One of the staples of public television programming during pledge drives are the specials that feature bands and singers that exemplify a particular era of popular music. We’ve seen specials built around doo-wop groups, 60s and 70s pop-rock bands and soul music of the 70s and 80s. Those specials are popular with viewers and with good reason: nostalgia.
But while all those specials are just fine, perhaps it’s time for producers to tackle an era of music little seen on public television: the 1990s.
The 1990s were a great and goofy decade for music fans, with music ranging from Nirvana to Lou Bega singing “Mambo No. 5.” There was a lot of memorable music put out during that decade–but let’s the highlight the music that really matters, the goofball tunes that you’ll sing in the shower or bounce along to when you hear them in the car. Seriously, I love Pearl Jam, but how many people are going to go to a karaoke night hoping to hear someone tackle “Even Flow?”
The trick to casting these specials is that you need performers who had a hit or two that are hook-laden and worth revisiting. Any more than a couple of hits, and the bands are probably already working the casino circuit or headlining the local Hard Rock Cafe. And there are some tunes that were hits, but that no one wants to hear again (yes, Ben Fold Five’s “Brick,” I’m looking at you).
So what would your ultimate PBS 1990s music extravaganza look like? Here are my five top choices. Chime in with your choices in the comments below.
M.C. Hammer: ‘You Can’t Touch This’
How can you have any celebration of 1990s music without including either M.C. Hammer and/or Vanilla Ice? Of the two, M.C. Hammer is clearly the superior choice, since his music has held up a bit better over the years. Plus, who doesn’t want to see a 50-something year-old guy dress up in parachute pants on public television? Don’t answer that.
Only in the 1990s could a band known in the U.K. for its sometimes violent political protests against the Thatcher government have a worldwide hit that is essentially a chant sung by British rugby fans. The song has a couple of random hooks, including “I get knocked down, but I get up again” and “You drinks a whiskey drink, you drinks a vodka drink, you drinks a lager drink, you drinks a cider drink.” None of which explains why the song was named “Tubthumping.” Still, it’s a great singalong tune and I crank it up every time I hear it.
C+C Music Factory: ‘Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)’
The beauty of this song is that no one actually knows anything about the C+C Music Factory, other than this extremely catchy song with a hook so insidious it drills deep into your brain. So just about anyone could show up calling themselves C+C without anyone being the wiser. But this song was ubiquitous in the 1990s, showing up in commercials, sports programming and even the occasional wedding.
Ace Of Base: ‘The Sign’
This Swedish group has three big U.S. hits in 1990s, which gives us the chance to beef up the show with an extended jam. While “All That She Wants” and “Don’t Turn Around” were very popular, when I think of Ace of Base I think of “The Sign,” a tune with lyrics that make about as much sense as you expect from a Euro-disco band that sounds as if they learned English from watching American TV. The song is that odd mix of catchy and annoying, which when you think about it, describes most of the music of the 1990s.
Right Said Fred: ‘I’m Too Sexy’
Supermodels seemed to be everywhere in the 1990s, so it’s not surprising that a song spoofing the lifestyle of the rich and beautiful was a worldwide hit. The problem was that the song was the “Grandma Got Over By a Reindeer” of the decade: a tune that was funny that first time you heard it, but a lot less so the next 1,000 times it was on the radio. Still, it’s been more than 20 years and I’m willing to forgive and even celebrate this insidious bit of ear candy.