As we transition out of the outright “bad” songs and into a series of tracks that are plain average, they get harder to rank. It also gets harder to listen. Wouldn’t you rather listen to a song that’s laughably bad rather than a song that makes you feel no emotion whatsoever? Well, given the choice, I’d prefer to listen to neither, but one must do what one must do.
Here’s a heaping spoonful of R&B “meh” (with some easy listening, reggae and even gospel mixed in.) If you want to catch up, scroll yourself on down to the bottom for previous entries.
I am going to try my damnedest not to bore you.
190. “If It Ain’t One Thing, It’s Another” by Richard “Dimples” Fields (#1 for 3 weeks, April/May 1982)
The late Richard “Dimples” Fields had a handle on “real talk” songs during the early part of the ’80s-sort of like a tamer, male version of the ribald Millie Jackson (who sold tons of albums, but rarely scored high on the singles charts.) “If It Ain’t One Thing, It’s Another” is a litany of the world’s ills that still has some resonance these days. It’s a bit moralistic (I’m being charitable here) and also kind of melodramatic…all of which leads me to bump this back a few spots (I originally had it at #182.) I used to think the line about the ugly woman named Sadie who was having his baby was funny, now it just sounds mean-spirited. Wow. I really need to give each of these songs another listen before I rank them.
I also don’t remember the second (more explicitly Christian) spoken section. You’d think Dimples would’ve given the Good Book a look before knocking Sadie up and then calling her ugly.
This was an “oops”, y’all. Shoulda ranked this lower.
189. “Missing You” by Diana Ross (#1 for 3 weeks, February/March 1985 | Amazon)
Why are tribute songs so boring? Look, I get that death is a sad thing, but plenty of people make sad songs that still have a little bit of flavor, you know? Remember that “Gangsta Lean” song by D.R.S.? Boring. “I’ll Be Missing You”? Mushmouthed & boring (and not particularly heartfelt IMO.) “One Sweet Day”? Overwrought, overplayed, and boring. Diana Ross’s “Missing You” is the Granddaddy of R&B death songs, and set the tone for the yawn-fests to follow. The song is dedicated to Marvin Gaye, who Diana had a friendship with and even recorded a (pretty good) album with in the early Seventies. I won’t even say it sounds passionless, Diana sings the song beautifully. It’s just…treacly, I guess. Somewhat businesslike. Lionel Richie’s ham-fisted production probably doesn’t help.
This might be a bit of stretch for irony, but The Notorious B.I.G. recorded and released a song called “Miss U” that heavily drew from Ross’s “Missing You.” It appeared on Life After Death, the album released mere weeks after B.I.G.’s murder and several weeks before Puff Daddy (who produced “Miss U” with a team of associates) recorded and released “I’ll Be Missing You,” a B.I.G. tribute song. I will add that while “Missing You” and “I’ll Be Missing You” are inoffensively boring, B.I.G.’s “Miss U” is out and out awful. A rare miss from the rap legend.
For the record, if I was a celebrity, my dying wish would be to New Orleans the fuck out of my funeral. Like Tony Toni Tone said, party don’t cry.
188. “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” by Deniece Williams (#1 for 2 weeks, June 1984 | Amazon)
I know, I know. You probably like “Let’s Hear It For The Boy.” You probably have fond memories of Footloose (the soundtrack of which contains this song) and Chris Penn dancing awkwardly reminds you of your own awkward attempts to bust a move and it was SO DAMN ENDEARING.
Too bad. I hate this song.
Hate is a strong word. OK, maybe I don’t hate “Let’s Hear It For The Boy.” I do, however, find it profoundly annoying. It’s just a little too cutesy for my tastes. Hell, I thought it was cutesy back in 1984 when it topped the charts. AND I WAS SEVEN.
I mean, I’m grateful that it got the insanely talented Deniece Williams (and her equally talented producer, George Duke) to #1 on the pop charts (actually, it was Niecy’s second chart-topper), but that doesn’t mean I won’t scowl every time I hear it.
187. “Angel” by Angela Winbush (#1 for 2 weeks, November 1987 | Amazon)
Madonna’s “Angel” > Anita Baker’s “Angel” > Angela Winbush’s “Angel.”
The debut solo single from the distaff half of Rene & Angela isn’t awful by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just (here’s a recurring theme on this list) boring as hell. As good a songwriter as Winbush was and probably still is, this song doesn’t have a great melody or solid chorus. It sounds to me like an exercise to prove how great a singer she is. Although Angela is, indeed, a great singer, great singers need great songs. This ain’t one of them.
186. “The Girl Is Mine” by Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney (#1 for 3 weeks, January 1983 | Amazon)
By rights, “The Girl Is Mine” should probably rank a lot lower on this list. It’s a horrible, HORRIBLE song. Insanely calculated and cloying. Let’s do a little metaphorical straining here. If Thriller is the aural equivalent of the girl (or guy) with a beautiful smile asking you out on a date, “The Girl Is Mine” is the spinach between that girl (or guy’s) teeth when she (or he) asks you.
With that said, I have a soft spot for “The Girl Is Mine” that I just can’t explain. It might be because it was 1/2 of one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received (with the second half being Janet Jackson’s “Young Love” 45.) It might be because the spoken part that concludes the song (“but Paul, I think I told ya, I’m a lover not a fighter”) is so gosh darn cute.
Whatever. I sort of hate myself for liking-tolerating?-“The Girl Is Mine.” And “Say Say Say” was a better song.
185. “My First Love” by Atlantic Starr (#1 for 1 week, May 1989 | Amazon)
In the string of hit Atlantic Starr ballads, “My First Love” is the one most folks remember least. It was certainly the least successful, not even hitting the pop top 40 despite topping the R&B list. However, with “Secret Lovers” having been banished to my do-not-play list by virtue of appearing on the radio every third song for a solid year, “My First Love” may actually be my favorite of the quadrilogy (I know that’s not a word) that also includes the abominable easy listening massacres “Always” and “Masterpiece.” It’s got a sincerely mournful vibe to it, it’s not overly dramatic, and whichever of the Lewis siblings that sings this has a bit of a LeVert-style grain to his voice. I’d take a donkey spitting into a garbage can over “Always” and “Masterpiece,” but “My First Love” is actually quasi-enjoyable.
184. “I Have Learned To Respect The Power Of Love” by Stephanie Mills (#1 for 2 weeks, May 1986 | Amazon)
Another song where the pieces don’t quite fit. It’s well-written (Angela Winbush once again) and Stephanie sings the everloving shit out of it. Seriously, that bridge. My goodness!
The dots just don’t connect. I HATED this song when I was younger. I’ve grown much more charitable towards it as I’ve gotten older, though. Maybe if I do this list again in five or six years, it’ll rise about 50 places. Nah, probably not. But who knows?
Amazingly, this was the first of Stephanie’s five #1 singles: Nope, “Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'” didn’t hit the top. Nor did “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” “Sweet Sensation” or “Two Hearts.” Crazy, eh?
Also, Stephanie still fine.
183. “Do Me Baby” by Meli’sa Morgan (#1 for 3 weeks, February/March 1986 | Amazon)
Covers generally do not match up to the originals, even when performed by capable vocalists.
Prince songs, in particular, have been covered by some of the best vocalists of our time, but those covers don’t hold a candle to P’s originals.
Cases in point: “When You Were Mine” by Cyndi Lauper (one of the all time best Prince covers, but still only about 25% as good as the original), Stephanie Mills’ version of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” (to say nothing of Alicia Keys’ cover) and Meli’sa Morgan’s re-rub of this Controversy album cut, which hit the top shortly before the Minneapolis Midget’s own “Kiss” topped the chart (the less we say about “Kiss” remakes, the better.)
What’s missing here? Sexuality. While Meli’sa’s version of “Do Me Baby” is perfectly serviceable for a night between the sheets, there’s an element of pure, raw stank that’s present on…well, all of Prince’s music through the ’80s and much of the ’90s. It ain’t as present here. Ah well.
182. “Tumblin’ Down” by Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers (#1 for 2 weeks, December 1988 | Amazon)
Although Ziggy’s most popular these days in the jam band market, “Tumblin’ Down” was his label (EMI)’s attempt to finally break a Marley family member through to the Black American market. It worked for a minute, obviously. “Tumblin'” was a #1 R&B hit. Fairly undistinguished in its original version, “Tumblin'”‘s lofty chart rank was obtained via a remix, helmed by Tom Tom Club’s Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, and sampling their “Genius of Love” more than a half decade before Mariah Carey recycled the sample and turned it into a much bigger hit than “Tumblin’ Down” or the original “Genius Of Love.”
181. “Falling” by Melba Moore (#1 for 1 week, February 1987 | Amazon)
Melba Moore might have been one of the most underrated singles artists of the ’80s. During the early part of the decade, she stamped her name (and her Broadway-trained vocals) onto boogie classics like “Mind Up Tonight” and “Love’s Comin’ At Ya.” She even had a dalliance with rock on “Read My Lips.” Her greatest success during the decade, however, came as a talent scout (at least partially responsible for the discovery and success of Freddie Jackson and Lillo Thomas.) Towards the end of the decade, she began hitting the upper reaches of the charts with some regularity, peaking with 1987’s “Falling,” her only solo #1. Pleasant, well-sung, but not particularly interesting. We could use that as a theme for most of this installment’s songs.