Well, how many #1 hit songs do you know that have a limerick break??
Ah, 1990. New Jack Swing in full effect. Oversized suits, gigantic shoulder pads, geometric low-top fades. All we need is a Fly Girl or two and we’d be on the set of In Living Color.
“Round and Round” is a rather pedigreed little number, all things considered. At the ripe old age of twelve, Tevin Campbell had already recorded with famed composer/producer/all-around man of win Quincy Jones; at thirteen, that single off of QJ’s album reached #1 on the Billboard charts; at fourteen, that album won a Grammy. Tevin’s debut album was produced by Prince, and this song, the lead single, became one of the few redeeming parts of Prince’s movie Graffiti Bridge. The song would eventually hit #3 on the R&B charts and #13 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Lyrically, the song isn’t so very complicated, but it’s pretty solid. The passage of time and our little tiny role in the grand scheme of things was a popular motif back in the day (Michael W. Smith, “Place in this World,” anyone?), though this accounting of things is less introspective and more humorously philosophical. At least, that’s how I can remember taking it at the time. The song’s simple text sort of voiced my innermost questions, the same one every fourteen-year-old has – what am I going to find when I grow up? What decisions will I make? Will I find value and meaning (truth, if you will) in my life, or will I waste too much time? I think I liked the song so much because it basically told you get up off your butt and take ownership of yourself – the world is going to go round and round, regardless, so you might as well stop talking and go do something. That was something that worrywart me needed to hear more often, because I spent the majority of my days in a state of anxiety about how to fit in, how to be happy, how to figure out what I wanted, how to take charge of my life. The fact that it was sung by someone in my own peer group didn’t really strike me as being anomalous or unusual. I mean, who better to tell a fourteen-year-old to go achieve something in her life than another fourteen-year-old who had already won a Grammy? Perfectly inspirational to me at the time, especially my own inclinations to go into music myself.
I’m not saying I sat around and studied the works of Tevin Campbell in order to better myself as a human, but I do think on some level I took these lyrics to heart (as I did with everything I read, watched, or heard). Mostly, though, I loved this song because it’s just a crazy good tune. The swinging, synthed bass, the orchestral hits, the sparse electronic percussion – all the highlights of Prince and NJS production that I adored at the time. I think this type of production really drew me to it because it leaves enough space in the song for you to fill it in with your own bodily reactions – in other words, the groove makes you want to dance. I loved the dissonances in the harmony, which scream Prince but which didn’t really feature heavily in the majority of the music I was listening to. And, of course, one cannot overlook the fact that one Tevin Campbell could sing. He’s got a pretty decent falsetto for a guy who hasn’t quite made it through puberty, he’s got a lot of variety in how he ornaments or spins a phrase, and I seriously don’t know anyone else that could have pulled off the phrase “I plan to be a cool kitty”. (Really, Prince? Really?)
Bottom line, of the songs I’ve discussed so far (keep in mind, we’re still on side A – yes, remember, cassette tapes had sides – of Remix 1, so we have a lot to go), I think this might be one of the better overall songs, although its production more than dates it to the early 90s. Speaking of which, can we talk about why there’s this random gap in what is considered still viable for radio play today? Why is it that so little NJS-style music gets played, unless it’s Janet/Michael/maybe Babyface? Honestly, I think I may even have heard a Color Me Badd song recently, but I feel like a song like this would be considered too dated. Often I wonder if the songs that sound dated and therefore receive no airplay are actually some of the better songs in that particular style, and the ones that do receive airplay are either the standouts of the genre (so, for example, Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” (standout) but not “Jam” (great song, but really, Bugs Bunny), and Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up” (horrible, awesome song)). Anyway, discuss amongst yourselves.
So, Tevin Campbell. Amazing voice, clearly already in with the biggest names in the music industry. Dude had swag before it was even a word. I mean, come on. Check out that smirk at 0:17 (sorry for video quality, folks, but it’s all YouTube had to offer). Check out the double spin that makes Prince look almost human when he smiles, at 1:49. The album spawned one other big R&B single, “Tell Me What You Want Me To Do” (to be featured in an upcoming post), his second album also featured several successful singles, and come on, no one can possibly ignore his participation in Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration, putting him back with QJ and myriad other amazing musicians. But after that, his subsequent two albums did not quite reach the same heights as his prior work, and he fell out of the public eye for quite some time after a 1999 arrest for solicitation and possession of marijuana. He remains (as far as I know, after a brief Google search) mum on the details of his solicitation charge, does not discuss his sexuality, and has been rumored to be plana comeback to the music industry following a 2009 BET appearance along fellow early ’90s star Johnny Gill and a slew of newer talent. To the latter, I say – bring it on, Tevin. Bring it on.
A quick word about the video. Prince. First of all, he looks eerily like a mid-2000s Michael Jackson, does he not? Perhaps MJ had a particular look he was going for:
Secondly, Prince. He is one sexy beast, that goes without saying. But he’s also just a bit creepy, at least at around 0.50. It’s like he came straight out of Three Men and a Baby:
Okay, that’s enough about TC for the meantime – but fret not, folks, he will make a comeback, at least on this blog. Hey, it’s something, right?