Note: We published this article two months before P.M. Dawn lead vocalist Prince Be (Attrell Cordes) died at age 46. We’ve left it as is.
’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss”
The fifty-second No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” by P.M. Dawn. Only in the anything-goes ’90s would a song like this be a hit. It features a non-aggressive, obese MC softly speaking about marionette strings and broken wishbones over a wholly uncool sample of Spandau Ballet’s 1983 hit “True.” Not exactly an obvious recipe for a mainstream smash.
“Memory Bliss” was P.M. Dawn’s first and only No. 1, but it was followed by seven more Hot 100 appearances, including three of the best songs of the decade: “I’d Die Without You” (No. 3, 1992), “Looking Through Patient Eyes” (No. 6, 1993) and the undervalued “The Ways Of The Wind” (No. 54, 1993). They last charted in 1998 with “Being So Not For You (I Had No Right),” which reached No. 44.
The original members, brothers Attrell and Jarrett Cordes of Jersey City, NJ, were tremendously talented, creative and frankly brave. It was not easy to offer up music like this just as the Hip-Hop genre was hardening in preparation for the East Coast vs. West Coast era. This track was completely peculiar. It wasn’t riding an existing trend, nor did it set one. P.M. Dawn’s music was uniquely their own, and regardless of whether you liked it, that has to be respected.
Let’s unearth “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss”:
Strictly as an audio recording, “Memory Bliss” is a warm breeze of sweet perfume. But although popular music has a long history of nebulous lyrics, “Memory Bliss” goes there with such full force that it leaves the observant listener behind. Who these days has the patience to wonder what a neutron dance is, or what Christina Applegate has to do with anything?
Small-minded Hip-Hop die-hards loathed P.M. Dawn, and the duo’s adversarial relationship with that community contributed to how short-lived their success was. But as this was their debut, it was well-received and considered an innovative blending of Rap and Adult Contemporary, the prevailing genre of this era. Also worth noting is that in 1991, the ’80s were considered tremendously lame. The wave of ’80s nostalgia wasn’t yet upon us. So using the Spandau Ballet sample was genuinely risky and subversive. But it worked. It was kind of genius.
Does it hold up? No one is probably listening to this song today because it’s so extraordinarily not of modern times. But we have a few P.M. Dawn songs on our playlists. Not this particular one, as it happens. Nothing wrong with it, but they went on to do better, more interesting things.
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?