Sorry for the break. I was undergoing a bit of an existential crisis, and then I took off to California for a few days.
And now I’m back. The existential crisis is not over, but I’m ready to count down some more #1 R&B hits. Let’s get going again. Find past installments at the bottom of this post.
110. “Don’t Stop The Music” by Yarbrough & Peoples (5 weeks at #1, February-March ’81 | Amazon)
YOU DON’T REALLY WANNA STOP…NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…
109. “Superwoman” by Karyn White (3 weeks at #1, Jan. ’89 | Amazon)
Here’s proof that the majority of listeners that made requests on New York’s KISS-FM in the ’80s were young women: “Superwoman” and Cheryl “Pepsii” Riley’s “Thanks For My Child” basically lived at the top spot on the radio station’s Top 8 at 8 countdown for what seemed like months. It got to the point where I’d turn the radio off at #2 because I knew I was gonna hear one of those two songs, and I hated them both. While I can’t say time has been kind to “Thanks,” it has been kind to “Superwoman.” The song boasts a bravura vocal performance from Karyn White, and is one of the earliest examples of a formula that the song’s composer, Babyface, would perfect and repeat on damn near every song he wrote in the mid Nineties. “Superwoman” was such a good song that no less a formidable force than the three-headed Diva Hydra of Dionne Warwick, Patti LaBelle & Gladys Knight remade it less than half a decade after its release.
Also, props to KISS-FM DJ Wendy Williams (yes, THAT Wendy Williams) for pointing out that “Superwoman”‘s hand-waving coda bears a distinct similarity to Prince’s “Purple Rain.”
108. Nightshift by The Commodores (4 weeks at #1, March/April ’85 | Amazon)
Thought the Commodores were dried up after Lionel Richie took off for solo glory? WRONG. Never underestimate a song written about dead celebrities. In “Nightshift”‘s case, the tributees were Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye, both of whom passed away in early 1984. “Rock & Roll Heaven” and “American Pie” begat “Nightshift,” which begat “One Sweet Day,” which begat the likes of “I’ll Be Missing You.” Damn you, Commodores.
Worth mentioning: the song that “Nightshift” replaced at #1? “Missing You” by Diana Ross…a song dedicated to Marvin Gaye…written and produced by ex-Commodore Lionel Richie. You can’t make this stuff up.
Also, there is a 12″ mix of “Nightshift,” to which I ask: who the hell is dancing to this song in the club?
107. Somebody’s Watching Me by
Michael Jackson Rockwell (5 weeks at #1, March ’84 | Amazon)
Let’s, for all intents and purposes, consider “Somebody’s Watching Me” a Michael Jackson song. No disrespect to Rockwell, but MJ makes this song. Allegedly, Jermaine sings on the song too. But that’s not the point. Focus. Michael Jackson.
So, in a 2 1/2 year span from fall ’82 to spring ’85, Michael Jackson is responsible for the following smash hits: “Muscles,” “The Girl is Mine,” “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Human Nature,” “PYT,” “Say Say Say,” “Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin'” (which would’ve been a top 10 single had it been officially released and peaked at #1 on the dance charts anyway,) “Somebody’s Watching Me,” “Thriller,” “Don’t Stand Another Chance” (a top 10 R&B hit for Janet in which his voice was prominent) “State of Shock,” “Torture,” “Centipede” and “We Are The World.¹” What a fucking run!! Even if this didn’t come from an era when such chart dominance was unusual, this would be impressive. Mike was everywhere. No wonder he disappeared for two years.
Admission: As I was writing the blurb for “Somebody’s Watching Me,” I had the sneaking suspicion that I’d mentioned it earlier in the list. I did a search on the site and realized that it appeared on my last list (of the best Motown songs of the ’80s) just a few spots above “Nightshift.” I had them flipped on this list, but…consistency. Sorry, Commodores.
106. “Girlfriend” by Pebbles (2 weeks at #1, February ’88 | Amazon)
Being a sassy young woman in pop music didn’t really take hold until Janet Jackson broke through with Control in 1986. After her success, the floodgates opened and we got Karyn White, Paula Abdul, Jody Watley, and this fly young lady, who enlisted future husband (and ex-husband) L.A. Reid, Babyface, and I guess the whole damn Deele to help her out.
Pebbles had all the makings of a contender: two hit albums, good looks and a string of great singles. Plus, she managed TLC. Amazing how quickly it all kinda fell apart…TLC went bankrupt, she and L.A. divorced, and her third album (which isn’t half-bad) failed to find an audience. Thankfully, she had Jesus to fall back on, and is now Sister Perri.
Did you know that she and Cherrelle are cousins? No? Well, now you do.
