I love you baby: freestyle

A freestyle reunion in Gotham! Maura:

The final act of the night was the Miami-based singer Stevie B, whose plainspoken ballad “Because I Love You (The Postman Song)” topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1990. His catalog is spangled with enough crowd-pleasers to allow him to leave the track off his brief headlining set. (Although he’s touted as being the man responsible for the song at his next freestyle-extravaganza appearance, set to take place in Red Bank on March 17.) The hit the people wanted was instead the 1988 single “Spring Love,” a lament about a onetime paramour who left an impression despite only being around for a couple of months. They shouted for it as he prepared to leave the stage (of course, he was going to come back), and, while wearing a T-shirt bearing his own image, he tore through it, leading the crowd in singing the chorus. The words being uttered in unison were drenched in sadness—”But something changed, the season came to an end/I had to leave you, and that’s where my heartache began”—but that didn’t lessen the wattage of the smiles coming from both the crowd and the stage.

In the late eighties Stevie B was Miami’s Springsteen, belting out songs of lust and longing in which rolling piano lines mimicked Roy Bittan’s (he wasn’t alone: remember Timmy T’s early ’91 hit “One More Try”?) and 808’s substituted for Clarence Clemons’ sax. At one point in 1988 “Spring Love,” “Dreamin’ of Love,” and “Party Your Body” were played simultaneously on every one of South Florida’s top 40 radio stations. What no one acknowledged then was Stevie’s androgynous appeal. A friend of mine said then that he had the voice of the Chipmunks in the body of Luther Vandross. In his mostly self-produced and self-written singles he played the spurned lover, peeved that an object of desire couldn’t understand the inviolability of their romance. He peaked with 1989’s “I Wanna Be The One.” Listen to how many melodies crisscross in the first quarter and how beautifully Stevie layers them; the main one has hints of the Middle East, not too far from what Ofra Haza offered at the time.

What’s sad is that Stevie, Cover Girls, Sweet Sensation, and Timmy T couldn’t break the top ten with their best songs but crossed over with ballads whose clumsy emotive singing put them half a grade over, say, Poison’s. Yet as late as 1990 and 1991 Seduction could send “Two To Make It Right” into the top two, Linear and “Sending All My Love” into the top five, and Corina and “Temptation” the top ten. Go figure. As for the biggest Miami freestyle act of all, responsible for an impressive seven consecutive top tens, Exposé is a breed apart, but artistically they were a spent force by 1989. Would you rather listen to “When I Looked At Him” over “Come Go With Me”? (re “Seasons Change” don’t answer the question)

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