A sensational year for country: a full third of this list, no less. Here’s the playlist.

  1. “After Closing Time,” David Houston & Barbara Mandrell
  2. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Diana Ross
  3. “Air,” Ekseption
  4. “Airport Love Theme,” Vincent Ball
  5. “Always Something There to Remind Me,” R.B. Greaves
  6. “Amos Moses,” Jerry Reed
  7. “Angels Don’t Lie,” Jim Reeves
  8. “Are You Ready?,” Pacific Gas & Electric
  9. “Beaucoups of Blues,” Ringo Starr
  10. “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell
  11. “Biloxi,” Kenny Price
  12. “The Bomber (Medley),” James Gang
  13. “Call Me,” Aretha Franklin
  14. “Call Me Mister Tibbs,” Quincy Jones and His Orchestra feat. Billy Preston
  15. “Check Out Your Mind,” the Impressions
  16. “Cinnamon Girl,” Neil Young
  17. “Commercial Affection,” Mel Tillis
  18. “Country Preacher,” the Cannonball Adderley Quintet
  19. “Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man,” Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton
  20. “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time),” the Delfonics
  21. “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” Chicago
  22. “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go,” Curtis Mayfield
  23. “The End of Our Road,” Marvin Gaye
  24. “Evil Ways,” Santana
  25. “Express Yourself,” Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
  26. “For the Good Times,” Ray Price
  27. “For the Love of Him,” Bobbi Martin
  28. “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine,” James Brown
  29. “Go Back,” Crabby Appleton
  30. “Got To See If I Can’t Get Mommy (To Come Back Home),” Jerry Butler
  31. “(Gotta Find) A Brand New Lover (Part 1),” the Sweet Inspirations
  32. “Green Eyed Lady,” Sugarloaf
  33. “Groovy Situation,” Gene Chandler
  34. “Heaven Help Us All,” Stevie Wonder
  35. “Heavenly Sunshine,” Ferlin Husky
  36. “Hello Darlin’,” Conway Twitty
  37. “How I Got to Memphis,” Bobby Bare
  38. “Husband Hunting,” Liz Anderson
  39. “I Can’t Get Next to You,” Al Green
  40. “I Do My Swinging at Home,” David Houston
  41. “I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing,” Funkadelic
  42. “I Heard the Voice of Jesus,” Turley Richards
  43. “I Never Once Stopped Loving You,” Connie Smith
  44. “I Never Picked Cotton,” Roy Clark
  45. “I’ll Make Amends,” Roy Drusky
  46. “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” Dionne Warwick
  47. “I’ve Cried (The Blue Right out of My Eyes),” Crystal Gayle
  48. “If I Ever Fall in Love (With A Honky Tonk Girl),” Faron Young
  49. “If I Were Your Woman,” Gladys Knight & the Pips
  50. “If Not for You,” Bob Dylan
  51. “If Walls Could Talk,” Little Milton
  52. “Immigrant Song,” Led Zeppelin
  53. “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On),” John Ono Lennon
  54. “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone?,” Charley Pride
  55. “Is It Because I’m Black,” Syl Johnson
  56. “It’s a Shame,” the Spinners
  57. “Je T’Aime … Moi Non Plus,” Paul Mauriat
  58. “Jim, Jack and Rose,” Johnny Bush
  59. “Journey Into Satchidananda,” Alice Coltrane feat. Pharoah Sanders
  60. “The Kansas City Song,” Buck Owens and His Buckaroos
  61. “The Ladies Who Lunch (from Company),” Elaine Stritch
  62. “Light Flight,” Pentangle
  63. “Love Bones,” Johnnie Taylor
  64. “Love Is A Sometimes Thing,” Bill Anderson
  65. “Love Is All Around (Theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show),” Sonny Curtis
  66. “Love on a Two-Way Street,” the Moments
  67. “Love or Let Me Be Lonely,” the Friends of Distinction
  68. “Make It with You,” Bread
  69. “Maybe I’m Amazed,” Paul McCartney & Wings
  70. “Mississippi Queen,” Mountain
  71. “Monday Night Football (a/k/a “Heavy Action”),” Johnny Pearson
  72. “Moondance,” Van Morrison
  73. “Mule Skinner Blues (Blue Yodel No. 8),” Dolly Parton
  74. “My Cherie Amour,” the Ramsey Lewis Trio
  75. “My Elusive Dreams,” Bobby Vinton
  76. “My Love,” Sonny James
  77. “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife,” Marty Robbins
  78. “No Time,” the Guess Who
  79. “One Less Bell to Answer,” the Fifth Dimension
  80. “Out in the Country,” Three Dog Night
  81. “Paranoid,” Black Sabbath
  82. “Patches,” Clarence Carter
  83. “Pay to the Piper,” Chairmen of the Board
  84. “The Pool Shark,” Dave Dudley
  85. “Psychedelic Shack,” the Temptations
  86. “Rainy Night in Georgia,” Brook Benton
  87. “The Rapper,” The Jaggerz
  88. “River Deep – Mountain High,” the Supremes & the Temptations
  89. “Rock & Roll,” the Velvet Underground
  90. “Rose Garden,” Lynn Anderson
  91. “Run, Woman, Run,” Tammy Wynette
  92. “Salute to a Switchblade,” Tom T. Hall
  93. “She Goes Walking Through My Mind,” Billy Walker
  94. “She’s A Little Bit Country,” George Hamilton IV
  95. “She’s Mine,” George Jones
  96. “Singer of Sad Songs,” Waylon Jennings
  97. “The Sly, Slick, and the Wicked,” the Lost Generation
  98. “Snowbird,” Anne Murray
  99. “Song from M*A*S*H,” Al De Lory
  100. “Stand by Your Man,” Candi Staton
  101. “Still Water (Love),” the Four Tops
  102. “Stoned Love,” the Supremes
  103. “Street Singer,” Merle Haggard and the Strangers
  104. “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” Johnny Cash
  105. “Take A Letter Maria,” Anthony Armstrong Jones
  106. “Tennessee Bird Walk,” Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan
  107. “Theme from Midnight Cowboy,” Ferrante & Teicher
  108. “There Must Be More to Love Than This,” Jerry Lee Lewis
  109. “This Christmas,” Donny Hathaway
  110. “The Thrill Is Gone,” B.B. King
  111. “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” Nina Simone
  112. “To the Other Woman (I’m the Other Woman),” Doris Duke
  113. “Traces/Memories medley,” the Lettermen
  114. “Turn Back the Hands of Time,” Tyrone Davis
  115. “Viva Tirado, Pt. 1,” El Chicano
  116. “Walk A Mile in My Shoes,” Joe South
  117. “War,” Edwin Starr
  118. “Westbound #9,” Flaming Ember
  119. “When Will We Be Paid,” the Staple Singers
  120. “Winter World of Love,” Engelbert Humperdinck
  121. “Wish I Didn’t Have to Miss You,” Jack Greene & Jeannie Seely
  122. “Worried Life Blues,” Little Junior Parker
  123. “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” Elvis Presley
  124. “You Wanna Give Me A Lift,” Loretta Lynn
  125. “You’re the One (Part 1),” Little Sister

Posted in 1970s

Back to analog days

For the better part of the last year-and-a-half, I’ve found myself not listening to increasingly less current music, save for what I review for The Singles Jukebox. Instead, I’ve largely been deep-diving into the ’70s, a decade whose music I’ve (rather purposefully) never spent much time with before. The original inspiration was iHeart Radio’s Classic American Top 40 channel, which used to alternate between a ’70s countdown and one from the ’80s (last year, they switched up the format and now run one from the ’70s for every three from the ’80s). That’s what got me interested in doing my own blog entries about ’em; charts from the 1970s were bigger challenges for me, because I wasn’t as familiar with the music.

On top of that, I find contemporary pop music (think top 40, hip-hop, and country) increasingly lacking. Some love it, and good for them, but by and large I don’t. As EDM has essentially become pop music, I’ve found myself craving analog sounds. (Highly ironic, considering that 20-25 years ago I was riding hard for the Chemical Brothers and Underworld, thinking, “Why can’t America get electronic music?” Little did I know… .) And I recognize that this may come off as rockist, and that’s not how I mean it, but I just don’t entirely get why one single requires eight producers, or ten co-writers (without samples!). Yes, I understand that music technologies have changed, but songwriting and production hasn’t, necessarily. There’s an appeal in, say, a 1971 Z.Z. Hill single with one writer and one producer, as opposed to a Katy Perry single that’s an example of songwriting-by-committee. (And don’t even get me started on the credits of Kanye’s Jesus Is Lord; I think I might have unwittingly received a songwriting credit on that brief, bloated mess.)

And lo and behold, the more I’ve delved into the music of the decade of gas shortages and Tricky Dick, the more I’ve discovered to love. An essential resource has been American Radio History’s Billboard magazine archive, lovingly scanned into pdfs. Flipping through the pages of, say, a 1971 issue is fascinating, from the music covered, to the news, to the ads, to the reviews, to the industry talk — and not just about radio/records, either. (Jukeboxes were still very big business back in the day, and it wasn’t just jukeboxes that were being advertised.)

Ad from Billboard, January 23, 1971, page 54, in the Jukebox Programming/Coin Machine World section.

Now, there’s certainly plenty of ’70s music with which I was already familiar, from Roxy Music to Chic to Dylan. But there’s also plenty with which I wasn’t, which I’ve only discovered in the course of this intentional exploration. Some of it I learn from AT40 countdowns, and the bottoms of those chart are always more interesting. I mean, most, say, top 5 (or even 10) singles are familiar to me, but the singles that never got above, say, #25? Especially from the first half of the ’70s, those are where some of the real gems sometimes reside. For example, Crabby Appleton, an L.A. band who only released two albums, in ’70 and ’71, and had one hit, “Go Back,” which got to #36 in 1970. It’s some shit-hot rock that, remarkably, got them a performance on American Bandstand!

I started making year-specific playlists of stuff I dig, one song per artist (duets excluded — seems unfair to not include a Conway Twitty/Loretta Lynn duet just because I’ve included solo songs by each of them). Not only have I used old AT40 broadcasts for discovery purposes, I’ve also picked 3-6 random issues of Billboard for each year and flipped through them, looking for things to catch my eye, be they charting songs, ads, reviews. These playlists are by no means definitive nor are they complete, per sé: I’m still working on adding more jazz and gospel. I’ve not gone very international (aka non-English-speaking), just letting songs slip in here and there. This is just for my enjoyment, not some massive “opus” kind of project. (Others have done a great job with that.)

I’ll start adding links to these playlists as I write them up and put together Spotify versions, though of course I expect there will be plenty missing from our streaming overlords. You can find all of these if you dig, though — I mean, I did. Consider this, then, a dynamic, ongoing post.

We start with the year of my birth, 1970.

Posted in 1970s

My favorite songs: “Please Me,” Cardi B & Bruno Mars

In working on my 2019 year-end lists, I’ve been listening to this stone cold jam a lot. And I realized that my Singles Jukebox blurb on this record is one of my favorite I’ve written this year, so here it is.

After working his way through Jam & Lewis, LA & Babyface, and Teddy Riley through the 24K Magic album cycle, it’s time for Bruno to move into some platinum ’90s R&B — in this case, Jodeci. I am a noted, hardcore Jodeci stan, so it follows that I would fall hard for a Devante Swing homage. “Please Me” thumps, bobs and weaves like the best of them — those layered-to-the-heavens harmonies on the bridge alone are worth at least a 6 or 7. And Bruno’s chorus is pure cream. But then there’s Cardi, going for hers so hard. These sex rhymes sound so natural from her, talking about how she’s got “no panties in the way,” “dinner reservations like the pussy, you gon’ eat out,” and the coup de grace, “better fuck me like we listenin’ to Jodeci.” (She’s smart.) Between her verse on City Girls’ “Twerk,” her Grammy moments (performing and winning), and now “Please Me,” Cardi’s making it clear that she’s gonna own 2019 just like she owned ’18. Bow down. [10]

Posted in 2010s, hip hop, my favorite songs

And on and on: more on Janet Jackson

Sure, I recently had some things to say about a handful of my favorite Janet Jackson songs — but when it comes to Miss Janet Privacy Control, there’s always more to be said. I especially want to spotlight some of her lesser-known records and remixes.

