Sunday, October 26, 2008

Breakin' At The Movies

In 1984 the break dancing craze was probably at its peak. I mean there were people busting moves on street corners everywhere, and you couldn‘t walk to the bus stop without risk of copping a stray foot in the head. Like just about any craze, Hollywood sniffed an opportunity to make a film, and hopefully make some opportunist producers a bundle of cash (I wonder if anyone's made a movie about yo-yo aces). The motion picture ‘Breakin’ (titled ‘Breakdance’ in the U.K. and Australia) announced its theme in the title, and was released in cinemas during May 1984. The basic synopsis was a struggling jazz dancer (Lucinda Dickey) meets up with two break dancers, played by Adolfo Quinones and Michael Chambers and together they become a dance sensation. A feel good movie deserves feel good music, so an accompanying soundtrack was recorded/compiled and released on the Polydor label.

The soundtrack featured solid electro-dance and funk edged contributions from dance acts like the Bar-Kays and Hot Streak, as well as a track from U.K. band Re-Flex with ‘Cut It’ (see earlier post). The two singles released from the soundtrack that charted were ‘99 ½’ by former soul/gospel singer Carol Lynn Townes (US#77/UK#47), and ‘Breakin’…There’s No Stopping Us’ by the duo Ollie & Jerry. I’ll expand a bit more on the career of Carol Lynn Townes later in the post, but Ollie & Jerry scored the really big hit single from the first ‘Breakdance’ film, helping to push the soundtrack to #6 in both Australia and Britain, and #8 in the States, making it one of the biggest selling soundtracks of the mid 80s.

The single ‘Breakin’…There’s No Stopping Us’ reached both the U.S. (#9) and U.K. (#5) top tens, and also peaked at #25 in Australia during mid ‘84. Ollie & Jerry also contributed another song to the soundtrack with ‘Showdown’. The duo’s full names were Ollie Brown and Jerry Knight, and both had some seriously good form on the board before they launched their tag-team project. Both hailed from Detroit and formed the rhythm nucleus of Ray Parker Jr.’s band Raydio (see earlier post). Brown sat at the drum kit, whilst Knight handled the bass duties and sang lead vocals on Raydio’s 1978 smash hit ‘Jack And Jill’. After Knight left Raydio during 1980 he signed a solo recording deal with A&M Records. He notched up a top 20 hit on the U.S R&B charts with ‘Overnight Sensation’ (#17-1980) from his eponymous debut album (R&B#51), and followed that up with the well received 1981 album ‘Perfect Fit’ (R&B#30). Knight was kept busy over the next couple of years as writer, producer and session player with the likes of The Whispers (vocals/arrangement), Janet Jackson (vocals), and Philip Bailey (see future post). Ollie Brown had remained active working with DeBarge, Gloria Gaynor, James Ingram and Patti Austin, to name a few. Polydor executive Russ Brown asked Brown to come up with some songs for a soundtrack to the film ‘Breakdance’. Brown duly sat through a preview screening of the film and a phrase uttered by one of the character’s caught his attention - “There’s no stopping us”. He then got together with old Raydio band mate Jerry Knight to pen and record ‘Breakin’…There’s No Stopping Us’. Brown & Knight went on to write and produce work with the likes of the Jets (see future post), Natalie Cole, Aretha Franklin and Patrice Rushen.

The box office returns for ‘Breakin’ were sufficient to encourage the studio to back a sequel being made. The inventively titled ‘Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo’ hit the big screen in time for Christmas 1984. This time around saw our break dancing heroes return to bust a move on a greedy developer with plans to bulldoze a local community recreation centre. But don’t let the heavy machinery and urban development themes fool you - this was still a film where the dancing and music were paramount to proceedings. Cue soundtrack number two, featuring many of the same artists that contributed to the first effort. Ollie & Jerry were back on board and contributed two tracks ‘When I.C.U.’ and the title track ‘Electric Boogaloo’, which became the duos second chart hit, albeit a minor one, when it peaked at #57 in Britain in early ‘85. Firefox, who had contributed ‘Street People’ to the first soundtrack, returned with two more tracks ‘Radiotron’ and ‘Stylin Profilin’. But the standout track was by the former lead singer with New York based disco outfit Fifth Avenue.

Carol Lynn Townes sang the feel good dance track ‘Believe In The Beat’, and appeared in the film performing the song in the celebratory end sequence. ‘Believe In The Beat’ reached minor hit status on the charts (OZ#65/UK#56), and helped push the soundtrack to ‘Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo’ to the same achievement (UK#34/OZ#51/US#52).

Townes was born and raised in North Carolina and directed her vocal talents toward gospel music during her youth. She moved to New York and fronted soul/disco group Fifth Avenue during the 70s, releasing the album ‘Carol Townes And Fifth Avenue’ on RCA during 1976. In 1982 Townes was signed to Polydor as a solo artist and it was via her connection with that label that she became involved in the ‘Breakdance’ soundtracks.

Following her work on the ‘Breakin’ (‘Breakdance’) soundtracks, Carol Lynn Townes released a solo album later in 1985, titled ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’. It featured the dance hit ‘I Freak For You’ (#24 U.S. Hot Dance Music chart). She came up with one more album in 1988 titled ‘Try Me Out’, but neither album nor singles ‘You Keep Running’ Back’ and ‘What I Wouldn’t Do’, returned Townes to the charts again.

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