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: April 5, 1980 – “Stomp!” by The Brothers Johnson hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, topping the Club Play chart for 3 weeks on April 12, 1980, and peaking at #7 on the Hot 100 on May 24, 1980. Written by Louis Johnson, George Johnson, Valerie Johnson and Rod Temperton, it is the third R&B chart topper for the Los Angeles, CA based R&B/Funk duo consisting of brothers George and Louis Johnson. Producer Quincy Jones initiates the writing of the song by giving George Johnson the title and challenges him to write a song with that title. Jones also have the brothers collaborate with songwriter Rod Temperton (“Rock With You”, “Off The Wall”) of the band Heatwave. The trio along with Louis’ wife Valerie write the music together, with the instrumental track being cut shortly after. Following the initial tracking session, George goes back home and writes the lyrics and melody. After spending over eighteen hours writing and re-writing, George returns to the studio the next day with the completed lyrics. He records the majority of his lead vocal on the first take. Released as the first single from The Brothers Johnson’s fourth album “Light Up The Night” in February of 1980, “Stomp!” is an instant classic. Powered by catchy, infectious hooks and Louis Johnson’s epic percussive bass solo, the single becomes a dance floor staple and one of their signature songs. The success of “Stomp!” drives the “Light Up The Night” album to Platinum status in the US, becoming their fourth to reach that sales plateau. Producer Quincy Jones covers “Stomp!” himself on the album “Q’s Jook Joint” in 1995. Jones’ version features Chaka Khan, Charlie Wilson, Shaquille O’Neal, Coolio, Melle Mel, Luniz, Mr. X. Yo Yo, and cast members of the musical “Stomp!”.
On this day in music history: April 3, 1990 – “Born To Sing”, the debut album by En Vogue is released. Produced by Thomas McElroy and Denzil Foster, it is recorded at Starlight Sound Studios in Richmond, CA from August – December 1989. The group are put together by former Timex Social Club and Club Nouveau musicians Thomas McElroy and Denzil Foster wanting to create their own “modern day version of The Supremes”. In July 1989, they hold auditions for singers before finding vocalists Cindy Herron, Dawn Robinson, Terry Ellis and Maxine Jones. Once the group is assembled, they get right to work in the recording studio. The first album by the Oakland, CA based vocal quartet is an immediate hit, spinning off four singles including “Hold On” (#1 R&B, #2 Pop), “Lies” (#1 R&B, #38 Pop), “You Don’t Have To Worry” (#1 R&B), and “Don’t Go” (#3 R&B). In April of 2019, the album is remastered and reissued as a two CD deluxe edition, by UK reissue label Cherry Red Records. The first disc contains the original eleven song album, plus seven additional bonus tracks, including single edits and remixes. Disc two features an additional fourteen bonus tracks, including more 12" remixes and tracks from the spin off EP “Remix To Sing” released in 1991. “Born To Sing” peaks at number three on the Billboard R&B album chart, number twenty one on the Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 31, 1987 – “Sign "O” The Times", the ninth album by Prince is released. Produced by Prince, it is recorded at Lake Minnetonka Home Studio in Minnetonka, MN, Galpin Boulevard Studio in Chanhassen, MN, Washingtion Avenue Warehouse in Eden Prairie, MN, Ocean Way Studios in Los Angeles, CA, Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood, CA, Monterey Sound Studios in Glendale, CA and Le Zénith with Dierks Studio Mobile Trucks outside Paris, France from Early 1982 – Late 1986. The album is originally conceived an ambitious three LP set titled “Crystal Ball”, with material dating as far back as the sessions for the “1999” album. When Warner Bros rejects the idea, Prince pares track listing down to a sixteen track double album. The final selection of tracks are culled from the aforementioned “Crystal Ball” project, another tentatively titled “Dream Factory” and the third a proposed solo album titled “Camille”, the latter being an alter ego created by the artist singing in a slightly sped up voice. The final result is one of the most stylistically diverse and acclaimed albums of Prince’s career. It is also the last to include Prince’s band The Revolution who are disbanded in late 1986. It spins off four singles including “U Got The Look” (#2 Pop, #11 R&B), “If I Was Your Girlfriend” (#67 Pop, #12 R&B) and the title track (#1 R&B, #3 Pop). The album also receives a Grammy Nomination for Album Of The Year in 1988 (losing to U2’s “The Joshua Tree”). Unavailable on vinyl since 1989, the album is remastered and reissued on October 16, 2016. The new reissue is mastered by Kevin Gray, and is pressed by Record Industry in the Netherlands. It replicates the original packaging, including the custom inner sleeves and heart shaped hype sticker affixed to the shrink wrap on the original issue. “Sign "O” The Times" peaks at number six on the Billboard Top 200, number four on the R&B album