Friday, December 21, 1990

50 years ago: Artie Shaw’s “Frenesi” hit #1


Artie Shaw

Writer(s): Albert Dominguez/Ray Charles/S.K. Russell (see lyrics here)

First Charted: July 27, 1940

Peak: 113 US, 12 GA, 13 HP, (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, -- video, -- streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Artie Shaw developed a reputation during the swing era (roughly 1935-1945) as one of jazz’s finest clarinetists. He also served as a bandleader, helming five different orchestras over the years, “all of them distinctive and memorable.” AMG He got his start as a teenager with Johnny Cavallaro’s dance band in 1925 and was later associated with Willie “The Lion” Smith. He scored his first hit on his own in 1936 and hit #1 with 1938’s “Begin the Beguine.”

After that song’s success, Shaw struggled with the business of leading a band and moved to Mexico for a couple months. After his return, he recorded “Frenesi,” a song he believed was a native folk tune in the public domain. SS “With a large thirty-three piece orchestra, the thoroughly engaging Latin-flavored melody was given a brisk, swirling, very danceable arrangement in fox trot tempo.” SS It became the biggest hit of his career and one of the biggest #1 songs in chart history.

It turned out the song was not part of the public domain as Shaw thought, a mistake he says cost him a half million dollars. SS Alberto Dominguez originally wrote it for the marimba and then others adapted it as a jazz standard. WK The word “frenesi” is the Spanish equal to the word “frenzy” WK but according to the song’s lyrics, “Frenesi” means “please love me.” TY1

Shaw’s recording made it the first million-selling song by a Mexican writer. TY1 The success helped “popularize Brazilian rhythms in jazz and pop music.” DJ-60 Others who recorded the song included Les Brown, Dave Brubeck, Betty Carter, Tommy Dorsey, The Four Freshman, Eydie Gorme, Woody Herman, Earl Hines, Harry James, Glenn Miller, Cliff Richard, Linda Ronstadt, and Frank Sinatra. WK


First posted 12/21/2011; last updated 4/5/2023.

Monday, November 19, 1990

Milli Vanilli is stripped of its Best New Artist Grammy: November 19, 1990

Originally posted November 19, 2011.

German music producer Frank Farian was the creator of Milli Vanilli, a dance-pop outfit from the late ‘80s. They were presented as the duo of Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan and found success quickly. In October 1988, the single “Girl You Know It’s True” hit the UK, peaking at #3. It charted a couple months later in the U.S. and climbed all the way to the #2 spot.

They proved to have ample songs to go the distance. The next three singles, “Baby Don’t Forget My Number”, “Girl, I’m Gonna Miss You”, and “Blame It on the Rain” were all #1 hits in the U.S. A fifth single, “All or Nothing”, went to #4. All five songs appeared on the 1989 U.S. album Girl You Know It’s True, a reworked version of the previously released German album All or Nothing. Not surprisingly, the U.S. album logged eight weeks atop the Billboard 200 and sold six-million copies.

The duo’s commercial clout translated to Grammy clout as well when they took home the 1989 trophy for Best New Artist, beating out Tone Loc, Neneh Cherry, Soul II Soul, and the Indigo Girls. The only problem was that Rob and Fab didn’t sing. While the original German album only featured them on the cover, the U.S. version went a step further and actually credited the pair with the vocals. In actuality, the dancer-models were hired to serve as the public face for Brad Howell, Johnny Davis, and Charles Shaw – the session musicians who did the actual heavy lifting.

Shaw publicly admitted the ruse which supported suspicions that Rob and Fab were lip-synching live performances. The duo pressured Farian to let them sing on the next album. Rather than cave, he confessed the deception to the press. Soon the Grammy cops came knocking and demanded the return of the ill-gotten award. It is the only time the Grammys have revoked an award.

And here are Rob and Fab, uh, not singing at the Grammys.

Resources and Related Links:

Saturday, November 3, 1990

Vanilla Ice “Ice Ice Baby” becomes the first rap song to hit #1

Ice Ice Baby

Vanilla Ice

Writer(s): David Bowie, Queen, Earthquake, Vanilla Ice (see lyrics here)

Released: August 22, 1990

First Charted: September 8, 1990

Peak: 12 US, 12 CB, 3 GR, 12 RR, 6 RB, 14 UK, 11 CN, 13 AU, 5 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.5 US, 0.6 UK, 3.12 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 453.84 video, 366.85 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“The success of ‘Ice Ice Baby’ is a crucial pivot-point in the history of rap music.” SG The beginning of hip-hop can be traced back to 1973 when a Jamaican-born teenage DJ known as Kool Herc “played records at a back-to-school party in the rec room of his Bronx apartment building, cutting between the percussive breaks of funk singles and accidentally birthing a whole genre.” SG Six years later, rap hit the mainstream when the Sugarhill Gang hit the top 40 with “Rapper’s Delight,” “In which they rapped europhric rhymes…over the groove from Chic’s disco hit ‘Good Times.’” SG It would be another 11 years before the genre would score its first #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The genre had largely been viewed as an underground movement among the Black community and a fad. However, after Run-DMC took their remake of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” to the top 10 in 1986, rap infilitrated the charts more and more. In the late ‘80s, there were pop songs which integrated rap, but it wasn’t until the fall of 1990 and “Ice Ice Baby” that a full-fledged rap song ascended to the throne.

