Rick James was born James Ambrose Johnson Jr. on February 1, 1948. He died on August 6, 2004. He was one of the innovators of funk music. He began singing when he was a teenager. He joined various bands before joining the navy to avoid being drafted into the army. He went AWOL and went to Toronto where he formed a band called the Mynah Birds. The group got signed to Motown in 1966. He ended up getting arrested and served a year in prison for going AWOL. After he got out of prison, he moved to California and started different rock and funk groups in the 60’s and 70’s. The troubled singer finally found success as a recording artist when he signed with Gordy Records.
Rick James released his first album Come Get It in 1978. The album features the hit singles “You And I” and “Mary Jane.” The album went gold. He released his second album Bustin’ Out of L Seven in 1979. The album features the top 10 r&b hit “Bustin’ Out (On Funk).” The album peaked at number 16 on the Top 200 and number two on the r&b charts. It also features the hit single “Fool on the Street.”
Rick James released his third album Fire it Up in 1979. The hit album was certified gold. The album peaked at number five on the r&b charts. The album features the single “Love Gun.” He released his fourth album Garden of Love in 1980. The album peaked at number 17 on the R&B/Hip –Hop charts. The album features the single “Big Time.” Rick James would find greater success with his next album. Street Songs came out in 1981. It peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 and number one on the r&b charts. It features the hit singles “Give It to Me Baby,” “Super Freak,” “Ghetto Life” and “Fire and Desire.” The album sold over four million copies. He was nominated for Grammy Awards for this album. He was the first African American to be nominated in a rock category.
In 1982, Rick James released his sixth album Throwin’ Down. It didn’t do as well as Street Songs, but it managed to sell over 500,000 copies. It features the singles “Dance Wit Me” and “Standing on the Top.” He released his seventh album Cold Blooded in 1983. It peaked at number one on the r&b charts. It features the singles “Cold Blooded” and “Ebony Eyes.” The album sold over 500,000 copies.
Rick James released his eighth album Glow in 1985. The album received mixed reviews. The critics referred to the album as a waste and said James ran out of new ideas with this project. The album peaked at number 50 on the Billboard 200. The album features the single “Glow.” He released The Flag in 1986. This was his last album on Gordy Records. The album didn’t do as well as its predecessors. It peaked at number 95. There were no singles released from this album. The album was critically panned. It was supposed to be his comeback to funk music, but it was a misstep.
Rick James signed with Reprise Records. In 1988, he released Wonderful. It features the hit song “Loosey’s Rap.” The song was number one for a week. In 1989, he released the album Kickin’. The album was released overseas in a series of promotional copies. It wasn’t released in the United States until after his death. He took a break from recording albums because he was battling with personal demons. In 1997, he released Urban Rapsody. It was a combination of rap and funk music. The album peaked at a disappointing 170 on the charts. The album received negative reviews. His last album Deeper Still was released in 2007 after he died. The album peaked at number 19 on the r&b charts. The album received better reviews than his last few albums.
Rick James made a name for himself in the r&b and funk genre. He had to overcome comparisons to Prince because they sang similar types of music. It troubled James that he didn’t get the crossover success that Prince had which could have lead to his substance abuse problems. In addition to recording music, he also discovered Teena Marie and the Mary Jane Girls. He also wrote songs for other artists. He wrote songs for Marie, The Mary Jane Girls, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Eddie Murphy as well as other artists. With that said, James has incredible hit singles of his own. He is known for his hit single “Super Freak,” but he had more than just that one hit single. This Top 10 Rick James Songs list will contain 10 of his hit singles. You may be surprised at which single made it to number one on this list.
# 10 – You Turn Me On
Let’s start our Top 10 Rick James Songs list with the romantic “You Turn Me On” from Reflections. Reflection is a compilation album of his greatest hits. This up-tempo song has an r&b and funk sound. This love song is dedicated to the woman he loves. He displays such swag and style in this song. He also showed that he has incredible vocal chops. This is a party song, but he holds notes as if it’s a ballad. It’s easy to overlook that he has incredible vocal range because he’s not a balladeer. This song is one of the songs on this list that proves that he had an amazing voice and can vocalize with the best of them. The music was catchy and upbeat. It will make you turn it up on the dance floor. The saxophone and the piano were golden. They helped make the music soar. The only complaint about the song is it features a lot of talking that could have been devoted to his singing.
# 9 – Hollywood
The next song on our Top 10 Rick James Songs list is the emotional “Hollywood” from his debut album Come Get It. This ballad has an r&b and funk sound. This passionate song is about him getting advice from his mother about not changing once he became famous. This song has a deep message about not changing once you become a star. James didn’t sing songs like this one so it was a pleasant surprise. He also didn’t sing too many ballads so this was another pleasant surprise. The music is soft and rhythmic. It gives the listener a chance to focus on James’ amazing vocal ability. He holds notes and belts throughout the song. He showed that he could sing just about anything and make it sound good. This song isn’t one of his best-known hit singles, but it deserved a spot on this list. It should have been a bigger hit single. The song is a little long, but it doesn’t hurt the song.
# 8 – You And I
This double entendre (having two meaning) is from the hit album Come Get It. This dance song has an r&b and funk beat. This sultry song is about James’ ex-wife. The music is punk funk. The song opens up as a conga filled dance number. It has an amazing synth bass groove. The music features crisp and explosive horns. He has a knack for creating tight musical arrangements. There’s no way to sit still to this music. James sings the song with grit and a lot of soul. His baritone vocals soar in the song. The background singers harmonize well together throughout the song. James doesn’t do any vocalizing or hold notes, but they weren’t needed for the song. This song is a little long, but it’s worth a listen.
