’90s No. 1s Revisited: “The First Night”
The one hundred twenty-second No. 1 song of the 1990s was “The First Night” by Monica, who’d just spent the entire summer atop the Billboard Hot 100 with her breakthrough duet with Brandy, “The Boy Is Mine.” With “The First Night” climbing to the apex in the Fall, Monica became the first artist to score two No. 1 hits in 1998. During its run at the top of the charts, she also celebrated her 18th birthday. What a year! Monica would go on to notch her third and final No. 1 hit in 1999, “Angel Of Mine,” before her career prematurely fizzled along with all her ’90s R&B contemporaries not named Usher.
Not to diminish Monica’s accomplishment, but you may know that 1995-98 was an era with lots of asterisks on the Billboard Hot 100 because at the time, the magazine did not allow songs to chart without being physically released as a single, and record companies were increasingly deciding not to release singles in an effort to drive album sales. If you didn’t know that, read our previous post about it. As a result, some of this time period’s most popular songs didn’t reach their due summits, or even chart at all. When “The First Night” hit No. 1, was it really the country’s most popular song? Probably not — that honor likely goes to “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls, which was en route to clocking 18 weeks topping the Hot 100 Airplay chart. We mention this here because, even though we think “The First Night” is an OK song, we don’t remember it being exceptionally popular. And consider this: As of this writing, “Iris” has 236 million views on YouTube, vs. 7 million for “The First Night.” That suggests “Iris” is, at least, the more enduring of the two songs. (Billboard would make long-overdue changes to its methodology one month after “The First Night” ended its run at No. 1.)
“The First Night” is a mid-tempo R&B/Pop song about resisting the urge to have sex with someone on the first date as a matter of personal policy. It samples another No. 1 single, Diana Ross’ 1976 Disco classic “Love Hangover.” That it does so is obviously not novel; Pop music recycles stuff all the time because its target audience is too young to remember the originals. So when “The First Night” came out, we loved the dope instrumental, having no idea it was lifted from a song that preceded our births. So, sacrilegious as it may sound, it’s “Love Hangover” that reminds us of “The First Night,” rather than vice versa. Such is the cyclical nature of Pop music! (That doesn’t stop us from being annoyed with new artists sampling our favorite songs, of course.)
Dust off your chastity belt, and let’s give a fresh listen to “The First Night”:
Preach, Monica! We’ve all been there, girl. Except most of us go ahead and get down on the first night anyway, because self-respect is for losers, amirite?!
Beyond borrowing a great instrumental sample, “The First Night” has a hooky chorus that gets dutifully drilled into our brains through repetition, and its modest message is refreshing and atypical. Monica is a talented vocalist, although she’s not especially fiery on this particular track. Overall it’s fine. Nothing we’d think to seek out, but not something we’d skip if it came on.
Does it hold up? Nothing on the radio sounds like this today, no.
Dopeness: 3 out of 5 Birkenstocks
“The First Night”
5 (nonconsecutive) weeks at No. 1, starting Oct. 3, 1998
Preceded by: “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” Aerosmith
Interrupted by: “One Week,” Barenaked Ladies
Followed by: “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Lauryn Hill
’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?