the queen of hip hop soul? May 23, 2007
more 80s soundtracks May 22, 2007
can’t get enough of 80s movies at the moment. nostalgia can be indulgent but sometimes you’re just fed up with the real world, or, you just prefer the music and movies of another time.
fabulous example of mid 80s legwarmers-and-headband dance music, hot on the heels of fame and flashdance. i haven’t seen the movie in years, but i’m not sure its really necessary, to guess what its about. this song was a favourite of sadistic p.e. teachers up and down the UK, looking to motivate lazy 16 year olds into aerobics, well into the 90s. why was all the music in those lessons at least 10 years old?? another favourite was the pointer sister’s ‘jump’ for trampolining (arf…) and i also remember being forced to do aqua aerobics to elton john’s ‘i’m still standing’. funny cos i don’t remember the p.e witches having a sense of humour…
bright lights big city (1987)
from one shortarse to another, prince contributed this rare track to michael j fox’s 1987 movie. as i remember, this is almost exactly the same as ‘the secret of my success’. michael, previously playing teen roles in teenwolf and back to the future, made the apparent leap to twentysomething hotshot within the space of two years. like ralph macchio, he was a good ten years older than most of his characters. which must be like the ultimate affirmation of hanging on to your youth, I presume. good for them.
the true sound of miami May 21, 2007
originating from miami in the mid 80s, freestyle can best be described as a straight mashup of electro, hiphop, r&b, house…anything goes. hence the name. it became hiphop for girls. yes, female rappers such as roxanne (both of them) salt-n-pepa and jj fad were doing their thing, but this was much sweeter and more accessible.sometimes, it was so plaintive as to be almost offkey and out of tune but I think that adds to its charm, and is more honest than giving cassie, britney and mya recording contracts and manipulating their weedy warblings. freestyle sounded like it had been made on a casio keyboard, and it most probably had been. the studio version without the ‘wake me up before you go go’ demo button though. vocals that sounded like they had been recorded into a handheld tape deck gave the whole affair a more dangerous edge.
the look? quintessential late 80s styling with a latin edge. big backcombed curls, big earrings…and relaxed pastels for the heat. freestyle itself could perhaps be summarised with the above image – aspirational neon cocktail. totally 80s, totally miami.
when I visited florida a few years ago, I didn’t expect to hear any freestyle. i thought that one of the things that had made me want to visit miami for so long would be long gone, a distant memory of twenty and thirtysomethings now fully immersed in the house or r&b scenes. but it was everywhere!
crunk had just exploded but from the local radio stations, you’d never guess. we cruised happily up and down the a1a, and in and out of walgreens and taco bell, to the sounds of freestyle for two weeks. i highly recommend florida to anyone needing some sunny late 80s nostalgia…
ten sounds of party 93.1 south florida – download here
lil suzy – take me
well, if i hadn’t known this track before i went to florida, i certainly did by the time i arrived home. played about four times a day and considering we didn’t spend that much time in the car listening to party 93.1, you can safely assume this was a dj favourite…
stevie b – spring love
uk peeps may only know stevie b for his dreary 1991 hit ‘because i love you’. it seems the only reason he got away with releasing that dirge was that he had already established some credibility on the freestyle circuit. and promptly flushed it down the toilet.
no pic exists for this group, who had several freestyle club hits – this is my favourite. perfect example of electro meets hiphop meets 80s jheri curl soul.
expose – let me be the one
i do remember expose being hyped as the next big thing in smash hits in the late 80s. well, they didn’t take off in the uk but appear to have done well natively and are fondly remembered. i think when en vogue arrived i was slightly confused then realised they were a completely different group.cover girls – show me
like expose, touted as the next big thing but the uk didn’t really get freestyle so they sank without trace until they shifted direction. i seem to remember they covered ‘wishing on a star’ so they must have had some success over here.
lisa lisa and cult jam – i wonder if i take you home
electro favourite that was hard to categorise at the time. lisa lisa and cult jam continued to have success, with ‘all cried out’ (later covered by allure and 112) and c&c music factory remixed ‘let the beat hit em’ (heard that on the radio last week – still sounds amazing). lisa went solo in 1994 with album ‘LL77’ to rapturous reviews but uh, it was all a bit alternative and grey for me…i much preferred the colourful nonsense of the 80s.
