Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Mercedes Boy," Pebbles (5/21/88)
Far superior to her previous hit, "Mercedes" gives the admittedly limited Pebbles the opportunity to rev up her engine (sorry) on a song which, frankly, deserves a far better singer - but doesn't require one. Like much of the best freestyle, "Mercedes" would be great no matter who's singing, thanks to producers L.A. and Babyface. Tough, mechanistic R&B is the order of the day - and would be for years to come. B+

"Nite and Day," Al B. Sure! (4/30/88)
Impact-wise, this hits so much harder than something like "I Want Her," even as it's gloriously so much softer. Not only did Sure! make a huge fashion splash amongst black America (seriously, Al made acid- and stone-washed denim), he crucially brought high-pitched male vocals back to the roost. He's got a sexy(ish) lower register, yes, but it's when singing high that Sure!'s voice is honest-to-God gossamer. Also of import: Sure! co-wrote and co-produced pretty much everything he released, particuarly on his debut In Effect Mode, and for a contemporary R&B male vocalist, let alone a new artist, that was a big deal. Of course, none of this would matter a damn if "Nite" weren't so perfect: Sure!'s vocals are the softest kiss, lips just barely brushing your skin; the instrumentation is incredibly plush for what's in essence a fairly spare, totally synthetic track; "Nite"'s arrangement is like a heavenly choir; its production perfectly caught - and simultaneously made - the mood of '88. Whether in the squiggly keyb fingers that pop up here and there or the icy-cool minor-key chords underpinning the background, "Nite and Day" is a masterpiece because just as much (if not more) attention was paid to its details as to the big picture. And yes, I recognize that the lyrics are nothing much - they're sweet nothings, what else do you want? The epitome of a great love song, this is nothing short of perfection. A+

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Da' Butt," E.U. (4/23/88)
...and now for something completely different.
Go-go is basically funk with a syncopated, percussive twist. It's never made much of a national impact outside of the D.C. area (where, for some reason, go-go started and has always been huge), with two exceptions: in 1978, Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers topped the R&B chart with "Bustin' Loose," and a decade later, E.U. (Experience Unlimited) replicated that feat with "Da' Butt" - with a little (okay, a lot of) help from Spike Lee. Lee's second film was the quasi-musical School Daze, an examination of relations between African-Americans at a historically black college in the south. One of the film's peak scenes is a school dance - at which everyone is clad only in their underwear or swimsuits - where the music is provided by E.U., then one of the ruling bands of the D.C. go-go scene. The song they play is, obviously enough, "Da' Butt," a fierce and funny slab of greasy funk that stood out from its compatriots at the top of the R&B chart like anything that wildly stands out from its surroundings. This is a guaranteed party-starter with no musical hangover: too black, too strong, too silly, too classic. A

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car," Billy Ocean (4/16/88)
Not with those muddy shoes on you don't, mister.
This is VILE assembly-line pop, and I hate it. D-

Friday, September 07, 2007

"Ooo La La La," Teena Marie (4/9/88)
Amazing to me that after all of the adulation she rightly received in the early years of her career, and all the hits she had cf. "Square Biz," "Behind the Groove," etc., it wasn't until 1988 that the imcomparable Lady T had her first (and only, to date) R&B #1 - and with a black adult-contempo ballad, no less! Fortunately it's a rich 'n' creamy slow-dancin' groove topped with Marie's perfectly imperfect vocals (and one of those spoken-word breakdowns she's always been so fond of, yay). Like TTD (see below), Teena Marie's an honest-to-goodness one-of-a-kind wonder, and one of the loveliest treasures R&B's offered up over the past 30 years. The world's a better place with her music in it, "Ooo La La La" included. A-

"Wishing Well," Terence Trent D'Arby (4/2/88)
Talk about your supernovas... He was good, damned talented, but believed way too much of his own press. Hell, he could've written it, much of it was so fawning. But while he cribbed from so many, from Sam Cooke (and not just the "Who's Lovin' You" cover, either) to Prince, nobody sounded quite like TTD; that's still the case. After his first two albums, he flamed out pretty quickly-slash-impressively (creatively speaking, I mean, though of course he's not been a commercial presence since about two minutes post-Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D'Arby - and yeah, I've always loved that album title and its sheer unadulterated audacity), but that doesn't (or shouldn't) do a thing to damage the solidness of said albums. "Wishing Well" being a case in point: this is tough, muscular funk, no two ways about it; had Sly Stone been recording in the late '80s, he might've cut something in this neighborhood. And while I've never been much of a Sly Stone fan, I'm definitely a fan of this. B+

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