“Helplessly In Love” is historically notable because it marked the first time the members of New Edition worked with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Jam & Lewis would ultimately help steer the ship that took New Edition over the teen idol hump and worked closely with the group their most artistically credible albums, 1988’s Heart Break and 1996’s Home Again. The Minneapolis duo was also very heavily involved with the solo careers of N.E. lead singers Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill (who was not yet a member of the group when “Helplessly In Love” was recorded.
“Helplessly” is a spare ballad-all keyboards and vocals. It’s got more than a passing resemblance to another Jam & Lewis composition; “Tender Love” by the Force M.D.’s. Both songs also came from movie soundtracks; “Tender Love” was the lone slow jam on the hip-hop dominated “Krush Groove” soundtrack, while “Helplessly In Love” came from the forgotten remake of the old TV show “Dragnet”, which starred Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks. It wasn’t a big hit, but Ralph’s boyish vocal completely sells this ballad of unabashed infatuation.
If you’re under 25 and you’re reading this entry, a) congratulations and b) I’m about to write some shit that might blow your mind. I remember the first time I heard “Helplessly In Love” on the radio. I’m pretty sure I was in my uncle’s Jeep, driving to the World Trade Center to pick up my aunt. The DJ announced a brand new New Edition song, and, as I was already a pretty big fan, I was rapt. The song stuck in my head–for years. The Dragnet soundtrack went out of print pretty rapidly, so I never got a chance to buy it (not that I was regularly buying records back then anyway). Thank goodness for file-sharing in the early ’00s, because that’s how “Helplessly In Love” came back into my life. Yep, there was an entire decade-plus during which I had literally zero exposure to this song. I knew what it was, but there was no way to obtain it beyond wishing on a star that it would show up in a cutout bin or in a store’s used 45s section. Ultimately, it was released on a 2-CD package called New Edition Gold in 2004 (I think?) and it was ripped to my hard drive and I never had to worry about access being denied to my beloved New Edition ballad again.
Then streaming came and rendered all of that moot. Oh, well. You kids don’t know how good you have it.