Superstar, now she smashed your car
Hurting you is much to easy
A perfect couplet, perfectly sung. Koffee Brown were criminally slept on. This is Vee’s solo joint, written by Lil Mo, and she runs with it. Her phrasing is spot on. The song could have been a typical angry rant, but she injects it with just the right mixture of sadness and resolute nonchalance. Note how she sings “she may be” each time.
It’s a shame Koffee Brown fizzled out so quickly. Mars/Venus was a brilliant album and both Vee and Falonte (who went on to write some of the better songs on Destiny’s Child’s Survivor album) are major talents.
Any number of songs from Tank’s three studio albums could have made this list. That’s how deep – and dope – Tank’s catalog is. It’s a crime that he’s not a bigger star. I chose So Many Times because I still think it’s one of the finest songs he’s ever sung and it’s totally a song that could have been a huge hit had it been released as a single. Brilliant as Tank is, he hasn’t always made the best choices in singles.
The song was written by Static/Major, the greatest songwriter no one knew they knew. This is his best song and Tank owns it. The song is basically about sex, but the melody is so tight, so smooth that you almost don’t listen to the words. That is until the hook comes in: “I’m horny like I’m fresh out of jail.” Tank makes it sound like the sexy, sly come on it is, without sounding cheap or silly. Few male singers can do that well.
Shanice is among a generation of singers that never quite found a suitable home in the industry because the music industry has never quite known what to do with vocalists who can pretty much do anything (see Melba Moore, Phyllis Hyman, Joi Gilliam, Betty Davis, Vesta, Stephanie Mills, and Minnie Ripperton, to name just a few). Often they get saddled with schlock, as Shanice often was, or they waste their skills on whichever power ballad or trendy-jocking sound they can ride to stardom (see Whitney and Mariah).
This song is more or less a power ballad, written by ‘Face collaborator Daryl Simmons, who doesn’t overdue the sentiment here. Shanice elevates the song effortlessly. Great vocalists make the best of power ballads, which tend to be driven more by overblown orchestration than melody or emotion. If you listen, her singing is strong and her phrasing more than does the job of injecting the requisite emotion into the song. Her gifts have rarely been so well-utilized.
There really isn’t much one can say about how dynamite TLC was or how great their single choices were. They may be the greatest contemporary example of a perfect marriage of commercial and creative impulses.
That said, Chilli never quite got enough credit, in my opinion, for her emotive skills. Her voice is a sweet, surprisingly powerful marvel that wraps itself around the emotion of every lyric. This was often used on the bridge of TLC’s best material. But Take Our Time is the first time she gets to be the sole lead voice on a TLC song and she runs with it. Her phrasing is flawless and she has never sounded as sexy, before or since. Though she went on to sing more solo lead stuff in the group, this song remains her finest lead vocal contribution to TLC and it should have been a single.
This closing track from Face’s breakthrough album, Tender Lover, is the anti-power ballad power ballad and probably one of the greatest songs he’s ever written and recorded. It has all the hallmarks of a great Face song, but with none of the melodrama and soulless “phoning it in-ness” of his post-Waiting To Exhale work. This is the case because of the one trait that Babyface possesses in spades that few of his other contemporaries do — perfect phrasing.
This song should be a master class in how to approach a song as a vocalist. Every moment in the song is so perfectly, expertly performed that its quite surprising that the song is still so damn affecting. The vocalizing at the end is so precise, but it feels the way it should — like an emotional release. Few vocalists can be so specific and yet sound fresh and spontaneous. It’s a real gift.
Babyface has never really been given his due as a solo artist, but Tender Lover is an overlooked classic of the late-80s black music renaissance.