Easily the least bounteous year of its decade, 1989 was saturated with drippy ballads and new jack knockoffs. The veteran likes of Al Green, Bar-Kays, and the O'Jays attempted to keep up with mostly forgotten results. The stark contrast between Diana Ross' 1980 and 1989 singles, all made with Nile Rodgers, provides the best demonstration of R&B's contrasting health at the beginning and end of the decade. While Ross' "Workin' Overtime" hit number three on Billboard's Hot Black Singles chart during the summer of '89, it chased a trend and was quickly forgotten, unlike the indisputably advanced and classic 1980 smash "Upside Down." This was a year of homogenization. Not even 108 FM's Mister Señor Love Daddy could possibly identify "Raindrops" as the work of Kool & the Gang -- probably because the great Chuckii Booker did most of the work.

And then there was Milli Vanilli.

The year likewise brought very few albums of significance. There was Rhythm Nation 1814, another gleaming and progressive album from the team of Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam, and Terry Lewis. Booker reluctantly stepped out from propping up Tease, Troop, and Vanessa Williams, delivered a lost work of greatness, opened for Jackson, and also worked as her musical director. With Club Classics Vol. One (titled Keep on Movin' in the U.S.), Soul II Soul, guided by Jazzie B and fronted by Caron Wheeler, brought the sound of London's Africa Centre to the States. That group outclassed everyone in their field and incorporated inspirations, such as jazz-funk and disco-soul, that were otherwise absent in late-'80s contemporary R&B.

Forty favorite singles that hit Billboard's Hot Black Singles chart during 1989, followed by a Spotify playlist:

1. Soul II Soul - "Back to Life" [Virgin, 8/12]
2. Janet Jackson - "Rhythm Nation" [A&M, 11/11]
3. Janet Jackson - "Miss You Much" [A&M, 9/2]
4. Bobby Brown - "Every Little Step" [MCA, 3/4]
5. Chuckii Booker - "Turned Away" [Atlantic, 5/6]
6. Soul II Soul - "Keep on Movin'" [Virgin, 5/13]
7. Chuckii Booker - "(Don't U Know) I Love U" [Atlantic, 9/9]
8. Today - "Girl I Got My Eyes on You" [Motown, 2/4]
9. Teddy Riley f/ Guy - "My Fantasy" [Motown, 7/1]
10. After 7 - "Heat of the Moment" [Virgin, 7/22]

11. Michel'le - "No More Lies" [Ruthless, 12/2]
12. Karyn White - "Secret Rendezvous" [Warner, 5/27]
13. Stephanie Mills - "Something in the Way (You Make Me Feel)" [MCA, 6/3]
14, New Edition - "N.E. Heart Break" [MCA, 6/24]
15. Déjà - "Made to Be Together" [Virgin, 4/1]*
16. James Ingram - "It's Real" [Warner, 5/6]
17. Deon Estus - "Heaven Help Me" [Mika, 3/18]
18. Richard Rogers - "Dream Lover" [SAM, 11/25]
19. Guy - "I Like" [Uptown, 3/11]
20. Regina Belle - "Baby Come to Me" [Columbia, 8/12]

21. Jermaine Jackson - "Don't Take It Personal" [Arista, 9/2]
22. The Pasadenas - "Tribute (Right On)" [Columbia, 3/11]
23. Bobby Brown - "On Our Own" [MCA, 6/10]
24. Babyface - "It's No Crime" [Solar, 7/1]
25. Cherrelle - "Affair" [Tabu, 2/4]
26. Surface - "Closer Than Friends" [Columbia, 1/21]
27. Luther Vandross - "For You to Love" [Epic, 4/22]
28. Jody Watley - "Real Love" [MCA, 3/11]
29. Miki Howard - "Ain't Nuthin' in the World" [Atlantic, 9/30]
30. Luther Vandross - "Here and Now" [Epic, 10/14]

31. Bobby Brown - "Rock Wit'cha" [MCA, 9/2]
32. Madonna - "Like a Prayer" [Sire, 3/25]
33. Angela Winbush - "It's the Real Thing" [Mercury, 10/7]
34. The Gap Band - "All of My Love" [Capitol, 10/28]
35. The Good Girls - "Your Sweetness" [Motown, 11/4]
36. Rhonda Clark - "State of Attraction" [Tabu, 8/19]*
37. Kool & the Gang - "Raindrops" [Mercury, 7/1]
38. The Jacksons - "Nothin' (That Compares 2 U)" [Epic, 5/20]
39. Babyface - "Tender Lover" [Solar, 10/28]
40. LeVert - "Just Coolin'" [Atlantic, 1/28]

*These songs are not available on Spotify in the U.S. Favorites 41-42 appear in their place, at the end of the playlist.



Just beneath the 40, A-Z: Chuckii Booker's "Touch," Club Nouveau's "No Friend of Mine," Michael Cooper's "Should Have Been You," El DeBarge's "Real Love," Will Downing's "Test of Time," Entouch's "All Night," Foster/McElroy's "Dr. Soul," Aretha Franklin & Whitney Houston's "It Isn't, It Wasn't, It Ain't Ever Gonna Be," Full Force's "Ain't My Type of Hype," Guy's "Spend the Night," James Ingram's "I Wanna Come Back," Miles Jaye's "Objective," LeVert's "Gotta Get the Money" and "Smilin'," Maze's "Can't Get Over You," Stephanie Mills' "Home," David Peaston's "Two Wrongs (Don't Make It Right)," Prince's "Scandalous!" and "Partyman," R.J.'s Latest Arrival's "Rich Girls," Ten City's "That's the Way Love Is," Today's "Take It Off," Tony! Toni! Toné!'s "For the Love of You," Troop's "I'm Not Soupped," Ruby Turner's "It's Gonna Be Alright," Jody Watley's "Friends," Wendy & Lisa's "Are You My Baby," Alyson Williams' "My Love Is So Raw" and "Just Call My Name," Christopher Williams' "Promises, Promises."