Mr. Telephone Man

Album: New Edition (1984)
Charted: 19 12
Play Video

Songfacts®:

  • 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.

Comments: 1

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 16, 1985, the New Edition performed "Mr. Telephone Man" on the Dick Clark ABC-TV Saturday-afternoon program, 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time the song was at #15 on Billboard's Top 100 chart, the following week it peaked at #12 {for 2 weeks} and it spent sixteen weeks on the Top 100...
    And on January 27th, 1985 it reached #1 {for 3 weeks} on Billboard's Hot R&B Singles chart...
    Between 1983 and 2004 the Boston group had twenty-four records on the Hot R&B Singles chart, sixteen made the Top 10 with five reaching #1*, besides "Mr. Telephone Man", their four other #1 records were "Candy Girl" for 1 week in 1983, "Cool It Now" for 1 week in 1984, "Can You Stand The Rain" for 2 weeks in 1989, and "Hit Me Off" for 3 weeks in 1996...
    * They just missed having two more #1 records when both "Count Me Out" {1985} and "If It Isn't Love" {1988} peaked at #2.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Matt Sorum

Matt SorumSongwriter Interviews

When he joined Guns N' Roses in 1990, Matt helped them craft an orchestral sound; his mezzo fortes and pianissimos are all over "November Rain."

Jack Blades of Night Ranger and Damn Yankees

Jack Blades of Night Ranger and Damn YankeesSongwriter Interviews

Revisit the awesome glory of Night Ranger and Damn Yankees: cheesily-acted videos, catchy guitar licks, long hair, and lyrics that are just plain relatable.

Name the Character in the Song

Name the Character in the SongMusic Quiz

With a few clues (Works at a diner, dreams of running away), can you name the character in the song?

Guy Clark

Guy ClarkSongwriter Interviews

Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett are just a few of the artists who have looked to Clark for insightful, intelligent songs.

Tanita Tikaram

Tanita TikaramSongwriter Interviews

When she released her first album in 1988, Tanita became a UK singing sensation at age 19. She talks about her darkly sensual voice and quirky songwriting style.

Mike Scott of The Waterboys - "Fisherman's Blues"

Mike Scott of The Waterboys - "Fisherman's Blues"They're Playing My Song

Armed with a childhood spent devouring books, Mike Scott's heart was stolen by the punk rock scene of 1977. Not surprisingly, he would go on to become the most literate of rockers.