# 7 – Cold Blooded
This anthem is from the album of the same name. This song has an electro funk and synth pop sound. The sensual song is about his relationship with actress Linda Blair. He dated her when he wrote the song. The title is misleading because it seems as if it’s an angry song until you listen to the lyrics. He compliments her throughout the song. He changed his music style for this song. His songs usually include guitar rhythms and a horn section. This song was synth based. It was a good choice for the song because it worked. It made the song sound pop friendly. The infectious song gives you a chance to get up and move. James’ baritone vocals are complimentary to the music. He doesn’t hold any notes, but his vocals are still good.
# 6 – Glow
This underrated song is from the album of the same name. This song has a pop, synth pop and r&b sound. This touching song is an ode to women and how beautiful they are. This music is out of James’ comfort zone because it strays away from his funk side. The music is more pop friendly. This song is synth heavy and features a lot of drum programming. The synth-laden music was smooth and polished. The horn section is featured heavily throughout the music as a way to stay within his wheelhouse. James sings the verses softly and explodes once he does the chorus. He sings the song in a beautiful way and doesn’t sing graphic lyrics. He sings it in a convincing way to make women feel good about themselves.
# 5 – Mary Jane
The next song on the Top 10 Rick James Songs list is the unique “Mary Jane” from his impressive debut album Come Get It. This song has a funk and soul sound. This mysterious song isn’t about his love for a woman named Mary Jane. It is code for his love for marijuana. People didn’t come out and sing about drugs when this song was done. You have to pay attention to the lyrics to realize that he’s not singing about a woman. The music has airy flutes, which gives it a romantic sound despite its theme. You wouldn’t expect a song about drugs to have a romantic sound. It has a rhythmic string section and thumping drum beats. James sounds convincing singing about his love for weed. It’s as if he is singing passionately about a woman he loves. His vocals are excellent considering the theme of the song. He’s belting and pleading as if he’s singing about a woman. The ad libs at the end are infectious.
# 4 – Fire and Desire ft. Teena Marie
This enchanting song is from the hugely successful Street Songs album. This ballad has an r&b sound. This sensual love song is about the love they feel for each other. The song hooks you as soon as the music starts. This song is a departure from his funk sound. This is more of a soulful r&b song. It gives James a chance to show off his vocal chops. James does an amazing job vocally. He belts throughout the song. He also holds incredible notes. Teena Marie also does an amazing job vocally. She belts and holds notes as well. Here is some trivia about the breathtaking song. James and Marie had dated and broken up before they sang this song. They manage to stay in character in the song despite the fact that they weren’t together anymore. It was if they were still in love. They both win the vocal battle here because they sound outstanding. There’s no surprise it became a quiet storm hit because the song is phenomenal.
# 3 – Super Freak
This song was probably expected to be number one because it is his signature song, but there are two other songs that won the mental coin toss. This illicit song is from the masterpiece album Street Songs. This up-tempo song has a funk beat. This explicit song is about a kinky girl having sex with a band member. Here is some trivia about the song. James wasn’t that crazy about the song. He wanted to have a song that pop fans could dance to. His plan worked because you can have fun dancing to this song. James is in his comfort zone with the music. It has a new wave sound with the keyboard.
The music features an impressive saxophone solo. As soon as he says, “she’s a very kinky girl,” it’s impossible to ignore the song. He takes vocals risks by singing in a lower register. He does that to give it an operatic style. He was a fan of opera music and wanted to include it in his music. The Temptations make an appearance in the background. They do a great job supporting him in the background. Here’s some more trivia. One of the members of the Temptations (Melvin Franklin) is James’ uncle.
# 2 – Give It To Me Baby
This lascivious song is from the chart topping Street Songs. The song has a funk and disco sound. This sexy song is about him coming home intoxicated and wanting to have sex with his woman. She refused to have sex with him. He pleads to have sex with her. This infectious song is similar to “Super Freak.” The song is energetic and can fit in a rock genre. The arrangements of the instruments are clever. The instruments appear to respond to each other. The chorus is unforgettable even after you have heard it one time. The title is repeated several times with a couple of lines added to the chorus. James’ vocals match the energetic music. He considers the song silly, but he sings it as if it’s one of his serious songs. This song is absolutely flawless and infectious.
# 1 – Ebony Eyes ft. Smokey Robinson
Coming in at number one on our Top 10 Rick James Songs list is the incredible “Ebony Eyes” from the Cold Blooded album. This ballad has a smooth r&b and soul sound. This refreshing song is an ode for women of color. The music is soft and sensual. This is a departure from James’ funk style of music. James wanted to use a contemporary tempo. The song sounds more like classic r&b instead of funk. It has a simple beat, which leads into a complex sound.
The music takes a back seat to the fantastic vocals of Rick James and Smokey Robinson. Rick James and Smokey Robinson sang two different styles of music. James was more known for funk music while Smokey Robinson was known for r&b music. Their styles blended well together. They both get their chance to shine in the song. James in particular was impressive because he soars in a song that was tailor made for Robinson. Smokey Robinson is in his comfort zone and doesn’t disappoint vocally. Rick James takes the song to another level when he belts and holds notes throughout the song. This song is a masterpiece and does both men justice.