Most people remember 1991 as being the year that grunge broke (Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger all came out that year) and as the year that metal had something of a peak (Guns N’ Roses put out their epic two-disc Use Your Illusion and Metallica dropped their self-titled crossover masterpiece). But a quick look at the top singles from that year reveals that while guitars ruled the underground and MTV, people still just wanted to dance on the radio. In fact, today marks the anniversary of the ascension of a song that defines that era’s radio presence more accurately than any chart-topper. On this day in 1991, EMF’s “Unbelievable” broke into the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
EMF (which either stood for “Epsom Mad Funkers” or “Ecstasy Mind F—ers,” depending on who you believe) came from England and were a part of the emerging dance-rock craze that had taken hold of that country. “Unbelievable” was their debut single, and it’s easy to see why it became such a smash, as it has an insistent guitar riff, a kinetic beat and, as a bonus, a sample of then-massive comedian Andrew “Dice” Clay shouting “Oh!”
“Unbelievable” spent 14 weeks on the chart before climbing to the top spot. It replaced Paula Abdul’s “Rush Rush,” which held a stranglehold on the number one spot for five weeks before EMF brushed it aside. Sadly, EMF’s reign at the top was brief, as after one week on top it yielded the position to Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” (a song from the soundtrack to the ’91 blockbuster “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”). By the end of the year, most people in the know were shouting along to Kurt Cobain singing “Here we are now/ Entertain us,” but in the summer, all anyone could say was “You’re unbelievable.”