’90s No. 1s Revisited: “To Be With You”
The fifty-seventh No. 1 song of the 1990s was “To Be With You” by Mr. Big. Although Mr. Big has an ’80s vibe about them and their first album was released in 1989, they hadn’t charted before “To Be With You.” The song is extremely simple in its chord structure, lyrics, clapping beat and arrangement — it was summer campfire material. They followed it up with another by-the-numbers ballad, “Just Take My Heart,” which peaked at No. 16. Then came their capable remake of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” (peak: No. 27) and their final Hot 100 appearance, “Ain’t Seen Love Like That” (peak: No. 83) in 1994. They took a hiatus through most of the ’00s but have since reunited and continue releasing material.
This song was the nail in the coffin for hair bands, which had immense cross-genre popularity in the ’80s. Poison, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses all had No. 1 hits in 1988 alone. But after “To Be With You,” a hair band would never top the Hot 100 again. In fact, no male rock band would hit No. 1 again until Hanson in May 1997, more than five years later, with “Mmmbop.” If you don’t consider Hanson rock, then it’s Aerosmith and then Barenaked Ladies who ended the rock drought in fall 1998. Regardless, from 1992-1997, Grunge and then post-Grunge Alternative made this kind of mainstream pop-rock music very uncool, and although no Grunge or Alternative song actually ever made it to No. 1 on the Hot 100, the genres were very influential on public taste, making songs like “To Be With You” and acts like Mr. Big too passe to survive. Exacerbating this trend was the mainstreaming of edgier R&B and Hip-Hop.
That said, “To Be With You” did fuel — or at least was fueled by — the rising popularity of acoustic guitar music in 1991-93. It has obvious echoes to Extreme’s No. 1 single from the prior year, “More Than Words,” and it shared space in the Top 5 for a bit with Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven” as The Williams Brothers’ “Can’t Cry Hard Enough” was climbing the chart. MTV was, meanwhile, doing well and earning credibility with its Unplugged series.
Let’s give a listen to “To Be With You”:
In order to credibly pursue our mission, we do give each song a full fresh listen before writing these ’90s No. 1s Revisited posts. And for some reason this one was more painful to sit through than it should have been, given that this track seems, at its surface, to be relatively benign. But something about it is very irritating to modern ears. It sounds bleached, slogging, dull, predictable and disingenuous. If you wanted to be with someone, is this how you’d communicate it? That someone would get antsy and start playing on their iPhone till you were done.
This was a big song. It went to No. 1 in over 10 countries and had a nice three-week run at No. 1 in the U.S. But Nirvana and Pearl Jam were in the process of making this type of music wholly un-dope.
Does it hold up? It should, given that it has some Country and Folk elements and seems, instrumentally at least, to be very in line with modern music by bands like The Lumineers. But it’s just a little too sunshiny and sing-songy for these times.
Dopeness: 2 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?