Radio Romance: V100 Milwaukee, April 1995

Billboard Hot R&B Airplay chart, week ending April 1, 1995

In the spring of 1995, I was in my first long-distance relationship, that long distance being between North Manchester, IN (my hometown, where I was in my junior year at Manchester College, my alma mater) and Milwaukee, WI (hometown of my then-boyfriend Tremayne, and home of his then-college, Marquette University). Thanks to the crazy distance between us and the fact that we were both full-time students, we obviously didn’t get to see a lot of each other, so I decided to spend my spring break with him in Milwaukee. Not only was I crazy excited to get an entire week with Tremayne, but there was something else: their R&B station, V100 (“The People’s Station”). In northern Indiana — in most of Indiana, for that matter — there’s no R&B radio to speak of, and R&B was my absolute lifeblood at the time. (My college radio show, on the station where I was also Music Director, was the only R&B/hip hop show on the air in the area.) The funny thing was that Tremayne, who was Black, was into modern rock by the likes of Cranberries and Pet Shop Boys, while all I wanted to hear all week was V100’s steady diet of Brandy, TLC, and Mary J. Blige.

I’d taken an old, beat-up boom box with me, though, and a supply of black cassettes, and I taped hours of V100. Back in Indiana, my only outlet for this music was MTV Jams, so this was a precious and valuable resource. Eventually, plenty of what I heard over the course of that week would make it into the rotation of my radio show, “Back Seat of My Jeep.” (Most college radio stations weren’t getting much in the way of any service on R&B records in the ’90s, certainly; hip hop we got a smattering of, at least.) And as you can see from the above Hot R&B Airplay chart, it was a glorious moment for R&B, one where the bulk of the format was still straight-up R&B — rap features were largely limited to remixes for mix shows and the like, with some exceptions of course — and, in fact, there was a surprising amount of similarity between the week’s format airplay chart and the Adult R&B chart — even Anita Baker and Stevie Wonder were still enjoying top 10 airplay records!

A pair of major sophomore albums had come out the previous November, TLC’s CrazySexyCool and Mary J. Blige’s My Life, and they were in extremely heavy rotation. TLC had recently transitioned from lead single “Creep” (a #1 pop and R&B single, with nine weeks topping the latter from December-February) to the excruciatingly sexy slow jam “Red Light Special.” Blige was such an immediate superstar of R&B that she had album tracks getting hardcore airplay at the format: the album’s title track spent 34 weeks on the chart (peaking at #14), while her cover of Rose Royce’s “I’m Goin’ Down” debuted on the chart the same week, and wasn’t released as a commercial single until almost 20 weeks into its chart run. (She was also only a few weeks away from topping the chart on Method Man’s now-classic Marvin/Tammi remake.) Rarely an hour of V100 went by without hearing Blige, which was just fine with me.

Also happening: Montell Jordan and Adina Howard were on the come up with their first hits; Barry White’s “Come On” would be his last; Craig Mack and Keith Murray were repping NYC hip hop on the radio, while the jailed 2Pac was on the verge of becoming a cross-format star; the smashes from Aaliyah’s 1994 debut album were still all over in recurrent form; and an Atlanta teenager named Usher was about to hit the R&B top 10 for the first time with “Think of You” (and would effectively cut off Tevin Campbell’s career in the process, though Campbell certainly made mistakes of his own, too).

And Boyz II Men interrupted the parade of ballads from their own soph album, II, with “Thank You,” which only hit #17 R&B/#21 pop, but in its Untouchables Remix is my favorite of all their singles. (That bassline!) It’s the only version V100 played, and it took me some time to track down a copy for myself, but you best believe I did. Here it is.

No Spotify playlist for this one at the moment, but I may put one together at some point.

Posted in 1990s, personal, R&B, radio romance

My favorite songs: “I Could Use A Little Love (Right Now),” Freddie Jackson

Freddie Jackson’s chart stats are something else: from 1985 to 1992, he hit the R&B top 10, 18 times. Of those 18 hits, 10 made it to #1, with another three stopping at #2 — who wouldn’t want that batting average? And then, poof! He never climbed higher than #22 on the R&B chart again. (And nowadays, of course, said chart is completely worthless.) But what a run, and what a glorious lineup of hits. Frankly, I could write about any one of, oh, eight of his singles here, but I want to focus on Jackson’s final top 10, 1992’s #2 R&B hit “I Could Use A Little Love (Right Now),” the lead single from his fifth album, Time for Love.

The song itself is sublime, squarely in Jackson’s pocket, a midtempo-ballad about romance. But it’s on the full album version, just past the four-minute mark, where the magic really happens: Jackson starts quasi-scatting, almost ad-libbing (maybe he is?), riffing lines like “Do it in the bath/Do it in the tub/Do it whichever way you want,” There’s something so unexpected about it — he’s normally a very buttoned-up singer — that it’s nothing but delightful. (As well as a little ridiculous: “Ooh it’s getting hot, baby/Bring me some ice” — but aren’t you getting hot with your paramour, Freddie?) You’ll have to listen to the full version, not the one in the video embedded above, to get the full effect, but trust me — it’s worth it.

Posted in 1990s, my favorite songs, R&B

My favorite songs: “This Is Not America,” David Bowie with the Pat Metheny Group

From The Singles Jukebox’s David Bowie tribute, January 2016:

It somehow made perfect sense that, on the heels of Tonight, Bowie should collaborate with jazz-fusion superstars the Pat Metheny Group on a single from their soundtrack to the US-USSR espionage film The Falcon and the Snowman. Befitting John Schlesinger’s claustrophobic film (starring Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn), Metheny’s soundtrack is tight and constrained, and Bowie wrote a set of icy lyrics to match: “A little piece of you/The little peace in me/Will die,” the song opens. There’s an edginess here, an appropriate level of anxiety. But at the same time — and this may sound counterintuitive — with this song, an awful lot of people were, in essence, introduced to smooth jazz. In the mid-’80s, the Pat Metheny Group was chiefly trafficking in smoothed-out textures with Metheny’s own tricky little guitar patterns on top of them. So when this made the charts — top 3 across Scandinavia, top 20 in the UK, #32 in the US — Bowie fans (and pop music fans in general) everywhere were likely being introduced to Metheny and his band. As someone who’s now a big fan of smooth jazz, and a major fan of Metheny, I will forever be grateful to Bowie for introducing me to him. And also that Bowie made this superb collaboration, one of the most unsung singles in his catalog.

Posted in 1980s, my favorite songs

The double-digit #1s: in review

Originally written two years ago, as “Despacito” hit the 14-week mark on its way to a then-record-tying 16 weeks at #1. I’ve made some nips and tucks since. And, of course, there’s a new all-time champ you may have heard of.

When you take this list in its entirety, of all the songs to top the Billboard Hot 100 for 10+ weeks, it’s actually a little depressing. Notably, all but two of these 35 #1s came in the past 25 years; “End of the Road,” which was the first one to go past 10 weeks, first hit #1 this very week in 1992. Listen along here.

[Weeks at No. 1, Title, Artist, Date Reached No. 1]
19*, “Old Town Road (Remix),” Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus**, Apr. 13, 2019 — I like this more every time I hear it; it’s a marvel. You know the story by now: a weird Nine Inch Nails sample, a raft of cowboy lyrics, a young, previously unknown black rapper who comes at as queer in the middle of the song’s run atop the Hot 100, and the song’s inexplicable coup de grace: Billy Ray Cyrus. Nothing about this should work, yet it works brilliantly on every level. It’s clever, it’s meme-able, and it’s the epitome of an earworm. (I also dearly love the further remix featuring Young Thug and Mason Ramsey, along with its uber-smart emoji lyric video.) Undoubtedly the defining song of the final year of the 2010s.
*as of 8/12/19
**as the credit has read for every week at #1 except its first

16, “One Sweet Day,” Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men, Dec. 2, 1995 — Almost 22 years later, this is actually a quite lovely ballad in tribute to lost loved ones. And of course, with the vocal talents of Carey and the men of BIIM, this sounds absolutely gorgeous. The biggest single of the ’90s.
16, “Despacito,” Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, May 27, 2017 — Axe Bieber’s opening English verse and it’s pretty great, a sexy reggaeton grind. And even with him there — well, he’s fairly easily ignored.

14, “Uptown Funk!,” Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, Jan. 17, 2015 — What I wrote for The Singles Jukebox on 11/28/14 still goddamn applies: “Greasy like Timberlake wants to be but is afraid to be, this is the best James Brown single since “Unity” – though the best comparison is “Living In America,” with Ronson as the Dan Hartman to Mars’s JB. This is clean but it’s still funky, and Bruno Mars further proves that he might be the baddest motherfucker around right now cuz he can do anything he damn well wants. [10]”
14, “I Gotta Feeling,” The Black Eyed Peas, July 11, 2009 — My loathing of BEP runs very deep; this song perfectly exemplifies why. It’s completely vapid, and exists only to be a “party starter.”
14, “We Belong Together,” Mariah Carey, June 4, 2005 — Oh look, Mariah had the biggest single of the ’00s, too — and in this case, with one of her all-time best singles, from her best front-to-back long-player, The Emancipation of Mimi. Give Jermaine Dupri lots of the credit, but also credit Mariah’s pipes and smarts.
14, “Candle in the Wind 1997″/”Something About the Way You Look Tonight,” Elton John, Oct. 11, 1997 — Sure, “Candle ’97” is well-meaning but turgid. But the other half of this double A-side is one of his most elegant ballads ever, produced note-perfectly by Chris Thomas, with some magnificent Bernie Taupin lyrics (and a great performance from Dame Elton herself).
14, “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix),” Los Del Rio, Aug. 3, 1996 — Much better in its non-remixed version; the English-language lyrics make it sound ditzy. The music and original Spanish-language lyrics are plenty fun, though.
14, “I’ll Make Love to You,” Boyz II Men, Aug. 27, 1994 — Not my favorite Babyface composition; I prefer his production here to his lyrics. Of note: BIIM are the only artists with three songs on this list.
14, “I Will Always Love You,” Whitney Houston, Nov. 28, 1992 — The smartest thing David Foster did with Whitney’s version of this was to leave the first 0:42 a cappella. No one who’s ever heard it will ever, ever forget it. The second-smartest was that thwack! drum he uses at 3:08 to punctuate the song — from here on, it’s just Whitney singing her fucking lungs out. And that she does.

13, “The Boy Is Mine,” Brandy & Monica, June 6, 1998 — Darkchild and Dallas Austin teaming up to make absolute musical magic behind the boards, supporting Brandy and Monica making magic of their own, like Babs and Donna did 19 years earlier. This is the plushest, friendliest catfight ever.
13, “End of the Road,” Boyz II Men, Aug. 15, 1992 — They were better on uptempo material, or at least ballads that weren’t so damn sappy.

12, “Shape of You,” Ed Sheeran, Jan. 28, 2017 — Please shut the fuck up, you red menace. One of the worst singles of not just 2017, but the entire decade.
12, “Closer,” The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey, Sept. 3, 2016 — This one’s actually gotten better with time and exposure; there’s a sadness to the lyrics that kinda gets to me. But I still think the Chainsmokers are dicks.
12, “See You Again,” Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth, April 25, 2015 — Weird that Puth is the hook of the song, but his whiny-ass nasal voice is also the worst part of the song. Khalifa acquits himself okay on this tribute to departed loved ones. (A theme that pops up numerous times in this list.)
12, “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke featuring T.I. + Pharrell, June 22, 2013 — a/k/a the song that kept “Get Lucky” from #1. Also a/k/a “the rapey one.” And a/k/a the $7M+ “Got to Give It Up” lawsuit song. Additionally a/k/a the one that, by & large killed Thicke’s career, though he’s started notching up hits again at Adult R&B, his home radio format.
12, “Boom Boom Pow,” The Black Eyed Peas, April 18, 2009 — As bad as “I Gotta Feeling” is, this is about 20x worse. They’re the personification of a Jock Jams album.
12, “Yeah!,” Usher featuring Lil Jon & Ludacris, Feb. 28, 2004 — See, BEP, this is how you make a party-starter that doesn’t sound so fucking cheap. Lil’ Jon got his shot at a massive pop phenomenon and he took advantage of it, producing the #1 single of ’04 and the #2 single (behind “We Belong Together”) of the whole damn decade — and he won a Grammy in the process. This is peak mid-’00s, crunk&b perfection.
12, “Lose Yourself,” Eminem, Nov. 9, 2002 — A bit too full of itself, but at the same time, that’s what anthems do, don’t they? And it’s certainly better than “Eye of the Tiger” (with which it shares its DNA).
12, “Smooth,” Santana featuring Rob Thomas, Oct. 23, 1999 — I’m actually okay with “Smooth.” I know it’s easy to hate on it, but when you hear it in the wild, on an AC station, it still stands out, 18 years on, and sounds like nothing else surrounding it. (Especially as AC has become the format of the Sheerans, Swifts, and Perrys.) It’s a well-constructed song, well-sung — I’ve no use at all for Matchbox 20, but Rob Thomas has a strong voice, just in need of generally stronger material, and “Smooth” is that.

11, “God’s Plan,” Drake, Feb. 13, 2018 — So it’s basically just a basic Drake-song beat, and Drake just saying “God’s plan” over and over, yeah? 11 weeks at #1? Really?
11, “Independent Women Part I,” Destiny’s Child, Nov. 18, 2000 — I thought then as I still do, that this is one of DC’s worst, limpest singles.
11, “I’ll Be Missing You,” Puff Daddy & Faith Evans featuring 112, June 14, 1997 — Here’s what it comes down to: this is effective, no matter who you’ve lost. Puff was a genius when it came to re-using well-known classics and giving them new spins. (cf. “I’m Coming Out”->”Mo Money Mo Problems”)
11, “Un-Break My Heart,” Toni Braxton, Dec. 7, 1996 — A fascinating entry on this list, in that I think it’s the only entry whose stock was greatly beefed up by a remix — in this case, the Soul-Hex Anthem Radio Edit, done by Soul Solution and king-of-the-late-’90s-club-mix, Hex Hector. Many top 40 stations rotated said mix alongside the original ballad version of the song, with some even splicing the two together, which extended the shelf life of “Un-Break” greatly. The original is pure class — what David Foster did for Whitney on “I Will Always Love You,” he did for Toni here, and it’s one of Diane Warren’s best compositions as well. And the remix sizzles politely.
11, “I Swear,” All-4-One, May 21, 1994 — For those who thought to themselves, “I wish Boyz II Men weren’t quite so, y’know, black.”

10, “One Dance,” Drake featuring WizKid & Kyla, April 23, 2016 — So weird that this was, for two years, Drake’s biggest hit ever: does anyone even remember it? “Hotline Bling,” I’d understand. That was iconic. But that was largely kept from #1 by…
10, “Hello,” Adele, Nov. 14, 2015 — Meet the new Adele, same as the old Adele. “Adele” and “dull” are almost homonyms. I mean, “Rolling in the Deep” at least has tempo; this only expresses bombast.
10, “Happy,” Pharrell Williams, March 8, 2014 — Pure, unadulterated joy for all ages.
10, “We Found Love,” Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris, Nov. 12, 2011 — Can we blame this for the EDM-ification of pop music?
10, “Low,” Flo Rida featuring T-Pain, Jan. 5, 2008 — Flo Rida is trash, a marketing executive’s idea of a “good rapper” in the late ’00s. And T-Pain, while generally a smart musician, is also a whore. I’m not judging, just saying: he’ll hop on anyone’s record for money, it seems.
10, “Irreplaceable,” Beyonce, Dec. 16, 2006 — Sure, it’s got attitude, but it doesn’t feel sincere the way that, say, anything from Lemonade does. It feels pre-packaged.
10, “Gold Digger,” Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx, Sept. 17, 2005 — One of Kanye’s laziest singles, and after seeing Ray once (and it was fine), I don’t ever need nor want to hear Foxx’s Ray Charles schtick again. It saddens me that to much of the world, this is the most well-known Kanye record.
10, “Dilemma,” Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland, Aug. 17, 2002 — I’m not much of a Nelly fan, but good God that flip/interpolation (it’s both!) of Patti LaBelle’s “Love, Need and Want You” is just brilliant, Rowland’s vocal is great, and this kind of soft hip-hop becomes Nelly more than any attempt at “hardness.” Everything about this single is smart.
10, “Foolish,” Ashanti, April 20, 2002 — So Biggie’s “One More Chance” sampled DeBarge’s “Stay With Me,” and this sampled both of ’em. Putting Ashanti’s pretty vocals on top — “pretty” is the perfect descriptor of her voice — was a perfect combo. Still holds up, too.
10, “Maria Maria,” Santana featuring The Product G&B, April 8, 2000 — As opposed to “Smooth,” this is annoying. Blame Wyclef, and whoever the Product G&B are.
10, “Physical,” Olivia Newton-John, Nov. 21, 1981 — Fun fact: co-writer Steve Kipner went on, almost 20 years later, to write Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle.” That’s not a bad retirement plan, is it? This is one of the funnest, most entertaining, showbizzy pop singles of the early ’80s, and it completely succeeded in finishing the transformation of ONJ’s image to boot.
10, “You Light Up My Life,” Debby Boone, Oct. 15, 1977 — It’s as bad as you remember. Maybe worse. I mean, it’s a love song sung to Jesus. No, no, no.

Posted in charts

My favorite songs: “There’s Nothing Better Than Love,” Luther Vandross with Gregory Hines

The follow-up to Vandross’s R&B #1 “Stop to Love,” this lighter-than-air midtempo R&B number duly followed it to the top in early May ’87. (Not surprisingly, it stopped at #50 on the Hot 100.) It might feel like a bit of throwaway, but to me that’s part of its appeal: it shouldn’t be thought about too hard. Vandross likely released this as a test balloon to see how Gregory Hines would go over with R&B audiences — Hines’ own (and only) R&B album would drop early in ’88, and Vandross wrote or co-wrote every one of its eight tracks, and produced the entire thing himself. Hines’ voice is a bit like a thinner Al Jarreau’s, and pairs nicely with Vandross’ richer croon. But really, this is all about its chorus:

There’s nothing better than love
What in the world could you ever be thinking of?
It’s better by far
So let yourself reach for that star
And go no matter how far
To the one you love

Not only do I love the lyrics of the chorus, but the way Vandross produces it is perfection; it’s so gossamer, it’s about to float away. It’s like a spoonful of the most delicious, lightest pastry cream you can imagine. “There’s Nothing Better Than Love” isn’t a classic, but it’s a delicious morsel every time I hear it.

Posted in 1980s, my favorite songs, R&B

The long-running #2s: do they try harder?

With Billie Eilish’s hit spending its 8th week stuck at #2 behind “Old Town Road,” Billboard saw fit to survey the 10 songs which were forever Hot 100 bridesmaids and never brides for eight weeks or longer. (The all-time record is held by Whitney Houston’s “Exhale,” which after debuting and spending a solitary week at #1, spent the following 11 weeks at #2.) Just as the majority of the pop chart’s longest-running #1s are from the ’90s forward (hi, Soundscan!), so, too, for the #2s — with one notable exception.

[Weeks Peaking at No. 2, Title, Artist, Peak Date]
10, “Work It,” Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, Nov. 16, 2002 — This sadly spent the entirety of its #2 run behind Eminem’s Oscar-winning single “LOOK I AM A SERIOUS ARTIST NOW, FUCK YOU FAGGOTS” (wasn’t that its title?), even though everyone on the planet (at least those who aren’t white cis hetero men) recognizes that “Work It” is clearly the superior song. Hell, “Work It” is superior to most songs, yet another in a string of brilliant Elliott singles. Her onomatopoeic lyrics alone wax and shine the competition, let alone her overall verbal dexterity, let alone the way Missy and Timbaland sample the likes of “Peter Piper” and “Take Me to the Mardi Gras,” let alone the way in which the track pays homage to old school hip hop while still sounding fresh. Hell, it still sounds fresh — and like nothing else — today, almost two decades later.

10, “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” Foreigner, Nov. 28, 1981 — In the event that you don’t know the story, it goes like this: the week of 11/26/81, Foreigner rose to #2 with “Waiting,” just one notch behind Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” then spending its second week at #1 (see first graphic below). And for the next eight weeks, neither song budged, with “Physical” eventually tying Debbie Boone’s then-record for #1 longevity, spending an astounding 10 weeks atop the chart. The whole time, “Waiting,” well, waited. And then, the week of 1/30/82, “Physical” fell from #1 to #4 — and Foreigner were leapfrogged by Daryl Hall & John Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That,” which rose from #4 to #1 (see second graphic below). “Waiting” spent a tenth and final week in the runner-up slot; the following week, the J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold” went #3-#1, pushing both “I Can’t Go” and “Waiting” each down a notch. Foreigner had to wait another 3+ years before they’d finally hit #1 with the not-nearly-as-good “I Want to Know What Love Is.” And until Missy Elliott hit #2 with “Work It” almost exactly 21 years later, they held the all-time record for Hot 100 frustration themselves. As for the song itself, I think it’s absolute soft-rock genius, largely due to a pair of non-Foreigner factors: its perfect-touch production from “Mutt” Lange (who we’ll talk more about in just a moment), and those simultaneously warm and incredibly eerie synths, played by Thomas Dolby. Yes, that Thomas Dolby — as if there’s another.

Billboard Hot 100, week ending 11/26/81
Billboard Hot 100, week ending 1/30/82

9, “You’re Still the One,” Shania Twain, May 2, 1998 — Oh look, another record produced by “Mutt” Lange, 16 1/2 years after “Waiting.” He was, of course, by this point married to Canada’s biggest country export, Shania Twain, and helped craft her sound/image (because her image was heavily reliant on said sound). This ballad, her first single (after five country #1s) promoted to pop and A/C radio, became a monster, topping the country chart (of course), spending eight weeks atop the A/C chart, and nine weeks at #2 on the Hot 100, stopped from #1 by the year’s two biggest R&B crossovers, Next’s slinky-slash-smutty “Too Close” and Brandy & Monica’s genius musical catfight, “The Boy Is Mine.” “One” is a sweet, well-sung, well-produced ballad, but not much more; Twain’s slow songs tend to be her least interesting, and this is no exception.

