One of the biggest musical trends of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s was the emergence of new jack swing, blending the powerful, yet essentially separate worlds of melodic R&B and the drum-beat rap and funky intensity of hip-hop. No artist was bigger in this domain than Bobby Brown, first as one of the members of New Edition, and on “Don’t’ Be Cruel”, his massive commercial success as a solo artist. Released in mid-1988, this humongous record was the number one selling album of 1989.
Even as a rocker who was warming up to hip-hop and a variety of styles of music, I would have never pegged me to be a big fan of this record. That being said… I loved it. It has several great songs, some that we all know, plus a couple of less celebrated gems I found listening to this record. Even so, at the time of its release, this record was all about one song for me, and specifically, one music video. As probably the worst single dancer on the planet, to this day, I remain mesmerized by the video “Every Little Step”. It is remarkably simple from a production standpoint, as it is just Bobby and these two crazy dancers absolutely crushing it, along with three female dances they are theoretically pursuing and performing for, on a simple soundstage occupied only by the white lettering of “EVERY LITTLE STEP”. I remember my friends Matt, Shane and I only dreaming we could move the way these guys blow this number up. And yes, I truly love the song as well, video or not, and it has been a staple of any dance or party mix-tape / CD / playlist I have created since then.
This is far from a one song album, as the title track, as well as “My Prerogative”, are both fantastic as well, even though I always thought it was weird that any singer or songwriter would build a song around the word “prerogative”. The duo of Babyface and L.A. Reid, along with Brown and a few others, handled most of the songwriting and production here, and they did a great job. My other favorite on this album is the song “Roni”, and although it was also released as a single, I don’t recall it as a big hit at the time. It has such a funky and alluring groove, and I don’t know how anybody could resist this anymore than most girls could resist the charms of Brown at the time.
Musically, the rest of the album has its ups and downs, including the obligatory over-the-top cheesy ballads, but it is a fantastic signature piece from beginning to end. By the way, I do not include “Rock Wit’cha” on the cheesy list… I love this song too. Ultimately, Bobby’s charm won him the ultimate prize in Whitney Houston, but sadly they fed off of each other’s worst tendencies, and what followed was a life of devastation, tragedy and loss. As music fans, we have the luxury of ignoring these realities and immersing ourselves in the fantasy world of their image and music when they were on top, and I certainly seized that escape fully in “Don’t Be Cruel”.
Watch that video… you won’t be disappointed.