Between 1978 and 1988, The Pointer Sisters recorded a stunning series of nine albums with producer Richard Perry (Barbra Streisand, Harry Nilsson), first for his Elektra-distributed Planet Records label, and then for RCA, to whom Perry eventually sold Planet. During this period, June, Ruth and Anita finally were able to Break Out on the U.S. charts – to quote the title of the group’s multi-platinum 1983 album which introduced four U.S. Top 10 hits. Previously the Pointers had mastered jazz, blues, funk and even country – the latter with the Grammy-winning “Fairytale.” But with Perry at the helm, the trio emphasized lithe R&B grooves equally steeped in dance, pop and rock rhythms. In other words, Perry and the Pointer Sisters synthesized all of their influences into one recognizably “Pointer” style. Big Break Records has just completed its reissue program for all of the Perry/Pointer Sisters albums with the recent releases of Priority (1979) and Black and White (1981). In addition to getting the expanded treatment, the latter title is also appearing for the very first time on CD in its original album mix.
Even for fans of the sleek Pointer records like “Jump (For My Love)” and “He’s So Shy,” 1979’s Priority might come as a bit of a surprise. As Perry reflects in Christian John Wikane’s incisive liner notes, the priority of the title was to produce genuine “rock-oriented material with a black group.” And so, for the second collaborative album between Perry and the Pointer Sisters, the group tackled songs originally performed or written by The Rolling Stones, The Band, Ian Hunter, Graham Parker and the Rumour, and Bruce Springsteen. It was the latter’s “Fire” – a No. 2 hit from the Pointers’ Planet debut Energy – that pointed the way for the more aggressive direction on Priority. To support the vocalists, Perry enlisted some of Laurel Canyon’s finest, raiding Rick Marotta (drums), Waddy Wachtel (guitar) and Dan Dugmore (guitar) from Linda Ronstadt’s band. Pianist Nicky Hopkins (The Rolling Stones, Nilsson) joined the personnel, as did Little Feat’s Bill Payne on keyboards, William “Smitty” Smith on organ, Scott Chambers on bass, and session great David Spinozza on slide guitar. Though headlined by a vocal group, Priority feels very much like a “band record.”
“Who Do You Love” (“Is it her or is it me?”), pulled from Ian Hunter’s 1975 solo album, features a gritty June Pointer lead over a track adorned with barroom piano and bluesy guitar (with Wachtel soaring on lead) that would have been equally comfortable for Ronstadt or any of her country-rocking L.A. brethren. The Pointer Sisters may have been from the Bay Area, but clearly the sound of Southern California could inspire them as well. Though a uniform sound adorned most of the album’s tracks, their origins were diverse. The arrangement of Detroiter Bob Seger’s “All Your Love” was cut from the same cloth as that of “Who Do You Love,” but, with Ruth’s even smokier vocal, emphasized the roughness around the edges. Any group must be brave to tackle the Rolling Stones songbook, but the Pointers did just that with the Exile on Main Street rave-up “Happy,” with June filling in for Keith Richards and Nicky Hopkins reprising his role on piano.
Just as bold was the choice to cover a Bruce Springsteen song, though it was inevitable considering the Pointers’ success with The Boss’ “Fire.” Arguably even more smoldering than “Fire,” “The Fever” was written and originally sung by Springsteen, but not released until the 1990s. Allan Rich gave it a shot as “Fever For the Girl,” but the song became the property of Southside Johnny Lyon when he recorded it – with a memorable vocal contribution from E Streeter Clarence Clemons – in 1976. Ruth was the perfect choice to sing lead, her husky tones giving weary life to the blues of Springsteen’s lyric. The lack of Southside Johnny’s signature horn section also lends “(She’s Got) The Fever” a different quality here, and the mutual R&B roots of Springsteen and The Pointer Sisters are in evidence.
“Blind Faith,” a Gerry Rafferty/Joe Egan song for their band Stealer’s Wheel is hardly as well-known as Glimmer Twin Keith’s signature “Happy.” But Perry imbued it with a down ‘n’ dirty spin on a girl group record as Ruth intoned the bluesy lead, June and Anita “bop-shoo-bopping” with ironic spirit behind her. Richard Thompson’s “Don’t Let a Thief Steal Into Your Heart” might feature the best vocal and instrumental interplay on the album. Chambers adds funky bass as the versatile Wachtel soars on slide, with June, Ruth and Anita each playing a substantial role in the vocals. Robbie Robertson’s raucous “The Shape I’m In” concludes the album on a high note.
Priority did grant listeners one brief oasis of calm, however. David Palmer and William D. Smith’s “Dreaming as One” had been recorded previously by The Walker Brothers and Warren Zevon associate Jorge Calderon, but Anita’s sensitive, cooing vocal didn’t force the sweet, natural emotion of the song. In a fine decorative touch, Dan Dugmore’s pedal steel added the country flavor with which Anita was accustomed. For all this fine material, the album lacked one song with strong enough pop single potential, by producer Perry’s own admission. Still, one can’t help but believe that the group’s embrace of rock on Priority was another feather in their cap and another stepping stone to the superstardom that beckoned in the new decade.
