On this day in music history: March 22, 1986 – “What Have You Done For Me Lately” by Janet Jackson hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #4 on the Hot 100 on May 17, 1986. Written by James Harris III, Terry Lewis and Janet Jackson, it is the first R&B chart topper for the youngest member of the musical Jackson family. “Lately” is the last song recorded for the album, and is written after A&M A&R exec John McClain requests “another funky, uptempo track” from the production duo. The idea for what becomes “What Have Done For Me Lately” comes out of a conversation that producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have with Janet, during the recording sessions for the album “Control”. Jam & Lewis come up with the keyboard and bass line parts, while Jackson writes the lyrics. Released as the single from Jackson’s breakthrough album “Control” in late January of 1986, it immediately takes off on the R&B charts and quickly crossover to pop radio. “Lately” is the first of five number one R&B singles that are spun off of “Control”. In 1987, comedian Eddie Murphy quotes from the song in the live concert film “Raw”, when talking about relationships between men and women. “What Have You Done For Me Lately” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 22, 1982 – “Alligator Woman”, the eighth album by Cameo is released. Produced by Larry Blackmon, it is recorded at Cheshire Sound Studios in Atlanta, GA from Late 1981 – Early 1982. Following the Gold selling “Knights Of The Sound Table”, the veteran New York City based R&B/Funk band undergo a number of major changes, along with the shifting tastes occurring in music in the early 80’s. Once a completely self contained band featuring as many as fourteen members, Cameo drastically pairs down their line up from the twelve members of the previous album, down to just five, retaining leader and drummer Larry Blackmon, keyboardist Gregory Johnson, vocalist Tomi Jenkins, trumpeter and vocalist Nathan Leftenant, and guitarist and keyboardist Charlie Singleton. The band also leave their native New York City and settle in Atlanta, GA to begin work on their eighth studio album. Cameo streamlines their trademark funk, largely stripping away the horns, incorporating the use of more synthesizers, and elements of rock and new wave into their sound. The end result is a musical re-invention that not only resonates with long time Cameo fans, but wins them many new ones, broadening their audience and marking the beginning of their transition into wider mainstream acceptance. The album spins off three singles including “Flirt” (#10 R&B), “Just Be Yourself” (#12 R&B), and the title track (#54 R&B). The albums striking cover artwork featuring a photo of a very attractive woman whose face is made up to look like a reptiles scaly skin is of then still little known singer, model, actress and soon to be star Denise Matthews (aka Vanity). “Alligator Woman” is also the final Cameo album released on the Chocolate City Records imprint, being dissolved after label co-founder Cecil Holmes leaves the company to become VP of A&R for CBS Records’ black music division. Larry Blackmon establishes his own Atlanta Artists label through PolyGram the following year, with Cameo’s records being issued under the imprint until 1990. To date, the album has only been issued on CD as a Japanese import. The first CD release is in 1992, remastered in 2008, and issued as an SHM-CD in 2015. “Alligator Woman” peaks at number six on the Billboard R&B album chart, number twenty three on the Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 22, 1975 – “Shining Star” by Earth, Wind & Fire hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also topping the Hot 100 for 1 week on May 24, 1975. Written by Maurice White, Larry Dunn and Philip Bailey, it is the first chart topping single for the R&B/Funk band led by drummer and vocalist Maurice White. While Earth, Wind & Fire are recording at the Caribou Ranch Recording Studio up in the Colorado Rockies in the Fall and Winter of 1974, White comes up with the initial idea for the song while looking up at the night sky and seeing a bright star shining down. Keyboardist Larry Dunn and vocalist Philip Bailey also assist in writing “Shining Star”, working out the chord structure and writing the lyrics. After three weeks recording basic tracks at Caribou, the band then go to L.A. to record overdubs and mix the record at Hollywood Sound and Sunset Sound with engineer George Massenburg. Originally a live sound man for the band Little Feat, Massenburg plays a vital role in Earth, Wind & Fire’s success, bringing invaluable technical expertise and masterfully capturing the bands dynamic sound during the recording and mixing process. The song is originally recorded as to end on a fade, but Massenburg creates the distinctive acapella cold ending, by taking vocals from the chorus, copying them from the 24-track master to another tape and cutting them together. "Shining Star" is released as the first single from Earth, Wind & Fire’s breakthrough album “That’s The Way Of The World” in late January of 1975. The songs positive and inspirational message about reaching one’s potential along with its unstoppable groove, is an immediate hit on R&B, Top 40 pop, and FM rock radio driving both the single and album to number one. The single wins Earth, Wind & Fire their first Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group in 1976, and is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2008. “Shining Star” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 22, 1969 – “Runaway Child, Running Wild” by The Temptations hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #6 on the Hot 100 on March 29, 1969. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, it is the eighth chart topper for the legendary Motown vocal group. With producer Norman Whitfield reinventing The Temptations sound with the single “Cloud Nine” in late 1968, he and songwriting partner Barrett Strong write more material for the groups next album. While reading the newspaper one day, Strong sees an article about child runaways. Telling Whitfield about the article, the songs narrative tells the story of a young boy who runs away from home after being punished for being truant from school. The boy ends up on the streets alone, frightened and unable to find his way back home. Titling it “Runaway Child, Running Wild”, the track is recorded at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit on October 31, 1968 with members of The Funk Brothers including James Jamerson (bass), Earl Van Dyke (organ), Kenneth “Spider Webb” Rice (drums), Jack Ashford and Eddie “Bongo” Brown (percussion) and Joe Messina (guitar). As he had on “Cloud Nine”, guitarist Dennis Coffey (“Scorpio”, “Theme From Black Belt Jones”) also plays guitar on the track, using a wah wah pedal during the songs intro and throughout. The Temptations with all five members taking a turn at singing lead, record their vocals on December 16, 1968. Clocking in at over nine and a half minutes, “Runaway Child” is sliced virtually in half for single release when it issued on January 30, 1969. At nearly five minutes edited, DJ’s are not deterred by its length in the least, and begin playing it immediately. The full uncut version is included on The Temptations’ “Cloud Nine” released three weeks after the single. FM underground rock stations and many R&B stations will play the long version, driven by listener requests. One of the pillars of The Tempts’ “psychedelic soul” era, it becomes one the groups most popular songs. An alternate instrumental version of the song by The Funk Brothers is featured on the “20th Century Masters – The Best Of The Funk Brothers: Millennium Collection” compilation in 2004. “Runaway Child, Running Wild” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 20, 1990 – “Poison”, the first album by Bell Biv DeVoe is released. Produced by Bell Biv DeVoe, Carl Bourelly, Elliott “Dr. Freeze” Straite, Darren LaVance “D’Lavance” Sullivan, Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, Hiram Hicks,Timmy Gatling and Alton “Wokie Stewart, it is recorded at Echo Sound Studios, M’Bila Recording Studios in Los Angeles, CA, George Tobin Studio in North Hollywood, CA, Greene Street Studios, and Battery Studios in New York City from Mid 1989 – Early 1990. After the tour for the album "Heart Break”, New Edition lead vocalists Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill both throw themselves into recording solo projects as the group takes what is an extended hiatus. This down time leaves Ricky Bell, Ronnie DeVoe and Michael Bivins at loose ends as to what to do in the interim. Producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis suggest that they form their own group. Pitching the idea to MCA Records executive Jheryl Busby, he gives them the green light to record an album. Initially calling themselves “Bell, Bivins & DeVoe”, they shorten it to “Bell Biv DeVoe”. BBD work with a host of producers on the album including Public Enemy’s production team The Bomb Squad, Dr. Freeze (Color Me Badd), Carl Bourelly (D-Nice, Hi-Five), Alton “Wokie” Stewart (Stephanie Mills, Keith Sweat), and Timmy Gatling (formerly of Guy). Considered the “dark horses” of New Edition, when word gets out about the project, expectations are not very high. When the title track “Poison” (#1 R&B, #3 Pop) is released on February 24, 1990, the public are immediately taken aback by it. Razor sharp funky, street smart and infectious, the song is an instant smash. It shoots to the top of the R&B singles chart less than two months later, making a fast crossover to the pop charts.The public is surprised yet again when the full album appears. Its masterful blend of R&B, New Jack Swing, Hip Hop flavored beats, and innovative use of sampling (sparking the groups own description of its sound as “Hip Hop smoothed out on the R&B tip, with a pop feel appeal to it.”), breaks new ground for mainstream R&B and