by Dom Jones
It seems as though only people in their first year at Berklee eat dinner in the Caf! At least that was my experience when asking students what their favorite throwback songs were from the 90s and earlier. Here’s what we newbies at Berklee had to say and what I thought of their choices:
Favorite Throwback Song: Poison
Artist: Bel Biv Devoe
My thoughts on the song: If you don’t know the history of Bel Biv Devoe, they are a portion of the legendary R&B boy band, New Edition. After band members Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant, and Johnny Gill all decided to go solo and had relatively successful debut albums, the other members decided to form a subgroup. They turned into a powerhouse, with one of their hits being “Poison.” This is THE QUINTESSENTIAL PARTY SONG. It transcends generation, genre preference, cultural background, or any other characterizing human trait. If “Poison” comes on in a party, everyone is dancing (except me… I have a phobia of dancing in public). Even I might covertly two-step, though. From the first drum break, anyone remotely familiar with the song will know what it is, and may break into the classic Kid ‘N Play routine. I love this song.
Favorite Throwback Song: Bump ‘N Grind
Artist: R. Kelly
My thoughts on the song: Another song that most people will know by the first line, “My mind’s telling me nooooo! But my body, my body’s telling me yeeeeeees!” this is the slow jam that the DJ plays after “Poison,” so that the couples and would be couples can get close. It’s not one of my favorite songs from the 90s or even from R. Kelly. To be frank, there’s too much yelling. If one were trying to get someone in the mood, a more demure approach would be more successful. Musically, this is a growth period in the transition from analog to digital, which you can hear in the instrumentation. Much of it sounds very generic, but that’s just my opinion. Bump ‘N Grind became a number one single on the US Billboard Hot 100 (temporarily interrupting the six-week run of Ace of Base’s “The Sign“). Additionally, it spent twelve weeks at number one on the US Hot R&B Songs chart, becoming the longest-running number-one of 1994 in the US. R&B single at that time.
Favorite Throwback Song: I Get Around
Artist: Tupac Shakur
My thoughts on the song: Some people know Tupac Shakur for either political and social consciousness or gangsterism, but he had a fun side, too. “I Get Around” is a prime example of that. What’s interesting about this song is that it manages fun, misogyny, and social awareness all in one song. Tupac talks about partying, Shock G (the song’s featured artist) calls women out of their name in the song, and Tupac addresses the consequences of groupies falsely accusing celebrity men of rape. This is the strange and brilliant complexity we’ve all come to know and appreciate from Shakur. Without overanalyzing the song, there are components of the song which delight me and parts that dismay me. I can appreciate a fun party song, but would prefer my womanhood not be minimized to the attractiveness of my anatomy. This is probably an internal battle for any woman who is socially aware, but enjoys hip-hop. I guess whether or not I like this song depends on the day I’m asked. Today… I do.
Favorite Throwback Song: Spread Love
Artist: Take 6
My thoughts on the song: All of us vocal majors can appreciate the precision of Take 6’s harmony and tonality. This song in particular shows great skill because it’s pretty much acapella. Have you ever listened to someone sing without music and missed the music? I have, and that doesn’t happen with this song. In their era of gospel music, Take 6 was also doing something new. They were considered a more contemporary group, appealing to young people to spread a message of positivity. I hadn’t heard this song before Chinyere listed it as her favorite throwback song, and I’m glad I took the time to listen.
Favorite Throwback Song: Eyeless
Genre: Heavy Metal
My thoughts on the song: I’ll admit from the beginning that I am not at all a heavy metal aficionado. Sonically, it’s not my cup of tea. Because of the screaming style of the vocalist, I googled the lyrics. They are as aggressive as the sound of the song. One of the comments on youtube says that this group was ahead of their time. In the case of my ear, they still are. I’d be interested to hear how people who enjoy heavy metal would musically analyze this song in particular, and the genre overall. Comment below, if that’s you!
Favorite Throwback Song: Regulate
Artist: Warren G
My thoughts on the song: This is the transitional song of the party, meaning that the DJ plays it to wind down from a high energy song or plays it to wind up from a slow jam. Probably Warren G’s biggest hit, “Regulate” was one hit on the amazing soundtrack for the classic film Above The Rim. Remember when soundtracks were like a movie’s album? They were cohesive and actually good. This song is from that era. It’s also one of the best samples of a song to flip into a hip-hop song (see: Michael McDonald). I enjoy Warren G’s storytelling on this song. Particularly, this is a great song to listen to in the car, as it feels as though you’re going on a journey with the emcee.
Favorite Throwback Song: California Love
Artist: Tupac Shakur
My thoughts on the song: I’m from Oakland, California, the city whose welcome sign you see at the start of this video, so I’ll readily admit that my affinity for this tune may be a bit biased. Here, the DJ wants the crowd to turn all the way back up! Expertly sampling Ronnie Hudson’s “West Coast Poplock,” slowing the groove down to a tempo more befitting the genre, producer Dr. Dre collaborated to create one of many Tupac mega-hits. I feel as though this song captures the spirit of Oakland, where there’s no judgement and is diverse, unique, and all-inclusive. The vibe of this song is what stands out to me the most. The horn section is energetic, with a drum sequence that drives the music forward in totality. It even pays homage to the era it samples from with Roger Troutman singing through a vocoder.
Favorite Throwback Song: All Star
My thoughts on the song: I first heard this song through watching the movie Shrek. It easily became my favorite song from the movie. “All Star” is a song whose hook makes you feel good about yourself, if you’re having a bad day or gives you the courage to sing that song that’s a little out of your range, if you’re afraid. With the lyrics “You’ll never know if you don’t go/You’ll never shine if you don’t glow,” the listener is encouraged to be one’s authentic self and become the superstar of whatever medium they traverse. The music is upbeat, and a more palpable version of rock music for the lay listener.
Favorite Throwback Song: Four-Page Letter
My thoughts on the song: Have you ever had a crush? Have you ever written them a note? We all have. Aaliyah decided to write her crush an opus, in the form of a four-page letter, and then document the experiment in song. I love this era of Timbaland’s production, which touched not only Aaliyah’s music, but also Ginuwine and Missy Elliott. The overall sound of the production was so pervasive, that out of this group of collaborators, Timbaland has been able to maintain the highest level of continuity in the industry. “Four Page Letter” is the song that girls played in their room, while thinking about that guy they liked, and sung aloud (and probably off key) with their friends. The production uses the 808 drum well to give it an appeal for both R&B and Hip-Hop fans. What I find fascinating is that even though the production can seem overwhelming, especially in comparison to Aaliyah’s light, songbird like voice, she holds her own as a vocalist, and isn’t overwhelmed by the background music.
What’s your favorite throwback song? Comment below!