Y’all don’t want any more talking, do you?
Fine, I won’t talk much.
10. Rick James “Cold Blooded” (#40 pop/#1 R&B, 1983)
Rick stepped firmly into the synthesizer age with this one man-band production (never mind how many people you see on stage with him in the TV performance below.) Allegedly inspired by Linda Blair (yes, the chick from The Exorcist,) “Cold Blooded” finds Rick straining a bit at the innuendo (“in my DICK-tionary”???) but remaining funky as all hell.
9. The Mary Jane Girls “All Night Long” (#11 R&B, 1983)
I’m not quite sure why Motown decided to release two songs with the same title within weeks of one another. However, both songs are classics. Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” was the (much) bigger hit, but the mid tempo groove from Rick James’ Mary Jane Girls has had plenty of staying power. Classy and erotic, this was Rick’s finest moment as a producer/arranger. Both the bass line and the sultry saxophone part have been sampled into oblivion (by everyone from Big Daddy Kane to Mary J. Blige,) but the original remains the greatest.
8. Teena Marie “I Need Your Lovin'” (#37 pop/#9 R&B, 1980)
“I Need Your Lovin'” was Lady T’s breakthrough hit, launching the soul diva into the pop top 40 for the first time. Released during a dizzying spell in which she released four albums in three years, “Lovin'” is one of the classic roller-skating jams. It’s also got hooks upon hooks upon hooks, this is songwriting 101.
7. The Dazz Band “Let It Whip” (#5 pop/#1 R&B, 1982)
Motown stepped firmly into the electro-soul era with this Grammy-winning 1982 smash. It came from a fairly non-descript interracial band from Ohio, whose name suggested “danceable jazz,” but there was nothing jazzy about this dancefloor shaker. While “Let It Whip” was a major success, it also kinda killed the band off, as much of the Dazz Band’s future work sounded like attempts to capture the lightning that “Whip” conjured up.
6. Val Young “If You Should Ever Be Lonely” (#21 R&B, 1986)
Val Young has never gotten the props she’s deserved. Those of you who aren’t familiar with her Rick James-produced album from 1986 are probably still familiar with her voice, as she’s appeared on records by everyone from Bobby Brown to Michael Bivins’ East Coast Family (as “Lady V”) to a variety of Death Row Records projects. This dance jam is a shimmering number produced in typical bass-forward Rick James fashion. It should’ve been much bigger than it was. One person who was definitely listening back in the day was Mariah Carey, who remade this track a decade after it was originally a hit.
5. DeBarge “Time Will Reveal” (#18 pop/#1 R&B, 1983)
For unequivocal proof that the voices of the DeBarge siblings could soar through to the heavens and beyond, listen to this song. In a recent interview, Bunny DeBarge reveals that the group’s signature harmonies were influenced as much by groups like the Carpenters as they were by singing in the church. That mix of sounds is quite evident on “Time Will Reveal,” a tune that would be equally at home on your local Lite-FM station as it would be at a Pentecostal church in Harlem. Hip-O Select released a DeBarge anthology a few years ago that contains a lengthier version of “Reveal” that gives a little more time to those exquisite harmonies. This song is pure beauty.
4. Diana Ross “I’m Coming Out” (#6 R&B/#5 pop, 1980)
The Queen Of Motown’s union with Chic’s Bernard Edwards & Nile Rodgers was fraught with tension, but the end result was the biggest-selling (and best) album of Diana’s career. “I’m Coming Out,” naturally, became an anthem. For Diana, it signified her independence as a businesswoman and independent individual (she left Motown within a year of this song becoming a hit,) and of course, for many of her fans: male, female, straight, gay, black, white or other, that message resonated clearly. It still resonates almost three and a half decades later for anyone looking to bust loose of personal or societal constrictions, and is the funkiest declaration of independence ever recorded.
3. Dennis Edwards featuring Siedah Garrett “Don’t Look Any Further” (#72 pop/#2 R&B, 1984)
Dennis Edwards pretty much had revolving door entry into The Temptations, having already left and rejoined the group several times before making another break shortly after their Reunion album and tour. Like Ruffin and Kendricks before him, Motown retained Edwards as a solo artist, and his first single teamed him with a newcomer by the name of Siedah Garrett (although a persistent rumor is that “Further” was originally supposed to be a duet with Chaka Khan.) This put Garrett in the not-exactly-esteemed position of being a fill-in (a role she filled again on Michael Jackson’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” and AGAIN when she replaced N’Dea Davenport in the Brand New Heavies) but she and Edwards had a great chemistry, as this song ably demonstrates. This bassline would become a hip-hop bedrock within half a decade.
2. Stevie Wonder “That Girl” (#4 pop/#1 R&B, 1982)
Fairly uncomplicated Stevie-a simple love song with no political message, no concepts about plants, no tributes to Bob Marley or Duke Ellington. “That Girl” is like “My Cherie Amour” updated for the ’80s, and was the best song the genius recorded during the decade. Stevie’s ebullient vocal matched the twinkly keyboards perfectly, and “That Girl” may have also included the last harmonica solo to ever rock the top of the R&B charts.
1. Public Enemy “Fight The Power” (#20 R&B/#1 rap, 1989)
How many of y’all even knew that “Fight The Power” was released on Motown? As a non-album Public Enemy track featured on the Motown-released Do The Right Thing soundtrack, Def Jam only claimed “Power” when the Fear Of A Black Planet album was released a year later. And while the message of Public Enemy’s signature hit was much more direct and to the point than anything previously associated with Motown, it encapsulated the pioneering label’s message of self-sufficiency and pride. During the sweltering (and tense) summer of 1989 (Do The Right Thing was damn near prescient,) this song was a much-needed anthem.
Bam! There’s the list! What’d you think? Loved it? Hated it? Thought I missed something? Let me know in the comments!
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