Hot 100's Hottest Weeks, March 1999: Earworms From Sixpence None the Richer, Cher and More

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Backstreet Boys photographed at The 1999 MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 9, 1999 in New York City.

With nearly 57 years under the Hot 100's belt, it's a good bet there are more than a few standout weeks in the chart's history. We've decided to zoom in on several of those which, in each decade or era, included a healthy share of songs having made a lasting impact, where music and/or chart history was made.

Sixteen years ago, contemporary music had just about come full circle following several years dominated by darker-themed alternative rock and harder-edged rap-driven R&B. For the most part, pop had taken a vacation, but by 1999 it had returned in full force, reversing top 40 radio's fortunes. At the same time, a new generation of pop stars and rappers were emerging, with several notable debuts or breakouts on this week's chart.

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Jump into our virtual time machine, and return with us to when a Big Mac would set you back just $2.43, NATO was involved in a then year-old war to liberate Kosovo from Yugoslavia, TV's top-rated ER continued to operate after the departure of one Dr. Doug Ross (George Clooney), Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro gave "gangster rap" a whole new meaning in box office hit Analyze This, and the U. Conn. Huskies made every second count with a 77-74 victory over Duke in the NCAA Championship.

As for the week's Hot 100, we'll cover the play-by-play, making stops at the chart positions and songs that made a difference, with color commentary from one of radio's top programmers and one of MTV's VJs that week, along with several of the charted artists. 

Prince may not have been represented on this particular week's Hot 100, but nonetheless, this week's chart should give you plenty of excuses to party like it was 1999.

1. Believe - Cher (third of four weeks at No. 1)

The artist with more lives than a cat, charting on ten different labels over five decades, made Hot 100 history during her last stay at the top. "Believe" established a record-setting 33-year span from Cher's first chart topper ("I Got You Babe" with then-husband Sonny Bono in 1965) to her most recent, as well as a near-25-year gap from her prior No. 1, 1974's "Dark Lady." 

The club-friendly "Believe" wound up as Cher's biggest chart success: During a year when Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson entered what was already a crowded field of female soloists, Cher showed 'em all how it was done, as "Believe" became Billboard's No. 1 Hot 100 song for 1999. "Believe's" most notable achievement, however, may have been its introduction of auto-tune, the vocal-enhancing innovation that would help - and haunt - dozens of pop artists over the next 16 years.

2. Heartbreak Hotel - Whitney Houston featuring Faith Evans and Kelly Price (peak position)

"Heartbreak" is right: If not for Cher's month-long hold on the top rung, "Hotel" would have likely become Whitney Houston's 12th Hot 100 No. 1. The searing ballad turned out to be the best shot she had at the top in 1999, as both songs that followed "Hotel" -- "It's Not Right But It's Okay" and album title track "My Love Is Your Love" -- stopped at No. 4.

3. Angel Of Mine - Monica (peak: 1, 4 weeks)

While we still don't know whether Brandy or Monica won the battle in their 1998 collaboration "The Boy Is Mine," Monica at least had the edge when it came to the solo singles that followed. After "Boy's" 13-week stay at the summit, the No. 1s kept coming for the teen from the ATL: "The First Night" spent five weeks at the top, followed by this cover of the ballad Brit girl group Eternal took to No. 4 in the U.K., that spent four weeks in Hot 100 heaven.

4. I Still Believe - Mariah Carey (peak position)

The second "Believe" song in this week's top five was not just Mariah Carey's 21st Hot 100 charter, but also the first charting song on which she performed. In 1988 Carey sang back-up on Brenda K. Starr's original of "Believe" which made it to No. 13. Carey's version followed yet another "Believe" single, her duet with Whitney Houston "When You Believe," from the animated movie The Prince Of Egypt. Ironically, although both were taken from Mariah's first hits collection Number 1's, neither topped the Hot 100.

5. Kiss Me - Sixpence None The Richer (eventual peak: 2)

"I always wanted to be on the radio," Sixpence's lead singer Leigh Nash says. "Hearing 'Kiss Me' at that time on the radio in the van was thrilling."

