I hope you all had a great long weekend! I decided to take a couple of days off from posting as I figured you guys would all be busy barbecuing, beaching, relaxing and taking some time to remember the sacrifices made by our veterans. My mom, stepdad, sister, aunt and uncle have all served in the military at one point or another, so I don’t take those sacrifices lightly at all.
Let’s keep the summertime vibe going with some Stevie…and Dizzy Gillespie!
20. Stevie Wonder “Do I Do” (#13 pop/#2 R&B, 1982)
As well known as Stevie is as a balladeer, the fact is that he could whom a funk groove like nobody’s business. This 1982 jam is tailor-made for getting buck wild on the dance floor. Not only is it prime dance music-length (10 minutes in its album version,) it also demonstrates Stevie’s juice by dropping a Dizzy Gillespie trumpet solo part way in. Props!
19. The Temptations featuring Rick James “Standing On The Top” (#66 pop/#6 R&B, 1982)
In theory, it was a good idea. All of the Temptations surviving singers (David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and Dennis Edwards) rejoined the mothership for an album and tour. While all accounts (including Otis Williams’ book and the resultant movie) paint the tour as being a disaster (with a series of Ruffin no-shows,) this Rick James-produced jam was a keeper. The Tempts got funkier than they had in at least half a decade and Slick Rick added the perfect slice of sass to turn this into a major R&B hit.
18. Stevie Wonder “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” (#5 pop/#1 R&B, 1980)
17. DeBarge “All This Love” (#17 pop/#5 R&B, 1983)
El DeBarge’s plaintive lead vocal on “All This Love” is mesmerizing. Add in the easygoing Latin groove and some purty pickin’ from Jose Feliciano and you had a song with enough soul to be remembered as an R&B classic but laid back enough to top Billboard’s Easy Listening charts. Again, El’s vocal. Can someone drop one of those isolated tracks on YouTube for this one?
16. Jermaine Jackson “Let’s Get Serious” (#9 pop/#1 R&B, 1980)
By 1980, Jermaine Jackson was stuck floundering at Motown while his brothers were experiencing Platinum-level success. Someone had the masterstroke to team Jermaine up with Golden Boy Stevie Wonder, and the result (with some assistance from Stevie’s homeboy Lee Garrett) was “Let’s Get Serious,” which introduced Jermaine to the Pop top ten for the first time in seven years. Jermaine’s soft voice was never an easy fit for hard funk, but Stevie’s production and arranging skills made it work. S-E-R-I-OUS indeed!
15. DeBarge “I Like It” (#31 pop/#2 R&B, 1983)
“It”: The way one combs their hair.
“It”: The stylish clothes one wears.
“It”: The little things you do that show how much you really care.
Whatever it is, DeBarge likes it. We LOVE it. This was the song that put El, Bunny & ’em on the map.
14. The Mary Jane Girls “Candy Man” (#23 R&B, 1983)
In 1981, Rick James was riding high off the success of his albums Street Songs and Throwin’ Down. His archival Prince had hit big with his spinoff acts The Time & Vanity 6. Rick’s previous protege, Teena Marie, had left Motown in a messy (and groundbreaking) contract dispute. What to do? Put together a foursome of sexy and talented ladies, name them after his favorite recreational activity (not to mention one of his first hit singles,) produce a slammin’ debut single for them, and watch them fly. “Candy Man” isn’t the best known MJG song, but, for my money, “In My House” doesn’t even compare.
13. Lionel Richie “You Are” (#4 pop/#2 R&B, 1983)
Lionel Richie kicked off his solo career with two of the ballads that were his bread and butter-“Endless Love” and “Truly.” “You Are,” while by no means a funk extravaganza, picked up the tempo slightly, and grooved up the charts in early 1983. It was blocked from the top spot on Billboard’s R&B list by the mighty “Billie Jean,” but its runner-up placement should have no bearing on its greatness. It’s effortless in typical Lionel fashion, with an instantly recognizable hook. It’s perhaps the most underrated of Richie’s many huge hits.
12. Rick James “Super Freak” (#16 pop/#3 R&B, 1981)
Representing the punkier side of Rick James’ patented “punk-funk” formula, “Super Freak” is the best known of the late Motown legend’s hits. It’s full of innuendo (“three’s not a crowd for her, she says!”) and the layer of sketchiness that permeates the song might even be visible when playing the record. Of course, that smuttiness just makes the song better. MC Hammer notoriously flipped this song for his breakthrough hit “U Can’t Touch This” and won Rick the Grammy he should’ve gotten nine years before.
Also, watch the video and tell me you don’t feel like you have to get a shot after watching it.
11. Teena Marie “Square Biz” (#50 pop/#3 R&B, 1981)
Debbie Harry, my ass.
“Rapture” may have been first, but “Square Biz” established Lady T as the premier singing diva who could also bust a rhyme on the side. After all, Blondie didn’t name drop Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni in her rhymes. “Square Biz” is a playful, deep-bottomed funk classic that became her highest charting R&B hit on Motown. Years later, it would (at host Whoopi Goldberg’s request) go on to become the theme song to the long-running game show Hollywood Squares.
Up next…the top 10, of course!