Oh me, oh my – we’ve reached the “dreamy boy bands” section of this Every Hot 100 Number-One Single challenge. A far cry from a Rhinestone Cowboy, this is nonetheless quite an important era of pop music that we must eventually address if we were to cover as many of each year’s biggest hits as possible. Let it be known, though, that unlike their contemporaries like Backstreet Boys or N*SYNC, Savage Garden didn’t really start out as a member of this international craze until a few years into their success. And then they just sort of fizzled away – but not without leaving two number-one hits in their wake.
So, Savage Garden are an Australian pop duo. They initially found crossover success in 1996 with the lead single from their debut album, the erratic electronic rock song “I Want You”, which reached the top ten in the US. After a couple more less-than-stellar releases, they found their first #1 single in 1997’s signature love ballad “Truly Madly Deeply”. The mega success of “Truly” (which was ranked as Billboard’s #4 song of 1998) found Savage Garden at a crossroads on how to achieve another hit that had strayed so far from their original sound. They were fortunate enough to be making hits during a time when slow love ballads were the accepted norm in R&B, pop, adult contemporary, and even country music on the radio. Sure, this was also the time when Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were making peppy, danceable tracks, but even Backstreet Boys found some of their most prominent successes in singles like “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)”, “All I Have to Give”, and “I Want It That Way”.
So of course, the only logical step left for Savage Garden to do is attempt to double their winnings with a very similar single in this same style of soft love ballad with dreamy vocals and sleek production. It worked for BSB, and it could work for them! And work it did. This proved to be almost as big of a commercial smash as “Truly Madly Deeply”, spending four weeks at number-one on the Hot 100. It fared even better on the Adult Contemporary chart, where it spent seventeen weeks at the top spot, and 124 weeks on the AC list in total.
Yet, even though the song’s prosperity is due to it sounding like every other soft pop ballad out there, in truth it really is pretty different from all the others. Its obscurity can be found in the lyrics to its chorus, which are just plain strange: “I knew I loved you before I met you / I think I dreamed you into life / … I have been waiting all my life”. Songs about the inevitability of fate in relation to everlasting romance aren’t uncommon, but I’ve never heard of any other song that takes the concept quite so literally. And yes, “I knew I loved you before I met you” sounds like something awfully sugary sweet to tell a loved one… but what does it actually mean? The more I think about it the more it makes my head spin, and years upon years of listening to this song doesn’t make it any less perplexing. At least the speaker has the mind to speak of the senselessness of it all in the second verse: “There’s just no rhyme or reason / Only the sense of completion”.
As far as production goes, this style is definitely not my favorite. Both men of Savage Garden produced this single along with Walter Afanasieff, who is best known for producing ballads from the likes of Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. It has the same polished, inoffensive quality that so many other adult contemporary love songs possess, especially those in the 80s and 90s. Besides a couple cool guitar and bass effects, there really is nothing else interesting going on here and the track just chugs on and on with no variety through its entirety. In other words, it’s absolutely perfect for a couple’s first dance at their wedding, which I’m sure has been performed to this song countless times at this point. Honestly, though, I think the sickly sweet lyrics of “Truly Madly Deeply” get my goat even more than this song, but that isn’t very much of a compliment. This is nice for nostalgia’s sake, but I can’t imagine it meaning much else to any other person.