Category Archives: 1986

Various Artists – Uptown Is Kickin’ It

Various Artists
Uptown Is Kickin’ It
1986
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
050/100
cover
1. Mr. Big Stuff (Heavy D & the Boyz) // 2. Why Me (Groove B. Chill) // 3. Bass Game (Finesse & Synquis) // 4. Uptown Is Kickin’ It (the Uptown Crew) // 5. I Can’t Stop (The Brothers Black) // 6. He Cuts So Fresh (Marley Marl) // 7. Stress (Woody Rock)

Like N.W.A and the Posse Uptown Is Kickin’ It is both the start of something great and an intrinsically shitty album.
Like N.W.A and the Posse it surrounds a few good acts with a bunch of embarassingly generic acts that wouldn’t be heard from ever again.

The music is alright but extremely dated ‘B-boy’ stuff.
The lyrics performed by what certainly would’ve been referred to at that time as ‘sucker MCs’ range from meh boasting and bragging (I Can’t Stop) to cringeworthily corny to obscene and corny (Why Me which is literally about soiling yourself in front of your father in law, a concept that maybe Biz Markie could’ve gotten away with, and only at that time.)

But hey, at least the Heavy D song sounds good. And him (besides Marley Marl who provides one of those old school DJ Cuts that nobody likes to hear) is the only person on here one should give a fuck about, and coicidentally the only person out of this incarnation of the ‘Uptown Posse’ to have a career. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Best track
Mr. Big Stuff
Uptown Is Kickin’ It

Recommendations
Download Mr. Big Stuff, leave the rest be. Unless you’re an Andre Harrell biographer off course.

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Bobby Brown – King of Stage

Bobby Brown
King of Stage
December 11, 1986
MCA RecordsUMG
065/100
Bobby Brown - King of Stage
1. Girlfriend // 2. Girl Next Door // 3. Baby I Wanna Tell You Something // 4. You Ain’t Been Loved Right // 5. King of Stage // 6. Love Obsession // 7. Spending Time // 8. Seventeen // 9. Your Tender Romance

While New Edition was rebooting the Platters and Maurice Starr was rebooting New Edition, Bobby Brown, whose ties with all these people were severed, was busy recording his solo-debut album King of Stage. Most people who followed New Edition would probably have sworn that Ralph, being that he sang all the leads and was arguably the best singer out the group (until Johnny Gill became a member anyway), would be not only the first one to have a solo album but would also become the brightest star. Unfortunately for Tresvant Brown got to do both those things after his bandmates voted him out of the group in late 1985.

Bobby Brown’s solo career is most remembered – when it isn’t completely and unfortunately eclipsed by the memory of all that Bobby-Whitney stuff – for his sophomore album Don’t Be Cruel, which along with debut albums by Keith Sweat and Guy helped popularise new jack swing, an R&B-mutation that combined early hip-hop’s hard-hitting drums and minimal melody with classic soul’s smoothed-out sung vocals (although most New Jack Swing artists also rapped on their own records at the very least every once in a while).

King of Stage is a rap-soul hybrid as well, but a more primitive, less integrated one. And bar the title track nothing on here could remotely be considered hip-hop or strongly hip-hop influenced like his subsequent work. Basically this album’s instrumentals are typical ’80s funk-jams and slow dancers, with one imitation RUN-DMC beat thrown in for good measure, mostly provided by Cameo-frontman Larry Blackmon as well as Isaac Hayes/Isley Brothers/Aretha Franklin songwriter Michael Lovesmith and Boston club DJ John Luongo, over which Bobby mostly sings but busts out the occasional LL Cool J’s I Need Love-esque rap verse too. The resulting album is a lot more funky, ballsy and swaggering than anything NE came up with, as was to be expected since Brown was rather vocal about resenting his (by the time of this album’s release former) group’s bubblegum image and sound, which is one of the reasons he got excommunicated by his mates in the first place. Brown appears to delight in his chance to be a grown up-type of soul singer, which results in a more than halfway decent album that’s a lot more expressive and a lot less gimmicky than what NE ever did. The comparison with Under the Blue Moon is especially beneficial (although that’s as much Under the Blue Moon‘s fault as it is King of Stage‘s merit.)

