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.
Crunk turned from underground Southern fight music to straight-up pop so quickly that nobody even noticed how weird the transition was. 2004 was Lil Jon’s year, the year that the screaming avatar of Atlanta nightclub hedonism maintained an iron grip on the top-40 airwaves. Lil Jon started off the year with Usher’s freaked-out anthem “Yeah!,” the year’s biggest hit. He ended 2004 with another monster hit that worked, at least in some ways, as a “Yeah!” answer song. But Ciara’s debut single wasn’t just an echo of Usher’s hit. It was an anthem in its own right, and it introduced a new pop star into the ecosystem.
“The princess of crunk&B.” That was Lil Jon’s nickname for Ciara Harris, the teenage songwriter who exploded onto the charts with “Goodies.” Never mind that “crunk&B” wasn’t really a genre, that the whole idea wasn’t even a year old. Crunk&B effectively started with “Yeah!,” the song that proved Lil Jon’s visceral drum-machine stomps and siren-like keyboard squeals could work in a pop context. As big as “Yeah!” was, crunk&B was really just a pop-chart blip, not a basis for a whole career. Ciara’s nickname didn’t stick, but “Goodies” remains a beautiful reminder of that moment when Atlanta club music took over.
The whole story of Usher’s “Yeah!” is all wrapped up with the tale of “Freek-A-Leek,” the biggest hit from the North Carolina rapper Petey Pablo. The “Freek-A-Leek” beat was a track that Lil Jon submitted to the New Orleans rapper Mystikal, who passed on it. But someone at Jive Records handed that beat to Petey Pablo instead, and Lil Jon didn’t know that Petey had used the beat until he heard “Freek-A-Leek” on the radio. This was a problem for Lil Jon, who’d used the “Freek-A-Leek” beat for the original version of “Yeah!” But everything worked out. Lil Jon quickly made a new beat for the Usher record, and “Yeah!” and “Freek-A-Leek” both crashed onto the Hot 100 at the same time. (“Freek-A-Leek” peaked at #7. It’s a 7.)
“Yeah!” and “Freek-A-Leek” make sense together. They’re both sex songs. “Yeah!” is about the urge to cheat, about giving in. “Freek-A-Leek” is different; it’s about the sheer delight of consequence-free fucking. But the two tracks are both built from Lil Jon’s simple, direct style. They’re the same tempo — same drums, even — and DJs had an easy time transitioning directly from one track to the next. Lil Jon also produced Ciara’s “Goodies,” and that song fits in musically with both “Yeah!” and “Freek-A-Leek.” It’s even got Petey Pablo on there, drawling his pickup lines. But “Goodies” isn’t the same as those other two songs. It’s specifically about not having sex.
That’s all Ciara. Ciara Princess Harris was born in Fort Hood, Texas, and she spent her childhood moving all over the world because her parents were both in the military — father in the Army, mother in the Air Force. Those parents named Ciara after a Revlon perfume. (When Ciara was born, a-ha’s “Take On Me” was the #1 song in America.) Eventually, Ciara’s family ended up in the Atlanta suburb of Riverdale. As a teenager, Ciara sang in a girl group called Hearsay. The group broke up before releasing anything, but Ciara discovered a gift for songwriting. When she was still in high school, Ciara co-wrote album tracks for some pretty big R&B names: Blu Cantrell, Mýa, Fantasia.
While working as a songwriter, Ciara met Jazze Pha, the Atlanta-based rap and R&B producer who’d worked with T.I., Ludacris, and Outkast. Jazze Pha grew up around music; he’s the son of Bar-Kays bassist James Alexander, the only member of that band who wasn’t on the plane that crashed and killed Otis Redding. (The Bar-Kay’s highest-charting single, 1967’s “Soul Finger,” peaked at #17.) Jazze Pha saw star potential in Ciara, and as soon as she graduated from high school, he signed her to his imprint Sho’Nuff, which was part of the LaFace Records umbrella.
One of Ciara’s frequent songwriting collaborators was Sean Garrett, one of the co-writers of Usher’s “Yeah!” Together, Ciara and Garrett wrote the demo for “Goodies.” Lil Jon heard the track, and he agreed to produce it, partly because it already sounded enough like “Yeah!” and “Freek-A-Leek” that Jon knew it could be a hit. It’s possible to hear “Goodies” as an answer to those two songs. Ciara sings about being hot, but she’s clear that she’s waiting for a “sexy, independent gotta-spend-it type that’s getting his dough/ I’m not being too dramatic; that’s the way I gotta have it.” Even if she meets that guy, Ciara plans to make him wait: “If you’re looking for the goodies, keep on looking, ’cause they stay in the jar.”
