’90s No. 1s Revisited: “A Whole New World”
The sixty-sixth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “A Whole New World” by Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle, from the soundtrack to the animated Disney blockbuster Aladdin. Coming off the heels of the successful “Beauty And The Beast” by Bryson and Celine Dion, which reached No. 9 in 1992, “A Whole New World” magnified Pop listeners’ renewed interest in Disney music. It also set the stage for the enormous popularity of Elton John’s offerings from the Lion King soundtrack in 1994, and Vanessa Williams’ smash “Colors Of The Wind” from Pocahontas in 1995.
“A Whole New World” was the first No. 1 hit for both Bryson and Belle, two singers more popular for R&B than Pop. Prior to “World,” Bryson and Belle had appeared on the Hot 100 11 and four times respectively, and after “World,” each would do so only once more — Bryson with “By The Time This Night Is Over,” a duet with Kenny G that peaked at No. 25, and Belle with the beautiful and underrated “If I Could,” which reached No. 52. Both those follow-ups charted shortly after “World”; neither singer has had a hit since 1993, although Belle continues to record, and in fact released a gospel album earlier this year (2016).
“World” is about flying around on a magic carpet, and its melody and instrumental are as complex as what one would find in a music box. That this track was the first No. 1 single of 1993 is fitting, as the year’s chart-toppers represent a peculiarly diverse mix of genres, themes and artists. They include “Informer,” a track about snitching by a white Canadian hyper-rapper with Jamaican intonations; “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” a cheap-sounding reggae remake of an Elvis Presley song from a terrible Sharon Stone movie; and “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That),” a 12-minute hard rock anthem by an obese Texan who hadn’t been famous for 15 years. So “A Whole New World” kinda fits in, somehow.
Let’s take another visit to “A Whole New World”:
Pretty, right? But why was “World” a No. 1 hit while its fellow ’90s Disney releases fell short? One theory: The music is legitimately superior. It’s the only Disney song to win a Grammy for Song of the Year, beating out some stiff competition like the stupendous “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” by Sting. And, truly, it’s as lovely as Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” Really! The ending is a particularly touching way to tie out the tune. So it deserves its success. Bryson and Belle also do a fantastic job with the vocal delivery here. Bryson’s technical execution is reminiscent of Luther Vandross’, and Belle brings an emotional drama similar to that of Wendy Moten, a soul singer responsible for one of the best songs of 1993, “Come In Out Of The Rain.”
Does it hold up? Sure, all Disney songs hold up to some extent, but sometimes in an ironic, tongue-in-cheek way.
Dopeness: 4 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?