hit. The video was constantly played at night on Channel 55 (Bahrain’s local English channel) to fill up airtime before ending transmission. It’s still remains one of my favourite Take That songs, even though it’s actually a cover of a Tavares hit.
Jimmy Nail – “Ain’t No Doubt”
There were quite a few British actors and soap stars coming out with pop records in the 1990s, and this chap was one such example. I don’t know what show he was on or how famous he was back in England, but the reason I knew Jimmy Nail was because of this no. 1 hit (and his other hit “Crocodile Shoes“). This was British pop back in the day, a style of music lost in many of today’s British popstars attempting to sound American.
Tasmin Archer – “Sleeping Satellite”
A British one-hit wonder. Beautiful song though, went to no. 1 upon release and it was her first single too. Never heard much from Tasmin Archer after that.
Charles & Eddie – “Would I Lie To You”
The one hit wonders continued. This time a New York duo, who had a worldwide hit with this song. When you think about, a duo like Charles & Eddie would hardly ever get a record deal from a big label these days. Something I miss about music from decades past.
Cheb – “Khaled”
I end this post with one of the biggest hits of the 1990s… if you grew up in the Arab world in those days! Cheb Khaled is an Algerian singer and, man, when this song came out – it was everywhere! It was so popular, and not just among Arabs. Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Africans … everybody covered it in their own language (unofficially I’m sure). Khaled is a musical legend in the Arab world, one of the highest selling Arab musicians in history. His other great classics include “Aicha” and the phenomenal live performance of “Abdel Kader“.
Other songs that came out in 1992 that I only ended up liking as I grew older were: