’90s No. 1s Revisited: “I Swear”
The eightieth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “I Swear” by All-4-One. This ballad, the second-most successful single of 1994 behind “The Sign,” was so popular that All-4-One is often miscast as a One Hit Wonder. But, in fact, the group reached No. 5 a couple months prior to “I Swear,” with a beautiful a capella version of The Tymes’ 1963 chart-topper “So Much In Love,” and they reached No. 5 again the following year with “I Can Love You Like That,” a remake of a then-recently released John Michael Montgomery track. All-4-One also had a couple other chart appearances but none since 1996. Young’ns may recognize them from a head-scratching cameo on Season 12 of The Bachelorette.
As was mentioned when we first discussed Boyz II Men, the ’90s was very hospitable to R&B vocal groups that were to varying extents reminiscent of 1960s Motown acts. These include Hi-Five, En Vogue, Jodeci, Mint Condition, Portrait, Color Me Badd, SWV, Next, Allure, Divine, Destiny’s Child, Brownstone, Boyz II Men and All-4-One (and perhaps TLC, although they put a more Hip-Hop spin on the genre). This trend weakened in the ’00s and more or less croaked in the ’10s. The cyclical nature of music may bring this style back to us in the 2020s, although being in a group isn’t as lucrative as going solo, and solo acts don’t have to deal with infighting, jealousy and routine artistic compromises. So perhaps it’s supply, not demand, that’s causing the absence of acts like All-4-One nowadays.
Of the groups just listed, All-4-One leans more Adult Contemporary than the others, with songs fit for wedding slow dances. In fact, “I Swear” somewhat shamelessly makes a pitch for such usage with the lyrics, “For better or worse, till death do us part, I’ll love you with every beat of my heart.”
In staying at No. 1 for an impressive 11 weeks, “I Swear” blocked a handful of tracks from the top spot. These include “I’ll Remember” by Madonna and “Regulate” by Warren G & Nate Dogg, which held at No. 2 for four and three weeks respectively.
Take a few minutes to revisit “I Swear”:
This track is modest and tender to the core, from the lightweight arrangement to the vocal delivery to the melody/harmony writing to the lyrics to the sax solo. It’s well-coordinated and certainly pleasant, but tremendously occasion-driven. There is no reason to listen to “I Swear” if you’re not trying to set a mood of sentimental romance.
There’s an interesting split in 1994 between the artists who had No. 1 songs (e.g., Celine Dion, Ace of Base, Bryan Adams/Rod Stewart/Sting, Boyz II Men, All-4-One, Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories) and those who had No. 1 albums (e.g., Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pantera, Beastie Boys). The latter list would be considered by most to be doper than the former — edgier, more interesting, less saccharine. That’s not to say most people have any taste, since those doper acts have made some pretty shitty music. Point is that All-4-One represented the bland, safe mainstream material that Top 40 radio was forcing on the public, not necessarily what people most wanted to hear. All that said, we don’t care about cool. We thought this song was fine at the time; the worst thing about it was that it was overplayed.
Does it hold up? The opening of this song will generate instant nostalgia and excitement among people who came of age in the mid-’90s, but after about 20 seconds it fades into the background.
Dopeness: 3 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?