On this day in music history: March 22, 1986 – “What Have You Done For Me Lately” by Janet Jackson hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #4 on the Hot 100 on May 17, 1986. Written by James Harris III, Terry Lewis and Janet Jackson, it is the first R&B chart topper for the youngest member of the musical Jackson family. “Lately” is the last song recorded for the album, and is written after A&M A&R exec John McClain requests “another funky, uptempo track” from the production duo. The idea for what becomes “What Have Done For Me Lately” comes out of a conversation that producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have with Janet, during the recording sessions for the album “Control”. Jam & Lewis come up with the keyboard and bass line parts, while Jackson writes the lyrics. Released as the single from Jackson’s breakthrough album “Control” in late January of 1986, it immediately takes off on the R&B charts and quickly crossover to pop radio. “Lately” is the first of five number one R&B singles that are spun off of “Control”. In 1987, comedian Eddie Murphy quotes from the song in the live concert film “Raw”, when talking about relationships between men and women. “What Have You Done For Me Lately” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 21, 1989 – “Like A Prayer”, the fourth studio album by Madonna is released. Produced by Madonna, Patrick Leonard, Stephen Bray and Prince, it is recorded at D & D Recording in New York City and Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood, CA from September 1988 – January 1989. Taking a nearly three year long break between studio albums, Madonna returns to the studio in the Fall of 1988 to record the official follow up to “True Blue”. Deeply introspective in nature, many songs are inspired by Madonna’s Catholic upbringing, her family, and death of her mother. The album is dedicated to her mother’s memory (who was also named Madonna). Madonna works with her long time collaborators Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard as well as collaborating with Prince on the track “Love Song”. Prince also contributes guitar to the albums closing track “Act Of Contrition” (a deconstruction of the title track). A huge critical and commercial success upon its release, it spins off five hit singles including “Express Yourself” (#2 Pop), “Cherish” (#2 Pop) and the title track (#1 Pop). Initial pressings of the album are scented with patchouli oil, and also come packaged with an insert with safer sex guide lines and information on AIDS prevention. It is included, to pay tribute to friends Madonna has lost to the disease. The singer supports the album with the now iconic “Blond Ambition World Tour” in 1990, which is captured in the documentary film “Madonna: Truth Or Dare”. Out of print on vinyl for many years, it is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP in 2016. A limited edition pressing on red vinyl is issued through the European supermarket Sainbury’s the same year. “Like A Prayer” spends six weeks at number one on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 4x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 21, 1987 – “Looking For A New Love” by Jody Watley hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 3 weeks, peaking at #2 for 4 weeks on May 2, 1987, also topping the Club Play chart for 2 weeks on April 4, 1987. Written by Andre Cymone and Jody Watley, it is the biggest hit for the former Shalamar vocalist. Following her departure from Shalamar in 1983, Jody Watley leaves the US for England where she models, also recording with members of The Art Of Noise and Musical Youth, as well as participating in the session for Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas”. Also while living abroad, Watley records a pair of singles for Mercury/Phonogram, produced by Bruce Woolley (of Bruce Woolley & The Camera Club) and recording engineer Gary Langan. The singles are only issued in Europe and Australia, and are not picked up for release in the US. After spending two and a half years in the UK, she returns home to the United States, and secures a record deal with MCA Records. For her solo debut, Watley collaborates with producer, songwriter and musician Andre Cymone (Prince). Released as the first single from her self-titled debut album in February of 1987, “Looking” is the last song recorded for the album with Cymone having written the music and recorded a demo of the rhythm track. Watley comes up with the song title, melody and lyrics, which are inspired by a recent break up. The record’s taut, funky groove with Watley’s cool vocals out front, is an immediate smash. US promotional copies of the 7" come packaged in a limited edition poster sleeve, with commercial copies issued in a standard picture sleeve. “Looking For A New Love” is the first of two R&B chart toppers for her, winning Watley a Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1988. The song’s lyric “hasta la vista, baby” is further immortalized by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” in 1991.