“You Want This (Single Remix)” (feat. MC Lyte) (1994)
For the sixth and final (U.S.) single from ’93’s janet., MC Lyte was brought in to add a bridge to the upbeat, Supremes-sampling “You Want This,” to give it a bit more oomph. It worked, not that the song necessarily needed it — “You Want This” is already fairly a jam.

“When I Think of You (Extended Morales House Mix ’95)” (1995)
In 1995, A&M released the Jackson contract-fulfillment comp Design of a Decade, even though she’d already released an album, janet., on her new label, Virgin. (Record deals are funny things.) It included a pair of mediocre new songs, one of which, “Runaway,” dutifully climbed to #3 on the Hot 100. But that’s not the thing. The thing is that the “Runaway” 12″, sent to me by a promo pal at A&M at the time (I was Music Director of my college radio station, and it’s not like they were promoting Jackson to college radio, but my pal knew what a Janet fan I was), included new mixes of Jackson’s first pop #1, 1986’s “When I Think of You.” And one of them, by David Morales, grabbed me immediately; I listened to it constantly all summer long. I still listen to it today, because it still sounds fresh, coming straight from Morales’s deep house pocket yet still retaining the magic that made “Think of You” great from the get-go.

“Control (The Video Mix)” (1987)
Included on Control: the Remixes, which received an expanded edition this year, I’ve always found this version — just like its name says, the version from the “live” video — superior to that on Control. It’s a different vocal take, the beefed-up instrumentation sounds much tougher and live-er, and there’s some smart little bells, whistles, and Easter eggs in the mix, like a callback to “What Have You Done for Me Lately.” I also love her “too nasty!” callout at 4:05. Not to mention that the video itself features Jimmy, Terry, and crew going all Time on your ass.

“No Sleeep” (2015)
I’ve not been much of a fan of most of Janet’s past 15 years, but “No Sleeep,” the first single from her most recent studio album, Unbreakable, is an exception. A callback to the boudoir R&B of The Velvet Rope, this sexy slow jam — written and produced, I kid you not, by Janet with her old compatriots Jimmy “Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis — spent 15 weeks atop the Adult R&B chart, quite appropriate.

“New Agenda” (featuring Chuck D) (1993)
Another great example of what Janet, Jam & Lewis are capable of in the studio: this incredible sonic mélange not only owes a thing or two to the Bomb Squad’s work with Public Enemy, it even features a bridge and ad-libs from Chuck D. His appearance here is so smart, as this song is lyrically kinda the R&B version of Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing,” on which he’s also featured. The song opens with a sample from Stevie Wonder’s “Superwoman,” and also features drums from Average White Band’s “School Boy Crush.” And it just sounds great, know what I mean?

Posted in 1980s, 1990s, 2010s, R&B

Radio Romance: WJLB FM98, Detroit, 2/13/84

Now, this is a radio station I wish I could go back and hear, as the early ’80s became the mid-’80s. Detroit is known for progressive Black radio — it was one of the first markets to really take to Prince, for example — but this is beyond. Not only are there R&B hits from the likes of Lionel Richie (following up a #1), Cameo (a future #1), and DeBarge (a recent #1), there’s some early freestyle from Jenny Burton and Xena, a surprising amount of electro and rap (some you may know by Run-DMC and Planet Patrol, and some you likely don’t by Captain Rock and Felix & Jarvis), and a handful of very weird pop crossovers from Culture Club, Pat Benatar, and Yes! Actually, to be fair, “Miss Me Blind” isn’t so odd: that made it to #8 on the Black Singles chart in April. Yes and Benatar, however, didn’t come anywhere near the Black top 10.

Fun sidebar fact: two-and-a-half months later, on the chart of April 28, ’84, there were three songs in the top 10 by non-Black, non-American artists.

Thanks to a brief aircheck I recently heard, I can tell you that not only did WJLB have Laid Back playlisted in February, but Chicago’s WGCI was playing it in early January!

I wish this playlist were in ranked, instead of alphabetical, order, but you take what you can get. A closer examination:

“Action,” Evelyn King: King transitioned gracefully from disco (’77’s “Shame”) to post-disco (’81’s “I’m in Love”) and synth-R&B (’82’s “Love Come Down”); this leans harder on the electro and does it pretty well, though as opposed to the top 10 placings of those three aforementioned singles (the last two #1s), this only got to #16 Soul. But you likely won’t be disappointed if you spend five minutes in a dark room with it.
“Body Talk,” the Deele: The Deele were Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds’ group before they were, well, L.A. and Babyface — and they weren’t even its leaders. This, their first single, made it to #3 Soul, and is just average electro-funk.
“Didn’t Know I Loved You,” Planet Patrol: This one’s just plain bizarre: an electro/hip hop cover of a Gary Glitter song (#4 UK/#35 US, 1972), played fairly straight.
“Encore,” Cheryl Lynn: One week away from knocking Patti LaBelle (below) off the top and giving Lynn her second Soul #1, this also gave Jimmy “Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis their first-ever chart-topper as writers and producers, setting the stage for a rather impressive career (that’s still ongoing). Of Lynn’s four previous albums, three had spun off one top 5 Soul record apiece (including her ’78 #1 “Got to Be Real,” which crazily only made it to #11 pop), so it wasn’t necessarily surprising to see this top the chart — except that the first two singles from its parent album, Preppie, had flopped out at #77 and #85! Her previous hit was the all-time-classic Luther Vandross duet, “If This World Were Mine,” which made it to #3 in early ’83 — but this did better, slipping in for a solitary week at #1 between the four-week run of LaBelle and the five-week run of, ahem, Rockwell (see below). This is one of my favorite records of the entire decade, an immaculate marriage of song, production, singer, and era. Not to mention that you can very much hear templates for things on Control in this jam.
“Hard Times”/”Jam Master Jay,” Run-DMC: “Hard Times” was the second single from Run-DMC’s eponymous debut album, and made it to #11, four notches higher than “It’s Like That.” Brilliant, fully-formed hip hop.
“If Only You Knew,” Patti LaBelle: The current #1 Soul single, nearing the end of a four-week run atop the chart, was, amazingly, LaBelle’s first-ever solo top ten on the chart. This stately ballad reinvigorated LaBelle’s career. She had another pair of top 10s in ’84, a #3 duet with Bobby Womack (“Love Has Finally Come at Last,” which was top 10 by April, as seen in the chart above; also see “New Music,” below), and this song’s follow-up, the #10 “Love, Need, and Want You,” later famously interpolated on Nelly and Kelly Rowland’s 2002 #1 “Dilemma.” To this day, “Knew” is my favorite LaBelle record; I love how she sings it in her mid-range, almost understatedly. Would end up the #2 Soul single of the year, behind only “When Doves Cry.”
“Irresistible Bitch,” Prince: This was the b-side of “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” the final single from 1999, which only got to #55 Soul/#52 pop — but on the Soul chart this had enough airplay to warrant charting as a double-sided single. And Prince was big enough in Detroit that this was a radio smash there. I mean, you know how great this song is, right?
“Jam the House,” Felix & Jarvis: Like Captain Rock (below), this is non-nationally-charting electro/rap that’s… okay, and that’s about it. Felix & Jarvis had a vocal credit on a Was (Not Was) album the prior year.
“Joystick,” Dazz Band: This penis-as-video game controller has always come off as smarmy and gross to me. And its funk isn’t as good as that of ’82’s “Let It Whip.”
“Karma Chameleon”/”Miss Me Blind,” Culture Club: “Karma Chameleon,” a #1 pop/#67 Soul single, has never been my cup of tea. But “Miss Me Blind” is a joy and a marvel, such a concise, precise pop record — and it climbed to a #5 peak on both the pop and Soul charts in the U.S. I’ve always loved that Boy George worked in a lyrical reference to their first album, Kissing to Be Clever, in this song.
“Let’s Make Love Tonight,” Isley Brothers: Between the Sheets was the Isleys’ first #1 Soul album in three years, and featured the magnificent top 10s “Choosey Lover” and the album’s title track. This was, remarkably, only released as a promotional single, but is arguably just as much of a classic these days, thanks to Quiet Storm R&B radio. Deservedly so, really — the entire album is wall-to-wall bedroom wall bangers, if you catch my drift.
“Love Is A Battlefield,” Pat Benatar: This rock record has a little funk in it, so I can hear it in this company. Not much of a Soul hit, but it (of course) slams. I love the syn-drums here.
“On the Upside,” Xēna: This cracking little earrrrly freestyle single, credited to “Xēna,” is actually by Lisa Fischer — yes, renowned backing singer Lisa Fischer, most well-known for touring with the Rolling Stones and Luther Vandross, and who famously tied for a Grammy win with Patti LaBelle. The song’s lyrical conceit — Fischer starts singing about the downside of love, but then turns it around — is a clever one. This didn’t make the Soul chart, but got to #7 on the (then-named) Dance/Disco chart.
“Owner of a Lonely Heart,” Yes: This only scraped its way into the 70s of the Soul chart (though it did get to #3 Dance — it was a Trevor Horn production, after all), so I have no idea what WJLB was doing with it. But I love that they were fucking with it.
“Remember What You Like,” Jenny Burton: Producer John Robie, who also recorded as C-Bank, made his name working alongside Arthur Baker, and you can absolutely hear it on this lost freestyle record (#10 Dance/#21 Soul) that’s just plain weird and collage-y and full of f/x. Your tolerance/enjoyment of that will determine how much you like this. I find it a bit clattering, but again, YMMV.
“Return of Captain Rock,” Captain Rock: A rapper who never charted anywhere, with a decent enough electro/rap record, end of story. I miss the era of local radio hits.
“Running with the Night,” Lionel Richie: The follow-up to “All Night Long” was destined to be a smash, and this was. I just wish it were more interesting.
“She’s Strange,” Cameo: This brilliant slab of low-key funk would spend the entirety of April topping the Soul chart. Those icy, whining synths, colder than the other side of the moon! Those lyrics, rhyming “Eva Peron” with “Rolling Stones” and calling the song’s subject “the invisible man in drag” while discussing her “light blue aura”! Those syn-drums! “She’s Strange” is simultaneously the sound of its moment and the sound of the future, and I sometimes happily listen to it for two hours on end. Really.
“Somebody’s Watching Me,” Rockwell: If you weren’t Berry Gordy’s son, fella, not only would Michael Jackson not have had anything to do with your dopey song, no one would’ve been watching, or listening to you. This record is unrepentantly stupid.
“Something’s on Your Mind,” D-Train: D-Train represented a very specific brand of New York City post-disco music, slow R&B you could still dance to. I’ve always heard them as the predecessors to Ten City.
“Taxi,” J. Blackfoot: Great talked-sung blues/soul from the Bobby Womack (see below)/Bobby “Blue” Bland school, that amazingly made it to #4 on the Soul chart in an era when this was not the current sound. I love these conversational story-songs, and this is no exception.
“This Means War,” Imagination: In 1981-82 these Brit-soul post-disco kings notched a trio of UK top 5s, including the #2 “Just An Illusion,” which also got to #27 on the US Soul chart. A couple years later, this one (oddly unreleased as a UK single) made it to #29 Soul, their last gasp in the US. You can ride the groove of this one for days.
“Time Will Reveal,” DeBarge: One of the greatest reviews Robert Christgau’s ever written is for this song’s parent album, the glorious In A Special Way: “When first I fell in love with the austere lilt and falsetto fantasy they’ve pinned to plastic here, I thought it was just that I’d finally outgrown the high-energy fixation that’s always blocked my emotional access to falsetto ballads. So I went back to Spinners and Blue Magic, Philip Bailey and my man Russell Thompkins Jr., and indeed, they all struck a little deeper–but only, I soon realized, because the superior skill of these kids had opened me up. I know of no pop music more shameless in its pursuit of pure beauty–not emotional (much less intellectual) expression, just voices joining for their own sweet sake, with the subtle Latinized rhythms (like the close harmonies themselves) working to soften odd melodic shapes and strengthen the music’s weave. High energy doesn’t always manifest itself as speed and volume–sometimes it gets winnowed down to its essence. A+” And y’know, he ain’t wrong. The first of their two Soul #1s had spent five weeks atop the chart in December ’83 and January ’84 — but it still hadn’t gone anywhere, and frankly, never has. Gossamer ballad perfection.
“Touch,” Earth, Wind & Fire: The sound of EWF, sadly, not sure what to do with the synth-funk era. It’s kind of a ballad, kind of not, and not very exciting no matter what it is.
“White Horse,” Laid Back: #5 Soul by April, #1 Dance, #26 pop, and proof that you didn’t have to be from NYC or Miami to make ace electro/proto-freestyle — Laid Back were Danish! If you don’t love this, your feet must be permanently nailed to the earth.

New Music
“Fresh,” Tyrone Brunson: This funky bass player got to #14 Soul with the instrumental “The Smurf” the previous year, and to #22 with this instrumental. It’s about thisclose to being jazz/funk fusion, which of course makes me love it all the more.
“Hyperactive!,” Thomas Dolby: “She Blinded Me with Science” did get to #49 Soul, so it’s not so shocking that WJLB would playlist this. Plus, frankly, this has plenty of electro, and even hip-hop energy (in its sampledelic aesthetic) in its DNA. Almost more of a collage than a song, I actually prefer this to “Science.” (Got to #62 pop, non-charter Soul.)
“Let’s Stay Together,” Tina Turner: You know the story on this one, right? Tina, signed to a record deal in the UK, records this Al Green cover with Heaven 17 and gets a Euro-smash (top 20 in six European countries, including #4 in both the Netherlands and the UK). Her US label releases it, and it gets to #26 on the Hot 100 — but #3 Soul and #1 Dance. And the greatest musical comeback of the ’80s, begins. I love the way she sings the song, and Heaven 17’s production is so contemporary yet un-trendy that together they make something new, something that puts the Green original out of your mind. And that’s something. By September, she’d hit #1 on the Hot 100 and #2 Soul with “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”
“Lollipop Luv,” Bryan Loren: At age 18, Loren had a minor candy-soul hit (#23) with this, which is, well, minor candy-soul, but he’d already been working with Cashmere and Fat Larry’s Band at this point. And six years later he’d top the UK chart with the Simpsons’s “Do the Bartman,” allegedly co-written and -produced with his then-pal, Michael Jackson.
“Love Has Finally Come at Last,” Bobby Womack/Patti LaBelle: Anything sung by Womack is gonna have some element of “gutbucket” to it, thanks to that incredible, incredibly unique voice. But this has got to be about the smoothest record of his career, and that’s not actually such a great thing. Womack and LaBelle don’t really mesh, either. That said, it’s hard to say no to anything these two are singing, so call it a wash.

Posted in 1980s, R&B, radio romance

Gimme a beat: on Janet Jackson

In honor of the 30th anniversary of the release of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, we did a career-spanning review of Janet records over at The Singles Jukebox. I highly recommend you read all of it, because it’s full of great writing, but for posterity’s sake, here are my contributions.

“Diamonds” (Herb Alpert featuring Janet Jackson) (1987)
After “The Pleasure Principle,” this might actually be my favorite Janet Jackson single (even though she’s technically the featured artist on it). “Diamonds,” written and produced by Jimmy “Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis for Herb Alpert’s 1987 album Keep Your Eye on Me, is, in all but name, a Jam/Lewis/Janet record — with a few Alpert trumpet flourishes. The beats rock hard, and Janet delivers what may be (and certainly was at the time) her most IDGAF vocal: you’re gonna get Miss Jackson (because you’re clearly nasty) some diamonds, aren’t you? 

