25 Years Ago: EMF Top the Charts with ‘Unbelievable’
England’s alternative music scene never seems to make nearly deep an impact in the States as it does there, no matter the era. From the Jam and the Smiths through the Britpop explosion of Oasis and Blur, artists that sell out multiple nights at stadiums in their home country tend to be more of a mild curiosity on these shores. It was quite the anomaly then when the July 20, 1991 issue of Billboard hit the stands and the song “Unbelievable” from EMF had topped the Hot 100.
As part of the Madchester movement led by the likes of the Stone Roses, James and the Happy Mondays, EMF took a good chunk of musical cues, and possibly their band name, from New Order. Originally known as Epsom Mad Funkers -- the “Mad Funkers” rumored to be some sort of New Order fan club who used Epsom salts to assist in curing hangovers -- the Gloucester native’s song had been a hit in the U.K. upon its release the previous November and was finally issued as a single in America in May 1991.
“Unbelievable” opens with a sample of then white-hot comedian Andrew Dice Clay’s “Oh!” which he’d use as an exclamation point to his jokes during standup, and then incorporates it throughout the song. Later Clay declares, “It’s unbelievable,” a snippet from the bit “A Day at the Beach,” that appeared on his debut album, Dice. Combining the recognizable doses of Dice with some boisterous piano, a pulsating synth beat, peculiar guitar line and fairly innocuous lyrics were all the ingredients needed for a timely hit, but hardly something which would shoot to the top of the charts.
A year and a half into a new decade, Billboard’s hot singles artists were looking a lot like those from the one prior. Madonna and Michael Jackson opened and closed the year on the chart respectively, and the time in between was dotted by Michael Bolton, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Paula Abdul. One hit wonders thrived; C+C Music Factory with “Gonna Make You Sweat,” Marky Mark swinging it with “Good Vibrations” and P.M. Dawn’s Spandau Ballet sample-driven “Set Adrift on a Memory Bliss,” to name a few. But while Timmy T. was rocking a maize blazer over a yellow turtleneck and begging for “One More Try,” along came EMF in their baggy clothes, funky dance moves and Dice Clay sampling.
There’s no debate “Unbelievable” was a one-hit wonder as well – nothing else on the album from which it came, Schubert Dip, was as catchy. Yet for a brief moment – and it was fleeting with the Bryan Adams juggernaut “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” taking its place the next week – EMF brought everything that was bouncing in Britain at the time to the States, and made it No. 1.
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