Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we reflect on notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. Despite the presence of a hit single with a famous singer/songwriter/producer and a killer soul vocalist, Philip Bailey’s hit sophomore record remains unexpanded on CD. What would such a project look like? This article is the only way you’ll ever know-oh-ohh…
What does it say about Philip Bailey that his biggest hit wasn’t entirely his?
It’s not like Bailey only had so much talent. Quite the contrary: as the lead singer of Earth, Wind and Fire, Bailey’s distinctive falsetto lit up some of the best R&B singles of the late ’70s, like “Fantasy” and the sublime “September.” But his biggest success as a solo artist came with the aid of one of the most prolific musicians of the ’80s – so much so that some thought the musician in question had actually discovered Bailey!
The discussion continues after the jump.
Philip Bailey had struck out on his own for the first time with Continuation, a tight R&B album released by EWF’s longtime label Columbia in 1983. He somehow managed to fit the LP between two Earth, Wind and Fire records that same year, Powerlight and Electric Universe. It was successful enough, reaching the Top 10 of the Black Albums chart and spawning a Top 10 hit on the Black singles chart in “I Know.” But the crossover appeal was limited.
Enter Phil Collins. The singer/songwriter/drummer was beginning to eke out a successful solo career alongside his tenure in Genesis, and in both phases he was a pretty devoted fan of EWF, recruiting their brass section, The Phoenix Horns, to play on Collins’ and Genesis’ records, notably “Paperlate” for the latter and “If Leaving Me is Easy” and “Sussudio” for the former. Collins, in turn, was beginning to stretch his legs as a producer – at the time, his biggest production hit was the Top 20 hit “I Know There’s Something Going On” for former ABBA vocalist Frida – and Collins and Bailey decided to work together for the latter’s second solo disc, Chinese Wall.
Though the album had a handful of notable names behind the scenes – songwriter Glen Ballard, producer Arif Mardin on string arrangements, Collins/Genesis touring guitarist Daryl Steurmer, bassist Nathan East and percussionist Paulinho Da Costa – Collins’ distinctive drum work was the co-star with Bailey. The single “Easy Lover,” a duet between the two, was a smash hit, peaking at No. 2 in the U.S. and setting up Collins for even more solo success throughout the ’80s.
It was almost as if Bailey became an afterthought – and the press didn’t help. Collins was once asked in an interview how he discovered such a talented vocalist, the interviewer obviously not realizing that Bailey was one of the brightest stars of EWF. The producer replied that he had heard Bailey sing as he was filling Collins’ gas tank at the local station, and signed him immediately. Of course, that’s not true – but it’s worrisome to think that someone thought it was and printed it. Nonetheless, Collins enjoyed the track enough to include it on his …Hits compilation in 1998.
With Continuation having received a (now sold-out) CD release on Funky Town Grooves awhile back, one can only hope that Chinese Wall will get a similar treatment from a sympathetic label in the future, if only to remind audiences that Bailey was pretty darn good, Collins or no Collins.
Philip Bailey, Chinese Wall (originally released as Columbia FC 39542, 1984)
- Photogenic Memory
- I Go Crazy
- Walking on the Chinese Wall
- For Every Heart That’s Been Broken
- Easy Lover (Duet with Phil Collins)
- Show You the Way to Love
- Time is a Woman
- Children of the Ghetto
- Easy Lover (Extended Remix) (12″ A-side – Columbia 44-05160, 1984)
- I Go Crazy (Extended Remix) (Dutch 12″ A-side – CBS A 12-6380, 1984)
- Children of the Ghetto (Extended Version) (12″ A-side – Columbia 44-05093, 1984)
- Photogenic Memory (Extended Version) (12″ B-side – Columbia 44-05093, 1984)
(And a special tip of the hat to our good friend Popblerd!, who inspired this post.)