Tuesday, April 30, 1991

The Williams Brothers self-titled album released

The Williams Brothers

The Williams Brothers

Released: April 30, 1991

Peak: -- US, -- UK, -- CN, -- AU

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

Genre: folk rock/adult alternative


Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. People Are People [4:19]
  2. Strings [0:11]
  3. Can’t Cry Hard Enough(Etzioni/D. Williams) [3:12] (10/3/91, 42 US, 39 CB, 24 RR, 11 AC, 43 CN)
  4. Happy Man [4:03]
  5. It’s a Wonderful Life [3:42] (6/25/92, --)
  6. Miss This World (Etzioni) [2:53]
  7. Give It All Up for You (A. Williams/D. Williams/V. Williams) [3:38]
  8. The Family Room [4:47]
  9. Shimmering (Etzioni/A.Williams/D. Williams) [3:58]
  10. The Big Machine (Stewart/A. Williams) [4:23]
  11. Everybody Gets a Second Chance [4:48]

Songs written by Andrew and David Williams unless noted otherwise.

Total Running Time: 39:54


4.190 out of 5.00 (average of 9 ratings)

Awards: (Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

Unfortunately for the Williams brothers, they are more likely to be known, if remembered at all, as the nephews of famous singer Andy Williams. They might even be remembered for their guest appearance on an episode of The Partridge Family or their subsequent minor success as teen idols.

That’s a shame, because this album clearly separated the twins from the crooning style of their uncle as well as the teen idol pop they tried to create in the ‘70s. Their self-titled sophomore album is marked by “acoustic guitar, light rock-based tunes featuring smooth harmonies, uncluttered instrumentation, and thought-provoking lyricism.” AMG

The duo mined a similar territory as the likes of fellow underrated acts like Crowded House, but unlike that band, couldn’t even eke out a top 40 pop hit in their recording career despite having every bit as much pop sensibility. The closest the brothers came was the achingly beautiful Can't Cry Hard Enough, which stalled at #42.

It’s hard to understand why songs like the bouncy It’s a Wonderful Life or the lovely Miss This World couldn’t find an audience with adults seeking out songs with well-crafted pop hooks that weren’t being played to the point of exhaustion for the teen market. Chalk it up to marketing and being at the right place at the right time.

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Other Related DMDB Pages:

First posted 3/24/2008; last updated 9/3/2021.

Yes Union released



Released: April 30, 1991

Peak: 15 US, 7 UK, 15 CN

Sales (in millions): 0.5 US

Genre: progressive rock


Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. I Would Have Waited Forever (Anderson, Howe, Jonathan Elias) [6:32] (8/24/91, 49 AR)
  2. Shock to the System (Anderson, Howe, Elias) [5:08]
  3. Masquerade (Howe) [2:16]
  4. Lift Me Up (Rabin, Squire) [6:29] (4/20/91, 86 US, 1 AR)
  5. Without Hope You Cannot Start the Day (Anderson, Elias) [5:16]
  6. Saving My Heart (Rabin) [4:38] (6/22/91, 9 AR)
  7. Miracle of Life (Rabin, Mark Mancina) [7:30]
  8. Silent Talking (Anderson, Howe, Wakeman, Bruford, Elias) [3:57]
  9. The More We Live – Let Go (Squire, Billy Sherwood) [4:53]
  10. Angkor Wat (Anderson, Wakeman, Elias) [5:23]
  11. Dangerous (Look in the Light of What You’re Searching For) (Anderson, Elias) [3:37]
  12. Holding On (Anderson, Elias, Howe) [5:23]
  13. Evensong (Tony Levin, Bruford) [0:50]
  14. Take the Water to the Mountain (Anderson) [3:08]

Total Running Time: 59:37

The Players:

  • Jon Anderson (vocals, production)
  • Bill Bruford (drums)
  • Rick Wakeman (keyboards)
  • Steve Howe (guitar)
  • Trevor Rabin (guitar, keyboards)
  • Chris Squire (bass)
  • Alan White (drums, percussion)
  • Tony Kaye (keyboards)


2.509 out of 5.00 (average of 9 ratings)

About the Album:

In 1983, Yes enjoyed a career revitalization with 90125, an album featuring Trevor Rabin along with Yes alums Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Alan White, and Tony Kaye. By decade’s end, Anderson tired of the more commercial fare and reunited with Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, and Bill Bruford – the lineup from Yes’ classic early ‘70s years. Without rights to the Yes name, the foursome released a self-titled album under the name Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe.