Big Break’s reissue doesn’t add any bonus material, but the album has been remastered by reissue producer Wayne A. Dickson and includes a typically lavish and colorful booklet with full credits and Wikane’s new essay. As usual, the attention to detail is top-notch right down to the Planet/BBR label on the CD itself.
After the jump: a look at Black and White, plus order links and track listings for both titles!
The follow-up to Priority, 1980’s Special Things, was reissued by BBR back in 2010. Its 1981 follow-up Black and White is now joining it as an expanded and remastered edition. Special Things bested the success of Priority, spinning off Tom Snow and Cynthia Weil’s irresistible Top 10 hit “He’s So Shy” and also including other modern pop-soul gems from Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager (“The Love Too Good to Last,” “Where Did The Time Go”), Michael Brooks and Bob Esty (“We’ve Got the Power”) and Bill Champlin (“Here Is Where Your Love Belongs”). Black and White continued in this vein to tremendous effect, with Perry aided as on Special Things by associate producer Trevor Lawrence.
A bright Latin feel infused the album’s shimmering Jerry Ragovoy/Len Roberts-written opening track, “Sweet Lover Man, ” with a June Pointer lead and able instrumental support from vets including John Robinson (drums), James Newton Howard (keyboards) and the ubiquitous Paulinho DaCosta (drums). Sleek soul was the order of the day on such songs as Russ Ballard’s “Someday We’ll Be Together” – not the Diana Ross and the Supremes classic – and the infectious, up-tempo “Take My Heart, Take My Soul,” with the obligatory eighties sax solo from Trevor Lawrence himself. But the album’s fourth track set things into the stratosphere, Michael Clark and John Bettis’ No. 2 Pop hit “Slow Hand.” Right down to its sensual and sultry Anita Pointer lead, the song somewhat recalled “Fire.” But Anita latched onto its feel of a “country love song,” as she tells Christian John Wikane in his new liner notes, and recognized that “so many women and so many men can relate to a lover that’s gentle and nice and honest.” Indeed, that lyrical sentiment was attached to a hook-filled melody and a fresh pop arrangement with a catchy electric piano riff, all qualities which made it a prime candidate for radio. “Slow Hand” soared up the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, and actually did go country when Conway Twitty took it the pole position in 1982 on the U.S. Country chart.
A rock sensibility can be heard on the brisk David Foster co-write “We’re Gonna Make It,” with tight duet vocals from June and Anita (who were also among its writers). Foster joined Robinson and DaCosta on synths, with Toto’s Michael Porcaro providing bass on this rhythmic showstopper. Its modern sound, however, was naturally very different than anything on Priority. The freedom afforded by rock and roll also appeared on Patrick Henderson and Wornell Jones’ “Fall in Love Again,” sung with rising gospel fervor by June. R&B came to the fore on the “What a Surprise,” with some proto-rapping from Anita on the song she co-wrote with her sister June and Trevor Lawrence. And R&B of a different, earlier era was recalled on “Should I Do It,” the album-closing track which was a spiritual successor to “He’s So Shy.” Layng Martine, Jr.’s song was a throwback that didn’t hide its debt to the likes of girl groups The Chiffons and The Shirelles. Lawrence’s honking saxophone was the cherry on top of the sundae. It was the perfect way to cap Black and White, an album on which the varied sounds were anything but.
Remastered by Dickson, the reissued album also includes the singles “Holdin’ Out for Love” (the Tom Snow/Cynthia Weil B-side of “Slow Hand”), “What a Surprise” and “Someday We’ll Be Together.” Wikane’s essay deftly draws on recollections from Ruth and Anita Pointer, Richard Perry and Trevor Lawrence to tell the complete and fascinating story of the Sisters’ artistic rebirth at Planet. Most notably, this reissue marks the very first time the original LP mix has appeared on CD.
These two reissues mark the conclusion of BBR’s Pointer Sisters/Planet Records series which has even included June Pointer’s solo disc. We’d certainly be ready to “Fall in Love Again,” though, should the label plan any upcoming reissues from the Pointer Sisters’ pre-Planet years at Blue Thumb Records. In the meantime, these sassy and soulful discs should make fans plenty “Happy.”
- Who Do You Love
- All Your Love
- Dreaming as One
- Turned Up Too Late
- Blind Faith
- Don’t Let a Thief
- Steal Into Your Heart
- (She’s Got) The Fever
- The Shape I’m In
- Sweet Lover Man
- Someday We’ll Be Together
- Take My Heart, Take My Soul
- Slow Hand
- We’re Gonna Make It
- What a Surprise
- Got to Find Love
- Fall in Love Again
- Should I Do It
- Holdin’ Out for Love (Planet single P-47929-B, 1981)
- What a Surprise (Planet single P-47937-A, 1981)
- Someday We’ll Be Together (Planet single (U.K.) K-12591, 1982)