The Number Ones

April 14, 1990

The Number Ones: Tommy Page’s “I’ll Be Your Everything”

Stayed at #1:

1 Week

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.

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The Beatles arrived in America in February of 1964. By June, they’d already racked up four #1 hits. During a quick break between Beatles singles, a duo called Peter & Gordon became the first non-Beatles act to ride the British Invasion to the top of the American hits. The Peter of Peter & Gordon was Peter Asher, brother of Paul McCartney’s girlfriend Jane. McCartney had written a song called “A World Without Love” for the Beatles, and John Lennon had rejected it, claiming that it wasn’t good enough to be a Beatles song. So McCartney gave “A World Without Love” away to Peter & Gordon, and “A World Without Love” became that duo’s only #1 hit.

It’s an amazing, monumental feat to score a #1 hit in America. But when a hugely popular group hands a #1 single off to someone else, that’s another realm entirely. The story of Tommy Page isn’t the same as that of Peter & Gordon. For one thing, New Kids On The Block didn’t just hand a song over to their buddy Tommy Page. Instead, Page got together with New Kids Jordan Knight and Danny Wood to write the song. Also, I probably don’t need to point this out, but New Kids On The Block were not the Beatles. Still, the New Kids’ circa-1990 cultural impact was the closest thing to a Beatle-level event that anyone had seen in a long time.

Tommy Page’s sole #1 hit did what it did, at least in part, because it had that New Kids pixie dust on it. The song came along right between New Kids album cycles, at the moment when the New Kids were at their cultural peak. Tommy Page had grown up reading Billboard, imagining what it would be like to make a #1 hit of his own. He knew history and context, and he probably wouldn’t be too upset if someone called him the 1990 version of Peter & Gordon.

Tommy Page came from New Jersey, and he started playing music early. (When Page was born, the #1 song in America was the Guess Who’s “American Woman.”) At eight, Page was playing piano. At 14, he was drumming in a band called Broken Promises with his brother Bill. Page was 15 when Broken Promises released an EP of Loverboy-style keyboard-rock on a local indie called Broccoli Rabe Records. But Tommy really wanted to make pop music, not rock, so he split off from Broken Promises and moved to New York City when he was 17.

During Page’s freshman year at NYU, he spent a lot of nights at New York clubs, and he eventually got a coatcheck job at Nell’s in the West Village. This was a deliberate move on Page’s part. He knew that Madonna had been discovered at Danceteria, and he wanted to be discovered, too. Page made demos of his songs, and he had them pressed on vinyl so that he could get the club’s DJs to play them. One night, Seymour Stein, the man who’d signed Madonna to Sire, came to Nell’s, and Page made sure that Stein heard his synthy dance song “Turning Me On.”

Stein liked “Turning Me On” enough to give Tommy Page a singles deal. The song missed the charts entirely in the US, but “Turning Me On” randomly became a big hit in Asia. The people at in the Asian offices at Warner Bros., Sire’s parent company, wanted more, so Tommy Page got to make an album. (Page also wrote and recorded “The Shag,” the theme song for the 1988 Bridget Fonda/Phoebe Cates early-’60s period-piece teen comedy Shag. I have legitimately never heard of this movie. In the video for “The Shag,” Page danced in front of a giant Confederate flag; this was the era when people still thought that shit was cool.)

Tommy Page’s self-titled 1988 debut wasn’t a big hit, but the stately, sensitive ballad “A Shoulder To Cry On” was a minor hit, peaking at #27. That got Page an opening spot on that year’s New Kids On The Block/Tiffany tour. On that tour, Page felt ignored and isolated. In hotels, Page would sit in the lobbies by himself, playing piano. Jordan Knight started watching Page play, and one night, he walked over and asked if he could sit on the bench with Page. Page played Knight some songs he’d written, and Knight played Page an incomplete version of “I’ll Be Your Everything,” a song that he was working on.

In that Hangin’ Tough era, the individual New Kids almost never got a chance to write their own songs. Instead, Maurice Starr, the man who put the group together, wrote and produced virtually everything. Page liked “I’ll Be Your Everything,” and he suggested that the New Kids should use it for their next record. Knight didn’t think it was a New Kids song, but he thought about releasing it as a solo track at some point. A while later, Page asked Knight if he could finish writing the song, so Knight and Page got together with fellow New Kid Danny Wood to write the bridge and the second verse.

When Page started working on his 1990 sophomore album Paintings In My Mind, he asked Knight if he could record “I’ll Be Your Everything.” Knight was cool with it, but he wanted to produce. Jordan Knight actually co-produced Page’s version of “I’ll Be Your Everything” with fellow New Kid Donnie Wahlberg and Michael Jonzun, Maurice Starr’s brother. (Before Starr launched New Edition and then New Kids On The Block, he was in Michael’s sick-as-hell electro-funk group Jonzun Crew. Michael Jonzun also co-produced the New Kids’ first #1 hit “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever),” and I think it’s cool that the Jonzun Crew guy has multiple #1 hits on his resume.)