The quartet launched work on a second album in 1990. At the same time, the Rabin-led version of Yes was heading back to the studio as well. “Bowing to record company pressure…Squire and Anderson came up with the idea of merging both projects, which resulted in the 1991 album Union.” WK “This was an album that couldn’t possibly have met the expectations inherent in the array of talent involved. The material is reasonably solid, and under ordinary circumstances this album would have been considered just fine, if not exceptional.” BE

It wasn’t really a collaborative effort, but a merger of the two separate projects. It is largely a second ABWH album with four cuts from the Rabin lineup mixed in. As for those four cuts, “The More We Live was the product of a new writing partnership between Chris Squire and Billy Sherwood, who had briefly been considered as replacement for Jon Anderson in the Rabin-led version of Yes. The song featured extensive (but uncredited) vocal and instrumental contributions from Sherwood.” WK

Two other Squire/Sherwood pieces, “Say Goodbye” and “Love Conquers All,” were demoed for the album but were not used. “The former appeared in a re-recorded version on the second World Trade album, and the latter was on Yesyears. Both original demos are on the first Conspiracy album by Squire/Sherwood.” WK

The most prominent song from this lineup was the “Trevor Rabin/Chris Squire-composed Lift Me Up [which] seems a forced exercise in heaviness.” BE It did, however, give the album its most successful song, landing on top of the album rock chart.

That song, “Saving My Heart and Miracle of Life were largely demos: Rabin had been planning to record them properly and was taken by surprise that they were used as they were (with vocals from Anderson added).” WK

Meanwhile, ABWH had collected demos for an album that was to be called Dialogue. “The only surviving piece to make it onto Union was Take the Water to the Mountain. Both the main riff of I Would Have Waited Forever and the 9/4 riff in Silent Talking can be heard on Steve Howe’s solo album Turbulence, released about the same time.” WK

Masquerade was a solo piece Howe had recorded some time before, included at the last minute when the record company requested a solo guitar piece from him.” WK It is “one of the most beautiful classical guitar showcases of his Yes career” BE and “earned the album a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.” WK

Among the ABWH material, “I Would Have Waited Forever shows off the group’s vocalizing (by Chris Squire and Jon Anderson) at its most melodic.” BE while Without Hope You Cannot Start the Day “seems more like a composed-by-numbers piece than a truly inspired song.” BEEvensong was a version of Bruford and session bassist Tony Levin’s duet from the ABWH tour.” WK

None of the material here would rate alongside the better (forget the best) tracks from any of the group's 1971-1974 albums. Perhaps the defects revealed the real purpose of this album, which wasn’t so much to make a definitive statement by any of the participants, but rather to show the flag of the reunited band, which it did.” BE

The album “was supported by a massive tour that filled arenas with at least two generations of fans.” BE Both the fans and the band praised it as one of Yes’ best tours. WK The album was the last studio effort by Yes to go gold, but was “not as well-received” WK as previous albums from the band. Union marked the final Yes album to feature Bill Bruford as the group returned to the Rabin-led lineup. However, Howe and Wakeman would return to the fold in 1996.

Notes: The European edition of the album also included “Give & Take,” which was the B-side of “Lift Me Up.”

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First posted 6/7/2011; updated 7/25/2021.

Tuesday, April 16, 1991

Temple of the Dog release only album

Temple of the Dog

Temple of the Dog

Released: April 16, 1991

Peak: 5 US, -- UK, 11 CN, 56 AU, 12 DF

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.1 world (includes US + UK)

Genre: grunge rock


Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to charts.

  1. Say Hello 2 Heaven [6:22] (11/7/92, 5 AR, 9 DF)
  2. Reach Down [11:11]
  3. Hunger Strike [4:03] (7/18/92, 4 AR, 7 MR, 51 UK, 50 CN, 7 DF)
  4. Pushin’ Forward Back (Ament/ Cornell/ Gossard) [3:44] (single, 28 DF)
  5. Call Me a Dog [5:02]
  6. Times of Trouble (Cornell/ Gossard) [5:41]
  7. Wooden Jesus [4:09]
  8. Your Saviour [4:02]
  9. Four Walled World (Cornell/ Gossard) [6:53]
  10. All Night Thing [3:52]
Songs written by Chris Cornell unless noted otherwise.

