Jheri Curl June: Rick James’ “Glow”

Rick James never actually sported a jheri curl, yet he inarguably made some of the best jheri curl music of the first half of the 1980s. By his 1985 album Glow, however, he had lost even his long glittery braids in favor of a curly, light dye job that made him look more like Rowlf the Muppet dog than a freaky punk funker. His music had become similarly faded, limp, and lackluster. But Glow‘s title track is still worth mentioning–mostly because the video is nothing short of amazing.

The video opens with a spoken introduction by Rick James, giving the audience somewhat of a fair warning about what they’re about to see. The next image we see is James in an all white suit, chasing the lady from the “Give it to Me Baby” video across a beach in slow motion. I guess that’s some kind of metaphor for something. Fade in to a shot of a light brown poodle laying on top of someone’s aunt’s laundry… Oh wait, never mind, that’s Rick James again, his head slumped on the table of his dressing room vanity next to a half-empty fifth of Jack Daniels. You know, like a rock star. His manager is worried about him, his girlfriend can no longer stand to see him “do this to himself,” and on top of it all, as the band plays the fanfare-like opening cords to “Glow,” James saunters out, swinging his bottle, and takes a very obvious spill in front of the microphone. This seems to be the last straw, because as the crowd jeers and his concerned girlfriend looks on, James literally kicks his alcohol problem clear off the stage with a thigh-high leopard print high-heeled boot. The crowd goes wild and the group bursts once again into “Glow.”

The whole thing just smacks of a really bad Purple Rain ripoff: James plays a tortured musician with a penchant for frilly shirts, although this time he’s struggling with alcoholism rather than just controlling artist tendencies like in Purple Rain (or with a cocaine habit, like in Rick James’ reality). Music video aside, with its background synthesizer noodling, the song is undeniably very jheri. Although “Glow” is barely worth mentioning when compared to James’ high points–such as everything on Street Songsit’s interesting to note that it was only his second (albeit also last) single to reach number one on the dance chart, the first one being “Super Freak.” One thing’s for sure, Rick James was robbed of the Academy Award for best actor in 1985.

Playlist after the jump!

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Jheri Curl June: Ready for the World’s “Love You Down”

Today we give a shout-out to Flint, Michigan‘s own sultry jheri-ballad kings, Ready for the World. They were discovered by the WJLB Detroit radio personality The Electrifying Mojo in 1982, and gained underground notoriety in both Flint and Detroit for “Tonight,” the song that would eventually become the lead single for their 1985 self-titled debut. “Love You Down,” like “Tonight,” is another sexy opening track, this time for their 1986 sophomore album, the confusingly-titled Long Time Coming.

The video for “Love You Down” is shot entirely in sepia, which as everyone knows was the universally recognized shade of sexiness for music videos in the ’80s and early ’90s. Singer Melvin Riley’s jheri curl emerges from the ominous darkness, his curls highlighted by the dark, as he lisps his way through a slow, sensual jam in which he seduces an older woman.

After their second album, Ready for the World had lost the magic and disbanded after two more releases, only to be reunited in the early 2000s with some seriously unmemorable, poor man’s R. Kelly-sounding R&B. But as a Michigan original and true proponents of the Minneapolis sound (no, that wasn’t a typo), Ready for the World will forever hold a place in jheri curl history.

Remember to read past the jump for the updated Spotify playlist!

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Dystopian Road Mix Vol. 2: Eastern Michigan to Washington, D.C. (Part 1)

It seems like it was less than a month ago when I last hit the road for the thirteen-hour drive from Kansas City, Missouri to Port Huron, Michigan–probably because it was. But here we are in mid-June, and it’s already time for Callie and I to strike out again on the ol’ dusty trail, to pick up my son from his mom’s new home in the Washington, D.C. area and take him to spend a few weeks with his dad’s side of the family. The good news is that the trip from Eastern Michigan to Northern Virginia is an especially musically rich one: beginning, I’m excited to say, with quite possibly my favorite music city in the world, Detroit.

Now for the bad news. Turns out the trip is a little too musically rich for me to wrap up my post in time for our actual departure. As a result, I’m splitting this Road Mix into two parts: the first part, focusing on Detroit and ending in Toledo, Ohio, goes up today. The second part, covering the rest of the trip from Cleveland to D.C., will be finished in time for my second Michigan-to-Virginia road trip next month, when I actually move to the area for good. It’s a little lop-sided, I know, but trust me: Detroit alone has enough musical history to make the first two hours of a nine-hour trip feel like enough material for the first half. And besides, even if I had managed to crank the whole trip out in one post, it would probably be like 10,000 words, and even I don’t want to read all that. So anyway, here it is: Part 1 of my two-part journey from the upper Midwest to the lower East Coast.

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Jheri Curl June: Cameo’s “Candy”

William Shakespeare once wrote, “Be not afraid of jheri-curl: some are born jheri-curl, some achieve jheri-curl, and some have jheri-curl thrust upon them” (note: I may be misremembering this quote). Cameo, founded by the inimitable Larry Blackmon in 1974, belonged to the latter category: they started out as a straight-up funk band in the P-Funk vein, but by the mid-’80s they were jheri-curl as all getout…even if Blackmon was more likely to rock a fade. “Candy,” from their 1986 album Word Up, is a great late-’80s example of the style–plus, as a bonus, it has one of the most demented music videos I’ve ever seen.

Look, I don’t even know where to start here: the way the video begins with a slow pan across a city scene and then lingers on Blackmon’s codpieced crotch; the repeated shots of the singer leaping into the frame, getting closer and closer until you can practically count the individual hairs on his moustache; the stocky guy in leather flamboyantly putting his hands on his hips and mouthing “you’re so dandy.” But I know exactly where to end: that indelible image, right before the guitar solo, where a massive Blackmon stomps Godzilla-style into the middle of the street and wiggles his codpiece, while the people below seem more concerned with slowly marching in a circle than with the very real possibility of being crushed to death by Larry Blackmon’s balls. But hey, I guess if you gotta go, that’s one way to do it. Cocaine’s a helluva drug.

Playlist as always is below the jump; we’ll see you soon!

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Jheri Curl June: The System’s “The Pleasure Seekers”

Most of our choices for Jheri Curl June so far have fallen between 1981 and 1983, and for good reason: those years were arguably the high point of jheri curl’s Golden Age. But as we reach the second half of our month-long celebration, I wanted to also shift our focus to the second half of the decade, and the evolution that took place for jheri curl music in those years. And who better to do that with than the System?

A partnership between singer/guitarist Michael “Mic” Murphy and session keyboardist David Frank, the System formed in 1982 and, thanks to Frank’s expertise in studio technology, quickly developed into one of the jheri-curl era’s most sonically sophisticated meldings of electronic production and pop-R&B songwriting. In fact, by the time of their third album, 1985’s The Pleasure Seekers, their sound was almost too sophisticated: all of the various synthesizer tones, electronic percussion sounds, and other assorted studio trickery make the title track sound a bit schizophrenic, almost like a more radio-friendly Art of Noise rather than conventional jheri-curl. But if you think I’m calling the System’s JCM credentials into question, you’ve got another think coming: I mean, just get a load of Murphy’s hair in the video, which is surely a contender for the Jheri Curl Hall of Fame if ever I’ve seen one. It’s like Prince‘s Purple Rain-era hair had a baby with Little Richard’s jheri-pompadour, and then left that hair-baby out in the rain for several hours. In short, it’s glorious.

You know the deal: playlist after the jump, see you again tomorrow!

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