pop music. It spins off a total of five singles including “Do Me!” (#4 R&B, #3 Pop), “B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me)?” (#1 R&B, #26 Pop), “When Will I See You Smile Again?” (#3 R&B, #63 Pop), and “She’s Dope!” (#9 R&B). In time, “Poison”, comes to be regarded as one of the best R&B albums of 90’s, marking the beginning of a sea change in R&B, opening the door for numerous artists that follow in the decade to come. A year and a half after the albums release, it inspires a spin off remix album titled “WBBD-Bootcity!: The Remix Album”, featuring 12" remixes of several cuts. It too is successful, going Gold by the end of 1991. “Poison” spends two weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number five on the Top 200, and is certified 4x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 20, 1976 – “Wild Cherry”, the debut album by Wild Cherry is released. Produced by Robert Parissi, it is recorded at Cleveland Recording Company in Cleveland, OH in Late 1975 – Early 1976. Formed in 1970, Wild Cherry record and independently release their first single “You Can Be High (But Lay Low)” the same year. Over the next four years, the record for United Artists’ distributed Brown Bag Records and A&M Records. By mid 1975, the band are without a label deal when the latter drop them after one single release. In the interim, bandleader Rob Parissi writes “Play That Funky Music”, with the band record the song at a local studio in Cleveland. The engineer Ken Hamann put them in touch with local label Sweet City Records, which is distributed Epic/CBS Records. Once it’s released, their major label debut initially gets off to a slow start when the band want their cover of The Commodores’ “I Feel Sanctified” to be their first single. CBS convinces them that “Play That Funky Music” (#1 Pop and R&B) should be the single. Once issued as a 45 in April of 1976, the single and LP take off like a rocket during the Summer of 1976. “Wild Cherry” spends one week at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number five on the Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 19, 1974 – “For The Love Of Money” by The O’Jays is released. Written by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Anthony Jackson, it is the thirty sixth single release for the R&B vocal group from Canton, OH. Together since 1958, The O’Jays finally achieve major success in 1972 with the album “Back Stabbers”. Of all the groups that Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff work with, the duo use the R&B vocal trio’s soulful and forceful voices to deliver many of their “message” songs about relationships, brotherhood and morality. Gamble and Huff continue using these themes as they work on new material. “For The Love Of Money” is inspired in part by a passage taken out of the bible, in the book of 1 Timothy 6:10 which states “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” From that verse, Gamble and Huff’s song warns of how greed can lead people to compromise their integrity, and do harm to themselves or others in the process. The basic track is recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia on October 3, 1973, with members of the studio collective MFSB playing on the track. Rather than regular bassist Ronnie Baker, playing on the session is Anthony Jackson. A virtuoso “man for all seasons”, Jackson goes on to make his reputation with numerous musical legends including Roberta Flack, Steely Dan, Quincy Jones, Chaka Khan, Paul Simon, and Pat Metheny to name a few. During the session, engineer Joe Tarsia notices that Jackson has a wah wah pedal plugged in with his bass. Tarsia records the bass and drum tracks both dry, and with an Eventide phase shifter fed into the signal chain. When Gamble and Huff hear the track with the phasing added, they decide to keep it on the finished track. They also give Jackson a co-writing credit for coming up with the insidiously funky bass line that is at the foundation. Shortly after, The O’Jays record their vocals at another session. While mixing the song, Gamble adds additional echo to the bass during the intro before abruptly shutting it off, leaving it in the final mix. Running nearly seven and a half minutes, it is edited down to under four minutes and released as the second single from “Ship Ahoy” in early 1974. “For The Love Of Money” is an immediate smash on the dance floor and on radio, with its powerful message and groove. It also receives a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group in 1975. In time the song permeates popular culture, being covered by various artists, and The O’Jays’ original version being widely sampled on rap and dance tracks. The song is also re-recorded in a medley with Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City” by singer Eddie Levert’s sons Gerald and Sean with their group Levert, Queen Latifah and Troop for the film “New Jack City” in 1991. “For The Love Of Money” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.