Blisterd

Since we’re at #40, it makes sense to point out that a surprising number of songs that hit the top of the R&B charts didn’t graze the top 40 of the pop charts. Musical apartheid was very much in effect during this time period, and considering the classic status of some of the higher-ranked titles here, the fact that they weren’t bigger pop hits is mind-boggling.

George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” didn’t crack the top 40. Neither did Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit” (yes, I know I’m getting ahead of myself.) Of Rick James’ three #1 R&B singles in the ’80s, two peaked AT #40 and the other (“Loosey’s Rap”) didn’t chart on the Top 100 AT ALL. Can you imagine?

This installment of the list contains 9 songs that peaked in the top 40. Can you guess which one didn’t?

40. “Love You Down” by Ready For The World (2 weeks at #1, December ’86 | Amazon)

It’s rare that a cover of a song outstrips the original, and “Love You Down” is one of the greatest slices of faux-Prince ever made.

But Me’shell Ndegeocello drove to Detroit, took this song, stole it from Ready For The World, and made it hers.

39. “I Want To Be Your Man” by Roger (1 week at #1, December ’87 | Amazon)

Slow jam, sung largely on vocoder. Doesn’t sound too appealing, right? Thankfully, Roger Troutman was a lot more talented than, say…T-Pain. The voicebox gimmick could get tiring sometimes (Zapp wore out their welcome fairly quickly,) but you can’t deny that “I Want To Be Your Man” is a great song.

38. “Jump To It” by Aretha Franklin (4 weeks at #1, September ’82 | Amazon)

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Luther Vandross (experiencing his first blush with solo success thanks to “Never Too Much”) famously admitted that he would “wrestle Bruno Sammartino for the chance to produce Aretha Franklin.” For the young folks, Sammartino was the premier wrestler of his generation–like Hulk Hogan before Hulk Hogan was Hulk Hogan. Or…whoever the big wrestler is now these days. At any rate, Clive Davis saw this interview and promptly hooked the Queen of Soul up with the young prince (but not Prince–man, did he miss a chance there? I bet a Prince-produced Aretha record in the ’80s would have been awesome! Anyway…)

“Jump To It,” the first of the two albums Aretha and Luther worked on together, was a stone smash. It gave the Queen her biggest hit in more than a half decade and showed that she was more than capable of hanging in a contemporary environment. Danceable and sassy, it showed off a looser Aretha. Of course, two notorious divas can only coexist in one room for so long, and the professional pairing of Franklin & Vandross ended barely a year later (although the two reconciled in later years.)

37. “Let’s Get Serious” by Jermaine Jackson (6 weeks at #1, May/June ’80 | Amazon)

By the end of 1979, The Jacksons were a chart presence after a couple of years in the wilderness, Michael was well on his way to being a supermegastar with Off The Wall, and Jermaine? Well, his last major pop hit was six years behind him, and his appearances on the soul chart were spotty as well. Motown Records, the label that Jermaine stayed at when his brothers left in 1976, wasn’t scoring hits at the same level as during their glory years a decade earlier. Still, Smokey Robinson was undergoing a career renaissance, Rick James & The Commodores were doing big business, plus Diana Ross & Stevie Wonder were commercial slam dunks (most of the time.)

I can’t imagine Stevie’s involvement on Jermaine’s 1980 album, Let’s Get Serious, was not inspired by “holy shit, see how successful Michael’s become? We need some of that?” Even after suffering through the relative failure of Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants, Stevie was still soul music’s “it” guy. True to form, Stevie and his partner Lee Garrett gave Jermaine “Let’s Get Serious,” a funky barnstormer that wound up being Billboard’s #1 R&B single of 1980.

In Jermaine’s recent memoir, he mentions how he recorded “Serious” while fuming at the fact that Stevie had kicked his ass in ping-pong. I can’t say that anger translated to the song very much. Jermaine was always a smooth kinda dude, he was never really able to bring “bite” to some of the more aggressive songs he performed. I bet Stevie has a demo version of “Let’s Get Serious” somewhere, and I bet it’s fuckin’ dope.

36. “Don’t Be Cruel” by Bobby Brown (2 weeks at #1, July ’88 | Amazon)

Bobby Brown’s first solo album, 1986’s King of Stage, isn’t very good. The best songs on it are produced by Cameo’s Larry Blackmon, and even those songs aren’t especially memorable. Thankfully, Bobby’s label (MCA) paired him with hotshots L.A. Reid, Babyface, and Teddy Riley for most of Stage’s follow-up, Don’t Be Cruel. There’s a noticeable dip in musical quality on the handful of tracks not helmed by those mega-producers, which leaves me shuddering to think what Bobby’s music would sound like if he was left to his own devices. Oh, wait…we have 1997’s Forever, which contains no big-name producers and no songs that are even halfway decent.Rightfully, it brought a swift and fairly sudden end to Brown’s recording career. Well, drugs helped with that.

ANYWAY, “Don’t Be Cruel,” the song, is pretty dope. Great melody? Check. Slammin’ beat? Check. Interesting, gothic touches? Sure, I’ll take ’em. Bobby’s rapping? Serviceable. Always my favorite track off of the album, even if it wasn’t necessarily the biggest hit (“My Prerogative,” “Every Little Step” and maybe even “Roni” are more fondly remembered, I think.)

35. “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince & The Revolution (1 week at #1, September ’84 | Amazon)

Let’s not talk about “Let’s Go Crazy.” Let’s talk about “Crazy”‘s b-side, “Erotic City.”

First of all, no one was fucking with Prince’s b-side game in the ’80s. Not even Springsteen. “Pink Cadillac” can’t carry “Erotic City”‘s lacy underthings in a paper bag. Second, how did a song this ridiculously filthy get on the radio? I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but “Erotic” got major amounts of radio time in my Michigan neck of the woods during the fall and winter of ’84. DJs & Program directors likely were able to convince their listeners that Prince (and his partner Sheila E) were singing “we can funk until the dawn,” but a closer listen reveals…well, no one knows for sure. I think they’re saying “fuck” but I also have a dirty mind. Regardless of the funk/fuck conundrum though…”making love till cherry’s gone” got radio airplay in the Reagan ’80s. Not bad.

Semisonic made an awesome cover of “Erotic City.”

34. “Cool It Now” by New Edition (1 week at #1, November ’84 | Amazon)

You know what people need to give more props to New Edition for? Making hip-hop and R&B co-exist seamlessly. Not that they were the first to blend the two genres, but it’s safe to say that they integrated the styles better than anyone else at that time. Might be due to their collective age-most of their chart contemporaries were grown ups before the advent of hip-hop. N.E. were the first kid artists to come of age within rap culture. It was part of them, not part of a marketing plan. And these brothers don’t even have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Damn shame.

If you were between the ages of, say, 6 and 16 when “Cool It Now” was a hit and you lived in an even vaguely urban area, you can recite Ralph’s mid-song rap by heart. I know it.

33. “Looking For A New Love” by Jody Watley (3 weeks at #1, March/April ’87 | Amazon)

After leaving Shalamar in 1983 (allegedly during their “Dead Giveaway” video shoot,) Jody Watley stayed behind in London for a few years. She recorded some material that never made it to American shores (check out the video for “Where The Boys Are,”) appeared on Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (one of only two American acts to do so) and soaked up some of the fashion and culture. She reappeared onto the American music scene at the beginning of ’87 and immediately scaled chart heights with “Looking For A New Love,” which topped the soul charts, peaked at #2 on the pop side, and helped Jody win a Grammy for the year’s Best New Artist. Janet Jackson had opened the door for female-fronted, aggressive dance-pop with the singles from her Control album and much like Janet, Jody had some assistance from a Prince associate (Andre Cymone.)

And for the record-Jody came up with “hasta la vista, baby” FIRST, DAMN IT.

32. “Call Me” by Skyy (2 weeks at #1, February ’82 | Amazon)

The Dunning sisters of Skyy had a very unique vocal sound, as we explored when we discussed their 1989 #1 “Start of a Romance.” This alone put them ahead of the many New York dance/funk bands that appeared on the scene in the late ’70s and early ’80s. While their catalog as a whole is underrated (and should be sought out by fans of the post-disco “boogie” sub-genre, “Call Me” is a must-have in your music library if you have even the vaguest interest in funk or dance music. The saucy lyrical content (in a nutshell: “let me steal you from your girlfriend”) was mildly controversial for its time, but I’d imagine that the first question a millennial would have upon listening to this song would be “it used to cost a dime to make a phone call?”

Reading this excellent blog post about “Call Me” and now wondering: how many songs had “phone call” interludes between “Call Me” and Alicia Keys’ “You Don’t Know My Name”? I can’t think of any (oh wait, there’s Chico DeBarge’s “Talk To Me”…and New Edition’s “I’m Comin’ Home,” and…never mind.

31. “Encore” by Cheryl Lynn (1 week at #1, February ’84 | Amazon)

As my friend and “Flyte Brothers” partner Jeff Giles mentioned when we talked about “Encore” a few months back, Cheryl Lynn was really at the mercy of her songwriters and producers. Her vocal talent has never been in question, but she’s not always had the right material. 1983’s Preppie found her suffering from a dearth of good material, which was a bit of a problem when you consider she wrote and produced much of it. “Encore,” the first #1 single written and produced by the now-legendary Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, is the right material. Thankfully, she (or her label, Columbia) had the good sense to allow one song from an outsider to sneak into the proceedings.

What I love about Cheryl’s uptempo tracks is that she always sounds like she’s having so much fun. How can you not dance to this?

 

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