Today, we're shining the soft-filtered Summer Slow Jams spotlight on a few miscellaneous titles in Rhino's Smooth Jams series:
- New Jack Ballads Vols. 1-3 (January 13, 1998)
- Wedding Songs (January 13, 1998)
- After Hours (January 18, 2000)
- After Hours: Cool Down (April 16, 2002)
I will be the first person to tell you that my own personal definition of new jack swing is hip-hop influenced upbeat R&B of the late Eighties and the early Nineties. I do not believe in such things as hip-hop ballads and therefore I do not believe in new jack ballads by association. I will also be the first person to tell you that this album is hardly new jack swing though there are a few joints that made me stop, yell and point "Hey, that's new jack swing right there!" My two favorite songs on this album are The System's "Don't Disturb This Groove" and The Jets with "You Got It All". The namesake groove should indeed not be disturbed while the latter song is sweet and innocent like first love should be. Bonus points for you if you knew it was written by Rupert Holmes. Yup, Rupert "Piña Colada" Holmes.
There are only two tracks on this album I have liked since I first heard them back when they were released in 1985 and 1988, respectively: Force M.D.'s "Tender Love" and Al B. Sure! with "Nite And Day". After listening to them both again recently, I will concede that they are indeed worthy of the new jack ballad designation. "Tender Love" is the penultimate track on the Krush Groove soundtrack album and is one of many hits from the songwriting and production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The other song was a crossover sensation, reaching the Top 20 on the Pop, R&B and AC charts.
The fact that only half of the songs on Vol. 3 of New Jack Ballads are available in Spotify's 41.5 million track library tells me that Rhino went out of its way to license more than a few of the tracks on the album. Checking prices confirmed my suspicion that there are rarities as this disc commands far higher prices than the other two volumes in the series though Vol. 2 also commands above average pricing. All of that aside, the album holds little interest to me. In addition to featuring another Dreamboy track (the other one is on Vol. 1), the only track that gets any play is Club Nouveau's "Why You Treat Me So Bad?". While the song is hella catchy enough, the relentless hypnotic beat has achieved near-classic status by being sampled in several other hit songs, including another HERC favorite summer smoker "I Got 5 On It" by Luniz, which made the Top 10 twenty years ago. Bonus points if you can name the other classic R&B sample that can be plainly heard repeatedly in the Luniz song.
While a CD that is titled Wedding Songs and is part of a series called Smooth Grooves could be a recipe for disaster, this one fits the bill quite nicely. Though none of the songs were played at the brief reception/biker rally that followed my own shotgun nuptials down at the county court house back in 1987, the twelve tracks on this CD all have a loose wedding sentiment to them and would not be out of place if played at more than a few wedding receptions I have attended. One of those Dreamboy songs mentioned earlier shows up yet again here but my three favorites on this album are the breath-taking "All This Love" by DeBarge, "Cherish" by Kool & the Gang (in its 12" remix form with tasty sax solo) and the closing track, the romantic reaffirmation "I'd Still Yes" by Klymaxx. (For the playlist below, I substituted the extended version of that song for the album version that can be heard on the CD.) The gorgeous Stevie Wonder track unfortunately has a most dark and foul personal memory attached to it that comes to mind each time I hear it so I usually skip it to preserve my mood and my sanity.X
It's no secret that I had all but checked out of the slow jams game in the mid Eighties, after a nearly decade long run, which is when most of the songs on After Hours were on the charts and getting airplay on exactly none of the stations I was listening to at the time. That being said, almost all of the songs on this discs were new to me and I actually liked most of them. The only one I skip is Roger's "I Want To Be Your Man". So much is wrong with that song - it's like when that other funk god tried his hand at a "slow jam". You remember Larry Graham's "One In A Million", don't cha?
While there is an undeniable down-tempo groove on After Hours Cool Down, I would call it chill before slow jams. The album bears two unique traits that set it apart form all the other discs in the Smooth Grooves series: 1) if I am not mistaken, every single track is either a long full length album version or extended remix and 2) "surprise" tracks from Hall & Oates and The Human League, a couple of the last artists I'd expect to see in a series such as this, keep the groove going. In case you're wondering, the Soul II Soul track is my jam and now that we are done here, Imma go listen to that album. Bonus points if you knew the three Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis songs here.