Friday, June 20, 2008

We Owned The 80's - Bobby Brown

Today, Robert Barisford Brown is probably better known to most as a walking punchline and the dude who ruined Whitney Houston's career. That's revisionist herstory of course. Reality is, Bobby Brown was one of the most accomplished R&B artists of the late 80's, and perhaps one of the greatest entertainers of his generation.

The world was introduced to a young B-Brown in the mid-80's as a member of the Maurice Star-assembled Boston boy band, New Edition. Peep "Candy Girl".

And "Cool It Now".

It was blatantly obvious early on that Bobby was the Michael of this Jackson Five ripoff, although the group's handlers insisted on putting the tender and sensitive Ralph Tresvant front and center. Ralph was (according to my AverageFemaleCousin) "cuter" and more "Boy Next Door" while the chronically pelvic-thrusting preteen Bobby was the "Boy You're Glad Doesn't Live Next Door". But Bobby wasn't going to play Kobe to anyone's Shaq. The man was a franchise player and franchise players have their own teams, damnit!

So after a few years of being jerked on album royalties and denied the spotlight, he finally broke camp and became a solo artist, dropping the lightly received King of Stage. Other than the puppy love classic "Girlfriend", this album was mostly forgettable.

After fighting for his freedom from the restrictive image of New Edition, King of Stage was largely a dud because it seemed like Bobby was still holding something back. He learned from this minor setback, retooled his image (read: more pelvic thrusts, unpredictable wailing, and tacky leather suits), and hooked up with of-the-moment producers like New Jack Swing pioneer Teddy Riley and simp-slow-jammer extraordinaire Babyface for his second album, the awesome Don't Be Cruel.

"Don't Be Cruel" was the lead single, and the point where Bobby's solo career really took off.

"Ooohh girl.. long as I've been givin' my love to yooooou... you should be givin' me your love toooooo."

"Every Little Step" is probably one of my 25 all-time favorite songs, which says quite a bit. I mean, seriously, dude is talking about sticking with a woman no matter what for a change, not tellin' her "Ho' Sit Down", callin' her a "Bust It Baby" or some such random nonsense we typically hear nowadays.

I never really dug "My Prerogative" though. I wasn't too crazy about all the polysyllabic words, the gluttonously overdone Teddy Riley production, and the lazy concert style video. But I suppose enough other people liked it, so what do I know?

A tremendously popular song, it's been since remade by Britney Spears. Or was it Lindsay Lohan? Hillary Duff? The Hannah Montana chick? I dunno which one for sure, and it doesn't really matter since it was awful. I hear it everyday in the gym at lunchtime. Props to the Gold's Gym Music Network for that one. Or not.

Also on the album; the quiet storm classics "Tenderoni" and "Rock Wit' Cha'". I'm just too lazy to keep scouring YouTube for embed links, so you'll have to find them on your own.

So massive was this album that it spawned 5 Billboard Top 10 hits, sold 7 million copies (an impressive feat for an R&B artist in those days), and inspired countless imitators. Usher, Omarion, Mario, Tyrese, and Chris Brown (among others) need to respect the architect.

Don't Be Cruel's runaway success was good to Bobby. He dabbled in acting. He tried some recreational drugs. He made some babies. And he was tabbed to create the theme song to a blockbuster summer movie. Here's one of my personal favorites, a Don't Be Cruel throwaway track cleverly remade as the theme to Ghostbusters 2, "On Our Own".

It's so obvious this song had nothing whatsoever to do with the movie. They prolly asked Bobby if he needed an extra $50k in pocket change and he said "You think I don't? Hell yeah!!!", went to the studio and tossed in that weak "they the Ghostbusters and they in control" rap at the start and end of the song. So lazy is the job that he didn't even bother writing different verses, he just spit the same thing twice, Mos Def style.

And oddly enough, the net result is still amazing. The man was just brilliant like that. He probably could have burped over a track for 4 minutes and it still woulda been a hit.

Peep all the cameos in this video. Michelle Phieffer. Iman. Donald Trump. Classic.

Sadly, like all things 80's Brown's success wouldn't last. He failed to seize the momentum of Don't Be Cruel, and oddly waited another four years before putting out his 3rd proper album[1], Bobby, in 1992. He also made the awful decision of getting married to Houston during this time, and his toned down album seemed to reflect this shift in lifestyle.

Bobby spawned relative hits like "Humpin' Around", "Good Enough" and "Get Away", but clearly marital bliss (or lack thereof) had robbed his music of it's prior edginess. He sold 3 Million copies of this album, but I swear I heard the Fat Lady on that terrible "Somethin' In Common" duet, and it won't Whitney. It was the sound of Bobby's career coming to a halting screech.

I don't really care to go much deeper into Bobby post-Don't Be Cruel. I try not to get too deep into superficial matters of celebrity gossip. Whether or not Bobby lead Whitney to the pipe or vice versa is irrelevant. The sad fact is, either way, the career of a budding legend was ethered in utero. And that's no laughing matter.

So rather than be a buzz killer, let's end this whole thing with a medley of the man's greatest hits, performed live.[2]

Question: Why do you think Bobby Brown's career fizzled out early? Am I writing my own revisionist history by overstating the man's contributions to black music? Got any suggestions for future editions of We Owned The 80's?

Bobby Brown wiki [Wikipedia]

Previous Editions of We Owned The 80's

[1] No, I'm not counting that lazy repackage job Dance Ya' Know It as an actual album.

[2] I couldn't find an innocent enough way to weave it into this post, but just how sad is that whole "Young Buck crying/begging for this job back" audiotape? Not that I had much respect for 50 Cent, but that was some pretty low sh*t. Seriously, Curtis. Get your life right.

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