Music lovers, welcome to the penultimate installment of our series.

Twenty songs left, and not all of them are by a member of the Jackson family.

Our most recent installment can be found here. From there, you can backtrack further into our list. Now, let’s move on.

20. “If Only You Knew” by Patti LaBelle (4 weeks at #1, January/February ’84 | Amazon)

Patti LaBelle's "If Only You Knew" singleWhen “If Only You Knew” was released in late 1983, Patti LaBelle didn’t even have a record contract. After her glam-soul trio LaBelle, split in 1976, the diva recorded a few albums for Epic Records that didn’t catch fire. She then hooked up with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff at Philadelphia International Records, but her record for that label didn’t go anywhere, either. “If Only You Knew” was a song that was sitting in the can from sessions that’d taken place in 1982, while Patti was starring on Broadway in Your Arms Too Short To Box With God. I’m In Love Again, the album “If Only” was culled from, was a contract-completing filler album of sorts. The material on the album was solid, though, and as 1984 dawned, Patti (who many must have assumed was in the twilight of a career filled with inconsistent commercial success) found herself on top of the charts.

Rightfully so: “If Only” is an exquisite, tasteful, and passionately sung ballad. Although Patti has (somewhat unfairly) been given a reputation as being unnecessarily histrionic, this song is a testament to her impeccable skills as an interpreter. Patti took this song’s success and ran hard with it, utilizing it as leverage to sign with MCA and, in turn, establishing herself as a chart presence for the next decade and a half.

Thirty years later, Miss Patti’s over 70 and still singing the SHIT out of “If Only You Knew.”

19. “(You’re Puttin’) A Rush On Me” by Stephanie Mills (1 week at #1, October ’87 | Amazon)

Lest she be thought of as simply a (damn good) balladeer after her first two #1 R&B hits, Stephanie Mills headed straight for the dance floor with the second chart topper from her platinum If I Were Your Woman LP. “Rush” is easily the best song from her MCA Records tenure, serving as a fresher, more experienced take on the sentiments expressed by Janet Jackson’s “Let’s Wait Awhile,” which topped the R&B charts six months earlier. Stephanie was looking fine in the video as well, and let’s not forget that although I have massive love for JJ, Miss Mills could (and can) sing Janet under any table you can find.

18. “Rumors” by Timex Social Club (2 weeks at #1, July ’86 | Amazon)

Was “Rumors” the first new jack swing song? It certainly had a hip-hop attitude without containing any actual rapping (which disqualifies “Cool It Now,” I guess.) Someone give the poor Timex Social Club props for starting a movement, not to mention creating one of the tastiest singles in a year that was pretty well-stocked with them.

If we’re taking sides in the Timex Social Club/Club Nouveau discussion, I’m on Team Timex forever, man. Nouveau’s cover of “Lean On Me” might’ve won Bill Withers a Grammy, but it won my eternal distaste. Ugh.

17. “The Rain” by Oran “Juice” Jones (2 weeks at #1, September ’86 | Amazon)

Ah. It’s the other awesome one-hit wonder of 1986. This one’s got a little more cultural significance, as it was Def Jam Records’ first chart-topper.

You familiar with The Juice? Then you know why “The Rain” is ranked this high.

If not, skip to 2:22 on the video and watch to the end. You’re welcome.

16. “And The Beat Goes On” by The Whispers (5 weeks at #1, March ’80 | Amazon)

The Whispers bounced around the charts for much of the ’70s. They were an R&B mainstay without ever having a really big hit. “And The Beat Goes On” changed that and charted the course for the rest of the decade for the artist, the song’s producer (Leon Sylvers III) and their label (Solar Records.) It’s from the disco era but not of it. Those classy harmonies and Sylvers’ production (combining the best of funk, bubblegum and classic soul) transcend any genre classification. Even Will Smith at his cheesiest couldn’t ruin it.

