Saturday, December 27, 2008

"Show & Tell," Peabo Bryson (7/1/89)
Al Wilson had the more famed version, #10 in early '74, but it's Peabo who not only got to the summit but got his first-ever #1 with his cover version, 15 years later. Wilson's original is a rich slice of mid-'70s soul; Bryson's take is a somewhat limp cover with tinny, dated production. Sure, he's a good singer, but it takes more. C+

"Have You Had Your Love Today," O'Jays (6/17/89)
It's not bad, exactly, just a bit tiresome and dreary - I mean, "have you had your love today," really? Like vitamins? And Eddie Levert's fierce basso voice wasn't meant to sing atop phony New Jack beats, let alone around a D-list rapper like the Jaz. Their last (10th) #1, stretching back to '72. C+

"Me Myself & I," De La Soul (6/10/89)
The latter half of '89 (which we're almost into) had a few breaths of very fresh air in it atop the chart, starting most notably with this one. "Myself" was only the second hip-hop track to scale the R&B singles chart - and considering the first was a ballad, a much stronger case can be made for the importance of this record. That's not even considering that its parent album, 3 Feet High and Rising, is still considered a hip-hop classic for all time, one that really did change up the rules of the game. No one had ever sampled - or, probably thought of - things like Steely Dan and Hall & Oates like this (even though "Myself"'s main sample is from an R&B touchstone, Funkadelic's '79 #1 "(not just) Knee Deep - Part 1"). Had they come out today, De La would likely be ghettoized as "backpacker" hip-hop, but the diaspora was wide enough in '89 for them to, inexplicably and gloriously, go mainstream. With them they brought the entire Native Tongues posse - step right up, Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, and Queen Latifah - and a fresh-faced sound. There's a lot going on, but it's not got the density of Public Enemy, nor the spare maximalism of Eric B. & Rakim. This is hip-hop that's sunny, wide-open and breathing. They sounded like no one else, which is likely precisely why they struck such a chord and made it all the way to #1. A giddy, joyous classic. A

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Miss You Like Crazy," Natalie Cole (6/3/89)
Nat's daughter had a quintet of #1s in the '70s, most all deserving, a mix of lite-funk and classy, honest-to-goodness romantic balladry. But her late '80s comeback, in advance of her Grammy-winning necrophilia, was unfortunately predicated on adult-contempo (read: whitewashed, and please read racial politics into that) ballads better suited for the likes of Celine Dion. This was certainly no exception. At one point she may have known better, but the coke likely took out that filter. D+

"My First Love," Atlantic Starr (5/27/89)
What were folks thinking, sending this to #1? Put it this way, to complete our trifecta of not-as-good-as-what-came-befores: this wet-noodle ballad may be far less well-known (it didn't chart pop at all), but is just as craptastic as "Always," and that's sayin' somethin'. D

"Start of a Romance," Skyy (5/13/89)
First of all, I was too hard on their previous chart-topper, 1981's "Call Me"; it's probably a B- at worst, disco-funk inoffensive if also somewhat uninspiring. But what an odd comeback, to go from being a flagship Salsoul disco-funk (ahem) outfit to a fairly synthetic (read: plastic) of-the-moment R&B combo. It worked, though - commercially, at least: a further #1, "Real Love," followed in February of 1990. That said, like its long-ago predecessor "Call Me," this "Romance" is, too, inoffensive if also somewhat uninspiring, with horribly dated hiccupping-computer production and all-too-generic femme vocals. Docked a notch for not learning anything after all those years. C+

"Real Love," Jody Watley (5/6/89)
Like "Looking For A New Love," only not as good. Not as tuff. B-

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Love Saw It," Karyn White (4/22/89)
This was credited to just White but was, actually, a duet with co-producer and co-writer Babyface. It's a Freddie Jackson-tempo (he's an adjective now, don't'cha know?) number (by which I mean a bodyrockin' ballad, basically) on which White and 'Face complement each other to perfection, perfect for swaying with your boo at the grown-folks dance - perhaps a UNCF benefit? B+

"Every Little Step," Bobby Brown (4/15/89)
So positive as to nearly be saccharine, this gets over almost completely on Brown's delivery. Which is just enough, but only just. B

"Girl I Got My Eyes on You," Today (4/8/89)
What's that? You say you want more New Jack-ish, bland uptempo R&B sung by a male group? Well, you're in luck... C+

