’90s No. 1s Revisited: “The Sign”
The seventy-eighth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “The Sign” by Ace of Base. So eerily resembling fellow Swedish foursome ABBA that the term knockoff wouldn’t be an unjustified descriptor, Ace of Base became an unlikely global phenomenon in the mid-’90s. In the U.S., they emerged in 1993 with the excellent “All That She Wants,” which for 12 consecutive weeks oscillated between Nos. 2 and 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, kept at bay by Meat Loaf, Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey. “The Sign” was the follow-up single, and the group’s only No. 1 hit in the U.S. It was followed by “Don’t Turn Around,” which peaked at No. 4. These three tracks were among the biggest hits of the year, all landing in the Top 10 in Billboard’s 1994 year-end tally, with “The Sign” coming in at No. 1. The album The Sign went on to become one of the best-selling CDs ever. Pretty incredible, and hard to have predicted.
After “Don’t Turn Around,” Ace of Base reached No. 20 with the fourth and final single from The Sign, “Living In Danger,” the album’s highlight. Songs off their sophomore album were a bit more diverse in their production approaches but commercially under-performed: “Beautiful Life” (peak: 15) and “Lucky Love” (peak: 30), which were both quite good. Their last Top 40 hit was a very ’90s-sounding remake of Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” (peak: 10). They haven’t had a hit since 1998, making Ace of Base a decidedly ’90s band.
“The Sign” is a post-breakup empowerment song in which the protagonist claims to be pleased with her new life and “happy now living without you,” all thanks to seeing some type of sign that made her realize she could do better. The track is about as Pop as can be created, with nary a trace of any influence from another genre. It is the musical equivalent of vanilla pudding decorated with a sugar cookie.
Take a moment to revisit “The Sign”:
The passing of time is a funny thing. We remember when “The Sign” was new, fresh and modern, and yet now it seems helplessly super-glued to 1994. Given their popularity, Ace of Base seem surprisingly inconsequential in retrospect; perhaps some music historian out there can make a case for Ace of Base being an early precursor to the late ’90s Pop explosion, but we think that’s a stretch. If anything, Pop kind of hibernated after Ace of Base. But all that historical analysis aside, “The Sign” is a capably produced, solidly written middle-of-the-road Pop single. When it comes on, it excites us and we turn it up, but by the end of the song our minds have probably wandered.
Nearly 10 million Americans bought this album. Two of them were us.
Does it hold up? The song found a new audience in the film Pitch Perfect. But based on this recent video of teens being asked to identify ’90s songs, the evidence suggests that it does not. And it sounds pretty old to our ears.
Dopeness: 4 out of 5 Birkenstocks
Ace of Base
6 (nonconsecutive) weeks at No. 1, starting March 12, 1994
Preceded by: “The Power Of Love,” Celine Dion
Interrupted by: “Bump N’ Grind,” R. Kelly
Followed by: “I Swear,” All-4-One
’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?