’90s No. 1s Revisited: “On Bended Knee”
The eighty-third No. 1 song of the 1990s was “On Bended Knee” by Boyz II Men. With this track’s ascent to No. 1, Boyz II Men replaced itself at the apex, a feat that hadn’t happened since The Beatles were the first to do so in 1964. It has happened nine times since, as of this writing. Any decent chart nerd might wonder if, in cutting off the record-setting 14-week run of “I’ll Make Love To You,” Boyz II Men perhaps released “On Bended Knee” prematurely. But as it turns out, “I’ll Make Love To You” fell from No. 1 to No. 4, so perhaps it was just out of steam regardless of “Knee.”
“On Bended Knee” is an Adult Contemporary/R&B ballad, just like all five of the quartet’s No. 1 singles, and, like “End Of The Road,” it’s about the singer’s displeasure at the end of a romance he would prefer to prolong. In this case, he is literally on the ground begging for his lover to come back to him. Although the song is a success in its own right, it has been overshadowed by “Road,” “Love” and their yet-to-come longest-running No. 1, “One Sweet Day,” a duet with Mariah Carey. “Knee” is therefore somewhat less immortalized than those others, still drawing a healthy 38 million views on YouTube as of this writing, but fewer than those other three.
Take a few minutes to listen to “On Bended Knee”:
This single is very nicely written, arranged and produced, and was our favorite of the group’s releases up to this point. Despite Boyz II Men’s (particularly Wanya Morris’) tenancy to over-sing, the group stays respectably restrained for most of the track. When they reach the climax at the 4-minute mark, they dabble in over-the-top vocal acrobatics, but this section’s diminuendos make it easier to swallow. The track was written and produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, perhaps best known for their work with Janet Jackson. That pair also handled Boyz II Men’s best, last and least appreciated No. 1 song, 1997’s “4 Seasons Of Loneliness.” Both those tracks offer us somewhat more subdued performances, making us wish Boyz II Men had collaborated with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis more often.
Was it dope? Top 40 music in the ’90s leaned light, and that seemed especially true during the holiday season of 1994-’95, when “Knee” hit big. So although “On Bended Knee” may sound light and airy, in the context of the time it fit right into a Pop format that was embracing Barry White, Four Seasons, Sting, Gloria Estefan and the Lion King soundtrack. “Knee” was, in that company, a mainstream Pop song for all to enjoy.
Does it hold up? We never hear this song now. Do you?
Dopeness: 3 out of 5 Birkenstocks
Boyz II Men
“On Bended Knee”
6 (nonconsecutive) weeks at No. 1, starting Dec. 3, 1994
Preceded by: “I’ll Make Love To You,” Boyz II Men
Interrupted by: “Here Comes The Hotstepper,” Ini Kamoze
Followed by: “Creep,” TLC
’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?