The Number One R&B Hits Of the ’80s begin with Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and end the decade with “Tender Lover” from Babyface. A pretty representative pair of bookends – The Disco Sound of “Rock With You” and the Electro-Funk underpinnings married to Pop Songcraft sensibilities of “Tender Lover”. The decade saw a lot of changes in technology and culture that influenced the music.

This playlist simply seeks to highlight for historical purposes all of the songs that rose to the position of number one on the Billboard R&B Charts as a top-level peek into what was happening musically during the decade. We know that there are numerous musical acts and musical movements that are not reflected herein. 223 different songs by 128 different artists(a few songs and artists are missing from our playlist because: Spotify). We invite you to take a moment and consider who hit number one, who didn’t and perhaps who hit number one never to be heard from again?

Please know we’re not placing a premium on topping the chart. There are a number of factors as we know that contribute to a song acquiring enough mind-share to become as ubiquitous as a number one song becomes. More than anything this view of what was popular can be the entry point for a number of interesting conversations.

1. We all know about the dominance of Michael Jackson during the decade of Thriller but looking at the R&B charts Michael had some stiff competition from another Jackson… Freddie.

2. Noticeably absent from the number one spot on the R&B charts during the decade are The Pointer Sisters. Their success crossed over for certain but why didn’t it cross back?

3. Speaking of crossover… from the crossover to the R&B charts side of the game the only representers for the decade are Hall & Oates, George Michael, and Michael McDonald as part of his duet with Patti Labelle. Discuss.

4. The period from 1987 – 1989 was incredibly competitive as well as has the most representation of new and different artists taking the top spot, what may have spurred on that amount of diversity?

5. Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” has the distinction of holding the top spot on the R&B Charts for the longest during the decade at ten weeks. The two songs that closely trail Marvin are “That Girl” by Stevie Wonder and “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson both holding the top spot for nine weeks. This occurred between 1982 and 1983 as the decade progressed we see less and less of this type of multiweek domination by songs. Any thoughts as to why?

These are just a few items up for discussion. Feel free to use this post and playlist in your own discussions around the web and at home as well as hit us up in the comments section with your thoughts, questions etc.,

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R&B-Hits-1980's

Ivan Orr is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and writer. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia Ivan was involved with the forming and nascent days of The Music Resource Center as its first Program Director. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music, Ivan currently resides in Richmond, VA where he maintains an active performance and production schedule while serving as the Music Editor for Grown Folks Music, a position he has held since 2010.