(May 30, 2020). (Spoiler Alert: this article contains some revealing information about a countdown – including a list of the top 100 songs at the end – currently airing through June 10 on SiriusXM Channel 177. So do not read any further if you plan to listen and prefer to be surprised during the countdown.)
On May 27 – just as we started looking forward to Black Music Month – SiriusXM began playing its new countdown of the Top 1000 R&B songs of all time. It’s part of their ongoing series of similar countdowns for everything from country to classic rock to hip-hop. The R&B version runs in a loop through June 10 on Channel 177 for those subscribers who are interested.
SiriusXM is touting it as sixty years of soulful jams, soulful grooves and soulful ballads, all together in one countdown – it’s the soundtrack of several generations, or the “songs that built the culture.”
Can you imagine how daunting the task of putting together a list of 1000 songs that span six decades must have been?
Obviously, it’s impossible to sit through an entire countdown of 1000 songs, the first airing of which took just shy of three full days to complete – going from Wednesday, May 27 at 10am ET to Saturday, May 30 at 7:50am before restarting at No. 1000 and running the whole thing all over again.
But in a lockdown environment like the one we’ve endured for the past three months, it becomes a little easier to take in a show like this in big chunks, which is what I’ve been able to do ever since a friend alerted me to it while the first airing was somewhere in the 700s (thanks, Alex!).
So how should a music lover listen to a countdown as magnanimous as this one? And how do you do it without being overwhelmed by the enormity of it all or the frustration of not hearing your favorite songs or artists while having to endure novelties like “Bertha Butt Boogie” (yes, that’s in the countdown…thankfully at a low No. 985)?
Well, DJROBBLOG put together ten tips for diehard fans of R&B who plan to give it a shot, and here they are (followed by that list of the top 100 songs on SiriusXM’s chart):
- Throw out your generational biases. There’s something in here for everyone, from classic to neo soul and from Motown to Philly Soul’s best. You’re more likely to enjoy this extravaganza, however, if you’re, say, 40 or older, because you likely will have at least heard most of the songs before. But even that’s no guarantee. As a man in his 50s, there were many jams I had never heard prior to listening to the countdown – and not all of them were new school jams.
- Remember this is a showcase for all of SiriusXM’s various Hip-Hop and R&B stations, which span the XM dial from reggae-leaning Channel 42 (“The Joint”) through more old-school groove-oriented Channel 50 (“The Groove”). So each of the program directors for these stations – as well as the dance/disco channel Studio 54 (Ch. 54 on the XM dial) – likely had an input, and the results were likely influenced from a consensus using their various sub-genre playlists.
- Ignore what these songs did on the Billboard charts. Where these songs ranked on Billboard’s Soul or R&B/Hip-Hop charts over the years has no bearing on where they place on the SiriusXM list. So if a song that never made it into the top 50 outranks one that made it all the way to No. 1, chalk it up to SiriusXM deciding that the lesser chart hit has better stood the test of time.
- Excuse SiriusXM for lack of version control. Prepare in advance for the shock of hearing a version of a song that wasn’t the one you were expecting. For instance, why are there two versions of “Who Is And What Is He To You?” in the countdown and neither is by Bill Withers? Oh and when I heard “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” way up at No. 98, I cringed when it wasn’t the hit versions by either Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell or Diana Ross, but a disco/house version by Inner Life feat. Jocelyn Brown. That version was nice to dance to (and very long), but it wasn’t even their biggest hit (oops, I just broke Tip No. 3). My advice is that you just enjoy this version and hope that Miss Ross’s is floating around somewhere else in the countdown (hint: it is).
- Prepare to dance. There will be plenty opportunities and they come early and often, beginning with Stephanie Mills’ disco classic “Put Your Body In It” at No. 999 and continuing all the way up the countdown. My first workouts of the day came during Gap Band’s “I Don’t Believe You Wanna Get Up and Dance” at No. 995 and George Benson’s “On Broadway” at No. 992.
- Cuddle up with that special someone while the countdown plays, especially at night. This show will air for twelve more nights (as of this writing) and there are plenty of soulful ballads here and they sometimes play in long stretches, including a set of at least seven in a row in the 90s, including hits by Guy, Barry White, Delfonics, Tony! Toni! Toné!, the Spinners and the Chi-lites. Some of your parents made babies by this music, and you may be so inclined when you hear these songs all over again.
