’90s No. 1s Revisited: “How Do You Talk To An Angel”
The sixty-fourth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “How Do You Talk To An Angel” by The Heights, a fictional band that was the basis of a short-lived Fox television show by the same name. “Angel” was the show’s theme, and the group’s only hit. Jamie Walters, who portrayed The Heights’ lead singer, Alex, followed the success of “Angel” with a solo release, “Hold On,” which reached No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1994. He then spent two seasons on Beverly Hills 90210 before fading from the public eye. Many members of The Heights‘ cast continued to work in the entertainment industry, but as far as we can tell none launched a solo music career or became affiliated with a successful band.
There are obvious surface-level comparisons to be made between The Heights and The Monkees, but for the record, there’s a chasm of difference between the two acts’ levels of success, popularity and importance. The Monkees (the show) was a popular slapstick comedy that found new audiences over time, across generations, while The Heights was a drama that struggled to find an audience and has been largely forgotten. And The Monkees (the band) produced lots of hits over many years; as of this writing, in fact, the surviving members just released a new album a couple days ago. The Heights (the band) had just one hit and disbanded when their show was canceled.
That this song was successful underlines one of the most defining characteristics of ’90s music, though: the public’s interest in soundtracks. “How Do You Talk To An Angel” was the third of what would be five consecutive No. 1 singles off a soundtrack, following “This Used To Be My Playground” (from A League of Their Own) and “End Of The Road” (from Boomerang) and preceding “I Will Always Love You” (from The Bodyguard) and “A Whole New World” (from Aladdin). The role of soundtracks in popular music would continue to be very significant through the decade, particularly in the coming three years or so.
Let’s listen to “How Do You Talk To An Angel”:
We were 13 when this song came out, and even at that tender and gullible age, we knew that “How Do You Talk To An Angel” was contrived and stupid. It’s a by-the-numbers pop-rock track, vanilla as they come, green-lighted by TV executives, possibly influenced by focus groups, and ultimately created by hourly studio musicians. Critics and audiences sometimes complain about “offensive” music, i.e., tracks with explicit sexual or violent content. “How Do You Talk To An Angel” is more offensive, though, because it aims for the obvious, achieves mediocrity and wastes everyone’s time. The lyrics are particularly troublesome; they sound written by an older adult trying to express the feelings of a younger adult with the emotional intelligence of a fifth-grader. On the positive side, the production is clean, and the instrumental segue between the first chorus and the second verse is pretty. More importantly to those behind this song, the recording showcases a sufficient number of instruments to convey that the show about the band features a large ensemble.
In the sense that Beverly Hills 90210 was dope to certain people in the 16-to-25 set, this was somewhat dope. There’s a whisper of a Gen X quality here that may have resonated with some people. But it was basically just radio filler.
Does it hold up? Absolutely not. The linkage between this song and a decidedly dated show confines it to history. But even without that context, the song has nothing to offer of interest to modern audiences. It also had the unfortunate timing of being No. 1 between the top song of 1992 (“End Of the Road“) and the top song of 1993 (“I Will Always Love You“), making it all the more forgettable.
Dopeness: 1 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?