Thursday, November 20, 2008

'Frankie' Revives The Classic Girl Group Sound

1980’s follow up album ‘Love Somebody Today’ (US#31/#7R&B) proved less compelling, and arguably Sister Sledge suffered the same fate that many other artists who had ridden the disco wave just twelve months earlier also experienced, when disco suffered a major wipe-out at the turn of the decade. ‘Got To Love Somebody’ (US#64/UK#34) was the only track to crack the mainstream charts. Sister Sledge then took a more hands on approach, with producer Narada Michael Walden, for their 1981 album ‘All American Girls’ (US#42/#13R&B). The album spawned a pair of minor hits with the title track (US#79/UK#41) and ‘Next Time You’ll Know’ (US#82), and also featured a tribute to Bob Marley on the track ‘He’s Just Like A Runaway’.

If you’re in need of a hit single to breath new life into your career, it’s sometimes worth revisiting some safe ground by covering a pop standard. Sister Sledge did just that in 1982 when they recorded a version of the 1964 U.S. #1 ‘My Guy’ (originally recorded by Mary Wells), taken from their album ‘The Sisters’ (US#69/#17R&B). The Sister Sledge take on the classic didn’t match the chart performance of the original, but did peak at #23 on the U.S. charts (OZ#50) early in the year. But that marked the end of a solid run of chart success in the U.S. for Sister Sledge, although the only mainstream #1 of their career was still to come.

1983’s album ‘Bet Cha Say That To All The Girls’ (US#169/#35R&B) bombed, but the following year Sister Sledge’s 1979 album ‘We Are Family’ was reissued in the U.K. market. It sparked somewhat of a revival in the group’s career, and second time around the album peaked at #7 in Britain. In May ‘84 the track ‘Thinking Of You’ (which hadn’t been released as a single in 1979) hit the British single’s chart and went on to knock on the door of the top ten (#11). A Nile Rodgers remix of ‘Lost In Music’ sailed passed its 1979 chart record, going on to peak at #4 in Britain in the latter part of ‘84 (and featured backing vocals from Duran Duran members Andy Taylor and Simon Le Bon). A remixed version of ‘We Are Family’ (from Bernard Edwards) reignited that song’s appeal on dance floors across the U.K. (#33) in late ‘84. If anything the ‘second coming’ of Sister Sledge on the British scene during the mid 80s, exceeded the heights set during 1979.

With Nile Rodgers back at the production helm, Sister Sledge recorded an album of new material, released in mid ‘85 as ‘When The Boys Meet The Girls’ (UK#19/US#52). The lead out single ‘Frankie’, with lead vocals from Joni Sledge, had a sound that harked back to some of the girl group hits of the late 50s/early 60s, but with the slickness of 80s production. It was a sound that the U.S. just wasn’t receptive to at the time (#75 Hot100/#15 Adult Contemporary) but Britain and Australia fell in love with ‘Frankie’ and suddenly Sister Sledge found themselves sitting atop the U.K. charts for four weeks over the summer of ‘85 (OZ#10). The follow up single ‘Dancing On The Jagged Edge’ (UK#50) couldn’t replicate the magic of ‘Frankie’, and almost as quickly as Sister Sledge had bounced back, they once more faded from the charts. The 1987 album ‘Freak Out’ was a compilation of Sister Sledge hits and remixes, combined with several Chic classics - for anyone who was a fan of the Rodgers/Edwards brand, it would have been a must buy.

Kathy Sledge split from the group in the early 90s to pursue a solo career and scored a couple of minor chart hits in the U.K. with ‘Take Me Back To Love Again’ (#62-1992) and ‘Another Star’ (#54-1995). In 1997 she provided vocals for the Robert Miles UK#15 hit ‘Freedom’. In the interim a further Sister Sledge remix/greatest hits package was released in 1993 (UK#19) and spawned yet another revival for the group on the British charts. ‘We Are Family (‘93 Remix)’ proved to be the biggest selling version of the song in Britain (#5) in early ‘93, and was followed by top 20 remixes of both ‘Lost In Music’ (#14) and ‘Thinking For You’ (#17), confirming that good songs never really wane in their appeal. Over the course of the 90s further remixes, compilations and a live concert album were released, but sales didn’t extend beyond Sister Sledge’s core fan base. The adventurous 1997 album ‘African Eyes’ combined classic soul/funk with elements of world music, but despite garnering some positive reviews, Sister Sledge’s profile was no longer sufficient to give the album access to the mainstream market. Debbie and Joni Sledge have performed under the Sister Sledge banner as recently as 2004. Several of the groups biggest hits have been covered by other artists, to varying degrees of success. The 1998 version of ‘We Are Family’ by the Spice Girls arguably rates as one of the more palatable efforts in terms of Sister Sledge covers.

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