- Be prepared for some real obscure surprises. How many of you ever thought you’d be hearing Young and Company’s “I Like (What You’re Doing To Me)” ever again, much less on a countdown of the 1000 Greatest R&B songs of all time? Well, it’s here at No. 954. And for those checking, Young and Co. never made the R&B charts, but reached the Billboard Top 100 Disco list in 1980. There’s even more early-‘80s post-disco love in the countdown’s first four hours, including: “Bounce, Rock, Skate Roll” (Vaughn Mason & Crew, No. 938), “Overnight Sensation” (Jerry Knight, No. 946), “Funky Sensation” (Gwen McCrae, No. 949), “I’ll Do Anything For You” (Denroy Morgan, No. 950), “High” (Skyy, No. 955), and “Night (Feel Like Gettin’ Down)” (Billy Ocean, No. 972).
- Remember the first time you heard some of these artists. There are a lot of début singles by artists on this countdown, including such left-field entries as “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse – which never made the Billboard R&B chart and happens to be the only song from the 2000s decade among the countdown’s first 70 entries. (The 2010s are well represented early though, with ten songs in that same 70-song stretch.) By the way, this countdown shows a lot of love to other artists’ more obscure first hits, including those by Lillo Thomas (“Good Girl,” No. 932), Kenny Lattimore (“Never Too Busy,” No. 948), Brian McKnight (“The Way Love Goes,” No. 962), 702 (“Steelo,” No. 940) and The Meters (“Sophisticated Cissy,” No. 957), among many others.
- Take some breaks. SiriusXM provides some perfect opportunities, like when they play Herbie Hancock’s 1974 debut instrumental hit “Chameleon” at No. 967. The song lasts nearly sixteen minutes in its full version, to which SiriusXM was inclined to treat its listeners at the expense of a much shorter edit. The same goes for other songs in the countdown, like that Inner Life version of “Ain’t No Mountain,” which clocks in at almost eleven minutes and Graham Central Station’s “The Jam,” which goes on for more than eight minutes.
- Just enjoy it, and save the judgment for afterwards! If you hear your favorite song – which you likely will of you listen long enough – don’t worry about its position on the countdown, just crank it up and enjoy it. That’s what I had to do when I heard Chic’s “Good Times” at a surprisingly low No. 201 before hearing Richard “Dimples” Fields “She’s Got Papers On Me” at a much higher rank of No. 131 (oh and that Inner City song at No. 98). Okay, there I go breaking my own rules again. But the reality is, despite some errors and wasted spots (there were several skipped positions – like No. 176 and a whole stretch from No. 89 – 84 during the first airing – plus one obscure 2019 song that inexplicably appears twice in the countdown; and why did both parts of “Cool” by the Time occupy adjacent spots in the countdown?) the countdown is still thoroughly entertaining and will do nothing if it doesn’t take your mind off current national events in America as well as bring back some sweet memories for listeners of all generations.
Click here to start listening at home: siriusxm.com/listenathome
Spoiler Alert: Do not read further than this point if you prefer to be surprised about the ending of this countdown.
Okay, so now it’s afterwards and what are the top songs?
So does the countdown even come close? Well, I’ll be violating some of my own rules as I pass judgment and answer that question. But surely readers didn’t just come here for listening tips, you also wanted to get an assessment of how well SiriusXM did in its rankings, right?
I’ll just put it this way. If you subscribe – like I do – to the theory that soul music’s greatest years occurred between the 1960s and ‘80s, you’ll be very pleased. Of the top 20 songs in the countdown, eight are from the 1970s, four each are from the ‘60s and ‘80s, only three are from the ‘90s and just one is from the ‘00s.
And, ironically, after showing so much promise with representation of ten songs among the countdown’s first seventy, the 2010s went completely missing in the Top 20 with zero songs represented.
