Infidelity isn’t the most pleasant subject to talk about but I think we can agree that it’s a very popular one. A constant source of conversation from break rooms to blogs, talk shows to tabloids; it’s been fodder for some great songs in every musical genre. However, since this is Black Music Month, I’ll just concentrate on R&B. I’ll tell you right now that I realize there are a bunch of songs out there on this subject. However, for the sake of time and space, I had to take on the challenge of whittling down my list to my ten favorites. So, whether you call them songs about infidelity, adultery, two-timing, hanky-panky, messin’ around, having an affair, playing off, sneakin’, creepin’ or just plain old cheatin’, here are my top ten for your perusal.
1. “Me and Mrs. Jones” – This is the first song I can remember ever hearing that dealt with an affair. A beautiful ballad from Mr. Billy Paul sung as if he’s in confession. He tells us he and Mrs. Jones “meet every day in the same café…6:30.” I always assumed that was 6:30 in the evening since the band playing their favorite song. With such a consistent routine, one wonders how Mr. Jones never found out. I guess he worked nights.
2. “As We Lay” – These days Shirley Murdock is singing gospel, but back in the day this song was anything but. However, this song does have a heavy gospel influence, at least musically. Just listen to the chord changes and background vocals; not to mention Shirley’s “churchy” vocal runs. I was fortunate enough to see her perform this song when she opened for Luther Vandross. By the end of it she had the crowd shouting like we were in church, almost forgetting that she was singing about waking up with someone’s husband.
3. “Secret Lovers” – Here we find two lovers discussing their situation with each other. This one is really messy because they “both belong to someone else, but can’t let go.” This song was a really big hit for Atlantic Starr. It was one of those “wave your hand in the air and light your lighter” songs. It was also featured in a cell phone commercial a while back. Take note, if you ever hear this as your partner’s ringtone, it’s time to talk.
4. “Boyfriend” –- While songs about infidelity often lend themselves to ballads, that’s not always the case. Here Me’shell Ndegeocello shows us that infidelity has never been so funky. Unlike “Secret Lovers,” this song is an in your face monologue, with the recurring line, “If that’s your boyfriend he wasn’t last night!” Ladies, an approach such as this one, while up front and direct, can and most likely will lead to a serious cat fight.
5. “The Rain” – Long before nanny cams and the show “Cheaters,” there was Oran Juice Jones following his girl and her “alley cat coat wearing, Hush Puppy shoe wearing” man around town. Rather than losing his temper and risk catching a case behind the situation, Juice keeps his cool and just makes sure he cancels all her credit cards and withdraws all the money out of her bank account before kicking her out into the street, without that $3,700 lynx coat.
6. “Who Is He and What is He to You” – Leave it to the great Bill Withers to examine the subtleties of infidelity. Bill obviously didn’t have time to follow his girl around town but he still has the sneaking suspicion that’s something’s not quite right with this guy that keeps coming around. Whether it was a feeling in his heart, a look in the eye or a clearing of the throat Bill lets us know that yes, men also have intuition.
7. “Creep” – This was a big hit for TLC; a fun, danceable and catchy tune. When this one came on the radio, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone from teenagers to grandmothers that didn’t at least know the chorus. Here we’ve got a woman who knows her man is steppin’ out on her but rather than leave him she decides to do the same, but “keep it on the down low.” This was back in 1994 when the term “down low” had a slightly different meaning than it does these days.
8. “Down Low” – Two years after “Creep” R. Kelly used “down low” as the title of what became a huge hit. Whenever I mentioned the premise of this article to anyone, this song was always mentioned. Equally popular was the video in which we find Kelly working for Ronald Isley, aka Mr. Biggs. Kelly is assigned the task of looking after Biggs’ woman which is a huge mistake. I mean really, the woman is played by Garcelle Beauvais. Needless to say, when Biggs leaves town, Kelly squanders all chances of getting that employee of the month award.
9. “You Me and He” – This song from Mtume is one of my favorite 80’s ballads and it’s pretty popular among old-school quiet storm fans. The woman in this song at least has the decency to be forthright with her man about what was going on. He responds by saying he knew “things had changed ‘cuz when we made love you called out his name…” Uh, yeah…that would be a red flag.
10. “Sh*t D*mn Motherf*cker” – What do you say when you’re at a loss for words after finding out about “my best friend and my wife?” Leave it to D’Angelo to keep it real and cut to the chase. The song progresses from discovery to reaction to consequence. However, D’angelo wasn’t as cool, calm and collected as Oran Juice Jones, reminding us that affairs quite often end with someone bustin’ a cap and going to jail.
– Montrose Cunningham
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Montrose Cunningham is an independent funk/rock/soul artist and devoted music aficionado residing in Dallas, Texas. When he isn’t digging through the crates–digital and analog–he’s jamming with his band or hanging with his daughter; sometimes both at the same time.