“The Best Things in Life Are Free” (Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson featuring BBD & Ralph Tresvant) (1992)
To soundtrack his 1992 film Mo’ Money, Damon Wayans (who wrote and starred in the critically-derided box office hit) called upon superproducers Jam & Lewis, and they did work, producing or co-producing 13 of the album’s 14 tracks and writing or co-writing 12 of them. The soundtrack’s lead single was very pointedly a “look at all the cool stars we got together” move, featuring superstars Vandross and Jackson duetting, along with a brief rap bridge from Bell Biv DeVoe (credited here as BBD) and their New Edition compadre Ralph Tresvant. Released as a single in May 1992, it’s a perfect summertime smash, simultaneously airy-light and slammin’, with Vandross and Jackson weaving in and out of each other’s vocals effortlessly. BBD and Tresvant pop in with a nothingburger of a rap (Tresvant gets a label credit for literally uttering one line, the song’s title) that at least serves to provide a modicum of grit to the proceedings, but no matter: Jackson especially sounds breezier than maybe ever, while Vandross seems to float above the record. The two are magical on a track perfectly suited for them (credit Jam & Lewis, of course), and the result is a minor classic. 

“Throb” (1993) 
In the summer of 1993, I’d just finished my second freshman year of college, in my hometown. (I’d gone to college straight out of high school in 1988, and dropped out without much to show for it, 16 months later.) One of my best girlfriends had herself just graduated from college and was back at her parents’ house, job-hunting. We were both past 21 and looking for a place to go dancing, and we found it in the nearest big city, Fort Wayne, Indiana, about 45 minutes away. It was a short-lived gay bar — so short-lived I don’t even recall its name, sadly — with a dance floor roughly the size of a postage stamp. I don’t remember meeting anyone there, ever. (I didn’t drive at the time, so Julie always had to, so it’s not like I could’ve gone home with someone anyway.) I don’t remember anything about the bar — except its dancefloor, and the fact that they had a decent DJ on the weekends, who mostly played house music, which I love/d. And there were three songs that got played, in my memory at least, every single week. (And Julie and I really did go just about every weekend that summer.) 

The first was Bizarre Inc.’s “I’m Gonna Get You,” an ebullient diva-house track which topped Billboard’s Dance Club/Play chart in January but was just peaking at pop radio in June. The second was, really, the gay club record of the year, RuPaul’s “Supermodel.” It peaked at #2 on the Dance Club/Play chart in March, but never left gay clubs at all through 1993. When that got played at the club, I would, week-in, week-out, “work the runway,” lip-syncing my ass off. (It’s just that kind of song.) And the third was an album track from a newly-released album (that would, in fact, eventually be promoted to dance clubs at peak at #2 on the Club/Play chart), Janet Jackson’s “Throb.” This song went where Jackson never had before, both musically (it’s a straight-up house jam) and lyrically (it’s a straight-up sex jam). Its lyrics are minimal but to the point: “I can feel your body/Pressed against my body/When you start to poundin’/Love to feel you throbbin’.” No subtleties there! Accordingly, Julie and I would spend the song grinding up against each other on a tiny riser at the back of the dance floor, because why not? And because it’s fun. 

26 years later, ‘Throb” still kills. And throbs.

“I Get Lonely (TNT Remix)” (Janet featuring BLACKstreet) (1998)
Allow me to be cynical for a moment: Janet Jackson, in 1998, is still a superstar. But in the past five years, she’s only had one R&B #1, ‘94’s sex-jam “Any Time, Any Place” (assisted greatly by its R. Kelly remix). So if you’re thinking “What do we do to get Janet back to the summit,” what do you do? Well, it’s 1998. How about calling in Teddy Riley? Better yet, how about he gets a helping hand from Timbaland? And the best: how about Teddy brings his merry men of BLACKstreet with him for a vocal assist? Ergo, “I Get Lonely (TNT Remix),” now label-credited to “Janet [she was just going by “Janet” at the time] featuring BLACKstreet.” 

And you know what? It’s genius. The idea, brilliant. The execution, top-notch. Riley on the remix, with instrumental help from Timbo, with guest vocals from BLACKstreet: it’s more exciting than the original (which was already quite good), has a little more junk in its trunk (those should-be-patented instrumental tics that Timbaland is such a wizard with, ohmygod, much like Janet’s big brother’s vocal tics), and the duet vocals are superb (especially as it was so rare to hear Janet singing with others at the time, and every member of BLACKstreet save Riley was a great-to-marvelous singer). Presto! Two weeks atop the R&B chart in May 1998, along with a #3 Hot 100 peak. Mission accomplished — and fortunately, it works even better artistically than it did commercially. Everybody wins!

Posted in 1980s, 1990s, R&B

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