Looking Through Time: 1990

Story posted November 17, 2019 in Arts & Entertainment, CommRadio by CommRadio Arts & Entertainment Staff

The members of the CommRadio Arts & Entertainment staff revisit a handful of the most iconic albums from 1990 in this edition of Looking Through Time.

Whitney Houston – “I’m Your Baby Tonight”

Twenty-nine years ago, Nov. 6, 1990, to be exact, Whitney Houston released the album “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” and it’s hard to believe that time has gone by so quickly since it’s release. This was Houston’s third studio album, and it became one of her most successful, eventually being verified quadruple platinum in the United States.

Houston is known for having a wide range of sounds, displaying mastery of slow ballads, classic dance songs, and even R&B: creating a mix of long-lasting pop tunes that anyone could recognize. Appropriately, “I’m Your Baby Tonight” was the first single released from the album, debuting at No. 42 and reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 six weeks later. This song has a similar vibe to a former smash hit of Houston’s, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” explaining why it was such a success.

The second single, “All the Man That I Need,” is stylistically quite the opposite. It’s a ballad, showcasing Houston’s phenomenal vocals and featuring a backing vocal that sounds like a church choir and a saxophone solo to finish off the song. “All the Man That I Need” also found its way to the No. 1 spot.

Her other singles from the album, “Miracle,” “My Name Is Not Susan,” “I Belong to You” and “We Didn’t Know,” all made an appearance on the chart, but none of them did as well as the other two singles did.

“I’m Your Baby Tonight” featured a couple key names as well, including Stevie Wonder on the track “We Didn’t Know,” as well has a handful of legendary producers, including Babyface, Clive Davis, L.A. Reid and Luther Vandross, to name a few.  —Emily Mugno

Deee-Lite – “World Clique”

Kicking off the decade with an unexpected burst of psychedelic grooves, Deee-Lite rocketed to the top of the charts around the world thanks to its quirky debut album “World Clique.”

Taking inspiration from iconic party bands such as the B-52’s, Deee-Lite left its underground New York club scene to take on the world. Noted for its diverse and inclusive aesthetic, Deee-Lite quickly became a hit sensation thanks to its undeniably infectious dance tracks and its light-hearted messages of free love.

Providing the group with its iconic hit “Groove Is in the Heart,” which held high positions on almost every chart around the world, “World Clique” made Deee-Lite one of the largest dance bands in the country. However, Deee-Lite’s debut has much more to provide than just “Groove Is in the Heart.” Tracks such as “Power of Love” and “Deep Ending” exhibit Deee-Lite’s impressive ability to craft foot-tapping beats and layered experimental soundscapes.

Although “World Clique” would be Deee-Lite’s only album to truly showcase its talent, it is undeniable that the band’s contributions were a crucial moment in ushering in the new decade. Deee-Lite took the world by storm and filled the airwaves with long-forgotten catchy messages of peace, love and happiness. While Deee-Lite’s music may be laughed at today, its odd avant-garde sound aided the band in once being regarded as the forefront of dance music, slide whistles and all.  —Scott Perdue

Cocteau Twins – “Heaven or Las Vegas”

Once again experimenting with its unique ethereal style, the Cocteau Twins launched into the decade with one of their strongest albums to date. While the band had attracted considerable attention over the years with its previous work “Blue Bell Knoll,” “Heaven or Las Vegas” would go on to become its most recognized record and is often cited as the Cocteau Twins’ masterpiece.

Seamlessly transitioning between subdued soundscapes and electrifying grooves, “Heaven or Las Vegas” exhibits the Cocteau Twins’ fresh aesthetic at its most potent. Opening with the mesmerizing “Cherry-Coloured Funk,” the Cocteau Twins perfectly blend fey-voiced sighs with lulling guitars. They then showcase the range of their compositions with tracks such as the captivating “Pitch the Baby” and the brilliant “Iceblink Luck.” However, it’s the album’s title track that is often regarded as the crown jewel of the Cocteau Twins’ discography. “Heaven or Las Vegas” is universally well-regarded for its experimentation with an exquisite series of enrapturing melodies and charming vocals.

