Thanks to new albums by The Weeknd and Frank Ocean, this is totally the month of hipster R&B. You can read our own Sean Fennessey’s magnificent think piece on it, or maybe peep The Guardian’s informative take on the “cult of Cassie” among chillwaver types, or maybe just follow Eric Harvey on Twitter because no one is going to do a more lucid piece of writing on this than him tweeting “PBR&B.” But all this got us thinking: Are rock critics in 2011 qualified enough to cover the older R&B that’s supposedly fueling these blue-eyed and/or scarf-necked soulsters? We asked 15 music writers:
How many of Boyz II Men’s five Billboard Hot 100 #1 singles can you name?
This should be remarkably easy, right? One of these songs broke Elvis Presley’s record by staying on top of the charts for 13 weeks, then a second did 14 weeks. And then a third did 16 weeks, making it ostensibly the most popular song of all time. If you managed to avoid these songs, you must not have ears–which, the last time I checked, was literally the only requirement to doing this job (it certainly ain’t knowing how to write). These songs soundtracked our homecomings and proms and weddings and probably even a divorce or two. They will be around a lot longer than How To Dress Well.
So we once again cobbled a consortium of 15 professional and semi-professional rock critics, all given the usual rules:
1. I will not identify you AT ALL, so it is OK to be wrong. [We will say that our esteemed panel edits magazines, websites, and alt-weeklies. They have written for pretty much every outlet you’ve ever heard of, from Rolling Stone, Spin, and Billboard on down to random Tweets.]
2. You can’t use Google.
Does our panel know their cooleyhighharmonies? The correct answer and the results below:
The correct answer: “End Of The Road” (1992), “I’ll Make Love To You” (1994), “On Bended Knee” (1994) “One Sweet Day” (with Mariah Carey, 1995), “4 Seasons Of Loneliness” (1997)
Out of 15 polled:
Number of critics that answered correctly and got all five: 0
Number of critics that got four: 2
Number of critics that got three: 5
Number of critics that got two: 6
Number of critics that got one or less: 2
Things the critic who only knew one said: “There must be a song with ‘prayer’ in the title. Or “On My Knees.”
Things the critic who knew zero said: “The only one I knew was the one where they said their name over and over. Was that just called ‘Boyz II Men’? You sure know how to bring out the rockist guilt in a fella.”
Most correctly answered song: “End Of The Road” (13 responses)
Least correctly answered song: “4 Seasons Of Loneliness” (0 responses)
Critics that guessed “Motownphilly”: 9
Critics that guessed “Water Runs Dry”: 4
Critics that seemed actually upset that “Water Runs Dry” wasn’t a chart-topper: 1
Critics that asked if Boyz II Men did “I Swear”: 1
Critics who insisted their lack of Boyz II Men knowledge was due to growing up in Canada, and when asked what was popular in Canada at the time, replied “Snow,” and then proceeded to tell a short story about how he had a friend who was a valet and the rapper Snow gave the valet friend a hard time about scuffing his Chevy Envoy or something, and the whole time Snow had a goon with him that was white, dreadlocked and kept saying the word “livity”: 1
First off, as shocking as it may sound, “Motownphilly” never hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100! It stalled out at number three, constantly shut out by a revolving line-up of completely inferior, totally unbearable songs, including Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)”, Color Me Badd’s “I Adore Mi Amor” and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s “Good Vibrations.” (Thanks to Evie Nagy at Billboard for the depressing stats!)
Secondly, is “4 Seasons Of Loneliness” the most forgettable number one in the history of Billboard? Seriously, sing me a couple bars from that one right now. I’ll wait. “4 Seasons” was the first single off Evolution, the inaccurately titled follow-up to their 12-times platinum album II. Its one-week run topping the chart in October of 1997 makes it the final Motown song to ever hit the top–it was ultimately bumped by “Candle In The Wind 1997.” Produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, it kind of has the gentle spaceship hum of their work on Michael Jackson’s HIStory and the saccharine feel of countless Mariah ballads.