"Kiss Me" didn't stop at radio, though. As one of the first hits with multiple licensing deals, the song widened its audience reach through exposure on television (the popular teen drama Dawson's Creek) and in the movies (rom-com She's All That). It also helped that pop in 1999 had shifted to a more happy place compared to several years earlier. "In the mid-90s we had this dour grunge-y thing happening," says Dave Holmes, then one of the hosts of MTV's daily countdown Total Request Live (TRL), now host of Ovation's American Canvas and Esquire writer-at-large. "All at once top 40 got fun again." Nash agrees: "Timing was absolutely crucial in 'Kiss Me's' success. The song's innocence, lyrics and melody were perfect for an audience weary from harder edged music."

6. No Scrubs - TLC (eventual peak: 1, 4 weeks)

Last fall wasn't the only time female-led acts dominated the Hot 100: The ladies had the top five positions nailed down for these past two weeks. With their first major hit in almost four years, TLC made it the top six.

"No Scrubs," the trio's shout-out to money-challenged men, made an indelible footprint in pop culture, becoming the third of TLC's four Hot 100 No. 1s, winning two Grammys and being the first hit in fifteen years to inspire a parody (rap trio Sporty Thievz' "No Pigeons") that nearly cracked the top ten.

7. Every Morning - Sugar Ray (eventual peak: 3)

For "Morning's" hook, the L.A. band borrowed from another California classic, Malo's No. 18-peaking hit of 1972, "Suavecito." "Growing up in California, that was like the low rider anthem," Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath told MTV News at that time.

"This song and its sound was a dream," says Paul "Cubby" Bryant, currently morning host at New York's WKTU and Chicago's WLIT (93.9 MyFM), then music director of WHTZ (Z100) in New York. "['Every Morning' was] the perfect transition record, the center of Z100's sound." 

8. What's It Gonna Be? -  Busta Rhymes featuring Janet (eventual peak: 3)

Say this about Busta Rhymes: he knows how to pick his featured vocalists. The Brooklyn rapper's two biggest hits -- both of which reached No. 3 -- showcased two of the most successful female acts in chart history. Four years prior to teaming with Mariah Carey on "I Know What You Want," Busta enlisted Janet Jackson for this sonic assault, with a special effects-heavy music video that cost nearly $2.5 million to produce. Odd side note: "What's…" was the first and perhaps only top ten charted song to mention SoundScan, Nielsen's measure of music sales, in its lyrics.

9. All I Have To Give - Backstreet Boys (peak: 5)

"Teenage girls hadn't all coalesced around music in a really long time," MTV's Holmes says. "Pop had sort of gone away, but it was clear it was about to explode in a massive way again." 

One of the artists to light that fuse was the vocal group formed in Orlando, Florida whose multi-platinum American debut album generated six Hot 100 charting singles, five of which (including "All") reached the top five. "The enthusiasm of everyone around the MTV studio for Backstreet Boys back then was infectious," Holmes says. There was of course even greater enthusiasm among the crowd outside TRL's Times Square studios. "It was utterly surreal," Holmes says. "It felt like we were the epicenter, and I was in a place everyone wanted to be. It made it clear to me that I was at the control center of popular culture for a lot of teenagers' formative years."

10. Angel - Sarah McLachlan (peak: 4)

There may never be another top ten song as therapeutic as "Angel." Inspired by the story of Jonathan Melvoin, the touring keyboardist for Smashing Pumpkins who was a victim of heroin addiction, the song featuring Sarah McLachlan accompanied by only piano and bass has been used in a number of movies and TV series (including the aforementioned Dawson's Creek) at particularly dramatic moments, with focus on the "In the arms of the angel" chorus. A few weeks later, in April 1999, a radio station remix of "Angel" included soundbites from the aftermath of the Columbine school shooting tragedy, leading to the song's role as a healer in the wake of other tragic events such as 9/11.

NEXT PAGE: Goo Goo Dolls, Jay Z + More

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12. Slide - Goo Goo Dolls (peak: 8)

"It just kind of blew up, you know?" the Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik says about "Slide." "I tried hard not to pay attention to it because I just wanted to keep working. When [bassist] Robby [Takac] finally showed me the Billboard charts, I was like, this is getting serious."

