On this day in music history: April 20, 1978 – “Come Get It!”, the debut album by Rick James is released. Produced by Rick James and Art Stewart, it is recorded at Crossed-Eyed Bear Studios in Clarence, NY and The Record Plant in New York City from Mid – Late 1977. The first album by James comes some twelve years after first recording for Motown as a member of The Mynah Birds, a band featuring James and future Buffalo Springfield members Neil Young and Bruce Palmer. In the years in between, travel around the world, before moving to California and start a series of bands that lasts for a brief period. At one point, he reconnects with Motown briefly as a staff writer for the label before parting ways again. Finally, he signs with Motown in 1977 after when staff producer Jeffrey Bowen hears a demo of several songs that Rick has written, playing them for label executive Suzanne DePasse. Shortly after this, he is signed to the label and is paired with co-producer and engineer Art Stewart (Marvin Gaye). James plays most of the instruments on the album himself before assembling The Stone City Band in 1979. It spins off two singles including “You And I” (#1 R&B, #13 Pop) and “Mary Jane” (#3 R&B, #41 Pop). “Come Get It!” peaks at number three on the Billboard R&B album chart, number thirteen on the Top 200, and is certified 2x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: April 7, 1981 – “Street Songs”, the fifth album by Rick James is released. Produced by Rick James, it is recorded at The Record Plant in Sausalito, CA and Motown/Hitsville USA Studios in Hollywood, CA from December 1980 – January 1981. After the poorly received “Garden Of Love” album, Rick James regroups, returning to his hometown of Buffalo, NY writing songs chronicling his life experiences. The albums second single “Super Freak” (#3 R&B, #16 Pop) is a last minute addition, born out of a joke. When one of the members of The Stone City Band jokes that Rick “hasn’t written anything that white people can dance to”, James quickly comes up with funky, new wave flavored song. It receives airplay right out the box while the first single is climbing the charts. The unique synthesizer sound on “Super Freak” and other tracks on the album, are from an Oberheim OB-X synth actually belonging to R&B superstar Prince. Having toured with Rick, and engaged in a fierce rivalry, James has his road crew steal Prince’s keyboard off of the equipment truck at the end of the tour. Rick takes the keyboard to the studio in Sausalito, and uses it on the album. He eventually sends the instrument back to Prince with a “thank you note”. The end result is the biggest album of Rick James’ career, spinning off three singles including “Give It To Me Baby” (#1 R&B, #40 Pop) and “Ghetto Life” (#38 R&B). The track “Fire And Desire” (a duet with Teena Marie), though never officially released as a single A-side (an edited version appears as the B-side of “You Turn Me On” in 1984), becomes a huge airplay favorite on R&B and Quiet Storm radio, becoming nearly as popular as the album’s big hits. The album is remastered and reissued as double disc Deluxe Edition in 2001. The first disc includes the full original album plus the 12" mixes and instrumental versions of “Give It To Me Baby” and “Super Freak”. The second disc features a complete unreleased concert recorded at the Long Beach Arena on July 30, 1981, during the Street Songs Tour. It also features two tracks by Teena Marie who was James’ opening act. A single CD edition is issued in 2002 with the original eight song album, with the two 12" mixes of the first two singles included as bonus tracks. Out of print on vinyl since the late 80’s, it is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP in 2016, as part of Universal’s “Back To Black” reissue series. The vinyl edition, is also reissued in a limited red vinyl pressing in 2019. “Street Songs” spends twenty weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number three on the Top 200, and is certified 3x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 3, 1983 – “Cold Blooded” by Rick James hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 6 weeks, also peaking at #40 on the Hot 100 on September 24, 1983. Written and produced by Rick James, it is the third R&B chart topper for the “King Of Punk Funk”. The innovative, minimalist funk track (featuring James on all instruments and vocals) is inspired by James’ then girlfriend, actress Linda Blair (“The Exorcist”). Blair is actually in the studio with James when he begins writing it. As she watches him work, she expresses to him a desire to learn how to play and write music. Putting his hands on a synthesizer, he begins improvising, coming up with the songs main riff right on the spot. “Cold Blooded” is distinctively different from his earlier material which was mainly written on either guitar or bass. The track features mainly synthesizers and a Roland TR-808 drum machine (inspired in part by friend Marvin Gaye’s recent hit “Sexual Healing”), augmented with electric bass. The first single and title track from his seventh album, it quickly becomes a hit on R&B radio and on the dance floor. “Cold Blooded” is Rick James last major hit for Motown before leaving the company in 1986.
