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Mar 14

ETERNAL ft BEBE WINANS – “I Wanna Be The Only One”

Popular46 comments • 7,170 views

#768, 31st May 1997

eternal All through the pre-Spice 90s, if you wanted a girl group, it was R&B you looked to, and the reason you looked there was En Vogue. Like the Spice Girls, they were immediately successful and widely copied. They mixed high-gloss beats with rich, harmony-driven soul and used it to deliver short, potent empowerment slogans. They were exhilarating, they seemed exactly right for their times, and their imitators and successors ultimately led to one of pop’s grandest and most inventive eras. And, like any great American band, they received the dubious compliment of a British knock-off: Eternal.

To be “the British [x]” is, by definition, to follow a hard act – and imitation is often the limit of such groups’ ambition. Eternal bounced mildly around the Top 5 for a few years, making records I remember a great deal less well or fondly than “My Lovin’” or “Free Your Mind”. When Louise Nurding left the group to strike out solo, she did exactly the same. So “I Wanna Be The Only One” at Number One felt like a reward for patient service, in line with the BRIT Awards Nominations Eternal kept racking up.

But for once the public get a group right: this is Eternal’s most likeable moment, with collaboration bringing out the best in them. I can’t bluff and pretend I know anything about the history of gospel in the 80s and 90s, but clearly the Winans family are a major force in it, and BeBe Winans came to this record with a dozen years’ experience duetting with his sister – mixing it up with female voices is his speciality, and his interplay with the group here is terrific.

“I Wanna Be The Only One” is purring along before he gets there – the first verse setting up the shape of the song, with a solo voice cradled by those soft “yeah yeah yeah yeah” backing pulses. But Winans wakes everyone up, sidling into the song like a televangelist – “Now you deserve a mansion / You can have the best in life” – and as soon as he arrives Eternal relax and start to enjoy themselves. Winans’ presence makes the song a nonsense as a narrative – who’s meant to be soothing who anymore? Where’s this pain that’s being erased? (BeBe Winans certainly doesn’t have an ounce of it). But that’s fine – his swaggering entrance is just a signal to appreciate the song as pure collaboration, to enjoy the heaped key changes, the vamps, the ecstatic group pile-on at the end.

The main downer is the backing, which sounds stiff and tinny – if Eternal were put together along a 1990 R&B girl group model, the beat still sounds stuck back there. As for the horns, it was a genuine surprise to find they’re credited to human beings. The backing gives the record a cheap gloss, an air of megachurch tackiness. Luckily it gets overwhelmed, lost in the tumble of voices at the end, all those overlapping “the only one – the only one” shouts. This sort of secular gospel climax has a bit of the motivational speaker about it, Winans clapping and coaxing the girls into being the best Eternal they can be. Subtle it isn’t, but it’s the most untroubled and joyful Number One of 1997 so far.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 6 Mar 2014 #

    this is a bit too slick for my tastes. I don’t hate it but it’s all a bit relentlessly upbeat. Easy to admire, hard to like. 5

  2. 2
    Kat but logged out innit on 6 Mar 2014 #

    This was played approximately twice an hour every hour on Capital FM (we were redecorating my sister’s old bedroom that half term so I could move into it, funnily enough Mum didn’t want to listen to Nevermind for 6 hours every day) and I got SO SICK of the ‘yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah’s that any good will I previously had for Eternal evaporated completely.

    “Just A Step From Heaven” is still pretty good though.

  3. 3
    Cumbrian on 6 Mar 2014 #

    I could remember this comfortably, largely due to the wall to wall play it got on radio in that early summer (as referenced by Kat) – I’d have been getting ready for my GCSEs, so must have heard it a lot whilst doing revision and what not. I can also just about remember the choruses to “Stay” and “Just A Step From Heaven” and would agree with Kat that JASFH is decent enough.

    As Tom mentions, Eternal always suffered by comparison to En Vogue (and SWV and TLC and…and…and…). En Vogue had beaten Eternal to the punch in 1997 anyway, when “Don’t Let Go” charted earlier in the year – I think it had been knocking around in the US for a while off the back of a movie I don’t remember (Wiki says “Set It Off”) and only got to the UK near the start of the year. Whilst DLG is a totally different track to this (smoky ballad versus upbeat gospel), I knew which I preferred (and still prefer). This kicks into another gear towards the end and is joyful the first 3 or 4 times I listened to it but I quickly got bored of that outro and just wanted them to pipe down. The rest of the song is slick but a bit boring – I don’t feel what Eternal are trying to sell me; this was never a problem with En Vogue.

    Eternal now doing The Big Reunion. Louise not involved.

  4. 4
    punctum on 6 Mar 2014 #

    The beat boom had its Hollies, New Pop its Erasure, and although theoretically Eternal should stand as a sort of Joan the Baptist to the Spices, Saints, Sugas and Alouds who followed, they were cut from the same studium cloth; always available, always solid, always on TV and radio, rarely exciting or challenging (their earlier 1997 top three hit “Don’t You Love Me” being the sole remarkable exception), only one number one. Winans has “come all the way from America to sing with you” without sounding too excited about the prospect since the likelihood is that he was drafted into, or grafted onto, the record in an attempt to make the trio break America.

    Mr Winans and the girls exchange courtly pleasantries regarding protecting each other from the rain and easing all each other’s pain (does this sound like a presaging of another, infinitely superior number one?) and despite the fetching quintets of eagerly whispered “yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah”s which punctuate the song the overall impression is one of Tom Jones duetting with the Three Degrees on peaktime Saturday night television circa 1978 – pleasant, bouncy, catchy and completely uninvolving, pick up the cheque and out on the next flight home.

  5. 5
    leveret on 6 Mar 2014 #

    On the subject of British knock-offs, the Wiki entry for briefly successful late 90s British R&B girl group Honeyz suggests that Mercury Records intended to market them as rivals to Destiny’s Child. That’s optimism for you.

  6. 6
    Cumbrian on 6 Mar 2014 #

    Re: 4. I quite like The Hollies stuff written by Graham Gouldman – though I guess these songs might fall into the “exciting or challenging” bucket that you suggest they rarely tapped into (I’ve not listened to loads of records by them to challenge the idea that they were a little bit boring otherwise).

  7. 7
    swanstep on 6 Mar 2014 #

    Sounds to me like an uninspired filler track on a rom-com s/track (I can’t help but conjure up gurning Hugh Grants et al. as I listen through for the 4th time) rather than the sort of thing that anyone would buy for itself, let alone something that would bother the top of the charts. Three murderous key changes in the last minute or so bury a disco guitar part that’s about the only thing I actually like about this track:
    3

  8. 8
    punctum on 6 Mar 2014 #

    NB: by “only one number one” I am omitting “got to number one because of TV advert” apropos the Hollies. Actually TPL was a bit more sympathetic towards the group: http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2009/10/hollies-hollies-greatest.html

  9. 9
    mapman132 on 6 Mar 2014 #

    Eternal was one of those groups I knew only as a recurring name in the top five of the UK chart. I was surprised to learn they had a US Top 40 hit: “Stay” reached #19 in 1993. I listened to it before “I Wanna Be The Only One” – it didn’t ring any bells for me. Nor did IWBTOO – it wasn’t a US hit at all. As I’ve stated before, I’ve never been a fan of 90’s R&B (although I’ve grown to appreciate En Vogue), but there’s nothing really to find fault with here, so it gets my default score of 5/10.

  10. 10
    Mark M on 6 Mar 2014 #

    I quite like this – did at the time, do when it turns up on ‘Best of the 90s’ days on 4 Music. I’d edge towards a seven.

    (Re3: Set It Off? It’s a female heist movie with Jada Pinkett and Queen Latifah, directed by the variable F Gary Gray. I sort of remember it as being not bad, but it’s been a while).

  11. 11
    Mark G on 6 Mar 2014 #

    OK, now here’s a thing: You remember “Dastardly and Mutley in their Flying Machines” ?

    Particularly the part when DD would tempt M into some dangerous or mundane task with the promise of a medal, at which point Mutley would go “yeah yeah yeah yeah, gimme gimme” and kiss the glove, and so on..

    So, the verses have a lot of that ‘yeah yeah’ business, all the way through.

    Except at one point Bebe Winans sings “now you deserve a medal” and the backing vocals are obscured by someone singing “My god, you do!”

    Which seems to suggest they were actively avoiding the Dick Dastardly and Mutley reference.

    (edit: Are you sure he’s singing “Mansion” ?)

  12. 12
    thefatgit on 6 Mar 2014 #

    Although I clearly remember Eternal being regularly on TV in the 90s, their music, and notably this song eludes my memory. Victim of some massive 90s pop memory eraser? Usurped by the Saints/Suga/Spice triumvirate? Less memorable than En Vogue & TLC?

    Some or none of these questions will be answered after some much-needed YouTube action once I get home from work.

  13. 13
    Tom on 6 Mar 2014 #

    #11 I originally thought “mention”, which makes zero sense, then my lyrics guru A. Randomsite pointed me to “mansion”. “Medal” would be fine too tho.

  14. 14
    georgethe23rd on 6 Mar 2014 #

    Eternal (minus Louise) are part of this year’s “Big Reunion” TV show/tour on ITV2. They’re probably the biggest act in it.

  15. 15
    anto on 6 Mar 2014 #

    Any covers of this one? It strikes me as the kind of song that could be a lot sexier with a different arrangement and fewer singers. A bit of a ‘oh, that got to number one as well’ kind of number one.

  16. 16
    ciaran on 6 Mar 2014 #

    This was a very big hit at the time and I would have called it the sound of summer 97 with the exception of the next entry. It does feel a lot like a long service number one more than anything and helped by the fact that the Spices are taking a breather after a hectic 12 months. Indeed the Spice girls would get to a higher position than eternal would in the next head to head (if there was any!).

    The thing that surprises me about Eternal is that though they were there well before most other groups, they are never spoken of nowadays. Then again they were a lot more conservative sounding than the rest.

    IWBTON is not offensive in any way but much like most of Eternal’s work sounds a lot like it’s in second gear nowadays. A sunnier day would tempt me to give it a 6 but on a rain soaked March one 5.

  17. 17
    tm on 6 Mar 2014 #

    How 90s is that logo font on the sleeve?! The three figures under the n are very Charlie’s Angels (though, predating the film by a few years, right?)

    I quite liked Eternal, even through my Britpop phase (they were a ‘proper’ pop group, who ‘could actually sing’…I know, I know…) though I can’t recall any of their actual songs, this included. Louise Nurding was the proto-Rachel Stevens, wimpy boys’ non threatening pop crush of choice. I would have been in the middle of my GCSEs, which explains a two month or so pop blackout in my mind from spring/summer 97.

  18. 18
    Tom on 6 Mar 2014 #

    The font size changes on the title also feel painfully 90s (though I know about as much about typography as I do about gospel….)

  19. 19
    Cumbrian on 6 Mar 2014 #

    Also, on the sleeve, find it amusing that it advertises “two exclusive tracks and Don’t You Love Me Tyme Club Remix”. B-Sides? What will these ingenious people at the record company think of next? Following the “Free Poster” advert on the Gary Barlow #1, it seems like they’ll try anything to encourage people to buy a single at this point in Pop history.

  20. 20
    poohugh on 6 Mar 2014 #

    As others have alluded to, there was a period of time when the reply to anything you said on the school bus or at home was “yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah”, a bit like the “NOT” craze three years earlier.

    The backing is so rubbish [yeah yeah yeah yeah] but Bebe’s five note “now yYoOou deServe a mAnsion” makes up for it: 6

  21. 21
    glue_factory on 6 Mar 2014 #

    I initially read it as a “Tyne Club” mix which suggested a terrifying soundtrack to a night-out on the Bigg Market wearing next to nothing as the North Sea wind blows in.