“I’ll Be Your Everything” really was a New Kids production. Jordan Knight, Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood, and Michael Jonzun all sang backup vocals. Maurice Starr played bass and guitar. Jordan Knight played keyboard. Donnie Wahlberg played drums. It’s basically a New Kids On The Block song with Tommy Page singing lead. This is pretty weird. Page himself wasn’t really a New Kids-style teen-pop singer, even though he was an actual teenager. (“I’ll Be Your Everything” hit #1 a month before Page’s 20th birthday.) You could tell that Page was into early-’80s stuff like ABC and Marc Almond. The whole New Kids style wasn’t a terribly comfortable fit.

But Page tried. “I’ll Be Your Everything” — like “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever),” the New Kids hit where Jordan Knight sang lead — is a feathery love song that gestures in the direction of Philly soul. (The New Kids singing Dramatics-style backup vocals is pretty distracting.) Page’s soft, whispery voice couldn’t hit the big notes that a song like that demands, but there’s something about its fragility that draws me in.

As a song, “I’ll Be Your Everything” is broad and basic. Page’s narrator promises to be your lover and your best friend, to be there when you’re needing him, and to be the one who will set you free. There’s one line about how you shouldn’t think about the problems of the past, but this is Page in romantic-fantasy territory, barely even acknowledging that those problems can exist. The production works to evoke that total lack of friction, bringing in all plinky keyboards and smooth-jazz sax howls that signified smoothness in 1990.

“I’ll Be Your Everything” is a deeply forgettable song. It’s bland and light and slightly boring. But there’s nothing particularly offensive about it, either. A lot of those circa-1990 hit ballads absolutely grate on my soul. The music on “I’ll Be Your Everything” doesn’t really work with Page’s voice, but to Page’s credit, he never oversings. I definitely don’t like “I’ll Be Your Everything,” but I don’t really hate it, either.

In Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book Of Number 1 Hits, where Page tells all about getting to know Jordan Knight and asking if he could record the song, Page says that he freaked out over the possibility of landing a #1 hit. The night before the charts came out, he was consumed with despair, convinced he was going to lose the #1 spot to Jane Child’s “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love.” (“Don’t Wanna Fall In Love” ultimately peaked at #2 behind “I’ll Be Your Everything.” It’s a 6.) When he learned that he’d won the top spot, Page screamed and cried and collapsed. He wanted it bad.

Tommy Page never got it again. Page followed “I’ll Be Your Everything” with “Turn On The Radio,” a song that he co-wrote with Jordan Knight and Donnie Wahlberg, but that one missed the Hot 100 entirely. Later in 1990, Page’s swooping, theatrical “When I Dream Of You” peaked at #42, and that was the last time that Tommy Page charted on the Billboard Hot 100. (New Kids On The Block, on the other hand, will appear in this column again. Weirdly, Donnie Wahlberg will be in the column again as a producer, too.)

Tommy Page released two more albums on Sire, but they didn’t sell much in the US, though he remained popular in Asia. Page also played himself on a 1992 episode of Full House. For a little while, he starred in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on Broadway. Page and the Latin freestyle singer Sa-Fire formed a house group called La Casa and recorded a few tracks in 1993. But “I’ll Be Your Everything” was definitely a one-off.

Rather than continuing to chase stardom much longer, Tommy Page went back to NYU and finished his degree in the late ’90s. Page then became an A&R executive at Warner Bros., the label where he’d once recorded. Page stayed at Warner for years. In 2011, he left Warner and took a job as publisher at Billboard. I’m guessing he’s the only person who ever topped Billboard‘s Hot 100 and then went on to work at the magazine. Later on, Page worked at Pandora and at the Village Voice, the newspaper where I got my start. (Page and I weren’t at the Voice at the same time or anything. Page was “VP of musical partnerships,” which was not a job that existed when I was there.) In 2017, Tommy Page died by suicide, leaving behind a partner and three kids. He was 46 years old.

It takes luck, instincts, and timing to make a #1 hit. Topping the Hot 100 is not an easy thing to do. Tommy Page dreamed about making a #1 hit, and then he achieved that dream when he was 19. That’s beautiful, but it’s not everything. From what I can tell, Page moved on from his hitmaking days with uncommon grace, becoming a functional adult after spending formative years in a line of work that discourages functional adulthood. I never met Tommy Page, but the people who knew him spoke of him highly. The end of Tommy Page’s story is truly sad.

GRADE: 4/10

BONUS BEATS: In 2004, on a record called Jordan Knight Performs New Kids On The Block: The Remix Album, Jordan Knight released his own version of “I’ll Be Your Everything. Here it is:

(Jordan Knight’s highest-charting solo-artist single, 1999’s “Give It To You,” peaked at #10. It’s an 8.)

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