Wolastoqivik Lintuwakonawa, Jeremy Dutcher — Truly stunning, truly breathtaking, this fusion of classical vocalizing and samples from vintage Native North American recordings (some dating back over a century) is like nothing I’d ever heard. Dutcher’s artistry blows me away every time I encounter it, whether via this album or seeing his many live performances online. Forever grateful to Steacy Easton (via the Polaris shortlist) for introducing me to Dutcher’s work, and I cannot wait to see what comes from him next.
Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1976-96, Various Artists — A collection of vogue classics both well-known (MFSB’s “Love Is the Message,” Diana Ross’s “Love Hangover”) and not (Nitro Deluxe’s “This Brutal House,” Ellis D’s “Just Like A Queen”), that collectively serve to — well, serve. And educate.
ArtScience, Robert Glasper Experience — The contempo version of a 1975 jazz fusion album, from a quartet (and especially their leader) who understand jazz and funk and soul in equal measures.
Dig In Deep, Bonnie Raitt — The decade’s sexiest album was made by a then-66-year-old Grammy-lauded blueswoman. No joke. And her guitar licks still sting.
Ventriloquism, Me’shell Ndegeocello — As I said in my review for SPIN, this collection of covers of (mostly) ’80s R&B is about the power of transformation. Through it, our hearing of these songs is also transformed.
Accelerando, Vijay Iyer Trio — The contempo version of a 1975 ECM album, from an incredibly nimble jazz trio.
EMB 57: Summer of ’83, 50 Pound Note — My favorite DJ mix of the decade was, rather oddly, made by my own ex-husband Jeb. But even after we divorced, I kept coming back to this homage he made to the sounds, not songs, of ’83; it includes two songs of the era (New Order’s “Confusion” and his own re-edit of Herbie Hancock’s “Autodrive”) but is otherwise all then-current (2010) music that reaches back to that sound (Bottin’s re-edit of Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle,” Sidechains’s genius Bar-Kay’s reconstruction, Casio Social Club [who appear twice — and also at #14 on my decade list!]). He pieces it together immaculately, but with so much love — and I was literally in the room as he was making this, so I’d know. (It’s still available here.)
4:44, Jay-Z — The hip-hop records I most responded to in the 2010s were those from the elders, with something to say. No on summed that up better for me than Jay-Z’s “I got some shit on my mind” post-Lemonade masterwork, one of his top tier albums. No I.D. deserves heavy credit for its production, which matches Jay’s lyrics note-perfectly.
When I Get Home, Solange — Capital-b, capital-a Black Art at its finest. Further thoughts are here (it’s #4).
Daytona, Pusha T — The best thing Kanye touched this decade — the production on this simple perfection — vocalized by my vote for the best (and most consistent) rapper of the decade.
Strength of a Woman, Mary J. Blige
The Bootleg Series Vol. 13: Trouble No More 1979–1981, Bob Dylan
Life in 3D, Casio Social Club
Traveller, Chris Stapleton
Ocean City LP, Pacific Coliseum
Treats, Sleigh Bells
Black Radio, Robert Glasper Experience
Classical Curves, Jam City
Vinyl, William Michael Morgan
All the Right Moves, Plastician
American Middle Class, Angaleena Presley
Yeezus, Kanye West
Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, A Tribe Called Quest
In ranked order. I went with 40 because when it comes down to it, I’m a “top 40” guy .
1. “And I Will Kiss,” Underworld feat. Dame Evelyn Glennie (2012) — Composed and recorded for the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics (it soundtracked the “Industrial Revolution” section of Danny Boyle’s “history of Great Britain” fantasia), this 17-minute piece is far more akin to classical music than electronic/a. No music moved me more in the 2010s than this, even without its visual accompaniment (which the IOC has made certain to remove from the internet, which is a shame, because it’s stunning). Glennie’s percussion is a perfect match for Underworld’s throbbing, insistent pulse. 2. “Lies (Alex Metric Remix),” Fenech-Soler (2010) — Fenech-Soler were a solid indietronica band from the UK who released their debut album at the start of the decade. “Lies” is a fine, but somewhat unexceptional single — at the time, you damned near could’ve called it Coachella-core. But then Alex Metric got his hands on it and turned it into a work-your-body explosion of the highest order. I was exposed to a number of the remixes in this list, from the early part of the ’10s, thanks to my ex-husband’s DJing gay club events in San Francisco at the time, and I can tell you from personal experience that this absolutely killed on the dancefloor — especially the build and BOOM! that first appears circa 2:00. It’s also a killer windows down, driving-too-fast track. 3. “Body Party,” Ciara (2013) — The sexiest not-quite-slow jam of the decade, and producer Mike Will Made It’s crowning achievement. And the way it samples Ghost Town DJ’s’ “My Boo” is simply brilliant. 4. “The Pop Kids,” Pet Shop Boys (2016) — A sweet, slightly sad reminiscence that always gets me just so, married to a joyous four-on-the-floor workout, like only Chris and Neil can do. 5. “Hurt You,” Babyface & Toni Braxton (2013) — There are heartbreak ballads, and then there are heartbreak ballads. This combo of two of the finest purveyors of said style is heartbreak ballad as art form. Keep your Marriage Story; this is the rawest, truest story of a divorce I heard in the past 10 years. 6. “Love Theory,” Kirk Franklin (2019) — A tidy distillation of what faith, and in this instance specifically Christianity, is all about, wrapped up in great uptempo R&B. 7. “The Greatest,” KING (2016) — The finest 1980s R&B of the 2010s: so cushiony. 8. “U + Me (Love Lesson),” Mary J. Blige (2017) — Blige is often at her finest when she’s at her most fragile, and coming off her divorce led to her best work of the ’10s, especially this single. I listened to this a lot during the course of my last break-up. 9. “Smokin’ and Drinkin’,” Miranda Lambert feat. Little Big Town (2014) — Regrets, she’s had a few. 10. “God Only Knows,” for KING & COUNTRY feat. Dolly Parton (2019) — Singing truth to power.
11. “Shoegazer Disco (Linus Loves Remix),” Morel (2010) 12. “Could’ve Been,” H.E.R. feat. Bryson Tiller (2018) 13. “She Ain’t You (Remix),” Chris Brown feat. SWV (2011) 14. “River in Me,” Trentmøller feat. Jehnny Beth (2016) 15. “Age Ain’t A Factor,” Jaheim (2013) 16. “Live Those Days Tonight (Lone Remix),” Friendly Fires (2011) 17. “Thick of It,” Mary J. Blige (2017) 18. “Get Lucky,” Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams (2013) 19. “Cool for the Summer,” Demi Lovato (2015) 20. “The Fighter,” Keith Urban feat. Carrie Underwood (2016)
21. “No Price,” Slam Dunk’d feat. Chromeo & Al-P (2014) 22. “Old Town Road (Remix),” Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus (2019) 23. “Witty,” Justin Faust (2010) 24. “Ni**as in Paris,” Kanye West & Jay-Z (2011) 25. “Late Nights & Early Mornings,” Marsha Ambrosius (2011) 26. “Thursday,” Pet Shop Boys feat. Example (2013) 27. “Drunk in Love,” Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z (2013) 28. “GTFO,” Mariah Carey (2018) 29. “End Game,” Taylor Swift feat. Ed Sheeran and Future (2017) 30. “Where Is It Going? (Paralympics Mix)/Spasticus Autisticus,” Orbital & Graeae Theatre Company (2012)
31. “Marvin & Chardonnay,” Big Sean feat. Kanye West & Roscoe Dash (2011) 32. “Better Dig Two,” The Band Perry (2012) 33. “Run Away with Me,” Carly Rae Jepsen (2015) 34. “24K Magic,” Bruno Mars (2016) 35. “Vice,” Miranda Lambert (2016) 36. “Good Kisser,” Usher (2014) 37. “Don’t Rush,” Kelly Clarkson feat. Vince Gill (2012) 38. “Feel Like A Rock Star,” Kenny Chesney & Tim McGraw (2012) 39. “I Love It,” Icona Pop feat. Charli XCX 40. “Enough,” Fantasia
No playlist this time. One of my favorite trends growing in the early ’70s is blues records increasingly getting soulful, playing with R&B: B.B. King, Z.Z. Hill (above, one of my faves of ’71), Johnnie Taylor, newcomer Denise LaSalle (who even made the pop top 40).
