The last post of Jheri Curl June is always a bittersweet one to write. On the one hand, there’s the satisfaction of knowing we have another solid month’s worth of writing about classic 1980s R&B under our belts; but on the other, there’s the sense of emptiness that comes when we realize we have to wait another whole year before we can start the festivities again. Luckily, Scritti Politti’s ebullient 1988 single “Boom! There She Was” is here to take out some of the sting.
Scritti Politti’s leader, Green Gartside, is a man after my own heart. Like many British art students in 1977, he was inspired to form a band after catching the Sex Pistols on their legendary “Anarchy” tour; the name “Scritti Politti” was chosen as a play on the political writings (“Scritti Politici”) of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, mixed with Little Richard‘s “Tutti Frutti.” So far, so cool, right? Well, in the early ’80s, Gartside went home to Caerleon, Wales, where he started listening to his sister’s R&B records; then, around the same time, he heard Black radio while visiting Florida. “[T]hat’s where I first heard ‘the funk,'” he later told The Quietus. “The System, Zapp… artists like that. There was a rapid change of influences combined with a disgust at big-I ‘Indie’ being born. It didn’t take long to say, ‘Fuck that, let’s do this instead.'” And by “this,” he of course meant this:
I know what some of you are thinking: going from hip, underground post-punk rocker to goofball blue-eyed soul singer ain’t exactly everyone’s idea of an enviable career trajectory. But speaking as a fellow overeducated white boy who rejected the “indie” aesthetic in favor of slickly-produced schlock-R&B, I understand exactly where Gartside was coming from. And besides, “Boom! There She Was” has Roger Troutman on it. Roger! Who doesn’t love Roger?
So yes, Jh3ri Curl Jun3 is over. But before we know it, boom! There June 2017 will be. I hope to see you again then. In the meantime…you know where to find the playlists.
Few artists exemplify the ability of jheri curl music to cross racial boundaries like Dan Hartman. This is a man who started his career as a sideman for the literal whitest musician of all time, Edgar Winter, and went on to co-write and produce for one of the Blackest, James Brown. So it should come as no surprise that he dabbled in that ultimate hybrid genre, Jheri Curl, in-between.
Unlike our previous picks for White Boys’ week, however, Dan Hartman’s take on JCM is truly heterogeneous: roughly one part synthesized pop-soul to two parts classic 1980s butt-rock. If his 1984 hit “We Are the Young” wasn’t on the soundtrack to Miami Vice, the producers really missed a trick; this song is basically Don Johnson set to music.
Tomorrow, sadly, is our last day of Jh3ri Curl Jun3. In the meantime, enjoy the Spotify and YouTube playlists after the jump.
Look, I know we called this final week of Jh3ri Curl Jun3 White Boys’ Week, but I think we would be remiss to talk about jheri curl music’s appropriators without a shoutout to the anointed queen of all swagger-jackers: Madonna. Almost a decade before she brought a sanitized version of Harlem drag ball culture to Middle America with her 1990 smash “Vogue,” the future Material Girl was attempting to crack the R&B charts with her debut single, 1982’s “Everybody”–which, in a brazen act of reverse racial passing, released with a 12″ cover designed by Lou Beach, featuring contemporary “urban” signifiers like brownstone buildings, graffiti, a police officer, a few anonymous children of color…and Madonna’s white ass nowhere to be seen.
The ruse didn’t last long, of course; when a music video for “Everybody” was released in early 1983, it became evident that the newcomer who’d been burning up the “Black” charts was as white as the driven snow (I mean, those dance moves alone). But even later that year, when she released her self-titled debut album sporting her now-iconic peroxide-blonde New Wave Marilyn Monroe look, it was easy to hear why so many early listeners had her pegged as an African American artist. Just listen to “Lucky Star,” the album’s fourth and highest-charting single. All the ingredients for jheri curl music we described in our video back at the beginning of the month are present and accounted for: from the crisp, clean-sounding guitar and bass to the Oberheim OB-X synthesizer and Linn drum machine–two tools of the trade that should sound very familiar to fans of Madonna’s 1980s dance-pop peer, Prince.
So yes, Madonna did jheri curl, and she did it well. But like many a swagger-jacker before and after her, it didn’t take long for her to move on; by her next album, 1984’s Nile Rodgers-produced Like a Virgin, she was taking her sound in a more self-consciously pop-oriented direction. But I have to admit, I still have a soft spot for Madonna’s short-lived jheri curl era–and for the days when the words “Madonna” and “Black” didn’t produce an instant wince of second-hand embarrassment. Go ahead, white girl. You really were the luckiest by far.
But Daryl Hall and John Oates did not become the most successful pop duo solely from their songwriting skills, singing prowess, or crossover appeal. Oh no, the 1980s were the music video era, and the inception of MTV in 1981 also had a huge hand in Hall & Oates’ appeal–which is perplexing, since their videos are literally just a collection of weird dance moves, awkward camera angles, and a whole lot of Hall and Oates jumping in front of the camera. I mean, sure, there was definitely a learning curve for everyone with early music videos–as we saw earlier this month with Patrice Rushen–but Hall & Oates are truly better heard and not seen. Some of their videos definitely should have been career enders, much like Billy Squier’s ill fated video for “Rock Me Tonite” (“Method of Modern Love,” I’m looking at you).
The video for “I Can’t Go for That” actually isn’t that bad, as far as Hall & Oates videos go–although the entire first minute is just a bunch of closeup shots of Daryl’s hands interspersed with clips of him wandering back and forth in front of the camera. The simple black background and lighting is a nice complement to the song’s steamy soul sound, though, with bonus points for John Oates’ and saxophonist Charles DeChant’s synchronized hand gestures toward the end.
Jheri Curl June White Boy Week continues tomorrow with more music from artists who could never pull off an actual jheri curl. Spotify and YouTube playlists are below!
Coming to America, directed by John Landis in 1988, has done more for the continued relevance of the jheri curl than any other cultural force save, perhaps, for Michael Jackson. Run a Google Image or YouTube search for “jheri curl”–which I have, many more times than I should probably admit, in the course of my duties for this blog–and references to Coming to America will almost certainly be among the first hits. For that matter, just bring up the moviein conversation, and chances are the scenes you remember will be jheri-curl-related: the couch stained with activator grease, Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate (see above), fuckin’ Soul Glo. Coming to America isn’t just Jheri Curl Cinema: it’s practically cinema about jheri curls.