Richard Lee (guitar), Norman Durham (bass), Paul Crutchfield (percussion/keyboards) and Woody Cunningham (lead vocals/drums) united in 1972 as The Choice 4 before evolving into The Jam Band, Pipeline and, under the aegis of Patrick Adams and Greg Carmichael, The Universal Robot Band. After flirting with R&B, funk, disco and even straight-ahead rock, the quartet settled as Kleeer and signed to Atlantic Records. Between 1979 and 1985, Kleeer released seven albums on Atlantic, proving worthy of a spot on the venerable label's impressive R&B roster. All of those LPs are collected on The Atlantic Collection 1979-1985, a new 8-CD box set from Cherry Red's Robinsongs imprint. The eighth disc rounds up 15 bonus mixes encompassing single edits, instrumentals, and extended versions.
The group's 1979 debut album I Love to Dance, produced by engineer Dennis King, featured Isabelle Coles on lead and background vocals, with Luther Vandross and Jocelyn Brown (Inner Life) also lending their voices. A quick success, it yielded the anthemic disco staples "Keeep Your Body Workin'" and "Tonight's the Night (Good Time)" (the latter, an R&B chart hit) as well as the equally-intoxicating title track/mission statement and the mellower "Happy Me," featuring Randy Brecker and Marvin Stamm on flugelhorn. The success of I Love to Dance pigeonholed the band as a disco act, but Kleeer showed their musical versatility later the same year on Winners, honed after years playing in various styles. Like Kleeer's first album, it wholly consisted of compositions written by the band members. Funk took a front seat on the title track though it still incorporated lush strings into its heady mix. "Open Your Mind" allowed the group to be topical and socially aware while still rooted in rhythm. The core group members were joined on Winners by both of the Brecker Brothers this time (with Michael soloing on "Open"), as well as by vocalists Coles, Yvette Flowers and Melanie Moore. Two hit singles charted off Winners, with the title track going No. 24 R&B/No. 140 Pop, and "Open Your Mind" hitting No. 86 R&B.
The sound of dance music was, of course, rapidly evolving, but Kleeer kept one foot in disco even as it embraced more electronic sounds for 1981's License to Dream. Additional band members were officially recognized on its back cover photo, including the trio of Coles, Flowers and Moore, plus Terry Dolphin (piano) and Eric Rohrbaugh (synthesizer). Its top 20 R&B hit "Get Tough" was inspired by the Iran hostage crisis. With its subtle message of support for America's veterans, the track caught listeners' ears with a typically funky rhythm and a goofy John Wayne impersonation. (Janice Pendarvis and Lisa Fischer also contributed their golden pipes to the track.) The soulful but still pulsating "Running Back to You" sung by its writer Woody Cunningham maintained the band's blend of the gritty and the sleek; "License to Dream" emphasized the latter part of that equation with its shiny synths. "De Kleeer Ting," with its laser-esque sound effects, made it clear that Kleeer was ready to embrace the new direction of dance and R&B. They were rewarded when License became their highest-charting album.
1982's Taste the Music would be the final album co-produced by the band's original producer, Dennis King. "Continues" further progressed the band in its inclusion of rap segments (albeit tongue-in-cheek ones). The title track, a top 40 Dance hit, boasts almost robotic, staccato vocals; the catchy, uptempo "Wall to Wall" is a bit more mellifluous. Get Ready, issued later in 1982, welcomed a very special guest: none other than Motown funkmeister and Kleeer fan Rick James. Luther Vandross, by then well-established a solo star, returned to sing backgrounds on the lithe soul cut "Say You'll Stay."
Brazilian-born Eumir Deodato took the reins of Kleeer's final two albums for Atlantic, 1984's Intimate Connection and 1985's Seeekret. Deodato's talent extended to many genres. His early bossa nova work led him to prime gigs such as arranging for Frank Sinatra's later sessions with Antonio Carlos Jobim, and his embrace of fusion jazz resulted in a funky reworking of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" that netted him a Grammy and a No. 2 Pop hit, almost unheard-of for a jazz recording. By the time Deodato took on Kleeer, he had already wrapped a stunning run with Kool and the Gang showcasing his ability to create smooth R&B/funk/dance grooves par excellence with a jazzman's musicianship. Deodato didn't radically alter the group's sound, but the always-adventurous producer embraced more programming, drum machines, and vocal processing within the R&B/funk framework. "Go for It" and "You Did It Again" (which even has a bit of a Kool and the Gang feel) are among the infectious highlights from Intimate Connection. The big drum sound of "Never Cry Again" on Seeekret was Kleeer in full '80s mode; more inspired was the romantic "Lay Ya Down EZ" with its classic-soul vocal harmonies over the modern production.
