Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Let's Groove: '80s R&B Songs That Deserve More Love Today

New wave, '80s pop and hair metal get all the retro love, but the Ronald Reagan decade was just as good to R&B (barring Billboard magazine's unfortunate rechristening of the R&B singles chart as "Hot Black Singles" from 1982 to 1990). A Facebook friend recently drove that point home when she posted several great '80s Dazz Band singles that weren't the group's lone pop crossover hit, "Let It Whip" (No. 5, pop, No. 1, R&B, 1982).

I'd much rather reminisce about my middle school years to the dated-but-still-delicious dance-jazz strains of Dazz Band's "Joystick" (No. 61, pop, No. 9, R&B, 1983), "Swoop (I'm Yours)" (No. 12, R&B, 1984), and "Let It All Blow" (No. 84, pop, No. 9, R&B, 1984), the latter two of which I owned on 45, though only the most astute disciples of '80s R&B (which, apparently, would include my Facebook friend) probably even know them at all. Perhaps even more surprising than their lack of crossover success back then is how great they still sound now, 30 years on.

Here are 10 other underrated '80s R&B grooves that we should all still be jammin' on today.

"Jam on It" Newcleus (No. 56, pop, No. 9, R&B, 1984) And to think, the first time I heard it, I thought it had to be some kind of a joke. Electro-hip hop honorable mentions: "Pack Jam" and "Space Cowboy" by The Jonzun Crew (featuring Larry Johnson (aka Maurice Starr), later discoverer of New Edition and creator of New Kids on the Block), "Scorpio" by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five and "Egypt, Egypt" by The Egyptian Lover.

"Digital Display" Ready for the World" (No. 21, pop, No. 4, R&B, 1985) Better, though not bigger, than the R&B boy band's other two Top 40 crossover hits, the No. 1 "Oh Sheila" (also from the self-titled debut, which I bought on vinyl via one of those mail-order record clubs -- Get 8 for a penny now, buy three more at full price in the next three years! -- that were so popular in the '80s) and the No. 9 "Love You Down."

"Computer Love" Zapp (No. 8, R&B, 1985) Another awesome musical relic from the dawn of the digital age, featuring vocals from the great Shirley Murdock (see below), who co-wrote the song with Roger Troutman, the late singer-songwriter, producer and Zapp frontman who would go on to score a massive solo hit with "I Wanna Be Your Man" (No. 3, pop, No. 1, R&B, 1987). Considering that we've gone from finding love online in the '90s and '00s to tracking it down on our mobile phones in the 2010s, I'd say this might be one of the most prescient songs of the decade.

"As We Lay" Shirley Murdock (No. 23, pop, No. 5, R&B, 1986) The first of Murdock's three No. 5 R&B singles (the other two being "Go On Without You" and "Husband," yet another cheater's prayer), all of which I could listen to on repeat all night long.

"Give Me Tonight" Shannon (No. 46, pop, No. 6, R&B, 1984) "Let the Music Play" was deservedly a No. 8 hit on Billboard's Hot 100 in 1983 -- her lone song to chart inside the Top 40 -- but on a perfect Hot 100, at least two of Shannon's follow-up singles, this and "Do You Wanna Get Away" (No. 49, pop, No. 13, R&B, 1985), would have scaled identical heights.

"Save Your Love (For # 1)" René & Angela (No. 101, pop, No. 1, R&B, 1985) Before she became one of the most successful R&B producers of the '80s and the lone female in that club (her client list included Stephanie Mills, Sheena Easton and The Isley Brothers), Angela Winbush was the star attraction of the duo that scored one of the earliest chart hits to merge R&B and rap. I used to own the cleverly titled parent album Street Called Desire on vinyl, and today, along with select cuts from Winbush's three solo albums (including "Angel," a No. 1 R&B hit in 1987 and "Hello Beloved," a 1988 duet with her future husband/ex-husband Ronald Isley), it remains in medium rotation in my everyday life (in mp3 form, on my iPod, not on my turntable).

"Pilot Error" Stephanie Mills (No. 12, R&B, 1983) One of '80s R&B's top female stars only managed two crossover pop hits (including 1980's "Never Knew Love Like This Before," which hit No. 6 on the Hot 100 but only got to No. 12 on the R&B list). Unfortunately, her nine Top 10 R&B singles in the '80s didn't include highlights like "Pilot Error" and "Rising Desire" (No. 11, 1986).

"Secret Rendezvous" Karyn White (No. 6, pop, No. 4, R&B, 1989) Though it was the biggest of her three Top 10 pop singles from her eponymous 1988 platinum debut album, the third was totally eclipsed by her second, "Superwoman," an up-with-female-power anthem that established what would become a recurring R&B theme in the '90s and beyond.

"Joy and Pain" Donna Allen (No. 3, R&B, 1989) Want to see what true artistic growth looks and sounds like? Check out Allen's in the four years between her first hit, "Serious" (No. 21, pop, No. 5, R&B, 1985), and her best hit.

Meli'sa Morgan "Do Me Baby" (No. 46, pop, No. 1, R&B, 1986) Four years before the dawn of the next decade when Sinead O'Connor blew up with "Nothing Compares 2 U," Morgan had already beaten Prince at his own song.

No comments: