Wipe Off The Dust: Going Beyond "Turn The Beat Around"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sometimes a signature song isn't all its cracked up to be. Sure, there comes some fame, fortune, and years later you could be collecting royalties for its usage as background music in this burger commercial or that Swiffer Sweeper commercial. Still, you may have wanted listeners to delve beyond that one hit single. This is how I felt after digging in the back catalog of Vicki Sue Robinson. That we shook her hand, liked her and then went onto the next, not exploring more of what she had to offer...and there was loads more.

The late Miss Robinson is mostly known for "Turn The Beat Around", the 1976 disco classic that was one of the first of popular tracks to incorporate Spanish styled rhythms and instruments. Gloria Estefan later covered it in 1994 bringing back interest in the disco movement, and now Megan Mullally (aka Karen from Will & Grace) tragically dances down the dairy aisle with a tub of butter in her hands to it. It's sort of a shame, since Vicki Sue Robinson had even better songs, in fact, she had a range of styles that extended beyond the Latin back beats of her signature cut, that even myself, was surprised at her offerings. So one day, I decided to listen to more Vicki Sue Robinson, and well, it was worth the hunt...

After the success of "Turn The Beat Around" died down, Vicki Sue Robinson swiftly followed suit with a new album in 1976, and released a stellar Bobby Womack cover in the disco swirl of "Daylight" which found a spot in the Top 100, and was Vicki's last flirt with the charts.



In 1978, Half & Half, Vicki's third album was released and it was once again given little fanfare. Shame, since it's even better than her first two efforts, as it's less disco and more gritty homespun Soul. Gospel workouts like "The Freeway Song" dot the album, and the rock-funk of the title track was a sorely missed opportunity. Personal favorite, "Jealousy" is another crime of release proportions as it's a rousing Blues number where Vicki's vocals really take off and soar. In short, she sings the mess out of this song and it boggles my mind why she failed to latch with listeners as her vocal range is far superior than to her fellow disco contemporaries (see Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor).

Jealousy



1979 brought Vicki Sue Robinson to her final album, Movin' On, an album title that sort of rest in ironic limbo, as Robinson moved on to other things when the album itself didn't move on anywhere else as it barely cracked the charts. Plus 1979 kicked started the whole "disco sucks" backlash period, to where people weren't flocking to that sound as prior with punk and New Wave ushering in the 80's. Even though  Movin' On was released on the cusp of disco demolition, it brought Vicki back that dance sound she gained a fanbase with, as the tracks were made for the dance floors, such as a swiveling title track and "Can't Accept The Fact." I'm more so liked the lusher tracks, like "High On Your Love", where Vicki's vocal range is given room to breathe and really go all out.  

High On Your Love


It's quite a shame that not only is Vicki Sue Robinson not with us anymore (she passed away in 2000 from cancer), but she never had a chance to re-spark her singing career into the 80's (which is where 70's stars like Summer, Chaka Khan, and Patti LaBelle flourished), as she took to doing commercial jingles and releasing sporadic singles that never caught the public's ear. To my knowledge, most of Vicki's albums are stupidly out of print, but like I, you can probably scope them out online and be reintroduced to her powerhouse vocal ability and shimmering dance tunes all over again.

3 comments:

  1. I'm definitely gonna check out more of her music. Thanks for highlighting more of her catalogue.

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  2. Great piece, don't agree that she has a better range than Ms. Summer, who herself was far more than just a disco siren.

    Nice work.-QH

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  3. @JustMe: Her catalog is actually impressive and it took me by surprise considering most know of her through one song. It's just a shame that there isn't more.

    @QH: Thanks! I'm a fan of Summer's too, and maybe I was harsh with my assessment of Summer, who I know was far more than just a disco siren. Her 80's output is one of the most underrated and overlooked collections out there. Donna proved her muster with 'The Wanderer', in my opinion. I mean, she dealt with the disco backlash brilliantly and she was the Queen of Disco! In fact, I like her 80's work over her 70's, but that's my preference. I just think that Vicki Sue had a better range, but I think Donna's works for the music she made. There were a lot of great female vocalist out at that time, Cheryl Lynn is another who could blow the roof off vocally...but I'm getting off on the subject! Thanks for your words :)

    ReplyDelete

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