It’s a countdown that begins with a revolution at No. 1000 (Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and ends with a socially conscious commentary by one of the greatest entertainers of all time. So, finally, here are the top 100 on the list of the 1000 Greatest R&B Songs of All Time, according to SiriusXM:
- “What’s Going On” – Marvin Gaye
- “Respect” – Aretha Franklin
- “Let’s Stay Together” – Al Green
- “End of the Road” – Boyz II Men
- “Rock With You” – Michael Jackson
- “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” – James Brown
- “Saving All My Love For You” – Whitney Houston
- “Superstition” – Stevie Wonder
- “We Belong Together” – Mariah Carey
- “Close the Door” – Teddy Pendergrass
- “I Wanna Be Your Lover” – Prince
- “Never Too Much” – Luther Vandross
- “Ooh Baby Baby” – Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
- “Theme from ‘Shaft'” – Isaac Hayes
- “Ain’t No Sunshine” – Bill Withers
- “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” – En Vogue
- “Anytime” – Brian McKnight
- “Purple Rain” – Prince
- “Oh Girl” – Chi-lites
- “Think” – Aretha Franklin
- “Get Ready” – Temptations
- “Before I Let Go” – Maze ft. Frankie Beverly
- “Say My Name” – Destiny’s Child
- “The Way” – Jill Scott
- “Boogie Nights” – Heatwave
- “Uptown Funk” – Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
- “Sweet Love” – Anita Baker
- “Mercy, Mercy, Me (The Ecology)” – Marvin Gaye
- “Can You Stand the Rain” – New Edition
- “Back Stabbers” – O’Jays
- “You Send Me” – Sam Cooke
- “That’s the Way Love Goes” – Janet Jackson
- “Celebration” – Kool & the Gang
- “Irreplaceable” – Beyoncé
- “Clean Up Woman” – Betty Wright
- “Tasty Love” – Freddie Jackson
- “September” – Earth, Wind & Fire
- “Un-Break My Heart” – Toni Braxton
- “Midnight Train to Georgia” – Gladys Knight & the Pips
- “Umbrella” – Rihanna ft. Jay-Z
- “Feel Like Makin’ Love” – Roberta Flack
- “Can We Talk?” – Tevin Campbell
- “I Want You Back” – Jackson 5
- “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” – Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes
- “You Make Me Wanna” – Usher
- “I’m Still In Love With You” – Al Green
- “Kiss” – Prince & the Revolution
- “All of Me” – John Legend
- “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” – James Brown
- “Always and Forever” – Heatwave
- “Poison” – Bell Biv DeVoe
- “All the Things” – Joe
- “Turn Off the Lights” – Teddy Pendergrass
- “Here and Now” – Luther Vandross
- “Look What You’ve Done for Me” – Al Green
- “Mothership Connection” – Parliament
- “A House is Not a Home” – Luther Vandross
- “I’ve Got Love On My Mind” – Natalie Cole
- “Not Gon’ Cry” – Mary J. Blige
- “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” – Barry White
- “Stand By Me” – Ben E. King
- “Talk” – Khalid
- “Tighten Up” – Archie Bell & the Drells
- “Smiling Faces (Sometimes)” – Undisputed Truth
- “Come and Talk to Me” – Jodeci
- “You’ve Got a Friend” – Roberta Flac
- “You Are Everything” – Stylistics
- “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha” – Bobby Womack
- “Holy Ghost” – Bar-Kays
- “Love Makes Things Happen” – Pebbles
- “Tired of Being Alone” – Al Green
- “I Love Me Some Him” – Toni Braxton
- “Love on Top” – Beyoncé
- “Blurred Lines” – Robin Thicke ft. Pharrell Williams
- “Redbone” – Childish Gambino
- “Whatever You Want” – Tony! Toni! Toné!
- “Fortunate” – Maxwell
- “Boogie On Reggae Woman” – Stevie Wonder
- “Soul Finger” – Bar-Kays
- “On & On” – Erykah Badu
- “That Lady” – Isley Brothers
- “Brown Sugar” – D’Angelo
- “Me and Mrs. Jones” – Billy Paul
- “Have You Seen Her?” – Chi-Lites
- “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” – Gladys Knight & the Pips
- “Use Me” – Bill Withers
- “When Will I See You Smile Again?” – Bell Biv DeVoe
- “Love Train” – O’Jays
- “Let’s Get it On” – Marvin Gaye
- “Tell Me” – Dru Hill
- “I’ll Be Around” – Spinners
- “Anniversary” – Tony! Toni! Toné!
- “La-La Means I Love You” – Delfonics
- “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up” – Barry White
- “Everybody Plays the Fool” – The Main Ingredient
- “Let’s Chill” – Guy
- “That’s What I Like” – Bruno Mars
- “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Inner Life
- “When A Man Loves A Woman” – Percy Sledge
- “Super Freak” – Rick James
Did they get it right? Or even come close?
Let readers know your thoughts by providing comments either here or on the blog’s social media feeds.
DJRob is an African-American freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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