Rick James: 10 Essential Tracks

The punk-funk king gets freaky on everything from a 1966 Neil Young collaboration to a groundbreaking 1988 rap duet

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Rick James, "Glow" (1985)

Amid the dark free-fall of 1985, James' most high-profile creation was Eddie Murphy's execrable synth-pop hit "Party All the Time." "Glow," on the other hand, was an unexpected burst of light, reaching Number Five on the R&B chart despite the album of the same name fizzling and James becoming increasingly notorious for his antics. In this context, the song feels like a last gasp of self-will, an effort to put a more heartening spirit into the world, even if that spirit is still delivered with James' typical lip-licking tics. It's a moodier, limo-lusting version of MFSB's "Love Is the Message," with James yearningly asking, "Don't you know you are beautiful?"

The video, likely in reaction to Prince's Purple Rain, is a mini-film with a wasted James, all golden locks and ruffled shirt, having an existential crisis in his dressing room, screaming at his girlfriend and manager ("I'm Rick James, I don't need nobody!"), busting ass onstage but then rising above to rock the world. Whew!

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