In The Number Ones I review every single number 1 in history painting Hot 100, starting at the beginning of the chart, in 1958, and working my way up to the present.
The singles that top the chart don’t just disappear. Some permeate the culture more than others, but the song cannot reach number one unless it resonates on some level. Very few people have heard All #1, but if there’s a song in this column that you don’t know, you can probably tell us more about the song. All kinds of factors come into play: race, location, age, economic status and gender. If a chart-topping song doesn’t mean anything to you, personally – if you haven’t heard it before – it probably still has a moment in time for many, many other people.
However, there are exceptions. Every now and then, you’ll experience a #1 hit that seems to have completely vanished into the ether. “Recently,” the only real hit from short-lived R&B Trio Divine, was one of those songs. “Recently” crept into #1 for one week at the end of 1998. Divine broke up shortly after releasing their now-out-of-print single. Since none of the individual members were famous, Divine Playing could not be considered a footnote in a larger story. The people who wrote and produced “recently” haven’t moved on to huge jobs either. Even the label that released the song quickly ceased to exist. Compared to other songs featured in this column, Divine’s song “Recently” is a ghost, a hiss. That’s too bad, because it’s a good song.
It’s hard to find a lot of information about Divine online – partly because the group has only been around for a short time and partly because their names are so generic, and so hard to Google. This isn’t the drag queen who starred in all John Waters movies and released two albums in the early ’80s. This god is also not the brother of RZA, the man who has run the affairs of the Wu-Tang Clan business for a while and who is apparently despised by a handful of rappers in the group. It’s not the Indian rapper who has been trying to break into the mainstream for the past decade or so either. These are all different divinities, and they are all going to make life more difficult for you if you are trying to do a search for the divine who was made “recently”.
The three members of The Divine who made “Lately” were all teenagers when they auditioned for a pair of directors. They came from different cities, did not know each other, but sang very well together. These directors signed Divine to Red Ant Entertainment, a label that had only been around for a few years that set records from industry-obsessed crew My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and Wu-Tang Sunz Of Man’s rap group. Red Ant’s internet footprint is virtually nonexistent, giving rise to a mysterious “tax haven” or “organized crime money laundering operation”. From what I can tell, Red Ant was a subsidiary of Pendulum Records, a small rap label founded by former Elektra VP Ruben Rodriguez that has set records for Digable Planets and Lords Of The Underground. This was not, however, a large company.
The people who wrote and produced “recently” all came from Indianapolis, and they had some sort of loose connection with the original Babyface in Indianapolis, which was a good connection if you’re trying to build an R&B in the ’90s. Producers John Howcott and Donald Parks spent time working at LaFace Records, the label Babyface co-founded. For a while, they were two-thirds of HOP Productions, a team that did two Keith Sweat tracks. When HOP broke up, Howcott and Parks started a company called Urban Vibe and signed Indianapolis songwriters Will Baker and Pete Woodruff. These two writers, along with Christopher Kelly, Becker’s childhood friend, wrote “Recently.” In Fred Bronson Billboard book number 1 hitsBaker says that the song “was about my high school days. My high school sweetheart took me on a hilarious ride of ups and downs. I ended up marrying her.” Since Will Baker is not a famous person, I have no way of knowing how this could have happened. Let’s hope it goes well.
Red Ant founder Robin Rodriguez loved the demo “Recently,” and took her to the girl band Divine he had just signed. The song became a single for the first time. Howcott and Parks produced “Lately” and the song was recorded on three different sessions in three different cities. The last of those sessions was in Indianapolis, where co-writer Pete Woodruff played the role of Hammond B3. The It seems “Recently” is really cool. It’s a traditional slow-fried Southern—a rare late-’90s R&B song that actually has some tangible connection to the “blues” part of R&B. It’s a warm, simple track, and this easy-to-fill hamon and guitar strike a nice chemistry. “Recently” is clearly not much work, but its groove is very interesting.
The sounds are good too. The three young women in Divine — Kia Thornton, Nikki Bratcher, and Tonya Tash — all came from New York or New Jersey, and they all had very similar vocal ranges. In “Recently,” they interchange lead vocals, but they all sounded similar enough that you can’t really tell. It’s way weird for a song like this. Most singing groups are built around one lead singer or around a team of radically different personalities, and Divine has never had that. They were just three good singers who all sounded like each other and harmonized well. When different group members take the lead, they show off some serious pieces. Sometimes those pieces get in the way of the song’s relaxed vibe. The line about “the saddest day in sweet November,” for example, became too much. Despite this, for the most part, the singers stick to the groove, and their harmony on the chorus is really beautiful.
There is nothing special about “recently”. It’s a song about longing for a relationship that ended for a while. The main line of the chorus is relatable enough: “Lately, I’ve been thinking of you, dear / Just sit” away, watching the days go by. But there’s nothing specific about the words, which are quite cliched when they just aren’t wrong – wrong – wrong. One line is a total rant: “If your love is the right thing to do, I don’t want to go wrong.” That’s not how the expression goes! no one Wants to make mistakes! And if you had to twist a cliché so that it could rhyme with “another sad love song,” you’ll probably need to rethink that whole line. But the words on the paper aren’t really the point of a song like “Recently.” Instead, it’s about capturing the feel and the vibe, and “recently” it worked.
I have No idea How “recently” it became the most successful. The song hung around the charts for a while, and gradually climbed, getting aired on pop and R&B radio. (“Recently” sounds like it would be a huge hit on adult contemporary radio too, but it never made that chart.) The song sold well enough to go platinum so sales might have been enough to push it into the top 100 The song rings bells a vague memory for me, but it didn’t make much of an impression, and I’m sure I’ve never seen a low-budget video in the swamps on any cable channel . until the painting The institutional memory of the divine seems to mean nothing; On the magazine’s websitethe thumbnail of the Divine is the Divine who was in the John Waters movies, although this Divine had been dead for a decade by the time he “recently” reached #1.
The divine released only one more. Their poor cover of George Michael’s top chart in 1988″Another tryIt peaked at number 29 in the spring of 1999. And then that was the case. Divine . album fairy tales He went out and then disappeared. Red Ant Entertainment ceased to exist sometime around 1999, and so, as far as I can tell, Divine did. Nikki Bratcher has gone on to sing on a few records from Detroit rapper Royce The 5’9″, and she’s also, oddly enough, she also co-wrote the song Gang Starr that appeared on 8 miles Audio recording. Looks like Kia Thornton is back in church singing. In 2007, nine years after “Recently”, she underwent an unforgettable emotional test American IdolView will eventually appear in this column.
The idea that someone scores a hit #1 then the test for Idol Years later it is just wild. Not many people have even made the number 1 hit after, after Being Idol. It’s not too hard to imagine an arc Idol Run for Kia Thornton – She sailed the early rounds, then finally reckoned with her past at a dramatic turning point in the season, singing “Recently,” her own song, and leaving America’s collective jaw-hung open. But that is not what happened. Idol She wore Thornton on Hollywood tours, and the show never acknowledged when she was a huge hit. This was not the combo they wanted to push.
The behind-the-scenes folks involved in “Recently” haven’t exactly moved on to legendary careers either. Writers Pete Woodruff and Chris Kelly wrote an early song for Pink, an artist who will eventually appear in this column. Co-writer Christopher Kelly has done some work with R&B singers like Marques Houston and Avant. “Recently” was real for once. The entire project seemed to evaporate after that song did what it did.
But the #1 amazing disappearance still means things to people. If you look at YouTube comments under “Recently,” most of them fall into two common categories. There are those who talk about “please take me back to the ’90s” and those about “remember the time when women could be respectful and not naked”; This is just white noise everywhere. Two nights ago, though, one comment ambushed me and made me so sad. Please warn: This is some painfully crude nonsense, and I’ll quote it in full:
This song reminds me of my baby I lost in a custody battle in court It tears me apart inside I cry every night Thinking of my baby every second of the day His dad won’t let me see him I miss you baby Mama loves you always and forever I wish you were in my arms Once again, I’m still fighting for you and won’t give up
I don’t know what this lady’s story is. I don’t know why she lost custody of her child. (I have some strong opinions about the way the US court system treats mothers, especially those without cash, but this column doesn’t seem like the right place for those.) But just imagine going through some initial loss and feeling like the only place you live. It can be talked about in the YouTube comments below the video for a widely forgotten hit song from earlier decades. This is a terrible, terrible nightmare, but it also says something about songs, even songs that many of us hardly remember, can become vectors of painful emotion. This is his kind of victory. Many of us may have forgotten all about “recently,” but it still means something real to someone.
Bonus beats: In 2001, Irish singer Samantha Mumba released a “recent” cover that was shinier than the original Divine. Mumba’s cover was a top 10 hit in the UK and Ireland. Here’s the “recently” video:
(Samantha Mumba’s Most Expensive Song in the US, 2000″gotta tell you,’ peaked at No. 4. It’s 6.)