  22. 22
    punctum on 6 Mar 2014 #

    You just know that whenever Radio 2 gets round to doing a Sounds of the Nineties show it’s going to be all Lighthouse Family, Gabrielle and Eternal, don’t you? With maybe the odd avant garde curveball like the Spin Doctors.

  23. 23
    James BC on 6 Mar 2014 #

    I liked this at the time but the lyrics get annoying with repeat listens, the worst offenders being “protect you from the rain”, “erase all the pain”, “a pure love that gold can’t buy”… there are tons actually. I was going to say that they don’t sound like they were written by an anglophone, but that would be disrespectful to the many non-anglophones who’ve written far better, even classic, English lyrics.

    I agree with people above that Just A Step From Heaven is their best song. They seemed to be much better when Louise was in the group, though I don’t know whether that was because of her contribution or because they had better material or because having her in the group enabled them to attract better material.

    Any discussion of Louise’s solo career? She was never huge, but she managed to sustain it at a medium level of popularity for a lot longer than a lot of people manage.

    Kelle had a solo career too, and wasn’t without talent, but I don’t think she got beyond a first couple of singles. It was a crowded market and I’m not sure whether she was positioned as more pop or RnB.

  24. 24
    Tom on 6 Mar 2014 #

    I really liked (& I think actually bought) Louise’s “2 Faced” in 2000, which was definitely on the pop side rather than the R&B one. I just put it on the videos blog in fact (we should probably get a sidebar with links from the videos blog).

  25. 25
    Cumbrian on 6 Mar 2014 #

    From the video blog: Awesome that the video of JASFH, with the song itself perhaps a little behind the curve in replicating US R&B Girl Groups, is also 6 or 7 years behind the curve with the Public Enemy imagery. Still think the song is alright, mind – perhaps a touch longer than it needs to be but otherwise decent.

  26. 26
    admin on 6 Mar 2014 #

    I just added a “5 recent tumblr posts” widget to the /popular sidebar, but unfortunately the videos appear in fixed-width iframes of 400px and it looks nasty. Even if we styled the colour block right, I need to work out if we can change the size.

    HAXOR KING. I’ve made the videos smaller. But it’s still not looking very nice yet

  27. 27
    Kat but logged out innit on 6 Mar 2014 #

    Louise Redknapp-formerly-Nurding did the intentionally-saucy ‘Naked’ (in an effort to put some distance between her and Eternal’s gospelly Blue Peter image) which was basically Holly Valance’s ‘Kiss Kiss’ a few years early. You can imagine what the video was like.

  28. 28
    JLucas on 6 Mar 2014 #

    Louise’s first solo hit was Mariah-ish ballad ‘Light of my Life’, which is a lovely song though bless her, she didn’t really have the range.

    Naked is a bona fide pop classic, and Arms Around The World and 2 Faced are pretty great too. I love that oh-so mid nineties sitar-to-signpost-nod-to-world-music sound that Arms Around The World utilises (See also: Janet Jackson’s ‘Runaway’.) She also did a very decent stab at Let’s Go Round Again by Average White Band.

    As for Eternal, I liked them a lot, though they definitely lacked the excitement factor the Spice Girls had. Easther Bennett is one hell of a vocalist. For me their best song was the one that followed this one, a gorgeous, uncharacteristically understated ballad called ‘Angel of Mine’, which was a US #1 hit for Monica a year or so later.

  29. 29
    Kinitawowi on 6 Mar 2014 #

    My sister had the Always And Forever album, and I soon developed a soft spot for Oh Baby I…, but I always preferred Louise’s poppy sensibilities (seriously, Naked is a beast of a song) to the rest of the band’s R&B ones. There’s enough good faith from the early days for me to treat this as a long-service award, though. 5.

  30. 30
    Another Pete on 6 Mar 2014 #

    #11 I’ve always noticed that too.

    Not much more to add that’s already been said about the track, but in regards to Louise my younger brother always imitated the then Persil advert whenever she appeared on TV/radio by going ‘The white one?! Ah!!! Mum?!’

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