“Hold On”

’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Hold On”

The tenth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips. This song is not to be confused with “Hold On” by En Vogue, another amazing mid-tempo debut single released in 1990 by a group of female harmonizers from California. (As an aside: En Vogue, a critically important part of 1990s music history, will unfortunately not be featured in ’90s No. 1s Revisited — they hit No. 2 three times, including with “Hold On,” but never reached the summit.)

At the time of “Hold On’s” release, the members of Wilson Phillips were unknown 20-somethings of noteworthy genealogy. Chynna Phillips is the daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas, while Carnie and Wendy Wilson are the daughters of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. Wilson Phillips’ claim to fame, though, wasn’t their pedigree, it was their mastery of three-part harmony. After “Hold On” hit No. 1, their eponymous debut produced four more hits, including two more No. 1s. Their 1992 follow-up album generated two Top 40 hits, and Wilson Phillips has been absent from the Billboard Hot 100 ever since.

Give “Hold On” a listen:

The production quality on “Hold On” was advanced for the times, thanks to producer Glen Ballard, best known for producing Alanis Morissette’s 1995 breakthrough Jagged Little Pill. The melodic harmonies (or harmonious melodies?) made the track stand out among other 1990 offerings, in a good way. It lives on as Wilson Phillips’ signature song, and has had countless resurgences in popularity thanks to films like Bridesmaids and viral videos like Chow Down.

If you lived through this era as we did, you understand that “Hold On” really was dope. Adult Contemporary was mainstream in 1990-1991, so Wilson Phillips fit right in alongside Amy Grant, Michael Bolton and Gloria Estefan, all of whom had No. 1 songs in 1990-91. By 1992, Grunge, Gangsta Rap and, to some extent, Hip-Hop/R&B eradicated this type of music from the mainstream. These days, those who write about ’90s music tend to forget 1990-1991 ever happened and jump right to 1992 and the rise of Nirvana, Dr. Dre and TLC, and in the process leave acts like Wilson Phillips out in the rain. But the truth is that Wilson Phillips, at this time, was widely beloved and all over the place — radio, MTV and VH1. They were even on the cover of Rolling Stone, and in that article the author wrote, “… Wilson Phillips is perhaps the highest of high-concept musical groupings. To some, these three L.A. kids are more than just another pleasant new musical act with the big-bucks support of a record company behind them. They are the princesses of West Coast rock royalty, the second coming of the California Dream.” It is only the mysterious and cruel passing of time that can turn “the highest of high-concept musical groupings” into a punchline.

Does it hold up? We feel no shame in declaring “Hold On” to be a ’90s classic worthy of the highest praises, but its ongoing dopeness is divisive. On one hand, there’s a large demand out there for “real music” that’s beautiful — well-crafted, well-written, well-produced, with funky drum breakdowns and dramatic fade-outs. For fans of this type of music, “Hold On” is as good as it gets. On the other hand, does anything on the radio today sound like this? Definitely not, although whether that’s an insult to “Hold On” or to today’s music is in the eye of the beholder. In our eyes, “Hold On” continues to make us happy anytime it creeps up on our ’90s playlist.

Dopeness: 5 out of 5 Birkenstocks


Wilson Phillips
“Hold On”
1 week at No. 1, starting the week of June 9, 1990
(Also: Billboard’s No. 1 song of 1990)
Preceded by: “Vogue,” Madonna
Followed by: “It Must Have Been Love,” Roxette

’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?

– John

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