Friday, January 30, 2004

I have every intent of posting during the first week of February, and downloads will return on or around 2/8. Thanks for your patience.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

New downloads, all funky as two-day-old B.O.: Jermaine Jackson gettin' his Stevie on in 1980, Mtume's "Juicy" '83 smash, and from 1984, Cameo talking about Eva Peron, amongst other subjects.

"Let's Go Crazy," Prince and the Revolution (10/6/84)
The good Reverend Prince Rogers Nelson preaches a miraculous sermon. The congregation goes, well, crazy. Wouldn't you? You know you've got a motherfucker of an album on your hands when the first single, which is fine as hell, is outdone by its follow-up. Purple Rain, in its scant nine tracks, proved to the world that this badass could fuse any and all musical forms and do with them whatever the fuck he wanted. "Crazy," all earth-scorching guitar, metal machine music, and Robert Johnson stomp, proved it in 4:39. A

"Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)," Billy Ocean (9/8/84)
"She" may have been "simply awesome," but this song wasn't. Fortunately, he had better in him. Unfortunately, he had worse in him, too. Synthesized "soul"... hurting ears... must... make it stop... C+

"Ghostbusters," Ray Parker Jr. (8/25/84)
How an artist of Parker Jr.'s talent let himself be sucked into this vile record can be summed up simply, I think: $$$. You know it's bad when Huey Lewis sues you for copyright infringment - and wins. After listening to this, I want a new drug, too. F

"When Doves Cry," Prince (6/30/84)
...Purple Rain, of course. This is by no means Prince's best single - hell, it's not even the best single from Purple Rain (that would be "I Would Die 4 U," #11 R&B/#8 pop in early '85) But it sounded like nothing else out there when it was released in the summer of '84, and is where it all started to come together for the little guy from Mpls. Prince is, unquestionably, the most talented and most important musician of the past quarter-century. This was the tip of his iceberg. A-

"Lovelite," O'Bryan (6/23/84)
More generic faux funk. Can you hear the music getting increasingly worse? Yeah, so can I. Fortunately, the same way that '83 was the year of Thriller, '84 was the year of... B-

"Let's Hear It For The Boy," Deniece Williams (6/2/84)
Footloose dreck. That sucking sound you hear is Niecey's career going down the drain, by virtue of her biggest (cross-format) hit. Prepackaged, preformed mid-'80s synthesized pop with, really, nothing to offer. C-

"Don't Waste Your Time," Yarbrough & Peoples (5/26/84)
Much more insistently funky and meaty, and with a firmer backbone, than their previous charttopper, "Time" isn't that different from Y&B's previous work - it's just better. B+

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

"Hello," Lionel Richie (5/5/84)
I'm loathe to admit it, but this isn't a horrible record. Maudlin and mawkish, yes, but not horrible. I mean, the man had a way with love songs that just got panties dropping. B-

"She's Strange," Cameo (4/7/84)
Masterful slow, grooving funk, complete with a swing-your-pants bassline - but what really makes this single is those whining synths. And, frankly, the fact that Larry Blackmon's not singing lead. Blackmon was oh-so-distinctive, but subtlety was never his forté, and "Strange" requires it. Bonus points for both the lines "like the invisible man in drag" and "she's my Rolling Stones, and my Eva Peron." Their finest single out of a career of fine singles, this is perfect. A+

"Somebody's Watching Me," Rockwell (3/3/84)
...such as this. Was Berry Gordy engaging in some major payola, or was it all about MJ's backing vocals? Either way, Rockwell - a/k/a Berry Gordy, Jr. - didn't make this song the monster hit it was (5 weeks at #1, 3 weeks at #2 pop) on his own talents, which were negligible at best. A limp attempt at a Psycho feel (so limp, in fact, as to be laughable), generic production, and a man who wouldn't even make it out of an American Idol audition special do not a sterling record make. This is no exception. [His follow-up was, believe it or not, titled "Obscene Phone Caller." I am not making this up.] D+

Rock Me Tonight got its 1,000th hit today, in less than 3 months. For such a narrow-interest weblog, that really surprises me. Thanks to everyone who's stopped by. I'd like to apologize in advance for some of the crap coming up ('84 was a very mixed year), but you've got to take the bitter with the sweet...

Monday, January 12, 2004

"Encore," Cheryl Lynn (2/25/84)
The first-ever #1 R&B single produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (really! Didn't know that, did ya?), by one of the late-'70s/early-'80s most underrated pure singers. You know, of course, "Got To Be Real." You might even know her '81 duet with Luther Vandross on "If This World Were Mine." But chances are you don't know this one, which slithered to #69 on the Hot 100 - which is a shame. I actually gain more sheer enjoyment from this than "Real," in part because of its clever wordplay (akin to Gladys's "Overtime"): "your love, so good/it deserves an encore ... your performance makes me feel good," et cetera. And that voice could sing the proverbial phone book. I love the way she plays to the (mythical) crowd, too, at song's end: "Alright! Did you like that?" as the crowd chants, of course, "Encore!" There's just a certain cheesy je ne sais quoi here, which forces my love and devotion to "Encore." Since I want you to know it, too, there's a download on "The A-list" just waiting for you. A

Sunday, January 11, 2004

"If Only You Knew," Patti LaBelle (1/28/84)
Much better. Patti's first #1 since "Lady Marmalade" in '75 was a classy, understated ballad which featured precious little of her trademark wailing, and frankly is the better for it. Yes, the production's a bit mid-'80s soupy and overly glossy, but the songwriting and singing get it over. B+

