I grew up in the 80s. Even though I listened to a lot of oldies, rock, and pop, I probably spent most of those years listening to music that could be categorized as R&B.
That’s a diverse category, I know. It also shares a lot of space with Top 40 music, both then and now. So for the next few weeks I’ll make a list of some of my favorites by breaking down the genre a bit. This week I’ll focus on love songs, both those we might think of as “slow jams” but also some of the stuff that was more Black adult contemporary.
5. “On the Wings of Love” by Jeffrey Osborne (1982)
This song is a perfect example of the intersection of R&B love songs, gospel-tinged lyrics, and late 70s/early 80s pop instrumentation. It was also on the tape that played and played at Taco Bell, the site of my first job. I have fond memories of my co-worker Freddy Dew belting it out every time it came on.
4. “Love You Down” by Ready for the World (1986)
Unlike the above song, this was young person’s music in the mid-80s. It had everything we loved then, too. It never fails to transport me back to freshman year of high school.
3. “If Only For One Night” by Luther Vandross (1985)
I always imagined Luther Vandross would be the music I’d play if I was a grown up having a romantic evening with someone special. Alas, such nights only existed in my imagination back in the 80s. Still, Luther is the man. While the arrangements of some of his music can be a bit much, his voice and phrasing was beyond compare.
2. “I Want to Be Your Man” by Roger (1987)
If I had my way I would’ve walked down the aisle to this song on our wedding day. No hard feelings! It was a great ceremony. But it could have used more talk box.
1. “Shake You Down” by Gregory Abbott (1986)
At the time everyone talked about Gregory Abbott as a “former teacher” with an R&B smash hit. I always figured he was a grade school teacher who one day walked into class to thundering applause from his students who now knew him as a singing sensation. It wasn’t until later that I learned he just taught one or two writing courses at Cal while working on his MFA in creative writing. The song–which is overwhelmingly 80s in every way–still occupies a big soft spot in my heart.