Teena Marie - Irons in the Fire – Teena Marie (Gordy/Motown – 1980)by A. Scott Galloway (Special to Radio Facts ) “I have been colored in and faded out. My hand she quivers and yet my pen still writes. ‘If life is death and peace is wrath – or if you feel I have chosen to embark on a most precocious path - let me be the judge of my own cessation, for I am the only one who knows just how far or fast I go…’” Independence Day had arrived along the sparkling shores of Venice…Venice, California that is. It was a hot summers day of sunny skies, crystal blue persuasion and salt songs - misting and ascending to the Most High. A home spun Vanilla Child was on the brink of shaking the chains that had not so much bound her but disciplined her – reigned her in to teach her a thing or three – for her level of excellence in the realm of songcraft was nothing short of sweet bitter destiny. She was born Mary Christine Brockert but she took “Teena Marie” as her nom de plume. And when she was really feeling herself, she butterflied into “Lady Tee.” The latter is clearly who was possessing her 5”1’ frame when she raised up the baton to conduct her first self-produced symphony: her third LP, Irons in the Fire. BUY TEENA MARIE MUSIC ON iTunes When she arrived at Motown’s Sunset Boulevard offices in Hollywood by bus from beach town, she was a lump of clay…a young White girl in love with the rainbow of music all around her: Musicals, Rock, Jazz, Top 40 Pop and a whole lot of Soul. The world-wise veterans at Motown could see there was plenty within her to work with. It would be a combination of Tee’s tenacity and some empathetic in-house hearts that slowly began to piece her puzzle together. Motown Founder and Chairman Berry Gordy was among the first to take her under his wing, producing an early 8-song demo session. She was also ushered in and out of the doors of several lesser-known producers such as Kenny Kerner, Richie Wise, and Winston Monesque – each zoning in on the part of Tee they could most relate to but never getting anywhere near the whole picture. Singer/Songwriter/Producer Ronnie McNeir got the closest. Years later, Tee would show her gratitude, bringing him back into the fold on her sixth album, Starchild, on which they sang the duet “We’ve Got to Stop Meeting Like This,” even performing it together on “Soul Train.” But that would be a long ways away. The biggest misstep Motown made was slotting her into the ill-fated sons of Gordy band Apollo. Notoriously, Teena left a session allegedly to run a quick errand and conveniently never returned. BUY TEENA MARIE MUSIC ON iTunes It would be a rowdy upstart, stage name “Rick James,” who would fatefully peek his head into the writing room where Teena was working away, hearing something familiar in her voice and verses that connected to his youth. They were mirror opposite twins – he a Black man who originally wanted to be a folk rocker, dodging the draft, smoking pot, letting his hair grow long and hanging with White dudes that happened to include a young Neil Young and future Steppenwolf member Nick St. Nicholas. She was a White California beach girl, always with a song in her heart and upon her lips, whose “bestest friend named Mickey” (among many) was Black. When reborn Rick got red hot at Motown, fronting his Stone City Band and dropping the coldblooded Punk Funk on they ass via his Come Get It LP (Gordy/Motown – 1978) featuring “You and I” and “Mary Jane,” he was in a plum position to reach back and help another artist of his choosing. “Mack” that he was, Rick chose Teena, and launched her as the producer of her long-awaited debut album, Wild and Peaceful (Gordy/Motown - 1979). It was highlighted by two polar opposite instant classics: the party starter “I’m Just a Sucker for Your Love” and the serenely introspective “Déjà vu (I’ve Been Here Before).” Following a tour where Teena accompanied Rick as a protégé and off and on lover, she switched from the devil incarnate to a perfect angel named Richard Rudolph, a songwriter/producer and soon-to-be publishing magnate who also happened to be the husband of one of Teena’s greatest inspirations, Minnie Riperton, the sensual and unique singer/songwriter who had just succumbed following a courageous battle with breast cancer. The two of them were already acquainted and the timing was perfect for “Dick” to lose himself in the labor of love Teena’s sophomore LP, Lady T (Gordy/Motown – March 1980). Where Rick put the raw sizzle in Teena, Richard polished her with gems such as the funky disco fantasia “Behind the Groove,” the Rufus & Chaka nick “Why Did I Fall in Love with You,” and the Quiet Storm classics “Aladdin’s Lamp” and “Now That I Have You,” the latter a gift originally intended for Minnie. The result was a roundly fine if not spectacular album that was more important for Teena as a close-up look into the finer art of album-making. Beyond a few promotional appearances, she did not tour. Instead, she was granted her wings to produce her third LP, the appropriately titled Irons in the Fire (Gordy/Motown – Late Summer 1980) - among her finest. BUY TEENA MARIE MUSIC ON iTunes Key to the magic of Irons in the Fire was a close-knit group of studio conspirators made up of musician friends that Teena implicitly trusted, including members of a veteran band called Ozone. Their tightness would serve Teena well not only creatively but in getting the project done in the timely fashion execs demanded. Drama queen to the max, Teena opens her magnum opus with a moment that is all about that bass…bassist Allen McGrier running the voodoo down on a melodic bottom line to which Gregory Hargrove answers with some teasing guitar before the whole thing erupts with a second rhythm guitar by Wali Ali and a Paul Riser string arrangement for the Gods, christened with what would become one of Teena’s vocal signatures: a resounding “Whoooooooo” that translated as “…and away we go!” That song, “I Need Your Lovin’” is a supremely pocketed, four-on-the-floor, love-funk jam. It grabbed women and men alike with a groove that would not quit plus lyrics penned and sung from a poetic funkstress who had a flair for expressing girl thoughts with young womanly wile…plus tried-and-true spelling hooks. Ray Woodard takes the clean and tasty tenor solo. BUY TEENA MARIE MUSIC ON iTunes Previous ballads such as the jazzy “Déjà vu” (a poem lifted from her diary by Rick who made it a song) and the aforementioned highlights of Lady T paved the way for the luxuriant and nostalgic “Young Love” which laid the dynamic arc template for so much silken Tee balladry to come. With shades of Smokey Robinson rising, Teena sings this one directly to a lover she does not intend to lose. Extremely key are her girls who have her back. Teena’s female backup vocalists and arrangements always rock your world. Teena rarely did solo layered backgrounds on ballads. She brought in an assembly of sisters to lay them, in this case friends Mickey Hearn, Jill Jones (future Prince prodigy) and Shirley Mattison, all joining Teena.
Teena always had a lil’ Rock N’ Roll in her Soul...... which is manifested in the flirty, horn-fueled “First Class Love,” co-arranged with Allen McGrier (gettin’ his Louis Johnson on with his thumbed bass parts and breakdown), a crunchin’ guitar solo, and the percussion of the indispensable Paulinho Da Costa. “First Class Love” dates back to demos originally cut produced by Ronnie McNeir with the Detroit dream team of Ray Parker Jr. on guitar, “Billy Bass” Nelson of Funkadelic on his namesake and Ollie Brown on drums. Ozone gave Tee a funky update that cooked. Side 1 of Irons in the Fire closes with the prophetic and prayerful title track - Teena at the piano with the harp of Lloyd Lindroth and the strings of Paul Riser. Side 2 of Irons in the Fire opens with an attention-arresting courtroom scenario – interestingly a Motown tradition from Shorty Long’s comedic “Here Come the Judge” to Stevie Wonder’s heavy mid-song interlude from “Living for the City.” Teena’s is unique with her layered and looped vocal hook that telegraphs the madness one feels when shackled in a maddening love affair. Then drummer supreme Paul Hines, who cops co-arranging credit here, drops the beat off into an intricate, ice-cold rhythm pattern so oxymoronically hot it could warp yo wax. The rhythm section, the horn section AND the vocal section all get caught up in the feverish, trance-inducing, runaway train of thought of the track, peaking with a blistering synthesizer solo by Michael Boddicker an ancient-future percussion by Paulinho. The vocal bass part is an obvious yet uncredited Melvin Franklin of the Temptations, prominent and name-checked on Teena’s next album, It Must Be Magic. Tracks as sophisticated as this set Teena apart from most female peers. BUY TEENA MARIE MUSIC ON iTunes The same can be said of “You Make Love Like Springtime,” a sexy Brazilian Jazz romp that’s the cat’s meow for slickness. Teena dives head first into that Marvin Gaye yin yang of ‘bomb sex as healing blessing’ she so beautifully describes as “an adventure in the