July 7, 2022

In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Scorching 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my means up into the current.

For my cash, “Grandma’s Arms,” the 1971 single from the previous Quantity Ones artist Invoice Withers, is without doubt one of the most purely transferring items of music ever placed on document. Withers got here to music nicely into maturity, after he’d already served within the army and labored in factories, and his debut album Simply As I Am glows with a knowledge and a heat that you simply by no means, ever hear on anybody’s first LP. Simply As I Am is a fully improbable document, however its actual climax arrives three songs in, when Withers ruminates on the previous lady who helped increase him.

Withers’ grandmother was born into slavery, and he or she died when he was younger. Possibly that’s why “Grandma’s Arms” is so impressionistic, so stuffed with tiny snapshots of his childhood in West Virginia. Withers remembers his grandmother’s fingers clapping in church, handing him sweet, soothing “the native unwed mom.” His grandmother tells him to not run too quick and tells his mom to not whip him. It ends with a sense of loss simply hanging within the air: “I don’t have Grandma anymore/ If I get to heaven, I’ll search for Grandma’s fingers.”

“Grandma’s Arms” by no means sounded something like pop music. It’s humble and meditative. It has no pop-song construction. It solely barely passes the two-minute mark — as if Withers couldn’t bear to spend extra time than that interested by this one that he’d misplaced. However Withers felt that “Grandma’s Arms” could be the explanation that individuals remembered him. Withers’ huge single from Simply As I Am was “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which doesn’t actually sound like pop, both, however which nonetheless peaked at #3 and made Withers well-known. (It’s a ten.) Withers adopted that single with “Grandma’s Arms,” and “Grandma’s Arms,” towards all odds, made the Scorching 100, peaking at #41.

Introducing “Grandma’s Arms” in a TV efficiency within the early ’70s, Withers stated, “I realized the way to actually love someone from not a really fairly girl — not at that time in her life, not horny in any respect — however only a good previous girl who used some very good previous gnarled fingers to make life kinda good for me at the moment, once I actually wanted someone.” He additionally stated that “Grandma’s Arms” was his favourite factor that he’d ever written. Many years later, Withers nonetheless felt that means. In 2015, close to the tip of his life, Withers nonetheless stated that “Grandma’s Arms” was the track he was most happy with writing.

“Grandma’s Arms” wasn’t written to be a smash. It was made to final. Invoice Withers by no means a lot cared for the music business, and when he left it behind, he by no means appeared again. Withers was proud that “Grandma’s Arms” was out on the earth, that it made folks really feel issues. I ponder how Withers felt when the chords that he strummed and the buzzing sigh that he set free in the beginning of “Grandma’s Arms” discovered their means onto a #1 document. I ponder what he thought when “Grandma’s Arms” obtained sexy.

Teddy Riley, the person who made “Grandma’s Arms” sexy, has already been on this column twice, because the main drive behind Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” and Hello-5’s “I Like The Method (The Kissing Sport).” Riley grew up in public housing in Harlem, and he performed piano and sang in church as a child. (When Riley was born, the #1 track in America was the Field Tops’ “The Letter.“) Riley’s uncle owned a Harlem nightclub that had a small recording studio in again. The document producer Gene Griffin took Riley beneath his wing, and when he was nonetheless a young person, Riley co-produced rap classics like Doug E. Contemporary’s “The Present” and Kool Moe Dee’s “How Ya Like Me Now.” However rap wasn’t essentially Riley’s focus. As a substitute, Riley used rap to alter the face of pop music.

The Village Voice critic Barry Michael Cooper coined the time period “new jack swing,” and he got here up with that identify to explain what the very younger Teddy Riley was doing. Working with singers like Keith Sweat and Johnny Kemp, Riley injected R&B with rap swagger and dance-music depth, making a hybrid that may go on to rule pop music for a number of years. Riley additionally fashioned the vastly essential trio Man in 1987. Riley might’ve been the lead singer for Man, however he was too shy. As a substitute, Riley wrote and produced Man’s music, and a charismatic Queens gospel prodigy named Aaron Corridor turned the lead singer. (Man’s highest-charting single, the 1999 reunion effort “Dancin’,” peaked at #19.)

Even after Teddy Riley turned a vastly profitable producer, he remained a member of Man. After two albums, although, Man broke up in 1991. On the time, they blamed Gene Griffin, Riley’s former mentor, who’d turn out to be their supervisor and who’d extracted as a lot cash as he might from the group. Afterward, Riley stated that the true purpose was that Ronald Byrd, New Version’s manufacturing supervisor, had shot and killed Anthony Bee, who was Man’s safety guard and Riley’s finest pal, in a battle exterior a lodge when the 2 teams had been on tour collectively.

