Wipe Off The Dust: Life After Chic With Sister Sledge
Thursday, January 19, 2012
To hear Sister Sledge is to hear "He's The Greatest Dancer" and "We Are Family" bounce, skating and rockin' through your head. No difficult feat, especially since they've been featured in film montages since their craft and continue to be the "go-to" jams for whenever you want to dip in some Disco. Yet, that is beside the point, because for me, Sister Sledge should be best remembered as one Chic's finest production moments. Their pair albums with them, 1979's We Are Family, and 1980's Love Somebody Today, are seamless affairs of Disco-Funk and Soul pleasure that salutes to the groove of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards.
While hit makers with Chic there is always some sort of 'selective amnesia' when it comes to what they released after those seminal hits with Nile and 'Nard. Possibly due to the Disco backlash around the beginning of the 80's a lost of interest for the sisters occurred, leading to their later efforts becoming mis-begotten. True, they would reunite with Nile Rodgers for 1985's kind of dull, When The Girls Meet The Boys, but what happened in-between that time?
All American Girls (1981)
If you didn't look at the liner notes, you would've assumed that All American Girls is a Chic production. Duped you'll be. There is a lot of Chic-ism sprinkled among this set, due to the repetitive bass-lines and swirling strings, but this is all Narada Michael Walden's production wizardry. He does a perfect job of giving the impression that the Sister Sledge are under the influence of Chic when the opposite is at play. Something about All American Girls in it's 'imitation of Chic flavoring' I like---a lot. Next to Love Somebody Today, it's my favorite Sledge effort as it's solid throughout with bass lines that won't quit, ballads that are soft serve creamy ("Next Time You'll Know", "Don't You Let Me Lose It"), and all the post-disco experimentation you need. The pro-female title track proved to be lucrative for the sisters, as it hit #3 on the R&B charts, while "If You Really Want Me" is post-disco at it's most earnest. Radio stations probably didn't know what to do with "He's Just A Runaway" as it's a bold shift for Sledge with it's grinding rock-guitar backing. It was a missed opportunity, because Kathy Sledge's raspy vocals were meant to drape over a track like this. A number of other tracks like the tropical coo of "Happy Feeling" and jovial "Oooh You Caught My Heart" screamed "hit", but once again some opportunities were overlooked. Chic-less, but brimming with ideas, All American Girls showed the Sledges could chameleon themselves in various genres.
The Sisters (1982)
While All-American Girls feels progressive in it's make-up, The Sisters is a slight regression in it's atmosphere as it feels right out the late 1970's. It happens when "Super Bad Sisters" comes in with horns blasting and a funky backing, all the electronic funk of All American Girls far gone---well, until some timely "raps" come in. It must be noted that the Sledges solely produced and wrote most of the material on this, which is quite impressive and gives this set a real personal touch. The prime hit off of it was a re-working of Mary Wells' Motown classic, "My Guy". Cute it is, but this feels sort of passive considering what they've done prior. Still there are shimmering moments like "Lightfootin', "Il Mácquillage Lady" and the brooding cool-down, "Everybody's Friend". One other interesting thing to note about The Sisters is that it features the first rendition of "All The Man That I Need", a tune that Whitney Houston would scoop up in 1990 and make a slushy hit out of it. Things sound vastly different on the Sledge's version, including a male vocalist, but if you're curious about this song's origins, The Sisters can be picked up just for sheer curiosity.
Bet Cha Say That To All The Girls (1983)
While The Sisters was stirred, Bet Cha Say That To All The Girls is shaken. Now entering in as the pilot for production is multi-instrumentalist, George Duke, who is mostly known for his Afro-Jazz Fusion bushel of albums, but who took some stylish turns in the 80's as producer. France Joli, Deniece Williams, and Irene Cara received the Duke touch around this time, and he does the same for Sledge as he brings the pop-rock hybrid that was discovered in All American Girls, and branches it out here. Lead-off single, "B.Y.B.O. (Bring Your Own Baby)" is quite electric and segues nicely into "Lifetime Lover". Bet Cha's fault is that the single choices were weak, opting to peg it's success on okey-dokey ballads instead of Valley Girl work-outs like "Let Him Go" that drive with a 60's girl group flair or mid-tempo pleasantries like "Smile". Lots of what is on here feels ready for a 80's teen movie soundtrack, making for a gloriously dated (but in a good way!) set that is worth taking a second listen too.