Kleeer hasn't been particularly well-served in the compact disc/digital era. Only Kleeer's first two albums have been expanded on CD, respectively by Funky Town Grooves and Cherry Red sister label Big Break Records, and just two major anthologies have been issued: Rhino's The Very Best of Kleeer (1998) and Big Break's Get Tough: The Kleeer Anthology 1978-1985 (2016). While both of those compilations were peppered with rare mixes, the 15 bonus tracks presented here make the most comprehensive survey yet of the group's 45s and 12-inch singles.
Oli Hemingway has remastered all eight discs, and Charles Waring has penned an essay in the 12-page booklet. Unfortunately, the package is devoid of any discographical annotation though basic credits are provided for each album represented. Within the clamshell outer case, the individual discs are housed in simple paper sleeves replicating the front and back cover of each album minus the Atlantic iconography.
Though Kleeer broke up after Seekret, it wasn't acrimonious. The music the group created for Atlantic remains some of the most lively, driving, and good-feeling dance music of all time. The Atlantic Collection 1979-1985 is a long-overdue tribute to that legacy. Now, keeep your body workin'!
Disc 1: I Love to Dance (Atlantic SD 19237, 1979)
- Tonight's the Night (Good Time)
- Keeep Your Body Workin'
- Happy Me
- I Love to Dance
- It's Magic
- To Groove You
- Kleeer Sailin'
Disc 2: Winners (Atlantic SD 19262, 1979)
- I Still Love You
- Your Way
- Close to You
- Rollin' On
- Nothin' Said
- Hunger for Your Love
- Open Your Mind
Disc 3: License to Dream (Atlantic SD 19288, 1981)
- De Kleeer Ting
- Running Back to You
- Sippin' & Kissin'
- License to Dream
- Get Tough
- Say You Love Me
- Where Would I Be (Without Your Love)
Disc 4: Get Ready (Atlantic 80038, 1982)
- Get Ready
- Pritty Things
- Slidin' & Glidin'
- She Said She Loves Me
- Say You'll Stay
- Your Love is What I Need
Disc 5: Taste the Music (Atlantic SD 19334, 1982)
- Taste the Music
- I've Had Enough (Can't Take Anymore)
- De Ting Continues
- Wall to Wall
- I Shall Get Over
- Affirmative Mood
Disc 6: Intimate Connection (Atlantic 80145, 1984)
- Ride It
- You Did It Again
- Go for It
- Intimate Connection
- Next Time It's for Real
- Do You Want To?
Disc 7: Seeekret (Atlantic 81254, 1985)
- Take Your Heart Away
- You Got Me Rockin'
- Lay Ya Down Ez
- Do Not Lie to Me
- Never Cry Again
- Call My Name
Disc 8: Bonus Tracks
- Keeep Your Body Workin' (Instrumental)
- Open Your Mind (Single Version)
- Winners (12" Single Version)
- Tonight's the Night (Good Time) (Single Version)
- Winners (Single Version)
- Tonight's the Night (Good Time) (12" Version)
- Get Tough (Single Version)
- Running Back to You (Single Version)
- She Said She Loves Me (Single Version)
- Intimate Connection (Single Version)
- Taste the Music (Instrumental)
- De Ting Continues (Single Version)
- Never Cry Again (Dub)
- Next Time It's for Real (Single Version)
- Never Cry Again (Vocal/Remixed Long Version)
Track 1 from B-side of Atlantic 12" DK 4715, 1978
Track 2 from Atlantic single 3750, 1978
Track 3 from Atlantic 12" promo DSKO 227, 1979
Track 4 from Atlantic single 3586, 1979
Track 5 from Atlantic single 3650, 1979
Track 6 from Atlantic 12" promo DSKO 190, 1979
Track 7 from Atlantic single 3788, 1981
Track 8 from Atlantic single 3823, 1981
Track 9 from Atlantic single 7-89924, 1982
Track 10 from Atlantic single 7-89663, 1984
Track 12 from Atlantic single 4046, 1982
Tracks 13 and 15 from Atlantic 12" 0-86850, 1985
Track 14 from Atlantic single 7-89699, 1984