Previous installments can be found at the bottom of this post. So, without further ado, let’s jump right into it…or jizzump rizzight into it. Shizzle.
180. “Double Dutch Bus” by Frankie Smith (#1 for 4 weeks, July-August 1981 | Amazon)
Some of you may wonder where Snoop got his patented “-izzle” style of speak.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to “Double Dutch Bus.” (apologies to Black folks and other urban dwellers of a certain age, most of whom are probably already very, very familiar with Frankie Smith’s one and only hit.)
Not gonna lie-Frankie looks like a cross between the missing Gap Band brother and a dude some producers pulled off a park bench and bribed with $50 and a bottle of Ripple to record the song.
179. “Fresh” by Kool & The Gang (#1 for 1 week, May 1985 | Amazon)
Kool-by-numbers. Not as good as “Too Hot” or “Steppin’ Out” (to name a couple of great songs of theirs that didn’t hit #1) but certainly better than “Celebration” or “Cherish” (which did.) The usage of hip-hop slang gave off a whiff of “old men trying to hard,” but hey, at least they didn’t try to shoehorn a guest rapper into the song (which would’ve DEFINITELY happened if the song had been released ten years later.) Or try rapping themselves. Ugh.
178. “I Just Called To Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder (#1 for 3 weeks, October 1984 | Amazon)
“I Just Called To Say I Love You” is widely decried as the precise moment when Stevie Wonder jumped the shark. Sure, he was practically unassailable up to that point (whether you agree or not is probably dependent on how you feel about Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants,) and no, “I Just Called To Say I Love You” isn’t the greatest song in the world. However, we should realize that we all hold Stevie up to an unnecessarily high standard. Sure, after “Superstition” and “Higher Ground” and “You & I” and “That Girl,” the Hallmark-card sentiments of “I Just Called” are questionable. And Stevie definitely should’ve re-thunk that cha-cha-cha ending that adds a healthy amount of corn over four minutes of cheese. But let’s face it-it’s a somewhat clever song only slightly affected by the relative banality of the lyrics. And Stevie sings it like he believes it, so that’s worth something. Better this than the overwrought schlock of “Almost Paradise,” or the cutesy bounce of “Let’s Hear It For The Boy”, and I’m almost willing to give this more credit than…
…WAIT! If you are considering “I Just Called…” to be the nadir of Stevie Wonder’s creativity, I take it you’ve never heard “Don’t Drive Drunk”?
177. “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr. (#1 for 2 weeks, August/September 1984 | Amazon)
I don’t really care that “Ghostbusters” borrowed significantly from Huey Lewis’s “I Want A New Drug.” You’d be hard pressed in any era to find songs that are 100% original, and Ray definitely had his ear on the top 40 charts during the ’80s. And I give Ray props for managing to shoehorn “Ghostbusters” into a song (seriously–what the fuck rhymes with “ghostbusters?” It’s catchy as all git out, despite its corniness, and RPJ’s charming enough to hold the song together. For a song that was obviously created to advertise the movie it serves as the theme to, you could do a whole lot worse, is what I’m trying to say. I think.
176. “Say You, Say Me” by Lionel Richie (#1 for 2 weeks, January 1986 | Amazon)
I’m willing to bet that Lionel Richie spent as much time writing “Say You, Say Me” as he did writing “We Are The World” (which is to say, not much at all.) I’m also betting that about 75% of the time spent writing is was used towards constructing the tempo-shifting bridge (which rocks out as much as a Lionel Richie song could possibly rock out) that saves “Say You” from being as awful as, say, “Hello.”
Also–what in the hell is this song about? All of this saying and I can’t tell what’s being said or who’s saying what to whom! And it’s been thirty years!!!
175. “Caravan Of Love” by Isley/Jasper/Isley (#1 for 3 weeks, November/December 1986 | Amazon)
When The Isley Brothers’ groundbreaking “3 + 3” lineup split following 1983’s Between The Sheets, the younger siblings (Marvin & Ernie Isley, plus Chris Jasper) formed Isley/Jasper/Isley. Their debut album, 1984’s Broadway’s Closer To Sunset Blvd., worked a “black rock” angle with great songs like “Kiss And Tell” (which sounded a little like Michael McDonald) and “Look The Other Way” (which had a strikingly similar vibe to “Little Red Corvette.”) Not a lot of people bought it, though, so it was no surprise when their next album, 1985’s “Caravan Of Love,” found them returning to a more familiar sound. “Caravan”‘s title track could’ve slid right off of one of the Isleys’ ’70s classics (maybe if you added a blistering Ernie solo on top of it.) As much gospel as it was contemporary R&B, it’s another one of those songs that I despised when it was popular, but has grown on me in recent years. Mawkish sentiment goes down much easier when paired with a catchy chorus. And it seems sincere enough. Too bad just about every I/J/I song that followed “Caravan” sounded almost exactly like it. Talk about running a formula into the ground.
174. “Back In Stride” by Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly (#1 for 2 weeks, April 1985 | Amazon)
Frankie Beverly might be the most unassuming superstar in R&B history. Dude was a consistent chart presence for the better part of 2 decades, racked up a string of Gold albums, and always gets overlooked when people run down a list of the era’s legends. And I don’t think Frankie minds too much. At least he doesn’t seem like that kinda guy.
“Back In Stride,” which topped the charts early in 1985, was allegedly written to support Jesse Jackson’s 1984 run for presidency. Considering the tone of politically-minded music that had been written and performed just a decade before (The O’Jays, Stevie, etc.) and the militant tone hip-hop set just a few years later, “Back In Stride” is downright Disney. Who’d expect more (or less) from Frankie? This song’s equally suited to a backyard barbecue as it is to a political rally.
173. “Ain’t Nuthin’ In The World” by Miki Howard (#1 for 1 week, December 1989 | Amazon)
Prior to “Nuthin'”, Miki Howard was best known as a balladeer in the Anita Baker fan. This jam found the chanteuse going new jack on us, and unveiling a sexy lower register. The diva even unleashed a sense of humor at the song’s conclusion, emitting a high-pitched shriek that predated Mariah Carey by a year, while glass shatters somewhere in the background. Miki’s career was pretty much defined by “A+” vocal performances and “B-” songs. This song was at least a “B.”
172. “When She Was My Girl” by The Four Tops (#1 for 2 weeks, October 1981 | Amazon)
The legendary Motown quartet came out of a half-decade cold streak with this retro-flavored chart topper. Interestingly, it was one of the last hits recorded on the venerable disco label Casablanca, which would seem sort of an ill fit for Levi Stubbs and co. Sure enough, their tenure with Casablanca didn’t last, and they bounced between labels quite a bit during the decade, never quite regaining the footing they seemed to have secured again when “…My Girl” became a hit. This live performance is pretty killer. Man, they don’t make vocal groups (or vocal group routines) like this anymore.
171. “You Are My Everything” by Surface (#1 for 2 weeks, November 1989 | Amazon)
I feel like the term “chillax” was invented for the group Surface. At their best, the New Jersey trio’s music had a sound that was easygoing and mellow without being boring. I’ve already spoken in a previous installment about how awful their ballads are. Thankfully, they picked the tempo up more often than not. “You Are My Everything” was the fourth single (and third #1) from 1989’s 2nd Wave and features some fantastic vocal shading from fellow Jersey product Regina Belle, who you’ll hear from later on.
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