Emerging from Minneapolis’ rich funk and R&B scene, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have had an almost unfathomably successful career. They are, quite simply, one of the greatest songwriting and production teams in popular music. Whether you consider their earlier work with R&B acts like Change and The S.O.S. Band or their decade(s) defining collaborations with Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have built up an unparalleled catalog of hits. Here are just 20 of the best and brightest Jam & Lewis songs.
Change – You Are My Melody
With its swinging, electronic rhythm, smooth chords, and catchy hook, “You Are My Melody” fits right in among some of the best contemporary R&B/boogie records of the early 80s. Breezy, soulful, and funky, “You Are My Melody” is a gorgeous ode to love and music.
Alexander O’Neal – Fake
Written and produced by Jam & Lewis, Alexander O’Neal’s “Fake” is a bitter send-off to an unfaithful lover. With its infectious synth stabs and uptempo beat, “Fake” is a classic cut that continues to rule block parties and cookouts today.
The S.O.S. Band – Just Be Good To Me
Epic, futuristic, and soulful. More so than any production and songwriting team, Jam & Lewis were responsible for completely reshaping the sound of R&B in the 80s. “Just Be Good To Me” by The S.O.S. Band is one of the duo’s greatest productions.
The Human League – Human
In 1986, Jam & Lewis were tapped to contribute songs to Crash, the fifth studio album from synth pop icons The Human League. A beautiful and tender song depicting a relationship in the midst of collapse, “Human” showcases the breadth and diversity of the Jam & Lewis catalog.
Cherrelle feat. Alexander O’Neal – Saturday Love
With its dreamy keyboard motifs and Cherrelle and O’Neal’s passionate vocal performances, “Saturday Love” is a perfect, musical crystallization of young love.
Force M.D.’s – Tender Love
Written and produced by Jam & Lewis, “Tender Love” is a song that soundtracked countless teenage crushes and high school dances in the 80s. Released during a time when it seemed like Jam & Lewis could not miss, “Tender Love” is one of the finest examples of the duo’s romantic ballads.
Cheryl Lynn – Encore
An anthem for the ages, Cheryl Lynn’s “Encore” is a standout of Jam & Lewis’ early catalog. The set up a bed of bouncy, electronic drums, synths, and deep bass for Cheryl Lynn’s ecstatic celebration of a new lover.
New Edition – Can You Stand The Rain
Arguably the greatest ballad of the 80s, New Edition’s “Can You Stand The Rain” is a beautifully tender and vulnerable song. Carried by a bittersweet instrumental backing, the song is a showcase for the group’s considerable vocal talents. An enduring hit, “Can You Stand The Rain” is just one of Jam & Lewis’ decade-defining songs.
Johnny Gill – Rub You The Right Way
By the time New Edition vocal powerhouse Johnny Gill released “Rub You The Right Way,” Jam & Lewis had firmly established their highly danceable pop soul sound. “Rub You The Right Way” stands strong against Jam & Lewis’ greatest productions with its catchy melody and driving, dance floor-ready beat.
Ralph Tresvant – Sensitivity
Another smash hit from another New Edition member gone solo, “Sensitivity” established Ralph Tresvant as a star on his own. With Tresvant’s subdued, breathy vocal wrapping itself around a memorable melody, “Sensitivity” is an enduring R&B classic.
The Sounds Of Blackness – Optimistic
An anthemic slice of soul-infused gospel, The Sounds Of Blackness’ 1991 smash, “Optimistic” is a masterpiece without peer. Built upon Gary Hines’ gorgeous piano chords and the lifting choral vocals, the uptempo track is an instant mood elevator.
Robert Palmer – I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On
All minimal funk and lowkey sexuality, Robert Palmer’s “I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On” is one of the finest cuts in the singer’s catalog. Much more subdued and almost sinister than the version released by Charelle a year earlier, “I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On” is a standout among Jam & Lewis’ brilliant 80s songs.
Patti Labelle – The Right Kinda Lover
The Queen of Philly soul and a singer of unparalleled power and versatility, Patti Labelle has weathered countless shifts in the music scene. When her 1994 single “The Right Kinda Lover” was released, Patti had already been around for nearly 30 years. Built on a driving, contemporary beat, “The Right Kinda Lover” was the fresh sound needed to reintroduce the veteran to contemporary crowds.
Boyz II Men – On Bended Knee
A wedding season anthem and an indefatigable radio staple, to call Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee” an enduring hit would be an understatement. With its dramatic piano and the group’s dense wall of sleek vocal harmonies, “On Bended Knee” is a testament to Jam & Lewis’ ability to craft tender songs full of disarming vulnerability.
Shabba Ranks featuring Johnny Gill – Slow & Sexy
A versatile and highly capable songwriting and production team, it’s no surprise that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis show the ability to create outside of genre restrictions. Collaborating with Jamaican reggae star Shabba Ranks, Jam & Lewis lay down an easy-going groove for Ranks to do his thing, with an assist from Johnny Gill.
Klymaxx – Wild Girls
An early entry in the Jam & Lewis songbook, “Wild Girls” is a fun and seductive jam from 1982. With its funky rhythm section and swooning vocal harmonies, “Wild Girls” has plenty of clues as to where the duo would take their sound.
Michael & Janet Jackson – Scream
A team up of the two biggest pop stars of the era, “Scream” sounded like nothing either Jackson had done before. Over a drum-heavy, minimalist groove, Michael and Janet lash out against everything from the media to corrupt police. When paired with its groundbreaking and futuristic video, the song is still memorable.
Janet Jackson – Control/Rhythm Nation/That’s The Way Love Goes
Of all the artists the duo have worked with over the years, Janet Jackson is without question Jam & Lewis’ muse and most fruitful collaborator. With 1986’s “Control,” the trio broke from the traditional pop mode and established Janet as a dominating force in popular music. With its aggressive edge, “Control” was “grown up” Janet and ready to take on the world.
Three years later, the trio returned with “Rhythm Nation,” a musical and conceptual tour de force that found Jackson upping the ante. With its lyrics calling for social uplift and racial unity and a classic video, “Rhythm Nation” put the world on notice that Jackson was a pop star of increasingly ambitious vision and laser-focused execution.
In 1993, Janet released “That’s The Way Love Goes,” a breezy and gorgeous tune that was hailed as a great return to the scene after a nearly four-year hiatus. With its smooth groove and bouncy drums snatched from The Honeydrippers’ “Impeach The President,” “That’s The Way Love Goes” found Janet putting her own unique spin on the emerging hip-hop soul sound of the day. A lush and sensuous daydream of a song, “That’s The Way Love Goes” is one of the finest offerings from one of the most prolific musical partnerships of our time.
Think we missed one of Jam & Lewis’s best songs? Let us know in the comments below.