Favorite album of each year of my life; meme started by Nate Patrin.
Some artists are missing because one album beat them in a given year: Prince and the Smiths are my two favorite artists of all-time, but their best albums got beat by other albums in individual years. But that said, for example, The Queen Is Dead would’ve won plenty of the years on here, just not 1986, as it happens.
Also: no greatest hits, no comps of old material (which kept Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story out of 2006 — it would’ve won easily — and prevented at least one of Dylan’s Bootleg Series from showing up). Year is year of US release.
1970: Velvet Underground, Loaded
1971: Aretha Franklin, Aretha Live at Fillmore West
1972: Miles Davis, On the Corner
*so close: Aretha Franklin, Amazing Grace
1973: Daryl Hall & John Oates, Abandoned Luncheonette
1974: Bob Dylan/The Band, Before the Flood
1975: Smokey Robinson, A Quiet Storm
1976: Marvin Gaye, I Want You
1977: Steely Dan, Aja
1978: Chic, C’est Chic
*so close: Marvin Gaye, Here, My Dear
1979: Tom Browne, Browne Sugar
1980: Diana Ross, diana
1981: Grace Jones, Nightclubbing
1982: ABC, The Lexicon of Love
*so close: Daryl Hall & John Oates, H2O
1983: Madonna, Madonna
1984: Rush, Grace Under Pressure
*so close: Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain; Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Welcome to the Pleasuredome
1985: Amy Grant, Unguarded
1986: Anita Baker, Rapture
*so close: Prince and the Revolution, Parade; the Smiths, The Queen Is Dead
1987: Pat Metheny Group, Still Life (Talking)
*so close: Alexander O’Neal, Hearsay; the Smiths, Strangeways, Here We Come
1988: Public Enemy, It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back
*so close: Morrissey, Viva Hate
1989: Sandra Bernhard, Without You I’m Nothing
1990: Kitchens of Distinction, Strange Free World
*so close: Sonic Youth, Goo
1991: Electronic, Electronic
1992: Mary J. Blige, What’s the 411?
*so close: Madonna, Erotica
1993: Me’Shell Ndegéocello, Plantation Lullabies
1994: Various Artists, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool
*so close: Various Artists, Rhythm, Country and Blues; Madonna, Bedtime Stories
1995: PJ Harvey, To Bring You My Love
1996: Everything But The Girl, Walking Wounded
*so close: Me’Shell Ndegéocello, Peace Beyond Passion
1997: Nuyorican Soul, Nuyorican Soul
1998: Various Artists, Paris Is Sleeping, Respect Is Burning Vol. 2
1999: Mary J. Blige, Mary
*MJB is the only artist with two albums on this list.
2000: D’Angelo, Voodoo
*The only year that felt like a “default” pick; I simply couldn’t find an album from 2000 I liked better.
2001: Daft Punk, Discovery
2002: DJ/rupture, Minesweeper Suite
*so close: Me’Shell Ndegéocello, Cookie: The Anthopological Mixtape
2003: The Postal Service, Give Up
2004: Various Artists, DJ-Kicks: Erlend Øye
2005: Robin Guthrie & Harold Budd, Music from the Film Mysterious Skin
*so close: Billy Corgan, TheFutureEmbrace
2006: Roll Deep, In at the Deep End
*so close: Jerry Lee Lewis, Last Man Standing
2007: Jay-Z, American Gangster
2008: Zomby, Where Were U in ’92?
2009: Dam-Funk, Toeachizown
2010: Diddy – Dirty Money, Last Train to Paris
2011: Destroyer, Kaputt
2012: Lone, Galaxy Garden
2013: Kanye West, Yeezus
2014: Toni Braxton & Babyface, Love, Marriage & Divorce
2015: dumblonde, dumblonde
*so close: Carly Rae Jepsen, EMOTION
2016: Bonnie Raitt, Dig In Deep
*so close: Solange, A Place at the Table
Radio analyst Sean Ross wrote a great piece this week about why top 40 radio’s ’80s boom ended so abruptly, as the mid-’80s started inching towards the late ’80s. He suggests that part of the reason was that superstars were releasing uninspiring product (and it was product moreso than music). Another aspect was that nascent soon-to-be-called rhythmic top 40 stations were peeling off a lot of would-be R&B and dance crossovers, leaving mainstream top 40 with a lot of slushy ballads and things that got playlisted because of the name attached, not the sound of the record. And as you’ll see, there is a lot of mediocrity on this chart, 30 years ago this week.
1 2 JACOB’S LADDER –•– Huey Lewis & The News – 9 (1) — Sean Ross: “The superstar semi-hits took up real estate that could have gone to something more exciting. We waited for a new Huey Lewis & the News and we were stuck with ‘Stuck with You.'” The Sports follow-up Fore! is fairly derided as a bland-ish retread, but something about its (and the News’s) final #1 (total payola, IMO) has always attracted me. I give at least some of the credit to the song itself, co-written by Bruce Hornsby and his brother; it’s a bit more lyrically and musically complex than your average News single. I also appreciate that it’s not just another Huey Lewis “I like the hot girl” song/video. But to be honest, if I never heard this song again, I doubt I’d miss it much.
2 4 SOMEWHERE OUT THERE –•– Linda Ronstadt & James Ingram – 13 (2) — Future Titanic songsmith James Horner wrote this with the hacky Mann/Weill, and it sounds like it. Ronstadt and Ingram try valiantly to get it over, but you can’t get blood from a turnip, as my grandmother always said.
3 10 LET’S WAIT AWHILE –•– Janet Jackson – 9 (3) — This ballad came late in the Control album cycle for the reason you might guess: it’s slushy.
4 1 LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER –•– Bon Jovi – 14 (1) — At least this ooga-chucka pop metal sounded like something.
5 12 LEAN ON ME –•– Club Nouveau – 5 (5) — Words cannot adequately express how much I loathe and despise this horrible remake of a song I was never that fond of to begin with.
6 9 MANDOLIN RAIN –•– Bruce Hornsby & The Range – 9 (6) — Well, hello again, Mr. Hornsby! Think about it: 1987 was a time when records like this were top 10 singles. (And played frequently on MTV, no less!). His best single, BTW.
7 5 RESPECT YOURSELF –•– Bruce Willis – 9 (5) — But 1987 was also a time when shit like this clogged up the top 10. No amount of TV fame can justify this, not even the presence of the Pointer Sisters (on essentially duet vocals).
8 8 BIG TIME –•– Peter Gabriel – 16 (8)
9 3 YOU GOT IT ALL –•– The Jets – 18 (3)
10 13 NOTHING’S GONNA STOP US NOW –•– Starship – 7 (10)
11 7 (YOU GOTTA) FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT (TO PARTY!) –•– Beastie Boys – 13 (7) — I still don’t understand how this got to top 40 radio, even with wall-to-wall MTV airplay. But even though I’m not a huge fan, I appreciate (and appreciated) the fact that this is like a bunch of nitrous hits in the middle of this countdown.
12 16 TONIGHT, TONIGHT, TONIGHT –•– Genesis – 5 (12) — The height of Beer Commercial Hits (TM).
13 19 COME GO WITH ME –•– Expose – 8 (13) — Still magical. Shannon opened the door for freestyle, but Expose truly took the sound of Miami (and, less so, NYC) nationwide. Producer/songwriter Lewis Martineé is a genius.
14 15 I WANNA GO BACK –•– Eddie Money – 13 (14)
15 17 BRAND NEW LOVER –•– Dead Or Alive – 16 (15) — Speaking of brilliant producers of dance music in the late ’80s, hello Stock Aitken Waterman. The key to the marvelousness of Dead or Alive’s best singles is simple: they always had guitar solos, and that makes them stand out. Well, and Pete Burns, of course (RIP). On “Lover,” there’s also a whomping bassline.
16 6 KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF –•– Georgia Satellites – 17 (2) — The would-be ’80s Skynyrd made it to #2 with this! And then, nothing.
17 20 THE FINAL COUNTDOWN –•– Europe – 8 (17)
18 14 I’LL BE ALRIGHT WITHOUT YOU –•– Journey – 15 (14) — This song, this glorious song. As the fourth single from Raised on Radio, it matched its two immediate predecessors by making the top 20 but not the top 10; the times were moving past Steve Perry and the boys, and their brand of pop AOR was increasingly out of fashion. (See also: the career arcs of their late ’70s/early ’80s comrades Foreigner, Styx, and REO Speedwagon.) This was their last top 40 hit for almost a decade, and what a note on which to go out. The ache of this song, exemplified not just by Perry’s gorgeous vocal, but also that Neal Schon guitar coda: I can listen on repeat for hours. And marvel in the fact that the live video for the song actually features live audio. And Randy Jackson in some unfortunate spandex.
19 11 WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME? –•– Chicago – 18 (3)
20 23 DON’T DREAM IT’S OVER –•– Crowded House – 9 (20) — It’s not a dream.
21 24 LET’S GO –•– Wang Chung – 8 (21) — On its way to a #9 peak almost entirely on the back of the execrable #1 single that you know, this is about 50x better, and more of a piece with the rest of their discography than that gross #1.
22 22 CANDY –•– Cameo – 12 (22) — The follow-up to “Word Up” is better, too. As I said on Rock Me Tonight, this funks and swings.
23 31 I KNEW YOU WERE WAITING FOR ME –•– Aretha Franklin & George Michael – 4 (23) — Even a hack gets it right from time to time, and that’s what happened for Narada Michael Walden here. This is the epitome of El Lay R&B, and I love it. Aretha and George have genuine vocal chemistry, too.
24 29 MIDNIGHT BLUE –•– Lou Gramm – 7 (24)
25 32 WHAT YOU GET IS WHAT YOU SEE –•– Tina Turner – 6 (25) — The closest thing Tina ever did to a return to “Nutbush City Limits,” with a Clapton guitar solo.
26 34 THAT AIN’T LOVE –•– REO Speedwagon – 7 (26) — Some bands don’t know when, or how, to exit gracefully.
27 33 AS WE LAY –•– Shirley Murdock – 9 (27)
28 18 BALLERINA GIRL –•– Lionel Richie – 15 (7) — C’mon, Lionel.
29 21 TOUCH ME (I WANT YOUR BODY) –•– Samantha Fox – 20 (4) — A trio of top 10 singles (both in the US and UK) for a former “Page 3” topless model? Crazy. Even crazier: they were actually pretty great pop trash. This is no “Naughty Girls,” but it gets the job done.
30 41 THE FINER THINGS –•– Steve Winwood – 6 (30) More Beer Commercial Hits (TM).
31 25 LOVE YOU DOWN –•– Ready For The World – 16 (9) — How in the world this made it into the pop top 10 I have no clue: a sleazy-sounding ode to loving an older woman (“I can do what guys [older than me] can do,” Melvin Riley opines). The sleaze, which I mean in a complimentary fashion, comes from both Riley’s vocal and that magnificently cheap-sounding Linn drum.
32 45 WALKING DOWN YOUR STREET –•– Bangles – 5 (32)
33 42 THE HONEYTHIEF –•– Hipsway – 8 (33)
34 28 AT THIS MOMENT –•– Billy Vera & The Beaters – 22 (1) — Blame Michael J. Fox.
35 59 SIGN O’THE TIMES –•– Prince – 2 (35) — Like nothing else he’d done before, and like nothing else around at the time, and utterly brilliant in its sound.
36 35 WE CONNECT –•– Stacey Q – 14 (35)
37 48 STONE LOVE –•– Kool & The Gang – 6 (37)
38 49 DOMINOES –•– Robbie Nevil – 5 (38) — They all fall down, y’know.
39 43 SKIN TRADE –•– Duran Duran – 7 (39) — After “Notorious” scaled to #2, this barely made the top 40, peaking right here at #39. A shame, because it’s one of my favorite Nile Rodgers non-Chic productions, the essence of slinky.
40 27 OPEN YOUR HEART –•– Madonna – 15 (1) — One of her finest singles ever, this punches you in the face, steals your wallet, and yet leaves you proposing eternal devotion. Credit every element: the songwriting, the production (by Madonna herself, with Patrick Leonard), but most of all, her vocal, which leaves nothing to chance. She’ll make you love her, alright, or die trying.
Peak early ’84, prior to the emergence of the year’s holy trinity of Tina/Bruce/Prince. That said, the first tentative steps of the Turner’s comeback can be seen slowly climbing into the 30s. BTW, Madonna’s “Holiday” fell out of this week’s chart; Like A Virgin was still almost 10 months away.
1 2 JUMP –•– Van Halen – (1st week at #1) – 7 (1) — Might as well.
2 1 KARMA CHAMELEON –•– Culture Club – 13 (1) — Sure, it’s catchy, and their biggest US hit, but I’ve never much cared for it.
3 4 99 LUFTBALLONS –•– Nena – 12 (3) — It’s funny how their record label felt the desperate need for an English-language version, when I pretty much always heard the German version on both my local top 40 station, and American Top 40.
4 9 GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN –•– Cyndi Lauper – 11 (4) — A year later she’d win the Grammy for Best New Artist, deservedly — over Corey Hart (?!), Frankie Goes to Hollywood (!!), Sheila E (right on), and the Judds (at the time, a rarity to see a country artist up for this award, but they certainly deserved the nod). Somehow, eternal overplay has not dulled the appeal nor the sparkle of this song: it’s a great big piece of cubic zirconia, and it still looks awesome.
5 7 THRILLER –•– Michael Jackson – 3 (5) — Talk about a video-driven phenomenon: the seventh (and final) single from Thriller made it into the top 5 in just three weeks. MTV had, of course, been hammering the video hourly, literally, for weeks. The song itself is ebullient but not great, definitely second-tier Thriller. But we’ll never forget it.
6 3 JOANNA –•– Kool & The Gang – 17 (2)
7 12 NOBODY TOLD ME –•– John Lennon – 6 (7) — Unexpected and a little odd, in a good way.
8 10 LET THE MUSIC PLAY –•– Shannon – 16 (8) — Only one of the greatest singles of the 1980s, and quite likely the first signpost of freestyle, making an excruciatingly market-by-market slow rise into the top 10 months after topping the dance charts.
9 14 WRAPPED AROUND YOUR FINGER –•– Police – 8 (9) — Best single from Synchronicity.
10 13 AN INNOCENT MAN –•– Billy Joel – 11 (10)
11 6 THAT’S ALL –•– Genesis – 14 (6)
12 26 SOMEBODY’S WATCHING ME –•– Rockwell – 5 (12)
13 21 I WANT A NEW DRUG –•– Huey Lewis & The News – 7 (13) — Not even the moderately attractive Lewis in his boxer shorts could make me enjoy this.
14 5 TALKING IN YOUR SLEEP –•– The Romantics – 21 (3) — All-American new wave AOR at its finest.
15 24 HERE COMES THE RAIN AGAIN –•– Eurythmics – 5 (15)
16 22 NEW MOON ON MONDAY –•– Duran Duran – 7 (16) — They did like their claptrap lyrics, didn’t they?
17 11 RUNNING WITH THE NIGHT –•– Lionel Richie – 14 (7)
18 15 THINK OF LAURA –•– Christopher Cross – 12 (9)
19 8 OWNER OF A LONELY HEART –•– Yes – 17 (1) — Blame Trevor Horn. (And that’s a good thing.)
20 20 YAH MO B THERE –•– James Ingram & Michael McDonald – 12 (20) — Blame Quincy Jones. And Rod Temperton. (Both very very good things.) (Also, this song is SO WEIRD: it’s like an ode to Jesus! In the top 20! By a pair of yacht rock titans! In 1984!)
21 25 GOT A HOLD ON ME –•– Christine McVie – 5 (21)
22 32 FOOTLOOSE –•– Kenny Loggins – 5 (22) — DO NOT CUT.
23 28 THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE –•– Dan Fogelberg – 4 (23)
24 19 MIDDLE OF THE ROAD –•– Pretenders – 11 (19)
25 30 THIS WOMAN –•– Kenny Rogers – 7 (25) — The sound of the Gibb well running dry.
26 16 PINK HOUSES –•– John Cougar Mellencamp – 12 (8)
27 35 AUTOMATIC –•– The Pointer Sisters – 5 (27) — Still smokes.
28 33 GIVE IT UP –•– K.C. – 10 (28) — Oh god, I love this song so much. It’s so weird, too: KC, a couple years post-disco, attempting to re-invent himself doing — Hi-NRG, essentially? #1 in the UK in ’83, top 20 in the US in ’84.
29 17 BREAK MY STRIDE –•– Matthew Wilder – 24 (5)
30 34 ALMOST OVER YOU –•– Sheena Easton – 12 (30)
31 43 ADULT EDUCATION –•– Daryl Hall & John Oates – 2 (31) — Ridiculous and fucking awesome, as well as one of their harder rocking (or, “rocking”) singles. Top 10 bound, as it was in the midst of their Imperial Phase.
32 18 I GUESS THAT’S WHY THEY CALL IT THE BLUES –•– Elton John – 18 (4) — I can’t hate this song. I even like Stevie Wonder’s harmonica solo.
33 37 THE POLITICS OF DANCING –•– Re-Flex – 14 (33) — Lightly communist-fearing, and more than a little appropriate for today’s political climate. Also a super-tough new wave cut that was justifiably huge in the clubs.
34 38 LET’S STAY TOGETHER –•– Tina Turner – 6 (34) — The backing band here is essentially Heaven 17; think about that for a minute.
35 40 BACK WHERE YOU BELONG –•– .38 Special – 4 (35) — They got softer as they got bigger.
36 39 RUNNER –•– Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – 6 (36)
37 23 SO BAD –•– Paul McCartney – 10 (23)
38 44 NEW SONG –•– Howard Jones – 6 (38)
39 49 HOLD ME NOW –•– Thompson Twins – 3 (39)
40 46 LIVIN’ IN DESPERATE TIMES –•– Olivia Newton-John – 3 (40)
My personal, definitive list. It might be different next week, but most of these are pretty constant. "Bring the Noise," Public Enemy (Def Jam 1988) "Fight the Power," Public Enemy (Motown 1989) "Strings of Life," Rhythim Is Rhythim (Transmat 1987) "Ain't Nobody," Rufus and Chaka Khan (Warner Bros. 1983) "The Pleasure Principle," Janet Jackson (A&M 1987) "Always on My Mind," Pet Shop Boys (EMI-Manhattan 1988) "Sexual Healing," Marvin Gaye (Columbia 1983) "Easy for You to Say," Linda Ronstadt (Asylum 1982) "So May It Secretly Begin," Pat Metheny Group (Geffen 1987) "Natural High (Global Communications Mix)," Warp 69 (Flagbearer UK 1994) "For the Good Times," Ray Price (Columbia 1970) "The Glamorous Life," Sheila E. (Warner Bros. 1984) "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)," Daryl Hall & John Oates (RCA 1981) "I Would Die 4 U," Prince & the Revolution (Warner Bros. 1984) "Music Sounds Better With You," Stardust (Virgin 1998) "Cool Night," Paul Davis (Arista 1981) "Tales of Taboo," Karen Finley (Pow Wow Art International 1986) "Say It Isn't So," Daryl Hall & John Oates (RCA 1984) "Two Hearts," Stephanie Mills with Teddy Pendergrass (20th Century Fox 1981) "Live for Life," Jack Jones (RCA Victor 1967)
[Originally posted right here on 2/16/05.]
DeBarge: The Power and the Glory
DeBarge weren’t always perfection by any means, but when they nailed it – and I’m talking about their ballads here – to paraphrase Stacy Lattisaw, they f—ing nailed it to the wall. Their 20th Century Masters/The Millenium Collection best-of brings together 6 slow(er) songs and 5 uptempo, labeled ‘Smooth’ and ‘Groove’ respectively, to cement their legacy, and does a better job than you might expect.
First and foremost: the four brothers and one sister named DeBarge were not like the Jacksons nor the Jets in that they were writing and producing their material from day one. The four selections not written by at least one DeBarge sibling are all from 1985 and ’86 – the lesser part of their short time as a group – and are largely negligible. [And of those four, three are on the “groove” side, which is essentially throwaway.] The strength of El(dra), Randy, Mark, Bobby and Bunny was always their balladry, and that’s what shines here.
Based on its use as a sample, you may be (without realizing it) most familiar with 1985’s “Stay With Me,” produced by El and written by Mark; its main piano riff was used as the backbone of both The Notorious B.I.G.’s “One More Chance (Remix)” and Ashanti’s “Foolish.” If that’s the only way you’ve known the song, however, you’ve been missing out on a sweetly-sung, gorgeous piece of balladry. “Won’t you come stay with me, because I love you so?” El asks, and, well, why wouldn’t you? Come-ons don’t come much prettier.
Their streak of huge (R&B) hits started back in ’82 with “I Like It,” which justifiably topped the Black Singles chart for 5 weeks. A slow’n’easy pledge of devotion (well, near-devotion at least – you can tell he’s been hooked) spotlighting El’s fierce falsetto and some classic keyb underpinning, “I Like It” features another element key to DeBarge love: a surprisingly hard-poppin’ bassline. Seriously, this bassline could stand up to any Gap Band record from the same era, and what’s so great about it is that it catches you off-guard; ballads aren’t supposed to have basslines like that.
In much the same way that even an early-’80s devotee of R&B might not anticipate hearing a piano intro like that featured on “Love Me In A Special Way,” which comes off very gospel in its construction (thanks to songwriter/producer Eldra). This classic’s also got a harmonica guest spot from (who else?) Stevie Wonder, and strings arranged by Claire Fischer, who did the same on many of Prince’s records. El’s voice here is clear as a bell’s peals cutting through the morning air, and the arrangement’s kept nicely clean, the better to hear the lyrics of l-o-v-e. The song is the quasi-title track from 1984’s In A Special Way (an album given an astounding A+ review by Robert Christgau, one of the chief pieces of rockcrit that made me wanna do what I do), the album which also gave the world “Time Will Reveal.”
Besides sporting another one of those shocking-in-its-day basslines, “Time Will Reveal” also has a melody sturdy as California redwood, so fine that Teddy Riley remade the song with BLACKstreet on 1996’s Finally as the retooled “The Lord Will Reveal.” [Thanks to Riley’s acumen as a producer and arranger, the song lost none of its beauty in the transition.] This is yet another DeBarge smash which highlights El’s heartbreakingly lovely falsetto, as well. Tellingly, no uptempo tracks from this album appear on 20th Century Masters; I’d tell you that it’s simply because that was never the DeBarge strength.
One such song from early in their career makes an appearance here, 1982’s “Stop! Don’t Tease Me,” their first charted single (it scraped its way to #46 on the R&B chart). It’s workmanlike and mediocre and best, frankly, and also shows why Eldra’s brothers were backup singers (their contributions on the song’s chorus – well, some things are better left unsaid, or in this case, unsung). It’s not surprising that it took the song’s follow-up, “I Like It,” to truly launch DeBarge as an act worth paying attention to.
Also on the ‘Groove’ “side” (it’s a CD, people) are the vile Diane Warren-penned, Richard Perry-produced “Rhythm of the Night” (sadly and unsurprisingly, their biggest crossover hit, which thanks to Perry sounds like a tepid Pointer Sisters single), the equally weak “Caribbean”-inspired/Warren-penned (and she certainly deserves all of the blame here) “The Heart Is Not So Smart,” and the solo El smash “Who’s Johnny” (also from a lame soundtrack, but better than you likely recall; further discussion here).
But there’s another song found here which is a little surprising: 1985’s we’re-about-to-spin-El-off-as-a-solo-artist single “You Wear It Well,” credited to “El DeBarge featuring DeBarge” (shades of “Wham! Featuring George Michael”). Lyrically, it’s a total throwaway, not even a patch on Rod Stewart’s ’72 hit of the same name. And El unfortunately slips into a vaguely annoying “cutesy” kinda voice on the song’s bridge. But something about the song’s arrangement just crackles and pops with energy in spite of itself. (Interestingly, the song was cowritten by El and his future D’Angelo-in-training brother Chico.)
Of the songs I’ve not covered, “Who’s Holding Donna Now?” is pretty in its bland way and entirely songwriter David Foster’s fault, and “All This Love” you should most certainly know already. (It’s in the canon, it’s so classic.) Hopefully, one of these days, Universal will get around to remastering In A Special Way at least, if not All This Love as well. Until that happens, this comp will get you by and may open your eyes. Because the blinding brilliance of their great ballads more than compensates for the mediocrity-at-best of the rest, DeBarge’s 20th Century Masters gets an A.
Going deep this time. A week late, but hey.
1 6 I’M TOO SEXY –•– Right Said Fred – 8 (1 week at #1) (1) — First of all, check out that leap to the top. Secondly, listen to what a perfect/stupid pop record this is. Those Fairbrass brothers, for a quick moment, knew just what they were doing. I’d love to know what they’ve made off of this in publishing royalties, since RSF themselves wrote it. (p.s. follow-up single “Don’t Talk Just Kiss” (#3 UK, #76 US) is even better.)
2 2 I LOVE YOUR SMILE –•– Shanice – 12 (2) — This song is exuberance, joy, pure happy. Credit the songwriters, sure, but credit Shanice’s vocal even more, because she sells the sentiment without making it sappy or silly.
3 1 DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON ME –•– George Michael & Elton John – 10 (1) — George does a fine job singing it, but really doesn’t add anything to it. The issue isn’t him, it’s that this isn’t one of Elton & Bernie’s finer selections.
4 4 DIAMONDS AND PEARLS –•– Prince & The N.P.G. – 10 (4) — I’ve forever thought this was underrated: one of Prince’s prettiest ballads. Sure, it’s a bit light, but it’s so fucking pretty, and the light touch is precisely what makes this work, along with Rosie Gaines’s vocals, which are absolutely necessary.
5 3 ALL 4 LOVE –•– Color Me Badd – 14 (1) — “Sex U Up,” yes. “I Adore Mi Amor,” yes. Warmed-over early ’90s doo-wop? Absolutely not.
6 8 SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT –•– Nirvana – 10 (6) — “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” “Rapper’s Delight.” “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I mean, you know the drill.
7 5 CAN’T LET GO –•– Mariah Carey – 13 (2) — Upper-tier MC balladry with a soft touch.
8 14 TO BE WITH YOU –•– Mr. Big – 8 (8) — Not nearly as bad as I’d remembered; my memory said this was akin to “More than Words,” which I wholeheartedly detest, but it’s not. This isn’t great, but it’s okay. One of hair metal’s last gasps in the top 10 (and on its way to #1).
9 7 FINALLY –•– Ce Ce Peniston – 20 (5) — Not many artists get an era-defining song, let alone to start off their careers, but there’s nothing else you could call “Finally.” It’s one of the apexes of early ’90s pop-house, and thanks to things like The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, it’s never fully gone away. I’ve never not liked this song, and in fact, I’ve always liked this song. It’s buoyant, great house and perfect pop.
10 10 TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO –•– Tevin Campbell – 14 (10) — I’d forgotten that this was a top 10 pop record (#6!). It’s not bad, but it’s pretty slushy.
11 11 MYSTERIOUS WAYS –•– U2 – 12 (9) — Achtung Baby is a great album, period, and this is a perfect crystallization of it in single form. They really stood out from the pack at the time, didn’t they?
12 12 THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT YOU –•– Karyn White – 11 (12) — The follow-up to her #1 smash “Romantic,” this one wasn’t produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and thus feels softer and lighter. Which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but it does mean this doesn’t have the punch and kick of its predecessor. At its pop peak this week (made it to #5 R&B); she never troubled the pop top 40 again.
13 20 REMEMBER THE TIME –•– Michael Jackson – 3 (13) — One of his finest, silkiest singles. Teddy Riley took over where Quincy Jones left off and did so so ably: the half of Dangerous he produced is one of the best New Jack Swing albums ever. But at the same time, because it can’t be anything but, it’s also some of MJ’s finest work.
14 13 2 LEGIT 2 QUIT –•– Hammer – 14 (5) — Delightfully ridiculous.
15 9 BLACK OR WHITE –•– Michael Jackson – 12 (1) — Middling MJ.
16 25 VIBEOLOGY –•– Paula Abdul – 4 (16) — Ridiculously delightful.
