We’ve talked a fair amount on this blog about the, ahem, interesting similarities between Rick James’ Mary Jane Girls and Prince’s Vanity 6: a concept James always maintained he came up with first, only for the Paisley Bandit to swoop in and summarily bite it. But if other stories are to be believed, Prince was actually biting from someone much closer to home: his first bass player and one-time surrogate brother, André Cymone.
The rocky relationship between Prince and Cymone is another thing we’ve discussed in Jheri Curl Junes past, and it should be noted that Prince had a history of “borrowing” from his friend and collaborator: “Do Me, Baby,” among other early songs, was by all accounts an André Cymone joint. So it wasn’t exactly a shock to hear that Prince got the idea for a girl group after catching wind of Cymone’s own side project, creatively named “the Girls.” At some point, according to the excellent (and sadly out of print) biography Dance Music Sex Romance, André and Prince even combined their ideas for the group, then known as “the Hookers”; André, however, walked away after realizing that Prince wanted him to do the work without taking any of the credit. And the rest was history: the Hookers became Vanity 6, who became Apollonia 6, and Cymone’s “Girls” released their debut album in 1984, to commercial and critical indifference.
Like so much of the Prince/André Cymone saga, it’s easy to look at the Girls and imagine what might have been. They’re similar to Vanity 6, of course, but also distinct: their style is less Frederick’s of Hollywood, more New Wave Hookers. It’s also worth noting that all three of the “Girls”–Sheila Rankin, Germain Brooks, and Doris Ann Rhodes–were visibly African American, a marked contrast to the “crossover”-friendly ethnic ambiguity of Denise “Vanity” Matthews and company. And their songs are fun Minneapolis pop-funk with a heavier-than-usual dose of New Wave, very much in the vein of Cymone’s solo work from the same period; it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if some of the Girls’ debut album, Girl Talk, had been written by Cymone back when he was still involved with “the Hookers.” Had André and not Prince been the one with the major label deal at the time, Girl Talk would probably have the same cult-classic status as the Vanity 6 album does today.
But Prince was the one with the deal, and he also–sorry, André–had the edge in crafting memorable hooks. So, while Rankin, Brooks, and Rhodes were undeniably better singers than Denise and Susan, none of their material was as musically groundbreaking as “Nasty Girl,” or as charismatically camp as “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)” (though the title track of Girl Talk gets an “A” for effort). But what is Jheri Curl June all about, if not celebrating the underdog? We dig the Girls, and if you’re reading this, we think you would dig them too. Check them out on the Spotify and YouTube playlists below–and come back tomorrow for more underrated tracks from the ladies of Jheri Curl Music!
Penny Ford (a.k.a. Pennye Ford, for reasons unknown) began her musical career as a backup singer for Zapp in 1979...