chart, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 29, 1975 – “Lady Marmalade” by LaBelle hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also topping the R&B singles chart for 1 week on February 22, 1975. Written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan, it is the biggest hit for the R&B vocal trio featuring Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash. The song is originally recorded by The Eleventh Hour, a studio group fronted by singer and songwriter Kenny Nolan (“I Like Dreamin’), co-written with Four Seasons songwriter and producer Bob Crewe earlier in 1974. Producer Allen Toussaint hears the original version, and records the song with LaBelle for their first Epic Records album "Nightbirds”. Featuring The Meters providing musical support, it is released as the first single from the album on November 5, 1974. Becoming a dance floor smash in discos, the electrifying track soon makes its way on to R&B and pop radio. Entering the Hot 100 at #98 on January 4, 1975, it climbs to the top of the chart twelve weeks later. The song is re-recorded in by Christina Aguilera, Pink, Lil’ Kim, Mya, & Missy Elliott for the Baz Lurhmann film “Moulin Rouge”. They take the song to number one (for 5 weeks) again in June of 2001, winning a Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals in 2002. Regarded as a 70’s classic, LaBelle’s version is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2003. “Lady Marmalade” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 28, 2000 – “Romeo Must Die: The Album” is released. Produced by Timbaland, Ant Banks, Irv Gotti, Lil’ Rob, Joe Thomas, Joshua Thompson, Donnie Scantz, Kevin Hicks, B-12, Playa, Eric Seats, Rapture Stewart and Stanley Clarke, it is recorded at Manhattan Center Studios, The Hit Factory, Right Track Recording Studios, Soundtrack Studios, Battery Studios in New York City, Front Page Recorders in Glendale, CA, Soundcastle Studios in Los Angeles, CA, The Hit Factory Criteria Studios in Miami, FL and Mastersound Studios in Virginia Beach, VA from Early – Late 1999. It serves as the soundtrack to the martial arts action thriller starring Jet Li and is the film debut for R&B singer/actress Aaliyah. The R&B and Hip Hop based compilation features tracks by Destiny’s Child, Ginuwine, Mack 10, Chante Moore, Joe, and two tracks from Aaliyah including the hits “Come Back in One Piece” (featuring DMX), and “Try Again” (#1 Pop, #4 R&B). “Romeo Must Die: The Album” spends one week at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, number three on the Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 27, 1965 – “Stop! In The Name Of Love” by The Supremes hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also peaking at #2 on the R&B singles chart on the same date. Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, it is the fourth consecutive chart topping single for the Motown vocal trio featuring Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson. “Stop! In The Name Of Love” is inspired by an argument that Lamont Dozier has with his girlfriend, when he inadvertently blurts out the phrase in the middle of the squabble. The two laugh at what is said and stop arguing. Later, Dozier tells his writing partners about the incident and they write the song about a woman pleading with her man to remain faithful, and not to stray from their relationship. Recorded on January 5, 1965 at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit with The Funk Brothers providing the musical backing, The Supremes add their vocals on January 11, 1965. Shortly after the song is released on February 8, 1965, The Supremes along with several of Motown’s major acts travel to England for a major tour of the country as well as a make an appearance on the popular music series “Ready Steady Go!”. It is on that show that The Supremes debut the signature choreography for “Stop!” with one hand on their hip and the other hand outstretched in a “stop” gesture. Paul Williams and Melvin Franklin of The Temptations come up with the choreography and teach it to the girls prior to the programs taping. Meanwhile, back at home, the single becomes another instant smash for The Supremes. Entering the Hot 100 at #80 on February 20, 1965, it streaks to the top of the chart five weeks later. “Stop! In The Name Of Love” alsos receive a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Rock & Roll Group Performance in 1966, but loses to The Statler Brothers’ “Flowers On The Wall”. Regarded as a career defining hit for The Supremes, the single is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2001. In 2000, a previously unreleased alternate version of “Stop!” is released on The Supremes’ eponymously titled box set. Running nearly three and half minutes, this other version features foot stomps on the intro and throughout the track like “Where Did Our Love” and “Baby Love”. It also features different lead and background vocals, with Diana Ross singing different lyrics from the officially released version in places. “Stop! In The Name Of Love” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.