’90s No. 1s Revisited: “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You”
The second No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 was “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?” by Michael Bolton. It was the New Haven, CT, singer’s breakout track, although it has a curious history. Bolton co-wrote the song in the early 1980s, and it was a Top 20 hit in 1983 for Laura Branigan. Bolton’s version was his first No. 1 in the United States, or anywhere, and went to the Top 5 in the U.K., Australia, Ireland and The Netherlands. Bolton would go on to top the U.S. Hot 100 Singles chart only one more time, in 1991, with his remake of “When A Man Loves A Woman,” originally by Percy Sledge.
Let’s give “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?” a listen:
Bolton is loved by fans for his vocal abilities, emotional energy and taste for torch songs. He also is loathed by detractors for all the same reasons. But much of Bolton’s work is not only defensible, but quite underrated and good, particularly his 1991 8x platinum smash Time, Love and Tenderness, which produced five hit singles. But at the time of this particular song’s release, the answer to Bolton’s question was, “I don’t care how or whether you live without me, because your song is driving me crazy.”
Bolton wasn’t a cool act, even at the height of his career, and “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?” showcases all his most mocked qualities. The verses are throwaway fillers between choruses, a particularly egregious crime given how grating the chorus is. And it’s just over-the-top — between the sleepy tempo, the corny production, the pity-me lyrics and the whiny vocal delivery, it’s a song solely targeted to women fresh off a breakup. For everyone else, it’s torturous melodrama.
Does it hold up? To whatever extent this breakup song was novel at the time, it certainly seems trite in retrospect. The electronic piano in the intro dates this song immediately, putting its seeds squarely in the 1980s, and Bolton’s pained bellowing on this track is categorically uncool, difficult to listen to and starkly at odds with today’s male pop vocalists. It’s worth noting, though, that Bolton did enjoy a brief bump in public interest five years ago when he teamed up with The Lonely Island on 2011’s “Jack Sparrow,” which hit No. 69 on the Hot 100, his first appearance on that chart since 1997 (and his last to date). And to this day, Bolton enjoys a dedicated fanbase, as evidenced by this video’s overwhelmingly positive Like-to-Unlike ratio on YouTube. But we never liked it, and we still don’t.
Dopeness: 1 out of 5 Birkenstocks
“How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?”
3 weeks at No. 1 , starting Jan. 20, 1990
Preceded by: “Another Day In Paradise,” Phil Collins
Followed by: “Opposites Attract,” Paula Abdul w/ The Wild Pair
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?