’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Good Vibrations”
The forty-seventh No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch f/ Loleatta Holloway. This track served as the public’s introduction to Mark Wahlberg, although his elder brother Donnie was, by this point, famous for being 20% of New Kids on the Block. The Funky Bunch comprised four men of nebulous contribution. “Good Vibrations” was the group’s debut single and only No. 1 hit. They would follow it with three more Hot 100 entries over the next 12 months — “Wildside,” (No. 10), “I Need Money” (No. 61) and “You Gotta Believe” (No. 49). And that was a wrap.
Holloway, who sings the chorus of “Good Vibrations,” had been a disco singer in the 1970s and charted three times between 1975 and 1978, the highest-peaking of those singles being her first, “Cry To Me,” which reached No. 68. The Holloway song from which “Good Vibrations” borrows is called “Love Sensation,” and it didn’t appear on the Hot 100, although it did top Billboard’s U.S. Dance chart in 1980. It’s fair to say Holloway was not well-known by the target audience of “Good Vibrations” in 1991.
By the time “Good Vibrations” was released, Vanilla Ice had become the first act to send a Hip-Hop song to No. 1, with “Ice Ice Baby” in 1990. One could argue that C+C Music Factory was the second, although their No. 1 single, “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” is typically classified as Dance. So “Good Vibrations” was either the second or the third Hip-Hop song to top the Hot 100, depending on how you choose to categorize “Gonna Make You Sweat.” In achieving this, Marky Mark grew the mainstream popularity of Rap, laying important groundwork for the rest of the decade to come. He was not, however, considered a rival of Vanilla Ice’s at the time. By the time Marky Mark emerged, Vanilla Ice’s career in mainstream music was effectively over, and the two have little in common in terms of music, style or persona. That they are sometimes considered companion acts is an error of revisionist music history.
Let’s re-experience “Good Vibrations”:
This track is a lot of fun, but would be more so if Marky Mark hadn’t rapped on it. His vocal delivery is high-energy but somewhat sloppy, and marred by misappropriated application of African-American vernacular (e.g., “Strictly Hip-Hop, boy-eee!”). The production is crisp and high-energy, making this a decent workout song, and Holloway’s chorus successfully injects soul and joy to the affair, in a manner akin to that of Martha Wash’s work with C+C Music Factory. In all, this was a perfectly respectable effort, certainly an advancement from “Ice Ice Baby,” but it wasn’t a spectacular example of rapping technique, especially when compared to other pioneers of the ’90s (or ’80s, for that matter).
Regarding the video, we’d be remiss not to mention that it was groundbreaking for its portrayal of male sexuality. Marky Mark’s physique is presented in this clip as evidence of discipline, self-respect and sexual power, and this was novel in 1991. Nowadays, every male celebrity is expected to invest hours a day maintaining his body, and freely showing it off in magazine pictorials, ads and music videos. But this wasn’t the case in 1991. In the ’80s, some of music’s biggest heartthrobs were guys like Jon Bon Jovi, Simon Le Bon and Rick Springfield — they were handsome, but they didn’t flagrantly show off their pecks and packages. Marky Mark rewrote, or at least liberally amended, the rules with the “Good Vibrations” video and his subsequent shoot for Calvin Klein in 1992, setting a new standard for male beauty and altering men’s understanding of their own sexual appeal. He gets no credit for this, of course.
Was it dope? It was, for a short while. “Good Vibrations” accompanied the Pop-influenced Hip-Hop of MC Hammer, Salt-n-Pepa, Kris Kross, Snow and Sir Mix-a-Lot as a studio-borne prelude to the more street-borne work of Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre, 2Pac, Coolio, Notorious B.I.G., Puff Daddy and Mase later in the decade.
Does it hold up? The fact that this is a rap-sung collaboration makes it somewhat ahead of its time. Nowadays, just about every Hip-Hop song is credited to an artist featuring a singer. But crediting aside, there are obviously dated elements to this recording, including the manner in which Marky Mark raps, the tempo, the sound quality of the snare and, above all else, the proudly anti-drug message. “Good Vibrations” sounds and feels very old school by today’s standards.
Dopeness: 3 out of 5 Birkenstocks
’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?