It’s hard to imagine that a certain dance craze and hip-hop’s peaking point took place 20 years ago. Although the Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles of 1996 many number one singles, the quality out beat quantity. As a matter of fact, three songs topped the charts for a combined total 33 weeks. Two of them are the longest number-one songs in Hot 100 history.
As a result, only nine singles topped the charts, tied for the second fewest (1997 and 2005). However, two out of the nine songs were doubled-sided records, meaning the total different songs comes to eleven. Here are my grades for each single that ruled the airwaves in 1996.
Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” (Jan. 6-Mar. 16) – 10/10
Although the single peaked at number one for the final five weeks of 1995, this powerful record stayed on top of the charts for an additional 11 weeks. To this day, the single’s 16-week reign remains the longest reigning number-one single in history and deservingly so. Accompanied by Mariah’s powerful voice and Boyz II Men’s soothing lyrics, it resulted to a memorable masterpiece about losing a loved one. Both artist’s hardship stories were present in the song and a reminder of how R&B hasn’t been relevant these days. It’s all about catchy choruses that people are crazy for in top 40 radio. If you haven’t heard this song, I’d suggest listen close to the lyrics and see what a quality song sounds like.
Celie Dion’s “Because You Loved Me” (Mar. 23-Apr. 27) – 8.5/10
Before “My Heart Will Go On,” this Canadian gem made her presence known in the world of music in 1996. What you get is a bit of a record perfect for a late night romance. Her beautiful voice and romantic lyrics was essential in music. Saying this song isn’t bad is injustice to Dion, this record delivered and led to her superstardom.
Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” (May 4-11) – 8/10
Once again, the queen bee of the ‘90s briefly takes the top spot with yet another classic. Catchy for its time I must say. Like most songs from Carey, it involves romance but the song is unique because it’s a different sound which she was looking for. That’s where Jermaine Dupri comes into the picture and contributed to this chill beat. Take notes 2016 artists, take notes!
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Tha Crossroads” (May 18-July 6) – 8/10
Hip-hop was finally getting to the top of the mountain after years of getting little to no play on top 40 radio. The racial, violent, and sexual content of hip-hop slowly became acceptable on radio but this hip-hop record takes the sentimental route. It has a meaningful social element to this song because it’s about the groups roots. But also about losing their loved ones and of course a tribute to Eazy-E who gave the group their big break. It seems that hip-hop was taking off from here right? It did for the next several months.
2Pac and K-Ci & JoJo’s “How Do U Want It” (July 13-20) – 9.5/10
This single was co-number one with “California Love” because it was a double-sided single. Thus the two songs shared the top spot but I will grade them separately. That is why there’s technically eleven number-one songs. Anyways, it’s one of my favorite 2Pac songs It has a death and sexual element to his lyrics where he talks about a man in a casket and women being sexual towards Pac. The Quincy Jones sample is a plus but it’s the B-side single that would solidified Pac’s spot as one of the greatest rappers of all-time.
2Pac featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman’s “California Love” (July 13-20) – 10/10
No introductions needed, it’s his most popular song and one of the most memorable collaborations in rap history. The road seemed bright for him and it revitalized Dr. Dre’s career after being away from the limelight after The Chronic (1992). Plus, it was Troutman’s last great run after paving the way for rap in the early 1980s. It’s a timeless song that’s still played around California somewhere. Sadly, the celebration ended on Sept. 7 when 2Pac was shot in Las Vegas. He would die a week later at the age of 25 and to this day a large hole in hip-hop remains because after 2Pac’s death, the genre would never be the same again.
Toni Braxton’s “You’re Makin’ Me High” (July 27) – 8.5/10
Like the number one single before her, it was a double-sided single and one of the last to become number one. This song was Braxton’s first number-one single (along with “Let It Flow”) she had. Again some hip-hop beats and romantic lyricism topping the charts shows you how R&B was the quintessential genre that got tons of airwaves especially the ladies. It’s unfortunate how Braxton was overshadowed with the other number-one singles.
Toni Braxton’s “Let It Flow” (July 27) – 7.5/10
From an upbeat song to another smooth R&B ballad which sort sounds like Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.” At least that’s what the song came across to me. Braxton’s deep voice was another thing this single stands out compared to “You’re Makin’ Me High.” Perhaps the highlight of the song is the lyrics because it’s implying to let the past go and move forward from the struggles you’ve endured. Despite its message, this is perhaps one of the weaker songs when it comes to grading this song but worth the listen.
Los Del Rio’s “Macarena” (Aug. 3-Nov. 2) – 6.5/10
Ah yes, without a doubt the longest number-one single of ’96 is also my lowest rated song. Don’t give me wrong, the song isn’t bad but it just doesn’t stand the test of time like several dance crazes. It’s also sad how out of all records, this would be one of the first bilingual number-one single. But don’t worry, Ricky Martin and a revived Santana will arrive in a few years to showcase how Latin artists can make an impact in the top 40 charts. Originally recorded in 1992, it’s the Bayside Boys Mix that charted. I'll give the original an 8/10.
This song was huge enough that Al Gore used this song during the Democratic Convention. In all honestly, this one hit wonder group made a milestone for Latin music and the complexity of the dance is still up and running. But the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” is arguably the undisputed dance craze in history.
Blackstreet feat. Dr. Dre’s “No Diggity” (Nov. 9-30) – 9/10
All I have to say is Anna Kendrick...
Okay, this actual song is pure boss. However, if it’s the Dr. Dre version, it gets a 9.5/10 (Teddy Riley and Queen Pen has a rap verse as well). But without Dre, it losses half a point in my book. Besides a little nitpick, hip-hop needed a song like “No Diggity” to heal some of the wounds after 2Pac’s death. Technically it’s an R&B record but I call it a rap record as well. Overall, everything about the song is phenomenal from Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” being sampled to the mellow lyrics makes this an excellent record.
Toni Braxton’s “Un-Break My Heart” (Dec. 7-28) – 8.5/10
The month of December belonged to Braxton. It’s a smooth song to wrap up the year of R&B/Hip-Hop and all I can say breakups aren’t fun. Unlike “Let It Flow,” this song is generally about dwelling on a former lover and wished they’re still together. At least that’s what Braxton’s lyrics inferred. The song was number one for the first seven weeks of 1997 and Billboard declared this record as the most successful single by a solo artist from 1958 to 1998. Definitely a classic which people seemed to have forgotten.
Final Grade: 8/10
Without a shadow of a doubt, quality mattered in 1996. It was R&B/Hip-Hop that ruled the airwaves. It’s sad how 11 years later the quality of music that’s being fed on radio stations has significantly dropped. Let’s hope the number-one singles of 2016 is decent but don’t count on that happening. Then again, people prefer Justin Bieber and The Weeknd over 2Pac and Boyz II Men which is sad but true. It’s how the music industry rolls and 1996 was one of the last true good years in top 40 music.