Number Ones: 1993, when reggae ruled the charts


#1 JUNE 5 – JULY 9, 1993
#1 JULY 10 – AUGUST 28, 1993

There’s a bona fide Jamaican artist sitting at #1 in Australia as we speak. Reggae musician Omi has now spent two weeks at the top of the ARIA charts, with a third likely once the charts are collated this weekend. The top-selling version of his track ‘Cheerleader’ is actually a remix by German producer Felix Jaehn – in 2015 a club-ready beat is almost mandatory when slipping non-EDM tracks past commercial radio programmers – but the breezy, jerking sound of reggae is one we’ve always welcomed fondly in this country.

Authenticity doesn’t ever seem to be an issue; we just enjoy anything with an upstroke rhythm and steel drums of dubious origins. We enjoy the sound so much that the approximated accents adopted by non-Jamaican reggae artists border on racist, yet seem to skip past our sensors unchallenged. Back in 1993, this sound was king. For 12 of the 52 weeks in the year, the #1 spot was occupied by either UB40’s bracket-nightmare ‘(I Can’t Help) Falling In Love with You’ or Snow’s ‘Informer’. The former is an Elvis* cover, reggae-fied and sung by blue-eyed, Birmingham native Ali Campbell. The second is a reggae-drenched hip hop track, sung/rapped by a white Canadian with such a thick, put-upon Jamaican accent that most of its lyrical content remains a gibberish mystery to the majority of those responsible for its five-week reign at the top of the Australian charts -a cultural oversight we’d never allow in these enlightened times.

Even Swedish pop group Ace of Base’s ‘All That She Wants’ enjoyed a three-week run at the top, with its subtle, breezy reggae vibes blowing the track to #1. The fourth-highest-selling single of the year, however, belonged to actual Jamaican reggae-fusion group Inner Circle, whose ‘Sweat (A La La La La Long)’ was kept at #2 by Lenny Kravitz’ ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’, who in turn tricked his way to the top spot simply by sporting dreadlocks. Inner Circle’s ‘Sweat’ opens with a smiling, ominous “I’ve been watching you” and alalalalalongs itself so thoroughly and joyously into your brain that it takes a few listens to realise the song is about rape – or at the least, undeniably ‘rapey’ in its forced courtship. This mattered little to mothers of young daughters, distracted by the instant hummability, and the blinding island colours in the clip – which no doubt caused more viewer seizures than an episode of Pokemon.

So widespread was the love of reggae that Inner Circle’s previous single ‘Bad Boys’ was shoehorned into US reality show Cops as the theme song, even though the program’s voyeuristic celebration of drunken white Southerners swerving on straight, dry highways remains worlds away from the song’s cautionary tale, and resigned racial profiling.**

In 1993, Jamaican-born, Brooklyn-based Shaggy also debuted on the Australian airwaves, with the thumping, guttural ‘Oh Carolina’. The song reached #4, was the 34th highest-seller of the year, and was the first of a number of singular hits for the artist, including a run of three #1s: ‘Boombastic’ in February 1996, ‘It Wasn’t Me’ (March, 2001) and ‘Angel’ (June, 2001). By this time, Shaggy had realised the secret to his success was to feature as little as possible on his songs, leaving the choruses and most verses to various guest artists, while hollering his moniker at various points, like a DJ Drama mixtape.

Of the class of ’93, Shaggy is the only Jamaican-born artist to ever hit the top spot – and one of only four in the history of the chart, alongside the currently-reigning Omi. In December 1974, Carl Douglas hit #1 with the decidedly non-reggae ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, while Boris Gardiner took ballad ‘I Wanna Wake Up with You’ to the top in 1987.

Another big reggae hit in 1993 was Jamaican duo Chaka Demus and Pliers’ ‘Tease Me’, which entered the charts in August and reached #5. They followed up with a bouncy version of the Isley Brothers’ Twist and Shout’, and the lovely ‘She Don’t Let Me Nobody’, both of which charted in the Australian Top 40. Apache Indian’s dancehall hit ‘Boom Shack-A-Lack’ also reached the charts that year, although we had to wait until early 1994 to hear white American’s Big Mountain reggae up the Frampton classic ‘Baby I Love Your Way’ for the Reality Bites soundtrack.***

Even Peter Andre got in on the action with an up-stroke heavy cover of ‘Do You Wanna Dance’, tastefully labelled the “Jamakin-It-Funky Mix”. The didn’t exactly trouble the charts, but blazed the way for the island-drenched ‘Mysterious Girl’ a few years later – his biggest international hit. Jah bless.

*Also a keen imitator/thief of other cultures

**Plus, the inclusion of Sheriff John Brown in the song’s lyrics – the same slain cop in Bob Marley’s ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ – suggests a patrol of ghost sheriffs which remains unexplored during both the show’s 27-year run, and subsequent Inner Circle records.

***”Did you know that ‘Evian’ spells ‘naive’ backwards?”

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