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‘Record Redux: the Spice Girls’: Phase 1

Concept artwork for the Kickstarter campaign for ‘Record Redux: the Spice Girls’

Scary, Baby, Ginger, Posh, Sporty, yes they’re your lot! They’re the Spice Girls ready to go in their first definitive dissemination of their musical discography! Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. We hope you enjoy the show!

‘Record Redux: The Spice Girls’ is the first of its kind―the ultimate guidebook to the ultimate girl group in popular music. Every single, album and b-side will feature and tell the tale of this British phenom that defined a generation and continues to influence popular music today. After two years worth of work, my first book is finished and ready for the next phase of its journey.

I’m self-publishing this book via Amazon’s CreateSpace medium and will launch it into the marketplace in June 2016. However, I need help raising funds to cover self-publishing costs; if you’d like to learn more about my book and to donate through Kickstarter, click here. I have 30 days to meet my goal.

I hope that you will consider taking a part in music history to assist me in resetting the critical narrative of the Spice Girls.

Thank you in advance.

[Editor’s Note: Kickstarter concept art courtesy of Projekt Ludwig.-QH]

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The QH Blend’s “100 @ 30”: [1 thru 20]

Correct!

Spice Girls (1) / Kylie Minogue (2) / Donna Summer (3) / Brandy (4) / Seal (5)

Spiceworld (Virgin, 1997): My desire to grasp “the groove” combined with curiosities for musical epochs gone by when I encountered this album. Further, my appreciation for character in a voice―not just a voice―stemmed from this LP. Spiceworld also proved that producing good music didn’t guarantee fair appreciation from music critics―popular music politics aren’t always just. The Spice Girls were the reason I picked up a pen to write about music and give voice to artists / fans who didn’t have one. 

Kylie Minogue (deConstruction, 1994): Kylie Minogue made me relearn everything I thought I knew about pop song structure at the time. The “suites” that were fashioned on the album weren’t laborious, instead they formed their own patterns. In regard to the actual texture of the music and Minogue’s voice, it was the right blend of maturity, evolution and exploration that captured me.

The Wanderer (Geffen, 1980) Donna Summer never fit into the traditional slot that black women were meant to stay in―musically speaking or otherwise. I was enamored with The Wanderer, but it would be years before I would hear its influence on other women (Madonna, Kylie Minogue) that I favored too. I’ve often remarked that this record was the first “dance-pop departure” vehicle that set that standard that dance-pop was not the only mode pop operated in. Summer didn’t just create that model, she stamped it with this album.

Human (Epic, 2008): Personally, this album has been an emotional companion for me since its release; in the context of Brandy’s legacy I think it was her most consistent thematically. Human had Brandy putting her own experiences to a sonic backdrop that was timely (production wise), but still had that “Brandy feel” to it. I am not sure that she’ll ever top this record.

Human Being (Warner Brothers, 1998): What a songwriter, but due to him being someone of color he was marginalized on both ends of the music spectrum. It’s a shame, because Seal’s ability to work within a soul framework without losing pop’s melody stood second-to-none. This album was darker and maybe that’s why it received such a cold shoulder at the time. I’ve always loved its stormy appeal.

100-2

Cyndi Lauper (6) / Culture Club (7) / Sophie Ellis-Bextor (8) / Cathy Dennis (9) / Madonna (10)

Hat Full of Stars (Epic, 1993): Hat Full of Stars crossed folk, R&B, dance and alternative; Lauper’s style on this was very New York and it made the record sound big, especially listening as a teenager in the summer of 2002 when I copped it. Her songwriting was never better, you can really hear it on “Who Let in the Rain,” “Feels Like Christmas” and “Someone Like Me”.

Colour By Numbers (Virgin, 1983): An album that always comes immediately to mind as living up to its hype. I loved how sharp the music on this was, but not so slick that it didn’t leave room for Culture Club’s character. “Black Money,” an ultimate tearjerker, I realized I had to “grow into” with life experience to appreciate.

Shoot From the Hip (Polydor, 2003): I like that even when her first record painted Bextor in a corner creatively, she made another album that pushed back against pop being tagged as, you guessed it, dance-pop. There are some floor fillers here, but they don’t sacrifice the arc of this album pulling from other places for its inspiration.

Am I the Kinda Girl? (Polydor, 1996): I remember the first time I heard this album and I was just blown away. The way the 1990’s alternative tunage interacted with 1960’s pop was gorgeous. That something this refreshing wasn’t more broadly known continues to sadden me.

American Life (Warner Brothers, 2003): A lot of people incorrectly pegged American Life as Madonna trying to admonish others when she was examining herself. Musically it was her third in a four part electronic quartet that concluded with Confessions on a Dancefloor (2005). Granted Confessions was warmer at its surface, but American Life won me over as the last great ballad vehicle for Madonna.

