Wednesday, October 29, 2003

"Give Me the Night," George Benson (9/13/80)
You should know right off that I love George Benson: I love his guitar tone, I love his light voice, I love his arrangements, I love his choices in songs (most of which he writes or cowrites). I don't care that he's considered "smooth jazz" when he makes pop-slash-R&B records as fine as "Night." Yeah, he's tasteful - but since when is that such a crime? B+

"Upside Down," Diana Ross (8/16/80)
Nearly any record which opens with Nile Rodgers's chicken-scratch guitar lickin' you is guaranteed to be at least good; "Upside Down" goes straight from zero to sensational in 5 seconds. Diana + Rodgers and Edwards = diana = her greatest album ever, period - and what an opening salvo this is. This would not be better as a Chic single, because it's Miss Ross's gale-force personality perversely playing the coquette which gets this one all the way over. Were it not for the Chic Organisation, however, this might suck. Which it most definitely does not. A

"One In a Million You," Larry Graham (8/2/80)
Larry Graham, I know Lou Rawls. And Larry Graham, you're no Lou Rawls. I don't ever need to hear this limply overproduced, florid ballad again. D-

"Take Your Time (Do It Right) Part 1," the S.O.S. Band (6/28/80)
First things first: lead singer Mary Davis should've had a massive career, both within S.O.S. and upon leaving. Her widescreen voice is a marvel, and the subtle growl she slips into during "Time"'s choruses is indisputably sexy. Second things second: "Take Your Time" is a remarkably dirty song for a 1980 #1 (please, you know it's about sex). Third things third: as funky as this song is, it feels like there's something missing, almost like it's a European concept of funk as opposed to a white-hot band from Atlanta. And it's a good minute-plus too long. Fourth things fourth: B

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

I've got all but 12 songs for this blog/project located (but sorry, Matos, no Lucky Millinder - thanks for the props, though), thanks in no small part to the genius/bloghost that is wish-he'd-post-more Paul Cox. I could be posting more, to the detriment of my mothership, but I'm trying not to blow my wad too quickly and spread the love (out). If you think I should just post it all as I'm able, rather than drawing the process out, lemme know.

Thanks also to Scott Woods over at Rock Critics Daily for showing me love like Robin S.

"Let's Get Serious," Jermaine Jackson (5/17/80)
Michael wasn't the only hitmaker in the family in '80. Pound for pound, this is the most sheerly funky #1 of the year - I sure hope Jermaine sent (producer and cowriter) Stevie Wonder a nice card, at least. Really, his biggest-ever hit (6 weeks at #1, #9 pop) has nothing whatsoever to do with Jermaine; nearly anyone could've sung this just as well. It's the too-funky-for-this-room track from Stevie, a bubblin' cauldron of horny horns, nasty bass, chicken-scratch guitar, and Mr. Wonder's galloping keyboards that sends it all into the stratosphere. But Jermaine gets the label credit, and I'll let him have it when the single's this hot. A+ [Yeah, I gave a Jermaine Jackson single an A+, whatcha gonna do, huh?]

"Don't Say Goodnight (It's Time For Love) (Parts 1 & 2)," the Isley Brothers (4/19/80)
Apart from their unfortunate propensity for soft-rock covers throughout much of the '70s ("Summer Breeze," et.al.), there's very little to be found on their box set It's Your Thing that doesn't back up a claim for the Isleys as multidimensional badass motherfuckers who've kept it up for nigh on 40 years. The '80s weren't great years for them as the '70s were, but this early 1980 gem (a '70s spillover, really) is lush, spacey balladry as only they can do it, combining Ronald's heavenly falsetto with Ernie's heavily Hendrix-influenced guitar work. A pillow to put your dreams on. A-

"Stomp!," the Brothers Johnson (4/5/80)
Fucking great, abso-fucking-lutely great. Another Quincy Jones success story, the Johnsons effortlessly swung from sweet soul like "Strawberry Letter 23" (#1 in '77) to nasty shut-yo-mouth funk along the lines of "Get the Funk Out Ma Face" (#4 a year earlier). Then there's "Stomp!," which is pure party, y'all, funky as it wanna be, a perfect mix of horns, swirling discoey strings, a chanting crowd, and those Johnson basslines. It never fails to make me smile; I just hope that one of these days the Brothers Johnson get the recognition they've always deserved. A

"And the Beat Goes On," the Whispers (3/1/80)
More than a sample in Will Smith's "Miami," but not much more. The Whispers to me have always been a faux-funk dance band who got lucky, but should be playing in a Holiday Inn (in Miami, natch) instead of celebrating charttoppers (we'll see 'em again in '87, and I won't have anything nicer to say about 'em then, either). This isn't bad, per sé. But it's not great, and it could've been, so it's docked part of a grade 'cause I'm bitter. C

