Jheri Curl June: Jermaine Stewart’s “Jody”

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.

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Jheri Curl June: O’Bryan’s “Lovelite”

I stumbled upon O’Bryan sometime last year, in one of my annual trawls through the underbelly of the Internet looking for fresh Jheri Curl Music. Born O’Bryan McCoy Burnette II, he cut his teeth in the 1970s Philadelphia soul and disco scene, before a fortuitous meeting with Soul Train creator Don Cornelius resulted in his being signed to Capitol Records. A singer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist with an exotic, ethnically ambiguous look, O’Bryan was a shoo-in to be Capitol’s answer to the rising star Prince.

The problem was that O’Bryan took things a little too far. While Prince was blowing up MTV with the low-key erotica of his videos for Purple Rain, O’Bryan was getting banned from MTV for actually showing titties in the video for “Lovelite.” Turns out that embracing a soft-porn aesthetic can make you a star, while literally putting soft porn in your videos will just make you a historical footnote. Still, there are definitely boobs in the video above, so enjoy!

We’ll see you again tomorrow–Spotify and YouTube playlists, as always, are below.

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Jheri Curl June: The Bar-Kays’ “She Talks to Me with Her Body”

Few groups in the history of R&B have been as long-lived, or as chameleonic, as the Bar-Kays. The Memphis group got their start in the mid-’60s as a session band for Stax Records, with songs like 1967’s “Soul Finger” fitting squarely into the label’s signature sound. At the turn of the decade, like many other soul groups, they went psychedelic, backing Isaac Hayes on his epochal 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul, then recording their own Black Rock. In the ’70s, they were pure funk. So it should come as no surprise that the Bar-Kays were among the first groups of their vintage to recognize the wind change in the early ’80s and embrace the style we call Jheri Curl Music.

Like last year’s Jheri Curl June alums Ebonee Webb–who shared with the Bar-Kays a manager and producer, Allen A. Jones–the main frame of reference was Prince, with whining Minneapolis-style keyboards taking the place of traditional Memphis-soul horns (and no, that horn section miming in the Soul Train video above isn’t fooling anyone). But there’s also more than a touch of Zapp in the band’s 1982 single “She Talks to Me with Her Body,” from the short snatches of talkbox to that “More Bounce to the Ounce” bass. In fact–and ironically–the only thing that wasn’t Jheri Curl about the Bar-Kays in 1982 was lead singer Larry Dodson’s hair, which appears to be the same heavily-processed dome he wore to Wattstax in 1973, looking a little worse for wear. C’mon man, get some activator at least!

We’ll be back tomorrow with more Jheri Curl June–Spotify and YouTube playlists are below!

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Dystopian Listening Party Podcast: David Bowie, 1947-2016

Last week, we decided that our next podcast would be devoted to one of our mutual favorite artists, David Bowie, in celebration of his 69th birthday and the release of his 25th studio album: sort of a more personal companion piece to the career-spanning Bowie guide we published that Friday. We didn’t expect to be recording an elegy.

Early Monday morning, however, we got the sad news that Bowie was no longer with us. That news irrevocably changed the tone of our tribute, which we recorded on Tuesday night. But it isn’t all solemn mourning (though one of us does cry at one point–no spoilers which one). Instead, the following is a personal reflection on the many ways in which pop music–that tawdry, cheap, commercial entertainment–can shape, and even irrevocably change our lives, through the prism of an entertainer who did just that for both us. We hope you enjoy it!

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Jheri Curl June: Jody Watley’s “Still a Thrill”

One of my favorite things about researching and writing for Jheri Curl June is the complex web of connections between the various artists within the genre. Today’s selection, Chicago‘s Jody Watley, is no exception. Naturally, as with most things jheri curl, many roads lead back to Minneapolis: Watley’s 1987 solo debut was co-produced by Prince‘s childhood friend and former bandmate–and, as of this year, JCJ vet in his own right–André Cymone. The other producer on the album? None other than David Z, the older brother of Revolution drummer Bobby, who engineered much of Prince’s work through the mid-1980s.

But Watley is far from just another footnote of the ever-sprawling Prince Dynasty; she’s a part of jheri curl history on her own strengths. She got her start in the late 1970s as a dancer on Soul Train, where legendary host Don Cornelius chose her to join his in-house vocal group Shalamar (more on them next week). And Cymone wasn’t just a producer Watley nabbed for his Minneapolis-Sound cred; the pair were romantically involved, and would later marry for several years beginning in 1989, with a son, Arie, born in 1992.

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