These posts are about the songs that just barely failed to cross the key line of chart success, entering the Billboard Top 40. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 41.
Rick James traveled a long, rutted road before he got to his first hit single. As a member of the Canadian band the Mynah Birds, James signed to Motown Records. The problem was that James was in Canada because he was avoiding the U.S. military. A mind-nineteen-sixties trip to Detroit for recording purposes coincided with James coming to the attention of the military authorities. James served time for the infraction and then started the complicated process of rebuilding his music career. After several thwarted attempts, James finally circled back to Motown Records, landing on the Gordy Records subsidiary. Come Get It!, the solo debut album by James, was released in the spring of 1978, and its first single, “You and I,” topped the R&B chart and went Top 15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The album’s second single was a more emblematic song from James. Built on an easy funk groove, “Mary Jane” is positioned as a sexy love song, but the actual object of affection is likely marijuana: “I’m in love with Mary Jane, I’m not the only one/ If Mary wanna play around, I let her have her fun/ She’s not the kind of girl that you can just tie down/ She likes to spread her love and turn your head around.” A habitual drug user who started with marijuana as a teenager before moving on to far more potent substances, James eventually spiraled to the point he engaged in violent acts against other people, including brutal instances of sexual assault that led to his conviction, in 1993.
Around eight years after his release from prison, James was found dead in his home. Toxicology reports found multiple drugs in his system. James was fifty-six years old.
Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.