The Year In R&B: 1986 and 1987

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
As we near the eventual end of the year in R&B series, one thing that holds true is that R&B music in the 80s was something special to listen to. While artists like Prince and Michael Jackson blurred the lines between soul, pop, and R&B, the basis of the music still rested well within R&B guidelines. So today, we are doing something different, and including two classic years in R&B, 1986 and 1987. You'll hear about albums from Janet Jackson, the aforementioned Prince and Michael Jackson, and many more. Whether or not 1986 and 1987 are your favorite years in the genre, they both deserve recognition. Let's get into it.

1986 for me is all about two albums. First, Parade. Yeah, I know. It's not full-on R&B. Sue me. But, it's Prince and automatically amazing. Plus, we've discussed why this album was greatness in a previous post.

Now, my second favorite album of '86 (hey KRIT) was Rapture. It's an Anita Baker album in which she's spilling her soul and setting up the world of husky-voiced songstresses. There's really nothing else you can ask for. Plus, "Sweet Love" was--and is--legitimately one hell of a song. If you haven't heard it (for whatever sad reason), do so now.

Of course, you had some classic albums drop this year. For instance, Control from Janet was that crack. "Rumors" is a dope track that feels fresh even now. On that note, Club Nouveau made their debut in 1986. However, for me, Parade and Rapture capture the year perfectly. It was a convoluted but beautiful mix of sounds, melodies, evolution and love.

Now, 1987. Another year, another classic Prince album. Do I like Sign O' The Times more than Parade or Around the World in a Day? Eh, not entirely. But, it's still friggin' amazing. "Adore," on its own, trumps most artists' entire discographies. Yep. I said it. If you take nothing else away from this truncated thought process on the year, take away that Sign was a classic album and you need it in your life, like, last year.

There’s something about eighties R&B that never loses its appeal. When we listen to it 3 decades later, it still sounds amazing. Of course, a part of that is the memories that are attached to it but even more, I personally think that the purity of the genre was at its peak. There was an innocence, an honesty and even when the topic got a little “racy”, it remained tasteful and a smooth listen. The last half of the decade, while still remaining on the same path, would start to see a slight change. The production would incorporate a tiny bit more pop mixed with 70’s funk. Not only would this influence the entire decade of the nineties in R&B, but it gave us some incredible releases. This time we’re doing things a little different, while DAR usually focuses on one year at a time, today we get to talk about both 1986 and 1987, which were both incredible years. Here are my favorites starting with ’86:

The legendary and always entertaining artist known at the time as Prince releases his “Parade” album, which served to be an extension of his early eighties look of ruffled shirts, curly hair and now slicked back hair. His cropped shirt and eccentric pose on the album cover would serve as a great indicator of what to expect on this. With only 12 tracks spread over two sides, it gave us some classic tracks (mainly “Kiss” which was featured in the movie “Pretty Woman”) and of course, what Prince is known for: variation, innovation and ever changing approaches to his album concepts. Prince is probably the only artist who managed to release an album every year and keep fans engaged and anticipating each one. “Parade” is widely considered the best release this year.

I love the eighties for giving us the best and most impactful albums from Janet Jackson. ’86 was the year Janet gave us her “Control” album. It’s never easy to live in the shadows of MJ, but with this release she proved that she could write, sing, and co-produce her album, so in other words, she is incredibly talented and can hold her own. Of the 9 tracks on here, 7 of them were singles and the lead “What Have You Done For Me Lately” would take over the year. (If anyone can go up against Prince it’s her). Her empowerment, innovation and forward thinking has always inspired and influenced fellow female artists and the same happened after this release. What I love most though, is that this album caught the attention of Eddie Murphy who would do a whole bit in “Raw” around “What have you done for me lately”, which is hilarious! Janet’s talent is always appreciated so any year that sees a release from her is bound to be a great one.

I’m only going to mention this album because it has one of the most entertaining, fun sing-along songs plus it was featured in one of my favorite movies. Cameo releases “Word Up!” which is the album to thank for “Candy” (which is responsible for the bachelor party scene in The Best Man). There’s never enough good things to say about this song, it’s fun, it’s upbeat and the instrumentals are incredible. The whole album is in the same vein, but this is the stand out song on the entire thing.

1986 had a good number of notable releases, although I only shared a few. It was a great precursor to 87, which also had a bunch of releases. My favorites in ’87 are nothing short of classics and each came from legendary artists.

After having already released 20 albums of smooth ballads, great piano instrumentals and his soothing vocals we get another Stevie Wonder release in “Characters” it’s a short 10 track, “two-sided” album with the most amazing collaborations. Michael Jackson is a featured vocalist, Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar and of course B.B King as well. Since each appear on different tracks, there’s something to look forward to the whole way through. Stevie Wonder always delivers at an exceptional level and of course the commercial success and award nominations/wins confirm the claim.

Prince, the man who never rests releases “Sign O’ The Times” and he took the music scene by storm with this. The commercial success of each single and the album is unmatched (maybe Thriller beats it by a few) but this landed Prince on “all time best lists” for just about everything. “If I Was Your Girlfriend” is the fan favorite and although it wasn’t the first single released off the album, it became an instant chart topper. Much like his release the year before, Prince’s innovation, vocal talent and writing ability leaves listeners in awe and wonder. How can he be THIS good ALL the time? Truly legendary and again his album is a highlight of the year.

1987 was also the year Michael Jackson released “Bad” and this is my favorite album in his entire discography and for me personally, this will forever be the greatest album every released. Period. As much as I love and respect Stevie and Prince, no one can write, perform and sing like Michael can and for that reason, I rank this above the others. From beginning to end, this is pure perfection and an extraordinary listen. From “The Way You Make Me Feel” to “Smooth Criminal” to “Dirty Diana” to “Another Part Of Me” to “Man In The Mirror” all way to “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, MJ had something for everyone (even the videos were amazing). There are no words that can ever do his albums justice, and to say they are perfect in every way is an understatement. “Bad” was and still is one of the greatest albums of all time and we have ’87 to thank for it.

Both these years were great for fans, as legends were doing legendary things and releasing albums that would be considered classics, all the while creating a foundation for so many others. I know there are several other releases in both years, but these ones shaped my (and I’m sure many others’) appreciation for R&B.

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal 
-For me, 1986 will be about all the other albums that people forgot in R&B. Surface, Phyllis Hyman and her classic Living All Alone, along with a slept on Patti Labelle album, Loose Ends, Levert, Midnight Star, Vesta, Jermaine Jackson, and Billy Ocean all created some great albums and songs that still sound good today. Of course, the three biggest releases were Prince with Parade, Janet with her classic Control, and Anita Baker with Rapture, all of which have held up very well musically after 30 years. The debut of Babyface also took place this year with his album Lovers, and it was one of my favorites also this year. 1986 was truly a fun year musically and helped set a tone for 1987.

1987, on the other hand, is an interesting year to talk about. It doesn't have an extreme amount of releases to talk, but the releases were mostly all classics from Prince with his greatest album IMO "Sign O' The Times" and my all time favorite song "Adore", Michael Jackson with his greatest album "Bad", Diana Ross another solid album, and the Isley Brothers with their slept on classic "Smooth Sailin". 1987 had some great moments and sounds, and when talking my two favorite albums from Prince and MJ, that makes the year even better. When we look back at those two years, we have to appreciate the musical quality we were given over that short period.



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