raw, a phantasm for two.” By verse 2, her pen is dripping. Poetry in motion, teach me, Spirit Dove No words need be spoken, I know what you’re dreaming of Like this song I wear your love like Heaven on my breast Rainbow colors all so pure, I feel like I’ve been blessed Up to here, all of “Irons”’ songs are exclusively penned by Teena Marie. The next one would be a collaboration with her dear friend, Mickey “Boyce” Hearn. Entitled “Tune in Tomorrow,” it’s a clever, pure jazz take on the ups and downs of love as like a soap opera in real time – a jazz suite in three tempos. To pull this off authentically, Teena picked a seasoned quartet of musicians: pianist Bobby Lyle, guitarist Wali Ali, drummer Earl Palmer, Sr. and upright bassist James Jameson, Jr. Teena’s adoring indebtedness to Sarah Vaughn (in her delivery of the verses) and Ella Fitzgerald (in the dizzying tempo shifting scatting) is on magnificent display as the instrumentalists serve her exquisitely. “Tune in Tomorrow” made much good on the promise of “I’m Gonna Have My Cake (And Eat It, Too)” back on her debut, Wild and Peaceful, foreshadowing more ever-anticipated Jazz to come. SEE MORE OF A. SCOTT GALLOWAY'S REVIEWS HERE As Teena takes her fiercely earned bow for her inaugural self-production (complete with a warm, inviting cover photo lensed by Ron Slenzak), the finale of Irons in the Fire unfolds - a luxuriant reprise of “Springtime” on which Teena blissfully riffs in vocal ecstasy as Nick Brown goes to town on acoustic guitar with some tasty piano by James S. Stewart, Jr. over a thoroughly warm and lubricated rhythm section. Vinyl victory has rarely been so spicy and sweet. - A. Scott Galloway (The writer dedicates this essay to the memory of dearly departed friend Ms. Teena Marie and all the Cat Daddies and Kittens that make it such a treat to revisit.)
Grace Jones – Nightclubbing (Island Records – 1981)
by A. Scott Galloway
“Disco was squeezing me into a room that was looking tackier and tackier” Grace Jones
When Jamaican Funky Reggae drummer Sly Dunbar dropped the beat on Grace Jones' “Pull Up to The Bumper,” the effect on dancefloors around the world was tantamount to doin’ The Bump all the way down to the ground then grindin’ back up again…in 360 degree thrusting rotations. The sex of it was infectious, feverish and freeing. No one had heard anything like its tantric yin/yang mix of fat organic bottom and electronic riddim, bells and whistles. “Bumper” rang the alarm for a whole new hybrid of aural seduction and lifted Ms. Grace Jones from fashion-plated music underground to a force with which one lusted to be reckoned. It marked the sweet, sweat-soaked success of a woman primed and ready to pimp trends and Funk-Pop Art on their safety clip-pierced ear, and her own turf.BUY GRACE JONES MUSIC ON AMAZON
Disco was free falling out of favor ...
The `70s were turning into the `80s, Disco was free falling out of favor and [amazon_textlink asin='1476765073' text='Grace Jones' template='ProductLink' store='radiofacts0c-20' marketplace='US' link_id='60df1b7f-b45a-11e7-a60d-c128c3e9adb2'] – model, performance artist, presence – was sick of being the Cover Girl puppet of club music maven Tom Moulton – L’image baiting buyers to vinyl fetish. Grace had released three albums with Moulton fairly exclusively heard only in gay clubs and the most cosmopolitan of discotheques: Portfolio (1977), Fame (1978) and Muse (1979). While Moulton was indisputably the most influential producer/remixer in the wild, wild east coast nights of dance music, he was getting far more credit for Grace’s projects than an independent woman of vision (and the visions of her broad swath of equally art-minded crew) could tolerate. He had helmed a couple of classic recordings for her - the finest a rendering of “La Vie En Rose” for the ages. It was now time for something edgier, earthier and auto-erotic. Grace recorded for Chris Blackwell’s mighty independent imprint that was in the midst of blowing minds worldwide as the home of Bob Marley & The Wailers and several other non-mainstream artists deserving of a hip home to craft their wares. It was Blackwell who personally took the reins of Grace’s chariot to higher ground in search of something very Jamaican and technologically cutting edge by handpicking a disparate group of musicians that would become known as the Compass Point All-Stars: so-named after his recording studio in Nassau, Bahamas where meetings of their minds, hearts, bodies and souls would melt into chocolatey goodness no one could resist.
