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by Barry Walters

August 22, 2013

Producer Spotlight: Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis

by Barry Walters  |  August 22, 2013

When Jimmy "Jam" Harris and Terry Lewis were fired from The Time because a blizzard during their Atlanta recording sessions with the S.O.S. Band made them miss a March 1983 concert supporting Prince, an R&B revolution was made possible. Their resulting record, "Just Be Good to Me," was created almost exclusively with synthesizers, but its epic, hugely emotive arrangement was nearly operatic in scope and impact. Within months, the duo, whose parts on The Time records were apparently played by Prince anyway, became one of R&B's hottest production/songwriting/instrumental teams. And when they helped Janet Jackson restart her career with her 1986 landmark Control, their status in the pop world skyrocketed as well, via a collaboration with The Human League, a hit cover version by Robert Palmer, and a smash remix for George Michael.

Cynics will complain that Jam and Lewis killed off traditional R&B, and they're partially right: The duo's synth-enabled studio precision unquestionably rendered both funk bands and countless session players outdated. But who can say that their work with Michael Jackson, Barry White, Mary J. Blige, Usher, El DeBarge and many other greats lacks soul? They're canny songwriters who capture the complexities and peculiarities of love; producers who've turned good singers into great ones; and sonic magicians who've wiped years off veteran talents. Their influence on today's pop and R&B scene remains massive: If Justin Timberlake's post-'NSYNC solo vibe wasn't at all inspired by Jam and Lewis' absurdly genius production for Jordan Knight's "Give It to You" (an early Robin Thicke cowrite), we'll eat our Kangols. Enjoy some of their biggest and best records with stars both major and minor.

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