Total Running Time: 54:59

The Players:


3.871 out of 5.00 (average of 11 ratings)


(Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

The grunge-rock group Mother Love Bone had churned out an EP and an album before their lead singer, Andrew Wood, died of a heroin overdose in 1990. Former roommate Chris Cornell, who fronted Soundgarden, approached Mother Love Bone members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament on working together. They also recruited Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron and newbies Mike McCready on guitar and Eddie Vedder for background vocals.

This collective produced only one album before Cornell and Cameron returned to Soundgarden. In the fall of 1991, they reached its widest audience yet with their double-platinum breakthrough, Badmotorfinger, and “helped set the stage for Soundgarden’s mainstream breakthrough with SuperunknownSH in 1994. Meanwhile, the rest of Temple of the Dog formed Pearl Jam and their 1991 debut Ten became one of the biggest albums of the decade and now consistently lands in lists of the best albums of all time. The success of those bands cast a spotlight on Temple of the Dog and in 1992, more than a year after its initial release, the album found an audience to the tune of a top five, million-selling album.

The album has largely been seen as a tribute to Wood, but only Reach Down and Say Hello 2 Heaven were specifically written with him in mind. However, the album and band title also derived from Wood, specifically the lyrics in the Mother Love Bone song “Man of Golden Words” – “seems I’ve been living in the temple of the dog.” The rest of the material originated from songs Cornell was working on before Wood’s death. WK and then developed out of the new collective’s “natural chemistry.” SH It came together quickly; they only took 15 days during November and December of 1990 to record the album. WK Gossard described it as a “non-pressure filled” situation and “the easiest and most beautiful record that we’ve ever been involved with.” WK

“As a result, there’s a very loose, jam-oriented feel to much of the album, and while it definitely meanders at times, the result is a more immediate emotional impact. The album’s strength is its mournful, elegiac ballads, but thanks to the band’s spontaneous creative energy and appropriately warm sound, it’s permeated by a definite, life-affirming aura.” SH Entertainment Weekly’s David Brown said, “maybe because the musicians avoid the often-labored anthems they play with their own bands, the songs sound relaxed and airy without losing any of the crunch or drive of the best arena rock.” WK

“Keeping in mind that Soundgarden’s previous album was the overblown metallic miasma of Louder Than Love, the accessibly warm, relatively clean sound of Temple of the Dog is somewhat shocking, and its mellower moments are minor revelations in terms of Cornell’s songwriting abilities.” SH This album also offered “the first glimpse of Chris Cornell’s more straightforward, classic rock-influenced side.” SH “It isn’t just the band, either – he displays more emotional range than ever before, and his melodies and song structures are (for the most part) pure, vintage hard rock. In fact, it’s almost as though he's trying to write in the style of Mother Love Bone.” SH

The album also understandably “sounds like a bridge between Mother Love Bone’s theatrical ‘70s-rock updates and Pearl Jam’s hard-rocking seriousness. What is surprising, though, is that Cornell is the dominant composer, writing the music on seven of the ten tracks (and lyrics on all).” SH

One of those songs, Hunger Strike, became a duet between Cornell and Vedder, giving Vedder his first lead vocal work in a recording studio. WK The song was a natural first choice to plug the album that featured the now well-known groups. Rolling Stone magazine’s David Fricke said that for that song and “Reach Down”, “Temple of the Dog deserves immortality; those songs are proof that the angst that defined Seattle rock in the 1990s was not cheap sentiment.” WK

Fricke also points out “the irony of an album, made in great sadness, kick-starting the last great pop mutiny of the twentieth century.” WK “Consider the adage that funerals are more for the living than the dead; Temple of the Dog shows Wood's associates working through their grief and finding the strength to move on.” SH


In 2016, a deluxe edition of the album was released which included alternate mixes, demos, outtakes, and live recordings.

Resources and Related Links:

Other Related DMDB Pages:

First posted 7/2/20/2011; last updated 12/14/2023.

Monday, April 8, 1991

Simple Mind’s Real Life released

First posted 10/10/2020.

