1991 In Music: The Wrap-Up

We have now revisited every No. 1 song of 1991 as part of our ’90s No. 1s Revisited series. Now let’s reflect on the year as a whole. Of the 27 songs to reach No. 1 in 1991, about half (13, we’d say) were by iconic acts who had long, successful mainstream music careers during which they were sending hits to or near No. 1 consistently for at least 10 years — Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Bryan Adams and Gloria Estefan. Some acts — particularly male artists or bands with male vocalists — would have their only No. 1 hit in 1991, such as Surface, Timmy T, Londonbeat, Hi-Five, Extreme, EMF, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, and P.M. Dawn. No one who had a No. 1 hit in 1991 was, however, technically a One Hit Wonder, even though that moniker is often thrown around incorrectly.

As the decade progresses, we’ll see less chart dominance by megastars who enjoyed long careers, and more achievements by acts whose mainstream success was shorter lived. Boyz II Men, TLC and Toni Braxton, for example, were some of the biggest acts of the ’90s, but each of them had roughly a seven-year run on the charts, start to finish, as far as big hits are concerned. Very impressive, obviously, but not at the level of the megastars who ran the world in 1991.

For what it’s worth, 1991 happens to be our favorite year of the ’90s for music. What typically gets attention from this year are the Rock and Alternative CDs considered classics — “Nevermind” by Nirvana, “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Ten” by Pearl Jam, “Metallica” by Metallica, “Achtung Baby” by U2, “Use Your Illusion II” by Guns N’ Roses, “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” by Van Halen and “Out Of Time” by R.E.M., to name a few. It is probably the best year for that genre in human history, no exaggeration. Thus what gets totally ignored are the pop gems that made one’s average, ordinary commute set to Top 40 radio a pleasure. Some of our favorite songs of 1991 include:

Most of these acts would continue to release music in the ’90s but struggle to find an audience.

We leave you with the best song of 1991, “Piece Of My Heart” by Tara Kemp:

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