On this day in music history: March 18, 1978 – “Night Fever” by the Bee Gees hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 8 weeks, also peaking at #8 on the R&B singles chart on May 13, 1978. Written by Barry, Robin & Maurice Gibb, it is the sixth US chart topper for the British born family trio. Written for the film “Saturday Night Fever”, the brothers write and record the basic track at the Château d’Hérouville outside of Paris, France in the Spring of 1977. The vocals, strings and additional overdubs are recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami, FL. Released in late January of 1978, heavy airplay as an album cut forces RSO Records to rush release the song as a single while the soundtrack albums then current release “Stayin’ Alive” is still climbing the charts. Like its two predecessors, “Night Fever” is another immediate smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #76 on February 4, 1978 (on the same day that their previous single “Stayin’ Alive” hits number one), it rockets to the top of the chart six weeks later. The week it tops the pop singles chart, it makes further history as Barry Gibb is also the co-writer and producer of the songs in the #2, #3, and #5 spots on the chart. Those songs are the Bee Gees’ own “Stayin’ Alive”, Samantha Sang’s “Emotion” and Andy Gibb’s “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water”, the latter of which “Night Fever” unseats from the number one spot. One week later on March 25, 1978, Yvonne Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You” also co-written by Barry Gibb, enters the top ten, increasing the number to five singles in the Billboard pop top ten at once. “Fever” is the Bee Gees third consecutive single to sell over two million copies in the US, with “How Deep Is Your Love” and “Stayin’ Alive” both topping that sales plateau during the first two months of 1978. At the time of its release, a promotional music video is shot for “Night Fever” at the time of its release, featuring a clean shaven Barry Gibb. The clip features the Gibb brothers singing the song in a studio with film footage of Motel Row in Sunny Isles Beach, FL chroma key projected over them. However, it is not shown at the time and is not released until 2004. “Night Fever” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 17, 1979 – “I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)” by Instant Funk hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 3 weeks (non-consecutive), also peaking at #20 on the Hot 100 on May 12, 1979. Written by Kim Miller, Scotty Miller and Raymond Earl, it is the biggest hit for the New Jersey based R&B/Funk band. After spending a few years acting as the house band for Salsoul Records, the band begin to record under their own name. The track is recorded at Alpha, Sigma Sound and Blank Tapes Studios in New York City. The songs’ signature “say what” line heard on the track is spoken by a female vocalist from North Carolina (named “Pinky”) that producer Bunny Sigler brings into the studio. The single first breaks in discos thanks to an extended remix by club DJ legend Larry Levan (Paradise Garage). The epic length 12" mix featuring long instrumental passages clocks in at nearly ten minutes, and creates a frenzy on the dance floor, making its way on to radio from there. “I’ve Got My Mind” spends two weeks at the top of the R&B singles chart, and is bumped from the top temporarily by Sister Sledge’s “He’s The Greatest Dancer” on March 31, 1979. It regains the top spot for a third and final week on April 7, 1979. The song is also sampled by De La Soul on their hit “A Roller Skating Jam Called Saturdays” in 1991. “I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 13, 1999 – “Believe” by Cher hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks, also topping the Club Play chart for 4 weeks on December 12, 1998. Written by Brian Higgins, Stuart McLennen, Paul Barry, Steven Torch, Matthew Gray and Timothy Powell, it is the fourth solo chart topping single (fifth overall) for the pop music icon and Academy Award winning actress. After focusing on her film career for much of the 90’s, Cher turns her attention back music when she signs to the UK division of Warner Bros Records in 1998. Working with dance music producers including Junior Vasquez, Todd Terry, Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling, it is the singer’s first dance oriented album in nearly twenty years since the release of her Casablanca albums “Take Me Home” and “Prisoner”. Rather than going for the retro-disco sounds of those works, the new material is cutting edge and in step with the current techno dance phenomenon dominating the club music scene. British songwriter and