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, Robert 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.
New Edition | “If It Isn’t Love” | from Heart Break (1988)
Written & Produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis
MJ: Here’s a gimme.
Michael Parr: Disclaimer: this is probably my favorite NE song, period
Dr. Z: It’s a classic, for sure. Their second top 10 hit, and their first post-Bobby (and consequently, the first with Johnny). It sounds very 1988, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s one of those songs that instantly transports me back to its chart tenure. That’s nostalgia for you, I suppose. From a production and composition standpoint, it’s a solid lock groove. The middle 8 section doesn’t do much for me, but it’s kind of necessary to release the tension built up in the verse and chorus.
MJ: I love that middle 8 man, it’s a nice Jackson 5 hat-tip.
Z: This is absolutely true, of course.
“S is for savin’….”
MP: That middle eight is equal parts David Foster and Berry Gordy. Jam and Lewis definitely knew what they were going for there and achieved it, as far as I’m concerned.
Jeff Giles: Equal parts David Foster and Berry Gordy! That’s perfect — and a fair summation of the production aesthetic for the whole song, in my opinion. (Probably why I love it so much, too.) They may have Fostered things up a teeny bit more on “Helplessly in Love,” but this track is at or near the apex of to-the-minute late ’80s R&B that’s also 100 percent mom-friendly. A formula that’s a lot more fun than it looks on paper.
MP: Compared to, say, Bobby’s “Don’t Be Cruel”, this sounds (practically) dated. This isn’t meant as a slight, rather to point to the changing R&B landscape.
Z: This is actually an interesting transitional moment for the duo. It’s not quite a replica of the work they’d done previously, although there are echoes. Likewise, there are glimpses of some of what would become trademarks of their sound for the next few years (the sort of industrial sounds we discussed earlier, the rise of new jack swing, etc.).
MP: I daresay that, at this point, New Edition had a bigger Bobby Brown problem than they had when he was in the group.
MJ: I would challenge that. Don’t Be Cruel was helped along significantly by its single remixes (actually, you could say the same for Heart Break,) but I’d argue that as influential as Bobby’s album wound up being, New Edition’s is still better.
Factoid: Heart Break and Don’t Be Cruel actually came out on the same day (as did “If It Isn’t Love” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” the single.)
JG: That’s fascinating — I had no idea. Please write a 33 1/3-style book about MCA’s decision to pit the records directly against each other. I remember thinking it was funny when Warners released Peter Cetera’s Solitude/Solitaire in the same quarter as Chicago 18, but the same day? That’s ballsy.
MJ: A 33 1/3 on either album would be a great read.
Z: Now pardon me while I put on this record and attempt the dance routine in my living room.