’90s No. 1s Revisited: “One Sweet Day”
The ninety-fifth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. This track is the longest-running No. 1 in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 as of this writing; it enjoyed 16 weeks (112 days!) at the summit, starting shortly after Thanksgiving of 1995, lasting through the entire winter and stepping down as spring began in 1996. It was the No. 2 song of 1996, behind “Macarena,” and came in at No. 8 for the decade (1990-1999), Carey’s best showing on that tally.
“One Sweet Day” was Carey’s 10th of 18 No. 1 songs, and Boyz II Men’s fourth of five. Despite its tremendous popularity in the U.S., the single was not nearly as successful elsewhere. The only other countries where it hit the top were Canada, where it spent two weeks at No. 1, and New Zealand, where it spent four. In The U.K., it peaked at No. 6.
With such a long choke-hold on No. 1, “One Sweet Day” spoiled a few other tracks’ hope of chart dominance. For the first 11 weeks of its run, it kept the song it had knocked out of No. 1, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop),” at No. 2. Then for one week (Feb. 17, 1996), “Missing” by Everything But The Girl — one of the best and most influential Dance songs of the ’90s — sat in the runner-up spot. Then for two weeks, “Not Gon’ Cry” by Mary J. Blige, from the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack, was at No. 2, followed by two weeks at No. 2 for “Sittin’ Up In My Room” by Brandy, also from Waiting To Exhale. Blige and Brandy, neither of whom had had a No. 1 hit at this point, would go on to top the charts later, incidentally — Blige in late 2001 with “Family Affair,” and Brandy twice, first with Monica in 1998, and once solo in 1999.
“One Sweet Day” is a contemplative ballad about the death of a loved one. It discusses regret, loneliness, longing and the hope of seeing your dearly departed “one sweet day” in the afterlife. At a superficial glance, such a sad theme might seem like unlikely fodder for a smash hit, but the public embraces metaphysical sentiments from time to time. Twenty years later, for example, Wiz Kalifa and Charlie Puth spent 12 weeks at No. 1 with the similarly themed “See You Again,” the video for which, as of this writing, has garnered about 2.5 billion — yes, billion — views on YouTube. It is the second most viewed video in YouTube’s history, behind “Gangnam Style.” So there is something about the afterlife, in all its mysterious promise, that compels us, though not as much as a chubby South Korean guy doing a silly dance.
Grab a Kleenex and take a few minutes to listen again to “One Sweet Day”:
We respect this song for being about something deep, by Top 40 standards, and it surely holds special meaning for some who lost a loved one in late 1995. However, I (John) lost a loved one during this time, my grandmother, who died when “One Sweet Day” was starting its reign at No. 1, and I have no attachment to this song, despite being a Carey fan. I always found it slow, boring and overwrought, especially in the final 80 seconds. The climax is unbearable, frankly.
Was it dope? Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men achieved phenomenal, widespread success in the ’90s, so there was much interest in this well-timed collaboration. It would have been doper, though, if they’d done something upbeat and fun together. This song was always a bummer.
Does it hold up? Well let’s turn to another source, “Do Teens Know ’90s Music,” which tells us the answer is no. None of the 10 kids could identify the song (“It’s very … dramatic”) and, when told it held the record for most weeks at No. 1 with 16, said, “Wow, I feel like, then, I should have heard it. … That’s a very depressing 16 weeks.” Yeah, it kinda was.
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?