“Release Me”

’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Release Me”

The seventeenth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Release Me” by Wilson Phillips. With “Hold On” going to No. 1 and “Release Me” doing the same three months later, Wilson Phillips became the first act to have two No. 1 hits during 1990. Two others — Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey — would repeat this feat in the months to come. All three would revisit the No. 1 spot again the following year.

Even cynics who find “Hold On” too goody-goody may concede that “Release Me” dials that down and offers up a straightforward, expertly written and gorgeously performed song, with a video that features tasteful, modern-for-the-times cinematography.

Unlike “Hold On” or any of the other releases off their debut album, “Release Me” is sung entirely in three-part harmony, with no lead performance. This gives it an angelic richness, and also dispelled any speculation that Chynna Phillips, who sung lead on “Hold On,” was the “lead singer.” Wilson Phillips, in fact, had no lead singer; they either all sang together, or took turns equally.

Let’s listen to “Release Me”:

“Release Me” is so overflowing with lush musicality that modern Pop sounds like a jackhammer by comparison. It’s unpretentious, performed with ease, and confidently reliant on the group’s outstanding songwriting ability. It was the perfect follow-up to “Hold On,” cementing the group’s stature and underscoring their talent. It’s neither garish nor cheesy.

Even though “Release Me” may seem like “mom” music today, Wilson Phillips was making its way onto the A List at this time, and a few months after “Release Me” hit No. 1, the group was nominated for five Grammys, including Best New Artist (losing to Mariah Carey). So they were indeed dope, as was this song.

Does it hold up? We took a small, unscientific poll and confirmed our hypothesis that young adults who didn’t live through this era are either unaware of Wilson Phillips altogether, or think “Hold On” was their only hit. Kids these days. But, as curious as this may sound, the fact that “Release Me” has been overshadowed and largely forgotten may make it hold up better than “Hold On,” because it doesn’t have that throwback baggage. To us, it doesn’t necessarily sound dated; it does, of course, sound like something that would not be popular today. But for a listener who enjoys harmony and likes good music, “Release Me” may prove to be a happy discovery.

Side note: True story — today we overheard a woman in her early 20s mention that she grew up listening to music from the ’80s, like Madonna, Debbie Gibson and Wilson Phillips. Inside we screamed, “Wilson Phillips is ’90s, you whippersnapper!” But we said nothing.

Dopeness: 5 out of 5 Birkenstocks


Wilson Phillips
“Release Me”
2 weeks at No. 1, starting Sept. 15, 1990
Preceded by: “Blaze Of Glory,” Bon Jovi
Followed by: “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love And Affection,” Nelson

’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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