Wednesday, September 07, 2011

"All Of My Love," The Gap Band (12/23/89)
What an odd way to end the decade. Charlie Wilson and company hadn't hit the top 10 in 3 years, and hadn't hit #1 in nearly 7 (since their '82 trio of killers: "Early In The Morning," "You Dropped A Bomb On Me," and "Outstanding," all still classics), yet here they were, making another (and their final) comeback. Sadly, this is as generic as much of what came before it at the top of the charts in late '89; were it not for Charlie's vocals - and even he seems oddly reigned in, like a Xerox copy of himself - this could be practically anyone. It's just another uptempo, perky song that says nothing and signifies even less. Sigh. C

"Ain't Nuthin' In The World," Miki Howard (12/16/89)
Identikit faux-New Jack production attempts to prop up a bland uptempo piffle sung by a singer who deserved better (and often, got it: see the follow-up, the highly recommended #2 single "Love Under New Management"). Halfway through the song you've forgotten it. C

"Here and Now," Luther Vandross (12/2/89)
Sometimes bad songs happen to good singers; they happened too often to Luther, because his taste for schlock was great. This ultra-bathetic wedding standard is a prime example. He should've known better, because this song, really, is just disgusting, a watery ballad with nothing to recommend it. D

"Home," Stephanie Mills (11/25/89)
Her last #1 was a remake of a song Mills herself had first sung over a decade earlier on Broadway, in The Wiz. It's "inspirational." While not nearly as gross as something like "Wind Beneath My Wings," the cloth it's cut from is not so dissimilar. Ms. Mills sings the hell out of it and the production is certainly tasteful enough, but it's all very just-sits-there. B-

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"Don't Take It Personal," Jermaine Jackson (11/18/89)
That other Jackson brother may have only hit the R&B top 10 four times in the '80s (including '82's sublime new wave "Let Me Tickle Your Fancy," with Devo on backing vocals!), but two of the four were decade-bracketing #1s: the amazeballs "Let's Get Serious" and this one, a weird, nasty-masquerading-as-nice kiss-off to a lover with the passive-aggressive suggestion "So we're not gonna be lovers anymore - well, let's just be friends." I mean, really - "Love was here/Now it's gone/So it's time you keep moving on"?! This is one hateful record. (Musically, it's so minimalist to barely exist, but with lyrics like these, it's hard to even notice.) C-

"You Are My Everything," Surface (11/4/89)
From their late-'88 album 2nd Wave, Surface spun a trio of #1s. The first two were the quietly pretty "Closer Than Friends" and the utterly gross "Shower Me With Your Love." What of their third? It's a return to the vibe of "Friends," rocking that same midtempo groove (as so much did in '89). Nothing groundbreaking here, but it's - well, this is totally damning with faint praise, but it's nice, even with the inclusion of that awful late-'80s synth faux-flute. Fun fact: the three guys of Surface played most of the instruments (well, synths, then) on their records. B

"Baby Come To Me," Regina Belle (10/28/89)
A perfectly solid, if somewhat bland, balladeer singing a perfectly bland, if somewhat solid, midtempo song. Racks of the best synths Sony's money could buy were sacrificed for this record. And if the syrupy Najee-esque sax solo wasn't a tip-off, yes, covers of this have become a smooth jazz staple - it's got a simple melody. A very simple melody. C+

"Miss You Much," Janet Jackson (10/14/89)
Pop the way "When I Think Of You" was pop - not surprising this was the first single from Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814, but that doesn't mean it was the best idea, and it certainly wasn't the best choice. (Start with the follow-up, "Rhythm Nation," which cuts hard.) Weird to hear Janet aping her brother's "uh!"s on here, too. Not bad, but by no means great. B-

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Back To Life (However Do You Want Me)," Soul II Soul (10/7/89)
Lovely, keeping with the classy formula of "Keep On Movin'" - and only lessened by the fact that it's not the mind-blowing genius of their prior single. A bit more chuggingly uptempo, but still a relaxed uptempo, a perfect summery groove for the autumn. A-

"Can't Get Over You," Maze featuring Frankie Beverly (9/23/89)
The ultimate non-crossover R&B star (#105 R&B artist of all-time, chartwise, while he never cracked the top 60 on the pop charts) hit #1 a second time with this slice of silky, silky soul. It's so effortless, so flawless, so grown 'n sexy, it's like he's hardly even trying - the perfect midtempo groove, and one totally at odds with the times of '89. Yet it made it to the top nonetheless - sometimes, quality wins out? A-

"Remember (The First Time)," Eric Gable (9/16/89)
The poor man's Freddie Jackson, frankly. He hit the top out of the box with this, and never made the top 10 again. It's a nice enough, completely undistinguished late-'80s slow jam which you'll forget 10 minutes after you've heard it. B

"My Fantasy," Teddy Riley featuring Guy (9/9/89)
Guy were, arguably, one of the most important New Jack Swing artists (I'll say the most important), between Aaron Hall's son-of-Charlie-Wilson vocals and Teddy Riley's brilliant production (which, frankly, defined an era, or at least a mini-era). Weirdly, this was their only chart-topper in their supernova of a career (2 albums in the space of 3.5 years, then a nearly decade-long breakup followed by an irrelevant reunion) - and it was a one-off single for Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing that's credited, well, weirdly. (They had a further half-dozen top 5 singles from those two albums, '88's Guy and '90's The Future.) This is a fine New Jack record, complete with a great use of some scratched-up sample from Big Daddy Kane's "Raw," but it's not as good as Guy themselves - basically, this single was kind of Teddy's Puff Daddy move. Fortunately it didn't stick, because The Future is an R&B masterpiece. You won't go wrong with this, exactly, but they did plenty better. B+

