Several classic albums were released in 1981, a year led by Rick James' Street Songs, Luther Vandross' Never Too Much, and Slave's Show Time, but the 7" and 12" sections at record stores were regularly replenished with newly charting singles that reached Billboard's Hot Soul Singles at a rate of roughly ten a week. During the year's second-to-last week, close Mtume associate and session keyboardist Hubert Eaves III, along with newcomer vocalist James Williams, strong-armed all contenders with "You're the One for Me," the ultimate synth-funk jam. As a classification, "jam" seems far too light. If Prince's "Controversy" is a monster, "You're the One for Me" is a bionic leviathan. Eaves' synthesizer weighed a ton. Even if you can't help but mishear "Bustin' up on a cloud" as a certain unprintable exclamation, there is no denying that Williams brought the year's most powerful vocal.

As in 1980, there were more than enough outstanding singles in '81 to justify monthly top tens. They appear beneath the embedded Spotify link and necessitated their own tough cuts. This era was golden. If a ranked, 40-deep list of album cuts and failed-to-chart singles were appended to the charted 40, the trip from number one to number 80 wouldn't involve a significant drop in quality. That back 40, for starters, would have to include Slave's "Party Lites" and "Steal Your Heart," Twennynine's "Movin' On" and "Find a Love," Gene Dunlap's "Take My Love," Sylvia Striplin's "You Can't Turn Me Away," the B.B. & Q. Band's "Starlette," René & Angela's "Secret Rendezvous," Chaka Khan's "Fate," and Rufus & Chaka Khan's "Secret Friend." (The last of that bunch is basically Rufus & Chaka and René & Angela at the same damn time).

Forty favorite R&B singles that touched Billboard's Hot Soul Singles chart in 1981 -- artist name first, followed by title, label of release, and date of chart entry:

1. D Train - "You're the One for Me" [Prelude, 12/19]
2. Prince - "Controversy" [Warner, 9/26]
3. Taana Gardner - "Heartbeat" [West End, 4/25]
4. Change - "Paradise" [RFC, 4/11]
5. Evelyn King - "I'm in Love" [RCA, 6/20]
6. Rick James - "Super Freak" [Gordy, 8/1]
7. Luther Vandross - "Never Too Much" [Epic, 8/8]
8. Atlantic Starr - "When Love Calls" [A&M, 2/28]
9. Earth, Wind & Fire - "Let's Groove" [ARC, 10/10]
10. René & Angela - "I Love You More" [Capitol, 6/27]

11. Cheryl Lynn - "Shake It Up Tonight" [Columbia, 5/30]
12. Daryl Hall & John Oates - "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" [RCA, 11/28]
13. Stephanie Mills f/ Teddy Pendergrass - "Two Hearts" [20th Century, 4/25]
14. The Whispers - "It's a Love Thing" [Solar, 1/10]
15. Logg - "I Know You Will" [Salsoul, 8/29]
16. Donald Byrd & 125th Street NYC - "Love Has Come Around" [Elektra, 8/15]
17. Marvin Gaye - "Heavy Love Affair" [Tamla, 5/16]
18. Central Line - "Walking into Sunshine" [Mercury, 10/10]
19. Convertion - "Let's Do It" [SAM, 2/21]
20. Patrice Rushen - "Never Gonna Give You Up" [Elektra, 2/21]

21. Webster Lewis - "Let Me Be the One" [Epic, 3/28]*
22. Prince - "Dirty Mind" [Warner, 1/17]
23. The Brothers Johnson - "The Real Thing" [A&M, 6/20]
24. Skyy - "Call Me" [Salsoul, 11/7]
25. Pieces of a Dream - "Warm Weather" [Elektra, 9/26]
26. Nick Straker Band - "A Little Bit of Jazz" [Prelude, 8/1]
27. Billy Ocean - "Nights (Feel Like Getting Down)" [Epic, 5/16]
28. Grace Jones - "Pull Up to the Bumper" [Island, 4/11]
29. Slave - "Wait for Me" [Cotillion, 12/19]
30. Tom Browne - "Thighs High (Grip Your Hips and Move)" [GRP, 1/24]

31. The Gap Band - "Yearning for Your Love" [Mercury, 3/28]
32. Linx - "You're Lying" [Chrysalis, 2/28]
33. Kool & the Gang - "Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It)" [DeLite, 10/3]
34. Teena Marie - "Square Biz" [Gordy, 6/20]
35. Frankie Smith - "Double Dutch Bus" [WMOT, 2/28]
36. Heaven & Earth - "I Really Love You" [WMOT, 5/2]
37. Ray Parker Jr. & Raydio - "A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)" [Arista, 3/7]
38. Bobby Womack - "If You Think You're Lonely Now" [Beverly Glen, 11/21]
39. Unlimited Touch - "Searching to Find the One" [Prelude, 5/23]
40. Aurra - "Are You Single" [Salsoul, 4/18]

*This song is not available on Spotify in the U.S. Favorite number 41 appears in its place, at the end of the playlist.