"Slide" certainly benefited from following "Iris," the band's biggest hit ever, having topped Radio Songs for a record-setting 18 weeks. Both songs put the group in front of a larger audience, at a time when the top 40 format was seeking balance. "It was important to represent the hits in each genre," Z100's Bryant says. "What stood out to me was seeing Goo Goo Dolls performing just as well as Ricky Martin in callout. 'Slide' was massive on so many levels that by this point almost any song the Goo Goo Dolls put out went right into rotation."

Fast forward to 2015. "'Slide' is still the song that gets the biggest applause when we play it live," Rzeznik says. "Everyone seems to know that opening riff." That everyone includes a new generation of fans. "A lot of people we play to were babies when 'Slide' came out. Thanks to social media and these kids' parents, we're playing to a wider audience now than we did in 1999."

13. …Baby One More Time - Britney Spears (peak: 1, 2 weeks)

"I'll never forget Britney coming to Z100 before '…Baby One More Time' was on the air, just hanging in our conference room with the staff and watching the video for the first time," Z100's Bryant says. 

To say "…Baby" wound up becoming a hit would be understatement. "It was our most requested [song] forever," Bryant says. An entire generation likely remembers where they first heard it. For many, it's the pop song to which all pop songs that followed would be compared, the music video for which raised the bar as to how teenage girls could look, what they could do, how they could move.

As groundbreaking as Spears and other teen acts were on record and screen, the opposite was the case with live appearances. "When they came into the studio, it was obvious they were [still] children," MTV's Holmes says. "They were media-coached to within an inch of their lives. You couldn't say much of anything to them and get some sort of substantive response. It was very difficult to get a sense of their real personalities."

15. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) - Jay Z (peak position)

It's hard to remember a time when Jay Z wasn't omnipresent in pop culture, but after three years of scoring R&B and rap hits without crossing over (his first Hot R&B/Hip-Hip Songs chart entries, "Ain't No N----" and "Dead Presidents," came this same week in 1996), Mr. Carter had broken out at top 40 with both "Can I Get A…" (No. 43) and his inner-city update of the orphan lament from the 1977 Broadway musical Annie.

"I was out in Times Square [for TRL] when "Can I Get A…" came on and these 12-year-old white girls in the crowd knew every word," recalls MTV's Holmes. "I was like, we're in a very different world now. Hip-hop was still dangerous, but all of a sudden Jay Z had become a genuine pop star."

 "['Life'] is a good example of the luxury we had to cherry-pick the best songs from other formats and make them our own," Z100's Bryant says. 

17. Nobody's Supposed To Be Here - Deborah Cox (peak: 2)

Deborah Cox was signed to Clive Davis' Arista Records while singing backup for Celine Dion, which set up one of the Hot 100's great moments of irony at the top: "Nobody's..." spent eight frustrating weeks in the runner-up position, kept out of No. 1 for six of those by, that's right, Dion (with "I'm Your Angel," her collaboration with R. Kelly). While those eight weeks stuck as a bridesmaid didn't set a Hot 100 record, the song's 14 at the top of Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs did at that time, passing Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" for most weeks at No. 1 by a female artist. "I was on cloud nine [thinking] I'd be in the Guinness Book of World Records," Cox says.

"Nobody's…", which hit as both a gospel-driven ballad and remixed dance anthem, generated listener feedback with its message of love's triumph over a history of heartbreak. "A lot of stories came back about how people really connected [with the song] and felt it was telling their story," Cox, whose latest album Work of Art drops this summer, says. "I'd heard of women having to pull over while driving because they were just overcome with emotion and in tears."

18. (God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time On You - *NSYNC (peak: 8)

"When *NSYNC came in for their first performance, nobody knew who they were," recalls MTV's Holmes. "There were seven girls in Times Square with signs in German, because the group was big in Germany. Their songs and dance moves were good, but their hair and clothes were all wrong, and they needed some polishing."

It's safe to say they got some. "God…" was not only *NSYNC's first of six top ten hits on the Hot 100, they charted with it a second time weeks later when the group backed up country legends Alabama on their version of the song.