Originally, Ciara and Sean Garrett wrote “Goodies” as a riff on the children’s song “Who Took The Cookie?,” and it was called “Cookies.” Lil Jon liked the song, but he hated the title, and he told them that it needed a rewrite: “All they changed was one word. One word. They changed ‘Cookies’ to ‘Goodies,’ and it goes from trash to smash off of one word.” Lil Jon’s beat for the track is simple but hypnotic: big drums, digital handclaps, a wobbling synth-whistle. On the chorus, there’s a keyboard riff that sounds like an air-raid siren. Later on, a twangy baritone surf-guitar line comes in, giving the track some extra low-end. I might’ve gotten actual physical goosebumps the first time I heard that guitar. The beat is hard, but it’s also spacey and minimal and evocative.
Ciara doesn’t show a whole lot of personality on “Goodies,” and she doesn’t need to show a lot of personality. Instead, she rides the beat with a fluid, instinctive grace. “Goodies” is a deceptively difficult song to sing; Ciara delivers the whole track in her upper register, her voice locking into the drums with mechanistic precision. She essentially becomes a part of the beat. There’s some Janet Jackson in that delivery. It’s not showy, but it serves the song. Ciara’s breathiness conveys the sexiness that the song needs, but she’s not really flirty. Instead, she’s telling someone that she’s not down to fuck, and she’s leaving no room for interpretation: “You may talk slick, tryna hit, but I’m not dumb.”
In a way, the crunk&B genre name was misleading, since there’s very little traditional R&B in “Goodies.” Ciara would later show that she could sing the showy, sensual runs that we tend to expect from R&B artists. But Ciara’s never been a power singer, and on “Goodies,” she radiates a chilly sense of mastery. Years later, Ciara told Billboard that “Goodies” almost went to a different singer: “Behind the scenes, there was a conversation about this song being potentially taken from me and given to an artist like Britney Spears.” Ciara says that she didn’t know about those conversations at the time but that she would’ve fought to keep “Goodies,” since she put so much of herself into the song. Ultimately, she didn’t have to fight that fight. “Goodies” was hers.
Could Britney Spears have scored a hit with “Goodies”? I honestly don’t know. Britney, who has been in this column once and who will be back many more times, has tons of presence and charisma. She knows how to do straight-up club songs, and “Goodies” is one of those. Britney was at least a little bit interested in crunk; she collaborated with Atlanta duo the Ying Yang Twins on “(I Got That) Boom Boom,” a pretty bad 2003 album track. But “Goodies” is a straight-up Black record, and I think it would’ve sounded awkward coming from Britney. I’d say everything turned out the way that it was supposed to turn out. (Britney’s big 2004 hit was “Toxic,” which peaked at #9. It’s a 9.)
Coming from Ciara, “Goodies” worked in conversation with all of Lil Jon’s other hits from that era. Ciara got a lot of help from her contemporaries on the song. Along with Ciara and Sean Garrett, the credited writers on “Goodies” include “Yeah!” co-writer LaMarquis Jefferson, guitarist Craig Love, and Fantasia/Young Jeezy collaborator Zachary Wallace. There’s also Petey Pablo, whose whole presence works as a counterpoint to everything that Ciara says on the song.
Petey Pablo was more than a decade older than Ciara, and his path to temporary rap stardom took some twists and turns. Moses Barrett III came from Greenville, North Carolina, and when he was a young man, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison on armed robbery charges. Petey served five years, and he moved to New York after his release. The oft-repeated legend is that a Jive Records A&R guy signed Petey after hearing him freestyling in a bathroom with Busta Rhymes and Black Rob. In 2001, Petey got to #25 with “Raise Up,” a Timbaland-produced regional-pride anthem with a memorable hook about taking your shirt off, twisting it ’round your hand, and spinning it like a helicopter.
Petey Pablo’s 2001 debut album Diary Of A Sinner: 1st Entry went gold, and that success led to “Freek-A-Leek.” I really liked Petey’s sophomore LP, 2004’s Still Writing in My Diary: 2nd Entry, and that one also went gold. When Petey showed up on “Goodies,” he was at his absolute peak. You could argue that Petey’s presence on “Goodies” undermines the whole point of the song, especially because he spends so much of it talking about how easily he can get laid. (Opening line: “I got a slick reputation for handling broads.”) But I like the contrast.
