Top Adult Contemporary Songs of 1991
by Alex Cosper

BRYAN ADAMS - (Everything I Do) I Do It For You
EXTREME - More Than Words
MARIAH CAREY - I Don't Wanna Cry
WHITNEY HOUSTON - All The Man That I Need
GLORIA ESTEFAN - Coming Out of the Dark
MICHAEL BOLTON - When a Man Loves a Woman
TIMMY T - One More Try
COLOR ME BADD - I Adore Mi Amor

1991 Top Pop Hits
1991 Top Albums
1991 Top Ballads/Adult Contemporary
1991 Top Country Hits
1991 Top Dance Hits
1991 Top Modern/Alternative Hits
1991 Top R&B Hits
1991 Top Rock Hits

1991 was definitely the year when music changed a lot. Not only did the music industry change with the introduction of Billboard's Soundscan chart based on electronic monitoring, there were big changes among the public about mainstream music and the radio, especially in my hometown, Sacramento. The growing attraction to "modern rock" had a big impact on the definition of pop and mainstream music.

First, let's look at the impact of Soundscan, which was a new system that used electronic monitoring of both sales and radio airplay data to form a more advanced methodology that determined the Billboard charts. It outdated the previous honor system of management from record stores and radio stations either phoning or faxing in their data, which could easily be rigged. Why would a radio station want to submit false data? In some cases, they may have given favoritism to certain records in exchange for favors from record labels and in other cases it could have just been programmers trying to influence the national music scene based on their own personal favorite songs.

As the new electronic charts emerged, the spotlight suddenly shifted to Garth Brooks, who had the number one album, Ropin' the Wind, in September 1991, marking the first time ever that a country album debuted at the top of Billboard's top 200 album chart. It went on to spend 18 weeks at number one through April of the following year, selling over 17 million units worldwide since then. It was a follow-up to Brooks' top three album No Fences, which was released in August 1990.

Brooks didn't have any pop hits and was primarily known by the country audience. The combination of these two big selling albums made Brooks an international star. The fact that a country artist could sell so many albums, outselling the biggest names in pop, rock and hip hop, yet not have zero presence on the pop charts until the end of the decade, spoke volumes about radical changes in the radio and music industries. It pretty much shattered the commonly held industry illusion that it takes exposure on high rotation top 40 stations to sell tons of albums.

The other big cultural shift was that many "mainstream pop music fans" found themselves lost in 1991, with not much to turn to on the radio. Top 40 stations, at the time known as "contemporary hit radio" stations, began to focus more and more on hip hop and r&b ballads while the traditional pop and rock sounds began disappearing from the pop charts. Some might assume this meant pop or rock was dead, but that was far from the case.

What was actually happening was a further fragmenting of the mainstream. As CHR stations shifted to beat-oriented dance music (hip hop, electronica and slow jamz), the mainsteam crowd drifted toward either adult contemporary stations or the modern rock format. The modern rock revolution, however, would not really explode until 1993, although it began getting lots of attention in the press due to an album by Nirvana called Nevermind in 1991. The popularity of modern rock, however, had already begun happening earlier in the year before the album was released, as reflected by KWOD in Sacramento focusing its CHR playlist more on modern rock music. At the time there were only a dosen pure "new rock" stations in major markets.

The signicance of adult contemporary radio, however, was not as exciting. In fact, it was a pretty bland wallpaper format, for the most part. It focused on big hits that had an adult pop sound and completely avoided rap, hip hop, rock and most modern rock. The AC or Hot AC formats favored artists like Peter Cetera, Elton John, Cher, Roxette and Wilson Phillips.

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