Monday, July 14, 2008

FLASHBACK: BLACK MAGIC


With Billboard's Hot 100 so dominated by R&B and hip-hop in recent years, it's hard to believe that 20 years ago, things were considerably different at the tops of the pops. Back in the '80s and early '90s, if you were black and your name wasn't Prince, Lionel, Whitney or Jackson (as in Michael and Janet), or unless you were lucky enough to have a late-80s album produced, in part, by Babyface (like Bobby Brown, Pebbles and Karyn White), your hits were mostly ghettoized on the R&B chart, which, between 1982 and 1990, was ignominously renamed the Hot Black Singles chart. While British soul singers like George Michael and Lisa Stansfield made history by reaching No. 1 on the R&B singles chart (Lisa peaked there three times between 1989 and 1991), a long list of No. 1 R&B hits from the period didn't even dent the pop Top 40. Here are five of the best and 10 of the rest (with links to where you can hear for yourself):
  • "I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love": Stephanie Mills (1986) Gospel dressed up as R&B written by crossover-free singer-songwriter-producer Angela Winbush (above, top). Right up there with her peers Natalie Cole and Chaka Khan as far as impeccable phrasing goes, Stephanie (above, bottom) is one of the most underrated soul performers ever. When she sings, "And I'm not ashamed to say, many nights I've tossed and I've turned," it brings me to my knees. Can I get an Amen? Like three of Stephanie's future R&B No. 1's--"I Feel Good All Over," "Something in the Way (You Make Me Feel)" and "Home--it didn't even touch the pop chart.
  • "Joy": Teddy Pendergrass (1988, No. 71 pop) A perfectly titled song from a soul man whose pop hit list doesn't do his legend justice. He scored two Top 10s in the early '70s as the lead singer of Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, but the highest he ever went solo was to No. 25 with "Close the Door" in 1978. Even duetting with superstar-to-be Whitney Houston on 1984's "Hold Me," he couldn't manage to climb higher than No. 46.
  • "Angel": Angela Winbush (1987) "Save Your Love (for #1)", her 1985 chart-topper as one-half of Rene & Angela, was one of her few trips to the pop chart (if only to the bottom half), probably thanks to Kurtis Blow, who provided a then-rare guest rap vocal. But like Rene & Angela's other R&B No. 1, the non-pop-charting "Your Smile," "Angel" was probably just a little too soul for white folks to digest. Their loss.
  • "Ain't Nobody Like You": Miki Howard (1992) The No. 2 "Love Under New Management" is the classic for which she's best remembered, and her other R&B No. 1, "Ain't Nuthin' in the World," is a trifle, but this 1992 single had all the ingredients of crossover gold: youthful attitude, sexy, mid-tempo groove and a hook that wouldn't quit. Her second and final Hot 100 entry, it got all the way to No. 66. A miracle, considering.
  • "Ooo La La La": Teena Marie (1988) Though the she scored a No. 4 pop hit in 1984 with the rock-tinged "Lovergirl," which only went to No. 9 R&B, a pop audience weaned on anemic Janet Jackson ballads like "Let's Wait Awhile" and "Come Back to Me" probably didn't know what to make of this white girl who looked like a rock chick (nose ring, bell bottoms and all) but sang like a soul mama. Her happy ending: the Fugees sampled "Ooo La La La" on "Fu-Gee-La," a 1995 hit from their groundbreaking The Score CD.
HONORABLE MENTIONS

"All Woman": Lisa Stansfield (1991, No. 56 pop)
"Baby Come To Me": Regina Belle (1989, No. 60 pop)
"Do Me, Baby": Meli'sa Morgan (1986, No. 46 pop)
"Don't Take It Personal: Jermaine Jackson (1989, No. 64 pop)
"Don't Waste Your Time": Yarbrough & Peoples (1984, No. 48 pop)
"If Only You Knew": Patti LaBelle (1984, No. 46 pop)
"Juicy Fruit": Mtume (1983, No. 45 pop)
"Loosey's Rap": Rick James Ft. Roxanne Shante (1988)
"Love Saw It": Karyn White & Babyface (1989)
"Save the Overtime For Me": Gladys Knight and the Pips (1983, No. 66 pop)
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