My wife’s musical taste is pretty basic. She likes oldies, especially Motown, and she likes the women of a certain alt-country/folk bent, like Lucinda Williams or Iris DeMent. When she is in the car, though, her tastes are different. She likes music she can sing along to. So when I burn CDs for the car, I have to be careful what goes on the discs.
Rap music was never going to be her favorite … truthfully, music isn’t that important to her, it’s something you sing along with in the car. She doesn’t care for booming bass, and by 1989 she, like me, was in her mid-30s.
There aren’t many rap sing-alongs. And that might be why it’s always safe to put “Just a Friend” on a car CD. Because my wife can sing along to it, and how many rap songs can you say that about?
Biz Markie was already popular in rap circles by 1988, when his debut album hit the Top 20 of the R&B charts. But it was his second album, The Biz Never Sleeps, that pushed Biz over the top, thanks to the single, “Just a Friend.” That track didn’t just make it on the rap and R&B charts … it went Top Ten on the pop charts, as well. And why?
Well, for one thing, it’s a great record. But more than that, it is not only a sing-along, it is a completely irresistible sing-along, the kind where if you’ve never heard it before, by the second time the chorus comes around, you’ll be singing along with everyone else. In other words, my wife likes it.
Here’s the Biz performing the number on Showtime at the Apollo, a year after it was released. You know, it takes Bruce Springsteen a decade or more before he can get people to sing along with his classics … “Out in the Street” took almost two decades. Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” was a sing along within a year:
That sing-along chorus might have sounded familiar to older listeners, since it drew upon a 1968 song by Freddie Scott:
Of course, within a few years, Biz Markie’s sampling skills made him more famous than he ever wanted, when Gilbert O’Sullivan sued the Biz for his track “Alone Again.” O’Sullivan won, and became probably the only Irish pop star of the early 70s to have an enormous influence on hip-hop. Luckily, the Beastie Boys managed to put out Paul’s Boutique before the lawsuit … if they had waited a couple of years, we would have been deprived of one of the all-time great albums.
As long as it lasts on YouTube, here’s Biz Markie’s “Alone Again”:
And here’s is Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally”: