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.
In September 2000, just before “Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You)” became her third #1 hit, Christina Aguilera’s first headlining tour took her to the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. The opening act was Destiny’s Child, a group that’s been in this column a couple of times already. The night before the show, Christina’s tour bus was parked at a hotel near Syracuse University, where I was just starting my junior year. Apparently, a couple of college students got onto that tour bus and spent the evening partying with Christina’s crew. I don’t know how something like that happens, but some things are just not for us to know.
That night, the party ended around 3AM, and as the crew guys staggered off to bed, they left the tour bus unlocked. Later that night, the two college students snuck back onto the Christina Aguilera tour bus and stole a bunch of stuff. The New York Times report on the theft claims that the students were looking for “souvenirs,” while Pollstar claimed that they got “golf clubs, a gym bag, and pyrotechnics worth more than $1,000.” Those two students were quickly arrested, and I don’t know what happened to them after that.
The Christina Aguilera tour-bus break-in didn’t become some huge national story, but in Syracuse, that shit instantly transformed into local oral-tradition legend. The widespread belief, which I feel like I must’ve seen reported someplace, was that the thieves were frat boys who were looking for Christina Aguilera’s underwear. Gross! Also, plausible! Within a couple of days, though, I was hearing stories that were way more outlandish. The best tall tale was that these two yahoos had stolen Christina Aguilera’s entire tour bus and that they were driving it around to different frat parties.
Christina Aguilera didn’t make it to the stage at the New York State Fair that night. Instead, she postponed that tour date, blaming laryngitis. Maybe she really was sick, or maybe she just needed to take that day to figure out who needed to be fired. Whatever the case, that whole episode says something about the hold that Christina Aguilera had over the young American collective imagination in 2000. Christina Aguilera was selling millions of albums, but numbers are one thing. When you’ve got collegiate dickheads willing to risk arrest and prosecution to sniff your drawers, that’s something else entirely.
In July of 2000, Christina Aguilera had positioned herself, alongside her former Mickey Mouse Club castmate Britney Spears, as one of the biggest stars of a cresting teen-pop wave. Christina didn’t necessarily want to be part of that wave; she wanted to be seen as a poppy R&B singer. But you can’t always fight a wave. Christina had won the Grammy for Best New Artist, beating Britney, and her self-titled debut album had sold six million copies. Two of her singles, “Genie In A Bottle” and “What A Girl Wants,” had topped the Hot 100. She’d followed those songs with the more traditional R&B ballad “I Turn To You,” a cover of a Diane Warren composition that the former Number Ones artists All-4-One had originally recorded a few years earlier. That ballad had gotten as far as #3. (It’s a 4.)
By the time she’d gotten through those first three singles, Christina Aguilera had other things on the horizon. Before 2000 was over, she would release two more albums, a Spanish-language record called Mi Reflejo and a holiday LP called My Kind Of Christmas. But Ron Fair, Christina’s A&R rep, figured that the self-titled album still had some pop-chart juice left in it. He thought the album had one more hit, but that hit would need a complete overhaul before it was ready for the pop charts.
One of the tracks on the Christina Aguilera album was “Come On Over (All I Want Is You),” a bubbly and flirty uptempo track from the Swedish songwriting team of Paul Rein and Johan Åberg. Paul Rein had been a minor dance-pop star in Sweden in the ’80s, and he’d eventually gone to work at Eclectic Studios, a Stockholm songwriting factory that was attempting to do the same kind of thing that Denniz Pop and Max Martin had done with Cheiron Studios. Eclectic founder Anders Hansson paired Rein with producer Johan Åberg, and “Come On Over (All I Want Is You)” was the first song that the two of them wrote together.
Paul Rein and Johan Åberg were trying to write a sunny uptempo jam for former Number Ones artists the Spice Girls, but their track instead found its way to Ron Fair, who was picking out songs for Christina Aguilera’s album. Paul Rein had sung on the demo version of the track, and when Christina recorded the track for her album, she just used Rein and Åberg’s instrumental with Rein’s vocals taken off. That was fine when “Come On Over” was an album track. But when Ron Fair decided that he wanted to make “Come On Over” a single, he decided that the song needed to be reworked.
