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Motown in the 80s

Motown singles and albums from the 1980s cover to cover with trivia!

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    Diana Ross - Diana (1980). Ross' 11th studio album was, and remains, the biggest-selling studio recording of her career. All songs were composed, performed and produced by Chic's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. Hits include "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out".
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    Teena Marie - Lady T (1980). Lady T, released in February 1980, was Teena Marie's second album and included the killer single "Behind the Groove, co-written by Richard Rudolph (Better known to some as Minnie Riperton's widower and Maya Rudolph's father. Maya, then 7, actually appears on the track "Too Many Colors"). Because the packaging of Teena Marie's debut Wild and Peaceful had not included a photo of the singer, the image on the sleeve of this album surprised many listeners who had assumed Teena was African-American.
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    Teena Marie - Irons in the Fire (1980). Teena's Irons in the Fire was her first self-produced effort, and it was dedicated to her father. Lead single "I Need Your Lovin'" peaked at #9 on the R&B Singles chart and #37 on the Billboard Hot 100. Additionally, along with the track "Chains", "I Need Your Lovin'" peaked at #2 on the Dance chart.
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    Jermaine Jackson - Let's Get Serious (1980). 1980 saw the most successful album of Jermaine's career. The title track was the biggest R&B hit of the year as well as a Top 10 pop hit. After splitting with his brothers, Jermaine recorded three solo albums without any major hits. Needing a hit, he enlisted the aid of friend and labelmate Stevie Wonder, who pumped out three great songs, including the title track. This collaboration paid off, and Jermaine finally scored a hit.
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    Switch - Reaching for Tomorrow (1980). Switch predates and heavily influenced one of Motown's biggest acts of the 80s, DeBarge. The group included DeBarge siblings Tommy and Bobby as well as James Ingram's brother Phillip. The group was discovered by Jermaine Jackson. Reaching for Tomorrow was the group's first release of the 80s and included the single "Don't Take My Love Away".
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    Switch -This Is My Dream (1980). Their second album of 1980 included the singles "You and I" and "Love Over and Over Again", which was co-written by DeBarge sister Bunny. It was the only work of theirs to not feature input from mentor Jermaine Jackson. Switch produced the album themselves.
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    Diana Ross & Lionel Richie - "Endless Love" (1981). Written by Richie and then recorded as a duet for the Brooke Shields film of the same name, "Endless Love" was named the greatest duet of all time by Billboard magazine. While the film was a box office dud, this single ended up being the second biggest single of the year and the most commercially successful song of Ross' career. To this day it is ubiquitous at weddings. It was covered by Luther Vandross and Mariah Carey in the 90s.
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    Diana Ross - Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1981). In '81 Ross covered Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers' doo-wop oldie "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" as the title track of her latest album. This collection also includes "Mirror Mirror" and "Endless Love".
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    Rick James - Street Songs (1981). Rick James' masterwork Street Songs was his fifth studio album. The lead single "Give It to Me Baby" became his second #1 single on the R&B charts and crossover hit "Super Freak" was even bigger. Another notable track is his duet with Teena Marie, "Fire and Desire". Marie recorded her vocals in one take while suffering from a fever so severe it landed her in the hospital once the recording session ended.
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    Teena Marie - It Must Be Magic (1981). Released the same year as Rick James' masterpiece Street Songs was Teena Marie's last album for Motown. It is notable for the classics "Square Biz" and "Portuguese Love" (which contains uncredited vocals from James). After the recording wrapped, Teena Marie got into a heated legal battle with Motown Records over her contract and disagreements about releasing her new material. The lawsuit resulted in "The Brockert Initiative", which made it illegal for a record company to keep an artist under contract without releasing new material for that artist. Teena Marie departed Motown as their most successful white solo act.
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    Smokey Robinson - "Being with You" (1981). "Being with You" spent five weeks at #1 on the R&B chart during the spring of 1981 and peaked at #2 on the Hot 100, stuck behind Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes" holding down #1, a song which ultimately became the biggest pop hit of that year. Ironically, Carnes' hit prior to "Bette Davis Eyes" was a cover of Robinson's song "More Love". Because he liked her version so much, he originally wrote "Being with You" for her to record.
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    Diana Ross - Silk Electric (1982). This album was packaged with a cover design by Andy Warhol and, co-produced by Michael Jackson, includes a song named after and with lyrics about Jackson's boa constrictor "Muscles". (At least that's what they claimed back in the day. The lyrics sound racier than that!)
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    In 1982, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin agreed to rejoin The Temptations for a new album, aptly titled Reunion, and its subsequent promotional tour. Rick James, Melvin Franklin's nephew who had previously used the Temptations as backup vocalists on "Super Freak", wrote, produced, and guested on the Reunion album's lead single, "Standing on the Top". The single went to #6 on the R&B charts. While the ensuing tour with all seven Tempts was financially successful, it ended up being a stressful venture due to the same old tensions in the group and Ruffin's severe drug addiction. At the conclusion of the Reunion tour, Ruffin and Kendricks departed, and they began touring and performing together as a duo.
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    Dazz Band - "Let It Whip" (1982). "Let It Whip" is the Dazz Band's biggest hit, peaking at #1 on the R&B chart for five non-consecutive weeks. The single also reached #2 on the Dance chart and #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 1983.
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    Jermaine Jackson - Let Me Tickle Your Fancy (1982). This album marks the end of his time with Motown and boasts a surprising collaboration with new wave group Devo on the title track.
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    Charlene - "I've Never Been to Me" (1982). Believe it or not, one hit wonder Charlene's campy ballad "I've Never Been to Me" was a Motown release. It charted twice - in 1977 and then peaked at #3 in 1982. The Temptations covered it on their Reunion album, also from 1982.
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    Lionel Richie - Can't Slow Down (1983). This is Richie's massive second solo album - a blockbuster that spent 59 consecutive weeks within the Top 10 - all of 1984. Overall, it spent a total of 160 weeks in the Billboard 200. It includes the memorable 80s staples "All Night Long (All Night)", "Penny Lover", "Stuck on You", Running with the Night", and "Hello". All of these singles hit the Top 10 on the Hot 100 with "Hello" and "All Night Long (All Night)" reaching #1. "Stuck on You" even crossed over to the country charts. Can't Slow Down went on to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1985.
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    Mary Jane Girls (1983). Just as Prince had Vanity 6/Apollonia 6, Rick James and Motown had the Mary Jane Girls. Their sexy hits included "In My House" and the heavily hip-hop sampled "All Night Long". The group consisted of four girls with distinctive looks and personalities. JoJo, lead vocalist, was sexy and streetwise, a female version of James himself. Cheri (then later replacement Corvette) was the Valley girl, Candi the vamp, and Maxi, the dominatrix. The quartet was originally conceived as just JoJo as a solo act, but due to contractual issues with Motown, it evolved into a girl group with only one actual singer.
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    Mary Jane Girls - Only Four You (1985). JoJo of the Mary Jane Girls' lead vocals were supported by legendary session singers Maxine and Julia Waters. The other members of the group could not sing at all or were extremely limited vocally. The band had to sing for the other members of the group with JoJo on tour. This situation prevented the group from achieving their full potential. Television shows could not have the group perform because of the vocal arrangements.
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    Rockwell - "Somebody's Watching Me" (1983). Rockwell, birth name Kennedy William Gordy, is the son of Motown founder and CEO Berry Gordy. Motown actually came up with the stage name Rockwell and the young Gordy agreed to the change because he believed he "rocked well." In 1984, Rockwell released his biggest hit single, "Somebody's Watching Me", featuring childhood friends Michael Jackson and Jermaine Jackson on guest vocals. Rockwell is also closely related to current group LMFAO through his half-brother Redfoo (Stefan Kendal Gordy, son of Berry Gordy and Nancy Leiviska) and his nephew SkyBlu (son of half-brother Berry Gordy IV and his wife Valerie Robeson).
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    Dazz Band - Joystick (1983). "Joystick" is the Dazz Band's second biggest hit of three Top 100 singles, reaching #61 on the Hot 100 and #9 on the R&B Singles Chart. The title of the song is double entendre for the male phallus that also tapped into the early 80s arcade game phenomenon. It can be heard in the arcade game compilation Namco Museum 50th Anniversary Arcade Collection.
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    Diana Ross - Swept Away (1984). This album's biggest hit "Missing You" was written and produced by Lionel Richie. It was conceived as a tribute to Marvin Gaye, who was murdered that April. Other tracks include a duet with Julio Iglesias ("All of You") and the title track, which was co-written by Daryl Hall.
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    The Commodores - "Nightshift" (1984). Not surprisingly, Motown was big with the Marvin Gaye tributes in 1984. "Nightshift" was written as a tribute to Gaye as well as Jackie Wilson, who also died tragically in 1984. It was The Commodores' first and biggest hit following Lionel Richie's departure from the group. Although the band was against the label's decision to release it as a single, it won a Grammy Award in 1985 for Best Vocal R&B Performance by a Duo/Group. Last year, Fantasia prominently sampled "Nightshift" in her single "Lose to Win".
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    Vanity - Wild Animal (1984). Sultry, controversial Prince protege Vanity signed with Motown in 1984 after opting to break off her professional and romantic relationship with the Purple One. Wild Animal was the first of Vanity's two Motown solo albums. Popular tracks included the single "Pretty Mess" and B-side "Mechanical Emotion", which featured old Paisley Park friend Morris Day.
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    Dennis Edwards - "Don't Look Any Further" (1984). Following the short-lived Temptations reunion in 1982, Dennis Edwards made an attempt to relaunch his solo career with the support of his old Motown family. His most successful effort was the single "Don't Look Any Further", a duet with Siedah Garrett.
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    DeBarge - Rhythm of the Night (1985). DeBarge and their sibling group Switch both signed with Motown in the late 70s. DeBarge went on to become one of Motown's most successful acts in the 80s. The peak of their success was in 1985 with the huge hit "Rhythm of the Night", which was recorded for the Motown film The Last Dragon. Other hits from the Rhythm of the Night album include "Who's Holding Donna Now" and "You Wear It Well".
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    El DeBarge - "Who's Johnny?" (1986). Due to tensions that mounted during the recording of Rhythm of the Night as Motown began to single out El DeBarge as the standout star of the family, both El and Bunny quit the group by 1986. The rest of the members of DeBarge were dropped by Motown while El DeBarge went on to have an immediate hit with "Who's Johnny?", the lead single off of the Short Circuit soundtrack.
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    Diana Ross - Eaten Alive (1985). This album, primarily written and produced by the Bee Gees, was a commercial disappointment but yielded the hit "Chain Reaction".
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    Lionel Richie - Dancing on the Ceiling (1986). This follow-up to Can't Slow Down nabbed Richie an Academy Award for Best Song. Single "Say You Say Me" was used in the film White Nights. Other singles include the title track (with its special effects-driven music video), "Ballerina Girl", and "Love Will Conquer All".
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    Stacy Lattisaw - Take Me All the Way (1986). Teen star Stacy Lattisaw signed with Motown in 1986 and recorded three albums with the label - Take Me All the Way, Personal Attention, and What You Need.
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    Vanity - Skin on Skin (1986). This 1986 collection is the second and final Vanity album put out by Motown. Its tracks include her biggest non-Prince produced hit "Under the Influence". It was also during this period that Vanity, also a B-actress, starred in the Motown Productions martial arts musical and cult classic The Last Dragon.
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    Pointer Sisters - Break Out (1983). The Pointer Sisters were signed by Motown in 1986 on the heels of their biggest chart success with 1983's Break Out ("Jump for My Love", "Automatic", "I'm So Excited", "Neutron Dance").
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    Bruce Willis - The Return of Bruno (1987). Yes, Bruce Willis was in the Motown roster! During the peak of his "Moonlighting" years, Willis recorded a couple R&B albums. The Return of Bruno did respectably on the charts (peak position: #14 on the Billboard 200 album chart). Backing musicians included Booker T. Jones, Ruth Pointer, and The Temptations. On the album he covered The Staple Singers' "Respect Yourself" (the biggest single at #5 on the Hot 100), "Under the Boardwalk", and "Secret Agent Man".
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    Stacy Lattisaw - What You Need (1989). Stacy's 1989 release with Motown included a duet with Johnny Gill, "Where Do We Go From Here".
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    The 80s were definitely up and down for Motown with faces familiar (Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Jermaine Jackson, Smokey Robinson) and new (Rick James, Teena Marie, DeBarge) scoring the hits while the decade still ultimately suffered in comparison to the label's glory days of the 60s to early 70s. However, just around the corner in the early 90s, the likes of Boyz II Men were gearing up to take the label to the next level.