BlisterdHey, we’re in the Top 100!

This is where the cream of the crop lives…the best #1 R&B hits of the decade. Haven’t seen your favorite yet? Well, then it’s probably coming up. Either that, or it didn’t hit #1. We’ll start getting to some of the surprise non-chart toppers in this round.

Previous installments can be found at the bottom, yo.

Let’s start the festivities with a pair of (unrelated) Jacksons.

100. “Rock Me Tonight (For Old Time’s Sake)” by Freddie Jackson (6 weeks at #1, June-July ’85 | Amazon)

Hey Gurlllllll…long time, no see!

99. “Miss You Much” by Janet Jackson (2 weeks at #1, October ’89 | Amazon)

“Miss You Much” was the perfect bridge from Control to Rhythm Nation. Not only did the lyrical content obliquely address Janet’s two-year break, but sonically it did a good job of blending the sounds of the two albums while also adding a heightened pop element. The end result was a massive #1 hit, spending a month at the top of the pop charts (a rarity during a time when there was rapid chart turnover.)

Of course, the most memorable part of “Miss You Much” is the video. Janet and her dance troupe’s moves during the clip’s coda are among the most iconic routines in music video history.

98. “Every Little Step” by Bobby Brown (1 week at #1, April ’89 | Amazon)

Only the fourth best of the five singles from Don’t Be Cruel (I’d only rank “Roni,” which somehow missed #1, lower) and the track that benefited most from the single remix. L.A. & Babyface pumped up the production, replaced a somewhat lazy second verse with a ferocious repetition of the first (what you hear in Bobby’s voice? Confidence. Okay, and maybe a little cocaine.) They also added in a rap from Bobby (who was the least embarrassing of the litany of R&B vocalists that decided they should also rap during this period.) Add in an iconic video (choreographed by Rosie Perez) and voila! #1 hit.

Factoid #1: “Every Little Step” won Bobby his only Grammy-for Best Male R&B performance of 1989.

Factoid #2: Wayne Brady remade the “Every Little Step” video for comedy website Funny Or Die with the help of Mike Tyson and the Brown Bomber himself. Must be seen to be believed. And Bobby should probably keep his shirt on in the future.

97. “Upside Down” by Diana Ross (4 weeks at #1, August/September ’80 | Amazon)

Screenshot 2014-10-02 18.40.58From a lyrical standpoint, “Upside Down” is straight garbage. It reads like a nursery rhyme, and with good reason: I remember Nile Rodgers mentioning in an interview that Diana wanted the song to be so simple her kids could sing along with it. It’s a testament to Diana’s skills as an interpreter that she was able to pull off lyrics this sophomoric. And then there’s the groove. Let’s face it, the lyrics to “Upside Down” could be “pee, pee, poop” and you’d still get up and dance when it came on the radio or turntable. Plus, the chorus might be one of the catchiest ear worms of the ’80s. Makes sense, then, that the song is practically ALL chorus.

Since we’re talking about Jacksons, Michael apparently liked it.

Waiting for “I’m Coming Out”? Not a chance. It hit #5 R&B.

96. “The Way You Love Me” by Karyn White (1 week at #1, October ’88 | Amazon)

The gorgeous Karyn White made her debut in 1987, appearing as a featured vocalist on jazz keyboardist Jeff Lorber’s crossover hit “The Facts of Love.” Her self-titled album followed about 18 months later, and was led by this peppy single, which (and I honestly didn’t realize this until very very recently) bears more than a passing resemblance to the Lorber collaboration. Maybe Karyn’s label, Warner Brothers, thought fans would make the association. It certainly worked, as the song sped to the top of the R&B charts and peaked in the top ten on the pop side. Karyn later got pegged as a semi-anonymous dance diva, which is kind of unfair. All due respect to Janet and Paula, but I can’t really say whether either of them would’ve been able to pull off the jazzy scatting KW breezes through in this song’s bridge.

95. “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” by Jennifer Holiday (4 weeks at #1, July-August ’82 | Amazon)

I’m not a show tune guy. At all. Jennifer Holiday’s debut and signature song started near the bottom of this list and as I kept organizing and re-organizing songs, continued to move up and up until it landed in the upper half.

Yes, it’s overwrought. But if “overwrought” belongs anywhere, it’s on the Broadway stage. Jennifer (and the song’s producers) did a good job maintaining a balance between creating a song that would get applause on the Great White Way and a song that would get love on urban radio (hell, it even cracked the pop top 40, a rare feat for a Black act in 1982)

Jennifer got to take home a well-deserved Grammy (presented by the winners of the Cocaine World Series; Rick James and Grace Jones) and it looked like there was NO WAY…NO NO NO NO WAY a sterling career as the grande dame of R&B divas didn’t lie ahead of her. Well…that didn’t happen. Sorry, Jennifer. Still, if you’re gonna be remembered for one major hit, “And I Am Telling You…” might as well be it.

94. Freeway Of Love by Aretha Franklin (5 weeks at #1, August ’85 | Amazon)

1982’s Jump To It and 1983’s Get It Right were hit albums, but didn’t make it onto pop radio. In the two years between Get It Right’s release and the unveiling of ‘Ree’s next album, legitimate crossover potential seemed like much less of a pipe dream, thanks to the successes of Michael, Lionel and Prince. Clive Davis pulled out all the stops to make sure Aretha followed them down to pop glory, enlisting the Eurythmics, Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band, and producer Narada Michael Walden for 1985’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who? The album’s lead single, “Freeway Of Love,” borrowed its car imagery (complete with “Pink Cadillac” line) from the catalog of Bruce Springsteen. It also borrowed its sax player from The Boss-Clarence Clemons appears on the song and its video. With all of those factors in place, and a propulsive groove, “Freeway” not only gave Aretha an obligatory R&B smash but it also became her first top ten pop hit in over a decade.

93.  “On My Own” by Patti LaBelle & Michael McDonald (4 weeks at #1, May-June ’86 | Amazon)

I’d be willing to bet that most duets these days are done by computer, but in 1986, the fact that Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald had never met in person despite singing the #1 song in the country together was a true oddity. The twosome finally met on the set of “The Tonight Show.” Imagine having your first meeting with Patti LaBelle being an occasion where you have to sing with her? I would piss myself. Fortunately, I think McD’s pants stayed dry.

“On My Own” really is a beautiful song. Did you know it was written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager? It was the longest-running #1 pop hit of 1986 and the first and only solo pop chart-topper for either (Patti’s got another R&B #1 coming up a bit later.) Strangely, Patti and Michael also only reached the top of the pops once each as members of groups (Patti with LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” and McD with The Doobies’ “What A Fool Believes.”)

And now, here’s my opportunity to gift you with Patti’s excellent reading of McD’s “I Keep Forgettin’.” Wonderful stuff, really.

92. “Stop To Love” by Luther Vandross (2 weeks at #1, January ’87 | Amazon)

Screenshot 2014-10-02 18.39.14Here’s a fact that may surprise you: between his solo debut (1981’s “Never Too Much”) and this song, which hit the top in early 1987, not ONE Luther Vandross track hit #1 R&B. That means that some of Loofa’s best known hits-“Bad Boy/Having A Party,” “A House Is Not A Home,” “Superstar”-didn’t top the charts. Craziness, huh? It’s not hard to imagine notoriously cross diva Luther noticing his archival Freddie Jackson’s chart-topping success and issuing an “OR ELSE” mandate to Epic, his record company. Of course, the lack of #1 singles didn’t hinder his album sales-every studio album that Luther released between 1981 and 1997 went Platinum or better; a span of 11 platters.

1986’s Give Me The Reason (the album that spawned “Stop To Love”) was notable for a number of reasons. It debuted the new, “skinny” Luther, it offered a slightly more pop sound than its predecessors (“Stop To Love” became his first top 20 crossover hit,) and, somewhat sadly, it also was released while the singer was in the midst of a vehicular manslaughter trial that he eventually pled no contest to. Maybe having Luther sing on top of a moving car while those wounds were still fresh wasn’t such a great idea in retrospect, but the accident and its aftermath slid largely under the radar, something that would be impossible in modern-day TMZ culture.

91. “It’s No Crime” by Babyface (2 weeks at #1, August-September ’89 | Amazon)

Babyface’s profile rose sharply in the two years between his first album, Lovers, and 1989’s follow-up, Tender Lover In those two years, ‘Face and his homeboy L.A. Reid marched towards chart domination via Pebbles, Bobby Brown, Sheena Easton, The Whispers and others. Additionally, The Deele (which ‘Face and L.A. were members of) scored a top 10 hit with the romantic “Two Occasions” (another song I’m stunned didn’t hit #1.) The time was right for Babyface’s solo career to go to the next level. Go to the next level, it did. The frenetic “It’s No Crime” rose to the top spot in late summer ’89.

In 2014, most folks consider Babyface a tried and true balladeer, but it’s worth mentioning that “Crime” deftly walked the line between new jack swing and dance-pop. Even though the “calling all cars” announcement blaring throughout the song is a bit annoying, “Crime” contains one of ‘Face’s most unique melodies and was an early indication of dude’s primo songwriting skills. I also like the little Elvis impression he does at the end of each chorus.

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