Rewind: Favorite Diva Albums Of 1985 [Part One]

It's been 30 why not look back at 15 of my favorite diva albums from 1985 and break it up into three parts? 
Yeah, let's do that!

+ Nona Hendryx - The Heat 

No offense to Auntie Patti Labelle, but Nona Hendryx was always the more interesting member of Labelle for me. She is a sci-fi gender-bending sista that could've leapt out of a Octavia Butler novel with her constant shape-shifting style and bold tenacity to fight against playing by the rules. Never can you peg her next move as each project that she dug her chrome polished claws into sounds different from the last. For this Nona was mainly responsible for Labelle to lean towards a more glam rock sound as the '70s progressed, the aesthetic challenging the glamour girl groups of the era like Three Degrees and the Diana Ross-less The Supremes with their contrasting space age attire and sonically complex albums like Phoenix and Chameleon. When Labelle disbanded in the late '70s it was probably for the best as Hendryx could do as she damn well pleased, and she did, as she went deep into experimental sounds for her solo output, churning out such cool entries like 1981's genre bending, Transformation, and 1983's Art Of Defense.

Retaining the witty word play of her Labelle hey-day, Hendryx fit right in with the brash sounds of the 1980s, it all coming ahead with 1985's The Heat, her wildest collection yet. There isn't a classic like "Why Should I Cry" or "Keep It Confidential" on The Heat's tracklisting, or something as mainstream biting as "I Sweat (Going Through The Motions)", but it's still a fun album that features some key guest spots from Dan Hartman and Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, and all the heavy-duty BIG '80s sound you could ever want. It opens with the Afro-Beat frenzy of "Revolutionary Dance" and doesn't let up with Arthur Baker-assembled, "A Girl Like That" and its 2-part title track keeping the flames alight. Hendryx does cool down for the R&B hit, "If Looks Could Kill", which is possibly the one of the great saxophone R&B slow jammies of the 1980s.

A friend pointed out to me once that Hendryx has shades of Tina Turner in her vocality, and I never really noticed it, but now I can't un-hear it whenever I play the epic, "I Need Love". Still, Hendryx pours so much passion and power into this seven-minute track that it's stadium rock balladry at it's finest and she owns every ounce of it.

Stream + Listen: Nona Hendryx - The Heat 


+ Carly Simon - Spoiled Girl

To acknowledge Spoiled Girl is a practice in futility as Simon herself probably doesn't acknowledge the album. For those artists who came out of the 1970s singer-songwriters era, the 1980s were...well, some dark and murky times for them, but Simon, to my ear, seemed to flourish pretty well, hitting more than missing. Spoiled Girl is not Carly Simon's best album (that goes to Another Passenger, thankyouverymuch), and once you tell yourself that, listening to Spoiled Girl is a breeze. Still this album is witchcraft on its own, because out of all the Simon albums that I own (and its a nice little cache), I always tend to go back to this one.

I should be listening to Boys In The Trees or Anticipation or the ethereal No Secrets, but no, I'm listening to how funky the Don Was directed, "Interview" and "Can't Give It Up" are. I'm slipping into the midnight brood brew of "Black Honeymoon", or singing along to the warmness of "Come Back Home". I'm also laughing over how Simon keeps her tongue planted to her cheek to craft a character that is exhausted over being blonde ("Tired Of Being Blonde") while also recounting the liaisons of the desperate housewives (and husbands) of upper-class suburbia long before Bravo Channel was in existence ("The Wives Are In Connecticut").

I should be listening to anything but this, but life wouldn't be as fun now would it?

Stream + Listen: Carly Simon - Spoiled Girl 


+ Gwen Guthrie - Just For You

Gwen Guthrie, who passed away in 1999, was always super underrated from my standpoint. Working largely as a background singer for the likes of Stevie Wonder, Madonna, and Billy Joel, she also was noted for penning classic R&B cuts like "This Time I'll Be Sweeter" and for being a darling of NYC's Paradise Garage, as her musical collaborations with famed DJ Larry Levan were the highlights of the legendary club's tenure.

A year before Gwen Guthrie demanded that she wanted romance with financial security on the classic, "Ain't Nuthin' Goin' On But The Rent", she dropped the Eumir Deodato-produced, Just For You. It didn't exactly burn up the dance floors, not like how "Peanut Butter" and "Padlock" did previously, but there is a cohesiveness, a real nice flow, to this set to make this the most complete Guthrie album after 1983's Sly & Robbie conducted, Portrait.