shannon – let the music play
perhaps the first freestyle hit, apart from freeez‘s ‘iou’, which i’m not sure counts as they were from london, not miami. plus, ‘iou’ was a wedding reception favourite even back in the day, which surely disqualifies them. anyway, this track along with madonna’s poppier ‘holiday, changed the face of dance music in 1984.
joyce sims – all and all
this song was doing nothing and going nowhere until kurtis mantronik picked it up and laid the vocals over his ‘bassline’ instrumental. suddenly it was everywhere and not everyone realises its a remix – a bootleg at that.
debbie deb – when i hear music
one of the biggest freestyle hits. i had to include a more recent photo of debbie as she looks awful in her 80s shots. circulation defying skintight bleached jeans, sausage in a condom style boob tube, blonde hairdo that looks like it would come off in one piece…ick…sometimes i’m glad i wasn’t really old enough to pick all of my own clothes in the 80s.
seduction – two to make it right
much like expose and the cover girls, assembled to cash in on their success. probably wore the least clothes out of the three and had the least hits as well…
our reggae music May 19, 2007
90s male r&b groups – don’t call them boybands May 13, 2007
male soul groups in the 90s were destined never to replicate the success of their pop counterparts. pop requires a manufactured yet individual, who’s-your-favourite type image. soul groups are usually quite similar. only fans can tell the difference. there’s no cute one, sporty one, fat one, funny one – and if there is, it’s real not a product of an over-zealous marketing department.
what also set these groups apart was their ability – robbie williams and jordan knight couldn’t hold a candle to these vocalists. the mass market, for the most part, seemed slightly threatened by this fact. they succumbed to some of the music, boyz ii men’s ‘end of the road’ a notable example, but swept the rest under the carpet where it couldn’t draw unflattering comparisons with their pin up popstars.
ten boybands who could actually sing – download here
guy – do me right
kings of the new jack swing era, comprising teddy riley, aaron hall and his bro. pioneers of the sound in the late 80s they deservedly held the crown as the scene took off. aaron went to moderate solo success a few years later, and teddy…
blackstreet – booti call
…from the ashes of new jack swing, teddy riley created blackstreet. possibly the biggest true male r&b act of the 90s, they had huge success with their first two albums and collaborated twice with swv ,who were somewhat their female counterparts. started to fall off after a tinny duet with weak-voiced mya for the rugrats movie. dave hollister has become a credible yet underappreciated solo artist.
boyz ii men – please don’t go
clean cut boys who met at performing arts school in philadelphia. first achieved worldwide recognition with ‘end of the road’ in the video for which they sang earnestly whilst wearing knee length shorts. the group sold itself on heartfelt ballads and released few uptempo numbers. their wholesomeness possibly allowed member wanya to get away with a relationship with then-underage brandy in the mid-90s.
jodeci – come and talk to me
jodeci were the bad boys of r&b from 1991 to 1996 and provided a sleazier alternative to boyz ii men. kci hailey has long been tarred by his troubled relationship with mary j blige. despite the group being a sorry shadow of their former selves today, their swing mob collective did launch the careers of missy, timbaland and ginuwine amongst others.
tony toni tone – my exgirlfriend
raphael saadiq and co were always the slightly less sleazy and more conscious act of this genre. several successful albums in the early to mid 90s then raphael went solo, and the other two…anyone’s guess. raphael has since discovered a penchant for very young girls and is rumoured to be dating joss stone, 23 years his junior. which goes to show its always the quiet ones you have to watch….hi-five – i like the way
sweet new jack swing for the ladies, this hit the top of the billboard on release in 1991. the group split in 1994 and never really strayed from this tried and tested formula. now back together and releasing an album – how old must they be now???
mint condition – so fine
along with tony toni tone, revered as one of the more talented and credible groups from the 90s. originally tried to appeal to the new jack crowd but their harmonies were more suited to classic soul and they had many hits in this genre. still recording today, minus keri lewis who left the group to produce, most notably for his wife, toni braxton.112 – only you
bad boy creation that went global thanks to a remix featuring then hot rappers mase and notorious big, shortly before his death. they have since made a living as members of the bad boy family despite possessing not much vocal talent and zero individuality. but their willing participation on infinite tribute songs keeps them on the payroll and in the recording studio, intermittently.
