Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Sylvers Mine More Musical Gold

The Sylvers needed something special to satisfy the public’s appetite, and produced it via the first single from their next album 'Something Special(US#80/OZ#65). ‘Hot Line’ made a call to the U.S. Hot 100 during October ‘76, and eventually dialled the right number at #5 in January ‘77 (OZ#26). It was followed up by the equally catchy ‘High School Dance’ (US#17) a few months later. Overall the album was a well balanced mix of hook laden dance numbers and smooth soulful ballads. By mid ‘77 Perren had applied his golden touch to The Sylvers and, for a brief time anyway, their profile rivalled that of the Jacksons.

The Sylvers’ next album reflected their new found status, at least on the surface. The cover artwork for ‘New Horizons’ (US#134) had the seven remaining members (both Charmaine and Olympia had left) looking very Jacksons-like, and the inside sleeve offered you the chance to join The Sylvers international fan club. For just $5.50 members received an official membership card, giant poster magazine, autographed colour photo, two photo book covers, a welcome letter from The Sylvers, official newsletter, official photo kit cover, and information on how you could part with more of your hard earned by purchasing posters/calendars etc. Unfortunately one thing the album was missing was the knock-out single offered up by the previous two. Freddie Perren was no longer overseeing production, which had been taken over by The Sylvers themselves, most notably Leon, and the songs had apparently become less spontaneous and more formulaic. The only single to chart from ‘New Horizons’ was ‘Any Way You Want Me’ which peaked at a disappointing #72 on the U.S. Hot 100 in late ‘77.

After ‘New Horizons’ offered up a cooler reception, The Sylvers parted company with Capitol but were soon snapped up by the Casablanca label. Their next album ‘Forever Yours’ (US#132) yielded the solid #15 R&B hit ‘Don’t Stop Get Off’, but otherwise attracted little attention in a market saturated with disco/dance acts. It was produced by Leon Sylvers III and was a clear attempt by the group to break free of the overtly commercial ‘bubblegum’ soul that had worked so effectively on the Perren produced albums - unfortunately it didn’t find much of an audience. 1978 also saw Foster Sylvers release another solo album, with a self titled effort.

The Sylvers then lost key member Leon to the group in 1979. He had left to form the group Dynasty, acting as producer/bassist to the group which also included vocalists Kevin Spencer, Nidra Beard and Linda Carriere. Whilst Leon had left the Sylvers musical dynasty his new venture scored an immediate top 20 hit in the U.K. of all places (somewhere that The Sylvers hadn’t managed to conquer). ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Freak’ peaked at #20 on the British charts late in ‘79. Dynasty went on to notch up a couple of minor hits over the next few years with ‘I’ve Just Begun To Love You’ (US#87/UK#51) in 1980 and ‘Does That Ring A Bell’ (UK#53) in 1983. Meanwhile The Sylvers had turned to disco/dance guru producer Giorgio Moroder for their next album, the appallingly titled ‘Disco Fever’. With a title like that, The Sylvers were throwing all their eggs in the disco basket, and even released a disco-fied version of the Diana Ross ballad ‘Mahogany’. Sadly it was mass produced disco at its most trite, and didn’t do justice to the reputation The Sylvers had worked so hard to establish over the previous decade.

Following the disaster of ‘Disco Fever’, The Sylvers parted company with Casablanca and signed to the Solar label. For the 1981 album ‘Concept’ the group had dwindled to a quintet including Foster, James, Patricia, Ricky and Angelia, with Leon contributing on bass. Aside from the single ‘Come Back Lover, Come Back’ (US#63 Club Play) the R&B focussed album merely reinforced the fact that The Sylvers’ golden era had passed, and like so many stars of the disco-funk era they found themselves unceremoniously consigned to has-been status. With the ‘Concept’ experiment failing to revive The Sylvers’ fortunes, the group was offered one last lifeline by the Geffen label. 1984’s swansong album ‘Bizarre’ provided a handful of highlights, with sister Charmaine rejoining the fray on the minor hit singles ‘In One Love And Out The Other’ (US#42 R&B) and ‘Falling For Your Love’ (US#76 R&B).

Several members of the group maintained ties to the music industry but none emulated the success of The Sylvers as a collective. Whilst never quite attaining the lofty heights or iconic status of the Jacksons, The Sylvers can rightly be regarded as one of the classier and more substantive family based groups to have emerged in popular music history.

Dial up the ‘Hot Line’ via the following YouTube clip (introduced by Captain & Tennille):

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