Ten Greatest Classic Rhythm and Blues Love Songs
Love songs have been around for thousands of years, and who’s to say which ones are the best? Well, since I’m crazy about producing lists of all sorts, I’ll give it a try. The rhythm and blues genre—often abbreviated as R&B—has certainly provided numerous tunes designed to put one in the mood for all manner of romantic possibilities. On that note, here is my list of those soulful classics. (Since it doesn't really matter which song is number one or two, the list is presented in no particular order.)
Greatest R&B Love Songs
- "Could It Be I’m Falling in Love"—The Spinners
- "Reasons"—Earth, Wind and Fire
- "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get"—The Dramatics
- "Ready or Not"—After 7
- "You’re Still a Young Man"—Tower of Power
- "Saving All My Love for You"—Whitney Houston
- "Sweet Love"—Anita Baker
- "Make It Last Forever"—Keith Sweat
- "Lady in My Life"—Michael Jackson
- "You Mean the World to Me"—Toni Braxton
1. "Could It Be I’m Falling in Love"—The Spinners
Year Released: 1976
The Spinners, aka the Motown or Detroit Spinners, formed way back in 1961, but the group didn’t produce hit songs until the 1970s (perhaps the golden age of R&B). In 1973, the Spinners released “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” which reached number one on the R&B chart and number four on the Billboard Pop Singles chart.
The Spinners have produced other great hit singles, such as “One of a Kind Love Affair” and “I’ll Be Around,” their first top ten hit.
2. "Reasons"—Earth, Wind and Fire
Album: That's the Way of the World
Year Released: 1975
Earth, Wind and Fire (EWF), a super group in the R&B genre (the author really can’t say enough good words about these illustrious guys), was formed in 1969 by Maurice White, one of the band’s lead singers. “Reasons,” was featured on the album That’s the Way of the World. While, unbelievably, the song never charted, it’s endured as a classic R&B love song.
Many other EWF songs could be included here, particularly “Can’t Hide Love,” “That’s the Way of the World,” and “After the Love Is Gone.”
3. "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get"—The Dramatics
Album: Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get
Year Released: 1971
The Dramatics formed in 1962, but they didn’t hit the big time until 1971, when they released the hit single, “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get." This album became a mega hit, reaching number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 and selling over a million copies (thereby achieving gold record status).
Other Dramatics’ smash hits include “In the Rain,” a number one R&B hit and “All Because of You,” the quintet’s first hit single, produced in 1967.
4. "Ready or Not"—After 7
Album: After 7
Year Released: 1989
It seems safe to say every song on this list is one you’ll never get tired of. “Ready or Not,” produced by After 7 (a group formed in 1988 by the Edmonds brothers) in 1990, and co-written by prolific artist Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, will keep drifting softly through your mind until the end of time. By the way, “Ready or Not” was the first of two number one hit singles featured on the group’s self-titled debut album.
In the mid-'90s, After 7 broke up, but not before producing a cover of the Hall & Oates’ R&B classic, “Sarah Smile” (in 1997).
5. "You’re Still a Young Man"—Tower of Power
Album: Bump City
Year Released: 1972
“You’re Still a Young Man," the first hit by Tower of Power, a funk/soul/R&B band created in the late 1960s, was written by Emilio Castillo and Stephen Kupka. They were the band’s primary songwriters, as well as the most notable musicians in a horn section that has become iconic in the world of pop music.
This song is about a young man who has a crush on an older woman, who tells him, “you’re still a young man, baby...oh, don’t waste your time.”
6. "Saving All My Love for You"—Whitney Houston
Album: Whitney Houston
Year Released: 1985
The late, great Whitney Houston sang many amazing tunes, and perhaps the best of the lot is “Saving All My Love for You,” her first number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Released in 1985, the song is a cover of Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.'s minor 1978 hit. However, when Whitney sang the ballad, it became an overnight sensation and helped launch her meteoric career.
For recording the song, Whitney won the Grammy Award (the first of six) for the Best Pop Vocal Performance in 1985.
7. "Sweet Love"—Anita Baker
Year Released: 1986
Spawned from Anita Baker’s second studio album, Rapture, produced in 1986, “Sweet Love” hit the charts like a tsunami, surging to number three on the Billboard R&B chart and number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The following year, the song, which Baker co-wrote with Louis Johnson and Gary Bias, won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song.
The same year, Rapture won the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal performance. Anita Baker's career definitely began with a huge splash.
8. "Make It Last Forever"—Keith Sweat
Album: Make It Last Forever
Year Released: 1987
As many R&B artists seemed to have done, Keith Sweat spawned a hit single with the release of his first album. “Make It Last Forever” made it to number two on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
In addition to performing on every song on the album, Sweat also wrote or co-wrote many of the songs and, along with Teddy Riley, produced the album as well.
9. "Lady in My Life"—Michael Jackson
Year Released: 1982
One of many hit songs on Jackson’s album, Thriller (the bestselling album of all time in the United States), “Lady in My Life” excels as a classic R&B love song. Although the song wasn’t a hit single (overshadowed by Thriller’s numerous iconic tunes), “Lady in My Life” has an unforgettable melody, and Michael’s singing on it rips at one’s heartstrings until the tears fall like rain—or something like that.
10. "You Mean the World to Me"—Toni Braxton
Album: Toni Braxton
Year Released: 1993
Since around 1990, when she performed with her sisters as The Braxtons, Toni Braxton has been the quintessential R&B diva. Going solo in 1993, Braxton has produced numerous hit singles. In 1994, among a plethora of soulful tunes, Braxton produced “You Mean the World to Me.”
Along with “Un-Break My Heart,” another mega hit, “You Mean the World to Me” will forever remain in the hearts of fans of classic R&B.
You gotta love classic R&B. May it last forever, like sweet love. Please don’t forget to leave a comment. If you'd prefer to watch all of the videos in a single playlist, I've uploaded one to youtube.
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© 2012 Kelley Marks