Ray Parker Jr. wrote this back in the '70s when he was a member of the funk/R&B vocal group Raydio, but he never recorded it. It debuted in 1983 when it was covered by teenage Jamaican reggae singer Junior Tucker, but didn't become a hit until New Edition released their version the following year.
This was a #1 hit on the R&B chart. No one was more surprised than Parker, who was baffled at every stage of the process, from meeting the group in the Bahamas to the old-school production.
"I had not any clue of what he wanted me to do or what he was talking about," Parker said of MCA Records exec Jheryl Busby, who summoned him to the West Indies to meet the group. "And he said, 'the group is going to do your song' and I really thought they were going to do something else. So they started playing this song that I hadn't heard in who-knows-when that they dug up from somewhere."
Not only did they expect Parker to produce a song he didn't even like for himself, but they rejected his suggestions to update it. "They wanted to use real drums and no computers," he told Billboard magazine. "I was a little scared because I said, 'It sounds just like I thought it was gonna sound.' It sounded just like if I had done it years ago. And everybody liked it."
The narrator pleads with the telephone operator to get his girlfriend, who isn't answering his calls, back on the line. Bobby Brown sings lead in the chorus because he was the only one who could hit the high register. Parker remembered: "At the time, Ralph [Tresvant] was the lead singer and he sang the verses great. But when we got to the chorus, he couldn't sing it. And so to make it happen, we had to get Bobby. He was the only one who got it."
Parker got one more surprise from New Edition after the song became a hit. "Those are the only guys I ever wrote a hit record for that called me back," he explained. "I'll never forget that... they're very talented guys and they were the only ones to say, 'Thank you for writing us a hit and please come write us another one.'"
Brown, who left the group in 1986, joined them again in 1990 to perform this at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Rapper 2 Chainz sampled this in his 2012 song "I Love Dem Strippers," featuring Nicki Minaj.