15. “Beat It” by Michael Jackson (1 week at #1, May ’83 | Amazon)

Michael Jackson's #1 single "Beat It"Figuring out interesting things to say about songs like “Beat It” is a bit challenging. If you’re reading this, there’s a 99.999% chance that you are well aware of the iconic nature of the song and its parent album, Thriller. So then, the question becomes: what anecdote should I use? The one about Quincy Jones calling Eddie Van Halen to play “Beat It”‘s legendary guitar solo and getting cussed out because the connection was bad? The (probably untrue) story (also from Quincy) about the speakers in the studio catching fire as “Beat It” was being played back? The (plausible) rumor that the two guys who played the main combatants in the “Beat It” video actually being lovers? What about my theory that Michael’s vocal on the song is sped up to make him sound more intense (during concert performances, “Beat It” was either slowed down a couple steps or MJ lip-synced.) My other theory that “Beat It” was a case in fraternal one-upmanship after Michael got wind of Jermaine’s collaboration with Ohio-based new wavers Devo earlier in 1982? The fact that “Beat It” came within one week of unseating Jackson’s previous single, “Billie Jean,” at #1 on the pop charts?

One song-SO many stories. None of which take away from the fact that “Beat It” is a fucking monster. The almost perfect synthesis of “black” dance music and “white” hard rock, it’s better than just about anything that came out of either genre.

14. “Time Will Reveal” by DeBarge (5 weeks at #1, December ’83/January ’84 | Amazon)

I read a recent interview with Bunny DeBarge in Wax Poetics. In the interview, she mentions groups like The Carpenters as an influence on her family. “One of the biggest influences on our sound was the Carpenters. We liked the way they harmonized their backgrounds, and we patterned ourselves after their style.” It makes sense-although the DeBarge family was brought up in the church, none of them are what you would call “belters.” Even though Bobby & El could soar as vocalists (in a somewhat different manner than you’d associate with gospel-trained singers,) the family’s harmonies were as “white-bread” as they came. It gave the group a unique sound, and nowhere was that sound more apparent than on “Time Will Reveal.” Music doesn’t get much more beautiful-sounding than this.

13. “Nasty” by Janet Jackson (2 weeks at #1, June ’86 | Amazon)


Chances are, if you were Prince (or less than two degrees of separation from Prince,) and you wrote a song with the word “nasty” in the title, you were coming up with a classic. “What Have You Done For Me Lately” was a smash, but “Nasty” was the song that made everyone pay attention to Janet Jackson. With the immortal line “no, my first name ain’t baby…it’s Janet. Miss Jackson if you’re nasty,” Michael’s little sister set the stage for everyone from MC Lyte to Britney Spears…and Puff Daddy. Anytime you hear him mumble “I like this part” on a peak-era Bad Boy production, he’s channeling Janet.

12. “Don’t Disturb This Groove” by The System (1 week at #1, May ’87 | Amazon)

“Don’t Disturb This Groove” isn’t The System’s only great single, and I’m not even sure it’s their best song-I’d say “You Are In My System” and “This Is For You” are at least equally as good. “Disturb” was the one to take off, though-giving the synth duo their only R&B chart topper and sole pop top ten. It’s not hard to figure out why “Disturb” was so successful: catchy title, great hook, killer groove. I just find myself a little befuddled by the fact that it was their only successful across-the-board smash. They should’ve been a ton bigger. Ahead of their time, I guess.

11. “Ain’t Nobody” by Rufus & Chaka Khan (1 week at #1, October ’83 | Amazon)

Rufus & Chaka Khan's #1 smash "Ain't Nobody"One of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s biggest hits contains barely any Rufus. A cursory listen to “Ain’t Nobody” makes it obvious that the only non-synthesized instrument on the song is Chaka’s voice (I just read an article that says John Robinson plays live drums–I stand corrected.) That said, it was credited to Rufus and released as one of the “please buy my album” studio cuts on their swan song Live…Stompin’ At The Savoy. It’s one of Chaka’s best vocal performances (and that’s no small compliment-Chaka is my favorite female singer.) It’s also an early breakdancing/B-boy staple, thanks to its appearance on the soundtrack of the movie Breakin’. Many have covered it, but the one artist to come close to matching the original is Chaka disciple Mary J. Blige.

Did you know that “Ain’t Nobody” was originally offered to Quincy Jones & Michael Jackson for Thriller? Sheeeeit. Take off “The Girl Is Mine,” add “Ain’t Nobody” and Thriller officially puts itself in the running for best album of all time status.

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