Equally as important was Wally Badarou, a Parisian-African multi-instrumentalist and classically trained pianist/synthesist experimentalist equally adept in French waltzes, Caribbean folk and American Funk. He would go on to be a lynchpin in the studio for Funk-Rock Fusioneers Level 42 as well as record instrumental masterpieces as a composer in his own right on the now-classic albums Echoes (Island - 1984) and Words of a Mountain (Island – 1989).
Lending a delicious rock-edge would be guitarist Barry Reynolds (fresh from Marianne Faithful’s ground-breaking Broken English LP) rounded out by second guitarist Michael “Mao” Chung, rhythm guitarist Monte Brown, percussionists Uzziah “Sticky” Thompson and Mel Speller – all exquisitely chiseled and spaced into the sound mix by engineer Alex Sadkin.
Grace’s first release with her new team was Warm Leatherette (Island - 1980) which found her giving you shoulders and shadows with a punkish attitude in the Black & White photograph on the cover. It’s highlighted by the beats-upside-your-head / “sex as car crash” title track (the spoken word piece on which Grace first nailed her arresting vocal sound), a singular reading of Pretenders lead singer Chrissy Hynde’s “Private Life,” a marvelous version of the Marvelettes’ Motown classic “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game,” the Country Ska attitude jam “Bullshit,” and throbby reggae takes on Tom Petty, Roxy Music and Deniece Williams songs. Warm Leatherette succeeds in its mission of separating Grace from her glittered “too long at the fair” past. On the next one, her transformation from an oddity into an icon was dramatically sealed…starting with the album cover.
Provocatively titled Nightclubbing (named after a song penned by David Bowie and Iggy Pop for the latter’s 1977 LP, The Idiot), Grace’s fifth album came with a hard-fought-for painted photograph of Grace titled ‘Blue-Black in Black on Brown’ by her then-Frenchman boyfriend Jean-Paul Goude, an artist who was already in the process of making his woman a visually striking anomaly elsewhere in the art world. He also did her hair and make-up. Where Warm Leatherette’s b&w photograph was stark, this multi-media work of art was a shrewd gender-bending head-snapper with Grace’s flat bared chest, close faded haircut, men’s suit jacket, an unlit cigarette dangling downward from her red-painted lips in the middle of a blue-black face with angles so sharp you cut coke on them. This was a landmark photograph of female-to-male androgyny (later usurped by Annie Lennox of Eurythmics) that demanded attention and commentary. The work of art would be later held on display at the Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea in Milan, Italy, in the 2016 So Far So Goude exhibition.BUY GRACE JONES MUSIC ON AMAZON
Intimately acquainted with her Compass Point All-Stars at this juncture, Grace recorded all of the new material live in the studio with them, marinating in their elastic grooves in real time…in for-real ways.
The overture on Nightclubbing is “Walking in the Rain,” an evocative spoken word piece that plants the listener inside her head (including the musing “Feeling like a woman / Looking like a man” penned by men Harry Vanda and George Young) set to a score of tinkling synth and percussion, jazzy guitar chords and a solo by Badarou on which he caressed an impossibly warm voice from the synth that near-defied its origin, hinting at his aforementioned solo works to come.
This dropped down into “Pull Up to The Bumper,” arguably the last great Disco-tinged song, closing the book on that era while blasting open another sweat-soaked portal into a new frontier of club music. The sexy, bassy groove and its Disco hi-hat breakdown were lifted from Sly & Robbie’s original demo for a song called “(Spread Yourself Over Me Like) Peanut Butter” that became a club dub smash for Gwen Guthrie (she of later “Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent” fame). The duo is credited as co-writers with the nom de riddim “Koo Koo Baya.” Grace cheekily deflects rumours that the party-starting hook, chant and verses that she and friend Dana Mano whipped up were intended as a double entendre for doggy-style (straight) or backdoor (anal and/or gay) sex. She relished people deciphering and interpreting them in any way their minds fancied.