100-3

Melanie C (11) / Carly Simon (12) / Tori Amos (13) / ABBA (14) / Kim Wilde (15)

Northern Star (Virgin, 1999): The visceral space Melanie C occupied fascinated me as a teenager. I don’t want to say this was a soundtrack to my angst, but that’s slightly accurate. The longing, the curiosity and how the LP bared its fangs…wow. Its underlying sensitivity spun well on the title piece and “Closer”. They’re just gorgeous recordings.

Playing Possum (Elektra, 1975): Never understood the critical drubbing this got. Even though I enjoyed the two previous Richard Perry produced predecessors, Playing Possum was curvier. Its sex appeal was seductive and comforting;Simon was brainy (and busty) when it came to her wordplay on this set. 

From the Choirgirl Hotel (Atlantic, 1998):  From the Choirgirl Hotel was my introduction to Tori Amos a decade ago. Having had this as an entry point, it set the bar Amos repeatedly met as I began trekking through her albums. I loved how succinct Choirgirl was, its combination of electronic and classical music enthralled.

The Visitors (Polar, 1981): ABBA really outdid themselves with this album. Pop acts are supposed to stay behind the lines of “inoffensive” and “innocuous,” but ABBA went noir with The Visitors. Man, you have everything from the personal to the voyeuristic on this effort and it’s (still) superbly catchy. 

Catch as Catch Can (RAK, 1983): Catch as Catch Can’s charm is somewhat unidentifiable. Just as strong as the two previous RAK era albums that came before it, Catch held glossier grooves and assured vocal performances. It was the ideal cap to that first part of her sound.

100-4

Mandy Moore (16) / Lupe Fiasco (17) / Jody Watley (18) / Dannii Minogue (19) / Prince (20)

 Amanda Leigh (Storefront, 2009): I really loved that this was the summation of Moore’s Coverage (2003) and Wild Hope (2007).  Amanda Leigh placed its affection directly in the pocket of 70’s pop and a keen ear will hear her many influences―notably the Carpenters. Moore as a singer made this album a real treat as she wore a variety of hats depending on the song being handled.

Food & Liquor (Atlantic, 2006): My first hip-hop record. I have to be honest, it was my hormones that drew me to Lupe Fiasco; once his music hit my ears, I was a fan. His usage of samples and how he built his stories around them was beautiful. I had never heard hip-hop sound mournful and emotional―yet, there was this devil may care approach in how the songs were expressed. 

Midnight Lounge (Avitone, 2003): Jody Watley has one of the most progressive bodies of work in R&B. From album-to-album, Watley preserved her persona while refining her sound. When I heard Midnight Lounge, its mix of soul and electronica was effortless; the record was revolutionary for Watley and R&B music.

Neon Nights (London, 2003): Where dance and pop intersected best in the last 15 years; Dannii Minogue’s Neon Nights was the record I danced to when I started (gay) clubbing. Outside of its obvious nostalgia, the LP has held up in the ensuing years―especially when compared to the plastic EDM peddled now. 

Parade (Warner Brothers, 1986): Coming off of Around the World in a Day (1985)―Prince at his most pop―the Minneapolis titan managed to rope back in his black base without sacrificing his roving (genre) eye. This album was free, sexy and practical too. He kept churning out some serious master jams, but this LP remains at the summit of Prince’s output.

[Editor’s Note: Please visit your local record store or online retailer for information on availability.-QH]

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CrazySexyCool: The QH Blend’s 10 Girl Group Albums

edit

Many of these women were “firsts” in their fields; some players, interpreters and performers, all were in “girl groups”. What that term means will vary from person to person, but no one can deny the fascination, genres aside, of women possessing glamor, talent and ambition coming together to execute those three principles. I love girl groups, one of them actually put me on the professional writing path I occupy now; that is a story for another day. Without too much fanfare, I extend my 10 favorite girl group recordings, thus far.

Doll Revolution

Doll Revolution

The Bangles: Doll Revolution (Down Kiddie / Koch, 2003)

Line-Up: Susannah Hoffs, Michael Steele, Vicki Peterson, Debbie Peterson

Synopsis: The Bangles jangled back into the scene in 2003 after calling it a day with 1988’s Everything (Columbia); all four women had kept busy on multiple musical fronts. As a unit it had been over a decade since they’d collectively worked together. Doll Revolution had the Peterson sisters, Hoffs and Steele back in the groove as if no time had passed since Everything. However, their fourth LP wasn’t an exercise in 1980’s nostalgia; Doll Revolution was raring and reflective, tempered by their “Paisley Underground” roots and a tasteful “now” sheen. Those harmonies, still mint and intact, made “Nickel Romeo,” “Stealing Rosemary” and the lead single “Something That You Said” welcome entries into the Bangles discography.

