We’re getting there!!
60. The Second Time Around by Shalamar (1 week at #1, February ’80 | Amazon)
Solar Records owned the first half of the ’80s, thanks to hits by The Whispers, Lakeside, Midnight Star, and this prefab trio. Disregard any of the talk about put-together groups not being capable of making good records, because Shalamar might be my second all-time favorite trio (with The Police at #1 and with apologies to Run-D.M.C.) “The Second Time Around,” as appealing a disco song as it may be, isn’t even the fifth best song released as a single by Shalamar’s most famous formation. “Make That Move,” “This Is For The Lover In You,” “A Night To Remember,” “Dead Giveaway” and “Over & Over” are all 5-star singles.
59. Candy Girl by New Edition (1 week at #1, May ’83 | Amazon)
Can a group of teenagers record a song, with the primary audience being people their age and younger? Of course. That’s kinda what kid artists/groups do.
The real test of a classic is this: How many of those songs can be sung by the same group thirty years later without seeming awkward? Very few.
Maurice Starr and the New Edition guys were very vocal about their debt to Michael and the rest of The Jacksons, but “Candy Girl” was the most obvious instance of a Jackson 5 song being borrowed. A radio station in New York used to actually play “Candy Girl” and “ABC” on top of one another to show the similarities. Ah well–imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? And in this case, the copy wound up being just as iconic.
58. I Feel For You by Chaka Khan (3 weeks at #1, November ’84 | Amazon)
I think a lot of people would place “I Feel For You” in the top 20 if not the top 10 on their lists (if they were so inclined to make one of their own.) I’m wondering if my lack of relative reverence for this song is due to the fact that it got played to death. At any rate, whether overrated or underrated, “I Feel For You” is Chaka’s definitive song, was instrumental in fusing the worlds of rap and R&B, and was created by an all-star cast of sorts: written by Prince, performed by Chaka, produced by Arif Mardin, and featuring Grandmaster Melle Mel and a harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder. That’s a lot of star power.
Did you know that Chaka Khan was the FOURTH artist to release a version of “I Feel For You?” Prince, of course, recorded and released it in 1979. The Pointer Sisters covered it in 1982. Rebbie Jackson’s version came out just a week before Chaka’s. Everyone wanted some purple magic, I suppose.
57. Solid by Ashford & Simpson (3 weeks at #1, December ’84 | Amazon)
So, here’s a song that was played as much as (if not more than) “I Feel For You” in late 1984. I had a fierce and undying hatred for “Solid” for a long time based on the fact that I couldn’t get near a radio station for six months without hearing it. Plus, I was 8 and couldn’t really relate to the lyrics. With thirty years hindsight, it’s a pretty awesome song. I wonder when folks will realize that Nick Ashford is undervalued as a lyricist…and Valerie Simpson is undervalued as a vocalist. I’ve recently picked up a bunch of the work she did as a solo artist for Motown…AMAZING stuff in a more soulful Carole King or Laura Nyro vein. Go look for it.
56. Let’s Groove by Earth, Wind & Fire (8 weeks at #1, November ’81-January ’82 | Amazon)
1980’s high-concept double album Faces was a turning point for the previously-inassailable men of Earth, Wind & Fire. It didn’t replicate the massive success of their previous album, I Am, marking the first major stumble in their career. Whatever Maurice, Philip and the gang came up with next was gonna have to be a monster. Fortunately for EW&F, it was. “Let’s Groove” was completely on time, with a universal message, a killer groove (of course) and some new vocoder tricks to ensure that the Elements were competing with the high-concept funk bands that popped up in their wake (like Zapp.)
Here’s yet another reminder of how hideously low-budget music videos were in the early Eighties. And you’ve got to figure that Earth, Wind & Fire had one of the fatter budgets, too.
55. Have You Ever Loved Somebody by Freddie Jackson (2 weeks at #1, February ’87 | Amazon)
This is my favorite of Freddie’s many #1 singles. It’s got a nice mid-tempo vibe, and Freddie sings it passionately without being melodramatic.
Do you know that Freddie hit the top of the R&B chart TEN times? He was the surest bet in soul music for a hot minute. However, he should also serve as a cautionary tale warning against sticking with a formula. Freddie made virtually the same album five times in a row and wasn’t able to recover (like Luther did) when R&B underwent stylistic changes in the late ’80s/early ’90s.
54. Keep On Movin’ by Soul II Soul (feat. Caron Wheeler) (2 weeks at #1, July ’89 | Amazon)
Soul II Soul were probably the most artistically credible of the dance/pop collectives that emerged in the late Eighties. The brainchild of talented producers Jazzie B & Nellee Hooper (who would later go on to work with Madonna, Sinead O’ Connor, Bjork and many others,) they were a revolving door of singers, rappers and dancers. For a time, it looked like they were gonna be the next thing-winning a pair of Grammy Awards and sweeping the 1990 Soul Train Awards. But by mid-’91, they were pretty much toast. “Keep On Movin'” was a monster, though. I don’t think you could cross a street during the summer of 1989 in New York without hearing this song in one of its versions (the album version, a smoking hot single remix, and a Teddy Riley dance mix that was just as killer.)
53. I Want Her by Keith Sweat (3 weeks at #1, January/February ’88 | Amazon)
Keith Sweat was a commodities broker who moonlighted as a singer. He teamed up with a nascent Teddy Riley and together, they struck the first bell for the meshing of hip-hop and R&B into a sound that was eventually dubbed New Jack Swing. “I Want Her” ruled the airwaves in New York City throughout the winter of ’87-’88, setting the stage for Riley’s production domination and a solid multi-decade career as a singer/songwriter/producer/mogul for Sweat. There weren’t many dance grooves at the time that could keep up, either. “I Want Her” still holds up today, as a matter of fact, sounding less dated than a lot of other songs from the era.
Keith’s voice was certainly unique for its time, with his obvious predecessor being Slave’s Steve Arrington. Also, interesting that he would go on to become better known as a balladeer as his career progressed.
52. Just Got Paid by Johnny Kemp (2 weeks at #1, May/June ’88 | Amazon)
Tap into a universal emotion and you’ll wind up with a hit single, usually. Johnny Kemp must’ve known that he was in on a smash the first time he heard “Just Got Paid.” The combination of instantly relatable lyrics and monster groove was too good to resist for the music fans who sent this to the top of the soul charts and landed it in the top ten on the pop side. Kemp’s vocal eccentricities worked within the framework of the song, as well. He sounds positively giddy. Alas, “Just Got Paid” didn’t result in long-term success for the dreadlocked Kemp, possibly because unlike other Riley projects Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat and Al B. Sure!, he wasn’t a new jack swing singer, but a pop singer with a new jack hit. “Just Got Paid”‘s success was more a vote for the song than the singer.
51. The Pleasure Principle by Janet Jackson (1 week at #1, August ’87 | Amazon)
The power of a remix in full effect.
Not that the original version of “The Pleasure Principle” (produced by Monte Moir AKA “The White Dude From The Time”) is bad at all. It’s certainly less dynamic than the music that surrounds it, though, coming after “You Can Be Mine” and before “When I Think Of You.” The song was given more life (in more ways than one, as it was the 6th and final single from Control and had already been played frequently as an album cut) thanks to a killer remix by Shep Pettibone, who was the hottest cat in dance/pop at the moment.
Oh yeah, there’s also the video. You know, Janet has damn near as many (if not more) iconic videos as her brother does.
She fine. And if it was really her (and not a stunt person) doing that backflip off the chair, then she gets unlimited props.