Do you really need an intro? I feel like if you’re coming back here, you’re already invested.

So let’s get to the fun!

80. Casanova by LeVert (2 weeks at #1, August ’87 | Amazon)

Reggie and Vincent Calloway were one of the great underrated songwriting/producing combos of the ’80s. They never got the shine that Jam & Lewis or L.A. and ‘Face did, but they had their handprints on some of the decade’s most popular projects. Not only were the Calloways members of Midnight Star (who had a lengthy list of hits by their lonesome,) but they were also responsible for Teddy Pendergrass’s “Joy,” Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “Love Overboard,” a handful of Klymaxx tunes (wow, Klymaxx didn’t have a #1 R&B single?) and this, LeVert’s second #1 R&B hit and their only top 10 (or top 40) hit on the pop charts. It’s weird how, to me, even when they were doing uptempo, youth-oriented joints like “Casanova,” the LeVert dudes always seemed older than their contemporaries like Keith Sweat. Truth is, they were all around the same age. It’s gotta be the voice. You just don’t expect a voice like Gerald’s to come out of someone who’s barely old enough to drink. “Casanova” jams all the same.

79. Ooo La La La by Teena Marie (1 week at #1, April ’88 | Amazon)

Teena Marie’s Motown tenure was marked by some classic material. However, none of the singles she recorded for the label (“I Need Your Lovin'”, “Behind The Groove”, “Square Biz,” etc.) hit #1. After a messy legal dispute, she moved over to Columbia, hitting pay dirt with “Lovergirl” in early ’85. That didn’t hit #1 either. Lady T’s first (and only) R&B chart-topper didn’t occur until 7 albums and a decade into her career. While I love “Ooo La La La” and all of the Teena-isms that come along with it (dramatic over singing and the lyrical whimsy that became her trademark,) it’s interesting to note that allegedly neither Teena nor her mentor Rick James were big fans of the song. Whether Teena liked the song or not, she sang it like she believed every single word. And that’s all that matters.

78. Cold Blooded by Rick James (6 weeks at #1, September/October ’83 | Amazon)

There’s not much to “Cold Blooded”: a fairly elementary synthesizer program and a handful of typical Rick James double-entendres (I’m pretty sure Rick wasn’t talking about books when he mentioned his “dictionary.” Nevertheless, some songs have an inexplicable “X” factor that makes them dope. “Cold Blooded” is one of those songs. It also officially ushered Rick into the synthesizer era-as much of his previous work utilized synths for accentuation and not as the primary focus. Inspired by “Exorcist” actress Linda Blair, “Cold Blooded” spent over a month at #1 on the R&B charts. It only nicked the top 40, though. A video might’ve helped the song’s cause on the pop tip, then again Rick’s (honest and accurate) comments about MTV being racist probably cost him any chance of exposure at the channel.

77. Any Love by Luther Vandross (1 week at #1, November ’88 | Amazon)

Luther called “Any Love” one of his most autobiographical songs, and it’s easy to figure out why. Read any knowledgeable literature on the man (Craig Seymour’s biography is wonderful) and his struggle to find love is apparent. This gives “Any Love” a level of poignance beyond that of his already fairly poignant repertoire. While on some of his songs, Luther seems to be consoling or reassuring the listener, his vocal on “Any Love” sends a clear message that, on this one, Luther wanted to console or reassure himself.

76. Mr. Telephone Man by New Edition (3 weeks at #1, February ’85 | Amazon)

Screenshot 2014-10-08 22.57.41Revisionist history has cast Bobby Brown as the focal point of New Edition in some circles. Truthfully, “Mr. Telephone Man” was the only major NE hit to feature Bobby as a prominent vocalist (he sings the chorus on this one.) Actually, it’s one of the more democratically sung tunes from the group, as every member except poor Ronnie DeVoe gets a featured vocal at some point.

Why didn’t Ray Parker Jr. get more props as a producer? I feel like he could’ve carved out a really nice niche for himself behind the boards, especially after the success of this tune. Shit, he was at the height of his powers around this time–just a few months removed from “Ghostbusters.” But “Telephone Man” kinda turned out to be his last gasp?

Anyone else thought the white telephone guy in this video was Rick Moranis? Honey, I Shrunk Bobby Brown!

75. There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry) by Billy Ocean (2 weeks at #1, June/July ’86 | Amazon)

Billy is at his trembly best on this ballad. It’s got plenty of Hallmark card imagery (“my love is like a river, running so deep”), but it doesn’t come across as insincere the way so much mid ’80s adult contemporary does. In the summer of ’86, when “Sad Songs” hit, it looked like Billy was coming for Lionel’s crown as King of Easy Listening, particularly as Richie went high-concept (and failed miserably) with “Dancing On The Ceiling.” If this song doesn’t tug at the heartstrings even a little bit, then you are a better man than I.

74. Part Time Lover by Stevie Wonder (6 weeks at #1, October/November ’85 | Amazon)

Twenty-something years into his career, Stevie Wonder was still a relatively young 35. “Part Time Lover” was his last super-major single, and it was a doozy. Not only did it hit #1 R&B, but it topped the pop, adult contemporary and dance charts. That’s a feat that has not been equaled before or since, a testament to Stevie’s wide-ranging appeal.

Plus, it’s got some tasty background vocals from Luther Vandross. How can you not love it?

73. My Prerogative by Bobby Brown (2 weeks at #1, October ’88 | Amazon)

“I made this money, you didn’t. Right, Ted? We outta here.”

72. Oh Sheila by Ready For The World (2 weeks at #1, September ’85 | Amazon)

Screenshot 2014-10-08 22.59.03I spent three years living in a Detroit suburb in the mid ’80s, and there was a definitive difference between urban radio in the Midwest and urban radio in New York City (which is where I’d lived prior to that point, and still where I spent my summers.) Detroit’s program directors took care of their own, and Flint’s Ready For The World were treated like royalty. It only took a few months for the rest of the world to catch up, and “Oh Sheila” was an across-the-board #1 at the end of 1985. One major reason for the song’s success, hometown love aside, was the fact that it may have been the Prince-iest song to ever exist with no involvement from Mr. Nelson himself. I have vague memories of my fifth grade classmates assuming that not only was the song by Prince, but it was a tribute to P’s protege Sheila E. I’d have to also imagine that Ready For The World (and their label) was already well aware of this, and the comparisons were part of their marketing strategy. Or maybe twenty + years working in the industry has made me incredibly jaded. At any rate…

…What was up with Melvin Riley’s British accent on this song. That’s one thing I never quite understood. I know people from Minneapolis and Detroit, and they don’t have British accents!

71. Mercedes Boy by Pebbles (1 week at #1, May ’88 | Amazon)

After talking tough on “Girlfriend,” Pebbles slowed the tempo down ever-so-slightly and got a little suggestive with “Mercedes Boy,” her second straight chart-topper. It’s her crowning achievement, and certainly the crowning achievement for The Gap Band’s Charlie Wilson as a songwriter/producer (a task I don’t think I knew he undertook until a decade after the song was a hit.) The Gap Band’s well bled dry a couple of years before, I didn’t think Uncle Charlie still had something like this in him (and I’m also a little befuddled by the fact that he didn’t parlay this hit into a career producing for others.)

Grammar nerds: shouldn’t the title actually be “Mercedes, Boy”?
















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