1987 was truly a peak year in the career of the great Stephanie Mills. The arc of that career coincides neatly with the decade of the ’80s as a whole, with her recording success beginning during the disco era of the late ’70s, following her star turn as Dorothy in the Broadway run of “The Wiz.” “(You’re Puttin’) a Rush on Me”, is a thumping electro Funk smash hit from her album, “If I Were Your Woman”, itself a smashing success. “Rush On Me” is a record of ’80s sexual politics that serves as a polite decline of an invite from a man, set to slow, steady synth funk, as if the groove itself is a recommendation to the songs intended to “slow down.” The song was written and produced by New York producer Paul Laurence, known for his work with Freddie Jackson, Melissa Morgan, and Evelyn “Champagne” King. In fact, he had another dance hit with Freddie Jax in ’87, the steppers classic “Jam Tonight.” Together, Mills and Laurence would drive this song all the way up to #1 R&B in the fall of ’87. Reflecting the aversion the pop charts often had to funk, the song would nestle just inside the Pop 100 at #85. Pop chart standings be damned, this is one of my favorite songs of 1987!
The songs begins out with a fat drum beat, replete with big ’80s snare sounds and deep electronic kicks. The hi-hats play a sneaky pattern that is melodic in and of itself, while the harmony is provided by those then state of the art, choral sounding keyboard tones. A bassy sounding synthesizer patch lays a faster, syncopated, double time feeling over the top of the track. After the 8 bar intro, the synthesizer bass kicks in, and its rock solid, matching the kick drum rhythms in a pattern/note sequence somewhat reminiscent of The SOS Band’s “Take Your Time.” The chorus is stated once right at the beginning, “You’re puttin’ a rush on me/but I’d like to know you Better”, with Stephanie drawing out the last line. She goes on to lay down her case very clearly, “I’m not the kind of girl/who has to lay it down before I fall in love”. She tells her suitor, “Maybe next time.” She says, “I know that we’re living in the ’80s/but some things never change.”
I heard and enjoyed this track many times back in ’87 and It still stands out as a unique one. Of all the R&B chart hits that had a funky edge in that particular year, this is one of the slowest and nastiest in terms of the groove. Which I think is such a good, fresh setting for its “Slow down” cautionary message. During the ’80s sexuality was explored in music in many overt ways, taking up where the Disco era had left off. This included specifically, more latitude for women to express sexual desire in ways male rock & roll stars had long done. Stephanie here makes it clear though even though society had changed to a degree and more things were permissible, one shouldn’t assume anything when it comes to sex! Which was a good lesson for me to learn before I even knew I needed it. Because at that particular time, all I understood was a funky synth bassline, a phat drum machine beat, and her unique, laid back, chilled out vocal phrasing in the chorus. Which is why years later, Stephanie Mills “(You’re Puttin’) a Rush On Me” is still a go to jam!