Wipe Off The Dust: Another Side To Amii Stewart

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On paper, Amii Stewart belongs in the 'Land of One Hit Wonders'. She scored a disco classic in a razzle-dazzle cover of Eddie Floyd's "Knock On Wood" and she donned a headdress of Medusa's serpent hair for the occasion. She was well on her way. Even though Stewart churned out another cover (an amazing re-do of The Doors' "Light My Fire") when disco culture dissolved, so did the many artists that scored hits during that time. For some they continued to flourish in the 80's. For the rest, the disco backlash resulted in then being ignored even when they released albums well after the fact. Amii was one of those who became a listening casualty once disco dispersed.

One day I decided to use my spare time (aka unemployment time) to sift through Amii's other releases and, as usual, find out what else she had to offer besides that one single everyone knows about. Ms. Stewart has actually been recording still for three solid decades, and well, her albums after Knock On Wood were just as great---and even better. After 1979's Paradise Bird, Amii opted for more of a soul/quiet storm approach, but the real shift in her sound occurred on her 1983 self-titled release, which is by far one of my favorites from her back catalog.

Don't be deceived by the album cover (pantsuits for the win) and blase title, this album surprised me with it's consistency and down-tempo quality. It's oh so 1983 and is in good company with anything Irene Cara and Laura Branigan put out at that time, just with a bit more soulful grit. In fact, it surprised me that Giorgio Moroder didn't produce this as the album as a whole sounds like something he would've put his stamp and synth sensibilities on.

Amii Stewart is a total turn-around from the horn fused high-NRG that Amii began her career on as it spotlights the shifts and reassembling R&B took in the early 80's after the disco backlash. Melodramatically the album begins with the album's lone single, "Working Late Tonight" with it's soap-operatic story about the abandonment of a lover. It's the perfect 'my man done me wrong!' fist-shake-to-the-sky type of song.

"Take A Heart" could have easily have wormed it's way on the Flashdance soundtrack as it sounds like a cousin to Karen Kamon's "Manhunt" but is really a delicious cover from an obscure 1960's British group called, The Sorrows. Stewart's version follows in the original's morose footsteps, just all gussied up for dance floors with electric guitars.

Take A Heart

More moodier pieces litter the album such as the soulful climb of "Don't Ask Me Why" where Amii's vocals are put to the test, as well as on the piano ballad, "Once Again". To balance things out, bounce is added with the funky, "Nobody But Me" while "Say Goodbye To Love" churns on a Motown vibe---just has a seedier electronic feel to it.

Another interesting aspect of this album is the inclusion of not one, but two songs by Donna Summer, and they were two songs that were on her shelved 1981 album, I'm A Rainbow. Though this type of overlapping covers happened a lot during this time, Summer's originals of "Sweet Emotion" and "You To Me", didn't grace ears till I'm A Rainbow was pulled from the vault and released in 1996, thus making Stewart's versions seem like the originals for such a long span. Though I'm a Donna Die-Hard, Amii nails these tracks with much precision.

Sweet Emotion 

Amii Stewart didn't gain any major hits, even though it had the potential to have them. Yet, a year after the fact, Stewart would gain a lovely hit with the Mike Francis produced "Friends" (one of my all-time favorites) which was a completely different and poppier sound than what Stewart had done prior. So I'm guessing either promo failed here or Stewart coaxed audiences better with flashier dance numbers than the brooding soul confessionals she had on this release.

Sadly, Amii Stewart, the album, is out-of-print, and through the grace of Internet searches I was able to find a digital file of it (I know, I know, terrible). So if you're the honest type, be comforted that a number of Amii's 70's and 80's releases are available on iTunes---just not this one. A real shame as it's Amii's best in a string of albums that is well worth discovering.


  1. Disco Amii was my favourite.
    She's still very famous in Italy for the Mike Francis song and her cover of We Got Tonight with a famous italian singer.
    She toured Italy with sold out Jesus Christ Superstar production a few years back. I think she had been living here since the 80's, she often appeared in popular tv shows.
    (Same goes for Randy Crawford, who had a long career here in Italy, and what a voice!)

  2. Kit:

    Yeah, from what I've gathered she's HUGE in Europe. A real shame the US forgot about her. I like Amii's disco period too---I have a soft spot for disco :) Thanks for the info about Amii!

    Oh, and I grew up listening to Randy Crawford! She does have a great voice, very unique too.


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