Sunday, 14 June 2009

Reach Your Peak

When I am craving one of my disco binges, I always end up on a bitchin Sister Sledge bender - bible bashing siblings who made a point of blushing at such innocent lines as 'please take me home' (I call it 1am on a crap night out) yet boasted vocal harmonies that only En Vogue ever came close to out-fiercing. Pretty much anyone who isn't deaf or dumb will be familiar with their rent-paying Chic-produced classics, yet they hit a commerical stumbling block on the second of such affairs - 1980's Love Somebody Today was the final album from the seemless partnership. It saw their popularity take a nosedive despite prodding the American rnb charts with the jazzy almost title track Got To Love Somebody and Reach You Peak. These were examples of a more funked up style, not a million miles away from Diana Ross' Diana, perhaps in response to the unbelievable 'disco sucks big black dicks' movement from repressed middle American bisexuals (these days they are called 'str8-acting' but Sister Sledge weren't to know the solution back then). The album lacks the fizz of its predecessor but is strung together by their signature weightless harmonies and reliably tight, string-ladden instrumentation: Easy Street and Let's Go On Vacation are examples of the open-ended and unfinished insouciant nimble nibblings on offer. The two most emphatic tracks are the cummupence anthem You Fooled Around, which could have been adopted by the 1979 We Are Family album, and Pretty Baby is a jabbing, gutsy piano led stomp akin to early En Vogue (basically they are on fine form and leave pastiche-magpies Destiny's Child for dust).

Where to go next must have been a tough call, but their efforts were not all in vain. Their subsequent music became slicker although not necessarily more exciting. The first non-Chic album was the decent All American Girls in 1981. The title track is basically a He's The Greatest Dancer rip off and almost doesn't warrant any further discussion; however, their vocal strength remains sharply intact and as polished as ever. Through sheer grit it works: Kathy regains her lead vocals and sings 'we all get our share' - despite the impression that Kathy was the lead singer of the group, as is seen on Love Somebody Today, such duties were evenly distributed with no obvious weak link. Their unequivocal kink was the wanton abandon and connection to the material they were singing, a magnetism that could instruct even someone in a wheelchair to get up and dance (they're all just after insurance anyway - or perhaps that says more about the area I live in). The best disco engine is the thunderous He's Just A Runaway, a triumph from the girls and should have been a massive hit. They sing with uncharacteristic, scolding attitude far removed from their early uptight image - there isn't a whiff of Jesus here that's for sure (he smells of Jordin Spark's sex-fresh muffin incase you were wondering).

Despite the reputation of the group increasingly being linked to just 4 singles, their real tsunami happens to be a little known gem called Let Him Go. 'I think you better cancel' might as well be my motto - my msn contacts read like one big guilty gaydar list of postponed-indefinately prospects. The Sledge were finding it difficult to re-capture their late 70s glory, and by 1983 had beefed up their sound to Pointer Sisters levels of jittery, ecstatic giddiness. 'I think you better let him go!' is unashamedly their own 'jump! for my love'. Taken from the flop album Bet Cha Say That To All The Girls, it's not in great company but serves itself as the lubrication to ease one into the largely generic, contemporary early 80s clogged up synths to be found here. However, the album was a return to competent form after the aimless misfire The Sisters a year earlier.
Finally with When The Boys Meet The Girls in 1985, the group overcame nostalgia and notched up their sole UK number 1 single with the Disney-sounding Frankie: it's hard to resist its sweet nature and high camp appeal. In the video the girls tease an aroused postman whilst wearing their finest Puerto Rican prom dresses, and get their carb fix stealing his chips. The classic girl group song structure highlights how unique their We Are Family appeal really was - this is their most conventional single and it seems churlish to begrudge it being their only chart topper. The follow-up, Dancing On The Jagged Edge is another style-over-substance dance track - it's a bit like an under-ager begging to get in a club, good intentions but not enough persuasion to properly make the guilt worth it.
The girls had private lives to attend to and their only subsequent splashes of notice have been their competant and sadly underrated 90s remixes, and a dignified outing in 1997 with African Eyes, whilst continuing to tour with as little as one original member and just about any other black women they can find to make up the numbers. Debbie Sledge (with the long face) was always my favourite, with her sad expressive eyes - she is actually the one who has aged best if you ask me and has always looked stunning. Sister Sledge will never go out of date, and their lack of enduring success was not through lack of exertion: they may not always have the material to ignite the party beyond 4 major hit singles, but investigation is well worth making a non-porn internet purchase to discover their flop albums that were not without their own catchy compositions and lasting impressions.

He's Just A Runaway
Let Him Go


QH said...

I own all their records from "Circle of Love" (that had their first R&B and dance hit "Love Don't You Go Through No Changes On Me") to their indie album "Style" which reunited all four to great effect for jazz and contemporary R&B aficienados.

You may like their second LP, "Together" which had the single "Blockbuster Boy" (Dannii could do a bitchin' rendition of this) and was one of the early combo's of European disco and American R&B.

"All American Girls" is really great, early Narada Michael Walden productions, who was also crafting dance hits for R&B latina Angela Bofill, before turning to Whitney for even more success.

They reissued their whole catalogue back in '07, barring WAF, AE, and "Style" (which is OOP, thankfully I have one). Let me know if you wants rips from my copies. They also have a song called "Lightfootin'" which is epic, good dance track. "Il Macquilage Lady" is on the same album with "Lightfootin," the self-produced "The Sisters" which came after AMG, and "Il..." was sampled for some uber Daft Punk song I believe. The "Lightfootin'" track gets its name from Kathy Sledge's husband and session player.-Quentin

Diva Incarnate said...

Any tracks you wish to send would be enormously appreciated. I was once asked by a (Patti-lovin) friend whose voice do I never tire of hearing, and I said Kathy Sledge. Air-kissing, blue-sky harmonies. They melt in your ears.

QH said...

Just shoot me an e-mail, I can send you some stuff: