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Last year, I joined Popdose‘s Jeff Giles and Robert Cass for a column called “‘Face Time,” in which we discussed essential (and some non-essential) cuts in the catalog of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, one of the most prolific singer/songwriters of the ’80s and ’90s. ‘Face and his partner Antonio “L.A.” Reid were one of the big 3 production teams that ruled pop and R&B during that era. There was also Teddy Riley and his New Jack Swing camp, and perhaps most notably, Minneapolis’s James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis. The former members of Prince offshoot band The Time turned out to be legends in their own right, composing and producing hits for a who’s-who of the music industry and proving to be as (if not more) influential than their purple-clad benefactor.

So in 2014, Jeff and I (along two new team members, fellow Popdose editor/Popblerd podcast co-host Michael Parr, along with badass co-conspirator Dr. Z) are back to talk all things Flyte Tyme.

Cheryl Lynn | “Encore” (from Preppie, 1983) | purchase on Amazon

Written and produced by Jam & Lewis

Jeff Giles: Poor Cheryl Lynn. Her catalog is a mess, and the only thing most people know her for is her first single*. Shit, I’ve written about her stuff before, but still, looking at her discography while cuing up this video, I was surprised all over again by how many albums she’s released, and fascinated by the wildly up-and-down chart performance of her singles. She kept popping up during the ’80s, especially on the R&B charts — I think she had a hit a few years before “Encore” with a duet — but she could never string her successes together reliably enough to consistently demand the kind of label attention she probably deserved.

Case in point: She reunited with Jam & Lewis on her next record, and even delivered a “Got to Be Real” sequel of sorts with the title track, but it whiffed, and she ended up doing background vocals on Richard Marx albums. Poor Cheryl Lynn.
MJ: I think this comment underscores the gulf between R&B and pop in the ’80s. This song was a HUGE hit, maybe not as mainstream a success as “Got To Be Real,” but certainly as well known (if not better known) among R&B fans. Also–MAJOR also–it was Jam & Lewis’s first #1 record.
Jeff’s right-she has an incredible voice. Maybe mainstream America only had room for one quirky-voiced R&B singer? And Lord knows it took Patti quite some time to break through as a solo artist. I’ve never heard the album that Jeff wrote the article about in full (although if I find a copy in a remainder bin somewhere, I’ll pick it up,) but I kinda dug “New Dress.”

“Encore” is her peak, though. Such a great record.

JG: She definitely had more of a presence at R&B radio, but even there, her singles tended to be really hit-or-miss.
MJ: Seems like the trouble was finding her a decent producer. Each of her albums was helmed by someone else. At least when she was on Columbia, she got to pick from a pretty solid bunch (Toto, Ray Parker, Luther Vandross) but after she left, shit went downhill pretty quickly.
JG: She definitely had hits. What I’m saying is that her singles yo-yo’d. “Shake It Up Tonight,” for example, hit #5; the follow-up, “In the Night,” peaked at #79. “If This World Were Mine” hit #4; “Look Before You Leap,” #77. “Preppie” peaked at #85 before “Encore” topped the charts, and the follow-up, “This Time,” only made it to #49. So on and so forth.

MJ: Sure, I get that.

My point (at least in the last comment) was that if her production was consistently strong, she might’ve had more hits. I don’t know why Jam & Lewis never did a whole album (or even half an album) on her.

JG: I think the record she put out after Preppie might have been her last for Columbia, and at that point, they might have been reluctant to put that kind of investment into her career. Here’s an interesting question: “Encore” topped the R&B chart, but it barely made a dent on the Hot 100. What would that have meant for record sales? I mean, I know rock acts habitually whiffed on the pop charts and still sold plenty of albums, but that’s historically a more album-driven format anyway. It could be that even with a #1 R&B hit, that record didn’t have enough of an impact on the label’s bottom line.

MJ: Well, at that stage in time, you could have a fairly large R&B hit without making a dent in the pop charts and still sell records…hell, Luther Vandross was selling millions of records and didn’t have a top 10 pop hit till 1990.**That said, I don’t think that was the case for Cheryl. I think her fans were buying 45s and that was it.

Michael Parr: It’s ironic that The Time (as well as Luther) are one of my “go to” examples of R&B chart success vs. Hot 100 flops.
MJ: You could apply that to any number of successful R&B artists during that time period: Freddie Jackson, Cameo, Stephanie Mills, Teddy Pendergrass, Teena Marie, Rick James. Lengthy strings of Gold and Platinum albums. A total of 3 top 10 pop hits between all six artists.
Dr. Z: Jeff’s right – most folks only know her for “Got to Be Real.” And I am one of “those people.”
MP: I’m also one of “those people”–and I’ll openly admit that “Got to be Real” was, and is, my jam long before all those ’00s romantic comedies turned it into a joke.

Z: That said, this is a JAM, and I’m also a bit taken aback by the gap between its performance on the pop and r&b charts. If the Internet is being honest with me, it was her last single to break the top 100, and at #69, her highest performer on the pop charts outside of the singles from her first LP. It should have gotten more pop attention, but as Big Money notes, Ms. Lynn is far from alone here. (As an apples-to-apples comparison, I looked at Klymaxx’s singles’ performance, and was equally shocked, “I Miss You” notwithstanding). It’s kind of crazy, and my purely unscientific guess is that this begins to shift in the pivotal years of ’87-’91.As for the video, what kind of establishment is Club Encore? From what I gather, it’s a combination supper club and show bar that ranges from the Apollo-esque to damn near Chippendale territory. Or is this footage from Staying Alive?

MJ: In terms of disparities between pop chart performance and R&B chart performance, that stuff didn’t fully even out until the mid-Nineties (maybe ’94 or ’95??) The commonly held practice of R&B songs having to peak on their home chart before climbing up the pop chart resulted in surprisingly low chart positions for a lot of iconic records from the period (George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog”, Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit”, New Edition’s “Can You Stand The Rain”, any DeBarge song not from “Rhythm Of The Night”, Jeffrey Osborne’s entire solo career, etc.)
Z: What in your estimation was the tipping point?
MJ: Soundscan (the digital tracking/accounting system unveiled in 1991.) And also if I remember correctly, BDS added a bunch of R&B stations to their overall radio panel in the ’90s, so they got a better gauge of airplay for those songs.
Z: Of course. I was fishing for a release, but that makes a hell of a lot more sense.
*ed. note: most White people.
**:  Institutionalized racism on the part of the Billboard charts didn’t start in 2013, folks.

 

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