It’s safe to say that Janet Jackson and her production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis rode one another to the top of the charts with 1986’s Control. Janet went from Michael’s cute little sister to Madonna’s counterpart, while artists from The Human League to New Edition clamored to work with the former members of The Time.

However, Jam & Lewis were on their way to building quite the impressive resume at that point,having already scored huge R&B hits on Cheryl Lynn (Encore) and The S.O.S. Band (Just Be Good To Me). A couple of months before Control’s first single, What Have You Done For Me Lately, became a Top 5 smash, the production duo scored their first Top 10 pop single with Tender Love by the Force MD’s (also featured in the film Krush Groove).

The MD’s were a group of kids who were discovered singing aboard New York’s Staten Island Ferry. Their sound mixed doo-wop harmonies with hip-hop rhythms damn near a decade before Boyz II Men blew up. Tender Love, quite simply, is one of the most simple, elegant and beautiful ballads of the Eighties. In contrast to Jam & Lewis’s generally noisy production style, this song is pretty much just electric piano, synthesized strings and voice.

While The Force MD’s were definitely more talented vocalists than their counterparts New Edition, they had the misfortune of having primarily hip-hop & dance label Tommy Boy behind them, so they were never given the quality material or the promotion that N.E. ultimately got. Tender Love was the group’s only Top 40 pop record, although they scored a few hits, including 1987’s #1 R&B charting Love is a House.

Sadly, two of the Force MD’s original five members have since passed away way too soon (“Mercury” from a heart attack and lead singer “T.C.D” from Lou Gehrig’s disease), but this song leaves a hell of a legacy. It’s been covered by artists ranging from Alicia Keys and Kelly Rowland to Jordan Knight, but no one can ever top the original.

This YouTube clip cuts out the song’s intro, but the only other option appeared to be a mega-fuzzy TV performance. Oh well.