The Year In R&B: 1988

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal 
-1988 was a great year. For hip hop, for sports, and for the world in general (minus the implementation of the crack epidemic growing), it was a really good year. In R&B, the year would see some amazing album releases and songs, as Michael Jackson carried over the momentum from his 1987 classic Bad and released his Moonwalker "movie", and Bobby Brown would dominate the year with one of the greatest albums of all time in "Don't Be Cruel". The Babyface assisted album would take over the charts and truly captivate the world over. He had nothing but greatness on that album, and I still go back and revisit it monthly because it's the apex of New Jack Swing, which is one of my favorite subgenres in R&B history and one of the greatest times in music period.

Speaking of New Jack Swing, we had Guy debut with their self titled first album, full of hits like "Groove Me", "I Like", and of course the epic "Piece Of My Love". Al B. Sure and his unibrow debuted this year, with the New Jack classic In Effect Mode that spawned his huge single "Nite and Day", and my personal favorite "Off On Your Own (Girl)". Troop would release a self titled album, the underrated Karyn White would release her self titled album, and Levert even put out a project this year, "Just Coolin". Luther Vandross and Anita Baker kept the music flowing with two of their best albums in Any Love and Giving You The Best That I Got. The truth is, these albums in 1988 were all special and deserved to be recognized as such. There's two albums that I haven't mentioned yet, but I will. However, let's hear the team and their opinion on this year and the releases.

I don't really have much to say for 1988 except it's given us some classic music. It's hard to put it in words, but simply put, the year gave us classic albums and songs. If you're not familiar with it, stop reading me and get familiar with it. From Bobby Brown to Al B. Sure (with the hair all wavy) to Tracie Spencer--who when she came back out in the late 90s, I had a crush on for some reason--you had hits after hits after hits. Hell, you even got a Luther and Chaka Khan album out of this year. Yeah. 1988 was the shit. So, stop reading me (for, like, right now...then come back) and check out the classics this year had to offer. Besides, it's my birth year. Can't fake on 1988 ever.

If there is one year that is very important to me in R&B it’s 1988. The reasons are simple, as it was one of the first years I was exposed to the genre. In some ways, it’s the year I attribute to be the foundation and the one that paved the way for so many artists who would become my favorites in later years. Another reason I love it so much is because it serves as the best “dose” of nostalgia. Each of the releases I’m about to mention spark a thread of memories that essentially shaped my appreciation and love for not only the genre, but music.

For those who don’t quite remember the year, 1988 was the year Milli Vanilli released their debut “All Or Nothing” and it was the album that took the nation by storm. These two captured audiences and became favorites almost instantly. “Girl You Know It’s True”, “All Or Nothing” and “Baby Don’t Forget My Number” took over radio. Milli Vanilli basked in this success for only a short time until in 1990 when their entire world crumbled and ultimately forced the duo to dissolve. As a kid, I liked Milli Vanilli, as they were the epitome of the late 80’s, with their long hair, cinched waist acid washed jeans and their (now) hilarious dance moves. “Their” songs were catchy, they were sappy and they brought an element of pop that was missing at the time. Perhaps this isn't R&B per se, but I consider it to be. Although Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan are complete and utter imposters, they were both marketed well and it worked for them for the short time they remained in the limelight.

This next one doesn’t come in the form of an audio album, but rather a film. 1988 gave us Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalker”, which served two purposes:

1. It was a compilation of short film-like videos of songs from his “Bad” album 
2. It was a mini biography of his life dating back to the years of Jackson 5 until his “Bad” world tour. 

Any year that sees a release in any form from Michael Jackson is guaranteed to be a great year musically. This film gave us the visual for “Man In The Mirror”(my most favorite in his catalog to this day) and “Smooth Criminal”, as well as so many others. The great thing about this was you didn’t have to own the film to see it, it was also broadcasted on TV some time later. Being able to see the work that MJ did from his early years up until that point was phenomenal.

One of my favorite vocalists ever would release her third studio album. Sade would give us “Stronger Than Pride”, as she was recognized as a powerhouse after her debut and kept that momentum going. This is an album that gives us her emotional lyrics coupled with her sultry and soothing vocals. There were a few singles off this album and each one was better than the other. “Paradise”, “Haunt Me” and “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” resonated well with audiences. Sade has always made chart topping albums and this was no different. This was another highlight release this year.

Another debut comes from Vanessa Williams who releases “The Right Stuff”. While no one knew what to expect from her since this was the debut, she sort of came with a bit of everything. “Dance-y” pop style songs as well emotional and sensitive ones. To me, this release wasn’t great but it was well received, perhaps because of the excessive amount of producers and writers, although it did well enough that she would go on to have quite a presence in R&B in later years with other releases. Her vocals were good, but it was her appearance and overall image that won audiences over. She appealed to the men while being relatable to the ladies. Regardless of how you feel about this specific album, it set the groundwork for her future projects and that’s never a bad thing.

1988 also had another one of my favorite releases in “Forever Your Girl” from Paula Abdul. I actually remember this release because there were a ton of singles and the videos were everywhere. “Opposites Attract”, “Straight Up” “Cold Hearted” and the title track were everywhere. This was one album that dominated charts because she truly had a variation from track to track. She was very pop-dance, but managed to keep the themes in line with R&B and that’s what made her and this release so appealing. We also would hear her music in movies in the late 80’s and even a Coca-Cola commercial. Her heavily dance focused videos along with the cartoon cat that appeared alongside her worked and she dominated the charts in 88.

These weren’t the only releases of the year, but they were the albums that stood out. Although R&B would take on a whole new sound by the mid ‘90’s I’d like to think this was a starting point. It was all fun, all love and little heartbreak…I appreciated it!

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal 
-How no one else mentioned the classic New Edition project "Heartbreak", I'll never know. However, I was waiting to mention it so that I could talk about it slightly more in detail. Before I do that, I want to reference the trifecta in lightskin women from 1988 that released albums, all three of whom Porsha just mentioned. Paula Abdul was never my favorite, but she captivated the world and her music was catchy. I never had a big attraction to her, but I was really into Sade and had a huge crush of Vanessa Williams. While Vanessa wasn't that talented musically to me, her beauty was always something to enjoy. However, Sade? A whole different animal. Sade was so talented and the band around her helped to make her 1988 release Stronger Than Pride a potential classic on the year. These three women really held it down for the females alongside Anita Baker and Karyn White.

Now, to be fair, the other releases in 1988 that I appreciated  worked in a different manner than the New Edition album. This New Edition album had the harmony, the songs, and the true R&B feel while providing us with true anthems to play consistently. Bobby Brown owned the year with Don't Be Cruel, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that New Edition was right there with the 2nd best release of the year. From the tracks reminiscent of innocence like "If It Isn't Love" to coming of age songs like "Boys to Men", and of course "Can You Stand The Rain", the vocals of Johnny Gill on this album really made it that much better. Ralph Tresvant was the lead vocal still, but Johnny had a deeper sound that improved the harmony and better vocal runs than most singers at the time. From top to bottom, this Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis helmed album was truly amazing.

When I look back at 1988, there are three albums that stick with me heavily, and those are rooted in New Jack Swing: Bobby Brown's Don't Be Cruel, New Edition's Heartbreak, and Guy's self titled album. These are the best of the best. If you will excuse me, I'm about to turn up the volume to these right now.



Popular Posts