Monday, March 26, 2007

Freestyle - A Retrospective

I'm currently more excited than the Pointer Sisters! Pop Trash Addicts has its first guest contributor and he could not be any more fabulous. Jamie should be familiar to anyone who has ever visited SayHey, the Dannii Board, La Toya's Haven, Togermano or the AATW forums. In addition to being a forum phenomenon, Jamie is a co-founder of The Church Of La Toya, creator of We Love Kelly Llorenna and the mastermind behind Jamie's Movie Trip. When he's not ruling the internet, Jamie can be found worshipping at his shrine to Morgan Fairchild or dogging around rural England. As a huge fan of Freestyle, I have been considering making a post about it for some time. Unfortunately, I lack the expertise to write anything sensible. Jamie, on the other hand, is the gay bible of Freestyle and his post and musical selection is nothing short of spectacular. Enjoy!

The Freestyle movement was born in the clubs and streets of New York and Miami in the 1980s, wherever there was a strong Hispanic community who fused traditional influences with hot club beats to create a whole new sub-genre. Artists like Shannon and Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam (with Full Force) were the first acts to enjoy major success with their international hits "Let The Music Play" and "I Wonder If I Take You Home". Soon after, acts like Sweet Sensation and Expose were being launched as Freestyle groups began making albums almost exclusively filled with Freestyle tracks and hits!

Shannon was the first artist to score a major Freestyle hit with "Let The Music Play" in 1983. The electro based track incorporated a soulful vocal with electronic enhancements and an Electro inspired beat. Shannon scored a massive crossover hit from the dance charts to the Billboard Top 10, and the UK Top 20. The track is still considered a classic and has been covered by many a C-list dance diva, including Mary Kiani who had a Top 10 hit with her butchering of it in 1996 (Blasphemy!). Kelly Llorenna is rumoured to be unleashing her own version on the Top 100 very soon. Shannon followed up her mega-hit with the similarly styled "Give Me Tonight" and the poppier "Sweet Somebody", both of which were UK Top 30 hits. Shannon’s career declined after her first album but that didn’t keep her down, she re-appeared in the 90s supplying her fabulous vocals on hits for Todd Terry and a European Top 10 hit for Sash!, "Move Mania". Shannon is still around and releasing obligatory "Let The Music Play" remixes and ropey best of's!

The following year Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam treated the world to yet another Freestyle hit in the shape of "I Wonder If I Take You Home", a wonderfully aggressive track courtesy of producers Full Force. Again, the track was an international crossover hit, making the Billboard Top 10 and UK Top 20. Although they didn’t manage to have another sizeable hit from their debut LP, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam had several dance favourites including "Can You Feel The Beat", an even more sparse and barren sounding track and a favourite amongst Freestyle fans. Unlike Shannon, Lisa Lisa didn’t have a very soulful voice, yet her sharp, shouty style, full of attitude, worked perfectly with the aggressive production of these tracks. The group went for a poppier sound in later years which can be heard in ‘full effect’ on their hit "Lost In Emotion" from 1989. They also scored well with several ballads. Lisa Lisa embraced house music in the 90s and had a major hit in 1992 with "Let The Beat Hit ‘Em" which was more dance/pop than Freestyle, but it still included all the sampling and kept up with the pace of any of their Freestyle classics. Lisa Lisa went solo in the mid-90s and flopped horribly, with only the amazing Top 40 hit "Skip To My Lu" for her troubles. She still tours and there are several best of’s and re-issues on the market for fans to enjoy.

By 1986 major labels were picking up on the popularity of Freestyle and saw it as every bit as marketable as rock and the kind of dance/pop that Madonna was churning out. One of the most successful groups of this kind was the all-girl trio Expose, who throughout various line-up changes, delivered US pop hits from 1987 well into the 90s. Tracks like "Point Of No Return" and "Come Go With Me" were major hits, but it was their ballads that established Expose as a girl group to be reckoned with, earning them a #1 hit with "Seasons Change". They started off their career as the opening act for Lisa Lisa And Cult Jam, but by the end of 1988 the groups billing could easily have been reversed. Their second album "What You Don’t Know" brought the group to even greater heights and earned them three more Top 10 hits, including the energetic title track and similarly paced "Tell Me Why". The high didn’t last and in 1993 Expose were dropped by Arista records. But as any pop trash fan worth his salt knows, this kind of shame never keeps a good group down and Expose are back with all four key members. Catch them on tour now!

Sweet Sensation were another group in a similar vein. Hailing from the Bronx, these girls poured attitude and street style into everything from their fabulous wardrobe to their fierce 1988 anthems such as "Take It While It’s Hot" and "Sincerely Yours". The group enjoyed their two biggest hits in 1990 with their unashamedly Freestyle take on Diana Ross & The Supremes "Love Child" and their Billboard #1 single, the ballad "If Wishes Came True". Bizarrely the group split soon after and a remix album wound up their short but ‘sweet’ career! The good news is that as of 2007, Sweet Sensation are back. I don’t know where exactly but they have reformed to take the charts by storm once again with any luck!


Slippydisco said...

Excellent post!! I still listen to the remix of 'Tell Me Why' now. It's still ace 16 years on (God, I'm old).

Jamie_movietrip said...

I am honoured!

Trash Addict said...

Since first reading this post, I have had Sweet Sensation's "Love Child" on repeat! I've also dusted off Lisa Lisa's fabulous "Head To Toe" album. It's great, Jamie.

Robpop said...

This was just a little bit of pop brilliance rarely seen on the internet let alone on blogger. The writing was stunning. You know I'm such a sucker for all girl pop. Its something about the disco beats and the smell of all-female sweat under the mirror ball.

This is wrong. I know.

Anyway, Jamie can I adopt you. Love Child is like my entire life. I imagine my mum used to sing it to me when trying to rock me to sleep. (If we had enough money for a cradle).

Now explain this to there a Supremes/Motown sample in there. Usually I'm on top of these things. Did it also even appear in the movie to end all movies "Sister Act 2" in the "Greatest Medley Ever Told" performed by Whoopi and her nuns.

I loved that movie.