The black influence on eighties music is well-known. Just like Lennon & McCartney and Jagger & Richards spent every hour and every penny down the import stores buying every new American R&B record, so the likes of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Wham! and the Pet Shop Boys filled their formative years with disco, funk and rap 12-inchers. But did the influence bleed back to the source? Did any black act of the eighties soak up even the slightest new wave inspiration? Here’s some songs that offer evidence that they did. (To listen via Spotify, or follow any of our playlists there, click here.)
“Warm Leatherette,” Grace Jones
An iconic figure without an iconic soundtrack, Grace Jones place in the firmament changed when Island boss Chris Blackwell came up with the bright idea of sending her off to Jamaica to work with deadly rhythm section Sly & Robbie on an incredibly eclectic collection of songs. The Pretenders, Tom Petty and Sting covers were somewhat predictable. This one was not. The Warm Leatherette album and it’s two sequels were three of the most influential records of the decade.
“Dead Giveaway,” Shalamar
Jeffrey Daniel of Shalamar debuted the moonwalk on Top of the Pops while promoting his band’s “I Can Make You Feel Good.” The result: Shalamar’s “Friends” album became a hit machine and the trip spent a lot of time in the UK. When they embarked on their follow-up album, “The Look”, their leathers and relaxed hair were a thing of the past. The band now sported an image not a million miles from The Thompson Twins and their hooks had a little more edge.
“Somebody’s Watching Me,” Rockwell
One-hit wonder paranoid classic. The little-heard follow-up actually referenced adam Ant and Culture Club.
“Jump (For My Love)”, Pointer Sisters
I’ve written about my undying love for the Pointer Sisters Breakout album before. “Automatic”, “Neutron Dance” and, especially, this song are R&B synthpop classics.
“The Belle of St. Mark,” Sheila E
It’s tough to track down even Prince-affiliated clips but there was an insane New Romantic/ funk crossover going on with a lot of his early-to-mid eighties productions and the songs he did for his right-hand woman on this and her Romance 1600 album are enduring gems.
“I Sweat (Going Through the Motions),” Nona Hendryx
The most flamboyant member of Labelle, which is no mean feat, Nona Hendryx never quite managed to find the perfect combination right song and the right look but she came close a few times, such as this one.
“Bustin’ Out,” Material ft. Nona Hendryx
Bill Laswell of Material produced the Nona hendryx song above but this was their most astounding collaboration.This one track justifies the concept behind the entire concept. One of the first Ze records I ever bought, but certainly not the last.
“There But for the Grace of God Go I,” Machine
Not strictly Ze, but co-written by August Darnell later to find fame as Kid Creole. Brilliant record with a biting, Not In My Backyard lyric that hasn’t aged a day. Someone needs to do an inferior cover of this like now!
“Alligator Woman (Secrets of Time),” Cameo
When interviewing the founder members of Devo for Mad World:The Book, I never got around to asking them about their influence on eighties r&b but it’s right here in this Cameo hit.
“L is for Lover,” Al Jarreau
Dentist office smooth jazz perennial Al Jarreau may not be your idea of a new wave r&b crossover giant but this particular song was written by Scritti Politti and produced by Nile Rodgers AND it gives a shout-out to my home town of Glasgow so it more than qualifies!