producers Taylor and Rawling (Gina G, Danni Minogue), presents Cher with the song “Believe”. She asks them to re-write the lyrics a number of times before agreeing to record the song. After recording Cher’s vocals, the producers hit upon the idea of processing some of the vocals with a Digitech Talker (aka “Autotune” processor). At first, they are nervous to play the track with the altered vocals, but once Cher hears what they’ve done, she immediately loves it. Warner Bros initially does not like the autotuned vocals and wants the effect removed, but the singer insists they remain as they are. “Believe” is an immediate smash in the UK, spending seven weeks at number one. Warner Bros in the US picks up the record for release on the back of its UK chart success. Entering the Hot 100 at #99 on December 20, 1998, it climbs to the top of the chart twelve weeks later. Cher makes history by having the longest time span between her first number one single (“I Got You Babe”) and “Believe”, which is thirty three years, seven months and three weeks. She also becomes the second oldest artist in Billboard chart history to top the Hot 100 (Louis Armstrong is the record holder at sixty two years, ten months and one week old at the time “Hello Dolly” is at number one), as she is fifty three years, nine months and three weeks old at the time “Believe” tops the chart. The single is also a massive worldwide hit, topping the charts in twenty three countries. “Believe” wins Cher her first Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording in 2000, also receiving a nomination for Record Of The Year. “Believe” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 13, 1976 – “Disco Lady” by Johnnie Taylor hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 6 weeks, also topping the Hot 100 for 4 weeks on April 3, 1976. Written by Harvey Scales, Al Vance and Don Davis, it is the fourth R&B chart topper and biggest pop hit for the veteran soul singer from West Memphis, AR. Following the collapse of his longtime label Stax Records in 1975, R&B vocal legend Johnnie Taylor signs a new deal with Columbia Records. Recorded at United Sound in Detroit, MI, P-Funkers William “Bootsy” Collins and Bernie Worrell are enlisted by producer Don Davis to play bass and keyboards on the song. Singer and actress Telma Hopkins (Tony Orlando & Dawn, “Gimme A Break”, “Family Matters”) contributes background vocals. Released in January of 1976 as the first single from his ninth studio album “Eargasm”, “Disco Lady” takes off immediately in clubs and on R&B radio. The single has a similar trajectory when it makes its way on to top 40 pop radio. At first, Taylor is unaware of the songs crossover success until he happens to hear record at a nightclub in West Los Angeles. When the DJ plays the record, the predominantly white crowd immediately packs the dance floor. After the song becomes a massive smash, Parliament/Funkadelic leader George Clinton becomes upset at his musicians contributing to an outside project that is such a huge hit, that he does not allow them to play on anyone else’s records outside of the P-Funk collective after that. Selling over two million copies domestically, it is the first single in history to qualify for Platinum status after the RIAA establishes the new sales award in February of 1976. “Disco Lady” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 12, 1994 – “The Sign” by Ace of Base hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 6 weeks (non-consecutive). Written by Jonas “Joker” Berggren, it is the biggest hit for the pop quartet from Gothenburg, Sweden. Band leader and keyboardist Jonas Berggren writes “The Sign” in 1993 after the release of Ace Of Base’s first album titled “Happy Nation” in Europe. It is initially intended to be the first single off their second album, when fate has other plans. When Arista Records A&R man Richard Sweret hears the song, he knows immediately that it is a smash, and should included on the US release of their album. “The Sign” along with “Don’t Turn Around” and “Living In Danger”, are added to the US release. Issued as the follow up to “All That She Wants” on December 21, 1993, “The Sign” takes off even faster than its predecessor. Entering the Hot 100 at #68 on January 1, 1994, it climbs to the top of the chart ten weeks later. The single spends four consecutive weeks at number one, falling back to number two for four weeks behind R. Kelly’s “Bump And Grind”, then regaining the top spot for an additional two weeks on May 7, 1994. In all, “The Sign” spends a total of forty one consecutive weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, including thirty three weeks in the top forty, and twenty one weeks in the top ten. The singles extraordinary staying power makes it, one of longest continuous chart runs in the history of the Billboard pop singles chart. The song is featured in several movies and television shows including “Pitch Perfect”, “South Park” and “American Dad!”