My relationship with the music of 1990 is a vague one; I was seven years old. After wrapping my mind around that for a while and really trying to parse through the music of my childhood, most of it came back to me. In parts. That moment was rife with politically minded, anti-establishment and wildly expressive music (stay tuned to this Class of 1990 series for more on each). Gangsta rap was emerging from the West, the East was bringing us socially conscious rhymes, the definitive pop triumvirate of the era -- Micheal Jackson, Madonna and Janet Jackson -- were holding court.
And wedged between the synthpop of the late '80s and the New Jack Swing of the early '90s was a brief mainstreaming of house/dance music. Today, high energy, thumping-bass heavy songs like "Everybody Everybody" by Black Box are mostly relegated to aerobic workout playlists and sport stadium filler-music, but they were all over the radio in the years on either side of 1990. Perhaps the most omnipresent and the most memorable was the bombastic single "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" from C+C Music Factory.
Produced by Robert Clivillés and the late David Cole (undeniable hit-makers who also produced much of Mariah Carey's early, and arguably best, work), the group released their album of the same name near the end of the year. Seemingly overnight "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" was inescapable. Twenty years later, it's still so infectious that merely speak-singing the words "everybody dance now" at any given moment will trigger at least one person to start doing the Running Man and make at least four people unable to get the song out of their heads for the next hour. It's the type of song where the lyrics "gonna make you sweat 'til you bleed" are not intimidating or ridiculous -- they're a delightful cardiovasuclar gauntlet. [Aside: The 1990s were the best for making people move their asses. We were all much more excitable in those days.]
The label infamously substituted Zelma Davis for Martha Wash in the music video for "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" and they caught a fair (and deserved) amount of flack for their shenanigans. After all, what better way to insult everyone's intelligence dismissing one woman as unmarketable because of her weight (Wash) and the other as cute but not talented enough to sing vocals on the title track (Davis)? It was an especially bold move in the immediate wake of the whole Milli Vanilli fiasco.
Regardless, Gonna Make You Sweat continued to dominate and ultimately went platinum five times. It also sat at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for a few weeks. The group successfully released several more singles from the album, including "Things That Make You Go Hmmm..." and "Here We Go (Let's Rock and Roll)." With unrelenting beats and a bottomless well of exclamatory non sequiturs from Freedom Williams (personal favorite: "...sipping cocoa on a bearskin rug" from "Things that Make You Go Hmmm..." Touche, Freedom.), the album had supernatural crossover appeal.
While they found moderate success in subsequent years with their follow-up albums Anything Goes (1994) and C+C Music Factory (1995), it was their debut that really attached itself to the mainstream. C+C Music Factory's mark on music at the end of the 20th century is indelible. This album was pure pop goodness, a true time-capsule from an exuberant moment of genre-crossing and cultural uncertainty of the last decade before a new millennium. A time when most of us were eager to let it go and just get on up and dance.