The last week of Jheri Curl June is always a story of decline, and this year’s is no exception: like yesterday’s song by After 7, today’s closing track is more New Jack Swing with a residual curl than it is JCM proper. Hell, El DeBarge even appeared on the cover of its parent album, Gemini, with a hairstyle more appropriate for the dawn of the 1990s–and when El DeBarge loses his jheri curl, you know it’s the end of an era.
After 7 were formed in 1988, just in time to partake in Jheri Curl Music’s swan song before the genre gave way to the emerging New Jack Swing style. The group consisted of Kevon and Melvin Edmonds–brothers of singer, songwriter, and Jheri Curl June inductee Babyface–as well as Keith Mitchell, who was (incorrectly) rumored to be the cousin of music mogul (and another JCJ featured artist) L.A. Reid. Both Babyface and Reid wrote and produced much of After 7’s 1989 debut album, including their hit single and late Jheri Curl jam, “In the Heat of the Moment.”
The first time I encountered a record by R.J.’s Latest Arrival, it was in a bargain bin at 2nd & Charles in Woodbridge, Virginia. The moment I saw their 1986 album Hold On, with its mid-’80s barbershop’s assortment of jheri curls on the back cover, I knew I had to have it (it helped that it cost less than three dollars).
The fact that Sananda Maitreya, the artist formerly known as Terence Trent D’Arby, was not considered for Jheri Curl June until our fourth year is surprising. Of course, his music isn’t Jheri Curl proper–few artists were, by the end of the ’80s–but the influence of Michael Jackson and Prince is particularly obvious.
Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby is a debut album with a title as cumbersome as you would expect from the man who once claimed that it’s the most important album since Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. I will neither support nor dispute that claim, but I will say that for a late ’80s R&B album, Hardline has certainly held up–and while we’re making comparisons, I’d much rather fuck with D’Arby’s album in the background rather than “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” I doubt even the most devoted Beatles stans can argue with that.
Anyway, Hardline also garnered D’Arby’s several hit singles, including “Wishing Well” and “Sign Your Name.” But it was the lesser known track “Let’s Go Forward” in which D’Arby was at his most Jheri Curl. The sad robot-like atmosphere of the song sounds like a more mature version of Jesse Johnson’s “I Want My Girl.”
We’re nearing the end of Jheri Curl June, but there are still a few posts left; meanwhile, check out the playlists below!
This month is of course not only the holiest month on the Dystopian Dance Party calendar, but also Pride Month for the LGBT community, commemorating the Stonewall uprisings of June 1969. So I thought today was as good a time as any to talk about one of our favorite LGBT Jheri Curl artists (LGBTJC?), Jermaine Stewart.
Stewart is best known for his 1986 hit “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off”–which is, for the record, the fucking jam–and for having quite possibly the most iconic blowout-and-thin-moustache combo in the game. But he had an illustrious career behind the scenes, as well: starting out as a dancer on Soul Train, then just missing a place in the group Shalamar, for whom he went on to dance and sing backing vocals; he can also be heard singing backup on Culture Club’s 1984 hit “Miss Me Blind.”
It was the Soul Train/Shalamar connection that led to “Jody,” Stewart’s second-best-known solo song, inspired by his close friend and former Shalamar frontwoman (/previous JCJ profilee), Jody Watley. It’s also a jam, with a dark electro-funk vibe reminiscent of 1999-era Prince.
Sadly, Jermaine Stewart’s life ended in a way his ebullient spirit didn’t deserve: he died of AIDS-related liver cancer in 1997, at just 39 years old. His passing echoes that of many other gay men who came of age before treatment and prevention of HIV were widely accessible–a reminder of one of the many reasons why Pride Month is important. Which, I realize, is a bummer of a way to end this post, but hey: if listening to Jermaine Stewart can’t put a smile on your face, what else can? You can hear him, and the rest of this month’s artists, on the playlists below.