17 22 GOOD FOR ME –•– Amy Grant – 4 (17) — I don’t love Heart in Motion, but this is solid uptempo pop as it goes. Not as good as “Baby Baby” or “Every Heartbeat,” however.
18 19 KEEP IT COMIN’ –•– Keith Sweat – 11 (18) — GODDAMN this is a superb record. Coming off the smash-ness of his debut, Keith had to come back hard, and he did. This hit like a cherry bomb, with its sample from “Jungle Boogie,” with its tough New Jack Swing-ness, with Keith coming all all fucking sexy and sly and knowing exactly what he was doing. This is a lost classic and you should download it right this second.
19 21 I CAN’T MAKE YOU LOVE ME –•– Bonnie Raitt – 12 (19) — Sometimes there’s a marriage of singer and song so perfect that you can’t imagine anything else, anything better, and this is a perfect example of said perfection. Just that opening couplet — “Turn down the lights/Turn down the bed” — is so iconic, so tenderly sung, and so expertly produced by Raitt and Don Was, it could not be more perfect, in fact.
20 16 ADDAMS GROOVE –•– Hammer – 10 (7) — Un-delightfully ridiculous.
5pm (PST): Why is Adele wearing my Mom’s curtains?
507pm: Why the hell do these damned awards shows need hosts, anyway? If I wanted to watch a James Cordden comedy routine, I’d watch his late night show. Which I don’t.
511pm: Jennifer Lopez just quoted Toni Morrison, 11 minutes in.
513pm: I guess streaming really is the way of the future, cf. Chance.
514pm: And Paris Jackson just brought up #NoDAPL. Very nice.
5:18pm: Like it or not, “I Feel It Coming” will likely be one of the best songs performed tonight.
5:30pm: And “The Fighter” too.
5:34pm: Just when I thought I couldn’t hate twentyone pilots more, they prove me wrong.
5:58pm: Interestingly, Beyoncé’s performance feels very influenced, particularly in its staging, by her little sister’s A Place at the Table (which I’m delighted won an award earlier for “Cranes in the Sky”). I’m watching the Grammys tonight with my buddy Tim, who’s kind of hate-watching (he eschews most contemporary pop music), and he’s no fan of Bey. I pointed out to him, though, the amount of thought and frankly ART that went into that performance.
6:18pm: Yes, Bruno, yes.
6:23pm: Sure Chik-Fil-A is appalling, but those VR commercials with cows and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” are kinda awesome.
6:45pm: WHO MADE MAREN MORRIS WEAR THAT
6:46pm: Also, holy fuck that performance was terrible.
6:50pm: GM tribute: Because OF COURSE they had to turn “Fastlove” into a deathly ballad. Fuck you, Adele. “Fastlove” is a song of joy and sex, not a funeral dirge. And fuck the Grammy producers for coming up with this idea. “Praying for Time” would’ve made plenty of sense and been a solid choice. But this makes me actively angry.
7:04pm: I don’t fully get Coloring Book, but I’m still happy for Chance’s wins tonight. I’m not as happy for that dress that Taraji P. Henson was wearing, though.
7:07pm: Tim and SCREAMED for LaVerne Cox. Love that Gaga is being a total metal chick, which I believe absolutely.
7:35pm: I think Celine Dion looks awesome; she’s aging naturally. I don’t love most of her music, but I love her and feel horribly for the way she’s had to publicly mourn her late husband. Of course she gives Song of the Year to “Hello” — nothing else was ever going to win.
7:48pm: Tribe fuckin’ BRING IT. I’m so grateful for Busta’s denunciations of President Agent Orange. No one else has dared make political statements (except, oddly, J-Lo), so it’s further proof that we need ATCQ now more than ever.
7:59pm: THAT’S how you do it: Bruno Mars knows how to tribute Prince. The outfit, the guitar (I didn’t even know he knew how to play!), the presence, ALL of it.
8:23pm: Really, NARAS? You couldn’t include Pete Burns in your “In Memoriam,” but made room for “the queen of Chinese opera”? Fuck you.
8:35pm: Adele, doesn’t matter how much you thank Beyoncé for her album; you still won awards that should’ve gone to her.