another level – be alone no more
uk lads who cheekily, like all good authentic cockneys, nabbed their name from a recent blackstreet album. bobak kianoush, dane bowers and the other two were fairly hot uk property in the late 90s. bobak mumbled alongside dane‘s surprising vocals and er, the other two who no one can remember. dane then disgraced himself by following victoria beckham around like a puppy dog for several years after a one-off uk garage collaboration.
jagged edge – let’s get married
twins brian and brandon are often credited for distracting letoya and latavia from the destiny’s child duties whilst touring together in the late 90s. the group have had reasonable success ever since but have the odd knack of making their songs impossible to pinpoint by year. i often hear a track of their and think its old, only to discover its new. hmm.
90s girl bands – premier league May 12, 2007
though the pop decade would be dominated by boy bands such as nkotb, take that and the backstreet boys until girl power hit, on the r&b scene, girl bands were always big business in the 90s.
after the spice girls, many tried to emulate their cartoony characteristics to achieve crossover success, but the truly talented chose credibility over advertising deals.
the integration of hip hop beats into r&b tracks was first heard on en vogue’s hold on in 1990 and the influence of the grittier hip hop scene saw some bands adopt a more casual or comedy image, notably tlc and jade, mostly via their clothing, to identify themselves with the more credible hip hop scene.
by 1995, it became more acceptable for girls to be girls and a more glamorous side emerged, eventually becoming the perfect complement to bad boy’s patented late 90s bling scene. despite this, many of the girls were tied to bad record deals and failed to recoup much of the reward for their success.
these girls were on top of their game in the 90s – download here
en vogue – lies
in 1990, en vogue sounded like nothing else. slickly manufactured 80s soul had given way to new jack swing but some were finding the music over-produced. enter four girls, looking like the supremes, but singing over the kind of beats associated with bands like nwa and public enemy. in a rare faux pas, smash hits labelled en vogue one hit wonders in their round up 1990 – quote “…their second single currently ‘lies’ (arf) in the discount bin at woolies…” I think the only reason I remember this is that it was actually quite funny. but wrong.
tlc – ain’t too proud to beg
colourful, cute and individual, tlc burst onto the scene in 1992. condoms flying. their first album ‘oooh on the tlc tip’ was slightly overshadowed by their loud image, but by the time ‘crazysexycool‘ was released in late 1994, the girls were all grown up. if it were possible to wear out a cd i would now be on my 25th copy. though chilli and t-boz tried to carry on without left eye, it was visibly painful and they’re now working on solo projects.
destiny’s child – show me the way
hands up who preferred destiny’s child back in the day? beyonce‘s voice is natural and the four girls harmonise perfectly. this track is from their debut, at age 15, and letoya is rumoured to be singing on the first verse. it does sound like her. maybe one day all six members will reunite, dreamgirls style….or not.
swv – i’m so into you
inspiration of many of today’s current female r&b singers and the crown queens of new jill swing. swv were young, but looked older due to some hard times growing up. famously sampled wacko on ‘right here’ and went on to release five singles from their successful first album. band member lelee has recently alleged that they left their contract penniless in 1998, mirroring tlc‘s experience with laface.
jade – i want cha baby
game attempts to look sexy in lumberjack shirts five sizes too big paid off for jade, whose worldwide hit ‘don’t walk away’ put them up there with swv for a time. for years, the intro to that song featured on many an answerphone. after a second successful album, like swv and tlc, jade suffered from mismanagement and split in 1994 with little financial return.
702 – steelo
in the mid 90s, 702 tried to fill the gap left by financially ruined girl groups before them. against the odds, and with scant vocal ability, they have survived well into the 00s, partly due to the clout of longtime compadre missy elliott. still, they are responsible for some nice tracks.
eternal – stay
when they arrived, eternal were revered in the uk as a band the american record buying public would lap up. their success, whilst sizable, remained slightly more local so it was rumoured that single white member louise was offloaded to improve their chances in the us r&b market. unlikely, but in any case it turned out in her favour and she’s the only member still getting work. unless you count kelle bryan’s appearance on celebrity love island. which is precisely the opposite of being in demand.
xscape – understanding
underrated girl group who favoured mid and slow tempo jams that allowed their vocals to shine. another young group, the then mid-teens sang at jermaine dupri’s birthday party in 1991 and got a contract for their efforts. split in 1998 but now regrouped.