"Joanna," Kool & the Gang (1/14/84)
The epitome of bland. C+

"Time Will Reveal," DeBarge (12/10/83)
R&B listeners rang in 1984 with what was, unbelievably, the first #1 from the DeBarge family. "Reveal" is a ridiculously silky-smooth ballad - the definition, really - that's as guaranteed as anything to leave you in a romantic puddle on the floor of your prom. If you didn't go, this record'll make you wish you could, right now. A-

"All Night Long (All Night)," Lionel Richie (10/22/83)
Is this song really, truly horrible? No, I suppose not. Do I loathe it unconditionally? Yup. "Caribbean," my ass. This is what the inside of an El Lay studio sounds like, more like. D

Saturday, January 10, 2004

You can now download selected songs on the A-list (to your left); I'm going to attempt to specifically present records you may not be familiar with. The first batch consists of 1980 Isley Brothers, 1981 Chaka Khan, and 1983 Aretha Franklin (links are to the individual reviews). Enjoy.

"Ain't Nobody," Rufus and Chaka Khan (10/22/83)
Scary but true: this only slid in, between Rick and our next entry, for a lone week at #1. So if the former Commodore had picked up his release schedule by just 7 days, we might've never gotten the joy of this at the chart's summit. And what of it? Well, it's the best record Chaka ever made with Rufus - which is saying something, as it's the last time she entered a studio with them (to pad out the 3-sides-live Stompin' at the Savoy! reunion record). "Nobody" fires on all cylinders, musically (I especially like the guitars), lyrically (who doesn't love to hear "ain't nobody loves me better than you"?), production-wise, and, well, the vocals should be self-explanatory. Has Chaka ever sung badly on record? If so, it certainly can't be found here. Chaka had three #1s in the '80s; they're my three single favorite singles of hers. And just like the last one, this, too, gets an A+.

I'm sure it looks as if I'm handing out "A" grades like candy - so far, over 1/3 of the songs reviewed have received an A- or higher. But take into account two things:
1) The early '80s were fucking gold for R&B.
2) The mid- and late-'80s decidedly weren't. As the speed of the chart picked up, the quality control seemed to go to hell.
So, the proportion of "A" grades is shortly about to go down, way down. Don't fret; I didn't love everything that topped the Hot Black Singles chart in the Reagan years. But that having been said...

"Cold Blooded," Rick James (9/3/83)
The superfreak's 3rd #1 - and last for almost 5 years - is also his best. Funny how "Cold Blooded" is so much more synthesized than "Give It To Me Baby" - yet somehow "Cold"'s cold, mechanical noise makes the warm live-band sound of "Baby" sound - well, inorganic. I'll say it again in case you missed it the first time: at the height of his powers, the only motherfucker who could touch Rick was that guy in Mpls. A

Friday, January 09, 2004

"Get It Right," Aretha Franklin (8/20/83)
Just 2 weeks shy of a year after she got her 17th charttopper, the Queen claimed her 18th - with a single even better. She hasn't always gotten it right, but when she does, it's so right. "Get It Right" gets it all right, alright. And again, as we're still in '83, check the bassline, all nice 'n' nasty. Also: the year's second reference to "overtime" in a #1! A

"She Works Hard for the Money," Donna Summer (7/30/83)
But by this point, Donna wasn't working very hard at all, and it shows. C

"Juicy Fruit," Mtume (6/4/83)
While on vacation recently, I played this for a friend who wasn't familiar with it, along with the rest of '83's #1s. When this song came on, he exclaimed, "Even the ballads [from then] were funky!" And he's right. And, like much of its brethren, "Juicy Fruit" is surprisingly minimalist. Lyrically, it somehow manages to pull off the kitschy/sexy thing simultaneously (which is really difficult to do). And the bassline, oh that bassline... Puffy sends a "thank you" card (along with lots of royalties, as it underpinned Biggie's first hit, "Juicy"). A

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

"Save the Overtime for Me," Gladys Knight & the Pips (5/28/83)
Utterly contemporary, and an utterly glorious comeback for a group who'd not had a hit this big since the early '70s. Slick-but-not-too behind the boards, a clever lyric (I love vocab usages like this: telling a hard workin' man to "save the overtime" for you is lovely, just lovely), and most importantly, Gladys and her Pips, sounding superb. Knight's is a voice bubbling over with joy, and it's infectious in every record she makes, even the bad ones. Which this is most definitely not. "5-4-3-2-1!" A

"Beat It," Michael Jackson (5/21/83)
It's a tribute to the giantness of Jackson at the time that he even got this on R&B radio; from a lesser artist, this would've been ignored by black stations. [Not surprising, then, that this spent just one week atop the chart as opposed to the 9-week stint of "Billie Jean."] As a pop/rock record, however, it's masterful in its production (take a bow, Q), its songwriting, its musicianship, its vocals, and yes, its guitar solo, which reportedly Eddie Van Halen cut in one take. Sounds just as fresh today as it did 21 years ago. Classics never age, and this hasn't one lick. Stunning, really. A+

"Candy Girl," New Edition" (5/14/83)
I wasn't a big Jackson 5 fan, and I was even less of a fan of prepubescent New Edition. Thank God they grew up - and matured. Someone get me some insulin, stat. D+

"Atomic Dog," George Clinton (4/16/83)
Well, there's a pretty simple reason Clinton called the album Computer Games: this album, perhaps single-handedly, ushered in the synth-funk that would (in a watered-down form) dominate much of the mid-'80s, R&B-wise. Yeah, it's classic. Yeah, it's good. But it's no P-Funk. B+

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