It's surprising to me that feisty rock opener, "Put Love In Control" wasn't even considered as a single as its grunting electric guitars scream "hit!". Actually lots of songs on this album have hit potential, or could serve as the background pulse during an 'electric bugaloo' dance or high school prom sequence for many a teen flick back then (Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, anyone?), as the noir-ish "Feel It No More" and the funky synth persuasion of "Joy Riders" come to mind. Guthrie can also emotionally invest in a slow-tempo or two as the self-penned and arranged, "Oh Donny No" is a lush highlight that is elevated from being a 'whine and cheese' fest due to Guthrie's nuanced and heartfelt performance.

Stream + Listen: Gwen Guthrie - Just For You


+ Nicole McCloud - What About Me?

Frequent viewers of The X Factor will recall Nicole McCloud's name. In 2013 she caused a bit of controversy when it was discovered that she bent the truth about being an amateur performer, when in fact she had been a professional singer for over 30 years. Oops. Granted that professional singers have actively been contestants on such "reality"-based talent shows for some time now (Kimberly Nichole and E.G. Daily of The Voice immediately come to mind...), but McCloud gets Brownie points for at least exposing this obvious practice, noting that competition shows these days are more so about the rapport between the bromancing and "frenemy" acting judges and not about nurturing new talent. Oh, how naive we were to think talent shows were actually helping people become stars! (Seriously, when was the last time we cared about an American Idol contestant winner?)

What About Me? is the album that squashed McCloud's harmless lie as it was released exactly 30 years ago, and its title is kind of ironic considering McCloud was paid dust when this album was released. "Don't You Want My Love" and her duet with Timmy Thomas, "New York Eyes", were shopped and charted at the cusp of reverence, but from my research they weren't exactly chart grabbers, though "Don't You Want My Love" was a prominent feature in the 1986 Danny DeVito and Bette Midler film, Ruthless People. Still lack of listeners doesn't detract from the fact that What About Me? is a solid R&B/Pop album that I was oh so happy to discover while cruising the fabulous The Isle Of Failed Pop Stars site one day.

There is a nice cover of Heatwave's "Always & Forever" present, but since I was never a huge fan of that song (I know...I'm a monster) I always skip over it and let this album keep on with the funky synth stuff and there is plenty of that going around. "Housecalls", "Ordinary Girl" and "Don't You Want My Love" are just too much fun as they strut about, while the title track is a nice mood piece that makes me wonder why McCloud couldn't fit in with the Evelyn "Champagne" King's and Cherrelle's of this era. Still I really enjoy the trade-off between McCloud and Thomas on "New York Eyes" the most, even though it really doesn't make sense because I guess I have "San Antonio Eyes" and I'm just being jealous.

Stream + Listen: Nicole McCloud - What About Me?


+ Sheila E. - Romance 1600

Let's not be glib here...Though Sheila E. is credited for all eight tracks present on her sophomore album, we all know that Prince is truly the creative force behind this album. In every corner he's busting out, making pancakes, dribbling basketballs, all while locking eyes with you in a hypnotic gaze, making you believe otherwise. Prince's involvement is more glaring on the album's core highlight, the amazing 12-minute funk masterpiece, "A Love Bizarre", and at times I can't tell where the vocal blending of Sheila E. and Prince begins or ends. Then again it's probably intentional, and the natural course of the Purple One's oddball genius at work.

I am sounding a tad harsh though to the 'cool auntie in my head', Miss E, as she does have some creative voice on this as she is performing all the percussion and exuding all the attitude on this wacky little collection of songs. She's not just a piece of tits n' ass, which what a lot of Prince's female proteges usually tended to be (let's not be glib, remember?). Sheila E. will always be my favorite of the proteges for this reason, because even when Prince tries to impose and pile on his influence on her she always seems to come out as her own individual. Her decking herself out in 18th Century Poldark garb doesn't distract that "Sister Fate" kicks up all kinds of dust with its breakneck drum cadences and fussy lyricals. or that her attempt at Prince's burgeoning interest in jazz on the melancholic, "Bedtime Story" and "Yellow" is genuine at best. And really you're kind of an bore if you don't get a kick out of "Toy Box" and the bouncy title track.

Though Romance 1600 is an drunken escapade, Prince does wear his formula thin on this as he seemed to give Sheila E. all his leftover scraps in order to assemble a eight-track album for his in-demand protege. Still as erratic as this album is I give it the extra edge because it attempts to at least be aware that music is supposed to be experimental and it is far from boring. From the mystical wistfulness of "Dear Michelangelo" to Miss E doing what she does best by slaying on percussion for the oddball quickie, "Merci For The Speed Of A Mad Clown", Romance 1600 has us paying for the atmosphere, more so than the meal itself.

Stream + Listen: Sheila E. - Romance 1600
You may also like:

Post a Comment

© audio diva. Design by MangoBlogs.