By this point the Backstreet-*NSYNC rivalry was in full force. "You could be an *NSYNC or Backstreet girl, but not both," Holmes remembers. "Though it was often the same producers and songwriters, the fans could see the fine print and knew what the differences were."

In March 1999, were there indications that one particular member of *NSYNC would go on to greater things? "Honestly, I thought it would be JC [Chasez]," Holmes says. "At the beginning, Justin [Timberlake]'s hair was ridiculous. I thought, 'there's just no hope for this kid.' As time went on, it was clear he was not only extraordinarily talented but really driven. It seemed as if the others were like, 'hey, this is fun,' but you could tell Justin had the eye of the tiger."

28. Fly Away - Lenny Kravitz (eventual peak: 12)

After nearly eight years without a Hot 100 entry peaking higher than No. 60, Lenny Kravitz must have taken to heart the message of his 1991 No. 2 smash "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over." On the wings of a powerful opening hook, "Fly Away" soared to No. 12, hung around the chart for 32 weeks and cemented Kravitz' place as a pop-sensitive guitar god -- as we were reminded during his Super Bowl performance with Katy Perry back in February.

30. What It's Like - Everlast (eventual peak: 13)

Long missing in action since a member of hip-hop trio House of Pain, who impacted top 40 just once with the 1992 No. 3 hit "Jump Around," Everlast returned as a solo with this folk-flavored cautionary tale of life on the streets. Strong as "What It's Like" was, Everlast (real name Erik Schrody) became one of the few acts to essentially become a one-hit wonder twice. "That was a real surprise," MTV's Holmes says. "It seemed like there would be more hits coming from Everlast, but there never were."

NEXT PAGE: Will Smith, Vengaboys + More

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31. Back 2 Good - Matchbox Twenty (peak: 24)

"We made a pretty elaborate video for ['Back 2 Good'] which cost more than Atlantic wanted to spend," Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas says. "Before a show in New Orleans, we made our case to Atlantic president Val Azzoli as to why it was important we do this, and he left giving us his blessing. I really believe it was the end of that kind of real time collaboration between artists and labels."

Thomas and Matchbox Twenty were at the height of their popularity when "Back" became the fifth charting track from the band's multi-platinum debut album Yourself or Someone Like You, following three that made it to the Hot 100 Airplay top ten ("Push," "3AM" and "Real World"). "When you start a band you just want to get a deal, make a record and have people hear it," Thomas says. "We just made the record we had in us. The best thing you can hope for is a gold record, so you can make another. You don't see or imagine over 10 million albums. It was only years later I realized we had one of those albums everyone had in college during those years. It's humbling." 

33. Miami - Will Smith (peak: 17)

From Philadelphia to Bel Air to Miami. 

Before his life got flipped, turned upside down as a TV sitcom star and blockbuster movie opener in the 90s, Will Smith make his mark as the rapping half of DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. When he got back behind the mic, it was like he'd never left: Smith's first solo album Big Willie Style produced four hits, including the theme to his film Men in Black, the chart-topping "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" and this, his shout-out to "my second home."

"'Miami' was a no-brainer given the run Will was on at the time," Z100's Bryant says. "I remember being apprehensive about the song for New York since it was about Miami, but I was proved wrong, and it was a hit for Z100." 

36. My Name Is - Eminem (peak position)

"God sent me to piss the world off!" And so it began.

"When 'My Name Is' debuted on the [TRL] countdown, it was instant dislike and also resignation, as in, this is going to be part of my life for awhile, so I'd better get used to it," MTV's Holmes says. "There was a real gap in the marketplace for a white rapper and 'bad boy.' It was clear this was going to be a thing with a capital T."

Indeed, many didn't know what to make of Marshall Mathers' debut single on the Hot 100, a mad mix of comedy, the macabre and the topical ("I can't figure out which Spice Girl I want to impregnate") that changed the direction of not only rap but all of pop music for the decade that followed. "Name's" unusual sound and Eminem's delivery as "Slim Shady" made listeners want to hear it again and again. "It got huge phone requests," Z100's Bryant. "No doubt it put Eminem on the map."

