Saturday, November 29, 2008

"Tumblin' Down," Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers (12/24/88)
One of the most perplexing, befuddling #1s of the entire decade - how in the world did a Marley, let alone one named Ziggy, go where no Marley had ever gone before: to the top of the U.S. R&B charts?! (The highest his father Bob ever got was #19, with 1977's "Exodus.") And of all people, the major assist came from Talking Heads' Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, who produced the Melody Makers' debut record. Mind you, they helped him make a pretty solid pop-reggae record - one which not only topped the R&B chart but also the college radio charts (which I'm pretty sure had never happened before or since). The excitement isn't in the record itself, but its existence and the heights it inexplicably scaled. B

"Everything I Miss at Home," Cherrelle (12/17/88)
Jam & Lewis helmed this glorious no-apologies cheating ballad for their favorite female singer (I don't doubt that Miss Jackson was their fave femme artist, but Cherrelle can sang) and with it helped her to her sole #1 (after a pair of #2 hits alongside Alexander O'Neal, "Saturday Love" (1986) and "Never Knew Love Like This" (early 1988)). Mind you, she got an assist from O'Neal here as well, but it was strictly an assist; this wasn't a duet. "Home" is lush balladry at its finest, classy and rich like a lobster souffle served on fine china, yet at no point overdone. Jam & Lewis know how to give just the right light touch, as does the miraculous Cherrelle. This is the good stuff. A

"Dial My Heart," The Boys (12/10/88)
From Joel Whitburn's Top R&B Singles: "Quartet of brothers, ages 9-14 in 1988, from Northridge, California: Khiry (lead), Hakeem, Tajh, and Bilal Samad. All are members of performing gymnastic troupes." So what you get is New jack Swing-lite production fronted by cloyingly cutesy tweener b-boys. Yeah, it's as bad as you think, and we're not done with 'em... D+

"Hey Lover," Freddie Jackson (12/3/88)
This certainly helps wash away the nasty residue of that last song. Synth'd xylophone and flute trills add some cinnamon to another warm Jackson confection, just in time for the holidays. No points for guessing it's midtempo. B

"Thanks for My Child," Cheryl Pepsii Riley (11/26/88)
Oh dear sweet FUCK this is vile - the utter height of batheticness, marrying a very stripped-down track that sounds as if it were played almost completely on a Casio keyboard, with a disgustingly oily ode to single motherhood. Did I forget to mention the chain-jerking addition of the sound of a laughing baby at various moments? Seriously, folks, this makes "Butterfly Kisses" sound like Chaucer. F

"Giving You the Best That I Got," Anita Baker (11/12/88)
Coming off the humongous success of Rapture, Baker was due for a #1, and delivered with this superbly supper-club-jazzy, relaxed-but-not-sleepy R&B midtempo bomb. Perfect backing vocalists, perfectly arranged; a song whose bridge actually does something; a lyric for the ages ("I like the sound of your song/and I think I wanna sing it forever" - not to mention "I bet everything/on my wedding ring," which always nailed me anyway but especially does now that I'm fairly newly wed); and a vocal that is utter and complete perfection. This isn't quite the Godlike genius that is "Sweet Love" (#2, 1986), but it's damned close, and quite a deserving #1 record. A

"Any Love," Luther Vandross (11/5/88)
THAT VOICE, a chorus that actually goes somewhere, and verses that are all-too-sadly earthbound. Which would, all-too-sadly, become LV's ballad template. B-

"The Way You Love Me," Karyn White (10/29/88)
You say you'd like to meet a new star? How about a woman with model-quality looks who came up through the biz ranks as a session singer and touring backing vocalist (for the snoozy one-time-only chart-topper O'Bryan), had a creamy, lovely voice with just the right touch of sass, and eventually married superproducer Terry Lewis? The last is slightly ironic, since her big, initial smashes were from the L.A. and Babyface hit factory; White's self-titled debut immediately spit out a trio of #1s, of which this was the first. It's uptempo-cute with just enough production touches - and her fine voice and delivery (that's the key) - to keep it interesting. Nothing ground-breaking, but plenty to get off on. B+

"My Prerogative," Bobby Brown (10/15/88)
New Jack Swing: The Manifesto. And a superstar is born. A-

"Addicted to You," Levert (10/1/88)
With production very similar to, though not quite as good as, the record which followed it at #1, and a better singer on the lead (leader Gerald Levert), why does this fall a bit flat(ter)? A couple of reasons: while the production is actually pretty damn hot, it's not quite as dynamic as what came after; the singer, while better, isn't as charisma-laden as his competition; and the song's just not quite as good. That production's worth hearing, however - hop over here and jump to the 4:16 mark for a spin through the 12". B+

"She's on the Left," Jeffrey Osborne (9/24/88)
Well, hello there Mr. Osborne! After fronting L.T.D. on a trio of #1s from 1976-78 (the glorious "Love Ballad," "Back in Love Again," and "Holding On"), Osborne embarked on a solo career, racking up considerable success with the likes of "I Really Don't Need No Light" (#3, 1982), "Don't You Get So Mad" and "Stay with Me Tonight" (#3 and #4, 1983), "The Last Time I Made Love" (a duet with Joyce Kennedy, #2 in 1984) and "You Should Be Mine (The Woo Woo Song)" (#2, 1986). But a return to the chart's peak eluded him until 1988's deliriously tinnily-arranged "She's on the Left," a song which frankly is beneath a man of Osborne's prodigious vocal gifts. There's not a lot here to work with, really - "she's on the left, she's on the right, she's in the middle of my mind"? - but he works it as hard as he can, and credit to his talent, he basically gets it over. In lesser hands this would suck; in Osborne's it's alright. (Upgraded a notch for singing it so damned convincingly.) B

"Another Part of Me," Michael Jackson (9/17/88)
Jacko notched up 5 #1s from Bad on both the pop and R&B charts. The first four hit it on both, but for the fifth, pop radio went for "Dirty Diana" (#5 R&B) while R&B went for "Another Part of Me" (#11 pop). In its synthesized, mechanized pulse, it's certainly more cod-soulful than the Steve Stevens-featuring "Diana," but then again it's not exactly soul. But it's MJ, so to a certain extent nothing else mattered. All the fun's gone, however; there seems a magic missing here, with Michael's vocal more tight and clenched than normal (at the time) and the track very by-the-numbers. "Me" isn't bad, exactly, but neither is it very enjoyable. C+

"Nice 'N' Slow," Freddie Jackson (8/27/88)
The release of a new Jackson album - his third, 1988's Don't Let Love Slip Away - of course, meant some more chart-toppers, especially coming on the heels of his massive sophomore effort. That album, Just Like the First Time, was actually bigger than his first time, spinning off an astounding quintet of top-2 singles (including the Melba Moore-top-billed "A Little Bit More"), so expectations were justifiably high for Jackson's third time around. It came as no surprise, then, when the album's opening single became yet another smash, tying the mark as one of '88's longest-running #1s (at a mere 3 weeks, as there were a ridiculous 34 #1s on the R&B chart in '88 - but longest-running is still longest-running, however you slice it). Jackson really didn't mess with his oh-so-winning formula here, putting forth another sexy mid-tempo groover seemingly custom-made for maximum rotation on R&B radio and BET's Video Soul. The song's sythesized production works perfectly, and Jackson sings as gorgeously as ever atop the keyboards and drum patterns: "smooth, smooth sailing," indeed. He made it look way too easy. For those keeping score at home, this was his seventh #1 in just over 3 years. (It was also his last glimpse of the pop chart, peaking at #61.) A-

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