Real Life

Simple Minds

Released: April 8, 1991

Peak: 74 US, 2 UK, -- CN, 13 AU

Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.3 UK, 0.95 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: alternative rock


Song Title (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. Real Life (10/26/91, 34 UK)
  2. See the Lights (3/23/91, 40 US, 10 AR, 12 MR, 20 UK, 10 CN, 10 AU)
  3. Let There Be Love (3/23/91, 6 UK, 15 AU)
  4. Woman
  5. Stand by Love (6/22/91, 42 AR, 4 MR, 13 UK, 70 AU)
  6. Let the Children Speak
  7. African Skies
  8. Ghostrider
  9. Banging on the Door (intro)
  10. Banging on the Door
  11. Travelling Man
  12. Rivers of Ice
  13. When Two Worlds Collide

Total Running Time: 52:15

The Players:

  • Jim Kerr (vocals)
  • Charlie Burchill (guiar, keyboards)
  • Mel Gaynor (drums)


2.999 out of 5.00 (average of 7 ratings)


About the Album:

Simple Minds brokethrough in the American market in 1985, thanks to the #1 hit “Don’t You Forget About Me.” The follow-up album, Once Upon a Time, hit the top 10, but then the band went back to relative obscurity, peaking at #70 with 1989’s Street Fighting Years and at #74 with 1991’s Real Life.

Simple Minds – now officially a trio after the departure of keyboardist and founding member Mick MacNeil – maintained success in the UK, peaking at #2 with the album and landing four top-40 singles in the UK. The lead single, Let There Be Love, reached #6 while in the U.S. the first single was See the Lights. It did squeak into the top-40, but found greater success on the modern rock (#1) and album rock charts (#10). “The catchy” AMG Stand by Love was also a top-5 hit on the modern rock charts and reached #13 in the UK.

Some of the songs were reworked version of previous material. Let the Children Speak was based on “Theme for Great Cities” from 1981’s Sister Feelings Call. WK Travelling Man shared similarities to “Waterfront” from 1983’s Sparkle in the Rain. WK Similarly, When Two Worlds Collide is based on the title track. WK

From a critical standpoint, All Music Guide’s Alex Henderson noted “how much less inspired their writing had become by the early ‘90s. Though some of the songs are decent…the majority of them aren’t very memorable.” AMG “Casual listeners would be much better off sticking to the band's mid-‘80s work.” AMG While Real Life wasn’t terrible, it didn’t compare to the band’s trio of strong albums from 1982-85: New Gold Dream, Sparkle in the Rain, and Once Upon a Time. AMG

Resources and Related Links:

Massive Attack released Blue Lines

Blue Lines

Massive Attack

Released: April 8, 1991

Peak: -- US, 13 UK, -- CN, 69 AU

Sales (in millions): 0.2 US, 0.86 UK, 1.26 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: dance/electronica > trip-hop


Song Title (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to charts.

  1. Safe from Harm (5/27/91, 25 UK, 28 MR)
  2. One Love
  3. Blue Lines
  4. Be Thankful for What You Got (2/10/92, --)
  5. Five Man Army
  6. Unfinished Sympathy (2/11/91, 13 UK)
  7. Daydreaming (10/15/90, 81 UK)
  8. Lately
  9. Hymn of the Big Wheel (2/10/92, --)

Total Running Time: 45:08

The Players:

  • Robert “3D” Del Naja (graffiti artist)
  • Adrian “Tricky” Thaws (singer/rapper)
  • Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles (musician/composer)
  • Grant “Daddy G” Marshall (DJ)
  • Featured vocalists: Shara Nelson, Horace Andy, Tony Bryan


4.142 out of 5.00 (average of 21 ratings)


(Click on award to learn more).

Who Are Massive Attack?

Massive Attack formed in 1988 in Bristol, England. Members Grant Marshall, Robert Del Naja, Andrew Vowles, and Tricky came out of the Wild Bunch, a group of DJs and audio engineers, who started performing in 1982. They were, as a review in the Guardian said, “a collective who did not play any instruments themselves and employed other artists to augment – and in some cases – define their electronically driven sound and vision.” IB-114


Their sound, which would come to be known as trip-hop, was significantly attached to the city of Bristol. As a university town, it sees “a constant influx of young people from throughout the UK, which consistently generates fresh ranks of both audiences and instrumentalists.” IB-15 The University of Bristol “specializes in classical and avant-garde composition and even more arcane medieval forms. The DIY zeal of the punk scene was therefore counterbalanced by virtuosic players and traditional jazz hangs. Even now, a quick walk around Bristol…reveals a high concentration of stores selling instruments and production equipment.” IP-16

In the early ‘80s, the “Bristol sound” – which later became known as trip-hop – “fused angular reggare guitars, spacey reverb, and funk bass with the complex puercussive polyrhythm and chromatic dexterity more associated with free jazz..” IB-17/sup>