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Riley went on to supply a lot of Michael Jackson’s Harmful. He additionally moved from New York to Virginia Seaside and constructed a studio there, and his presence within the Tidewater area helped spur an explosion in creativity in that area’s rap and R&B musicians. Riley’s brother Markell had began the Virginia Seaside rap group Wreckx-N-Impact, and Riley co-produced their large 1992 hit “Rump Shaker.” Teddy additionally rapped on “Rump Shaker,” however he didn’t write his verse. As a substitute, that verse got here from Pharrell Williams, a Virginia Seaside teenager who will finally seem on this column. (“Rump Shaker” peaked at #2. It’s an 8.)

Riley briefly reunited with Man in 1995, however the reunion didn’t work out. By that point, Riley had already began a brand new R&B group. Blackstreet — typically stylized as BLACKstreet — began off as Riley and his longtime pal and collaborator Chauncey “Black” Hannibal. Riley first wished to name the group Taste, however Taste Flav owned that identify, in order that they went with Blackstreet as a substitute. Blackstreet made their debut with “Child Be Mine,” a 1993 single recorded for the soundtrack of the Chris Rock rap mockumentary CB4. “Child Be Mine” went top-20 on Billboard‘s R&B chart, nevertheless it didn’t cross over to the Scorching 100.

Blackstreet launched their self-titled album in 1994, and certainly one of its songs did cross over. The ballad “Earlier than I Let You Go” was a showcase for Blackstreet member Dave Hollister, and it peaked at #7. (It’s a 5.) That first album went platinum, and Hollister shortly left Blackstreet to go solo. (Hollister’s highest-charting single, 1999’s “My Favourite Woman,” peaked at #39.) Ultimately, Eric Williams and Mark Middleton, former members of a few R&B teams that hadn’t taken off, joined Riley and Hannibal in Blackstreet.

Blackstreet’s debut album included a monitor referred to as “I Like The Method You Work.” Sooner or later, they introduced in LL Cool J to rap on a remix. So far as I can inform, that remix by no means got here out, however one thing that LL stated on the monitor caught with Riley: “I like the best way you’re employed it, no diggity, obtained to bag it up.” (“No diggity” could be the Das EFX tongue-twist approach to say “little doubt.” “Bag it up” is an especially crass approach to describe secure intercourse.) Riley preferred that line, and he thought it will sound higher sung than rapped. (LL Cool J’s two highest-charting singles, the 1995 Boyz II Males collab “Hey Lover” and the 1996 Complete collab “Loungin’,” each peaked at #3. “Hey Lover” is a 4, and “Loungin’” is a 6. As a visitor, LL will finally seem on this column.)

A yr after engaged on that remix, Riley and his co-producer William “Skylz” Stewart, had been within the studio, messing round with a pattern of “Grandma’s Arms.” They took Invoice Withers’ opening, that tender and considerate humming-to-himself second, and looped it up. By taking that second out of context, Riley and Stewart made Withers sound chilly and nearly predatory. That little hum turns into the sound of a person impressed however unsurprised by his personal flyness. They added enormous drums and a thundering, rumbling piano line. The swagger in that beat is simply uncontrolled. It glides like a spaceship. Earlier than they’d even written any phrases to associate with it, Stewart instructed Riley that the track was a smash.

Invoice Withers had as soon as taken care to level out that his grandma was not horny. However when Teddy Riley flipped that pattern, he turned it right into a track about an extraordinarily horny lady. The “No Diggity” lyrics are an ode to a “playette” who’s obtained ’em open throughout city. Strictly biz, she don’t mess around, covers a lot floor, obtained sport by the pound. On “No Diggity,” the singers are clearly interested in the girl, and so they attempt kicking some sport of their very own: “You’re blowing my thoughts/ Possibly in time/ Child, I can get you in my riiiide.” More often than not, although, they’re admiring her from a distance, as impressed by her money-stacking capability as by her sexiness. “No Diggity” will not be a susceptible track, however Riley, on the primary verse, sounds nearly intimidated: “I can’t get her out of my thoughts/ Take into consideration the lady on a regular basis.”

