Skip to comments.You Had Sparkle In Your Eye: The Funk Ballads of Cameo
Posted on 01/18/2014 9:29:06 PM PST by nickcarraway
You Had Sparkle In Your Eye: The Funk Ballads of Cameo Cameo rose in the late 70s just as disco started to supersede funk with the four-on-the-floor beat that drove folks all over the world into a dancing frenzy. The group spearheaded by visionary New York City musician Larry Blackmon signed with Casablanca Records, discos premier label and recording home for its queen, Donna Summer.
Though the band flirted with disco early on, Cameo scored immediately with R&B lovers who preferred their dance music with more groove and less glitter. The group built its reputation on unrelenting jams such as Rigor Mortis, Funk Funk, and I Just Want to Be. And unlike other brassy funk bands of the 70s, Cameo brilliantly transitioned into the high-tech 80s, downsizing from 10-plus members to three, including Larry, Nathan Leftenant and Tomi Jenkins, a jewel of a tenor.
The guys were often ahead of the curve, smartly blending hip-hop into their funk brew when the genre was still considered something of a novelty. They scored bigger, era-defining hits in the 80s, including Shes Strange, Single Life, Word Up and Candy.
The sleek, groove-rich music was buttressed by Cameos bold image. The guys dressed in outrageous outfits that suggested underground leather culture. Larry, the groups focal point, was famous (infamous?) for donning a red codpiece.
But beyond the steely edged party starters that catapulted the group to the top of the charts, Cameo had long been fine purveyors of the funk ballad. The essential ingredients of their aggressive jams the thick, elastic bass lines, the spare, artful use of synthesizers, and the mix of staccato and fluid harmonic structures surfaced on the ballads. The blend was just mellower, imbued with jazzy touches, like a blues-suffused, serpentine saxophone or a floating, muted trumpet.
Like their contemporaries Ohio Players, Commodores, the Bar-Kays and the Gap Band, Cameo usually offered a nice balance of incinerating cuts and smooth joints, the kind Quiet Storm stations spun after hours.
But a mellower groove didnt always suggest romance for Cameo. We Always Know Who We Are, the title track of the groups 1978 sophomore album, carries a nationalist focus, an optimistic spiritual journey not unlike the keep-your-head-up ballads Earth, Wind & Fire was making at the time. That album also featured Why Have I Lost You, a lovesick slow jam that recalls the best of the doo wop-dipped ballads of early Delfonics. The group recorded it again just three years later on the 1980 Cameosis album, but its not as endearing as the original.
The next year, Cameo released one of their best albums, Secret Omen, featuring the sublime Sparkle, the groups first ballad to peak in the Top 10. Tomi invests the lyric with the right amount of restraint and emotional fire, backed by a sparse arrangement brightened with a muted trumpet and airy synths.
Ill Always Stay, a gem on Knights of the Sound Table, Cameos 1981 album, sounds like a sugar-dusted melody the Stylistics forgot to record. The band was averaging an album almost every six months, each progressively better than the last. Cameo reached an artistic peak on 1984s Shes Strange.
The trios balladry became more elegant, the lyrics almost cinematic. Hangin Downtown, a highlight from the album, is the groups finest ballad, an aching tale of heartbreak in the city. The swooshing synths in the intro suggest the cold wind sweeping around the protagonist as he walks the streets, looking for a distraction from the loneliness following a break-up. Tomi crystallizes the end of the cosmopolitan romance as he croons, Been tied to lonesome roads, making residence in two-bit, four-wall domiciles/Never time for what is needed/So Ill grab a bite to eat and maybe grab a smile.
The groups balladry folded in glossier rock and pop elements on A Goodbye, a cut from 1985s Single Life. But the guys returned to earthier soulful slow jams on 1986s Word Up, Cameos biggest album, with Dont Be Lonely, another thoughtful look at heartbreak but from a different angle, when karma evens up the score.
At the dawn of the 90s, hip-hop and New Jack Swing started to obliterate traditional funk and R&B, even as the genres pilfered from them. Cameos recording output puttered, and the hits stopped. But the groups mix of daring music and visuals absolutely left a mark. They always brought the funk no matter the trends. But something special sparkled on the ballads.
Git down with yer bad self!
I gotta check this out tomorrow
That was when some of the most popular music was often the most fun to listen to. Even those who thought they couldn’t dance, involutarily moved their feet to the beat. Romantic songs without being sad songs or embittered odes to past monoliths of a schoolboys life. Prince the performer from Milwalkee. was writing songs for Chaka Khan.
I am so glad the cod piece never took off as fashion.
But the hi-top fade caught on.
[personally, I like them]
No, the hair style.
Roasted Cod with Pancetta and Artichoke Pesto
Ah, well...I never wore the hairstyle.
Aaaaand....now I’m hungry.
Those dogs LIE!
[I love that one, too...in spite of the absence of codpieces]
Say...suddenly, the old saying “Let sleeping dogs lie” seems eerily relevant...but reverse it.
I posted that already tonight.
Two lying dogs lying.
And a partridge in......
Open 2 windows and “sync” both Word Up videos.
There was some brilliance there. Their song “Word Up!” has been covered at least a dozen times by absolutely different artists, from Korn, Scottish rock band Gun, and even one of the Spice Girls did a (poor) cover.
Rather remarkably, it begins with a sample from Ennio Morricone’s opening theme of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
My favorite, southern swamp blues kind of cover for it is by Brit Hayley Willis, that was used in an episode of CSI (Las Vegas).
Radically different in character from the campy original.