I turn 25 this year and resting in a the comfortable grey area of a 'quarter life crisis'. To celebrate, for the next few weeks of September, I'm recapping some of my favorite albums and singles that are turning the big 2-5 along with me...
Even more singles....!
Such a legendary cut. Touted as the femme fatale answer to Run-D.M.C., Salt N' Pepa became legends in their own right by taking their spunk and feministing to the mainstream, vocalizing that hip-hop wasn't a 'He-Man-Woman-Haters Club'--that the girls had some things to say. Though the song has carried onto different meanings, still, over the years one fact remains the same: it's a infectious slice of hip-hop history and that ladies do indeed come first. Big things were to come of the trio in later years, but this is where it all began doorknocker earrings and all.
Funky, funky, and more funky. Duran Duran regrouped in 1986 after embarking to front separate spin-off groups (see The Power Station and Arcadia) to release Notorious. At the time, Notorious, spotlighted how much the band had matured and advanced from their sabbatical, and while Notorious isn't Rio by any means, it still has a lot going for it, especially the title track. No doubt that "Notorious" has some leftover juice from The Power Station as it sways and bass licks away. It's easily one of my favorites from them and it just never gets boring no matter how many times you hear it.
The passing of Vesta last week prompted me to recall a lot of her material and yes, she does have a nice helping, a helping that not a lot of people know about. She was thought of as a Chaka Khan clone, vocally, (Vesta was CK's background singer for a spell) and she does eerily sound like her in moments, but Vesta was always bad by herself---the good 'bad' mind you. "Don't Blow A Good Thing" comes off of Vesta's 1986 debut and it continues to be my favorite from her, a wicked slab of funk and with a early-New Jack vibe that is floating in the mist. If you want a place to start with Vesta, this song is it.
Technically, Promise, the group's follow-up was released in '85, but the single of "The Sweetest Taboo" made it's appearance in '86, and what a single it is. I was hard pressed between this and the two other singles, "Is It A Crime?" and "Never As Good As The First Time" from Promise (aka my favorite Sade record). Both are wonderful, but this one won out. It beautifully begins with the trickling water as if you're entering from behind a waterfall into a secret oasis. The song carries that mystic throughout, as it comes in and then glides out like a dream. The type of mystery embodied in this track is what made Sade, the band and the woman herself so memorable.
Many songs have been written about that dreaded kick-off to the week, but one of the best is La Bangles' famous ode. This time with the helping pen of His Purpleness (Prince) who stamped his signature word play over it. This time he's going by Christopher in the credits (obviously a nod to his Under The Cherry Moon persona) but we all know this is Prince ruminating in his 'paisley' psychedelic mode which fits hand in glove with the Bangles repertoire as jangle-pop goddesses. Rumor is that he gave the once-meant-for-Apollonia 6 track to the group just so he could...um, "get closer" to Bangles leading leady, Susannah Hoffs. Whatever the notion, the song became The Bangles first #1 hit, and one of their best.
Raising Hell is well...one hell of a rap album. A real mint classic. Only being familiar with the singles since forever, I picked this album as an essay topic for a college course I was taking (college is awesome). In a way, I've said words about Raising Hell, the sum of it's parts and it's contributions to the hip-hop movement, but to give you the Cliff Notes version of my favorite track: "Walk This Way" usually gets all the buzz, but "It's Tricky" does the same thing, but grooves just a bit harder---no doubt due to The Knack's "My Sharona" sample. It's sort of lame to say: "Gee, I wish rap music was like this now", but in honesty, I wish it was.
It's the guitars. They get me every time on this one. I really like how they are in the background just jangling away with no care in the world, just happy strumming guitars that are pretty much the backbone of the track. The contrast is Chrissie Hynde's intriguing drawl, which zaps any sort of perkiness right away. Think of it as the cynic's love ode. Not as tough as other Pretenders cuts, but I love lyrics as they read like literary fiction (the good kind). The Avengers homage in the music video is also another thing that keeps this song such an interest for me.
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were gunning for extra credit with all the artists they produced hits and albums for in '86. The SOS Band had been one of the first (if not the first) act that Jam and Lewis worked with when they just started out producing and the excellent Sands Of Time was their final collaboration, and truly their best album to date. Sands Of Time was also the swan song for lead vocalist, Mary Davis, who left for a solo pitch shortly after this (only to return years later). "The Finest" was #3 on the R&B charts and a shimmering slice of the Minneapolis sound. With Alexander O'Neal coming into the fold, a real classic dance number is on your hands.