The appeal of this album is for the most part personality-based. Bobby isn’t the best singer or the best rapper around, nor is a he handed the most memorable set of songs to perform. It’s all in the fairly decent yet somewhat unremarkable zone. But then there’s Bobby’s undeniable natural charm and a boyish buoyance that do work some magic. Bob is a born entertainer. Though a confident performer he also appears to well know the limits of his gruff tenor. The vocalists that appear to inspire him are Rick James and James Brown, and though he’s nowhere near as talented as these two greats he does seem to have learnt the right lessons from them. Like the hardest working man in showbiz he punctuates his songs with the more-than-occasional joyous grunt.

Girlfriend, his first solo-single hit number one on the U.S. R&B charts when it came out and it’s a nice little ’70s inspired love song, complete with saucy sax and it would’ve slipped seamlessly onto either New Edition or All For LoveGirl Next Door is a synthy funk number that shows the Cameo influence while still allowing Bob’s individuality to shine through, and the same can be said for the similarly minded Baby I Wanna Tell You Something. On the title track Bob rhymes about over a Jam Master Jay-aping beat that appears to incorporate a James Brown vocal sample (Since this was released before the sample wars nobody is credited so one can never be sure.) Bouncy up-tempo cuts like Love Obsession and Your Tender Romance summon the mental image of Axel Foley driving his convertible through LA, and whether that works as a good thing you can make out for yourself.

Obvious missteps are Seventeen, a misguided stab social commentary on a girl getting off track and pregnant and on sex and drugs. It doesn’t only sound ridiculous and hypocritical coming from Bob, knowing that soon enough he himself would be off track and on drugs, but it also isn’t a very good song that tries to accomplish drama through crappy ’80s synths (Yes I am aware King of Stage was recorded in the ’80s), and the fairly boring ballad Spending Time that has Bob trying to breathe life into it with all his might, but accomplishing little but showing the limits of his vocal range.  As a whole however King of Stage works more often than it doesn’t.

Kudos to the people at MCA for having the sense to keep this album brief at nine songs and including mostly good ones to boot. Bobby’s debut is a pretty decent attempt at establishing a career and a musical identity outside of NE with songs such as King of Stage and Your Tender Romance, while still catering to the audience of his former group with Girlfriend and Girl Next Door. It may not have been the massive breakthrough hit he wanted, but it was succesful enough for the record label to let him record another album. And record another album he did, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.

Best tracks
Girlfriend
Girl Next Door
King of Stage
Your Tender Romance

Recommendations
If you’re into ’80s R&B that may not be very substantial but does pack a punch, and you happen to come across this for a reasonable price a purchase may be in order.


New Kids on the Block – New Kids on the Block

New Kids on the Block
New Kids on the Block
April 1, 1986
Columbia RecordsSME
063/100
NKOTB - NKOTB
1. Stop It Girl // 2. Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind) // 3. Popsicle // 4. Angel // 5. Be My Girl // 6. New Kid on the Block // 7. Are You Down // 8. I Wanna Be Loved By You // 9. Don’t Give Up On Me // 10. Treat Me Right

So it’s 1986 and New Edition was a big thing with several platinum albums under their collective belt. Bobby got the hell out of dodge, but his solo debut album was dropping soon enough, and his career was definitely going places from there, not all of them good but the man did reach the highest highs heights as well as the lowest lows of anyone in the group. The other four members dropped their first and last album as a quartet, a collection of standards that had been performed to death several times over already before any NE member had even learnt to talk, that while not being very exciting at least proved that they were still a thing. And what’s more, soon they would be joined by Johnny Gill whose dark chocolate vocals would give them soul creditials previously unattainable. So yeah Ronnie, Ricky, Ralph, Mike and Bobby (and Johnny) had all come far on the road to succes that they started walking in 1983 with their group debut Candy Girl.