Throughout Man’s 1995 transient and unsuccessful reunion, Riley provided “No Diggity” to the group, and so they turned it down. (Vibe later reported that Aaron Corridor “refused to even take into account” slicing the monitor.) In a bunch of interviews, Riley has stated that the opposite members of Blackstreet additionally didn’t like “No Diggity.” That’s why Riley, who by no means preferred to sing lead, takes the primary verse; no one else wished it. Riley has additionally stated that Jimmy Iovine, head of Riley’s label Interscope, didn’t hear “No Diggity” as a single. However one other power-player felt in any other case.

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This column has talked about Dr. Dre a fantastic many instances, however Dre hasn’t been instantly concerned in any of the songs that we’ve lined. (Dre produced and rapped on “California Love,” the actual hit from 2Pac’s “How Do U Need It” single, however that’s not the one which was on this column.) Dre’s iconic, game-changing 1992 single “Nuthin’ However A ‘G’ Thang,” an apparent 10, peaked at #2 behind Snow’s “Informer,” however the truth that it even obtained that top is wild. On his debut album The Continual, Dre, the previous N.W.A producer and occasional rapper, found out the way to make a street-rap blockbuster, launching a complete prolonged universe of ribald, violent West Coast G-funk. Dre additionally co-founded Demise Row Data, the label that completely dominated rap music for a number of years.

Early in 1996, Dre lastly had sufficient of his notorious Demise Row companion Suge Knight, and he departed Demise Row to discovered his personal Aftermath label. He additionally launched “Been There, Carried out That,” his track about his boredom with the music that was popping out of Demise Row. That single led to the compilation album Dr. Dre Presents: The Aftermath, which got here out whereas “No Diggity” was at #1 and which famously flopped. However Dre made it previous that failure simply advantageous; we’ll see much more of Dre’s work on this column.

When Dre heard “No Diggity,” he preferred it, and he instructed Riley that he wished to be within the video. (Dre had seen the “Rump Shaker” video, and he figured there could be plenty of fairly ladies on set.) Riley stated that Dre might solely be within the video if he rapped on the track, so Dre did simply that. On paper, the Dre verse that opens “No Diggity” isn’t that spectacular. Dre says that he’s attracting honeys like a magnet and giving up eargasms together with his mellow accent, and that bit about “eargasms” all the time conjures a fairly gross psychological picture. Additionally nasty: Dre’s line about “bump like zits.” A yr earlier, Dre had contributed “Preserve Their Heads Ringin’” to his previous N.W.A colleague Ice Dice’s Friday soundtrack. On that track, Dre warned that anybody operating up on him might “get popped like a pimple, so name me Clearasil.” I like that little period the place Dre tried to explain his personal coolness and simply stored mentioning zits. (“Preserve Their Heads Ringin’” peaked at #10. It’s a 9.)

Dre’s “No Diggity” verse isn’t precisely masterful, nevertheless it sounds cool as hell anyway. Numerous that’s the means that beat is available in, with its clanging pianos and its lengthy stretches of empty area. A few of additionally it is the booming authority in Dre’s voice, which serves as a fantastic introduction to the track. I wouldn’t name Dre’s accent “mellow,” however I all the time thought he had a robust, underrated rap voice.

On the finish of “No Diggity,” Riley introduced in one other rapper. Lynise “Queen Pen” Walters got here from Brooklyn, and he or she sounded a complete lot like Lil’ Kim, who was arising across the similar time. (Kim will finally seem on this column.) On “No Diggity,” Queen Pen sounds onerous as hell. She’s obtained a ton of presence, and he or she actually assaults the beat, bringing equal measures of strut and elegance. She additionally brags in regards to the Cartier picket frames sported by her shorty — the primary reference to same-sex relationships in a profession stuffed with them. After “No Diggity,” Queen Pen signed to Riley’s Lil Man label, and he or she made a number of hits. (Queen Pen’s highest-charting single is 1998’s “All My Love,” which featured Blackstreet’s Eric Williams and which peaked at #28.) Queen Pen additionally feuded bitterly with Cunning Brown, and he or she finally turned an city novelist. She’s now obtained 9 books to her identify.

The true magic in “No Diggity” is the best way the track strikes. The completely different singers carry completely different personalities. Teddy Riley isn’t showy, and he doesn’t bask in vocal theatrics, however his voice hits the monitor’s pocket completely. On the following verse, Chauncey Hannibal goes more durable, his tenor floating over every thing. Like Riley, although, Hannibal strikes with the beat, letting it push his voice round. The monitor builds and builds, its decorative ad-libs stacking up till the “hey yo hey yo” singalong and the Queen Pen verse. The track by no means will get boring, and its sense of confidence by no means falters. When “No Diggity” got here on, it felt like time stopping. The track projected an icy calm that was mild years faraway from nearly the rest on the radio.

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The “No Diggity” video radiated that very same overwhelming sense of cool. Director Hype Williams was already nicely on his approach to turning into the best music-video auteur in historical past. Dre was proper; there are loads of fairly ladies within the clip. There are additionally puppets; the old-man marionette, who I suppose is meant to be Invoice Withers, appears to be like a complete lot like these Lil Penny Hardaway Nike advertisements. However what I all the time keep in mind is the best way the factor appears to be like — the tender glow of the lights, the upturned digicam angles, the sense of fixed movement. I want every thing appeared the best way that video appears to be like.

My pal Chris Molanphy identified to me that Blackstreet adopted “No Diggity” with the ballad “Don’t Depart Me,” an enormous airplay hit that by no means got here out as a industrial single and thus by no means charted on the Scorching 100. “No Diggity” and “Don’t Depart Me” pushed Blackstreet’s One other Degree album to quadruple-platinum gross sales. Blackstreet by no means reached the highest 10 once more, although they maintained relevance for a short time. When Jay-Z, a future Quantity Ones artist, tried to purpose for Puff Daddy-style sample-heavy smoothness on his 1998 single “The Metropolis Is Mine,” he obtained Blackstreet to sing the hook. (It peaked at #52.) That very same yr, Blackstreet made it to #14 with “Take Me There,” the Mya/Mase/Blinky Blink collab from the Rugrats film soundtrack. On the beat, Teddy Riley flipped the Rugrats theme.

Blackstreet have damaged up and reunited a bunch of instances since “No Diggity.” They’ve made two extra albums, neither of which had been particularly profitable. Man reunited after which broke up once more. Teddy Riley went on to work with future Quantity Ones artists like Snoop Dogg and Woman Gaga. He additionally did one thing that I’ve all the time discovered fascinating. He latched onto South Korean pop music when that complete business was nonetheless rising, and he co-wrote and co-produced tracks for Okay-pop teams like Rania and Ladies Era.

Teddy Riley in all probability gained’t seem on this column once more, however he’s point-blank one of many best producers in pop historical past. He invented a complete sound, after which he stored evolving and making an attempt various things. “No Diggity” doesn’t actually sound like the rest that he ever recorded. It additionally doesn’t actually sound very similar to the rest that anybody ever recorded. It’s a certainly one of one, an ideal anomaly. I want to suppose that Invoice Withers was proud. I want to suppose that his grandma would’ve been proud, too.

GRADE: 10/10

BONUS BEATS: When Dr. Dre left Demise Row, everybody else on the label was pissed. Former Quantity Ones artist 2Pac used the “No Diggity” beat to throw pictures at Dre on his track “Toss It Up.” Earlier than the monitor got here out, Blackstreet hit Demise Row with a cease-and-desist, so a distinct model of “Toss It Up,” with out the “No Diggity” beat, appeared on Pac’s posthumous album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Concept. Okay-Ci and JoJo sang on “Toss It Up,” and so did Teddy Riley’s as soon as and future Man bandmate Aaron Corridor. Right here’s the unique model of “Toss It Up,” with the “No Diggity” beat:

(As a solo artist, Aaron Corridor’s highest-charting single is 1994’s “I Miss You,” which peaked at #14. Okay-Ci & JoJo will finally seem on this column.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s the scene from the 1997 movie Soul Meals the place “No Diggity” performs at a marriage reception:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: I’ve a tough time with this one, however right here’s Anna Kendrick singing “No Diggity” and awkwardly rapping the Dre verse within the 2012 film Pitch Excellent:

(Anna Kendrick’s highest-charting single is 2013’s “Cups,” which peaked at #6. It’s a 4.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s Arca atomizing a “No Diggity” pattern on the 2012 monitor “Dignity”:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s the Backstreet Boys protecting “No Diggity” in a 2018 BBC radio session:

(The Backstreet Boys’ highest-charting single, 1996’s “Give up Enjoying Video games (With My Coronary heart),” peaked at #2. It’s a 7.)

THE 10S: Teddy Riley wasn’t the one genius making R&B in Virginia Seaside in 1996. Ginuwine’s otherworldly burping-robot sex-jam “Pony,” the primary top-10 hit produced by future chart conqueror Timbaland, peaked at #6 behind “No Diggity.” Come and bounce on it. It’s a ten.