"Lucky Charm," The Boys (4/1/89)
Every generation needs its teen idols, I guess. At least it's not as bad as "Dial My Heart" - just painfully generic uptempo candy-R&B. What I don't get is how this got to #1 - I mean, I really can't fathom much of anyone over the age of, say, 16, actively enjoying this. C

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Closer Than Friends," Surface (3/18/89)
And with this, an R&B supernova trio hit the motherlode, starting a run of four #1s, out of five singles, in under two years. Sure, they'd already had a pair of top 3 singles (1987's much-loved "Happy" and 1988's "I Missed"), but this was where Surface exploded. Three years from this, they couldn't get arrested: their early-'92 single "....A Nice Time for Lovin'" peaked at a pathetic #52. But in '89, they ruled; the only R&B artists with bigger years, chart-wise, were King Bobby Brown, Crown Princes Guy, and Princess Karyn White (rookie of the year by furlongs). Their incredible, incredibly brief run commenced, then, with an easy-going (there it is again) midtempo (surprise!) number, nicely sung and produced, surprisingly simple. Inspirational verse: "When you're here, I want you to stay/And when you're gone, I want you more every day." B+

"Just Coolin'," Levert (featuring Heavy D) (3/11/89)
Generic cod-New Jack from a group which should've known better, with a rapper who arguably didn't. C+

"Just Because," Anita Baker (3/14/89)
Credit for the subtly funky bass goes to journeyman Nathan East; credit for another great Anita Baker single with a bridge that takes you somewhere goes to writers Michael O'Hara, Sami McKinney, and Alex Brown; credit for the just-glistening-enough-without-feeling-oily production goes, as ever, to Baker's right hand man Michael J. Powell (who produced Rapture, Giving You the Best That I Got, and Compositions; and credit for the perfect vocal - this is how to SING without over-singing, folks - goes, of course, to Baker. Her hits record is a masterclass, by the way; I really should write about it sometime. I thought it was more a B+, but repeated listenings prove it's an A-.

"Dreamin'," Vanessa Williams (2/18/89)
The voice is as fully-formed as you remember it from her later ballad (pop) smashes, even on her first album - and this midtempo-to-ballad is just as classy (and not as drippy) as those that would come later, too. Sure, she looked a bit tarty on the cover of The Right Stuff, but the voice (and tunes) sure as hell came through - and the imaging would come, as well. Who could've had any idea she'd become such a star, let alone as a television actress? Don't hold the ersatz smooth jazz sax against her, either; it was 1989, after all. Lovely stuff. A-

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"Can You Stand the Rain," New Edition (2/4/89)
New Edition's 1988 album Heart Break was their first without Bobby Brown and with new member Johnny Gill, and was their most successful ever, reeling off four top 4 hits in a row. The addition of Gill, a silky-voiced wonder, sure didn't hurt - and neither did production and songwriting from the A-team of Jimmy "Jam" and Terry Lewis. Not only did Jam and Lewis update NE's sound, they helped them sound like adults for the first time, and it worked a charm. "Rain" is an elegant ballad with co-lead vocals from Gill and the ever-able Ralph Tresvant which showed just how ably they'd gone from boys to men. As a plus, the lyrics here actually say something. A

"Superwoman," Karyn White (1/14/89)
1989 saw an amazing 37 songs top the R&B chart; this song was the only one to last 3 weeks at #1, and it earned it. White's second single was a perfectly-written, -arranged, -produced, and -sung ballad from the kings of class, L.A. and Babyface. "Superwoman" is a serious female-empowerment ode that became an anthem for a certain group of women, those not treated right by their men - and those women made this White's second consecutive gold single. It's impeccably tailored without coming off as stodgy; you really believe that White is the woman she's singing, and good acting doesn't just matter on-screen. This is nearly perfect. A-

Saturday, December 06, 2008

"Oasis," Roberta Flack (1/7/89)
A full 11 years after her last #1, '78's "The Closer I Get to You" (with Donny Hathaway) - and a half-decade since she'd even hit the R&B top 40 ('83's "Tonight, I Celebrate My Love," with Peabo Bryson, which hit #5) - Flack came back hugely with this one song, a very perky, sax-spiked uptempo cut full of bland platitudes and blander production. She deserved better. C

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