Chart Week: January 26, 1985
Song: “Do What You Do” – Jermaine Jackson
Chart Position: #19, 14th week on the chart. Peaked at #13 the week of January 5.
How do you define a single? That dilemma has long frustrated people who track the popularity of music. Over the years Billboard magazine has used a variety of definitions for how to classify individual songs on its different charts. In the current, streaming age, for example, just about every track can be considered a single the moment an album is released. In the past, the definition was much more stringent when separating singles from album tracks.
This Jermaine Jackson song opens a door for us to look at how singles were categorized in the 1980s.
There’s nothing all that special about “Do What You Do.” It was the second biggest pop single of Jermaine’s solo career, and spent three weeks atop the Adult Contemporary chart. I guess that made it special to him.
What is more interesting is this track’s B-side, “Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’ (Too Good to Be True),” a duet with brother Michael. When Casey mentioned that was the B-side for “Do What You Do” on a January 1985 countdown, I was confused: I remembered hearing it a lot on the radio in the summer of 1984.
My mind was not playing tricks on me. “Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’ (Too Good to Be True)” was indeed a pretty big radio hit in June 1984. But thanks to a conflict between the brothers’ record companies and Billboard rules, it never registered on the country’s biggest pop chart.
Michael was signed to Epic Records, Jermaine to Arista. While Michael was cleared to record the track for his brother’s album, the labels were unable to reach an agreement on how to share credit for it as a single pressing. So Epic blocked it. I would imagine this pissed off a lot of people at Arista, who were likely thrilled at the prospect of poaching a little of Michael’s magic. However, radio DJ’s across the country still inserted the track into playlists, knowing their listeners were clamoring for new MJ material. They played the hell out of it, in fact.
At the time, Billboard did not include songs on the Hot 100 that had not been released as official singles. When an album track or B-side began getting heavy airplay, labels had to scramble to press it as a single if they wanted to get Hot 100 recognition.
There were still ways to track “TMIND(TGTBT)”’s popularity. Radio and Records magazine published its own singles chart that was based exclusively on radio airplay. On that chart, the Jackson brothers hit #6 in June 1984. And Billboard had a Hot Dance Club Play chart that tracked, well, what dance clubs were playing. Only in the hot dance clubs, obviously. “TMIND(TGTBT)” was #1 there for three weeks.
Despite that commercial success, if you pull up old Billboard Hot 100 charts or listen to old AT40’s, it’s as if it never existed. Crazy.
I’m not a big fan of “Do What You Do.” It’s a sleepy, saccharine, soulless, and totally generic mid–80s ballad. It’s made worse by Jermaine’s vocals, which sound mailed-in. I wonder if he was going for something along the lines of Michael’s “She’s Out of My Life.” The problem is that as sappy as that song was, Michael’s emotion was completely genuine, ending with him breaking down as he sang the closing lines. I don’t sense any real heartbreak in Jermaine’s delivery. I think it would have sounded better if someone like Peabo Bryson or Freddie Jackson had sang it. 3/10
As for the B-side, I know I dug it when I was a kid, and I enjoyed listening to it a few times this week. It definitely leans way into the sound Quincy Jones and Michael created for Thriller. Replacement-level Thriller, to be fair, but the sound is still there. Even today, hearing those pseudo-Thriller vibes gets me pumped. That’s probably just memories of being excited to hear new Michael Jackson music a few months after the final Thriller single fell off the charts. It doesn’t hurt that the best part of the song is when Michael sings. He just has so much more personality and urgency in his voice than Jermaine does. I also hear a little New Wave influence; something about the synthesizers reminds me of The Fixx. 7/10
This became a bigger deal in the 1990s, when record companies often refused to issue songs that received heavy airplay as singles to force consumers to buy more expensive CD’s. ↩