For the next four columns, DeepSoul will spotlight the production work of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, one of the top R&B hit making teams of the 1980s and 1990s. From their tenure with Prince-protege group The Time to their work with Janet Jackson, the duo has proven a knack for incorporating current sounds while never overwhelming the artist's unique voice. While they may be best known for their phenomenally successful collaboration with Janet Jackson, this series will focus on their lesser known but essential work.
The Minneapolis-based Jam and Lewis were still with the Time (originally named "Flyte Time") when they began their production work. Their reliance on the Roland TR-808 drum machine for much of their sound--a relatively new element for R&B and pop of the early 1980s--became their trademark, which also laid the foundation for New Jack Swing. An example of Jam and Lewis' sound is the S.O.S. Band's "Just Be Good to Me," one of their earliest compositions and first major hits.
While playing keyboards with the Time, Jam and Lewis formed their own production company, Flyte Time, in 1982. They wrote several songs for the S.O.S. Band and were asked to produce the tracks for the band. Best known for their disco era hit "Take Your Time (Do It Right,)," the S.O.S. Band wanted to update their sound to regain chart momentum. Since the Time was taking a break during their 1983 tour with Prince, the duo flew to Atlanta to work with the band on "Just Be Good to Me"; a freak snowstorm, however, left them unable to rejoin the tour. Prince subsequently fired Jam and Lewis from the Time, which turned out to be an unexpected break for the producers. The funk tune returned the dance band to the charts, with "Just Be Good to Me" peaking at number three on the dance charts and number two on the R&B singles chart. In addition, the single helped propel the S.O.S. Band's album, On the Rise, to number seven on the R&B Albums chart as well as number 47 on the Billboard 200. Jam and Lewis had worked with the band on their previous album, 1982's The S.O.S. Band III, but only as songwriters; On the Rise marked the pair's debut as producers as well as composers. With that one song, Jam and Lewis' new careers as songwriters and owners of Flyte Time Productions was officially born.
"Just Be Good to Me" bears the marks of an 80s track, with synthesizers and the previously mentioned Roland TR-808 drum machine largely driving the song. Yet the midtempo slow burner channels plenty of funk, enticing people to the floor with its pulsating beat and deep bass. The lyrics shatter gender stereotypes in that they come from a seemingly atypical woman's perspective. This woman is well aware of her lover's reputation as a player: "You may have many others / But I know when you're with me / You are all mine," lead vocalist Mary Davis sings. She acknowledges that "People always talkin' 'bout / Your reputation," that he's "a user" and that friends "always seem to listen / To the bad things that you do." With her confident voice, Davis asserts that she is entering the relationship with eyes wide open. "I don't care about your other girls / Just be good to me," she declares.
Feminists may have difficulties with the narrator's opinions, as she apparently casts herself as a doormat. "I'll give you love, I will smother you / I'll give affection, I won't bother you," Davis sings. "When you need me, I'll be around." While this may sound alarming, other lines suggest that the woman is a willing participant and seems content with the arrangement. "Life is a game of chances / So I'll take my chance with you," she croons, adding that "you, I won't try to change." As long as the couple treats each other well, their unconventional romance satisfies them both. Would such lyrics stand unchallenged today? That question is open for debate.
Regardless of the subject matter, "Just Be Good to Me" remains an essential Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis track. Its strong beat, electronic elements, danceability, and crossover appeal make it a classic slice of 1980s R&B.