Despite Itself, "Ice Ice Baby" Will Never Die

Nearly 30 years in, Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" is still a thing.
Nearly 30 years in, Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" is still a thing.
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Music is littered with one-hit wonders. From Los Del Rio’s “Macarena” to Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” to Eagle-Eye Cherry’s “Save Tonight,” pop music doesn’t lack for artists who put out one really big song, then proceeded to put out exactly zero more big songs before departing the radio airwaves, fading from public view and settling comfortably into an occasional conversation piece that typically begins with, “Hey, whatever happened to that guy?”

Vanilla Ice is unequivocally not that guy. Anyone with a bead on the pop-culture pulse is fully aware of the erstwhile Robert Van Winkle’s whereabouts. Ice starred in a home renovation show on the DIY Network. He has popped up in cameo roles in a number of Adam Sandler films. The Dallas native recently performed on the hit show Dancing with the Stars. Dude even played the halftime show at a Texans game in 2013 — the team proceeded to lose out the remainder of its games en route to a 2-14 campaign, but I digress.

For all this, Ice and pop-culture mavens have only one thing to thank: his 1990 supernova smash single “Ice Ice Baby.” The song is so popular, in fact, that despite having little else to show for his musical career – one that peaked nearly 30 years ago – Vanilla Ice is among the biggest names scheduled for the I Love the '90s Tour, which includes a stop at the Rock the Ranch festival at the brand-new Valley Ranch Town Center Amphitheatre in New Caney on Saturday.

The bill includes a veritable who’s who of '90s acts who came and went, including Coolio, Kid n Play, Salt n Pepa, All 4 One, Color Me Badd, Tone Loc, Kool Moe Dee, Rob Base and Young MC. In short, if you still own overalls or Doc Martens, now’s the time to dust them off, crank up the CD changer in the car (hopefully it doesn't skip) and relive alleged glory days that predated cell phones and social media.

Vanilla Ice wasn’t technically a one-hit wonder. In fact, his first single – “Play That Funky Music” – reached No. 4 on the Billboard radio charts. But no one remembers “Play That Funky Music,” mostly because everyone remembers “Ice Ice Baby.”

The single was released to radio in July 1990 and quickly became not only the song of the summer, but the song of pretty much the rest of 1990. It became the first hip-hop single to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, reached the top spot in a number of other countries as well and propelled Vanilla Ice’s debut, To the Extreme, to Platinum status several times over.

But here’s the thing – “Ice Ice Baby,” for all its success, is a pretty terrible song. As much was confirmed after Ice’s popularity faded and he went from hip-hop superstar to novelty has-been. It’s been featured on pretty much every “worst” and “most awesomely bad” songs of all-time list. The Houston Press went so far in 2004 as to label it the worst-ever song to emanate from Texas.

And yet Vanilla Ice’s tune – which he basically hijacked from a Queen bassline – lives on to this day. Go to any karaoke bar on a Friday or Saturday night for proof. Hell, go to any normal dance club on a Friday or Saturday night. When the aforementioned stolen bassline drops, people – particularly those whose pop culture tastes were formed in the late '80s and early '90s – will respond, many of them in a positive manner. For such a poor song, the impact of “Ice Ice Baby” is undeniable.

If anything, the fact that “Ice Ice Baby” is porous in quality almost plays to its benefit at this point. Think back to other one-hit wonders – Blind Melon’s “No Rain,” Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.” These too are consummate one-hit wonders; they are also really good songs, which certainly helps their respective legacies but doesn’t exactly differentiate them from any number of other good songs that came and went. Point being, when “No Rain” comes on 94.5, most folks listen in, maybe sing along and then kinda forget about it.

Rather, the appeal of “Ice Ice Baby” at this point is decidedly its lack of quality. People don’t dance to it or choose it at karaoke night because they want to showcase their dance skills or verbal chops. Instead, they want to do the Vanilla Ice dance – which, in hindsight, is awesomely bad – or see how many chuckles they can elicit with a line like “Yo, man, let’s get out of here/ Word to your mother.”

So yeah, Vanilla Ice is gonna get onstage for his set on Saturday. He will play any number of tunes, most of them obscure. Courteous onlookers will indulge him. Those with less tact will loudly demand that he play the one song in his arsenal that falls into the non-obscure category.

The bassline will cue up and Ice – if he’s smart – will close his set with “Ice Ice Baby.” The crowd will likely go home happy. In a decade, there’s no question Vanilla Ice will be afforded the opportunity to do it all over again. Why is this, exactly? I’m not entirely sure. Though I guess that’s kinda the point.

Rock the Ranch, featuring the I Love the '90s Tour and lots more, posts up at the Valley Ranch Town Center Amphitheater on Friday and Saturday, May 12 and 13. Tickets are $129-159; available at this link.

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