This one really takes me back: I was DJing four night a week in SoCal through most of the ’80s and this collection is an astonishingly accurate representation of the best of club and party dance music from “the decade of excess.” I played every single one of the 17 songs here, and most of them were staples.
Shannon’s million-selling “Let the Music Play” (’84) is a classic of burbling electro-funk produced by Cincy’s Mark Liggett and Chris Barbosa, with a strong melody and vocals from Brenda “Shannon” Greene.
C-Bank’s heavy, clattering electro-disco “One More Shot” (“One – More – Shot! [crash of breaking glass] cause I love you”) was super popular in Latin L.A. in ’83. The “group” was the studio product of mix-master John Robie and singer Jennie Burton.
Southern Florida’s Will to Power (unlikely philosophy fans), led by producer Bob Rosenberg, had one remarkable freestyle-ish dance-pop album (’88) with four hit singles, including the smooth and tuneful “Dreamin'” included here (the others were “Say It’s Gonna Rain,” “Fading Away,” and the Number One “Baby I Love Your Way/Free Bird Medley,” which pissed a lot of people off).
Lisa Lisa’s “I Wonder if I Take You Home” (’84) kicked off her extremely successful collaboration with Brooklyn production, songwriting and recording team Full Force (three brothers and three cousins), who had just hit the big time with U.T.F.O’s rap smash “Roxanne Roxanne.” I talked with Full Force’s Brian George a few years ago.
“We wanted to do something different. So we wrote songs for a young Hispanic woman because all the Latins in our community were listening to hip-hop and R&B, and the only Hispanic artist on the charts was Menudo, which was definitely not R&B or hip-hop. So that’s how we ended up working with Lisa Lisa.”
Full Force’s work with Lisa Lisa combined the “Full Force beat” (heavier, slower freestyle) with catchy melodies and good vocals. “On ‘I Wonder If I Take You Home’ the bass drum follows everything the bass is doing,” said George, the group’s drummer. “I came up with that beat the day I got fired from my day job. I came home and my cousin started laughing because he was already unemployed; I went downstairs and came up with that beat.”
But the vocals are just as important. “We are very big on vocals – we always want to make sure that there is a vocal hook because a jam is good, but a song lives forever.” “I Wonder If,” “Can You Feel the Beat,” “Head To Toe” and “Lost In Emotion” (and their excellent remixes) are dance floor classics that were catchy enough for mainstream radio.
Though a real drummer, George has kept up with technology. “When the 808 drum machine and then the DMX came out, I was so depressed being a drummer. I walked the streets in a fog; I was like ‘Who am I, where am I, what is my purpose?’ So I forced myself to become a programmer.” And a damned good one at that.
Noel (Pagan) came and went with one smash, but what a smash it was: the surging electro-pop standard “Silent Morning” (’87), which perfectly matched his deadpan vocals to a tale of missing love and synth stabs, syncopated beats and a brain-sticking melody.
Larry Blackmon’s Cameo was one of the great funk bands of the ’80s, and “Word Up” (’86) was their signature tune. Blackmon’s oddly nasal, intensely rhythmic vocal, the slamming 2 and 4 beats, and slithery bass line made this a smash on the radio, in the clubs, and in the street.
Latin drummer and percussionist Sheila E. is the daughter of the legendary Coke Escovedo, also a percussionist, and she was playing in her father’s Latin fusion band Azteca when Prince found her and turned her into a sexy solo artist, his most successful such transformation. The Prince-written and produced “The Glamorous Life” (’84) is one of his absolute best: a Latin-funk-pop classic about a young woman who comes to realize that love is the ultimate glamor.
Cameo wasn’t the only funk band that made the transition from the organic ’70s to the electronic ’80s: the Gap Band, originally from Tulsa, and led by singer Charlie Wilson, was equally adept. Among their thumping, charging dancefloor staples were “You Dropped A Bomb On Me” (’82 – the remix of which went on for about an hour-and-a-half), “I Don’t Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops, Up Side Your Head),” “Burn Rubber,” “Early In the Morning” and “Party Train” – that’s a party right there.
Tony Moran and Albert Cabrera, the Latin Rascals, received an offer by New York independent label Fever Records to produce and write a song for one of their acts, the Cover Girls. “Show Me” (’86)was the result, and not only did it become a gold record, but it ushered in the freestyle era of dance music, complete with its own roster of stars (Brenda K. Starr, Information Society, TKA, Safire, and Nayobe, whose “Please Don’t Go” is also on the collection).
Miami’s Expose, the girl-group creation of Lewis Martinee, had a similar freestyle-pop sound as the Cover Girls, and had massive dance hits with the beguilling “Point of No Return”(’87), “Come Go With Me,” “Exposed to Love,” “Let Me Be the One,” and the ballad “Seasons Change.”
Yaz’s “Situation” is the lone Brit contribution to the collection and it’s a great one. In ’82 songwriter Vince Clarke suddenly left Depeche Mode to form Yazoo (shortened to Yaz) with singer Alison Moyet. The first Yazoo album, Upstairs At Eric’s is a technopop landmark, showcasing Clarke’s melodies and Moyet’s dramatic, statuesque alto. Produced by Daniel Miller, Eric Radcliffe and Clarke, Eric’s is highlighted by the brilliant synth-ballad “Only You,” throbbing “Don’t Go” (with Moyet wailing soul diva-style), and the shimmering, squirming “Situation.”
Also for your wriggling pleasure is legendary DJ Afrika Bambaattaa and Soul Sonic Force’s pioneering electro-rap milestone “Planet Rock” (’82), where the Bronx met Kraftwerk and neither was ever the same again.
A flawless collection.