[Watch / Listen to “Something That You Said“]

Flowers

Flowers

The Emotions: Flowers (Columbia, 1976)

Line-Up: Wanda Hutchinson, Jeanette Hutchison, Sheila Hutchison

Synopsis: In the 1970’s, the black girl group was a bountiful stock; an assortment of established and fresh women were making sound waves on the R&B and pop charts. One such grouping included the sister act The Emotions; their gripping, airtight vocalizing fit right into the disco modernity that had taken hold of R&B’s reconfiguration. Within that frame, The Emotions unleashed their Flowers LP that blended ethereal hymns (“We Go Through Changes,” “God Will Take Care of You”) with driving, but refined dance stylings (“I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love,” “No Plans For Tomorrow”); to say the results were eclectic would be a huge understatement. Flowers finally propelled The Emotions to the commercial victory that alluded them on their past three albums that preceded their fourth affair.

[Watch / Listen to “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love“]

Funky Divas

Funky Divas

En Vogue: Funky Divas (eastwest, 1992)

Line-Up: Cindy Herron-Braggs, Terry Ellis, Maxine Jones, Dawn Robinson

Synopsis: Another textbook example on how an R&B act can crossover to a pop audience without losing their home turf (i.e.-credibility); the Oakland, California quartet’s second album was bigger, bolder and badder than their debut. Where Born to Sing (eastwest, 1990) focused on their voices only, Funky Divas let their singing shine alongside music that was just as active: “Hip-Hop Lover,” “Free Your Mind” and “What Is Love” had the ladies getting it on, musically speaking.  Their second reworking of James Brown’s “The Payback” (an R&B / hip-hop sample staple) after “Hold On”, “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” became one of their signature hits. Even when En Vogue’s personnel ills escalated in their ensuing years, they continued to record top shelf work (see 2004’s Soul Flower, 33rd Street). Funky Divas is a firm favorite of both 1990’s R&B fanatics and girl group aficionados.

[Watch / Listen to “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)“]

Talk Show

Talk Show

The Go-Go’s: Talk Show (I.R.S., 1984)

Line-Up: Gina Schock, Jane Wiedlin, Belinda Carlisle, Kathy Valentine, Charlotte Caffey

Synopsis: The Go-Go’s reached critical mass with their internal friction by this time, but rock’s first female outfit landed a third home-run with their junior LP. Talk Show built on the rock ‘n’ pop gains of Beauty and the Beat (I.R.S., 1981) and Vacation (I.R.S., 1982); the contents of Talk Show sang out, lyrically, from an obvious sense of longing and melancholy only glimpsed before. In short, The Go-Go’s were growing up on Talk Show; despite the joyful “Head Over Heels,” you had the ponderous “Capture the Light” and “I’m With You” that balanced the recording. After their dissolution, The Go-Go’s had several high-profile reunions, one such reuniting birthed their fourth album God Bless the Go-Go’s (Beyond, 2001); Talk Show is the versatile and emotional showcase of the four recordings they’ve released.

[Watch / Listen to “Head Over Heels“]

Energy

Energy

The Pointer Sisters: Energy (Planet, 1978)

Line-Up: June Pointer, Anita Pointer, Ruth Pointer

Synopsis: After the glossy, if transitional Havin’ a Party (Blue Thumb, 1977), June, Anita and Ruth, sans sister Bonnie and the Blue Thumb label, joined forces with producer Richard Perry and his up-and-coming imprint, Planet Records. Their first recording, in a long, fruitful creative courtship with Perry, Energy put forth a soulful collection of rock ‘n’ roll covers that presented the Pointers as the definitive female group of musical reinvention. From the roiling “Happiness” to the chamber-like “Dirty Work,” the Pointers were unstoppable in this newest incarnation; they truly outdid themselves with the smash from the record, “Fire”. The Pointers would trek through the remainder of the 1980’s on this inventive streak.

[Watch / Listen to “Fire“]

Brand New

Brand New

Salt-N-Pepa: Brand New (Red Ant / Island, 1997)

Line-Up: Cheryl James (Salt), Sandra Denton (Pepa), Deidra Roper (DJ Spinderella)

Synopsis: The three years between Very Necessary (Next Plateau / London, 1993) and its follow-up Brand New had Salt-N-Pepa keeping up with the times as they’d always done. Female hip-hop had changed its face and grown considerably, this was in due part to Salt-N-Pepa’s pioneering work. Flashier (Missy Elliott), glamorous and gruff (Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown) emcees had supplanted their preceding hip-hop mother figures. In spite of this, Salt-N-Pepa’s Brand New was on par with the efforts from the stated new clique of female rappers; granted it wasn’t as profane, but it could bounce (“R U Ready?”) and flow (“Do Me Right”) like no one’s business. Their last record to date, it remains a lost gem of its period.

[Watch / Listen to “R U Ready?“]

All American Girls

All American Girls

Sister Sledge: All American Girls (Cotillion, 1981)

Line-Up: Joni Sledge, Kathy Sledge, Kim Sledge, Debbie Sledge

Synopsis: One of the many acts hurt in the disco backlash of the early 1980’s, Sister Sledge bravely continued recording in the face of such adversity. Their fifth LP, All American Girls, showed the Sledge’s ready to cut their soft serve soul with a (black) new wave edge; a mix of guitar, synth bites and their resplendent harmonies was a killer combination. The segued, three-pronged attack of the titular cut, “He’s a Runaway” (their tribute to the fallen Bob Marley) and “If You Really Want Me” had the Sledge’s rocking, rolling and vibing with the best of them. There were quieter moments on the project as well: “Next Time You’ll Know” and “Happy Feeling”. The album didn’t stop their commercial descent, but slowed it; removing its chart context, All American Girls was a great platform for Sister Sledge’s versatility.

[Watch / Listen to “All American Girls“]

Spiceworld

Spiceworld

Spice Girls: Spiceworld (Virgin, 1997)

Line-Up: Victoria Beckham, Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell, Melanie Chisholm

Synopsis: Recorded and released when “Spice Mania” began its full swing, the Girls kept their wits and turned in an album more musical and ambitious than their debut. Lean, but filling the Girls took their audience across their own pop globe; from the carnival wall of sound of “Spice Up Your Life” to the Pointer Sisters Blue Thumb-era inspired jazz of “The Lady Is a Vamp”, the Girls were at their vocal and lyrical best. Demonstrating pop’s great transformative power, Spiceworld defied the sophomore slump and sounded unlike anyone else hustling in the music scene in the late 1990’s.

[Watch / Listen to “Too Much“]

Touch

Touch

The Supremes: Touch (Motown, 1971)

Line-Up: Mary Wilson, Cindy Birdsong, Jean Terrell

Synopsis: By 1971, The Supremes had worked themselves into a comfortable, but creative space. Diana Ross’ departure in 1969 had been not only a blessing for her, but her former groupmates Birdsong and Wilson. Now, along with Jean Terrell, they’d come out full force in 1970 with Right On and New Way, But Love Stays (Motown); Touch introduced a totally new side to The Supremes saga. The album era of the 1970’s had been an advantage to The Supremes, nowhere was this more apparent than Touch; its sensitive and reticent mood gifted gravitas to songs like “Happy Is a Bumpy Road” and “This Is the Story”. Over the course of the long player, The Supremes’ rich three-part vocalizing soothed and soared with vitality and believability; the final entry for this line-up had them go out on an unbelievable high.

[**Listen to “Love It Came To Me This Time“]

CrazySexyCool

CrazySexyCool

TLC: CrazySexyCool (LaFace, 1994)

Line-Up: Tionne Watkins (T-Boz), Lisa Lopes (Left-Eye), Rozanda Thomas (Chilli)

Synopsis: Eager for something that wouldn’t lose the urgency of hip-hop, but would leave a lingering timelessness, CrazySexyCool achieved those goals. All three young women showcased their particular talents on the LP; beyond its run of singles, which included the horn doused cool of “Creep” and the hip-hop soul fable “Waterfalls”, the album contained no filler.  The stinging “Switch” and a capable cover of Prince’s dark soul sapphire “If I Was Ur Girlfriend” were just some of the fantastic non-single moments of CrazySexyCool. TLC even cajoled Phife Dawg, a member of the iconic NYC hip-hop trio A Tribe Called Quest, to reprise his lyrical nod to them (and En Vogue) from their Midnight Marauders LP (1993, Jive) on a reworked introduction to CrazySexyCool. TLC’s second record continues to weave its magic 19 years after its release.

[Watch / Listen to “Creep“]

[Editor’s Note: **There were no visual clips that I could find of the Terrell/Birdsong/Wilson line-up of The Supremes performing material from the Touch LP. Majority of the records discussed are in print, physically and digitally. However, The Supremes Touch, The Go-Go’s Talk Show and Sister Sledge’s All American Girls are only available through online sellers, as their physical editions are no longer available. See music retailers for details. Artwork created by Andrew Bird.-QH]

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