105. “Wishing Well” by Terence Trent D’Arby (1 week at #1, April 88 | Amazon)
TTD’s first and only chart topper, although “Sign Your Name” should’ve followed “Wishing Well” to #1 (and is a much better song, to boot.)
“Wishing Well” is a slightly stiff James Brown rip (cut producer Martyn Ware some slack, alright? He’s British) and came at a time when The Godfather’s influence had never been more keenly felt in Black music. Not only was TTD doing his James Brown schtick, but Michael Jackson and Prince (thanks to “Bad” and “Housequake”) were nodding towards James, and then of course, there was hip-hop. James responded to all of those tributes (in irascible James Brown fashion) with 1988’s “I’m Real” but neither that song nor its ridiculously dope follow-up, “Static,” made it to the top. The professor was outranked by his students, and before the year was out, the professor would find his ass behind bars.
“I wanna be your midnight rambler.” Don’t you love the way Terence growls that line?
104. All Night Long (All Night) by Lionel Richie (7 weeks at #1, October-December ’83 | Amazon)
Did we really need the (All Night) appended to Lionel Richie’s biggest hit? It’s likely that Motown decided to parenthesize the song because The Mary Jane Girls’ “All Night Long” (also on Motown) was climbing the charts simultaneously. I doubt anyone would’ve confused the MJGs slinky funk with Lionel’s goofy party anthem, but hey…whatever makes things less confusing.
For my money, by the way, the Mary Jane Girls’ “All Night Long” is a MUCH better song than Lionel’s.
Lionel at one point maintained that he got the Jamaican-sounding syntax in the bridge courtesy of his wife’s gynecologist. As someone who grew up in a neighborhood with a shit-ton of Jamaicans and heard plenty of “Bo Bo Bo”s and “ras claat”s but not one “yeah, jambo jamboooo!!,” I’m gonna call bullshit on that. Either that, or the gyno was totally fucking with Lionel.
Also, “All Night Long” was Lionel’s FIRST solo SOLO #1 single. “Endless Love,” of course, being a duet with Diana Ross. Both “Truly” (which was a #1 pop hit) and “You Are” (which is his best single ever) peaked at #2 R&B.
103. “Turned Away” by Chuckii Booker (1 week at #1, July ’89 | Amazon)
Chuckii was a phenom back in the day, but made his exit from being an artist fairly quickly, turning in just two albums. He had good reason to turn his back on being an artist, though. Since the early ’90s, Booker has made some serious bank serving as musical director for artists including Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Jay Z, TLC and New Edition, to name a few.
“Turned Away” was a jam. I’ll admit that I spent a lot of time between the years 1989 and 1991 trying to get that long braided rat tail in the back like Chuckii had. I thought I was the shit until a friend of mine told me it looked like I had a little hard dick hanging off the back of my head. The rat tail disappeared the next day, never to be seen again.
102. “Baby Come To Me” by Regina Belle (1 week t #1, October ’89 | Amazon)
Robert Christgau explained the difference between Regina Belle and Anita Baker thusly:
“She (Regina) raps, Anita Baker doesn’t. That’s called ‘demographics.'”²
I’ve never dug enough into one of Regina’s albums to hear evidence of this rapping, but I do know that the New Jersey native’s voice was best suited to ballads like this one. Narada Michael Walden (omnipresent) produced this one, and surprisingly, it’s less bombastic than most of her non-Naradafied work. The beat is gently seductive, the synthesizers shimmer appropriately, and Regina delivers a masterful vocal. Her best single by a country mile.
P.S.: In the battle of “Baby Come To Me”s, Patti Austin and James Ingram have a clear edge over Miss Belle. Sadly, although the “General Hospital” duet was a pop #1, it only reached a high of #9 R&B.
101. “Rhythm Of The Night” by DeBarge (1 week at #1, April 85 | Amazon)
Fact #1: “Rhythm of the Night” was the only video DeBarge made as a group. Hard to believe, eh? Why did Berry give all that damn video money to Lionel? I’d exchange a “Time Will Reveal” video for, like, “Penny Lover.”
Fact #2: “Rhythm of the Night” was written by Diane (“Blame It On The Rain”/”Love Will Lead You Back”/”Look Away”) Warren.
Fact #3: I absolutely nailed this song one night at karaoke in Chicago maybe 10 years ago. I was shit-faced drunk, feeling myself, went for the high note El hits towards the end of the song, and surprised myself when it came out as a full bodied note as opposed to squawk. You’d have to castrate me to get me to create that sound again.
¹-And, unofficially, “Candy Girl.” That song would not exist without Michael Jackson.
²-I may have paraphrased that slightly.