Motown’s most dangerous star of the early 1980s was red hot in the summer of 1983, and so were his label. Rick James released his new album Cold Blooded on 5 August, then the Billboard R&B album chart for the week of 17 September showed him climbing to No. 1 to begin a ten-week reign. When that ended in late November, Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down took over for a run of 20 consecutive weeks, with six more to come. It meant that Motown owned the top of the R&B album chart for seven months.
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In fact, the label’s influence was everywhere. 1983 had begun with former Motown signing Michael Jackson putting together an incredible aggregate 37-week stint at No. 1 R&B with Thriller. Another former Tamla group, the Isley Brothers, then had a week at the summit with Between The Sheets. Then came Rick, then Lionel. The whole year had a Motown flavour.
James, for his part, was on his way to another gold-certified album, fuelled by the huge success of the title track and lead single from Cold Blooded. As the album started its reign on the R&B survey, the track was already in its six-week run atop the corresponding singles chart.
The singles from Cold Blooded didn’t bring James as much crossover success as he would have liked, the title track peaking at No. 40 on the pop chart and subsequent released stalling below the top 40. But the opening cut, the typically lively ‘U Bring The Freak Out,’ was a top 20 soul single. There was also a No. 22 placing for the track that brought Motown’s new and old guard together, Rick’s supposedly “secret” ballad duet with Smokey Robinson, ‘Ebony Eyes.’
Punk-funk instigator James had taken the conscious decision to change his sound for the Cold Blooded album. That was after Quincy Jones had paid him the huge compliment of saying that his production sound on Thriller was very much informed by Rick’s style on ‘Give It To Me Baby,’ from 1981’s Street Songs. Rick resolved to give his music more space, with more synthesisers and fewer horns and guitars. The title track was written about actress Linda Blair, who he was dating at the time.
1983 was a year of great creativity all round for James, whose productions for his protégées the Mary Jane Girls brought them international success that summer, with a top 20 UK placing for the Gordy label single ‘All Night Long.’
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