’90s No. 1s Revisited: “You Are Not Alone”
The ninety-first No. 1 song of the 1990s was “You Are Not Alone” by Michael Jackson. The ballad, written by R. Kelly, was the second of Jackson’s two No. 1 singles during the decade, following “Black Or White” four years earlier. It holds the distinction of being the first single ever to debut on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 1 (an accomplishment that Mariah Carey repeated four weeks later with “Fantasy,” and which is now somewhat commonplace). “You Are Not Alone” would turn out to be Jackson’s final trip to No. 1 — in his lifetime, at least. It’s hardly a stretch to suggest he could hit the top again in a remix, reinterpretation and/or posthumous duet. In fact, as of this writing, Jackson’s biggest hit since “You Are Not Alone” is 2014’s “Love Never Felt So Good” a recording from the ’80s updated to feature Justin Timberlake. It peaked at No. 9.
“You Are Not Alone” was the second release from Jackson’s two-disc HIStory compilation, which was half greatest hits collection, half new material. The first single was the aggressive and not particularly radio-friendly “Scream,” featuring Janet Jackson, which peaked at No. 5 earlier in 1995. “You Are Not Alone” was a departure from that release, a much softer and more soothing offering that had echoes of Jackson’s underappreciated 1987 chart-topper, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” featuring Siedah Garrett.
By mid-1995, R. Kelly was a still-emerging voice in R&B music, having hit No. 1 under his own name with 1994’s pseudo-erotic “Bump N’ Grind.” R. Kelly has a very impressive catalog of hits to which he’s contributed, although we don’t find him to be the most innovative or interesting figure in ’90s music. “You Are Not Alone” is a pretty by-the-numbers effort with the complexity of a nursery rhyme.
Let’s take a few minutes to listen again to “You Are Not Alone”:
Here’s a fun game: Try to get through that song without yawning. Bet you can’t! We are huge fans of Jackson’s, believe us. But we must’ve been born without the particular heart string that Jackson and R. Kelly are trying to pull here because, to us, this is a pretty dull effort. “Stranger In Moscow,” off the same album, is far better. It peaked at No. 91. Go figure.
The song is tightly associated with the video, which features Jackson showing an uncharacteristic amount of skin, plus then-wife Lisa Marie Presley. The pair were prime targets for tabloid media, and Jackson was still embroiled in controversy over allegations he’d behaved inappropriately with children. So we’d be lying if we said that, at the time of this song’s release, it was appreciated just for the piece of music it is. It also was surrounded by a circus of other distractions.
Does it hold up? Thanks to continued sustained interest in Michael Jackson, it holds up pretty well. The video has more than 100 million views on YouTube as of this writing. And because the music and production are so basic and stripped-down, it doesn’t ring as outdated. We don’t think this is the first thing people think of when they hear the name Michael Jackson, but it would probably end up on anybody’s Michael Jackson playlist, were they to make one today.
Dopeness: 2 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?