Sunday, August 3, 2014

The "Real" Thing: Love on Top of Love on Top of Love

What is it about real love? Somebody's always looking for it, losing it, or singing about it -- literally. In the '80s and '90s, "Real Love" made for one of the most overused titles in pop, country and R&B and some pretty decent songs. Then in 2010, a band called Beach House finally nailed the essence of real love with a "Real Love": "It finds you somewhere with your back to it." It only took 30 years!

Now, here's a musical history of "Real Love" in 14 songs.

"Real Love" The Doobie Brothers (1980) It must have been the afterglow from 1979's Grammy-winning chart-topping Minute By Minute album that lit up The Doobie Brothers' "Real Love" sent it burning up Billboard's Hot 100 in 1980 to No. 5 because as songs from the band's Michael McDonald era go, it's no match for lesser chart hits like "Takin' It to the Streets" (No. 13, 1976) and "Minute By Minute" (No. 14, 1979).

"Real Love" Lakeside (1983) A mostly forgotten band from the Midnight Star school of early '80s electro-funk-R&B, Lakeside is best remembered for 1980's "Fantastic Voyage" (No. 1 R&B, No. 55 pop), which, in turn, is best remembered as the sample source for Coolio's own "Fantastic Voyage," a 1994 No. 3 Hot 100 hit. Better to be remembered for someone else's song than no song at all.

"Real Love" Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers (1985) To quote the title of a previous Dolly Parton No. 1, old flames, like the one that fired up the country superstars' second joint No. 1 country hit, can't hold a candle to "Islands in the Stream."

"Real Love" El DeBarge (1989) My favorite "Real Love" of the 20th century, and yet of all the ones that were released as singles (Lakeside's aside), the smallest hit. Although it went Top 10 on the R&B chart (No. 8), it never touched the Hot 100.

"Real Love" Jody Watley (1989) Like "Looking for a New Love," Watley's "Real Love" also stalled in the Hot 100's runner-up position, which, commercially speaking, nonetheless qualifies it as the greatest "Real Love" of all.

"Real Love" Stephanie Mills (1989) I bought Mills' final gold album on cassette shortly after it came out, and four out of every five times I listened to it, I probably fast forwarded through Track 2 ("Real Love") to get from the opening song ("Something in the Way [You Make Me Feel]," a No. 1 R&B single) to the title track (also a No. 1 hit) faster.

"Real Love" Skyy (1990) Now here's a neat coincidence. Nine months after Jody Watley's "Real Love" preceded Skyy's comeback hit "Start of a Romance" at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Black Singles (as it was named from June of 1982 through October of 1990), Skyy came back again, topping the R&B hit list with its own "Real Love." It was the third Top 10 R&B hit with that title in less than one year.

"Real Love" Lisa Stansfield (1991) My favorite new artist of the early '90s regarded her "Real Love" highly enough to make it the title song of her sophomore album, which probably deserved to be called All Woman, after its second single and the third of her three No. 1 R&B hits.

"The Real Love" Bob Seger (1991) If it weren't for Seger's No. 24 single, he would have gone down in history as one of rock era's few established Top 40 artists who scored their biggest hit (in Seger's case, "Shakedown," his only No. 1, from 1987) and then never again hit the Top 40. That dubious distinction, by the way, goes to Billy Squier, Deniece Williams, Sweet Sensation, James Ingram and Cher, the latter four of whom went to No. 1 with their Top 40 swan songs. In the case of collaboration king Ingram, his 1990 No. 1 "I Don't Have a Heart" wasn't his biggest No. 1 (an honor that goes to 1983's "Baby, Come to Me," a duet with Patti Austin), but it was his first and final solo single to chart on the Hot 100.

"Gimme Real Love" Helen Bruner (1991) The house classic that made Bruner a Friday night (at Limelight) and Saturday night (at the Roxy) fixture in my life during my first months in New York City.

"Real Love" Mary J. Blige (1992) What did Blige's sophomore single ("Real Love") have that her debut ("You Remind Me") didn't? Although both topped the R&B chart, "Real Love" was also a Top 10 crossover (No. 7), while "You Remind Me" topped out at a relatively lowly No. 29.

"Real Love" Slaughter (1992) This third-tier early '90s hair-metal band had more of a Hot 100 presence (four chart hits) than I remembered. It began with the group's 1990 debut ("Up All Night," No. 27), peaked commercially and creatively with 1991's "Fly to the Angels (No. 19), and ended with its take on the subject of the day (No. 69).

"Real Love" The Beatles (1998) One of those "new" Beatles songs from the '90s that the world probably could have done without. The John Lennon solo outtake that the surviving Beatles plundered for the band's Anthology 2, went to No. 11, becoming the band's final Top 40 hit to date.

"Real Love" Beach House (2010) I spent so much time listening to "Zebra" on repeat when I first discovered Beach House that it took me forever to get past the opening song on the underground buzz band's 2010 album, Teen Dream. That might explain why I went so long thinking frontwoman Victoria Legrand was actually a guy who sings like a girl, for on "Real Love" (track 9), she is, to quote the aforementioned Lisa Stansfield, all woman -- tough, vulnerable and achingly lovely.

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