On this day in music history: July 22, 1978 – “You And I” by Rick James hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #13 on the Hot 100 on September 23, 1978. Written by Rick James, it is the chart topping single for the singer songwriter and musician from Buffalo, NY. James had previously recorded for the label in 1966 as a member of The Mynah Birds, a band led by James and guitarist Neil Young. The recordings are shelved when Motown finds out he is AWOL from the US Navy at the time. He returns to the label in 1977, signing with subsidiary label Gordy Records after playing his songs for Motown staff producer Jeffrey Bowen. Pairing him with engineer/producer Art Stewart (Marvin Gaye), the duo complete the tracks James had begun recording at a small eight-track recording studio (Crossed-Eyed Bear Studios in Clarence, NY) near his hometown of Buffalo. James writes “You And I” as an ode to his marriage with his then wife. Issued as a single in April of 1978, it is the first release from his debut album “Come Get It!”. It quickly becomes a fixture on R&B radio, and the dance floor before crossing over to the pop chart. The success of “You And I” propels the “Come Get It!” album to Platinum status in the US. A previously unreleased extended dance remix of “You And I” is released as a limited numbered 12" single (limited to 2,000 copies), remixed by John Morales (M+M), on Record Store Day in April of 2014.
In his posthumously published memoir Rick James says he spent time “getting to know” the actress during a short stint living at the Chateau Marmont in Beverly Hills. Later, he found out that Linda had gotten pregnant by him and had an abortion without his knowledge. His 1983 hit song “Cold Blooded” came from that discovery. “It was about how Linda could freeze my blood,” he wrote. In his autobiography, Memoirs of a Super Freak, he explained:
Actress Linda Blair (The Exorcist) came to Buffalo to see me and I was very happy to see her. A few months before her visit she had called to say that she had-had an abortion, and that it had been my child. She said she was in the middle of shooting a movie and was starting to show, and she didn’t think I would care anyway. She was wrong. I did care deeply. I loved Linda and it hurt me that she would choose to abort our child without even wanting to talk to me about it first. I still look back on her choice with sadness and wonder about our baby, and how having that child might have changed me life. One night during her visit, I took her into the studio and we sat down at one of my synthesizers. I was showing Linda how to write a song on keyboards and I started playing. I told her that in composition you’re ok as long as you keep playing. It’s when your fingers stop moving that you’re in trouble. The next thing I knew I was composing a tune about her called, “Cold Blooded.” She was the inspiration for that song.
On this day in music history: June 13, 1981 – “Give It To Me Baby” by Rick James hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 5 weeks, topping the Club Play chart for 3 weeks on July 25, 1981, also peaking at #40 on the Hot 100 on July 18, 1981. Written and produced by Rick James, it is the second R&B chart topper for the singer, songwriter and musician dubbed the “King Of Punk Funk”. After the critical and relative commercial failure of his fourth album “Garden Of Love” in 1980, Rick James returns home to his native Buffalo, NY to regroup, “determined to do the greatest album” he could produce. “Give It To Me Baby is inspired after a night of heavy partying. James goes home and sits down at the piano, writing it in short order. The track is recorded at The Record Plant in Sausalito, CA in December of 1980, with James’ lead vocal being completed in only two or three takes. Issued as the first single from James’ landmark album "Street Songs” on February 20, 1981, it is an immediate smash on R&B radio and on the dance floor. Shortly after the single’s release, Motown also issues a commercial 12" single featuring an extended version of “Give It To Me Baby”. The extended 12" mix and its instrumental B-side are both reissued on the 2001 Deluxe Edition of the “Street Songs” album. The bass line is later used on MC Hammer’s “Let’s Get It Started”, and James’ original version is sampled on Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power”.
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Linda says they’re in love: Linda Blair and Rick James photographed by Richard Corkery on
October 26, 1982. (via NY Daily News)
In an interview accompanying a topless pictorial in Oui magazine, actress Linda Blair, 23, revealed that she found James “very sexy.” Rick, who was shown the piece by a member of his retinue, returned the compliment through an intermediary. And before you can say “bicoastal blind date,” they winged it to New York for a multinight stand. That was last month. Now they talk daily and plan future assignations. “I had learned very well to be single,” Linda says, “but Rick turned my head around.” The feeling, apparently, is mutual. “She’s my baby,” James responds. “I really care for her deeply. She had a lot of hard times, like myself, and managed to rise above them.”