The Dallas-born Robert Van Winkle (aka “Vanilla Ice”) was attacked for being a white kid from the suburbs who was hijacking a largely urban Black musical form. He also received flack for the “hyper-obvious sample of a rock-radio standby,” SG the “spacey, tingling bassline” SG from 1981’s “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie. While sampling had been a norm in hip-hop, the success of “Ice Ice Baby” sparked record companies and artists to demand credit and compensation, making it too expensive for many rap producers to continued sampling as they had before.

The song didn’t just borrow from “Under Pressure.” Its hook was lifted from a chant used for years by Black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha that director Spike Lee used in his 1988 musical School Daze. Others claimed to have written the beat and much of the “memorably ridiculous song” SG with its irrestible hooks and absurdly nonsensical lyrics. Vanilla Ice “sounds clumsily enthusiastic, like he’s trying to project cool reserve even though he can barely believe that he’s getting a chance to rap on record.” SG

Vanilla Ice fell in love with hip-hop via the 1984 movie Breakin’. In 1987, he won a talent contest at the Dallas nightclub City Lights, where he was a regular and usually the only white face in the crowd. He became a house act opening for headliners like Paula Abdul, Public Enemy, and Tone Loc. FB The club’s DJ Earthquake produced some songs for Ice which were released by Tommy Quon, the club owner. A reworked version of Wild Cherry’s 1976 hit “Play That Funky Music” was released as a single. It flopped, but Darrel J, a disc jockey at WAGH in Columbus, Georgia, started playing the B-side, “Ice Ice Baby.” FB It took off at radio and a video was made which started getting played on cable networks The Box and BET. Ice signed to a major label who repackaged his 1989 indie-label debut Hooked as To the Extreme and rushed “Ice Ice Baby” to the national market.


  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Vanilla Ice
  • FB Fred Bronson (2007). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (4th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 771.
  • SG Stereogum (10/20/2021). “The Number Ones” by Tom Breihan
  • WK Wikipedia

Related Links:

First posted 10/17/2022; last updated 6/18/2023.

Saturday, October 27, 1990

The Righteous Brothers hit #1 with “Unchained Melody” 25 years after it first charted

Unchained Melody

Les Baxter

Writer(s): Alex North/Hy Zaret (see lyrics here)

First Charted: April 9, 1955

Peak: 12 US, 17 CB, 13 HR, 10 UK, 15 AU (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 0.06 video, -- streaming

Unchained Melody

The Righteous Brothers

First Charted: July 10, 1965

Peak: 4 US, 5 CB, 2 GR, 4 HR, 3 RR, 12 AC, 6 RB, 14 UK, 9 CN, 17 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, 1.17 UK, 3.24 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 135.26 video, 279.3 streaming

Awards (Baxter):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (Righteous Brothers):

Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Thanks to Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and a pottery wheel, a quarter-century old classic was re-introduced to the hearts of radio listeners and record buyers in 1990. When Bobby Hatfield belted out “Unchained Melody” in that famous scene from the movie Ghost, it wasn’t the first time the public heard the song. It wasn’t even the first time they’d heard that version.

By some counts, the song has been recorded over 500 times, making it one of the most recorded of the 20th century. WK However, the one that has become the best known is the 1965 recording by the Righteous Brothers (although technically a solo performance by Bobby Hatfield). WK “With Phil Spector’s epic production and Hatfield’s emotion-packed tenor soaring to stratospheric heights, it’s a record designed to reduce anyone separated from the one they love to ‘a pile of mush.’” SS

The song first surfaced under the Righteous Brothers moniker in 1965 as a B-side to their single “Hung on You.” When DJs took to “Melody” instead, the song climbed to #4 on the U.S. pop charts and #14 in the U.K. A quarter century later, it re-gained airplay thanks to Ghost, but was only commercially available as a single in a newly recorded version. In an unsual occurrence, both versions charted and hit the U.S. top 20. On the AC charts, the 1990 version went #1, while the 1965 version scaled to the top of the U.K. charts.

The song originated in an obscure prison film called Unchained in 1955. Todd Duncan sang it for the film, WK but Les Baxter took it to the top of the Billboard charts. Roy Hamilton and Al Hibbler each topped the R&B charts with the song. In the U.K., Jimmy Young took it to #1. All told, the song can make the unique claim of topping four different charts with five different versions in three different decades.


First posted 10/27/2011; last updated 3/24/2023.