“After the Fire Is Gone,” Coway Twitty & Loretta Lynn
“All I Ever Need Is You,” Sonny & Cher
“Another Day,” Paul McCartney
“The Arms of a Fool,” Mel Tillis
“Ask Me No Questions,” B.B. King
“Baby I’m-A Want You,” Bread
“Baby You’ve Got What It Takes,” Charlie Louvin & Melba Montgomery
“Bed of Rose’s,” the Statler Brothers
“Bitch,” the Rolling Stones
“Black Seeds Keep on Growing,” the Main Ingredient
“Cedartown, Georgia,” Waylon Jennings
“Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep,” Middle of the Road
“Coat of Many Colors,” Dolly Parton
“Cool Aid,” Paul Humphrey and His Cool Aid Chemists
“Coz I Love You,” Slade
“Dis-Satisfied,” Bill Anderson & Jan Howard
“Don’t Knock My Love (Part 1),” Wilson Pickett
“Don’t Make Me Pay for His Mistakes,” Z.Z. Hill
“Double Barrel,” Dave & Ansel Collins
“Drowning in the Sea of Love,” Joe Simon
“Easy Loving,” Freddie Hart
“Empty Arms,” Sonny James
“(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People,” the Chi-Lites
“Funky Nassau, Pt. 1,” The Beginning of the End
“Good Enough to Be Your Wife,” Jeannie C. Riley
“A Good Year for the Roses,” George Jones
“Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves,” Cher
“He’s Gonna Step on You Again,” John Kongos
“Help Me Make It Through the Night,” Sammi Smith
“Hot Pants Pt. 1,” James Brown
“How Can I Unlove You,” Lynn Anderson
“How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,” Bee Gees
“How Much More Can She Stand,” Conway Twitty
“(I Know) I’m Losing You,” Rod Stewart with Faces
“I Love You For All Seasons,” the Fuzz
“I Won’t Mention It Again,” Ray Price
“I’m Eighteen,” Alice Cooper
“I’m Gonna Keep on Keep on Lovin’ You,” Billy Walker
“I’m Just Me,” Charley Pride
“I’ve Found Someone of My Own,” the Free Movement
“If You Really Love Me,” Stevie Wonder
“Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” Marvin Gaye
“It Don’t Come Easy,” Ringo Starr
“It’s Impossible,” Perry Como
“It’s Too Late,” Carole King
“Jeepster,” T. Rex
“Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone,” Johnnie Taylor
“Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me),” the Temptations
“Just One Time,” Connie Smith
“K-Jee,” the Nite Liters
“L.A. International Airport,” Susan Raye
“Layla,” Derek and the Dominos
“Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again),” Kris Kristofferson
“Mammy Blue,” Pop-Tops
“Man in Black,” Johnny Cash
“Move on Up,” Curtis Mayfield
“Mr. Big Stuff,” Jean Knight
“Nathan Jones,” the Supremes
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” Joan Baez
“One Fine Morning,” Lighthouse
“Oye Como Va,” Santana
“Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends,” Bobby Bare
“The Promised Land,” Freddy Weller
“Quits,” Bill Anderson
“Respect Yourself,” the Staple Singers
“Riders on the Storm,” the Doors
“Right on the Tip of My Tongue,” Brenda and the Tabulations
“River,” Joni Mitchell
“Rock and Roll,” Led Zeppelin
“Ruby (Are You Mad),” Buck Owens
“Shaft,” Isaac Hayes
“She’s A Lady,” Tom Jones
“She’s All I Got,” Johnny Paycheck
“Slippin’ Into Darkness,” War
“Smiling Faces Sometimes,” the Undisputed Truth
“Someday We’ll Look Back,” Merle Haggard
“Summer of ’42 (Main Theme),” Michel Legrand
“Surrender,” Diana Ross
“That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” Carly Simon
“Thin Line Between Love & Hate,” the Persuaders
“Tired of Being Alone,” Al Green
“Trapped By a Thing Called Love,” Denise LaSalle
“Truckin’,” the Grateful Dead
“Want Ads,” Honey Cone
“We Sure Can Love Each Other,” Tammy Wynette
“Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get,” the Dramatics
“When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” Jerry Reed
“(Where Do I Begin) Love Story,” Andy Williams
“Women’s Love Rights,” Laura Lee
“Won’t Get Fooled Again,” the Who
“Woodstock,” Matthews’ Southern Comfort
“Would You Take Another Chance on Me,” Jerry Lee Lewis
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.)
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.
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. 
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?
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:
45s “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.