total – no one else
total were a bad boy project, originally singing choruses on hip hop joints for artists such as biggie smalls and ll cool j. had they stuck with this strategy, they could have disguised the fact that neither kima keisha or pam can actually sing. their debut album was painful listening and i dread to think what the untouched demo sounded like. the beats of course, were bad boy’s, and wasted on them.
brownstone – if you love me
this group managed to negotiate the obvious pitfalls of being signed to wacko‘s label and became reasonably successful with this track in 1995. after replacing a member who left due to bronchitis (read: girlfght) they failed to recover.
prince’s protegees – sharing the magic May 7, 2007
its a common misconception that all of prince‘s protegees were:
- short – and i do mean short, as in shorter than prince, who is a certified dwarf
- female – prince had so many associates, it wasn’t really necessary for him to be able to sleep with all of them…
we need to make a distinction here. prince wrote and produced for many artists but these are those whose success he can legitimately claim as partly his own.
its difficult to say whether or not they could have been successful without him, most were launched as ‘prince‘s latest project’. but their music is so much an extension of his own that it’s literally like discovering a whole new prince back catalogue. as is the man wasn’t prolific enough already…
ten artists who pretty much owe prince their career – download here
vanity 6 – undress me – 1982
originally named ‘the hookers’, the group wisely vetoed prince’s idea that they should perform in lingerie and heels. fronted by his then-girlfriend denise matthews, their biggest hit was ‘nasty girl’ in 1982.
apollonia 6 – blue limousine – 1984
after rows with prince led to lead vanity 6 member denise matthews fleeing paisley park, patricia kotero stepped in and the project became apollonia 6. they only released one album, and still didn’t wear much.
jill jones – violet blue – 1987
former back up singer to teena marie, she was recruited to provide backup vocals for the 1999 album. her debut album in 1987, written and produced by the man himself, received rave reviews and now sells on ebay for several hundred dollars.
originally given one of prince‘s biggest hits ‘kiss ‘to record, as soon as he heard it he kept it for himself. if only he’d done the same with tom jones. they managed to make off with an album’s worth though and had brief success in the mid 80s.
sheena easton – sugar walls – 1984
reality tv isn’t actually a new phenomenon, especially search for a star type programming. in 1980, sheena, then 21, was followed in her attempts to gain a record contract. after landing one, she soon decamped to the US and after some dodgy country music attempts, regained her senses and hooked up with prince in 1984. this track was banned by some stations – an interesting development for sheena but something prince had become a veteran of by this point.
wendy and lisa – satisfaction – 1989
originally part of ‘the revolution’ one of prince‘s earlier backing bands. they doubtless learnt a lot form touring and working with prince but in fact, achieved their success alone. the girls felt underappreciated and rebelled, leading to prince firing them in 1986, interrupting and delaying work that would become the ‘sign of the times’ album. they parlayed their industry expertise and talent into several successful albums, most notably ‘fruit at the bottom’ in 1989.
taja sevelle – love is contagious – 1987
taja joined paisley park in 1987 at the age of 25, and became instantly successful with this track, a worldwide hit. despite going on to sell many albums, she promptly disappeared, re-emerging a decade later with a radically different sound and image, now favouring indie twanging and tori amos style wild and unkempt image. hmm – very alternative (yawn)…
a former classmate of prince and the remainders of the group flyte time who had a decent amount of success and exposure throughout the 80s. morris, who went solo in 1984, almost stole the show in under the cherry moon. this exaggerated persona was evident throughout his musical catalogue. like prince, he tried and failed to manage his own girl band, the day z’s. tlc paid homage when they covered the morris day and time track ‘get it up’ for 1993’s poetic justice soundtrack.
sheila e – a love bizarre – 1985
multi-talented instrumentalist sheila escovedo first collaborated with jazz bassist alphonso johnson in 1976 when she was just 18. soon after she met prince and he took her under his wing. she had several hit albums and appeared in the 1985 movie krush groove with ll cool j and blair underwood. lucky girl. she also appeared on the beyonce track ‘work it out’. and had to dodge lots of flying weave.
i didn’t know much about this girl except that she sang with jellybean and dated jordan knight of nkotb at some point. grr. apparently, she won star search at age 14 in 1983 and is mostly a back up singer.