The Birth of Trip-Hop

Massive Attack’s debut album, Blue Lines, is celebrated as the beginning of trip-hop, the genre’s “first masterpiece.” AMG Mixmag’s Andy Permberton allegedly coined the term while music critic Simon Reynolds said Massive Attack are “widley regarded as the genre’s inventors.” IB-67 It “defined much of the decade to follow.” IB-67

In simplistic terms, prior to trip-hop if music “had a synth, it was electronic(a) or ‘techno;’ if it had a breakbeat of featured a black producer, it was typically couched as some variant of ‘rap.’” IB-22 Trip-hop was “music that relied on sampling and breakbeats, music that was for and by producers (people who liked record stores) and less for MCs – especially MCs in the American model.” IB-71

Trip-hop however, was more than just a blend of electronica and hip-hop. It also integrated acid house, “classic soul, dub reggae,..and even psychedelic rock.” URB Blue Lines displayed a “wide-ranging palette of influences; a rottedness in diasporic textures and production techniques; a merger of the atmospheric, introspective, and cerebral; and crucially, a subtle but distinct political edge.” IB-4 As Grant Marshall said, “We were trying to…create dance music for the head rather than feet.” IB-6 The sound has been associated with fellow Bristol artist Neneh Cherry as well as British groups Soul II Soul and Portishead.

British Urban Music

Trip-hop was a genre which essentially filtered “American hip-hop through the lens of British club culture.” AMG Blue Lines can be viewed “as the beginnings of a truly British form of urban music, one that spoke to the specific contours of black life in England.” IB-128 “Records like Blue Lines did important work precisely because they incorporated styles drawn from Britain’s anti-Conservative punks and black immigrants, and because they carried all of these worlds in the same breath.” IB-130

Relationship to Hip-Hop

In many ways, Blue Lines was “a hip-hop record – it relied on genre-defining techniques such as sampling and scratching. Many of its verses are unmistakably rapped rather than whispered or sung.” IB-77 Grant Marshall said, “in the beginning, the sampler was our main musical instrument…when we first formed Massive Attack, basically we were DJs who went into the studio with our favorite records and created tracks.” IB-112

Music for After the Club

However, while “most hip-hop of the era was made explicitly for blasting from car stereos or banging away at the club, Blue Lines represented a shift toward records made for the lounge or the bedroom,” IB-78 sometimes described as “headphone hip-hop, slowed down moon music for darkened bedroom listening.” IB-65 As Marshall said, “We were making the type of music for after the club. You’ve come home and you’re off your head and you want to relax.” IB-22

The genre’s “dark moodiness…exists in that twilight realm between sleep and waking” RV creating “a stylish, nocturnal sense of scene that encompassed music from rare groove to dub to dance.” AMG It “balances dark, diva-led club jams along the lines of Soul II Soul with some of the best British rap (vocals and production) heard up to that point, occasionally on the same track.” AMG

“Safe from Harm”

“The opener Safe from Harm is the best example” AMG of “this new breed of sound and all of the throbbing ecstasy it entails.” RV It features “ghostly whooshes and a dose of reverb, but it paired rasped or whispered stanzas of rhymes with [singer Shara] Nelson’s searing diva hooks.” IB-47 She “lays the vocals over…pulsing beats and balances Tricky Kid’s monotone rap style.” RV Videos for this song and three others from the album “brought both Tricky and Nelson into the limelight, making them the faces of Massive Attack.” IB-113

“One Love”

“Even more than hip-hop or dance, however, dub is the big touchstone on Blue Lines. Most of the productions aren’t quite as earthy as you’d expect, but the influence is palpable in the atmospherics of the songs, like the faraway electric piano on One Love (with beautiful vocals from the near-legendary Horace Andy).” AMG

It’s a “model of simplicity with its drum machine-beat, barely-there bass throb, and iconic electric piano – purloined from a lengthier Mahavishnu Orchestra workout – which has been looped to sound like a hammered guitar roof.” IB-46 While not complex, “the track was an adept erger of new production techniques and a DJ’s sense of how funk textures might interlock like puzzle pieces.” IB-46 The song “cements an unmistakable psychic tone that elevates Blue Lines beyond the hodge-podge of singles and castoffs that often characterized the hip-hop or dance album format.” IB-33

“Five Man Army”

