31 July 2008

August Artist of the Month: Cameo

An outlandish, in-your-face stage presence, a strange sense of humor, and a hard-driving funk sound that criss-crossed a few musical boundaries earned Cameo countless comparisons to Parliament/Funkadelic in their early days. However, Cameo eventually wore off accusations of being derivative by transcending their influences and outlasting almost every single one of them. Throughout the '70s and '80s, the group remained up with the times and occasionally crept ahead of them, such that they became influences themselves upon younger generations of R&B and hip-hop acts. By the time the group's popularity started to fizzle in the late '80s, a series of R&B chart hits -- ranging from greasy funk workouts to synthesized funk swingers to dripping ballads -- was left in their wake. Further separating Cameo from their forebears, they didn't have a diaper-clad guitarist. Instead, they had a codpiece-wearing lead vocalist.

That vocalist was Larry Blackmon. In 1974, the ex-Juilliard student and New York City club-goer instigated a funk band with a membership of 13 called the New York City Players. Blackmon, Tomi Jenkins and Nathan Leftenant formed the group's nucleus. The Casablanca label signed the group to their Chocolate City offshoot, and shortly after that, the group changed its name to Cameo. Their excellent debut album, 1977's Cardiac Arrest, was highlighted by four singles. Three of those hit the Billboard R&B chart: "Rigor Mortis" (number 33), "Funk Funk" (number 20), and "Post Mortem" (number 70). Although the group was clearly inspired by elder funk groups likeParliament, Funkadelic, and the Ohio Players, Cardiac Arrest made Cameo's case for belonging in the same division an open-and-shut one.

In an attempt to keep the ball rolling, 1978 saw the release of Cameo's second and third albums. Neither We All Know Who We Are nor Ugly Ego were as solid as the debut, but the group's singular characteristics were becoming increasingly evident. The winding, horn-punctuated "It's Serious" (from We All Know Who We Are) narrowly missed the Top 20 of the R&B chart, while "Insane" (from Ugly Ego) dipped just inside it, peaking at number 17. The best halves of these two albums would've made a fine sophomore LP.

1979's Secret Omen, featuring a disco-fied re-visiting of Cardiac Arrest's "Find My Way" and the magnificently funky and slightly loony "I Just Want to Be" (a number-three R&B chart hit), was stacked with fine album cuts and brought Cameo back as a group that excelled in the LP format. "Sparkle" was one of their best ballads, a sinewy number that hit the Top Ten. Five albums released between 1980 and 1983 (Cameosis, Feel Me, Knights of the Sound Table, Alligator Woman, Style) brought about a slight dip in quality on the album front. Despite an abundance of filler on each record, none of those albums were strict disappointments, delivering hot Top 20 R&B singles like "Shake Your Pants," "We're Goin' Out Tonight," "Keep It Hot," "Freaky Dancin'" "Just Be Yourself," "Flirt," and "Style."

One of the most significant ripples in Cameo's time line came during that period, in 1982, when they packed up and set up shop in Atlanta. Pared down to a quintet and located in a less hectic city, the group became bigger fish in a smaller pond.Blackmon even started his own label, Atlanta Artist. The label's first LP, Style, also marked a significant shift in sound, with synthesizers taking on a pronounced role. Paydirt was struck with 1984's She's Strange; the title cut, a late-night slithery smolder, topped the R&B chart and eclipsed the Top 50 of the pop chart, kicking off a remarkable three-album run that made Cameo one of the most popular groups of the '80s. Single Life and Word Up!, released respectively in 1985 and 1986, continued the hot streak. The singles from those two albums -- "Attack Me With Your Love," "Single Life," "Word Up," "Candy," and "Back and Forth" -- held down the Top Five plateau of the R&B chart. "Word Up" even went to number six on the pop chart, giving them their biggest bite of the mainstream. The song was everywhere.

What goes up must come down, and that's exactly what happened to Cameo. Despite the fact that two more singles -- "Skin I'm In" and "I Want It Now" -- scaled up to number five on the R&B chart, neither Machismo nor Real Men Wear Black performed well as albums. After 1991's Emotional Violence, the group's profile was lowered significantly, but they did tour sporadically to the delight of hardcore fans as well as plenty of misguided people who thought Cameo was all about "Word Up" and nothing more. Notably, Blackmon spent a few years of the '90s at Warner Bros., as the vice president of A&R.

Cameo's presence continued to be felt throughout the early 2000s, not only through extensive sample use and less tangible influences upon younger artists and producers. Several retrospectives have kept the group's music alive: Casablanca's 1993 compilation The Best of Cameo is an excellent point of entry. Mercury's 12" Collection & More, released in 1999, covers the group's best dancefloor moments. 2002's spectacular Anthology, a double-disc set also released by Mercury, covers a lot of ground and does the group justice as a total package. ~ Andy Kellman, All Music Guide

We're Going Out Tonight (1980)

Flirt (1982)

New Music added this week:

Whateva U Want - Ivana Santilli
Triple Black Room - Joe
Take Me Home - Victoria White
Whole Lotta Kisses - R. Kelly
Relief - R. Kelly
Spaceship - Olivierdaysoul
I Fell - Noel Gourdin

15 July 2008

July Artist of the Month: The Jackson Family

The Jackson's are without a doubt the most successful and influential family in American Pop Music history.

Born and raised in Gary Indiana, the Jacksons brothers were guided early in their careers by their father Joseph. He saw their potential and in 1964, he decided to form a group around his three eldest sons Jackie, Tito and Jermaine. But it wasn't long until younger brother Michael was added to the group after Joseph discovered his remarkable talent.

The family moved to Los Angeles shortly after the boys signed with Motown in the fall of 1968. It wasn't long before The Jackson 5 was one of the most popular groups in the world. Sisters Rebbie, La Toya and Janet along with the youngest son Randy would stay at home in LA with their mother Katherine while Joesph and the boys were on the road. Randy would replace Jermaine after he left the group to stay at Motown (He had married founder Barry Gordy's daughter) when Joseph took the boys over to CBS for a new more lucrative deal. Jermaine would go on to build a successful solo career as well as mentor other Motown groups such as the Bobby DeBarge lead Switch. (Bobby even dated La Toya for a while and is rumored to have inspired the Switch hit "I Call Your Name") Rebbie, La Toya and Janet would form a short lived group in the late 70s but it would stall almost immediately due to the sisters constant arguing. Around this same time baby sister Janet would try her hand at acting on the then popular sitcom "Good Times" before gaining some minor success with her first two solo albums. Rebbie married and faded from the spotlight for a while before reemerging in the mid 80s with the number one song "Centipede" (Produced by brother Michael). La Toyta (and her headband) would release a few mildly successful albums but eventually become know as the family's "black sheep" after a series of magazine layouts and tell all books.

Brother Michael had left the Jacksons in the early 80s and was now the biggest star in pop music history following "Off The Wall" (79) and the massively successful "Thriller" (82). The bothers tried to carry on without Jermaine and Michael but the public had little interest. Michael briefly rejoined his brothers in 1984 for the Victory tour and album but that was pretty much the last gasp for The Jacksons as group.

Janet would strike pay dirt with her third solo album "Control"(86). Produced by ex Time members Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the album would remake Janet into a pop icon that would rule the charts for the next 15 years.

Michael & Janet alone have sold more records than any brother sister combo in the history of American music. Add the solo albums from Randy, Marlon, Jermaine, Rebbie, La Toya, The Jacksons & Jackson 5, and you have a run that will no doubt never be touched in our lifetime. July in Jacksons month at Reunion Radio. Let's all give it up for America's First Family of Music.

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