Generous and high in revisiting potential, “Heaven or Las Vegas” has often been cited as a monumental moment in music. It has inspired countless musicians and provided the decade with some of the strongest instances of dream pop ever to grace the mainstream. While the group would soon experience a rift between its members, “Heaven or Las Vegas” broadcasted the Cocteau Twins’ impressive capabilities to the world and solidified their unforgettable role in music history.  —Scott Perdue

Depeche Mode – “Violator”

Depeche Mode released a synthpop classic in 1990 with its seventh studio album “Violator,” featuring smash-hits such as “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence.” “Violator” is often viewed as the band’s signature album, essential in defining Depeche Mode’s legacy.

It is well-known that synthesizers and digital recordings were wildly popular in the 1980s, as the genre known as “synthpop” flourished at its strongest during this decade. But Depeche Mode was not necessarily mainstream despite its successes in pop. It was not until the release of “Violator” that the band from Basildon, England, propelled to mainstream success in the United States.

Depeche Mode was known for its lighthearted pop songs already, but it took a bold chance with a new approach in recording “Violator.” This approach is what sets the album apart from the rest of Depeche Mode’s discography, featuring a distinguishable sound like nothing heard before.

That bold approach refers to the mature lyrical content of “Violator,” filled with themes of dark romance, religion and forbidden fruits, all folded into the bassy melodies of the synths. Pairing these factors with the deep crooning and electronically distorted vocals of lead singer Dave Gahan gives “Violator” a rich production value.

The work of Depeche Mode holds replay value and continues to be relevant today, exemplified by the fact that the band is one of 16 nominees for the 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class. Depeche mode has some ground to make up in the eyes of fans, as it is currently outside the top five in the fan vote.  —Connor Trask

You can read the CommRadio Arts & Entertainment staff's article about Depeche Mode and other nominees for the 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class HERE.

A Tribe Called Quest – “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm”

In a time where west-coast hip-hop and gangsta rap’s highly political, confrontational and hard-hitting music was finally hitting the charts and polarizing audiences, A Tribe Called Quest was offering an alternative.

A Tribe Called Quest, a Queens rap group, was a part of Native Tongues, a collection of New York City rappers featuring diverse, eclectic and bright hip-hop beats with mellow, creative lyrics. Native Tongues group De La Soul started the jazz rap revolution with 1989’s “3 Feet High and Rising,” but it would be 1990’s “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” from A Tribe Called Quest that had the biggest impact.

A Tribe Called Quest brought with it a sound that had not before made it to the hip-hop mainstream. The group's far-reaching taste in music led to their biggest hit, “Can I Kick It,” which samples rock artist Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” The group also added elements of jazz, blues and R&B into its music, inspiring artists such as Pharrell Williams and Kanye West. Both have credited this album as a major inspiration.

What truly makes the album great is the chemistry between rappers Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. Tip’s relaxed voice blends perfectly with Phife Dawg’s raspy, high-pitched vocals. The two play off each other perfectly in songs like the aforementioned “Can I Kick It” and “Luck of Lucien.”

Another aspect of “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” that greatly influenced rap music is its lyrics. While the group did get political and critiqued social norms, the lyrics are often upbeat, fun and serendipitous. This is exemplified in songs like “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo,” in which Q-Tip raps about going on a road trip across the country and losing his wallet.

“People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” is an essential album and was for its time. Its sound and aesthetic for the hip-hop genre would only be heightened by Tribe’s next two records.  —Jim Krueger



Jim Krueger is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email kruegerjim19@gmail.com.

Emily Mugno is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email esm6@psu.edu.

Scott Perdue is a junior majoring in secondary education. To contact him, email rsp5246@psu.edu.

Connor Trask is a senior majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email cst5140@psu.edu.