On the Heart Break album, “Crucial” was one of the more incidental tracks. Despite most of the album being produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, the LP version of “Crucial” was helmed by former Time drummer Jellybean Johnson. It was a decent Minneapolis funk song. Not bad, but not a standout.
Remixed and issued as Heart Break’s fourth single, “Crucial” finally ended up in the hands of Jam & Lewis, and the result was a revelation. The track went from sleek Minneapolis funk to pumping new jack swing. Ralph Tresvant’s boyish voice was brought to the forefront of the mix, and the end result was urgent, modern, and danceable beyond belief. It peaked in the top 5 of Billboard’s R&B chart in late spring 1989, and it was one of those songs that made you feel like summer was in the air.
New Edition performed it as part of their Soul Train Music Awards opening performance in 1989, and shut the venue down with their choreography. I wanted to be these guys so bad growing up. Also, how the hell does Ralph Tresvant sing after dancing so hard for a solid minute and a half during the intro? Yes, I know his vocal is supplemented by the studio version during the performance, but he still exhibits remarkable control over his singing. I’d have needed medical help just speaking after having to do those steps. Hats off to you, sir.