Here are the year's best singles. I stayed away from obscure stuff. Most of these songs logged substantial airplay. Prince: Thieves in the Temple (Paisley Park) _ The dark melody, the aching vocal, the prodding groove, bits of crying harmonica, the urgent, metaphorical lyrics _ a Prince classic.
Lisa Stansfield: All Around the World (Arista) _ Lost love is rarely so convincing in a pop song. Stansfield's voice _ throaty, whispery, pleading _ carries the day. The updated '70s flavor (shades of Barry White) _ with a beat that's more smooth than terse _ is pulled off with aplomb.
Janet Jackson: Escapade (A&M) _ The song's bouncy groove grabs you well before the the vocal kicks in. And then the uplifting hook commands that you "leave your worries behind."
Luther Vandross: Here and Now (Epic) _ An openly sentimental Luther ballad will always find a place in my Best-Of lists.
Jane Child: Don't Want To Fall In Love (Warner Bros.) _ It looks as if Ms. Child is going to check into the One Hit Wonder hotel. But I perked up every time this catchy ditty leaped from the car speakers.
Bel Biv Devoe: Poison (MCA) _ "New Jack Swing" that actually swings. What a concept.
Aerosmith: Janie Got a Gun (Geffen) _ What's this? A hard-rock band telling a real story? The song builds into a series of nice crescendos, but I like the slow verses best.
Michael Penn: No Myth (RCA) _ It was heartening to see this straight-up, post-Beatles pop-rocker scale the charts.
Garth Brooks: Friends in Low Places (Capitol) _ Starts out as a rueful country lament and ends as a rowdy roadhouse sing-along. Talk about dynamic sweep.
Digital Underground: The Humpty Dance (Tommy Boy) _ A novelty rap tune with an absolutely monster bass line. Limber groove, fun rhymes.
Others: Bonnie Raitt, Nick of Time (Capitol); Tony! Toni! Tone!, Feels Good (Wing/PolyGram); Don Henley, The Heart of the Matter (Geffen); Manitoba's Wild Kingdom, The Party Starts Now! (MCA); New Kids on the Block, Step By Step (Columbia); Tom Petty, Free Fallin' (MCA).
Worst: Milli Vanilli, Blame it on the Rain (Arista); M.C. Hammer, Have You Seen Her (Capitol); Michael Bolton, How Am I Supposed to Live Without You (Columbia).
_ ERIC SNIDER