Her Reggae flip of Bill Withers’ 1972 hit “Use Me” is also sexually suggestive with ass-slapping accents on the ‘3’ beat with Grace reconfiguring the flow of the verses to her own taste, complete with a chorus that is more rock-oriented and choral bg vox. Similarly, Side 1 comes to a close with the Reggae-fication of Iggy’s “Nightclubbing” that is the complete antithesis of two white guys cruising through a club like ghosts. Grace transfuses the song with hot blood and jerked soul.BUY GRACE JONES MUSIC ON AMAZON
Side 2 of Nightclubbing begins the cooldown with “Art Groupie,” a musical self-portrait reflecting on the many artist boyfriends she’d had which she co-composed with guitarist Barry Reynolds. It is also the source of what became the title of her autobiography: “I’ll Never Write My Memoirs.” Fittingly, it’s followed by “I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango),” Parisian portraiture to the soundtrack of a melody lifted from renowned Tango composer Astor Piazzola – music ‘found’ by boyfriend Jean-Paul, his one musical contribution to the album to go along with his stunning cover visual (the only art of the package including the inner sleeve which was pitch black). Next is Grace’s self-penned sing-song flirtation “Feel Up.” Guitarist Reynolds also contributed the languid album closer “I’ve Done It Again,” a sundown-showcase for the synthesizer of Badarou.
That leaves the album’s real wild card, “Demolition Man,” penned by Sting, bassist/frontman of Regatta de Blanc trio The Police. Over a down-n-dirty near industrial new wave dub track with the odd Rolling Stones-esque rhythm guitar riff, Grace gamely sings:
I'm a walking nightmare, an arsenal of doom I kill conversation as I walk into the room I'm a three-line whip, I'm the sort of thing they ban I'm a walking disaster, I'm a demolition man
Leave it to Sting in this troubled period in the Police’s history to find a way to bring more attention to himself by having Grace record His composition on Her album with That album cover! He gave her several months head start in the market with it before The Police released their faster, more cacophonous, sheets of sound version on its second to last album, Ghost in the Machine (A&M – 1981).
With the release of Nightclubbing, Grace Jones was no longer a detached alien figure pondering a strange new world. Now she was the Queen of her universe – hell, wherever she walked - fully owning herself and the moment. She dispensed with standard singing, reveling in the unique power of her own voice – be it in tart spoken word, otherworldly warbling or a vicious bark. Bonus, Grace finally landed on Black folks’ radars thanks to “Pull Up to The Bumper” which she followed up on her third album of the Compass Point Trinity, Living My Life (Island – 1983), with “Nipple to the Bottle”: a song with an (arguably) more explicit title but tamer thematic lyrical content that was, nevertheless, initially banned on most black radio stations in America as was Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.” Marvin was eventually reinstated. “Nipple” was not. Meanwhile, a photo of Grace with nipple fully exposed became the cover of Playboy Italy in 1981.SEE MORE OF A. SCOTT GALLOWAY'S REVIEWS HERE
Considered a bold pioneering classic, Nightclubbing was lavished with a deluxe double-CD reissue in 2014, complete with 13 bonus tracks/remixes. It’s influence and that of Grace overall can be found in varying ways from Jody Watley’s 1987 single “Still a Thrill” to the postures, imagings and attitudes of Janelle Monae, Rihanna and Lady Gaga.BUY GRACE JONES MUSIC ON AMAZON
As the sun rotates and the game grows bigger, the streaming wars continue and now involve Jigga. If you are a Jay Z fan and don't have TIDAL or already have his music in some other ancient form of recorded sound, like a CD, you may be out of luck. All of Jay-Z’s solo albums have been removed from the Spotify and Apple Music. You can't really find Jay Z on Amazon either. According to a statement made to the Verge by Spotify, the removal came “at the request of the artist.”
As the majority of the world knows, Jay is part owner of Tidal and being the savvy business man he is, he just made a power move. Tidal's modus operandi since its launch has been exclusivity. Jay Z and other Tidal artists want to control their music and the narrative. We will see how this plays out for Shawn Carter.