"Special Lady," Ray, Goodman, & Brown (2/23/80)
Still a staple of R&B Adult Contemporary stations, this classy ballad is deceptively fine - deceptive because you may not realize how good it is. Listen closely and hear the surprisingly funky bassline and wah-wah guitar lurking in the bridges. The absurdly gorgeous harmonies, some of the finest this side of Motown (at the time), are obvious yet shouldn't be taken for granted (especially since this was their only major hit), and you don't even need to hear RG&B singing a cappella (at the beginning and end of the song) to recognize. Amazing, really, that this only spent one week atop the charts, especially when you consider what knocked it off. A well-deserved classic. B+

Monday, October 27, 2003

"The Second Time Around," Shalamar (2/16/80)
Funny how Jody Watley became the solo star out of Shalamar, as in the group dynamic she was just a pleasantly-voiced backup singer to Howard Hewett. And you know what? Shalamar really wasn't that good; theirs were good voices (verging on very good in the case of Hewett) largely wasted on mediocre material (though I've always had a sweet tooth for the PG-rated nastiness of "Dancing in the Sheets," #18 in '84). "Second" is simply by-the-numbers disco-funk for the roller rink. C

The date after each song/artist is the date the song first hit the top of Billboard's R&B chart. The chart was titled "Hot Soul Singles" from 7/14/73 through 6/26/82, at which point its name changed to "Hot Black Singles" for the remainder of the 1980s. All chart data is taken from Joel Whitburn's Top R&B Singles 1942-1995 (Record Research, Inc., 1996).

"Rock With You," Michael Jackson (1/5/80)
Off the Wall's title track (#5 later in 1980) has always been my favorite single from said album, but this one was always the dealbreaker. It was preceded by the burn-this-disco-out workout of "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," but it was on "Rock" where MJ transformed himself, effortlessly, into the true king of pop. He coos (just listen to the way he leans into that opening "giiiiirl"!), he opens up (and nails the "rock"s in the chorus), and he sounds so fucking joy-filled it nearly makes me tear up - where did this Jacko go? Is he still trapped, somewhere, in that plastic surgery museum that passes for Jackson today? Oh, and in case it doesn't (for some reason) go without saying, Quincy Jones's production here is alarmingly masterful, one of his greatest singles, ever. Just that opening 0:02 snare tattoo alone should've won a Grammy. A

By the way, the template I chose for this blog is in tribute to Waremouse - 'cause I was thinking of him when I decided to commence this project, and 'cause I know he'll love it. He has some of the best musical taste of anyone I know, and writes about music much better than he realizes.

The first #1 here actually hit the top of the chart at the end of 1979, but its reign slid into the first couple of days of the new year/decade.

"Do You Love What You Feel," Rufus and Chaka (12/15/79)
As someone who basically just knows Rufus vis-a-vis Chaka, this song comes as a bit of a surprise, since it's essentially a duet, not a Chaka showcase. Rufus wasn't a great band, but they were good, solid and workmanlike, cranking out the hits throughout the '70s. What made them special, obviously, was Chaka, with a voice burning like Moses's bush. Unfortunately, she's always been a slave to her material; the Stevie Wonder-penned "Tell Me Somethin' Good" (amazingly, only a #3 R&B hit in '74) or the Prince composition "I Feel For You" (wait till we get to '84) she turned into stunning triumphs. She can't quite do the same thing here, but makes the most of what she's given. Nice use of cowbell, though. B-

Here's something I posted 2 days ago, on my mothership blog, Oh Manchester, So Much To Answer For:

Inspired by similar projects by Michael Daddino and Tom Ewing, in which they attempt to review every #1 pop single in the U.S. and U.K., respectively, Michaelangelo Matos has decided upon a similar undertaking regarding the U.S. R&B charts, from 1942 to the present. It's titled Boogie Fever, and (of course, it's Matos) it's pretty brilliant. It also reminds me of my aborted project compiling the #1s on Billboard's R&B charts in the 1980s. And it inspires me to get my ass back to it. So I think I will.

And lo and behold, thanks to the magic of Google, I found my original post on the topic! [See, I'm not just ripping off Matos, though he's certainly an inspiration.] So as not to get this project mucked up with the rest of my writing, I've given it its own home, and you're soaking in it. The title, of course, is stolen from Freddie Jackson's first R&B #1 single, which I'll get to once we arrive in 1985. I'm not just going to review the #1 hits of the '80s, however, but want to also use them to look at broader trends in R&B throughout the decade. Are you sitting comfortably? Let's begin, then.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?