Five Man Army “makes the dub inspiration explicit, with a clattering percussion line, moderate reverb on the guitar and drums, and Andy’s exquisite falsetto flitting over the chorus.” AMG It is “a highpoint of the album and the one most evidently an inheritor of the UK reggae subgenres that prefigure it.” IB-34 The track is “all throbbing, spidery bass, reverb-soaked-up-picks on the guitar syncopated rim clicks and little riffs on something that sounds like a synthesized melodica.” IB-34

“Be Thankful for What You’ve Got”

This is a “lovely, if lesser known, paean to the virtues of gratitude.” IB-72 It “is quite close to the smooth soul tune conjured by its title.” AMG “It’s fair to say that the message of this song is precisely the opposite of what was on offer in most American hip-hop.” IB-73

The original version of “Be Thankful for What You’ve Got” was by William DeVaughn in 1974. “It’s languid, funky, with an insistent beat layered in the sumptuous instrumentation so typical of the era’s productions.” IB-75 Rather than just sample a few bars of the song, though, Massive Attack “produced what amounts to a thoughtful cover, but using production techniques suited to the hip-hop era.” IB-73

“Unfinished Sympathy”

This is “the group’s first classic production…a tremendously moving fusion of up-tempo hip-hop and dancefloor jam with slow-moving, syrupy strings.” AMG It is “one of the most widely discussed ‘electronic’ singles of the decade and a landmark production.” IB-118 “Many critics, musicians, and casual listeners consider ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ to be the most beautiful ‘dance’ record ever produced.” IB-115


This song “is, in many ways, a rather pure distillation of the Massive sound. Musically, it is built around an iconic beat, and a sample of the first sections of Beninois composer Wally Badarou’s instrumental ‘Mambo’ from 1984. It’s all atmospheric washes of keys and airy piano fills over a loping, expressive puercussion.” IB-54

“Hymn of the Big Wheel”

“By the time Blue Lines comes to a close with the layered orchestrations of Hymn of the Big Wheel, it’s clear Moby, Fatboy Slim, Portishead and Radiohead owe Massive Attack a debt of gratitude.” RV “It isn’t just a visionary soul record; it’s also a better slow-sex album than any other we can name.” VB

Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Massive Attack
  • AMG All Music Guide review by John Bush
  • IB Ian Bourland (2020). 33 1/3: Blue Lines. Bloomsbury Publishing: New York, NY.
  • RV The Review (October – November 2001; Vol. 128: numbers 12-23). “100 Greatest Albums of All Time” by Clarke Speicher
  • URB URB magazine (July 2003). “The 50 Greatest Albums Ever.”
  • VB Vibe (Dec. 1999). “100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century.” Pages 154-164.

First posted 3/22/2008; last updated 11/13/2023.

Thursday, April 4, 1991

Today in Music (1891): “The Laughing Song” hit #1

The Laughing Song

George Washington Johnson

Writer(s): George W. Johnson (see lyrics here)

First Charted: April 4, 1891

Peak: 110 PM (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 0.65 video, 0.005 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“The music of black America did not make a major impact on mainstream recorded music until the blues and jazz explosion of the 1920s, but African-Americans played an important role in the recording industry from its very beginning.” NRR However, as far back as 1877, PM George Washington Johnson – a man who was born into slavery in Virginia in October 1846 – NRR made recordings on tin foil and became “the recording industry’s first widely-known star.” PM

He was making a marginal living as a street singer in New York City, displaying “a special talent for whistling and for laughing songs.” NRR In the spring of 1890, Johnson recorded two songs he had sung “for coins on the streets.” NRR The two songs – “The Laughing Song” and “The Whistling Coon” – “were most likely the two best selling recordings of the entire decade of the 1890s.” NRR

His songs were “full of slurs and dropped ‘g’s.’” NRR They were considered “catchy and amusing, but they basically mocked blacks, playing on the novelty of a genial black man making fun of his own race. Some of the language used would not be acceptable today…This was what a black man had to sing in order to be allowed to record in the segregated America of the 1890s.” NRR

Johnson was credited with writing the song when the sheet music was published in 1894 although “some of the verses suggest a person with greater education.” NRR Frank Banta, a well known white pianist, was listed as the arranger. Sadly, because artists didn’t received royalties at the time, when he died in his sixties in 1914, he had fallen into poverty “in a roach-infested tenement room in Harlem, alone and forgotten.” NRR


First posted 6/25/2024.