In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
“A total career move.” That’s how Peter Cetera once described the decision. Cetera’s solo career was going well, but it was still a new enterprise. Immediately after leaving Chicago, Cetera had recorded a #1 hit with “Glory Of Love,” a song from the soundtrack to The Karate Kid Part II, and he’d been nominated for an Oscar as well. For the follow-up, Cetera went with a time-tested music-business strategy. He teamed up with a young, bubbling singer who had momentum and who came from an emerging underground scene. That scene was contemporary Christian music, and that singer was Amy Grant.
It’s a bit weird to think of Christian pop as an underground scene, but that’s really what it was — and, at least to some extent, what it remains. Christian pop — the conspicuously white variant that has little overlap with gospel — really came out of the ’60s counterculture. Musicians like Larry Norman found that their faith was compatible with the searching spirituality of the moment, and they started making rock music about it. This was fringey stuff, nowhere near the center of the music industry. Eventually, it became its own industry, with its own concert circuit, its own radio stations, and its own publications. Christian pop was and is a whole shadow economy, an alternate-reality mirror-image take on pop music.
In Christian pop, Amy Grant was a phenom, a supernova. She certainly wasn’t the first Christian pop star, but if you think of Christian pop as a genre, then she was the first real star to come out of that genre. By the time Cetera linked up with Grant, she’d already made three platinum albums, and she’d even made some headway in the mainstream pop charts — unexplored territory for her whole scene. “The Next Time I Fall,” the duet that Cetera recorded with Grant, is a stale, dry saltine of a song, and it deserves to be forgotten. But recruiting Amy Grant was a fascinating move, and a smart one. As a result, Cetera wound up with his second consecutive #1 single.
Since Amy Grant is really the only interesting thing about “The Next Time I Fall,” let’s talk about Amy Grant. Grant was born in Augusta, Georgia, James Brown’s hometown, and she mostly grew up in Nashville. (When Grant was born, the #1 song in America was Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John.”) Grant was 15 when she wrote her first song. She recorded a demo of that song with her youth-group leader. The studio owner heard her tape, and he alerted the people at Word Records, a Nashville faith-based record label that was already pretty big. Grant signed with the Word subsidiary Myrrh before her 16th birthday, and she released her 1977 self-titled debut album before she graduated high school.
Grant started cranking out albums immediately, and she eventually dropped out of Vanderbilt to pursue music full-time. She was everything you could potentially want in a Christian pop singer. She was pretty enough that some within her world accused her of being too sexy. She had a big, clear, warm voice. Most importantly, she radiated a wholesome sense of contentment. She always sounded like she was absolutely overwhelmed by the love of Jesus — like she couldn’t believe her good fortune in getting to sing about it. The music was adult-contempo pop, not the fiery gospel of an Aretha Franklin, but some of it was pretty good!
In the early ’80s, Amy Grant was a big deal. Her 1982 album Age To Age became the first Christian pop album to go gold and then platinum, and it won her a Grammy in the gospel category. That same year, Grant married fellow Christian pop artist Gary Chapman. In 1985, A&M had started distributing Grant’s records, and Grant’s music had moved to adapt to the synthy sound of the moment. When her single “Find A Way” peaked at #29, Grant became the first artist from the Christian pop world to make an impact on the Billboard charts. Grant was beginning to cross over into the secular pop world, so when she got the call to record a song with Cetera, she knew it was exactly the opportunity that she needed.
“The Next Time I Fall” came from Cetera’s friend Bobby Caldwell, a guy who’d had some success as a white smooth-soul singer in the ’70s, and from Caldwell’s writing partner Paul Gordon. (Caldwell’s highest-charting single, 1978’s “What You Won’t Do For Love,” peaked at #9. It’s a 5.) Caldwell and Gordon had written “The Next Time I Fall” specifically for Chicago, imagining Cetera singing it, so they were bummed to learn that he’d left the band. But Cetera found the demo tape in his friend David Foster’s office anyway.
Cetera decided that “The Next Time I Fall” should be a duet, which is honestly a pretty weird choice. “The Next Time I Fall” is structured as an internal conversation. Cetera’s narrator sings the song to somebody: “Tonight, I was thinking that you might be the one who breathes life in this heart of mine.” But he seems to be psyching himself up. His narrator has decided that he won’t let a chance at love slip past him again, so he’s determined to grab this next opportunity. The song doesn’t make sense as something that two people sing to each other, but that’s how Cetera wanted to do it. He picked Grant as a duet partner after someone at his label suggested her.
Grant was touring when she got the offer, so she flew in and recorded her part in a single day. In the video, I’m pretty sure Cetera and Grant never appear onscreen together. Instead, they both stare longingly out of windows while ballet dancers twirl through a big studio. Some of those dancers wear Karate Kid-looking headbands. Maybe that was just the style of the time, but I’m pretty sure it was Cetera subtly reminding the viewer that he was the guy who sang that song in that movie.
There’s really not enough Amy Grant on “The Next Time I Fall.” It’s a total Peter Cetera song. Musically, the bloat of the mid-’80s big-pop era is all over this thing. The veteran producer Michael Omartian layers echoing drums and sterile synth-gloop all over it, and Cetera yowls the whole thing like a weasel who can miraculously shriek on-key. Grant gets a few lines, but she’s mostly relegated to backup-singer status. When she does get the spotlight, Grant doesn’t sound like she’s trying to sing Cetera under the table, but she does it anyway.
Grant’s voice is frankly the only thing about “The Next Time I Fall” that doesn’t make me want to smash things over my head. Otherwise, the entire track is hookless, vaguely irritating goop. “Glory Of Love,” Cetera’s first solo chart-topper, wasn’t good, but it at least had a real singalong hook working for it. “The Next Time I Fall” doesn’t even have that. It’s an inert, self-satisfied fetid puddle of a song, and it bugs the shit out of me.
With “Glory Of Love” and “The Next Time I Fall,” Cetera managed #1 hits with his first two solo singles — a real achievement, even if both of those songs suck. But Cetera won’t appear in this column again. Cetera did make the top 10 again a few more times. His 1988 single “One Good Woman” peaked at #4. (It’s a 4.) A year after that, Cetera and Cher made it to #6 with “After All,” a duet from the soundtrack of the movie Chances Are. (It’s a 3.) And in 1997, the Philadelphia R&B group Az Yet released a cover of Cetera’s 1982 Chicago chart-topper “Hard To Say I’m Sorry,” and Cetera himself guested on it. (The Az Yet version peaked at #8. It’s a 5.)
Other than those singles, Cetera generally wasn’t a significant pop-chart presence after “The Next Time I Fall,” but he stuck around on adult-contemporary radio, and he’s still pretty successful there. In 2016, as a member of Chicago, Cetera was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and he publicly considered the idea of reuniting with the band for the ceremony. Ultimately, though, Cetera rejected the reunion, and he didn’t even show up to be inducted. Seems pretty safe to say that Cetera will never play with Chicago again.
Cetera won’t appear in this column again, but Chicago will. So will Amy Grant.
BONUS BEATS: I don’t have a lot to work with here! Anna Kendrick apparently sang “The Next Time I Fall” in the 2009 Jason Schwartzman/Ben Stiller comedy The Marc Pease Experience, but that movie’s existence has been erased from the collective memory, and I can’t find video of Kendrick’s version online. Bobby Caldwell recorded his own version of “The Next Time I Fall” in 1988, but do you care about that? I don’t! So let’s go with this. I always liked the bit in Father John Misty’s “Leaving LA” where he complains about “these LA phonies and their bullshit bands that sound like dollar signs and Amy Grant.” Here’s the video for that 13-minute monster: