In the seventies soul had been the soundtrack to black American life, but by the early eighties it was in a very strange place. Without the political gravitas of the civil rights movement it had become obsessed with selling itself to the mainstream. That would demand a very different type of artist although it did make hugely influential records like 'You're The One For Me' and 'Don't Make Me Wait' far easier to spot before Michael Jackson decided to change not only the rules of the game but the shape, slope and size of the playing field.


Thriller may have been the ultimate crossover, the album that blurred the black = soul, white = rock split that had been at the core of American pop for over thirty years, but it also killed soul stone dead. Post Thriller, R&B stank big time. Just think Whitney Houston or Luther Vandross. Over produced, synthetic, cynically escapist and far too eager to please, eighties R&B became so devoted to racial and generational crossover and the lure of the dollar it lost any feeling of roots, relevance and rebellion. You had to dig deep to find anything that wasn’t insignificant dross while the few records that did stand out sounded even more heroic and poignant.      


During the eighties, the only artist to give R&B any real credibility was Prince who took it to the conceptual high ground before hip hop dismantled it altogether. In an era of faceless corporate soul, Prince was the only artist able to synthesize his influences into an original vision. More importantly, he was the only black performer to address the hopelessness and spiritual desolation of the Reagan years. From the mid-eighties on, R&B became so innocuous that in the clubs of Chicago, Detroit and New York it was usurped by the return of disco, otherwise known as house.


Completely in tune with the times, house was a raw machine led music incorporating sparse, synthesised, European sounds and electro dub effects. Marshall Jefferson and Frankie Knuckles were two of the new scenes prime movers, its name inspired by the latter’s residency at Chicago’s infamous Warehouse Club. House would soon shatter into a myriad electronic dance and rave sub genres but deep house remained faithful to the spirit of disco soul, so much so that it was easy to link the original anthems from ‘Can You Feel It’ and ‘Move Your Body’ to ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ and ‘Promised Land’. For a brief moment it looked like house might even take over the world.


Of course that never happened in a commercial sense, house’s influence far outweighing its popularity despite R&B’s slide towards mass acceptance and bland upward mobility. By the late eighties no-one cared about R&B anyway because by then hip hop had become so enabled it had eclipsed it to become the only credible black music form. Opportunistic producer Teddy Riley tried to bridge the gap between the two but everything about his new jack swing was an affront to the senses. Nonetheless it still sold in its millions, opening the floodgates for a deluge of glorified Chippendales who so enraged hip hop crews they refered to R&B as ‘rap and bullshit’. And they weren’t wrong.


01 ZAPP ‘More Bounce To The Ounce’ (Zapp LP July 1980)

02 J. WALTER NEGRO & THE LOOSE JOINTZ ‘Shoot The Pump’ (A Side September 1981)

03 D TRAIN ‘You’re The One For Me’ (You’re The One For Me LP February 1982)

04 NYC PEECH BOYS ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’ (A Side June 1982)

05 THE VALENTINE BROTHERS ‘Money’s Too Tight To Mention’ (A Side June 1982)

06 MICHAEL JACKSON ‘Billie Jean’ (Thriller LP November 1982)

07 MIDNIGHT STAR ‘Freak A Zoid’ (No Parking On The Dancefloor LP August 1983)

08 KLYMAXX ‘The Men All Pause’ (A Side June 1984)

09 J.M. SILK ‘Music Is The Key’ (A Side June 1985)

10 MARSHALL JEFFERSON ‘Move Your Body’ (House Music Anthem EP March 1986)

11 JANET JACKSON ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately?’ (Control LP March 1986)

12 FARLEY JACK MASTER FUNK FEAT. DARRYL PANDY ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ (A Side August 1986)

13 PRINCE ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’ (Sign O The Times LP March 1987)

14 JOE SMOOTH ‘Promised Land’ (A Side April 1987)

15 RAZE ‘Break 4 Love’ (A Side December 1987)

16 FINGERS INC FEAT. CHUCK ROBERTS ‘Can You Feel It?’ [Remix] (A Side 1988)

17 CHARLES B ‘Lack Of Love’ (A Side June 1988)

18 SOUL II SOUL ‘Fairplay’ (Club Classics Volume One LP April 1989)