Flyte Bros LogoLast year, I joined Popdose‘s Jeff Giles and Robert Cass for a column called “‘Face Time,” in which we discussed essential (and some non-essential) cuts in the catalog of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, one of the most prolific singer/songwriters of the ’80s and ’90s. ‘Face and his partner Antonio “L.A.” Reid were one of the big 3 production teams that ruled pop and R&B during that era. There was also Teddy Riley and his New Jack Swing camp, and perhaps most notably, Minneapolis’s James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis. The former members of Prince offshoot band The Time turned out to be legends in their own right, composing and producing hits for a who’s-who of the music industry and proving to be as (if not more) influential than their purple-clad benefactor.

So in 2014, Jeff, Robert and I (along two new team members, fellow Popdose editor/Popblerd podcast co-host Michael Parr, along with badass co-conspirator Dr. Z) are back to talk all things Flyte Tyme.

Ralph Tresvant | “Sensitivity” (from Ralph Tresvant, 1990) | #4 pop/#1 R&B | Amazon

Remixed version:

Album version:

Dr. Z:  Undisputed New Jack classic!

I can’t say that I remember this video mix. I’m assuming that mix was also J&L (there are some of their characteristic flourishes in there). This is certainly my favorite of the album’s singles, including the other Jam & Lewis cut (“Do What I Gotta Do”)

MJ: It’s a Jam & Lewis mix. They sample “Human”!

“Sensitivity” had a lot of remixes, more than I can remember for the average version of the song.

As Jeff mentioned in an earlier Flyte Brothers column, one interesting thing about “Sensitivity” is that it has no real verse structure. I believe that was patterned after some of Marvin Gaye’s songs like “Let’s Get It On” and “Mercy Mercy Me.”

Robert Cass: My vote goes to “Do What I Gotta Do,” which I still have on a cassette of taped-off-the-radio songs from the spring of ’91. I think “Sensitivity” tries a little too hard to establish Ralph as the World’s Greatest Lover, just as “Do Me” tried too hard to establish Bell Biv DeVoe as bad boys, but “Do What I Gotta Do” has a lush, sophisticated quality I still appreciate.

Jeff Giles: You guys know I love this song. I had the cassingle! I’m pretty sure it was one of the ones MCA put out with a blank second side — couldn’t even be bothered to repeat the single on the flip. Jerkoffs.

Michael Parr:  I, too, owned the cassingle of “Sensitivity,” and I believe you were right. It had the extended version on side A, and nothing on side B.

Ralph Tresvant's single "Sensitivity"RC:  I bought several Steely Dan albums on cassette in ’88 and was surprised to see that nothing but the song titles and the producer’s name were listed on the insert. Even the album’s cover art was tiny — or “letterboxed,” you could argue — with lots of space devoted to a sea of blue:

If, like me, you were just starting to buy music around that time, you had nowhere to go but up in terms of reissue packaging (and manufacturing quality, since those cassettes often started to unravel after a couple of years).

MP: Did MCA do that a lot? I don’t recall.

I do, however, recall the shit out of this song. It came out at just the right time in my teenaged life… and that’s all I’ve got to say about that. (The time, not the song.)

MJ: I…I don’t know what that means.

MP: There is a landfill somewhere with more than one “sexy time jamz” mixtape by DJ Parr–featuring “Sensitivity”–at the bottom of it.

JG: I’m sure I made at least one mix with this on it. I’m flashing back to what I had in heavy rotation at the time: “Sensitivity,” “Love Makes Things Happen,” “Knockin’ Boots,” NWA’s 100 Miles and Runnin’, Paul Simon’s The Rhythm of the Saints, that one Alias album, the Call’sRed Moon, and REO Speedwagon’s The Earth, a Small Man, His Dog, and a Chicken.

MPAttention all ladies, Jefito is on the prowl.

MJ:  You had to be the only person under the age of 30 listening to REO Speedwagon in 1990.

Well…you and Wardlaw.

…and “I’ll Never Let You Go!!” I LOVE THAT SONG!

JG: The band with a human dog whistle for a singer! Nobody struck the “crucified on the edge of a cliff” video pose like that guy.

Back to “Sensitivity,” though. I saw Ralph perform this with New Edition a couple months back. Still looks the same, still sounds the same. Actually, it doesn’t really seem like any New Edition member (with one very notable exception) has aged at all in the past 20 years.

Jeff Giles: Which is kind of funny, because the stress of working with the one guy who does seem to have aged should have visibly aged the others twice as much.

Robert Cass: I watched the Bell Biv DeVoe episode of TV One’s Life After last year on YouTube when Jeff, Mike, and I were doing ‘Face Time for Popdose. There’s a segment in which those three mention that Tresvant left them high and dry in ’86 or so when they were supposed to perform “Earth Angel,” their Karate Kid Part II soundtrack contribution, on an awards show. Officially, Tresvant was “sick,” but when BBD next saw him in Boston, he was talking about a solo career “a la Phil Collins [in] Genesis,” according to Bell.

The impression I got was that BBD had stronger feelings about voting Bobby Brown out of New Edition in ’86 than Tresvant did, possibly bringing Tresvant and Brown closer together as a result (they’ve toured with Johnny Gill outside of New Edition reunions since 2008 as Heads of State):

MJ: Related: something I strangely never caught on previous watchings of the “Sensitivity” remix video. Bobby and some random other dude are in the last half of it.

RC: “Stone Cold Gentleman,” another single from Tresvant’s self-titled debut, featured Brown, though you see him much more than you hear him in the video version of the song.

JG: I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the video until now, and I know I’ve never listened to the full album.

MJ: The Ralph album isn’t bad. It’s definitely a dropoff in quality from the BBD and Johnny Gill albums that came out the same year, though. It’s a good 6 or 7 songs deep, though.

Z: I can’t say that I recall the album as a whole, but its singles (and that jam from Mo’ Money) were pretty consistent. I can’t speak as to whether his 2006 album Rizz Wa Faire passes muster (or mustard, as the case may be).

MJ:  I remember reviewing that. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great.

Those guys all need sympathetic writers/producers to come off. It was way better than that last Bobby album, though. I spent fourteen dollars on that shit and think I was only able to sell it back for two.

RC: I don’t know if this was mentioned in a post earlier in the year, when I had dropped out of Flyte Brothers for a while (to “spend more time with my family,” of course), but BBD said Jimmy Jam was the one who suggested that the three of them form a group in the first place. However, the trio weren’t impressed with the proposed moniker of Bell, Bivins & DeVoe.

“I said, ‘That shit sounds like Ray, Goodman & Brown,'” Bivins says in Life After.

“Or too much like a law firm,” Bell adds.

(Have you been poisoned? Charged with possession of a hootie mack? Or been accused of including too many exclamation points and question marks in the song titles on your debut album? Then call the law firm of Bell, Bivins & DeVoe …”)

P.S. MJ, when you edit all of this together, please take out the “a” before “hootie mack” in the following sentence so that I don’t look too square.

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