Thursday, August 30, 2007

"Man in the Mirror," Michael Jackson (3/26/88)
It's a "change," sure enough, but not for the better: his first true artistic dud of a single since before Off the Wall, this is a maudlin, up-with-people soupy kind of ballad that Michael loves all too much, and has become all too reliant on from this point on. "Inspirational," not inspirational. C

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"Fishnet," Morris Day (3/12/88)
Well, hello, Morris! The lead singer of the Time had heretofore never made it to the top of the charts with his former (and future) band, so what a delight to welcome him to #1 with his first, and best, solo single. As absurd as it is, that is - and it's definitely absurd. Morris spends "Fishnet" furiously mixing fishing and hosiery metaphors. I'm not kidding. Fortunately, his atti-ma-tude helps get this one over, as does (more significantly) the production assistance of his former bandmates (surprise!) Jam & Lewis. This sounds almost exactly as you'd expect the Time to sound circa '88, complete with a Jesse Johnson-esque guitar solo. Which means you're damned right if you'd think it sounds pretty sweet. Guilt-free (well, mostly guilt-free) funk-lite doesn't get much better. A-

"You Will Know," Stevie Wonder (3/5/88)
The great wonder's final #1 (though he'd go top 10 another five times, going to the Characters well two more times and notching up three from his 1991 Jungle Fever soundtrack) is a sweet - occasionally saccharine-sweet - ballad in the vein of "Overjoyed." While its lyrics wander into cliché at times, musically it's rather simple and lovely, Stevie blissfully stripped-down (and in sterling voice as always). This holds up extremely well. B+

"Girlfriend," Pebbles (2/20/88)
Little personality + less vocal ability + an identikit LA & 'Face production = not much. As light as a breeze, and just as forgettable. C+

Friday, August 24, 2007

"I Want Her," Keith Sweat (1/30/88)
Today it's seen as some sort of seismic jolt, as the quote-unquote capital-F first New Jack Swing track to top the R&B chart, but taken in its context, it doesn't sound very different from its peers at all. Exciting as machine-music - and that's the key; on this track, Sweat nearly could've been a robot. That's a testament to the song's structure, mind. B

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"Love Overboard," Gladys Knight & the Pips (1/23/88)
Yes, you read it right - Knight's final R&B chart-topper came in 1988. Of course the only things this has in common with the likes of "Midnight Train to Georgia" are Gladys and her eternal Pips, but so what? This is a well-produced side of contempo casual, made special by that voice, arguably one of the more recognizable soul leads of the past 30 years. Like with Aretha, Tina, or Chaka, anything that gets Knight back on the radio and the charts is a good thing - the gravy here is that "Overboard" is actually pretty good. B+

Thursday, August 09, 2007

"The Way You Make Me Feel," Michael Jackson (12/26/87)
Jacko was clearly sleepwalking through this more-pop-than-R&B 3rd single from Bad. Made for maximum commercial impact, there's not much more than market research to be found here. B-

"I Want to Be Your Man," Roger (12/19/87)
The late Roger Troutman was the most - vocal? - proponent/user of the vocoder until T-Pain, I guess; but while Troutman had more musical chops, T-Pain seems to know when to leave it alone. Which is crucial, because few "instruments" can be more annoying. Ostensibly a Roger solo single, but really not much different from Zapp, albeit significantly less funky, this was Roger/Zapp's second and final #1, which is kinda sad, 'cause the song's kinda sad. Were it not for the vocoder f/x, this would be completely anonymous, identikit R&B; as it is, it's more annoying than anonymous. C

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"System of Survival," Earth, Wind & Fire (12/12/87)
This is an odd one, mainly because it sounds (apart from some horn blasts) nearly nothing like EW+F. Okay, apart from the horns and those lovely vocal harmonies - but my point is that the ultra-slick production makes it sound as if it could be nearly any late-'80s (pre-New Jack Swing) R&B group. Like "Skeletons" before it, this is a nominally current/political song; unlike "Skeletons," the response here is "I dance - it's my system of survival." I like this song a good bit more than I actually, y'know, respect it. B

"Skeletons," Stevie Wonder (11/28/07)
Tighter and funkier than anything on In Square Circle, but missing a bit of something - spice, perhaps? Its elasticity is impressive, though. B+

"Angel," Angela Winbush (11/14/87)
This is precisely how you pull off of-the-moment and timeless, simultaneously: 1. Write a great song. 2. Sing the hell out of it. 3. Produce it understatedly - going with "adult," "classy" production is generally a good move (especially as far as ensuring a timeless quality goes). Winbush's prowess behind the boards should've been well-known enough by this point, after her hit-laden career as part of René & Angela, but she really commenced her solo career with a creme de la creme single, a slow burn of a lover-praising ballad. "Angel" is fairly magnificent; aspiring R&B artistes should still be taking notes. A

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