37. We Like To Party! - Vengaboys (eventual peak: 26)

Before it became the cornerstone of Six Flags amusement parks' television advertising featuring the tuxedoed dancing "Mr. Six," "We Like to Party" was a top 40 and club anthem from the Dutch dance outfit (whose name is pronounced "Bengaboys"). One of the most infectious tracks on radio at the time, the accompanying video carried the party message, via the "Vengabus," from "New York to San Francisco, an intercity disco."

38. Written In The Stars - Elton John (with LeAnn Rimes) (peak: 29)

From the debut of "Your Song" until "Written in the Stars" (from the Broadway musical Aida, co-written with Tim Rice), Elton John placed at least one song inside the top 40 of Billboard's Hot 100 every calendar year from 1970 until 1999. Although that 30-year string was broken with "Written," in 2000 Sir Elton made it 31 straight years on the Hot 100 with "Someday Out of the Blue," his song from the animated motion picture The Road to El Dorado.

42. You Got Me - The Roots featuring Erykah Badu (eventual peak: 39)

The critically-acclaimed Philadelphia group that extended hip-hop's boundaries -- such as in this song co-written by fellow Philadelphian Jill Scott, whose vocals were replaced by Erykah Badu's -- were probably too busy on the road in 1999 to catch a lot of late night TV. That would change ten years later, as The Roots became the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and later The Tonight Show in 2014. 

44. Lullaby - Shawn Mullins (peak: 7)

"I didn't design 'Lullaby' to be on the radio," Shawn Mullins says. "I was barely getting by for a decade when Leslie Fram at 99X in Atlanta (now at CMT) discovered the song."

The rest, as they say, is Hot 100 history. "Within a month after Leslie sent the song to other stations, a bunch were playing it, and it just grew. It was really a cool thing to happen to a local folk singer."

Like many of Mullins' songs, the girl in "Lullaby" was based on someone he'd met. "She came from a family of musicians, her dad played with Gregg Allman. She blew my mind with her stories of growing up in that scene, hanging with Sonny & Cher, Michael and Janet Jackson. She learned to roll a joint when she was four!" 

Mullins, currently in the studio working on new music, says of the memorable lyric describing L.A. as "Nashville with a tan": "I'm not sure how I came up with that. I guess I had to be from the outside looking in to get that impression of it."

47. Doo Wop (That Thing) - Lauryn Hill (peak: 1, 2 weeks)

Four weeks earlier, Lauryn Hill walked out of L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium with five Grammy Awards, including "Best New Artist" and "Album of the Year" for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill -- the first hip-hop album to win that award. The singer-actress who began as a member of the rap trio The Fugees was twice represented on this week's Hot 100, with the chart-topping "Doo Wop" and follow-up "Ex-Factor" at No. 26.

61. Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) - Baz Luhrmann (eventual peak: 45)

To explain what "Sunscreen" was, you really have to start with what it wasn't: a commencement speech written by satiric author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., voiced by the director of motion pictures such as The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge.

"[I was] made aware of this speech that had gone viral on what was then referred to as the 'world wide web'," Baz Luhrmann says. "We set about reaching out to Vonnegut only to find [his] name attached to the speech was a hoax." When the actual author turned out to be a Chicago Tribune columnist, Luhrmann decided to still go ahead with the project. "The ideas and words were still as powerful and useful."

Using a choral arrangement taken from the soundtrack for Romeo + Juliet (which Luhrmann also directed), a remix of Rozalla's 1992 pop and dance hit "Everybody's Free (to Feel Good)" and Australian voice actor Lee Perry doing his best Vonnegut, the "Sunscreen" track came to life. When Luhrmann got an Australian radio station to play the full seven-minute version, "The switchboard lit up. They [played] it [again] in the morning, and by the end of the week it was the highest charting record in Australia." After a similar scenario played out in Los Angeles, "[The song] had its own viral life from that point on. To say we had no idea it was going to be the phenomenon it was is an understatement."  

During that spring of 1999 "Sunscreen" picked up steam as graduations came closer, inspiring parodies in everything from Disney cartoons to a single by Chris Rock ("No Sex"). To this day, Luhrmann still gets recognized for his one chart hit. "Quite often people come up to me saying 'Oh, you're the Sunscreen guy,' then [ask] 'What? You make movies too?'"

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