Christina Aguilera had already gotten to #1 with a remixed and re-recorded version of “What A Girl Wants,” so Fair had been vindicated in his belief that he should try to sell the world a different version of a Christina Aguilera song that had already been out for more than a year. Here’s how Fair describes his thinking in Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book Of Number 1 Hits: “The original version was too ultra-pop for where Christina needed and wanted to go. She was feeling her legs in more of an R&B sense and singing more aggressive riffs, but we couldn’t deny the hook.”
This whole thing seems really weird to me. You don’t go to the Swedish songwriting factories unless you’re looking for something that’s definitionally ultra-pop. And anyway, the original “Come On Over” was a total banger, a great example of the kind of giddily direct thing that Swedish songwriters all seem to do so well. The chorus is huge. It’s hooks stacked on top of hooks until all those hooks form the shape of one enormous hook. It’s happy and propulsive and energetic. There’s electricity in the hammering piano riff, the staccato string-stabs, and the booming, mechanistic drum sounds. That album version also offers Christina plenty of chances to wail her face off, and all the showy singing never gets in the way of the melody itself. The song wasn’t broke, but Ron Fair wanted to fix it anyway.
Reading between the lines, I think Ron Fair really just wanted to make “Come On Over” hornier. In the Bronson book, Paul Rein talks about how excited he was to hear that “Come On Over” was about to become a single, “but Ron wanted to update the music production and wanted the lyrics to be sexier.” Rein and Johan Åberg tried to rewrite the lyrics to suit Fair’s specifications, “but we didn’t come up with anything good.” Instead, Rein brought in a production trio called Celebrity Status to remix the track. “What A Girl Wants” writers Shelly Reiken and Guy Roche also took another pass at the lyrics, and Christina Aguilera and Ron Fair themselves also got songwriting credits. Fair had himself credited as a co-producer, too.
In the Bronson book, Ron Fair says, “If you look at the production credits, there are nine writers. And you want to know something? That is a factual, true representation of who really wrote that record. All nine of us had a little hand in it.” Fair doesn’t say who had the idea to add a superfluous “Baby” to the title — as in “Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You)” — which accomplished the slightly baffling task of taking a song title that was already way too long and making it just a tiny bit longer. Weird choice! I don’t get it!
The song could’ve had even more credited writers. The original “Come On Over” didn’t have a bridge. When Christina Aguilera had sung “Come On Over” live, she’d switched over to Cheryl Lynn’s 1978 disco classic “Got To Be Real” where the bridge would’ve been. Fair loved the way that sounded, and he wanted the single to be a medley of “Come On Over” and “Got To Be Real,” but he couldn’t clear the Cheryl Lynn track. (“Got To Be Real,” which Cheryl Lynn co-wrote with David Foster and Toto’s David Paich, peaked at #12. I wonder which of the rights-holders said no to the interpolation request.)
It should’ve been too much tinkering. For me, the remixed and re-recorded version of “What A Girl Wants” is way too much, and the song gets lost in all the stuff that gets piled in there. But I don’t think that ever happens with “Come On Over Baby.” The single version of the song is definitely more cluttered, but the clutter works. Nobody tries to slow the song down, and nobody messes with the bubblegum immediacy of that chorus. You can definitely hear all the various collaborators trying to get their shit in, but their shit never gets in the way of the song’s sugar-rush joy.
“Come On Over Baby” is definitely a hornier song than just plain “Come On Over.” On the original, Christina Aguilera howls, “I want you to know you could be the one for me/ You got all I’m lookin’ for, you got personality.” On the re-recorded “Come On Over Baby,” those lines change significantly: “I’m not just talkin’ about your sexuali-tayyy/ But I can’t help myself when you put your hands on me.” So she kind of is just talking about this person’s sexuali-tayyy. She’s not talking about their personality, anyway. Christina also adds some ad-libbed whisper-grunts, in case we didn’t get the idea. That’s how a crush song becomes a booty-call song. Fair enough! For most of us, a crush that turns into a booty call is a natural progression, or maybe an ideal outcome.
