Note: We published this article three days before Prince’s surprise death at the age of 57. We’ve left it as is. Read our tribute to Prince here.
’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Cream”
The fiftieth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Cream” by Prince and the New Power Generation. Prince was one of the most iconic pop stars to emerge during the 1980s, perhaps third to Madonna and Michael Jackson. Prior to “Cream,” he’d had four No. 1 hits — “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy” in 1984, “Kiss” in 1986 and the dreadful “Batdance” in 1989. And beyond these four chart-toppers, he’d reached the Top 20 an additional 15 times. So he was a megastar by 1991. The New Power Generation (aka NPG) was a large backup ensemble with whom he started sharing performance credit on the 1991 album Diamonds and Pearls, from which “Cream” was the second single. The NPG is perhaps best remembered for vocalist Rosie Gaines, featured prominently on “Cream” and the album’s title track. Prince has not had a No. 1 song since “Cream,” although he has hit the Top 20 five more times and released some good singles, such as “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World,” which reached No. 3 in 1994, and the underrated “Gold,” which stalled at No. 88 in 1995. His last appearance on the Hot 100 as of this writing was in 2006 with “Black Sweat,” which reached No. 60, although he remains quite prolific and may have more hits in the future.
“Cream,” like many of Prince’s songs, is abstract and suggestive at the same time. While “Cream, get on top / Cream, you will cop” may not make much sense, we can assume he’s not referring to pasteurization techniques, because it’s Prince. The track has all Prince’s characteristic flirtations, funk-driven production elements and a video memorable for its innovative art direction.
Let’s listen to “Cream” (while we can, at least — Prince is notoriously protective of his intellectual property, so his videos are hard to find online):
This number is nicely arranged and performed but seems subdued and frankly less important than so many of Prince’s other classics, like “Little Red Corvette” and “1999.” But at the time of its release, it stood out and caused buzz for its naughtiness. It was, in fact, the only No. 1 hit that year about sex per se. Some of the year’s other sex-themed songs fell short of the top spot, like “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd (peak: No. 2), “I Touch Myself” by Divinyls (peak: No. 4) and “O.P.P.” by Naughty by Nature (peak: No. 6).
Prince at this time was tremendously well-respected for being an envelope-pushing artist and all-around cool cat, and “Cream” was a solid pop track with broad appeal. There was nothing shameful about digging “Cream.”
Does it hold up? People listening to Prince’s music right now are probably not listening to “Cream” because Prince’s ’90s music is overshadowed by his ’80s output. But in and of itself, “Cream” holds up fine as a musical recording. The innuendo is coy by today’s standards, though. No. 1 hits these days often feature more direct lyrics, such as “I just fucked two bitches ‘fore I saw you,” from The Weeknd’s No. 1 hit “The Hills.” “Cream” sounds like an Amy Grant song by comparison.
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?