Thursday, April 29, 1999

On This Day (1899): Arthur Collins hit #1 with “Hello Ma Baby”

Hello Ma Baby

Arthur Collins

Writer(s): Joseph E. Howard, Ida Emerson (see lyrics here)

First Charted: April 15, 1899

Peak: 14 PM (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 0.51 video, 0.02 streaming

Awards (Arthur Collins):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (Len Spencer):

About the Song:

Joseph E. Howard and Ida Emerson were a husband-and-wife songwriting team who performed in vaudeville before becoming stars in Chicago and New York. SS Their “most celebrated song” SS was “Hello Ma Baby,” one of the first mainstream songs to use ragtime-styled syncopation. SS The melody is similar to a piano piece by Claude Debussy called “Le Petit Nègre.” WK

“Hello Ma Baby” was also notable as the first well-known song to refer to the telephone. The word “hello” was primarily associated with telephone use and the subject matter of the song regards a man who only knows his girlfriend via the telephone. WK Howard got the idea when he heard an African-American porter say the phrase when talking to his sweetheart on the phone. SF Less than 10% of American households owned phones at the time. WK

The song was recorded in 1899 by Len Spencer and Arthur Collins. Collins, “one of the most prolific and popular of pioneer recording artists,” SF was known as “King of the Ragtime Singers” SF and had the more successful version. The Music Trades declared it “one of the best coons songs that [has] been published in a long time.” SS Coon songs are “typically held in low regard from a modern perspective,” SS largely because of the racist nature of the lyrics and caricatures of African-Americans on the sheet music. WK Peter C. Muir, however, argues that it was “the first genre to develop in the commercial mainstream that makes extensive use of secular black music.” SS Music historian Steve Sullivan says “Hello Ma Baby” “finds the genre at its peak.” SS

It was also said it “can be heard in every flat in Harlem where there’s a piano, and on the street corners you can hear ‘Hello Ma Baby’ being sung by the boys who congregate there.” SS Alex Harms said it had “sold more rapidly than any other song that they had published.” SS The song experienced a revival when the character of Michigan J. Frog sang it in the 1955 Warner Bros. cartoon One Froggy Evening.


First posted 4/16/2021; last updated 9/5/2023.

Monday, April 19, 1999

Fish released Raingods with Zippos

Raingods with Zippos


Released: April 19, 1999

Peak: -- US, 57 UK

Sales (in millions): --

Genre: neo-progressive rock


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

  1. Tumbledown (Dick, Simmonds) [5:52]
  2. Mission Statement (Dick, Rick Astley, Paul Thorn) [4:00]
  3. Incomplete (Dick, Antwi, Doug Millet) [3:44] (3/22/99, --)
  4. Faith Healer (Alex Harvey, Hugh McKenna) [5:01]
  5. Rites of Passage (Dick, Simmonds) [7:42]
  6. Plague of Ghosts: i. Old Haunts (Dick, Turrell, Daghorn) [3:13]
  7. Plague of Ghosts: ii. Digging Deep (Dick, Turrell, Daghorn) [6:49]
  8. Plague of Ghosts: iii. Chocolate Frogs (Dick, Turrell, Daghorn) [4:04]
  9. Plague of Ghosts: iv. Waving at Stars (Dick, Turrell, Daghorn) [3:12]
  10. Plague of Ghosts: v. Raingods Dancing (Dick, Turrell, Daghorn) [4:16]
  11. Plague of Ghosts: vi. Wake-Up Call (Make It Happen) (Dick, Turrell, Daghorn) [3:32]

Total Running Time: 54:24

The Players:

