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The QH Blend’s “100 @ 30”: [21 thru 40]

100-2-1

Janet Jackson (21) / Diana Ross (22) / Gloria Estefan (23) / Solange (24) / Paula Abdul (25)

20 Y.O. (Virgin, 2006): Control (1986) or Damita Jo (2004) easily could have made this list.  But 20 Y.O.’s veteran precision was just too strong to ignore. It was a great vocal showcase in Jackson’s discography―it didn’t hurt that the first half of the album was black dance music done to the nines. Despite its silly title, this was adult R&B with a pinch of youthful spirit.

The Boss (Motown, 1979):  Dress rehearsal for diana (1980)? I think not. Ross’ second-to-last Motown album had her slip into disco with soul. Jams like “It’s My House” and hushed valentines like “I’m in the World” bore Ross’ interpretive streak like no one’s business.

Alma Caribeña (Epic, 2000): The album that opened me up to non-English music. Recalled certain critics observing that Estefan’s voice supposedly shone better in her native tongue. I enjoyed Estefan in-and-out of English myself. However, there is some truth to their statement as the liveliness present on Alma Caribeña poured from every note played and sung.

Sol-Angel & the Hadley Street Dreams (Geffen, 2008): Who would have thought that Solange could pull this rabbit out of popular music’s hat when she did? Her fix on a vintage / modern vocal attack kept my ears glued to this in the late summer of 2008.

Head Over Heels (Virgin, 1995): The musicianship for this? Grade A, top shelf and every other adjective you can plug in. Even if on you don’t like Abdul’s voice―which was exceptionally versatile on Heads Over Heels―the arrangements on the LP were so intelligent. You had jazz, you had hip-hop, you had funk all wrapped together. You just don’t hear that kind of diversity on pop albums anymore. 

Hall & Oates () / Phyllis Hyman () / Randy Crawford () / Jamiroquai () / Michael Jackson ()

Hall & Oates (26) / Phyllis Hyman (27) / Randy Crawford (28) / Jamiroquai (29) / Michael Jackson (30)

X-Static (RCA, 1979): X-Static. The frenzied send-off to Hall & Oates’ patchwork 1970’s era before their 1980’s dominance. That isn’t a knock, Hall & Oates jumped around to every conceivable sound on their initial albums. I adore genre jumping, it’s so pop. Anyway, X-Static was funky and playful―definitely a record for those that like a myriad of music.

Somewhere in My Lifetime (Arista, 1979): God, this woman’s voice. It’s phenomenal. She has many different phases in her discography, but her “bright period” was exceptional on Somewhere in My Lifetime. The right amount of jazz and disco on this offering was a welcome backdrop for a Saturday afternoon.

Everything Must Change (Warner Brothers, 1976): Crawford’s voice possessed kick, but she never fell into gratuitous singing. She complemented the crisp production at play throughout this piece with patience. Everything Must Change made no (sales) ripples, but was a true hidden treasure when I found it.

A Funk Odyssey (Sony, 2001): In light of the “disco revival” that has been raging over the last three years, many forgot that Jamiroquai spearheaded it as far back as 1996. I think they hit their stride with it on A Funk Odyssey. Though their acid jazz had disco at its roots, this was full blown floor killing music. 

Off the Wall (Epic, 1979): The greatest black dance album ever? For once I can actually agree with the masses on this score. Michael Jackson kept making great music post-Off the Wall, but the joyousness evinced on this LP wasn’t present in his later output. 

100-2-3

P.M. Dawn (31) / Ace of Base (32) / Emma Bunton (33) / Swing Out Sister (34) / George Michael (35)

The Bliss Album…? (Island, 1993): My Dad played this album a lot in the car when I was kid; it would be years before I realized how ahead of the curve P.M. Dawn was with The Bliss Album…?. Truly a black alternative brainchild, it pains me how this act has been relegated to 1990’s nostalgia. This record, along with their other three LPs, are the best alt-soul spinners you’ll hear.

The Bridge (Arista, 1995): Much stronger and wider in its scope than what Ace of Base hinted at with The Sign (1994). When people ask me what my favorite “follow-up” album of all time is, I answer with The Bridge. The world music textures on this transported me to places unseen, their goal I assume. Though I think they improved even more with Flowers / Cruel Summer (1998) and Da Capo (2002), the magic and mystery of The Bridge lives.

Free Me (Universal, 2004): I knew when this record dropped it was going to change the game―for British pop and the overall Spice Girls legacy. Bunton was not the only Brit to dip into the mod-pop pot, but she wore it well. Beautifully sung and produced, Bunton’s second album reset what a former Spice Girl could do artistically (and commercially).

Filth and Dreams (Mercury, 1999): Mentioning 1960’s pop revivalists, Swing Out Sister arguably stamped that movement. What I liked about Filth & Dreams was its modernity mixed with retro pop appeal. While Swing Out Sister were no strangers to melancholy, they courted a solemn air on this project. Personally, I thought the gravitas was pretty.

Older (DreamWorks, 1996): Though Michael wouldn’t come out for another two years, Older played close to the confessional hilt. Michael adjusted the temporal frequency for Older to add hip-hop textures on “Fastlove” and “Spinning the Wheel,” which suited Michael well like his previous black music forays.

100-2-4

Will Young (36) / Duran Duran (37) / The Supremes (38) / Hikaru Utada (39) /Joni Mitchell (40)

Echoes (RCA, 2011): For my money, Will Young was the real deal when it came to reality show produced talent. The first winner of ‘Pop Idol’ in England, Young took quick creative control of his music. His fifth album caught my attention and I went back to discover his other stuff. But, Young’s understated blend of blue-eyed soul and pop with Echoes made my ears very happy in late 2011. 

Notorious (EMI, 1986): Starting with this funky entry, Duran Duran became a group based in the sound of the period―even if it was not what critics or fans wanted. Slimming down to a trio didn’t halve Duran Duran’s abilities, not to my ears. If anything the division gave them clarity to dress up and get down.

Touch (Motown, 1971): The 1970’s were very kind to The Supremes from an artistic stance. As the album format dawned at the start of that decade, The Supremes shifted away from the singles approach and became a “back-to-front” recording act. Touch was was an ideal play for a rainy day or a bright morning. 

Heart Station (EMI, 2008): The clean production lines on this album were fantastic, and there was a reason why. The LP had taken and applied everything Utada learned from 2002 through to 2006; that stretch of time contained her bravest music recorded. As a result, Heart Station was aware of its structure, but not impeded by it. Utada’s lyrics and vocals synced up and painted a picture of a woman that was in complete control of her artistic expression.

Hejira (Asylum, 1976): Mitchell’s guitar took on many different shapes on Hejira. I’d never known the guitar to possess that kind of versatility displayed―most of the instrumentation was centered on it during the LP’s run time. It was an album that put the listener on a journey through Mitchell’s aural soundscapes of love and life.

[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

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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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