Just as an obscure recording can be heard more favorably decades after release, the same amount of time can, given a variety of factors, wash away the significance of a popular one. Take Jody Watley's 1987 solo debut. Released beside blockbuster albums by established solo superstars (Prince's Sign O' the Times, Michael Jackson's Bad), while an indisputable '86 masterpiece (Janet Jackson's Control) still held sway, Jody Watley probably isn't one of the first couple albums most R&B fans would instantly associate with the year. Watley, the former Soul Train star and Shalamar member, had taken a couple years to find her footing, but she shrewdly linked with a pair of Minneapolis natives—not Jackson producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, but André Cymone and David Z.—as well as Chic's Bernard Edwards. She co-wrote most of the songs, including the first four singles—all of which hit either topped or peaked somewhere else within the Top Ten of Billboard's Hot Black Singles, Club Play, and Hot 100 charts.

Two of 1987's other big and most progressive albums were Alexander O'Neal's Hearsay—like Control, an excellent set driven by Jam & Lewis—and Keith Sweat's Make It Last Forever. Earlier in the decade, Sweat had released decent independent singles, but he achieved breakout status late in this year with "I Want Her," a song with a fresh sound that he wrote and produced, with co-production from Teddy Riley—another name whose fresh approach prompted a neologism and widespread fakery. More on that in R&B 40: 1988.

Forty favorite singles that hit Billboard's Hot Black Singles chart during 1987, followed by a Spotify playlist:

1. Keith Sweat - "I Want Her" [Vintertainment, 11/14]
2. The System - "Don't Disturb This Groove" [Atlantic, 2/14]
3. Surface - "Happy" [Columbia, 2/28]
4. Janet Jackson - "The Pleasure Principle" [A&M, 5/23]
5. Vesta - "Don't Blow a Good Thing" [A&M, 5/9]
6. Cameo - "Back and Forth" [Atlanta Artists, 3/21]
7. The Whispers - "Rock Steady" [Solar, 4/18]
8. Prince - "If I Was Your Girlfriend" [Paisley Park, 5/30]
9. Jody Watley - "Still a Thrill" [MCA, 5/2]
10. Alexander O'Neal - "Criticize" [Tabu, 9/26]

11. Stephanie Mills - "(You're Puttin') A Rush on Me" [MCA, 8/8]
12. Alexander O'Neal - "Fake" [Tabu, 5/30]
13. Prince - "Hot Thing" [Paisley Park, 12/12]
14. Club Nouveau - "Why You Treat Me So Bad" [King Jay, 5/2]
15. Herb Alpert - "Diamonds" [A&M, 4/25]
16. Nona Hendryx - "Why Should I Cry?" [EMI America, 4/11]
17. Jody Watley - "Looking for a New Love" [MCA, 1/31]
18. Sherrick - "Just Call" [Warner, 7/25]*
19. LeVert - "Casanova" [Atlantic, 7/4]
20. Angela Winbush - "Angel" [Mercury, 9/5]

21. Loose Ends - "Nights of Pleasure" [MCA, 9/5]
22. Jody Watley - "Don't You Want Me" [MCA, 8/22]
23. Prince - "Sign O' the Times" [Paisley Park, 3/7]
24. Anita Baker - "Same Ole Love (365 Days a Year)" [Elektra, 3/7]
25. Prince - "U Got the Look" [Paisley Park, 8/1]
26. Michael Jackson - "The Way You Make Me Feel" [Epic, 11/21]
27. Déjà - "You and Me Tonight" [Virgin, 9/5]*
28. Donna Summer - "Dinner with Gershwin" [Geffen, 8/22]*
29. Michael Jackson - "Bad" [Epic, 9/19]
30. Luther Vandross - "I Really Didn't Mean It" [Epic, 6/13]

31. Phyllis Hyman - "Ain't You Had Enough Love" [Philadelphia Int'l, 5/9]*
32. Exposé - "Let Me Be the One" [Arista, 9/5]
33. Janet Jackson - "Let's Wait Awhile" [A&M, 1/24]
34. Roger - "I Want to Be Your Man" [Reprise, 10/3]
35. Pebbles - "Girlfriend" [MCA, 11/7]
36. Gladys Knight & the Pips - "Love Overboard" [MCA, 11/14]
37. Stevie Wonder - "Skeletons" [Tamla, 10/17]
38. The Deele - "Two Occasions" [Solar, 11/14]
39. Jody Watley - "Some Kind of Lover" [MCA, 12/19]
40. Madame X - "Just That Type of Girl" [Atlantic, 8/1]*

*These songs are not available on Spotify in the U.S. Favorites 41-45 appear in their place, at the end of the playlist.



Just beneath the 40, A-Z: Renee Aldrich's "Just Begun to Love You," Herb Alpert's "Making Love in the Rain," Bobby Brown's "Girl Next Door," Exposé's "Come Go with Me," 52nd Street's "I'll Return," LeVert's "Fascination," Meli'sa Morgan's "If You Can Do It: I Can Too!!," Mtume's "Body & Soul (Take Me)," Ray Parker Jr.'s "I Don't Think That Man Should Sleep Alone," Patrice Rushen's "Watch Out," Joyce Sims' "Come into My Life," and Tawatha's "Thigh Ride."