Long before they wanted a man with a “Slow Hand” or found that “He’s So Shy,” The Pointer Sisters were spellbinding listeners with an unusual blend of retro rhythm and blues, jazz, funk, soul and even country. Cherry Red’s SoulMusic Records imprint has recently brought together their first two LPs for Blue Thumb Records on a 2-CD set. The Pointer Sisters and That’s a Plenty established Anita, Ruth, June, and Bonnie Pointer as one of the first families of American music. The latter title has been selling secondhand at high prices in its previous Hip-o Select reissue, making this edition particularly welcome.
The Pointer Sisters (sans Ruth) had briefly recorded for Atlantic Records before being signed to David Rubinson’s Blue Thumb label. With Ruth on board and the Blue Thumb contract signed, the Pointers set out to work with lead producer Robinson on their debut. Opening with Allen Toussaint’s blazingly funky, powerfully optimistic “Yes We Can Can,” 1973’s The Pointer Sisters displayed the group’s tremendous vocal versatility. The vocalese classic “Cloudburst” (which Barry Manilow had also revived on his Bell Records debut the same year) was given an impressive reading, and the Pointers stayed in a jazz vein with the slinky, tightly harmonized “Jada,” the hep “Old Songs,” retro-flavored ode to “Sugar,” and urgent “Pains and Tears.” A cover of The Crusaders’ jazz-funk-soul mélange ‘”That’s How I Feel” found the sisters reinventing the lyric-less instrumental with their voices and Gaylord Birch’s anchoring drums, while the rollicking “Wang Dang Doodle” proved infectious. “Yes We Can Can” reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 12 R&B, while “Wang Dang Doodle” notched a respectable No. 61 Pop/No. 24 R&B. Both single versions have been included here as bonus tracks. The album garnered significant attention, reaching No. 13 Pop/No. 3 R&B.
The quartet followed up the self-titled album with 1974’s That’s a Plenty, named for Lew Pollack and Ray Gilbert’s 1914 rag. Arguably even more eclectic than its predecessor, the album kicked off with the quasi-classical, dash-of-camp original song “Bangin’ on the Pipes” in a medley with Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ brassy Pajama Game showstopper “Steam Heat.” The 1954 Broadway musical starred John Raitt, whose daughter Bonnie contributed slide guitar to the Pointers’ take on blues singer Son House’s “Grinning in Your Face.” Further “old time” vibes were conjured via covers of Dizzy Gillespie (“Salt Peanuts”) and Sarah Vaughan and Peggy Lee (“Black Coffee”). The Pointers also returned to the “Cloudburst” terrain of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross with “Little Pony.” (The track was one of the three to feature Herbie Hancock on piano.) Producer-songwriters Jeffrey Cohen and Bruce Good contributed the punning “Surfeit U.S.A.” in a medley with the title track. But the LP’s most notable song remains Bonnie and Anita’s “Fairytale.” Cut in Nashville, “Fairytale” was a full-tilt immersion into the country sounds of Music City. Not only did it become a No. 13 Pop/No. 13 AC hit, but it also notched a No. 37 placement on the Country chart, earned the Pointer Sisters a Grammy for Best Country Performance, and gave them entrée to become the first African-American group to ever perform at the Grand Ole Opry. The single versions of “Steam Heat” (sans the “Bangin’ on the Pipes” introduction) and “Fairytale,” and the Kenneth Gamble/Leon Huff-penned B-side “Love in Them There Hills” have been added as bonus tracks.
Justin Kantor has provided a compelling essay in the 20-page booklet drawing on Ruth, Bonnie and Anita’s memories of the albums; June passed away in 2006 at the age of 52. Front and back cover artwork for both original LPs is also included in the booklet. Nick Robbins has remastered. The Pointer Sisters/That’s a Plenty is available now from Cherry Red/SoulMusic Records at the links below.
CD 1: The Pointer Sisters (Blue Thumb BTS 48, 1973)
- Yes We Can Can
- River Boulevard
- Old Songs
- That’s How I Feel
- Pains and Tears
- Naked Foot
- Wang Dang Doodle
- Yes We Can Can (Single Version) (Blue Thumb single BTA 229, 1973)
- Wang Dang Doodle (Single Version) (Blue Thumb single BTA 243, 1973)
CD 2: That’s a Plenty (Blue Thumb BTS 6009, 1974)
- Bangin’ on the Pipes/Steam Heat
- Salt Peanuts
- Grinning in Your Face
- Shaky Flat Blues
- That’s a Plenty/Surfeit U.S.A.
- Little Pony
- Black Coffee
- Love in Them There Hills
- Steam Heat (Single Version) (Blue Thumb single BTA 250, 1974)
- Love in Them There Hills (ABC/Blue Thumb single BTA 254, 1974)
- Fairytale (Single Version) (ABC/Blue Thumb single BTA 254, 1974)