Thursday, August 04, 2011

"It's No Crime," Babyface (8/26/89)
And the L.A. [Reid] and 'Face era starts - the only guys who could even come close to the domination of Jam & Lewis may have gotten their true start in the Deele, but this is where it really begins. They saved some of their best stuff for 'Face, the voice of the two of 'em, this song being a fine case in point. Whip-crack synth drums (hello late '80s!), sneakily smart chord progressions (esp. in the chorus), and a sublime talk-singing vocal from Babyface, all in a surprisingly minimalist package = one tough single. This sounded great climbing the charts in late summer '89 (a gruesome pop radio summer, but a fine one R&B-wise), and still does today. A-

"Something In The Way (You Make Me Feel)," Stephanie Mills (8/19/89)
Oh! Yes. Written and produced by Angela Winbush, this was Mills' 4th R&B #1, a glorious midtempo groover that knows exactly what it's doing - sung by a woman who knew exactly what she was doing. Anchored by mighty, thumping synth drums, on "Something," Winbush multi-tracks Mills to the heavens and lets her sang like few can do better. R&B that wasn't going all new jack swing at the time was doing this, and this is state of the art that never gets old. A

"Batdance," Prince (8/12/89)
Have I really been letting this poor blog sit moribund and unloved for over 2 years? Well, no more - time to bang this out and finish it up.

This is one of those records that everyone a) forgets, and b) forgets was a rather huge hit - #1 both R&B and pop! Really, at the time it was can't-miss, combining Prince and the hugely-hyped Tim Burton take on Batman. Arguably the second cut-up record to become a pop hit (M/A/R/R/S' "Pump Up The Volume" being the first), this isn't really as much a proper song as it is some beats & pieces: a drum track, a fine Prince guitar solo, a bunch of snatches of Batman film dialogue (including Jack Nicholson-as-the-joker's famous "Hell needs an enema!"), and well, not much else. It's not bad at all; it's just not much of anything. B

Sunday, May 31, 2009

"On Our Own," Bobby Brown (8/5/89)
Ready for a run of killers and nearly-greats? Let's get it started with Bobby's inexplicably great soundtrack single, the "theme" from Ghostbusters II. In spite of a rap bridge in which Bobby extols the virtues of said ghostbusters - really! - this is a rawhide-tough New Jack cut with a caramel center that goes down as smoothly as 13-year-old Scotch. There's just even of that B-Brown sass to give it an edge, and just enough cushy synths to make it pop. And more orchestra hits than anyone needs. In a good way. A

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Shower Me with Your Love," Surface (7/29/89)
Almost vile enough to make me take back all the nice things I said about 'em earlier. Shower me with vomit, more like - this is the nadir of pop-soul balladry, dripping with unbridaled unctuousness. D-

"Turned Away," Chuckii Booker (7/22/89)
A multi-tracked keyb-heavy New Jack Swing fantasia by Barry White's godson, topped with some this-side-of-heaven upper-register vocals? Yeah, that'll do quite nicely. (Also: guitar solo!) A

"Keep on Movin'," Soul II Soul (7/8/89)
I promised more breaths of fresh air, and I wasn't lyin'. Jazzie B and Nellee Hooper gatecrashed R&B worldwide with their chilled-out, oh-so-classy (which eventually helped to do them in, but I digress) Brit take on contempo soul, and this was the first salvo. Deceptively simple, this combination of the "Funky Drummer" backbeat, a gorgeous piano line, the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra's swirling strings and Caron Wheeler's ebullient lead vocal made up for far more than the sum of its parts - this represented a revolution, or at least might've had more people followed its lead. The positivity of "Keep" still shines through clear as a bell, without being cloying - and it sounds just as fresh today as it did 20 years ago. This is the practical defintion of "classic." A+

Saturday, December 27, 2008

"Show & Tell," Peabo Bryson (7/1/89)
Al Wilson had the more famed version, #10 in early '74, but it's Peabo who not only got to the summit but got his first-ever #1 with his cover version, 15 years later. Wilson's original is a rich slice of mid-'70s soul; Bryson's take is a somewhat limp cover with tinny, dated production. Sure, he's a good singer, but it takes more. C+

"Have You Had Your Love Today," O'Jays (6/17/89)
It's not bad, exactly, just a bit tiresome and dreary - I mean, "have you had your love today," really? Like vitamins? And Eddie Levert's fierce basso voice wasn't meant to sing atop phony New Jack beats, let alone around a D-list rapper like the Jaz. Their last (10th) #1, stretching back to '72. C+

"Me Myself & I," De La Soul (6/10/89)
The latter half of '89 (which we're almost into) had a few breaths of very fresh air in it atop the chart, starting most notably with this one. "Myself" was only the second hip-hop track to scale the R&B singles chart - and considering the first was a ballad, a much stronger case can be made for the importance of this record. That's not even considering that its parent album, 3 Feet High and Rising, is still considered a hip-hop classic for all time, one that really did change up the rules of the game. No one had ever sampled - or, probably thought of - things like Steely Dan and Hall & Oates like this (even though "Myself"'s main sample is from an R&B touchstone, Funkadelic's '79 #1 "(not just) Knee Deep - Part 1"). Had they come out today, De La would likely be ghettoized as "backpacker" hip-hop, but the diaspora was wide enough in '89 for them to, inexplicably and gloriously, go mainstream. With them they brought the entire Native Tongues posse - step right up, Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, and Queen Latifah - and a fresh-faced sound. There's a lot going on, but it's not got the density of Public Enemy, nor the spare maximalism of Eric B. & Rakim. This is hip-hop that's sunny, wide-open and breathing. They sounded like no one else, which is likely precisely why they struck such a chord and made it all the way to #1. A giddy, joyous classic. A

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