Thursday, August 25, 2005

"Casanova," Levert (8/22/87)
A little overly ubiquitous - well, in some quarters - but the more you listen, really listen to it, the more you realize that its ubiquity is rather deserved. Gerald's voice, still fairly new to the R&B world, is like butter sizzling in bacon grease, mostly smooth but with a little bit of rasp for flavor. Sure, the production here's a little uninspiring, but give 'em a break - they were a major-label R&B trio in 1987, for pete's sake. The lyrics are better than you have a right to expect, and Gerald's lead is pretty darn great; he's not really capable of doing much else. That's called a gift. So is "Casanova." A-

"Jam Tonight," Freddie Jackson (8/15/87)
Damn if he didn't make it look so effortless. Freddie's 6th chart-topper in just over 2 years follows his non-ballad template; it's enough to get you finger-snapping and moving just so, but you'd never confuse the tempo (or Freddie's delivery) for frenzied. He never breaks a sweat, and sometimes, there's something to be said for that. Just as there is for basslines as jazzy as this one. B+

"The Pleasure Principle," Janet Jackson (8/8/87)
And here's the fifth of those five Jam & Lewis R&B #1s of '87 - and the best. The single greatest single that either they, or Janet, have ever had a hand in, this takes their hard, dry dance music to its natural apotheosis: musically "The Pleasure Principle" has much more in common with the techno coming out of Detroit in '87 (such as Rythim Is Rythim) than it does with most of the songs it shared space with on the R&B chart (such as our next entry, say). This is, in its fashion, true metal machine music - but with a great, aerobics-instructor vocal from Miss Jackson that manages to be sexy because, frankly, she's not trying. She's more concerned with you moving, ultimately (and foreshadowing her Joni-sampling on "Got Til It's Gone" over a decade later by quoting "Big Yellow Taxi"). If this doesn't get you to rock your body, you may in fact be dead inside. One of the greatest singles the '80s had to offer. A+

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"Fake," Alexander O'Neal (7/25/87)
The fourth of a rather astounding five R&B #1s Jam and Lewis had as producers in 1987, this is an atom bomb of a single. O'Neal's Hearsay is in my opinion the greatest album the duo had a hand in - and, in fact, the best R&B album of the entire decade not by their former boss - a perfect cocktail of superb vocals (from longtime Minneapolis journeyman O'Neal, who was almost the lead singer of the Time - and what might that have sounded like?!), production even sharper than (and not as sonically dry as) what they did on Control, and a set of 9 nearly note-perfect songs which fit O'Neal's voice and personality like the proverbial glove. Hearsay featured no filler, and amazing singles (including "Criticize" and "Never Knew Love Like This," but amazingly "Fake" was the album's only #1), led by this storming-the-castle number in which O'Neal calls his girl out. I can listen to this one over and over ad nauseum, only without the nausea, and wouldn't change a thing about it. What does that make "Fake"? Perfect, that's what. A+

"I Feel Good All Over," Stephanie Mills (7/4/87)
One of only four of '87's charttoppers to spend more than a fortnight at the summit (3 weeks), this shoulda-been-on-Broadway big ballad spotlit Mills' tremendous voice to fine effect - but her best was yet to come. B+

"Diamonds," Herb Alpert (Janet Jackson) (6/20/87)
Now, this is more fucking like it. When you're the label boss, you can call in favors galore, and when it came time for his 1987 comeback album Keep Your Eye On Me, that's exactly what Herb Alpert (the "A" in A&M Records) did. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, damned near ruling the world by this time thanks largely to Miss Jackson, sat behind the boards for this au courant effort, and Alpert drafted Jackson herself to lace the first single with her dulcet tones. The song itself is a sassy reminder to a would-be suitor: "I don't want your money/I don't want your key/Diamonds!/Love don't come for free." Janet does her thing while the Jam and Lewis production crackles and pops behind her, and Alpert blows his horny horn (a trumpet) over it all. The result is lots of guilt-free fun. (Also: if you can track down a copy, spin Keep Your Eye On Me again [or for the first time]. It's much better than it has any right to be, particularly the sexy slow jam "Making Love In the Rain" and the instrumental non-single "Traffic Jam.") A-

"Rock Steady," the Whispers (6/13/87)
If I'm not mistaken, this was L.A. (Reid) and Babyface's first #1 as producers, which is proof that everyone's gotta start somewhere - and it's usually not the best place. This is identikit production, a vapid song, and a vocal group well past its prime grabbing desperately for one last hit - which they certainly got in this "jammin' oldies" perennial. Ick. D+

"Head to Toe," Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam (5/30/87)
They were better with Full Force - the entirety of their sophomore album was far too poppy for its own good (and far too '87, as well), proving that Full Force were the ones who kept the proceedings fairly, er, "street," not Lisa Lisa. "Head to Toe" isn't bad, but it's mediocre, which is often worse. C

"Always," Atlantic Starr (5/16/87)
Isn't this a maxi-pad commercial? Yes, it's an easy cheap shot, but when you record a ballad this bathetically bad, you deserve it. D

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