This is the first look back to an era which saw the influence and development of electronic music within soul and dance. Out went the large orchestrations, the jazzier arrangements and the percussive frills – in came the drum machines, the computerized keyboards and the birth of hip-hop. Yes – it’s the Eighties. The following is a blow-by-blow account of all the Number One soul albums of 1987. Gone were all the vocal groups and bands – in were the soloists, mainly men. As usual, an asterisk indicates non-consecutive weeks at the top, a cross signifies an imported album not at the time released in the UK. It doesn’t include albums re-entering the No.1 position from 1986.
UPFRONT 4 | Various artists | Serious 1 wk
The ‘Upfront’ series had been launched in 1986 on Serious and showcased in-demand imports, current dance releases and popular mixes. This fourth edition combined the usual mix of house, hip-hop, club classics and UK vibes. Outstanding tracks included a remix of Loose Ends’ Nights Of Pleasure, Ray, Goodman & Brown’s Take It To The Limit, the huge House Nation by The Housemaster Boyz and an early DJ Eddie F production – Mr. Big Stuff by Heavy D & The Boyz. The inclusion of Projection’s UK classic Lovestruck and the Darlene Davis biggie I Found Lovin’ only added to the appeal – a decent compilation for anyone who didn’t have the singles.
ROCK THE HOUSE | DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince | Champion 1 wk
Out of Philadelphia, deck master Jeff Townes and rapper Will Smith were the lighter side of hip-hop – and the hits from this, their debut album, mostly show their fun side. Girls Ain’t Nothin’ But Trouble (which sampled the I Dream Of Jeanie TV theme), The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff and Just One Of Those Days were all popular cuts in the UK. But it was the amazing A Touch Of Jazz which showcased DJ Jazzy Jeff’s supreme mixing and cutting talents which proved the long-lasting track from the album. Also released in various remixes, the track featured an awesome selection of scratching, breaks and samples – including Mister Magic (Grover Washington Jr.), Westchester Lady (Bob James), Harlem River Drive (Bobbi Humphrey), T Plays It Cool (Marvin Gaye), Change (Makes You Wanna Hustle) and Places And Spaces (both Donald Byrd). But Will’s often lamentable rapping did not provide them with much credibility on this album – or indeed, any future albums. Though phenomenal success was to come their way once he was a fully-fledged movie star (with Summertime especially), the duo were usually seen as nothing more than a novelty act.
THE FINER THINGS IN LIFE | Chuck Stanley | Def Jam 3 wks*
Apart from the occasional hip-hop act and compilation, 1987’s album charts were dominated by male solo artists – this album by newcomer Chuck Stanley was the first of ten different singers to reach the top. As far as I recall, this was his only album. Released by Def Jam, the LP really found favour with the British soul-buying public – and featured the singles Day By Day, the title track and Jammin’ To The Bells. It includes the connoisseurs classic Love Toy and the ravers tune Never Gonna Let You Go.
SPREAD THE LOVE | Juicy | Epic 1 wk+
Brother and sister duo Jerry and Katreese Barnes were the surviving members of a band which began as a five-piece. The group’s biggest hit was 1985’s sublime Sugar Free. By this LP – their third and final offering – the group were merely going through the motions like any other group. Private Party was the outstanding track but singles After Loving You and All Work, No Play were pedestrian offerings. One of those one-track LPs.
LILLO | Lillo Thomas | Capitol 7 wks*
Lillo had already had a couple of albums out prior to this one – 1984’s All Of You was particularly popular in the UK, containing the popular singles Settle Down and Your Love’s Got A Hold On Me. This album proved even more successful, topping the charts for an impressive 7 weeks. Its initial success was certainly for the inclusion of more hugely popular singles – the fantastic Sexy Girl and the brilliant I’m In Love. Other big tunes on the album included Sweet Surrender and the smoochy ballad (also a single) Wanna Make Love (All Night Long). His expressive falsetto voice gives these tracks a freshness that still persists today. Paul Laurence produced all the best tracks.
BLUE MOODS | Keni Stevens | Jam Today 2 wks
Keni was a UK-born soul singer who had caused a stir with his track Night Moves for Elite in 1985. This album assembled some old singles and new material and was a huge seller – released on Keni’s own label. Topping the charts for a couple of weeks, it stands easily alongside the best music coming out of America at the time, with the added bonus of having that distinctive British groove. Whether handling ballads like Cannot Live Without Your Love or more up-tempo dance tracks like Too Much Too Soon, Keni shows great panache and style.
JUST GETS BETTER WITH TIME | The Whispers | Solar 1 wk
It had been three years since ‘84’s so good So Good album – which had followed the successful Whispers formula of combining dance tracks with their speciality ballads. That album had contained such gems as the club hits Some Kinda Lover and Contagious – alongside 2-step classics like Never Too Late and Are You Going My Way. This LP surpassed all expectations – with the typical ‘ballad side’ just one gem after another. All four tracks on the B-side have become ravers/2-step classics: In The Mood, Just Gets Better With Time, Love’s Calling and the outstanding Give It To Me. The ballads really did overshadow the up-tempo side – but Special F/X was a criminally overlooked single, Rock Steady the bigger hit. The album also topped the Streetsales chart. The group released a great catalogue of music down the years – this No.1 smash LP remains one of their true greats. And a real feast for 2-step fans.
BIGGER AND DEFFER | LL Cool J | Def Jam 3 wks*
‘Ladies Love Cool James’ was the first artist on Def Jam with his brilliant debut single I Need A Beat back in 1984. The follow-up I Can’t Live Without My Radio was even better – and both featured on his first album Radio in 1985. The first single from this album – I’m Bad – reached the No.1 position in the Streetsales chart on June 13th 1987 – exactly the same week as the album hit No.1 as well, giving LL Cool J a rare double whammy. The second single I Need Love was a smooth rap ballad which became the first rap record to top the R&B charts in the US. This caused a backlash within the hip-hop community – Kool Moe Dee berating LL Cool J in How Ya Like Me Now. Still, the beef did supply us with one of LL’s best records – he retorted with Jack The Ripper. The third single Go Cut Creator Go was a take on Chuck Berry’s rock and roll classic Johnny B. Goode. Like Will Smith before him, LL later turned to acting – though not with the same degree of success as the former. Bigger And Deffer is a patchy album and nowhere near as fresh as his debut.
WHITNEY | Whitney Houston | Arista 1 wk
I’ve always thought of Whitney more as a singles act than an album act. Her albums never seemed to contain tracks better than the singles. This was her second album – her previous eponymous album had been a phenomenal success back in 1985. This LP’s biggest smash was I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Didn’t We Almost Have It All was the power ballad on the album. So Emotional was another dance hit. Her version of The Isley Brothers’ ’75 hit For The Love Of You is OK but nothing special.
VANEESE | Vaneese Thomas | Geffen 1 wk
Daughter of R&B legend Rufus Thomas and sister of singer Carla, Vaneese’s debut album was a tight soul set. Let’s Talk It Over was the big tune on the album.
PAID IN FULL | Eric B & Rakim | 4th & Broadway 2 wks
The Eric B Is President/My Melody ’45 had totally blown me away the previous year – I first heard it under the Westway at the ’86 Notting Hill Carnival. West London sound system The Winner really won me over with it! This album proved that Eric B & Rakim were a cut above the rest – and included original versions of many hits. In addition to their original double-sided classic, the LP also included other hits like Move The Crowd, I Know You Got Soul, I Ain’t No Joke and As The Rhyme Goes On. The duo’s reputation was one of the most important acts in hip-hop was cemented with Follow The Leader the following year. This remains a classic album.
INTRODUCING THE HARDLINE ACCORDING TO… | Terence Trent D’Arby | CBS 1 wk
American vocalist Terence was a singer-songwriter who recorded his debut album whilst based in the UK. A succession of hit singles from the project included If You Let Me Stay, Sign Your Name, Wishing Well and Dance Little Sister. However, his egotistic attitude did not augur well for future success – he proclaimed this album to be as important as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. He never did repeat the success of his debut – and later renamed himself Sananda Francesco Maitreya. For me, the outstanding track on the album is the beautiful acapella As Yet Untitled.
HEARSAY | Alexander O’ Neal | Tabu 3 wks
Under the aegis of Jimmy Jam and Jerry Lewis, O’ Neal had first struck gold with his brilliant eponymous debut album in 1985. Hearsay continued the vibe with his soulful voice at ease on soulful ballads as well as the up-tempo dance tracks, most of which became club classics. Fake was the first hit single – but the follow-up Criticize proved to be his biggest ever hit, reaching No.4 in the British pop charts. His duet with Cherelle – Never Knew Love Like This – failed to capture the appeal of their first smash together, the glorious Saturday Love. For me, The Lovers was an under-rated song (better in its extended 12” mix) and (What Can I Say) To Make You Love Me continued the string of hits. For the connoisseurs, Sunshine was the killer cut – issued in its own right as a single a couple of years later. Such was the success of the album that a version containing remixes of the hit singles (All Mixed Up) was released in ’88.
SHERRICK | Sherrick | Warner Bros. 2 wks
Sherrick is best known for the 80s club classic included on this album, Just Call – which remains one of the greatest dance tracks of the era. Elsewhere, his version of The Originals’ Baby I’m For Real is not bad at all (also released as a single) and the ballad All Because Of You also found favour with UK listeners. Regrettably, he became addicted to cocaine and practically derailed his career. He never released another album and died in 1999, aged just 41.
BAD | Michael Jackson | Epic 4 wks
Five years on from the phenomenal Thriller album, this collection of songs was his third in collaboration with producer Quincy Jones. Nine of the original ten vinyl tracks on the album were eventually released as singles – thus making it something of a greatest hits package in its own right. The CD-extra track Leave Me Alone was also a hit single. It reached No.1 in the Soul Albums chart and went on to sell over 30 million copies worldwide. Its success was fuelled by all the videos that accompanied the singles and the continued support of MTV. It’s a great album – but no Thriller and certainly no Off The Wall, which remains Q and MJ’s finest artistic achievement.
GOT TO GET YOUR OWN | Various artists | Charly 3 wks
A rare groove compilation leaning towards the funkier side of things. There are a few classics but quite a lot of fillers. But the scene was hungry for new tunes so this kind of comp. was always going to be popular. The bonafide rare groove staples included Reuben Wilson’s Got To Get Your Own, Ripple’s I Don’t Know What It Is But It Sure Is Funky, Ann Sexton’s You’re Losing Me and the wicked So Much Trouble In My Mind by Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul. But other tracks by the likes of Clemon Smith, Moody Scott, Pee Wee Ellis and Continental Showstoppers were really just run-of-the-mill funk tunes that were obscure and rare for a reason – they weren’t really that good in the first place.
AFTER DARK | Ray Parker Jr. | Geffen 1 wk
Originally recording as a key session player on 70s soul tunes, guitarist Ray Parker Jr. went on to form his own group Raydio – who enjoyed success with hits like Jack And Jill, Is This A Love Thing, You Can’t Change That, For Those Who Like To Groove and Two Places At The Same Time. As a solo artist his biggest hit was the title song to the film Ghostbusters in 1984. The single I Don’t Think That Man Should Sleep Alone was the big hit off this album – and the only other UK Top 20 hit for Ray. Soul fans lapped it up. His duet with Natalie Cole – Over You – was a popular single as well.
JACKMASTER Vol. 1 | Various artists | Westside1 wk
With tracks mostly licensed from DJ International Records, this house compilation featured big cuts by Masters At Work (Alright, Alright), Full House (I Remember), Hokus Pokus (House It Up) and Mark II feat. Kevin Irvin (Don’t Stop The Music).
I’M THE ONE (FOR YOUR LOVE TONIGHT) | Roy Ayers | Columbia 1 wk
This was Roy’s third album for Columbia but he’d already recorded over 25 albums by this time and created a true musical legacy. His stature within the soul scene had grown and grown in the UK. The title track was popular. The cut Let Me Love You – with a lead vocal by Chandra Currelli – has since become a 2-step rider.
URBAN CLASSICS | Various artists | Urban 1 wk
Out of all the rare groove compilations doing the rounds in ’87, this selection was one of the few chocka with classics. Including classic tracks by The Jackson Sisters, Maceo & The Macks, James Brown, Bobby Byrd, Gregg Diamond’s Bionic Boogie, LaToya Jackson and Gloria Gaynor, there was not a filler in sight – well, except perhaps for Johnny Bristol’s Hang On In There Baby which although a hot disco hit could never be classified as a rare groove track. Good comp. nonetheless.
MAKE IT LAST FOREVER | Keith Sweat | Elektra 12 wks
In a year dominated by male vocal albums, the finest one was left until last – the amazing debut by Keith Sweat. Jam-packed with steamy slow jams and New Jack Swing rockers, it helped catapult co-producer Teddy Riley on the road to fame. I Want Her remains a New Jack monster and a pioneering classic that will never fail to fill a dancefloor. Don’t Stop Your Love was another big up-tempo cut – but it was the slowies that really connected. The title track was slinky and his version of The Dramatics’ In The Rain took it to another level. How Deep Is Your Love (another Teddy cut) was a massive underground tune. This LP stands up as not only one of the best Number Ones of the year but of all time. Soul perfection right here.