Sunday, March 26, 2017

Robert Palmer Unintentionally Activates An Electrical Appliance AKA Maybe He Meant To Turn Some Women ... Off?

Before Janet Jackson, there was Cherrelle. Rather than being a hatchback automobile manufactured by General Motors, Cherrelle was actually an R&B singer and early protege of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. While she only had a couple of small pop hits, apparently she was all over the R&B charts, starting with 1984's "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On." Remember when '80s R&B still had a little bit of funk and disco in it? Yeah. However, the "tire screech" synth part is practically holding up a sign saying, "Help me! I've been kidnapped from Prince's '1999'! Please bring take me back! Pleeeeease!" Then there's the video, which appears to have utilized the most awkward special effects since the days of Ray Harryhausen. Ever seen a gorilla pop and lock? You have now.

For reasons not clear to me, Robert Palmer covered "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On" on Riptide; when released as the follow-up single to "Addicted to Love" in 1986, it hit #2. You and I could sit here till the cows come home and debate which version is "better," but let's face it, both have their strengths. First of all, you've got to give the man some credit; he changed it up a bit. He added a whole new synth riff that doesn't sound like it's from "1999," but sounds more like, I don't know, a Vic 20 with epilepsy? And where Cherrelle came off as a bit solemn and diffident, Palmer comes off as genuinely apologetic and taken aback. Cherrelle sounded like she was folding the laundry; Palmer sounds like he's sexy and he can't help it, and he really wasn't paying attention, and, gosh, he genuinely didn't mean to turn you on, you know? Musically, while his version isn't arguably as funky, it's still pretty funky, goosed along, once again, by former Chic drummer Tony Thompson.

The video features the return of the "Addicted to Love" girls, who I presume have been practicing and are now much more capable? This time around, four elegant dancers in white dresses, black gloves, and chiffon boas have joined the proceedings, straight from the Ziegfeld Follies, and I believe they are actually "for real" dancing and not "miming" dancing. He's even got a glamorous sound and lighting crew!

As far as I can tell, most of Palmer's '80s peers considered him to be a pretty stand-up guy, but it turns out not everybody was particularly "turned on" by his charms. Take, for instance, his opening act, who I'm thinking may have landed the slot in 1986 due to a mutual Andy Taylor connection. From Lips Unsealed:
In June, I went on tour with Robert Palmer, who was having monster success with the chart-topping single "Addicted to Love." I was his opening act, and he was not very nice to me. He was aloof, condescending, and dismissive. He spoke to me only once during the entire month we traveled together and that was to ask if I had any drugs. I didn't. It was the first time I could ever say no. He shrugged, walked away, and never had anything to do with me again.
Damn it, Belinda! You blew it! You got sober too soon. You totally missed your chance to bond with Robert Palmer!

Priceless. Opening act for Robert Palmer? He probably thought she was just a disposable little simpleton. "How dare they pair me up with that silly L.A. fluff muffin!" He, on the other hand, was an artist, a man who played R&B music, real music, like ... "Addicted to Love," OK?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At one point in the 70s Palmer opened for Bob Welch who then had something of a career. This was before Palmer fully committed to that louche banker image that he adopted in the 80s and kept for the rest of his career. Good for him because it was not at all clear what he was trying achieve in the 70s except maybe simply to remain in the music business. Nothing wrong with that - gotta find your way and back then record companies allowed artists to develop over several albums.

Palmer didn't (at least at that time) have much of a stage persona nor would it have been at all natural for him to try, (like Bowie), to assume new identities for each record. He stuck with the basics - good vocal technique, no stupid stage props, good backing musicians and singers. But he didn't really "do anything" on stage other than sing and pretty much stay in the same spot the whole set. It was like watching an episode of Playboy After Dark wherein he was a crooner working through a set of standards in a smoky bar. Not necessarily bad but then again he was being pitched to rock audiences.

At his worst, at least from a live perspective, it was like seeing a competent touring professional sit in with an equally as professional (or better) house band that was unsure of what extent to get involved with the music other than to just play it. Yes the band was solid. Yes Palmer would show up well-dressed with nice hair but he then came off as a guy trying to look much older at a time when no one really wanted something like that. I remember a girl at the concert asking "He looks like he could be 25 or 45 - was he in a band before this ?". However, the Yuppy explosion of the 80s was perfect for his career since image consciousness was a really big thing. So it was a matter of an audience finding him as opposed to the other way around. That's not often the case in a music career.