  • Derek W. Dick, aka “Fish” (vocals)
  • Steven Wilson, Robin Boult, Till Paulmann, Phil Grieve (guitars)
  • Bruce Watson (guitar, mandolin)
  • Steve Vantsis (bass)
  • Mickey Simmonds, Tony Turrell (keyboards, piano, programming)
  • Dave Stewart (drums)
  • Davey Crichton (violin, fiddle)
  • Elisabeth Antwi (backing vocals, vocals on “Incomplete”)
  • Nicola King, Tony King (backing vocals)
  • Mo Warden (spoken outro vocal on “Wake-Up Call”(
  • Mark Daghorn (programming)
  • Elliot Ness (string arrangements, sampling)


3.166 out of 5.00 (average of 18 ratings)

Awards: (Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

Fish’s sixth solo effort “was released on the Roadrunner record label, more well known for its heavy metal releases. Raingods with Zippos is often hailed one of Fish's greatest achievements along with his 1990 debut Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors. It is the first of three Fish albums to be produced by Elliot Ness.” WK

It functions almost as two albums, opening “with half an hour of commercial sounding songs” BJ that are “a cross between [previous albums] Suits and Sunsets on Empire.” BJ The second half, a six-part epic titled “Plague of Ghosts,” is “much more experimental and [has] more atmospheric songs on it.” BJ It “is more like Vigil, [Fish’s debut] and Misplaced Childhood, [his peak with former group Marillion] with a Porcupine Tree sauce.” BJ The dichotomy makes the album “too unbalanced” ES and makes it feel “like ‘Plague of Ghosts’ plus 6 bonus tracks, of which some are good and some are just mediocre.” ES

On another note, the “production [is] very good, [and the] recording sublime.” DK “Lyrically it’s a very strong album, probably his most personal ever. Many lyrics seem to deal with marriage and mainly the rut of many years of marriage.” BJ

Things kick off with Tumbledown, “the first of the two Mickey Simmonds collaborations on the album.” BJ “It takes a while to get used to the strange structure and arrangements but the song definitely rocks” ES with “very agressive guitars and as always very good drums by Dave Stewart.” DK It “starts with a nice piano intro played by Master Mickey,” BJ the “type that an experienced piano player plays if you ask him to improvise a bit.” RS “After about a minute and a half the song kicks in with a lot of heavy guitars and an eighties-sounding synthesizer.” BJ “The contrast between the rough middle part and the emotional keyboard bits at the beginning and end are brilliant,” ES “similar to “Genesis’ ‘Firth of Fifth.’” BJ “The piano outtro only strengthens that feeling.” BJ “since the same piano closes the song, more or less closing the circle.” RS “The song itself is a powerful song” BJ “with a very catchy chorus that stays in your mind for a long time,” RS but it is “not the strongest poetry Fish has ever written.” BJ

Mission Statement is both “very simple [and]…very joyful. It’s straight and it’s tough.” JJ “It’s a sort of groovy cross between ‘Radar Love’ and [Fish’s own] ‘Somebody Special.’” BJ with its “nice driving feeling to it.” RS On one hand, the song has been called “one of the most uplifting things Fish has ever done” ES although there is no doubt that while “it definitely swings [it]…has too much of a seventies sound.” BJ It also has been criticized that “the lyrics are weak, maybe the result of co-writing with Rick Astley,” RS [“Never Gonna Give You Up”] at one of “Fish’s writing sessions at the Castle Marouatte.” BJ

Incomplete was “another offspring of the Marouatte sessions, this time a duet with singer Elizabeth Antwi,” BJ a duet partner whose voice, at least in one critic’s opinion “is a bit too low and dark.” ES while another says that her voice and Fish’s “mix beautifully.” RS “The comparision with ‘Just Good Friends’ [another Fish duet with a female singer] is obvious. Nevertheless, this is a completely different track. It's even more subtle, ‘cause the aforementioned song almost was a rock-ballad.” JJ

“The lyrics are probably the most touching Fish has ever written, in the vein of ‘Say it with Flowers’; thoughts and feelings from many years of marriage.” BJ “It is an emotional song, honest and sincere,” RS and “it touches something inside.” RS “Intense, that is the best description of the song.” RS

