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 M√°cquillage 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.



  1. Oh yeh, I plan to read this thoroughly tomorrow when I get in from work to add my two cents.-QH

  2. Great piece. I own all of their music, including "African Eyes" (1997) and the rare "Style" (2003). I wouldn't call AAG a complete Chic inspiration, because though they both operated in R&B, Narada's music bore a harder edge, as evidenced in the dance tracks. Personally, this is their best record imho. You could hear that they had more control over their vocal arrangements too.

    "The Sisters" was a bit weaker on the tail end of AAG, that said it some great stuff. IML was sampled by Daft Punk, and "Lightfootin'" is funky fresh dressed to impress. I believe the song Whitney made infamous was initially done by Linda Clifford, then Sledge, I made that same mistake when I did an article on them as well.

    BYSTTATG is a favorite as it houses "Smile" and some really good ballads.
    Their first two albums "Circle of Love" and "Together" are worth hearing if you truly enjoy them. Again, great piece.

  3. QH:
    Thanks! AAG just feels Chic--to me, but I should have said it's not a carbon copy. It's really in a class of its own. It is my fave after 'Love Somebody Today' and I've always liked Narada's productions, he always brought an edge to the Soul/R&B sound.

    Linda Clifford, oh mi gosh! Thanks for that. Looked it up:
    ...it's the same year as 'The Sisters', but release dates might have something to do with it. It's kind of funny how a lot of songs got recycled in the 80's and early 90's like that. Like "Still In Love" was done by Angela Bofill, then Jacki Graham and then Vanessa Williams (sorry for the extra trivia moment! lol!).

    I have to say that Kathy Sledge is one of the most underrated voices in music, and Sister Sledge's catalog should be further explored.

    I haven't heard their first two albums, are they kind of bubble-gummy sort of like the Sylvers and early J5? That's what I've heard. I can't get enough of their other albums, so I might dive into them.

  4. They are a lil' gummy, but it is good stuff. It has some really nice ballads & uptempos, I wouldn't sleep on them, they're right up your alley. And personally, I prefer those two albums proceeding WAF, they had personality that that one lacked. And trivia is always good. ;0-) -QH

  5. Will do! Thanks for the recs.

    I sort of agree, as much as I love Chic productions, sometimes their style got in the way of the artist's personalities that they were dealing with, or in Diana's case---Motown(or was she feuding with Nile? I've heard different accounts...you're the Chic/Diana Head so I'll make it your call :) ). I have the expanded edition of Diana (1980) with the original Chic mixes and it's a WORLD of difference from the final product. That's the grey area when you use one sole producer/producers sometimes the artist's personal style is diluted, other times not.

  6. They weren't feuding. What happened is that the original "diana" LP was so overproduced, it buried Diana's vocal performances. So much so, as one Motown exec put to her (and made her cry) it could spell the end of her career. The success of the proceeding "The Boss" was good, but didn't completely quell the commercial missteps of records prior to TB. Personally, I prefer TB to "diana."

    Anyway, Motown session man Russ Terrana was called into to remix the album, and place Diana higher in the mix. Which is th album we all know and love. Both Niles and Bernard were upset that they had their art retouched without consultation. But it worked out in the end. I have the deluxe one too. Ironically, I hated Terrana's mix on The Supremes disco opus "High Energy" from '76, the remixed and released version was better. Comments on your Kylie piece coming soon. ;)

  7. Thanks for the info and clearing that up! I'd heard that there had been some discrepancies with that album. It's funny how the album they thought would kill Diana's career sort of jump started it again.

    Personally, 'diana' is my favorite Ross album next to the 1983 'Ross' set. Diana's usually is kind of hit-n-miss with me and I tend to favor her when she does up-tempos. She gets a little too gooey for me with the ballads, IMO. 'diana' is just the one album of hers that's a straight through listen and I just think it's perfect, whether it's over-produced or not. Though I adore Ashford & Simpson, 'The Boss' is okay for me as the title-track is my everything and a couple of cuts like, "No One Gets The Prize", "I Ain't Been Licked" and "Once In The Morning" are in heavy rotation. But it's those damn ballads that drag it down for me...*shrugs shoulders*


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