The remix adds a whole lot more business to the track, too. There’s choppy drum-machine stuff that sounds a bit like DJ scratches. There’s a strutting, funked-out bassline that comes in on the second verse. There’s a screaming guitar solo. There’s a bridge where Christina Aguilera does a mumbly talk-sing that could almost be considered rapping. There’s a quick call-back to “What A Girl Wants.” Christina also does more show-offy vocal-run stuff, but she never loses track of the song’s melody. On both versions of the song, the best vocal moment arrives when Christina uncorks a juicy, joyous disco high note, stretching it out long enough to properly convey the ebullience that the song needs. I don’t think all those extra touches improve the song, necessarily, but they don’t fuck it up, either. Whatever way you hear it, “Come On Over” is a total blast.
The “Come On Over Baby” video fits the bright silliness of the song perfectly. Christina made the video with future Bulletproof Monk director Paul Hunter, and the clip works as a great little time capsule of a very particular era. The bright-white background, the belly-button jewelry situation, the H&M-ad design sensibility — it’s all firmly anchored in a specific moment. The video features eye-bleeding neon shades of green and blue and yellow that basically ceased to exist sometime around 2002. I love it. The whole thing has a frisky sense of motion and energy, and I never have a bad time when it’s on.
In a way, “Come On Over Baby” is the last we’d hear of teen-pop Christina Aguilera. Christina didn’t suddenly become a full-on grand dame after that first album, but she did switch her style up a little, leaning harder into sex and R&B. She didn’t seem too interested in working with Swedish songwriting teams after that first album. But Christina never disowned “Come On Over Baby.” When she released her Spanish album Mi Reflejo a week after that ill-fated Syracuse show, she included a Spanish-language version of “Come On Over Baby.” “Ven Conmigo (Solamente Tú)” became Christina’s first #1 hit on the Billboard Latin Songs chart.
After the “Come On Over Baby” single came out, Christina Aguilera’s self-titled debut sold another 2 million copies, going platinum for an eighth time. Mi Reflejo and the Christmas album sold a lot of copies, too. Christina had all the momentum in the world, and we’ll see her in this column again. Interestingly, though, “Come On Over Baby” is the last time we’ll see Christina by herself, barring some kind of comeback. When Christina shows up again in this space, she’ll either be a featured guest, or she’ll be part of a pop-star posse cut.
BONUS BEATS: Many, many guys were real dicks to Christina Aguilera in 2000; it wasn’t just Syracuse University frat boys. On his single “The Real Slim Shady,” Eminem took a shot at Christina: “I should sit next to Carson Daly and Fred Durst and hear ’em argue over who she gave head to first.” Eminem evidently took exception to Christina mentioning, in an MTV segment, that it wasn’t cool for Em to rap about murdering his wife. Her position made sense. (“The Real Slim Shady” peaked at #4, and it’s still an 8, problematic or not. Eminem will eventually appear in this column.)
Fred Durst made a cameo in the “Real Slim Shady” video. A few months later, Durst popped up onstage with Christina at the VMAs, and it was nice of her to let him up there with her. Durst rapped at the end of Christina’s performance, but he didn’t write new lyrics or anything; he just did his Limp Bizkit song “Livin’ It Up.” Later, mugging for cameras, Durst said that he did that performance “for the nookie,” and Christina had to clarify that Durst “got no nookie.” Everyone was just out here acting like Syracuse frat boys in 2000. Anyway, here’s that performance:
(Limp Bizkit’s highest-charting single, 2000’s “Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle),” peaked at #65.)
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s “Ven Conmigo (Solamente Tú),” the Spanish-language version of “Come On Over Baby,” soundtracking a scene in James L. Brooks’ 2004 movie Spanglish:
The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out 11/15 via Hachette Books. You can pre-order it here.