Remember those “Pure Moods” commercials that advertised track after track of new age music? You probably had a friend in the nineties who was into yoga (back before it was a “thing”) and crystals and astrology who used to listen to that stuff. Maybe you thought new age music was boring because it made you sleepy. Maybe that’s why you listened to it, because it resolved a particularly bad bout of insomnia.
#88 on the list is appropriately enigmatic Enigma’s “Sadeness Part 1”. This song hit the big time primarily because there nothing else like it, and in turn helped expose to the 90’s underground genres of music that had lurked in the shadows during the 80’s while disco, synthpop, new wave, and hair metal reigned supreme.
If anything “Sadeness Part 1” is a guilty pleasure. The mix of a downtempo hip hop beat, Gregorian chant (which was sampled and led to a lawsuit), the seductive whispers of a French woman who is practically begging the Marquis de Sade to “tell her” and “give it to her”, and the piping of an earthy, primitive pan flute results in a contortion of context and themes. Think you are listening to some stodgy religious music? Think again! Sex in a church, I tell you, sex in a church. No, not a church. A cathedral. Or the Vatican.
Despite the contortion of context, this song only whispers about sex, literally, whereas other artists usually strip themselves naked and scream about it, so “Sadeness Part 1” is more sensual than anything else. The strange mix of cultures and moods cleverly balances itself without seeming over the top. Even the video looks like something out of a fever dream, but it refrains from overt sexuality and subtly implies its sensuality without ever becoming tasteless.
Overall, the modern popularity of the new age, downtempo, and electronica genres owes much to the success of “Sadeness Part 1”. Enigma bridged a gap between the mainstream and underground cultures with this one, which contributed to the success of other artists who dabbled in this style of “enigmatic” music like Moby, and Sarah Brightman, and even Madonna later in the decade.