Petey Pablo’s whole presence is the complete opposite of Ciara, and that helps the song work. Ciara’s voice is high; Petey’s is low. Ciara is all icy precision, while Petey is messy and conversational. Ciara sounds like polished glass; Petey sounds like muddy gravel. Petey’s got a whole lot more personality than Ciara, and he sounds cool: “You think you bad, but you ain’t bad; I’ll show you what bad is/ Bad is when you capable of beating the baddest.” A couple of times, Petey cuts himself off to chuckle knowingly. I like that. That’s fun.
Is Petey Pablo talking about Ciara in his “Goodies” verses? Is he talking to Ciara? I’m afraid the answer is: “Probably.” Here’s a Petey line that I could’ve done without hearing: “So damn hot, but so young/ You ain’t got milk on your tongue/ Slow down/ lil’ one.” Is he… is he talking about breastfeeding? Is that some regional expression that I’ve never heard before? I’m choosing not to think too hard about this one. I’m going with this interpretation: Ciara is saying that Petey can’t get with her, and Petey’s saying that’s cool, she’s too young anyway, and he doesn’t have any trouble getting laid. I feel pretty OK about that reading. Nothing too creepy is happening there.
Director Benny Boom’s “Goodies” video goes out of its way to make Ciara seem extremely Atlanta. At the opening, Ciara jumps into a car with friends and gets a phone call from Jazze Pha. They’re going to spend the night hanging out at a car wash; I guess that’s something people do down there? The clip is full of local luminaries. In a bunch of the shots, Monica, someone who’s been in this column a bunch of times, dances behind Ciara, and she looks incredible. In others, Ciara has a very different dance partner: Bone Crusher, the gigantic hunk of ham who was riding high on the 2003 bellowing crunk anthem “Never Scared.” (“Never Scared” peaked at #26, and I love that song.) The “Goodies” video establishes that Ciara is a truly great dancer. That Matrix move that she hits when the guitar comes in? That’s money in the bank.
Ciara’s debut album, also called Goodies, came out while “Goodies” was sitting at #1. By the time the song fell out of the #1 spot, Goodies had gone gold, and it was on its way to triple platinum status. Ciara followed her debut single with a roller-rink anthem. The Jazze Phizzle productshizzle “1, 2 Step” is a brisk, sticky electro jam with a fired-up Missy Elliott guest-verse, and it’s even better than “Goodies.” Today, “1, 2 Step” is Ciara’s best-known song by far; it’s got three times as many Spotify streams as “Goodies.” In the moment, “1, 2 Step” was also a big hit, peaking at #2. (It’s a 9.)
After “1, 2 Step,” Ciara landed another #2 hit. “Oh” might be my favorite song in that huge three-single run. It’s a straight-up Atlanta-pride banger with a warm, slow, melodic beat and a stunningly stuttery guest-verse from an on-fire Ludacris. “Oh” hasn’t stuck around like “Goodies” and “1, 2 Step,” but man, what a song. (It’s another 9.)
After those three huge hits, Ciara seemed ready to become a new pantheon-level star, but she never reached that level again. Her brief dominant period now looks like an intermission — the transitional period between Janet Jackson’s fall and Rihanna’s rise. The other big named involved in “Goodies” never reached those heights again, either.
Petey Pablo made a cameo as himself in Drumline — good movie — and he landed on the Hot 100 exactly once more, when his 2004 album track “Show Me The Money” showed up on the soundtrack of 2006’s Step Up and peaked at #66. After that, Petey got himself into some bad label and legal situations. Suge Knight attempted to relaunch Death Row Records with Petey as its flagship artist, and the two of them appeared on the cover of XXL together, but no music came out. In 2010, Petey tried to sneak a stolen gun through airport customs, and he went back to prison for a few years. Petey is still making music now, but he’s completely off the radar these days.
Lil Jon kept producing hits for a few years, but nothing dominated like “Yeah!” and “Goodies.” Atlanta clubs moved on from crunk, and different sounds took over. In 2006, Lil Jon shamelessly jumped onto the snap trend with “Snap Yo Fingers,” a #7 hit that featured Bay Area legend E-40 and YoungBloodz member Sean P. (It’s a 6.) That was Lil Jon’s last top-10 hit until 2014, when he screamed all over French EDM producer DJ Snake’s banger “Turn Down For What.” That song took off globally and reached #4 on the Hot 100. (It’s an 8.) Daniels, the directing team behind the “Turn Down For What” video, might win Best Picture at the Oscars this year, and Lil Jon is now a respected elder. Life, man. You never know.
Ciara’s string of hits didn’t end suddenly; it slowly petered out. In 2005, she appeared on two singles that reached #3: Missy Elliott’s frantically physical “Lose Control” and “Like You,” a boring ballad from Ciara’s then-boyfriend Bow Wow. (“Lose Control” is a 9. “Like You” is a 3.) In 2006, Ciara released her sophomore album The Evolution, and she got to #7 with lead single “Get Up,” a “1, 2 Step” soundalike with a Chamillionaire guest verse. (It’s a 7. Chamillionare will eventually appear in this column.) But the real showstopper from that album was “Promise,” a Prince-style R&B slow jam that reached #11. It might be Ciara’s best song.
And then: the flop era. Ciara’s 2009 album Fantasy Ride was pushed back a bunch of times, and none of its singles really clicked, though one of them, the warmed-over Justin Timberlake collab “Love Sex Magic,” made it to #10. (It’s a 5. Justin Timberlake will eventually appear in this column.) I reviewed Fantasy Ride for Pitchfork, and I really didn’t like it. Fantasy Ride didn’t sell, and neither did 2010’s Basic Instinct. Pop music had moved away from what Ciara was doing. In 2013, though, pop moved back.
In 2013, Ciara fell in love with Future, the Atlanta rap star who will eventually appear in this column. Future co-wrote Ciara’s “Body Party,” an excellent comeback single that peaked at #22. The two of them looked very hot together in the “Body Party” video. Ciara and Future got engaged, and they had a baby, who they named Future. It’s easy to imagine Ciara and the elder Future becoming an Atlanta version of Beyoncé and Jay-Z, but that’s not what happened. Future cheated, and the couple broke up acrimoniously. Future used the whole story to reinvent himself as a demonic hedonist, and that new persona helped him become one of the decade’s most influential musicians. Ciara married Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and had a couple of kids. Maybe things worked out for the best for both of them.
Ciara remains hugely famous, partly for her relationship and partly for her various non-musical business ventures. (This year, she became the first musician to appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, if that means anything.) Ciara is still making music, and she last hit the Hot 100 in 2018, when her furiously propulsive dance track “Level Up” peaked at #59.
Right now, I’m reading Quentin Tarantino’s new book, and he’s got this line in there that he once heard from Dan Rather. Tarantino was trying to say that he’d been lucky in his directing career, that things had lined up just right. Dan Rather dismissed Tarantino’s self-effacement, telling Tarantino that luck was really just opportunity plus preparation. Ciara had the great fortune to show up on the scene at the exact right time, and she took full advantage of her opportunities. Now, crunk&B is a distant memory, but Ciara is still famous. I don’t know if things will ever line up just right for a big Ciara comeback, but if the opportunity ever presents itself, she’s ready.
BONUS BEATS: In 2004, the great UK producer Richard X remixed “Goodies,” and his remix featured the just-starting-out MIA. Here it is:
MIA also used the “Goodies” beat on Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1, the classic 2004 mixtape that she made with Diplo. Here’s “Amazon (Diplo Mix),” which uses the “Goodies” instrumental:
(Diplo’s highest-charting single as lead artist is the 2018 Ellie Goulding/Swae Lee collab “Close To Me,” which peaked at #24. The highest-charting single from Diplo’s group Major Lazer is the 2016 Justin Bieber/MØ collab “Cold Water,” which peaked at #2. It’s a 5. MIA’s highest-charting single as lead artist is 2008’s “Paper Planes,” which peaked at #4. It’s a 10. As a guest, MIA will eventually appear in this column.)
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s dance producer Kingdom’s intense 2012 remix of “Goodies”:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the “Goodies” remix that EDM producer Dillon Francis released earlier this year:
(Dillon Francis’ only Hot 100 hit, the 2015 DJ Snake collab “Get Low,” peaked at #61.)
Lemme tell it to you one mo’ ‘gain: The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out now via Hachette Books, and you can buy it here.