Monthly top tens (based on entry dates):

January
The Whispers - "It's a Love Thing"
Tom Browne - "Thighs High (Grip Your Hips and Move)"
Prince - "Dirty Mind"
Steely Dan - "Hey Nineteen"
Unlimited Touch - "I Hear Music in the Streets"
Sister Sledge - "All American Girls"
Twennynine w/ Lenny White - "Fancy Dancer"
Hiroshima - "Warriors"
Debra Laws - "Be Yourself"
Lenny Williams - "Messing with My Mind"

February
Atlantic Starr - "When Love Calls"
Patrice Rushen - "Never Gonna Give You Up"
Convertion - "Let's Do It"
Linx - "You're Lying"
Frankie Smith - "Double Dutch Bus"
Quincy Jones - "Ai No Corrida"
RJ's Latest Arrival - "Wind Me Up"
Smokey Robinson - "Being with You"
Sharon Redd - "Can You Handle It"
Sadane - "One-Way Love Affair"

March
Webster Lewis - "Let Me Be the One"
The Gap Band - "Yearning for Your Love"
Shalamar - "Make That Move"
Chaka Khan - "What Cha' Gonna Do for Me"
Rick James - "Give It to Me Baby"
Ray Parker Jr. & Raydio - "A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)"
Delegation - "In Love's Time"
Deniece Williams - "What Two Can Do"
Bill Summers & Summers Heat - "Call It What You Want"
Ullanda McCullough - "Bad Company"

April
Change - "Paradise"
Taana Gardner - "Heartbeat"
Stephanie Mills f/ Teddy Pendergrass - "Two Hearts"
Grace Jones - "Pull Up to the Bumper"
Aurra - "Are You Single"
The Strikers - "Body Music"
Bernard Wright - "Just Chillin' Out"
The Clarke/Duke Project - "Sweet Baby"
The Jacksons - "Can You Feel It"
Thelma Houston - "If You Feel It"

May
Cheryl Lynn - "Shake It Up Tonight"
Billy Ocean - "Nights (Feel Like Getting' Down)"
Heaven & Earth - "I Really Love You"
Marvin Gaye - "Heavy Love Affair"
Unlimited Touch - "Searching to Find the One"
Cameo - "Freaky Dancin'"
One Way - "Push"
LV Johnson - "I Don't Really Care"
Debra Laws - "Very Special"
Leon Ware - "Rockin' You Eternally"

June
Evelyn King - "I'm in Love"
René & Angela - "I Love You More"
Teena Marie - "Square Biz"
The Brothers Johnson - "The Real Thing"
Slave - "Feel My Love"
Quincy Jones - "Razzamatazz"
Atlantic Starr - "Send for Me"
Shalamar - "This Is for the Lover in You"
Carl Carlton - "She's a Bad Mama Jama"
Commodores - "Lady (You Bring Me Up)"

July
Denroy Morgan - "I'll Do Anything for You"
Kleeer - "Running Back to You"
Al Jarreau - "We're in This Love Together"
The B.B. & Q. Band - "On the Beat"
Brick - "Sweat ('Til You Get Wet)"
The Gap Band - "Humpin'"
Phyllis Hyman - "Can't We Fall in Love Again"
Change - "Hold Tight"
Bernard Wright - "Haboglabotribin'"
The Graingers - "Shine Your Light"

August
Luther Vandross - "Never Too Much"
Rick James - "Super Freak"
Logg - "I Know You Will"
Donald Byrd & 125th Street NYC - "Love Has Come Around"
Nick Straker Band - "A Little Bit of Jazz"
Maze f/ Frankie Beverly - "Before I Let Go"
Deniece Williams - "Silly"
Bits & Pieces - "Don't Stop the Music"
Suzy Q - "Get on Up and Do It Again"
The Time - "Get It Up"

September
Prince - "Controversy"
Slave - "Snap Shot"
Pieces of a Dream - "Warm Weather"
Melba Moore - "Take My Love"
The Whispers - "This Kind of Lovin'"
Rockie Robbins - "Time to Think"
LJ Reynolds - "Key to the World"
One Way - "Pull Fancy Dancer/Pull"
Gwen McCrae - "Funky Sensation"
Chaka Khan - "Any Old Sunday"

October
Central Line - "Walking into Sunshine"
Earth, Wind & Fire - "Let's Groove"
Kool & the Gang - "Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It)"
Tavares - "Loveline"
George Benson - "Turn Your Love Around"
RJ's Latest Arrival - "Body Snatcher"
Jimmy Ross - "First True Love Affair"
Teena Marie - "It Must Be Magic"
René & Angela - "Wall to Wall"
Cheryl Lynn - "In the Night"

November
Skyy - "Call Me"
Daryl Hall/John Oates - "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)"
Bobby Womack - "If You Think You're Lonely Now"
The Time - "Cool"
Rick James - "Ghetto Life"
Kraftwerk - "Numbers"
Dynasty - "Love in the Fast Lane"
Angela Bofill - "Something About You"
Gayle Adams - "Love Fever"
Kano - "Can't Hold Back (Your Loving)"

December
D Train - "You're the One for Me"
Slave - "Wait for Me"
Aurra - "Make Up Your Mind"
The B.B. & Q. Band - "Time for Love"
Luther Vandross - "Don't You Know That?"
Roger - "Do It Roger"
Quincy Jones - "One Hundred Ways"
Chic - "Stage Fright"
Lowrell Simon - "Love Massage"
Vernon Burch - "Do It to Me"
Mike & Brenda Sutton - "We'll Make It"