If you ever have a sit-down conversation with me about music, you’ll pick up sooner or later that I have a major jones for ‘80s R&B. It’s what I grew up on before I discovered rock music in the mid-1990: slick production, high-energy arrangements, and flat-out funktacular grooves. No slow jams for me: I like my R&B to sound like the soundtrack for the most happening house party ever.
I’m always open to encountering underrated gems from that period, and I was suitably impressed when a friend played me Marcus Miller’s underappreciated funk jam “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” (which peaked at number 36 on the Billboard Club Play chart in 1984). Admittedly, the song isn’t without its faults. Bathed in a production that sounds extremely dated, the song relies on a synthesized melody line with an atrocious tone, while Miller audibly strains as he attempts to high certain notes. Taken at face value, it’s actually kind of a cheesy song. However, Marcus Miller isn’t just your average glossed-up ‘80s funkateer. Miller has had an extensive decades-spanning career largely rooted in the jazz sphere, working both as a solo artist and in collaboration with heroes like Miles Davis. Miller has some serious chops as a performer and as an arranger, proving it with this uptempo blast that practically digs into the listener with its infectious hooks.
The point where “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” really starts to work its magic is when it hits the prechorus, where the agonized Miller sings the line “And the way she looks into my arms / Lets me know she wants me” in a staccato ascending melodic figure. That staccato motif is then utilized in chorus, injecting it with a fist-pumping energy that surges in search of release. With a chorus like that, I don’t care if if Miller piles on all the dated synth fills he wants. The 12” vinyl single mix is good, but it’s the album version from Miller’s self-titled 1984 effort that really deserves to be tracked down.
// Notes from the Road
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