1987: The Showing Out Style Of Mel & Kim

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Many have chewed the bubblegum pop of Stock, Aiken, and Waterman, the production trio that supplied the perkiest or most irritating (depending on how you view it) European pop music around. Amid all of their nurtured iconic acts (Kylie Minogue, Bananarama, Rick Astley) and notable production projects (Donna Summer's Another Place and Time) one SAW produced act was the stylish of them all and that was Mel & Kim, two sisters of British and Jamaican decent who made the most of the terribly brief time they had in the spotlight.

1987 marked the release of their one and only album, F L M and with it a string of successful singles --- "Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend)", "Respectable", "That's The Way It Is", and "I'm The One Who Really Loves You" ---- Mel & Kim brought some sweet and soulful edginess to the European pop market. Mel & Kim also slipped out lusher material like "System" and "More Than Words Can Say" that rhythm and blues all around the Appleby sister's smoky singing voices proving they could step out of the pop box when the occasion called for it. Sadly, the funky festivities ended when Mel succumbed to pneumonia in 1990 at the age of 23 after undergoing treatment for spinal cancer. Kimberly carried on, forging a solo career by releasing notable singles "Don't Worry" and "G.L.A.D." in 1990 and an album filled with material (all co-written with her sister) for what would've been Mel & Kim's second album.

Aside from having hair that was full of secrets (I mean just look at those majestic coifs), synchronized dance moves, and kinetic party pop songs with a soulful touch this side of Janet Jackson, the sisters most notably captured attention due to their uniformed supermodel style. Jody Watley, Grace Jones, Sade, Annie Lennox, and of course, Madonna are often cited at being music fashion game changers in the mid-to-late '80s, but I'd like to put Mel & Kim in the same roster as they brought polish to the pop market and proved that not all of the fashion in the 1980s was a complete catastrophe (I even have a Pinterest board to further prove my point). So consider this throwback an "extensive" ode to the notable music and the fashion slaying of this misbegotten sister act.

Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend)
The Appleby sisters debut single reached #3 in the UK and #1 on the US Dance charts, and is an instant fiesta of drum machines and positive vibes once you put the needle on it. Inspired by the burgeoning Chicago Garage scene in America, "Showing Out" is one of the first inklings to the house music boom that would take place a decade later, with all the glitches, instrumental breaks, and minimal lyricism that littered the genre. It's a fantastic cut, that bubbles over with synths, and has a killer middle eight where the sisters do some mean soulful harmonizing. Classic.

Style Summary: Colorblocking with a Southwestern twist. Their first ever TV appearance on Tops Of The Pop saw them rock a black-and-white ensemble that was runway ready. Also let's give it up for the Zorro-esque hats. Seriously.

Tay-tay-tay-ttt-tay-tay... Even a bigger hit than their first as it reached #1 in the UK, and became their most known single Stateside. "Respectable" is a chugging bass jam that doubles as a rowdy girls night out anthem that gives a nice polished middle finger to conformity. I can hear where the Spice Girls got some ideas...

Style Summary: Holy shoulder pads! Can't go wrong with a mustard asymmetrical jacket and a scarved hat. It's amazing that Kim's striped shirt and skinny jeans outfit from the music video has found its way into 2014 as that is pretty much my typical every-day uniform. Fashion. Repeating itself once again.

F.L.M (aka Fun, Love & Money)
A track all about the essential cornerstones of life done over a breezy Latin tinged dance romp. Mel & Kim test the cash flash and credit card baby culture of the '80s by noting that the cheapest remedy to happiness is to just dance your cares away.

Style Summary: Wide lapel blazers and gloves...and my oh my hats extraordinaire. Okay, why do we NOT cut the tops off our hats and stick our hair through them anymore? I mean, the dreaded "hat hair" wouldn't be banished from here on out if we did. For the Montreux Pop Festival performance of "F.L.M." the sisters go for a dressier look, snagging matching poofy dress shirts straight from the Alexis Carrington Collection, obviously.

That's The Way It Is
Love, love, love this song. It's SAW at their most hyperactive best and it is quite Euro-house before it was even considered a thing right down to the pianos, Mel & Kim's thunderous diva wails, and jumping bean synths. Just so much hi-NRG is packed into this track that it's hard to sit still with it. If "That's The Way It Is" sounds a bit familiar to you it was notable for being featured on the soundtrack for the Eddie Murphy 1988 classic flick, Coming To America and if memory serves me correct it was playing when Akeem and Semmi go out "queen hunting".

Style Summary: At first look, I thought the pants were stirrups and I was about to have a nostalgic stroke, but joy, rapture, those are leggings, high-wasted ones, and you bet I wanna cop them and add to my already overflowing legging collection. Once again 1987 fashion has found itself into my 2014 closet and proud I am.

The stylish spirit of Mel & Kim now lives online, as last year a brand new website was unveiled and it is chock-filled with all kinds of great vintage photographs, stylish fashions, and never-before-known information about the Appleby sisters. An expected "rarities" album is also in the mist of the future, but at post time a song (oddly) named "Brian" has been the only rare track announced for release. So if you need a vintage kick of high-fashion and hi-NRG groove, it doesn't get any better than Mel & Kim.

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