I recently listened to D’Angelo’s 1995 debut album Brown Sugar for the first time in forever, and I was surprised by how well it holds up. Unlike, say, Missy Elliott’s two-years-younger debut, Supa Dupa Fly, which I also recently revisited, it could be released today and not sound like a relic from a pre-historic musical age. That said, timelessness is not necessarily the key characteristic of timeless R&B. Just because an R&B song reeks of the era that launched it doesn’t mean it can’t sound just as good on an iPod as it did on Cassingle or 45. Some 40-something minutes of proof…
“Giving You the Benefit” Pebbles Early ’90s Babyface/L.A. Reid over-production at its very best, and Pebbles was hot in therre. I still like to pretend that she’s singing “I can be a bitch, but I choose not to” at the bridge.
“Crazy for You” Sybil featuring Salt-N-Pepa You can’t get more 1990 than Sybil’s crazy turn-of-the-decade outfits in the video, a Salt-N-Pepa guest rap (also employed by the aforementioned Pebbles two singles later on “Backyard”), and the word “buggin’,” but this song, not her 1989 cover of Dionne Warwick’s “Don’t Make Me Over,” her lone Top 40 hit in the U.S. (No. 20), will forever be the jam for which I fondly remember Sybil. Where is she now?
“Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But the Rent” Gwen Guthrie I had forgotten all about the late one-hit wonder’s 1986 wonder (incidentally, she sang back-up for Stevie Wonder at one point) until I heard it get a party started in Melbourne two years ago. I still love her gravity-defying ‘do in the video!
“Dirty Cash” The Adventures of Stevie V This 1990 No. 75 R&B hit (and No. 2 UK pop hit) had slipped my mind, too, until the DJ slipped it on at a club in South London two and a half years ago. “I’ve no excuse/I just want you to use me/Take me and abuse me.” The sound is a time capsule, but the sentiment is one for the ages.
“Uh-Uh Ooh-Ooh Look Out (Here It Comes)” Roberta Flack Another oldie but goodie on the playlist that night in South London. “I know a goodbye when I hear one.” Girl, I know that’s right!
“Don’t Stop the Music”/”Don’t Waste Your Time” Yarbrough and Peoples They were the Captain and Tennille for black folks, and their two No. 1 R&B hits (both of which I owned on 45) have actually aged better than “Muskrat Love,” which I adore, by the way.
“Come into My Life” Joyce Sims I once fell for a white boy because not only did he know Sims’s 1988 No. 10 R&B hit (which hit No. 7 on the UK pop chart), but he could sing every lyric and hit every note pitch perfectly.
“Pilot Error” Stephanie Mills Quiet-storm R&B, Mills’s forte despite the fast song that is her biggest hit (1980’s “Never Knew Love Like This Before”), tends to age better than the genre’s uptempo jams. But if I had to pick just one of the latter to work out to every day for the rest of my life, it would probably be this 1983 No. 12 R&B hit from the genre’s most underrated female vocalist.
“Woman Trouble” Artful Dodger featuring Robbie Craig and Craig David Remember when we all thought the UK two-step movement would live forever? Neither do I. It was always so obviously a passing musical fad, but some of its spawn, like this 2000 No. 6 UK single, has aged a lot better than anyone might have expected it to.