9, “I Love You Always Forever,” Donna Lewis, Aug. 4, 1996 — I find it fascinating that so many of the longest-running #1 singles of all time have had accompanying-ly (I just made that word up) long-running #2s alongside them: Eminem & Elliott, ONJ & Foreigner, and the #1 to poor one-hit wonder Donna Lewis (her follow-up single peaked at #41!)’s #2 was Spain’s proudest exports, Los del Rio. In the midst of the 14-week #1 run by “Macarena (Bayside Boys Remix),” Lewis’s sterling, perfectly polished pop gem spent late summer and early fall stuck as the runner-up. Not only has “I Love You” become a grocery store classic, but now thanks to the explosion in soft AC, it’s back on the radio everywhere. Which it deserves.

8, “Bad Guy,” Billie Eilish, June 8, 2019 — I call her “Billie Eyelash,” because I’m a snarky, closing-in-on-50-years-old SOB who doesn’t have much use for Hot Topic’s idea of a pop singer. And because I find her to fairly be all image and no substance. I really hope something new swoops in to #1, because I’d hate for her to knock Lil Nas X off by default. (Also HA HA your stupid Justin Bieber-assisted remix didn’t do the trick.)

8, “Thinking Out Loud,” Ed Sheeran, Jan. 31, 2015 — This spent its run stuck behind “Uptown Funk!,” and I can’t think of a worse artist to be shut out of the top. Not to mention that “Uptown Funk!” is a glorious early ’80s R&B pastiche, whereas the red menace is just a shitty, British James Taylor for a new generation.

8, “I Don’t Wanna Know,” Mario Winans feat. Enya & P. Diddy, April 24, 2004 — It’s an Enya sample put to a mid-’00s shuffle-beat with Winans whining over it. And Diddy shows up, because Diddy. I just love that Enya made them give her a label credit! (Stuck behind a pair of Usher #1s.)

8, “Back at One,” Brian McKnight, Nov. 20, 1999 — Fucking Santana and Rob Thomas. I mean, this smoothie of a poor-man’s-Babyface acoustic-ish ballad isn’t exactly great, but it’s certainly better than “Smooth,” which it couldn’t ever get past to ascend to the top.

8, “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here,” Deborah Cox, Dec. 5, 1998 — She was supposed to be Clive Davis’s “new Whitney,” and this stately ballad was certainly Whitney-esque. But she never quite clicked with audiences in the way she needed to become that level of a star (let alone superstar). I’ve always been partial to the Hex Hector Remix, which alongside (ha ha) Whitney’s own “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay,” utterly dominated gay clubs through 1999.

8, “If I Ever Fall in Love,” Shai, Nov. 21, 1992 — I still recall how shocking this sounded on the radio when I first heard it: an a cappella soul ballad, in late 1992? On the other hand, it was well-timed, as it joined Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” with its a cappella opening, at the top of the chart (and which it spent the entirety of its run at #2 behind). There’s a version with production behind it, but that should be avoided; the voices-only take (video above) is the one, and it still sounds gorgeous.

Posted in 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, charts, hip hop, pop, R&B, rock

Moving pictures: THE QUEEN (1968)

God bless Kino Lorber, the arthouse film company responsible for the 4K restoration and re-release of 1968’s The Queen, an incredibly important documentary about the 1967 Miss All-American Camp Beauty Pageant. It’s important specifically for what it documents: a drag ball, not just two years prior to the Stonewall riots, but in an era when it was still illegal for men to wear women’s clothing in public. Many, if not most, of these queens did not identify as trans — in fact, a couple in the film make it very clear that they are very happen as men — but nonetheless dealt with some of the same struggles as transwomen always have, and continue to do today. And remember, it was also illegal to just be queer in the ’60s. It’s amazing that this film exists, let alone was screened in late ’60s America — and even at the Cannes Film Festival! It’s only been seen in fragments for most of the half-century since, until Kino Lorber restored it for re-release this year. It will eventually come out digitally and on DVD (I can’t wait to own a copy), but in the meantime is enjoying a brief theatrical release; its remaining playdates can be found here. (Also, its release comes with the jaw-dropping 1967 short Queens at Heart, in which a couple of transwomen are interviewed — also a must-see.)

Posted in film, queer