DeepSoul Salutes Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis: Force MD's - "Tender Love"

One of the 1980s' best ballads is also one of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis' most underrated productions.
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After the success of the S.O.S. Band's "Just Be Good to Me," songwriters/producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were suddenly in demand.  The song may have cost them their gig with Prince protege band The Time, but a new phase of their careers had just begun.  Their next opportunity to heighten their profile came in 1985, when they wrote and produced the ballad "Tender Love" for the Force MD's.  Appearing in the landmark hip hop film Krush Groove, the track earned the group as well as Jam and Lewis a crossover hit, with "Tender Love" peaking at number two on the Adult Contemporary chart, number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number 23 on the UK Singles Chart.  A simple but effective ballad, "Tender Love" benefits from understated production  that showcases the Force MD's tight harmonies.

First, some background on the Force MD's: the group hailed from New York, with the doo-wop singers honing their skills on street corners and the Staten Island ferry.  Original members included brothers Stevie D and Antoine "TCD" Lundy; their uncle Jesse Lee Daniels; and friends Trisco Pearson and Charles "Mercury" Nelson.  After joining forces with local DJ Dr. Rock, the act was rechristened Dr. Rock and the MCs; when the MCs were signed to the Tommy Boy label in 1984, they were renamed the Force MD's (according to AllMusic, the letters stand for "musical diversity") and focused on smooth R&B harmonies rather than the hip hop angle.  

The Force MD's fortunes changed when Jam and Lewis penned the track "Tender Love" for the film Krush Groove.  Packed with stars from the legendary Def Jam label, the movie is now better known for its music than its paper-thin plot.  The first superstars of hip hop all appear in the film: LL Cool J, Kurtis Blow, Beastie Boys, and Run DMC represent just some of the star-studded cast.  The relatively unknown Force MD's, however, were given the opportunity to record Krush Groove's love theme.  "Tender Love" plays in the background during a love scene with the two leads, played by Blair Underwood and Sheila E ("The Glamorous Life").  

Today, many people are surprised that the understated "Tender Love" is a Jam and Lewis production; indeed, keyboards and minimal percussion comprise much of the instrumentation, with the group's smooth vocals in the foreground.  This arrangement perfectly captures the unabashed romance expressed in the lyrics, the words stressing love rather than lust.  "I'm waiting for the right / Moment to come / So I can thank you for / All the tender love you've give to me," they croon.  The singers' lush voices perfectly accent seductive lines like "Candles fade like the dark . . . I want you more and more / Can't resist you."  The memorable melody fades in and out of the track, leading up to the call-and-response chorus: "Tender love (tender love) / Love so tender / Holding me close to you / Baby I surrender." 

An example of hip hop's early days, "Tender Love" nicely bridges old school soul with 1980s synthesizers.  It also represents Jam and Lewis' ability to not repeat themselves; in other words, one cannot always hear one of their tracks and immediately identify them as its producers. This talent would serve them well as they went on to produce other artists, both young and established.  "Tender Love" highlights how the duo excels at showcasing an artist's vocals while not drowning them in hard beats or over-arrangement.  Finally, Jam and Lewis proved they could appeal to mass audiences while not compromising their core "new jack swing" sound.