And Maurice Starr, business savvy teen pop svengali was understandably pissed off about all this, because he had discovered the boys, produced their debut album and then just when the money started coming in they left him out to rot by signing to MCA records and not employing him as their producer.
Starr plotted his revenge, not only on NE but also on the entire world (*twirls moustache and laughs maniacally*) and immediately assembled another group of kids to sing and dance their way to stardom and fill his pockets. Only this time they were all white, which opened up an entirely new market, since these teen pop groups were most succesful with those audiences that could identify with or have a crush on the performers, which is the main reason why there are black Barbies on the market and main characters of all races and both sexes in sitcoms. Relatability people, the trick to selling something mass-produced is to make the consumer believe that your product is specifically about/for him/ her. And starting in 1986 there was a white version of the New Edition of the Jackson 5 on the market as well. Arguably there had been such a thing already in the form of the Osmonds, but the Osmonds were actually family like the Jacksons. NE and NKOTB were manufactured product. Especially New Kids on the Block who were recruited from five hundred auditioning boys and pieced together both by mastermind Starr.

The teenaged girls never even stood a chance.

Donnie Wahlberg, his little brother Mark, his best friend Danny Wood, one-time schoolmate Jordan Knight and his older brother Jonathan were the chosen ones, so while NKOTB weren’t all related to one another there were two pairs of brothers in the group, and they probably were all at the very least vaguely familiar with each other before they became a boyband in 1984. Well initially they were. Mark was replaced by Joey McIntyre for having ADHD concentration problems or something. This time around Starr decided not to release their debut on his Warlock label but had them signed to Columbia, so they dropped it in 1986 and then… nothing.

Apparently the teenaged girls resisted the temptation just fine, thank you very much. Maybe the sweaters and shirts the guys wore on the front cover were too godawful for the ’80s even. Anyway, Starr had some explaining to do in the Columbia offices because he hadn’t made the executives richer. And then Columbia didn’t release NKOTB from their contracts, nor did they fire Starr as the group’s producer, which is a peculiar thing to do for a record company, but it paid off ultimately because their ’88 sophomore album, backed by better marketing sold seventeen million copies worldwide. Then in a brilliant bit of marketing Columbia decided to release a third single off their debut right in the middle of promoting their sophomore in the summer of ’89. That song, a Delphonics Cover titled Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind) with Jordan on leads, became a hit, like every NKOTB song released in that day and age and the debut went triple platinum after gather gathering dust on record store shelves for three years, kinda like how Blunted of Reality rode the Score‘s coattails in 1996.

So what does it actually sound like? Well, New Kids on the Block sounds exactly like Candy Girl. There’s the same jingling guitars, the same vocoder work courtesy of Starr himself, there’s a different Michael Jackson emulator doing most of the leads (Joey), there’s a kid with a somewhat gruffer voice busting out the occasional rap filling Bobby’s roll (Donnie), there’s a lot of saccharine love songs, there’s a primitive rap jam with redundant handclaps  where everyone takes a turn behind the mic. If Maurice Starr learnt any new tricks since creating Candy Girl he sure goes out of his way to hide it from the listener. Someone should take a time machine to 1997 and hand this album over to Puff Diddy and Pastor Ma$e because they sampled the shit out of songs off NE’s debut on several occasions but appear to have completely overlooked this one as a source of recycle-able grooves.

The albums are so similar in fact that I don’t even have to think of a new end for this review:
Most of these songs are sunny, mildly funky electronic pop-soul concoctions that may be a bit too cheerful, saccharine and exuberant for some people’s tastes (New Kids on the Block was after all the world’s second manufactured, producer-groomed boyband) but as far as teen-pop goes this is pretty terrific stuff. Hooky hooks, danceable instrumentation and lyrics that are simple but never nonsensical. Stop It GirlPopsicle and Angel stand out in particular, although Are You Down and Treat Me Right (can you guess the recurring theme in these songs?) don’t fall far behind.

Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind?) and I Wanna Be Loved By You are respectively pretty sweet death-of-puppy-love and yearning-for-puppy-love ballads, and although Joey can’t really fuck with mid-’70s Michael in this type of song (who can really?) he’s still got a lot more soul than your average teen heartthrob in the Justin Bieber/ Donny Osmond category.

New Kids on the Block is, like most teen pop albums, pure uncut fluff. It is however pretty good fluff. And while it doesn’t even hint at the greatness what was  to come in the form of follow-up albums and solo projects by its various members it is more often than not bouncy, groovy, catchy music that’ll get you to tap your foot or nod you head or do whatever your music listening tic forces you to do. And for that it warrants a revisit, although you may want to pick up Candy Girl by New Edition first because it’s a slightly better album.

Best tracks
Stop It Girl
Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind)
Popsicle
Angel
I Wanna Be Loved By You

Recommendations
Pick this up if you find it for a reasonable price. It isn’t very substantial or very original, but the guys have nice voices and Maurice Starr gave them catchy songs. And if you don’t take it too seriously and don’t over-analise it you can have a lot of fun with it.


New Edition – Under the Blue Moon

New Edition
Under the Blue Moon
October 10, 1986
MCA RecordsUMG
060/100
(Photo: MCA Records)
1. Earth Angel // 2. A Million to One // 3. Duke of Earl // 4. (Hey There) Lonely Girl // 5. A Thousand Miles Away // 6. What’s Your Name // 7. Tears on My Pillow (feat. Little Anthony) // 8. Blue Moon // 9. Since I Don’t Have You // 10. Bring Back the Memories

Somewhere between the release of All For Love and the recording of this album the bad boy of the group Bobby Brown left New Edition semi-volontarily to pursue a solo-career; He was allegedly voted out by the other members. What does one do after essentially severing one’s own testicles? If you’re a musical entity then recording the most delicate album of your career would be a plausible answer. And with New Edition you would be entirely correct for assuming that this is what they did. The quartet incarnation of NE had scored a hit single with Earth Angel, a cover of a seminal ’50s doo-wop hit off the Karate Kid soundtrack, so MCA commissioned a full album of 1950s and ’60s R&B standards filtred through the minds, bodies, souls and voices of Ronnie, Ricky, Mike and Ralph, as well as the mid-’80s productions of Freddie Perren. The results are both overly cotton candy sweet and sticky and sort of visionary: R&B artists would record this sort of retro cover-songs and cover-albums more and more often as a reaction to New Jack Swing’s modernist coupe d’état that would be instigated by among others – ironically enough – former NE member Bobby Brown some two years from this album’s release.

What keeps this love boat from going the way of the Titanic is the fact that this album is kept brief enough not to irritate, just over half an hour to be exact. This leaves the impression that Under the Blue Moon was recorded as a quick filler album  to show the fans that yes NE was alive and well without Bobby Brown, thank you very much, and that’s probably because it is. Without any defiance to speak of that is a shitty artistic statement if ever there were one. And the closest thing to defiance that the boys do on here is invite Little Anthony of seminal Doo Wop group Little Anthony and the Imperials to harmonise with them on Tears on My Pillow as a sort of audition for Bobby’s replacement without so much as explicitly stating the fact (History teaches us that he didn’t make it…), guess Bobby took all the defiance with him.

Still New Edition work well enough here as a blend of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the Platters, and lead singer Tresvant gets to flex his voice and show his range a little bit, which gives him some more artistic credibility than he had before, as does Ricky Bell with his cover of (Hey There) Lonely Girl. But that’s hardly enough to make this a must-listen. After all competent singing of cover versions of songs that have been performed in a similar vein elsewhere, but better, are often as grating as terrible music making (word to the Voice and similar-minded shows), and this is exactly what’s on display on this album for the most part.

The only exceptions to this are a banging up-tempo version of Blue Moon, the hit version of Earth Angel – probably because they were just trying something new when they recorded the song rather than churning out R&B standard #528 as they did with most other songs on here – and the only original song Bring Back the Memories whose title doubles as the album’s mission statement. These songs are bright with the youthful freshness that made the boys from Boston a force to be reckoned with in the first place.

The rest however is only of interest to collectors of everything NE, your sixty seven year old aunt and/or hardcore doo-wopsters who insist on having heard every version of Since I Don’t Have You that’s there to be heard.

Best tracks
Earth Angel
Blue Moon
Bring Back the Memories

Recommendations
Don’t bother. While this isn’t a horrible album there are much better R&B standards albums and much better NE albums out there.