Tilted Cross “wouldn’t be out of place on any Peter Gabriel album…Nice acoustic guitar” BJ which is reminiscent of Dream Theater’s ‘Take Away My Pain.’ BJ “The music is very atmospheric and the melody is beautiful. Pure and fragile.” JJ While one reviewer said the song was “too much like an old-fashioned folky ballad” ES and another called it “simple” RS and a “ballad-like mourning song” RS a third critic said the “Celtic influences create a perfect atmosphere for the lyrics;” BJ “‘I left my love in a grave and I marked it with a cross that stands so straight and so true’ isn’t exactly what you call bedtime reading stories.” BJ It is “the second Bosnia song of Fish, this time about landmines and losing your loved ones.” RS

Faith Healer “starts with an intro very reminiscent to Genesis’ ‘Turn It on Again’ but then turns into a very heavy rock song with roaring guitars.” BJ The “straightforward rock” JJ is a point of contention for critics; a live version of the song appeared a decade before on the “Big Wedge” single, but “the new version is much heavier,” BJ Vocally, one critic thinks Fish gets to “use his more theatrical voice on it (the way he uses his voice best)” RS while another weighs in saying that “Fish’s vocals sound too thin for the song.” BJ There also seems to be some agreement that the song is not helped by a “screachy violin solo” ES where a synthesizer solo was originally. BJ

The resulting opinions range from a sense that the song “is completely out of place on the album,” BJ to a feeling that it “seems to fit in very well.” DK There does seem to be some sense that even if the song isn’t a good fit musically, the lyrical connection may justify its presence. JJ “After all the ‘broken’ things in the previous songs, it is good to hear a possible solution to all the problems.” RS

Rites of Passage garners significant praise from various reviewers, being called “Excellent!” BJ and “Brilliant!,” ES “an intense song” RS that is “very touching” BJ and “the most beautiful ballad Fish has produced in years,” ES and “simply one of the best things Fish has ever done.” JJ Musically, it is “a slow, moody piece with piano, synthesized flutes and a fretless bass.” BJ In addition, the “very weird and experimental instrumental” BJ “final two and a half minutes of ambiance sets the perfect mood for the transition into the second half of the album.” ES “It slowly evolves from a regular song to the point where you are ready to dive into a musical journey.” RS

Plague of Ghosts is a “25 minute epic” BJ that fills the second half of the album. It “is the ultimate nightmare in the style of Waters’ Pros & Cons of Hitchhiking.” BJ It is really “the overlapping title of six ‘sub-songs’, since none of the musical themes…returns in one of the other.” RS Regardless, it “is definitely the highlight of the album” BJ and “another highlight in Fish’s long career.” JJ One critic even says it “is certainly the best thing our Scottish friend has ever done” ES while another opinion is that “it’s the most experimental and brave thing Fish has ever done since leaving Marillion.” BJ “It’s ambient…but it’s miles away from the ‘ambient’ you’ll hear in a nightclub. It’s more like Misplaced Childhood meets Yes meets Peter Gabriel meets Porcupine Tree experimenting with a drum computer.” BJ

The first part, Old Haunts, is “very much like a mid-seventies Yes song, like ‘Awaken’ or ‘Soon’. In fact, you can easily imagine Jon Anderson singing the lyrics.” BJ It offers “wonderful atmospheric singing against a soundscape of synth and slide guitar effects.” ES

Digging Deep, the second piece of the “Ghosts” epic, is “a heavy rock song” JJ featuring “heavy electronic drumbeats,” JJ “a catchy chorus and spoken lyrics in the style of ‘Black Canal’ and ‘Jungle Ride” BJ that recalls Peter Gabriel. JJ “There’s also a very distinct Steve Wilson guitar here.” BJ In fact, the song could be described as “‘Fool’s Gold’ (Stone Roses) meets Porcupine Tree [Wilson’s band]. It rocks but at the same time it’s very danceable” ES thanks to “a strong rhythmic section.” RS

Apparently, ““Fish once had the plan to record a whole album of ‘beat poetry’ called Chocolate Frogs,” ES which becomes the title for part 3 of “Ghosts.” It “starts with a spoken part, which is very reminiscent to the beginning of ‘Bitter Suite’, and as if self-plagiarism isn’t bad enough the sung part of the song almost precisely follows the melody line of Floyd’s ‘Sorrow’. The music of this part is very weird and ambient creating a very spooky atmosphere” BJ “including an bit of singing in old English style.” ES “This is pure prog!” RS

Part 4, Waving at Stars is “more melodic, starting to go back to the Marillion era;” RS perhaps reminding one of “Heart of Lothian.” BJ “A drum computer starts and heavy basses and acoustic guitar follow…Later on a piano starts playing, leading into the next part of the song.” BJ “A slight ‘Welcome to the Machine’-feel is radiated by this song. It’s a quiet lead part combined with a hectic Prodigy like drum computer rhythm in the background. Brilliant combination creating a very special sound.” ES

Part 5, Raingods Dancing, is “a calm piece which includes a lyrical reprise of ‘Tumbledown’…Later on there’s another guitar solo… it’s a perfect mid-epic song.” BJ “Drum computer makes place for piano and cello. Beautiful emotional track.” ES “The musical journey has taken us back to Misplaced Childhood.” RS

The epic concludes with Wake-up Call (Make it Happen), “the obligatory happy ending.” BJ “After a piano/vocal intro the song turns into a semi-acoustic track with lots of Porcupine Tree-ish slide guitar and building towards a feeling of hope.” ES “Lyrically this could very well be the answer to the negative aspects of marriage which are so present in the earlier songs.” BJ

Oddly, “after 25 minutes you would expect that you are relieved if the song ends, but this song ends too soon! The chorus that fades should have been repeated 2 or 3 times more, then the ending would have been complete.” RS Still, the piece as a whole is hailed as “a fabulous masterpiece” RS featuring “Fish at his best! Great song, great lyrics, great musicianship!” DK

In the end, “Raingods “is a very emotional and atmospheric album” JJ that while uneven, still has “two beautiful ballads, a gem of song and the best epic Fish has written.” JJ As JJ concludes, “I don’t want any other album in my player until the candles that I lit are burnt out.” JJ

Resources and Related Links:

Last updated 6/13/2021.

Monday, April 12, 1999

Backstreet Boys “I Want It That Way” released

I Want It That Way

Backstreet Boys

Writer(s): Andreas Carlsson, Max Martin (see lyrics here)

Released: April 12, 1999

First Charted: April 16, 1999

Peak: 6 US, 13 BA, 12 GR, 13 RR, 110 AC, 11 A40, 11 UK, 2 CN, 2 AU, 19 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 3.0 US, 1. UK, 7.81 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 0.5 radio, -- video, 1182.89 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

The boy band Backstreet Boys formed in Orlando, Florida in 1993. Their self-titled 1996 debut album sold ten million copies worldwide. In 1997, their sophomore effort moved five million copies in Europe alone. That same year, a compilation of tracks from the two albums sold eleven million copies in the United States. It all set them up for their greatest blockbuster – the 1999 Millennium album. It gave the group their first chart-topping album in the U.S. and moved a whopping 25 million copies worldwide.

The lead single from the album was “I Want It That Way.” The mid-tempo pop ballad topped the charts in more than 25 countries and became the group’s signature song. It was nominated for three Grammys, including Record and Song of the Year.

The song “tells of a romantic relationship strained by matters of emotional or physical distance.” WK While it generally received acclaim for its catchiness, there were questions about its lyrics. Ben Westhoff of LA Weekly said it “makes zero sense” WK and wondered what the word “that” in the title even means. WK PopDust’s Andrew Unterberger said the phrase “’I want it that way’ is simply devoid of inherent meaning.” WK

Still, Unterberger acknowledged that “it’s still stirring, beautiful in its own weird way, and undeniably unforgettable.” WK’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine called it “an infectious song” WK and Entertainment Weekly’s Jim Farber said it was “the bubblegum ballad of the year.” WK Band member Kevin Richardson agreed that “ultimately the song really doesn’t make much sense” WK but said Max Martin, one of the song’s co-writers, had limited knowledge of English at the time. WK

The other songwriter, Andreas Carlsson, dubbed Martin “the Backstreet Boy’s sixth member.” SF The language barrier didn’t keep Martin – who previously sang in a metal band SF – from becoming one of the most successful songwriters in history. He previously wrote the #1 hit “Baby One More Time” for Britney Spears. He went on to write or co-write twenty-five Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers for Katy Perry, Maroon 5, Taylor Swift, the Weeknd, and others. Only Paul McCartney and John Lennon hd more #1 songs and songwriters.


Related Links:

First posted 7/25/2023.

Saturday, April 10, 1999

TLC “No Scrubs” hit #1

No Scrubs


Writer(s): Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, Kandi Burruss, Tameka "Tiny" Cottle, Lisa Lopes (see lyrics here)

Released: February 2, 1999

First Charted: February 19, 1999

Peak: 14 BB, 113 BA, 2 GR, 2 RR, 39 A40, 110 RB, 3 UK, 12 CN, 17 AU, 20 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 5.0 US, 2.4 UK, 8.26 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 0.4 radio, 434.20 video, 1002.04 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

TLC’s 1994 sophomore album, Crazy Sexy Cool, sold 15 million copies worldwide and gave the trio two #1 singles, making them “the most popular girl group on the planet.” SG It would be five years before their next release, thanks to an exploitive contract that forced them to file for bankruptcy. However, they roared back in 1999 with Fan Mail and the lead single, “No Scrubs.”

In the first line of the song, TLC explain that, “A scrub is a guy who thinks he’s fly and is also known as a busta — always talking ’bout what he wants and just sits on his broke ass.” “The members of TLC are sick of hearing pickup lines from chumps, and they spend the song telling the world exactly what they don’t want – deadbeats, guys who look like trash, anyone with the temerity to hang out the side of his best friend’s ride trying to holler at them.” SG

“It’s mean but pretty. It disrupts and soothes at the same time. There’s a strange beauty to the way those voices drift over the complicated drum patterns and sparkly chopped-up guitar notes. When the backup singers come together to softly murmur the song’s title again and again, they sound almost mystical.” SG

The song was written by producer Kevin “She’kspere” Briggs with Kandi Burruss and Tameka “Tiny” Cottle, former members of Xscape, another R&B girl group. They had four top-ten hits and three platinum albums before LaTocha Scott left for a solo career. Burruss and Cottle intended to move forward as the group KAT. When they reworked a song by She’kspere as “No Scrubs,” they weren’t intending to shop it, but after he played it for TLC’s producer Dallas Austin he wanted it for his group. FB

It is “a gleaming, gorgeous example” SG of the “the sleek alien textures and jittery herky-jerk drum programming that Timbaland brought to the R&B mainstream,” SG although he didn’t work with TLC on the song. “A fluttering acoustic guitar line dissolves into a frantic popping sound. When the beat kicks in, the layers of sound pile up – the humming synth-strings, the stop-start drums, the dancing hi-hat.” SG

Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins sang lead on every previous TLC song, but Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas took the mike for “No Scrubs.” She “doesn’t have T-Boz’s all-consuming languor, and she doesn’t need it. She just needs to project authority, and she does that beautifully.” SG Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes delivers “a rap verse, a fun chattery burst of verbiage,” SG that appears only on the single version of the song.


  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for TLC
  • FB Fred Bronson (2007). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (4th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 880.
  • SG Stereogum (7/6/2022). “The Number Ones” by Tom Breihan

Related Links:

First posted 4/6/2024.