. “The Sign” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 12, 1988 – “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 3 weeks on the same date, and topping the Club Play chart for 1 week on January 16, 1988. Written and produced by Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman, it is the debut single and the first US chart topper for the British pop singer from Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, UK. Initially working at producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s PWL Studios in London as an assistant engineer/“tea boy”, Waterman hears Astley sing and then offer him a chance to record himself. “Never Gonna Give You Up” is recorded on January 1, 1987 at PWL Studios in London. Released in the UK in early August of 1987, it is an instant smash. It tops the UK singles chart for five weeks, and becomes the biggest selling single of the year. His debut album “Whenever You Need Somebody” also debuts at number one and spins off five singles throughout the year. Off the back of its international success, the record is picked up for release in the US by RCA Records in November of 1987. Much like when making his UK debut, US audiences initially assume that Astley is black, until the music video for the single begins airing. People are taken aback when they discover that deep, rich, soulful voice is actually coming from a thin white Englishman under six feet tall. Physical appearance aside, the song quickly becomes a big hit in dance clubs and quickly begins receiving radio play. Entering the Hot 100 at #71 on December 19, 1987, it climbs to the top of the chart twelve weeks later. One of the most popular singles of the 80’s, “Never Gonna Give You Up” garners renewed interest and further notoriety on the internet in 2007 when it becomes the subject of a prank called “rickrolling”, involving misleading online links that redirect the person to the music video for “Give You Up”. “Never Gonna Give You Up” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 12, 1979 – “Alton McClain & Destiny” (aka “It Must Be Love”), the debut album by Alton McClain & Destiny is released. Produced by Frank Wilson, it is recorded at Kendun Recorders in Burbank, CA, Fort Knox Recording Studios in Los Angeles, CA and Cherokee Studios in Hollywood, CA from Mid – Late 1978. Originally from Baltimore, MD, Alton McClain begins her singing career in 1971, when she’s discovered by drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie. Starting his own label called Forward Records, Alton’s first single “Come Back Baby” is released in December of 1971. It becomes a regional hit, selling more than 20,000 copies. That success gives her the momentum to work steadily, before relocating to Los Angeles. While in L.A., McClain meets former Motown staff producer Frank Wilson. Noting Alton’s vocal similarities to superstar Diana Ross, the producer sees her star potential. Along with vocalists Delores “D’Marie” Warren and Robyrda Stiger, the group are signed to Polydor Records. The list of high profile players on their debut album include James Gadson, Ed Greene, Ollie Brown, Raymond Pounds (drums), Lee Ritenour, Paul Jackson, Jr., Wah Wah Watson, Michael McGlory (guitars), Greg Phillinganes, John Barnes, Rene Moore (keyboards), Billy “Bass” Nelson, Eddie Watkins, Nathan Watts (bass), and former Funk Brothers Eddie “Bongo” Brown and Jack Ashford (percussion). Many of the songs are penned by John Footman, known for his work with Lenny Williams, Freda Payne, and for writing Cheryl Lynn’s disco classic “Star Love”. Footman collaborates his regular writing partner Judy Wieder, and Terri McFaddin (“Forget Me Nots”). One of the songs that Footman and Wieder contribute is “It Must Be Love” (#10 R&B, #32 Pop, #25 Club Play). The single becomes the group’s biggest hit and only pop crossover hit. It spins off a follow up with “Crazy Love” (#69 R&B), which along with its predecessor are remixed by club DJ legend Jim Burgess. Though not a single, the track “The Power Of Love” written by future R&B star and producer Angela Winbush receives some R&B radio play. It’s later covered by Stephanie Mills as “I Have Learned To Respect The Power Of Love” in 1985, taking it to #1 on the R&B chart. Alton McClain & Destiny record two more albums for Polydor, before breaking up in 1981. McClain marries producer Skip Scarborough, and leaves secular music to become a gospel artist. D’Marie Warren and Robyrda Stiger form the group Krystol in the mid 80’s and sign to Epic Records. Sadly, Warren is killed in a car accident in 1985. Acknowledged as an R&B and club classic, “It Must Be Love” is reissued on CD in Japan in 1996 and again in 2008 and 2014. “It Must Be Love” peaks at number twenty seven on the Billboard R&B album chart, and number eighty eight on the Top 200.