Bobby Brown began his career with New Edition in 1978. By the mid-80s, tensions between him and the band’s management had reached breaking point. In December 1985, he left the band after being promised a solo deal with the group’s label, MCA. His first solo album, King of Stage, produced one successful single but otherwise bombed in the charts. Down but not out, Brown returned two years later with his second album, Don’t Be Cruel. This time around, everything came together: the critics loved it, the fans loved it, and enough people bought it to send it to No. 1 on the charts. Over the coming decades, Brown would make the news more for his troubled marriage to Whitney Houston and his substance abuse than his music, but even so, his impact on the industry as one of the leading pioneers of new jazz swing can’t be denied. Here’s our pick of the 10 best Bobby Brown songs of all time.
After leaving New Edition in December 1985, Bobby Brown didn’t waste any time in getting back to the studio. Released in December 1986, his debut album, King of Stage, wasn’t quite the success Brown was hoping for. Described by the Los Angeles Times as “an ill-conceived mess,” the album failed to make more than a minor dent in the charts, peaking at No. 88 on the Billboard 200 and No. 12 on the R&B chart. Despite that, it’s still home to a handful of gems. One of the key standouts is Girlfriend, a song described by All Music as an “unapologetically sentimental, ’70s-like soul ballad.” Released as the first single from the album in October 1986, it peaked at No. 57 on the Hot 100 and spent two weeks at the top of the R&B charts.
While Brown’s first solo album didn’t do much in the charts, the same can’t be said for its follow-up. Released in June 1988, Don’t Be Cruel peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 and spent 11 non-consecutive weeks at the top of the R&B album chart. It also entered the top 5 in Ireland, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. One of its biggest hits was Roni. Written by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and produced by LA Reid, it hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1989 and No. 2 on the Hot Black Singles chart.
8. Get Away
In 1992, Brown dropped his third studio album, Bobby. Although it received a muted reception from the press (Rolling Stone was particularly scathing in its review, awarding it just 2 stars out of 5 and calling it an “over-calculated, underinspired attempt at pop one-upmanship”), it was still a major hit, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and spawing three Hot 100 hits. One of them was Get Away. Packed with multilayered grooves, fat basslines, and thundering drums, it went down a storm in the charts, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard dance chart and No.14 on the Hot 100.
7. Rock Wit’cha
For his second album, Don’t Be Cruel, Brown dropped his poppy image and got tough, exhibiting an all-new level of aggression with his brand of new jack swing. But he didn’t lose his taste for smooth, sentimental R&B completely. Dig around the album, and you’ll find plenty of songs like Rock Wit’cha, an old-school, romantic slice of rhythm and blues that finds Brown at his charismatic best. Released as the fifth and final single from the album, it climbed to No. 7 on the Hot 100 in the fall of 1989.
6. Humpin’ Around
Released in July 1992 from the album Bobby, Humpin’ Around’s big, brassy hook and risque lyrics were an immediate hit with fans. The song spent two weeks at the No. 1 spot on the US Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart and reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also a hit internationally, climbing to No. 1 in Australia, No. 2 in New Zealand, No. 5 in Spain and Sweden, and entering the top 10 in numerous other countries.
5. Don’t Be Cruel
Bobby Brown’s second album, Don’t Be Cruel, was an overwhelming success, cementing Brown’s status as a leading pioneer of new jack swing and picking up positive praise from all quarters. Its titular cut was equally well received. Released as the second single from the album in May 1988, it peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard 100 and No. 13 on the UK Singles Chart.
4. On Our Own
On Our Own was recorded for the “Ghostbusters II” soundtrack and released as a single in June 1989. The movie was a hit and the song was too, spending one week at No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot Black Singles chart and three weeks at No. 2 on the Hot 100. It was also a hit internationally, reaching No.1 in New Zealand and reaching the top 5 in Canada, Ireland, and the UK.
3. Something in Common
In 1993, Brown teamed up with his then-wife Whitney Houston to record Something in Common, a song about two very different people coming together after they discover ‘something in common’ with each other. Combining electrifying vocals from Brown and Houston with urban dance and pop rhythms, the song was a hit with fans of both singers, reaching No. 16 in the UK and peaking at No. 32 on the US Hot 100 Airplay chart.
2. My Pregorative
Brown’s departure from New Edition didn’t exactly go down well with fans, but their criticism of his move didn’t exactly sit well with the singer either. In response to the onslaught, he penned My Pregorative, a bold statement about making decisions without worrying about how other people react to them. A commercial and critical success, the song reached No. 1 on both the US Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts and reached the top ten in numerous other countries.
1. Every Little Step
Brown’s early success owed much to his charismatic charm, which allowed him to come across as tough without being menacing or threatening enough to alienate the mainstream. Case in point, Every Little Step, a song that combined street smart lyrics with enough likeability to win over the masses. Released in January 1989, it was a huge hit, reaching No. 13 on the Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Hot Black Singles chart. The following year, it earned Brown the first Grammy of his career with the award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.