The Miracle Of Love - Eurythmics
Was never that keen on Revenge, the duo's 1986 set, but "Miracle Of Love" sparkled above the rest of the material. It's absolutely spellbinding on all fronts. The ballad swishes around like an Elizabethan waltz, yet climbs it's way into rockier territories when the guitars kick in. By way it is some of the best bittersweet soul that Annie Lennox has ever spread her fantastic vocals. We even get the fantastic line: "They say the greatest coward is the one who roars most ferociously" to sort of brood over and make you feel all philosophical and deep. Chills, baby, chills.
What?! Not "Say I'm Your Number One"??! I know, Princess' best known hit, is a delicious Stock, Aiken, and Waterman production, not to mention a UK soul-pop classic, but somehow I'm more entranced with this one. SAW tried their hand at producing a few more soulful numbers as evidence on Haywoode's Arrival album and on Princess' '86 debut, and they came up with some real winners. Haunting yet tender in the right places this is a well-sung and arranged piece. Also love that the magic lasts for a good seven minutes on the album version.
It sort of aggravates me that Klymaxx don't get the accolades like other 'girl' bands from the 80's do (see The Bangles above) but they were some of the funkiest ladies around who also could jam just as well (and sometimes even better) with the boys. They continued the party on their self-titled 1986 album, which was a bit lukewarm in comparison to their chart-topping, Meeting In The Ladies Room. Really I never knew this to be an actual single till working on this post series and it's one of my favorites by them. Stylish, confident, and with the band's founder Bernadette Cooper spitting out her usual sarcasm---it's all around just the way you want a Klymaxx track to be.
A hilarious lite-hip-hop jam that made a jab at gossip folks (as well as Michael Jackson and Tina Turner) and went to #8 back in '86. Sadly, this was the band's one and only hit, and well, at least they made it a good one. Hints of what was to come within in the New Jack movement can be heard, as well as the usage of the singing/rap format that would dominate the 90's. Later that same year, Timex Social Club morphed into Club Nouveau (famous for their Bill Withers' cover, the #1, "Lean On Me") and oddly, gave an 'retaliation' answer to "Rumors" by way of their hit track, "Jealousy". Though the latter is a great number, "Rumors" is in a unique class of it's own.
I think the more Phyllis Hyman sang, the less people knew about her, and it's a shame. Living All Alone (the album) marks a time for Phyllis when she broke away from Arista Records due to being disenchanted with how they were handling her career. At the time, Arista was much more occupied with pumping up their newest starlet, Whitney Houston. Though free from the ties that bounded her at Arista, Phyllis is actually in her best form on the Alone album. Tortured is one word to describe "Living All Alone" as it's a cold wind across the heart and a mighty raw vocal performance from Phyllis. When Phyllis wails about 'not standing being all alone', she means it. What a vocal siren.
In all of it's 'synthy-ness' this song doesn't really age. I mean, aren't indie-pop bands of today recalling the same type of New Order-ish sounds and we all act as if it's something so pristine and original? Pfft. History seriously does repeat itself. If this was released today, it'd be a huge hit, no doubt about it. Surprisingly, when it was released off of the band's, Brotherhood record, it barely reached the Top 40 in the US and their native UK. Over the years it's grown to be one of the group's biggest hits (we can't forget "Blue Monday") as well as a classic in its own right. Fantastic cut.
I have a real soft spot for Five Star. True, they were the British answer to Jackson 5/Jacksons outfits (even lead vocalist Denise Pearson eeriely mirrored Michael's voice at time), but they had some insanely catchy pop and R&B tunes that'd you'd be sort of a wet shoe if you just didn't find them grooveable. Huge in the UK, Five Star caught America's attention every so often and their 1986 set, Silk & Steel, featured a smidgen
of notables, like "If I'd Say Yes", "Stay Out Of My Life", and "Can't Wait Another Minute". "Find The Time" is my favorite, it's not as candy-coated as some of their other hits, but it's catchy as a cold and it'll make you want to follow in the Pearson family's synchronized dance routines.
Oh, Cinnamon---I mean, Stacey Q! (That was a Facts Of Life reference as she guest spotted on the show a couple of times---excuse my nerdery) What a goldmine this track is. Either you love or loathe this one, and well, I admit, I love it. I think it's a great freestyle-pop jaunt, nothing terribly fancy, but it gets the job done---and I can deal with Stacey's cutesy coos. Stacey Q was no Madonna and to some she was a one-hit-wonder, she had a couple of albums that I actually came away with liking (see Hard Machine and the Clivilles & Cole produced Nights Like This) that make her not a novelty, but a part of the 80's pop diva movement, and one of the better ones to come from it.