DAR Music: 9 Classic 80's R&B/Soul Singles

By @TrueGodImmortal

The 80's were such a great time in music. In the heyday of Michael Jackson and Prince, there were so many great artists to come along and make their impact felt. The R&B genre was at a high pace, blending in their traditional smooth soulful sound with more risky, electric, and upbeat sounds. For me, the 80's represent one of my favorite times in music, and since we covered the 90's and their classic singles last week, why not pay homage to the 80's in the same way? Let's take a look at 9 classic singles from the 80's.

*New Edition- Mr. Telephone Man (1984)

-The greatest group of the 80s delivered with their most infamous single from their 2nd album. The early years of New Edition showcased their youth at full force and perhaps there's no other song in their catalog that drives that home more than this one. The song, like a number of early NE tracks has a Jackson 5 vibe to it, with Ralph handling the main vocals. The concept is hilarious, as the group details trying to reach their girls, but they are hung up on or get a click every time, and they contact the telephone operator to help. As silly as the concept is, the song just flows very well, as the hook, production, the bridge, and the layering of the vocals are all perfect. Credit has to be given to the writer and producer of the song, Ray Parker Jr., an underrated name of the 80's as well.

*Babyface- Whip Appeal (1989)

-Many people look at Babyface and his music and see his contributions to others as his legacy. While his larger legacy is based around his legendary songwriting and producing abilities, his own personal music legacy is equally important. With the release of his 2nd album Tender Lover, Babyface delivered one of the biggest hits of his career with this single. The single took off more so in 1990, but the album itself was released in 1989, and as a result, this just makes the list. This is Babyface at his simp best, assisted by Pebbles and L.A. Reid for production and songwriting here. The verses, the hook, even the vocal adlibs are perfect on this one, making it a true classic.

*Debarge- I Like It (1982)

-Though I think Switch was the better Debarge based group, I can't deny the hits and popularity of the larger family group. With the release of their 2nd album, the group would capture the attention and adoration of the masses, and this is one of the biggest reasons why. This song is a big favorite of mine, with the production being a big factor. The horns over the drums make for a lush sound, and the opening verse is honestly one of the smoothest opening verses for a song in the 80's. From that opening verse to the hook to the bridge, this song is perfection and in my opinion, the greatest Debarge song by a wide margin. A lot of credit has to be given to Randy, Bunny, and El Debarge for writing this and Iris Gordy for producing this and having the vision to tell El to sing as high as he could, especially near the end. It worked to perfection.

*Bobby Brown- Rock Wit'cha (1988)

-There was no way I could talk the 80's and not mention a Bobby Brown track. His 2nd solo album, Don't Be Cruel, is one of the best albums of the decade and there were so many singles I could have chosen for this list. You could literally pick any single from that album and it's a classic, but in many ways, "Rock Wit'cha" is one of the more underrated singles in Bobby's career. We talk a lot about "Every Little Step", "My Prerogative", even "Roni", but "Rock Wit'cha" is one of the best ballads of the decade. It's a bedroom anthem and of course, Babyface and L.A. Reid handle the songwriting and production, as they did with a majority of the album. This is just a very well put together song, and Bobby owns the track throughout, coasting vocally over the production. The layered vocals on the hook backed by the melody are infectious and 30 years later, this song is still a timeless gem. I can play this now multiple times and still not get tired of it. That's the mark of a classic.

*Cherelle and Alexander O'Neal- Saturday Love (1985)

-Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were undefeated in the 80's. Their production and songwriting abilities were top notch and they crafted nothing but hits for artists they worked with. While their New Edition and Janet Jackson work is probably my favorite of their 80's catalog, this song might be their most catchy. Cherelle had a nice voice and she had the look, and Alexander O'Neal was the man at the time. With the smooth production backing them and their vocals together, Cherelle and Alexander gave us one of the most timeless songs of the decade. I don't think there are many people in the entire world who don't at least know the hook to this song, as it's one of the most infectious hooks in music history. There's no denying this is a classic.

*The S.O.S. Band- Tell Me If You Still Care (1983)

-You might not even recognize this song. Some of you, at least. But you know this song. You've heard the infamous "tellllllll me.... if you still care.... about me" numerous times and interpolations of this hook from various sources, but this is the original and it's absolutely amazing. The way the verses are structured are perfect, as it starts smooth and simple then builds to a bridge like ending and leads right into the harmonious chorus, which is of course the highlight of the song. The production is soulful in a way, with a smooth bass line that complements the vocal inflections of each singer on 4 separate verses of the song. Of all the songs on this list, this might be the most underrated, but this is a true classic.

*Phyllis Hyman- Living All Alone (1986)

-Musical genius runs in my family apparently. You might be confused by that statement, but to sum it up, Phyllis Hyman was my cousin. I never got to meet her, nor do I know much about her personally outside of the few stories from my family, but blood is blood. With that being said, my cousin was seemingly troubled and sought solace in letting that pain out in music and this song was the prime example of that. Her voice was raw yet polished and the way she sings this song hits you harder than you would expect. Phyllis is one of the unsung heroes for female R&B artists and her displays of hurt and vulnerability in her music made her relatable to many other women and men could appreciate the music. This song, the title track for her album might be her most famous single with the smooth yet soulful production with a booming drum pattern and  horns that help complement her voice perfectly. The verses build from a slight whisper/calm to the resounding hook and this is where the song reaches its apex. Phyllis delivered a timeless gem with this one.

*Zapp And Roger- Computer Love (1986)

-Sure, Autotune is almost standard with music these days, whether hip hop or R&B (unfortunately), but years ago, there was one man who could execute utilizing the vocoder better than anyone around. That man was Roger Troutman. He was simply a legend in his own right and because of his Vocoder usage, the music world was never the same again. One of the greatest uses of the vocoder came on this Charlie Wilson and Shirley Murdock assisted classic, with a booming bass line and resounding drums, and amazing vocals. It's one of the smoothest songs of the entire decade, from top to bottom and if you've ever wanted to see an example of the true depth of the genius of Roger Troutman, look no further than this song. It was a song that in so many ways was ahead of its time and it still sounds as good as it did when it first came out, a sign of a true timeless classic.

*Anita Baker- Caught Up In The Rapture (1986)

-Of course, no 80's R&B list is complete without Anita Baker. Personally, I would consider her to be the premier female artist of the genre in the decade. She made hits, including the iconic "Sweet Love", but my personal favorite has to be this one. It's Anita at her highest peak, owning this Gary Glenn and Dianne Quander penned ballad, with the smoothest production from Michael J. Powell. The production feels majestic when it starts and moves to traditional ballad territory as the song progresses, but Anita and her strong vocals against this melody is a match made in heaven. This, like the other songs listed here, is a true classic and one of the greatest songs of the decade, not just a single.



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