Tuesday, July 08, 2008

"Don't Be Cruel," Bobby Brown (7/23/88)
Hear that, travelling towards us through space from way back in '88? That's the sound of a supernova being created, one which just years later would collapse into a black hole. But what glorious years we got in between. I'm a fan, a big fan, of Brown as a solo artist - you can find proof positive of that here - and you can call this Exhibit A, if you'd like. Featuring many of what would become hallmarks of the L.A. (Reid) and (Baby)'Face sound - those subtly sawing, swirling faux-orchestral flourishes, that metronomic New Jack beat, oh-is-that-Babyface-quietly-sweetening-the-backing-vocals? - it would be a great record with nearly anyone singing. But Brown takes it over the top and makes it genius; his rap actually helps, the tartness to balance his sugary vocal. If you wanna pick "I Want Her" or, God forbid, "Just Got Paid" as the opening salvo of New Jack Swing, go right ahead. But "Cruel" is the record that was truly louder than a bomb. A

"Roses Are Red," Mac Band featuring the MacCampbell Brothers (7/16/88)
According to Joel Whitburn's Top R&B Singles, the Mac Band were a "Dallas-based, eight-member group from Flint, Michigan," whose four vocalists were, naturally, the MacCampbell brothers - Charles, Derrick, Kelvin, and Ray, in case you were wondering. Kind of like the Gap Band with pleasantly anonymous vocals, all the rough edges smoothed out, and no funk, basically. They never got higher than #25 on the chart after this, their first chart ink, and they never bothered the pop charts at all. And for no perceptible reason, I like this song far more than I should. B

"Paradise," Sade (7/9/88)
After the massive success of their debut Diamond Life, when it came time for album number two, fans were ready, and Helen Folasade Adu and her band delivered with a song which couldn't help but be a smash - and their first #1. "Paradise" is an easy-rocking groove with a wickedly (and surprisingly) fat bassline that conjures up island breezes... God, I sound like a commercial for Carnival fucking cruises. But that's what this does, so well. A-

"Joy," Teddy Pendergrass (6/25/88)
Some 6 years after an auto accident left the great Teddy P paralyzed from the waist down, and some 4 years after he introduced the world to Whitney Houston with the duet "Hold Me" (a top 5 R&B single), he returned to his rightful place atop the R&B chart for the first time in a decade with "Joy," a single which proved that he could rock the drum machines as well as anything else. The production here is entirely up-to-the-minute (well, the 1988 minute), but apart from being a little more uptempo than the bulk of his classics, this isn't so different from much of Pendergrass's catalog - and it's just as sexy as ever. When he speak-sings "Aww baby, tell me whatcha like," you know he means it - and so did legions of women thrilled that THE loverman was back. In the late '70s, Pendergrass was what L. Vandross became in the '80s: the premiere soundtrack for, well, black lovin'. The crucial difference? Teddy was a bonafied sex symbol; no one this side of Tom Jones likely got showered with more lingerie when in concert. "Joy" isn't quite "Close the Door," but it's nonetheless a solid addition to Teddy P's canon. B+

Saturday, July 05, 2008

"One More Try," George Michael (6/18/88)
How in the world this became his sole #1 R&B hit (even "I Knew You Were Waiting" only got to #5!) I will never, ever understand. Not only is this the whitest single released from Faith, which really is a kind of great black pop album, but this isn't just a ballad, it's a fucking dirge. I love GM, but this is the worst single of his career (until the last 5 years, at least). C

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