Wednesday, January 07, 2009
La Toya (88) - A Retrospective
Holy Toy Toy's recent entry into the UK Celebrity Big Brother house has re-ignited my passion for the thinking gay's Jackson. It's not that I ever fell out of love with La Toya but after years of slightly obsessive worship, the duchess of dance and I went our separate ways in 2008. In retrospect, I was suffering from major fan fatigue. The 6 year (and counting!) wait for "Startin' Over" became increasingly frustrating and ultimately overwhelmed my adoration for the woman. I've since come to terms with the fact that La Toya's brilliant pop comeback will probably never happen and that's ok. While our stunning goddess frees the world by bringing some much needed glamour to drab bedsits across the United Kingdom, I'd like to pay tribute to one of the most amazing albums in Toy Toy's back catalogue, 1988's remarkable "La Toya". Please note - to fully understand this post the uninitiated may need to consult my La Toya dictionary.
While not my favourite toytastic opus (that honour goes to 1984's jaw droppingly brilliant "Heart Don't Lie"), "La Toya" is arguably Toy Toy's most intriguing release. To put things in context, by 1988 Michael's most beautiful and talented sister had already spent the best part of a decade trying to make her mark on the music industry - with very little success. Her first four albums flopped abysmally (despite containing some of the best pop tunes of the early 80s) and to rub salt into her wounds, Janet had just struck chart gold with "Control". The great irony being that La Toya was initially considered the most likely female Jackson to succeed by both her family and music insiders alike. I can only imagine her frustration. "La Toya" must have felt like Toy's last throw of the dice and our girl pulled out all the stops by hiring the hottest producers and songwriters of the day. Full Force, Stock Aitken Waterman and Harold Faltermeyer all contribute to the album. The result is a wonderful time capsule of late 80s pop music. It doesn't always gel (half the songs are funky R'n'B, while the rest is best described as perky Eurohouse) but it's never, ever boring. Here is my review:
You're Gonna Get Rocked!
For those of you who didn't believe, roll up ya sleeves
And if you're hangin' (cool) and if you're not (leave)
Cause La Toya is throwin' down with her new sound (in full effect)
So give me some respect (or we'll put you in check)
So kick it off boys, it's time to get correct!
So begins one of the most legendary and iconic song introductions in the history of modern music. "You're Gonna Get Rocked" not only contains the best intro of the 80s, it also put the world on notice that La Toya had undergone a radical makeover - music and image wise. The pleasant soul and bubblegum pop of her previous albums had been replaced with a funky new urban sound, while Toy's girl next door look was completely re-vamped into something resembling a transgender hooker. The sky high hair paired with her flattering bedazzled bra and leather jacket ensemble continues to inspire drag queens to this very day. Thankfully, the music matched the dizzying heights of Toy's new image.
"You're Gonna Get Rocked" is a sizzling production courtesy of Full Force - one of the most successful production teams of the past 25 years. These legends first came to prominence in the mid-80s due to their ground breaking work with Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam and have since gone on to work with everyone from Britney Spears to Rihanna. Unlike some of the other collaborators on the album (ie. Stock Aitken Waterman), Full Force really brought their A game. Like much of the music from that era, "You're Gonna Get Rocked" sounds frightfully dated now but at the time it was a positively revolutionary mix of rap and pop sounds that skillfully pays homage to Queen's "We Will Rock You" without ripping them off. The song actually performed quite well by our La Toya's low standards - becoming a stunning #42 chart smash in New Zealand and #90 mega-hit in the United Kingdom. Make sure you get correct by watching the breathtaking video (below) or I'll put you in check! La Toya shows fat Janet who's really nasty!
Not the ode to flatulence that the title may suggest, "You Blew" is actually another attitude filled urban jam sensationally produced by Full Force. To be honest, this is perhaps the closest La Toya ever came to borrowing the Jam & Lewis sound on "Control". However, Toy Toy takes the song to an entirely new level with her gorgeous vocals, a pristine chorus and this hot rap:
What, did I stutter?
Check it out (butter)
Broken hearts can mend, friend
But don't depend on this 'Toy'
To give you what you want, boy!
Not to mention, this classic line:
Just like your brother used to say - I want you back!
"You Blew" contains everything Toy Soldiers have come to treasure. Dodgy plays on the word "Toy" (her nickname) and shameless references to her more famous family members! The song was released as a single in some parts of Europe but in typical Toy style, it failed to chart anywhere.
Such A Wicked Love
To my mind, there are two perfect pop tracks on "La Toya". One is the Stock Aitken Waterman produced "Just Say No", the other is this exquisite anthem. While the previous Full Force productions admirably tried to imbue Miss Toy with urban credibility, "Such A Wicked Love" stays true to her pop roots and is all the better for it. Everything about this track is perfection - the combination of crisp beats, wonderful 80s sound effects, a glorious chorus, catchy hooks ("scratch my back") and rich backing vocals all result in a 5 minute screaming Toygasm that will keep you coming back to this classic again and again. I've always maintained that La Toya has a deceptively beautiful voice and Full Force really knew how to showcase it. "Such A Wicked Love" was remixed and released as a 12" single in America but - you guessed it - it was a massive flop. Check out Toy Toy's amazing "live" version below. Note the amazing male dancers!
Not Giving Up On Love
"Not Giving Up On Love", the fourth and final Full Force contribution to "La Toya", is a charming - if unspectacular - 80s ballad saved from mediocrity by another amazing intro.
Male Voice: Hey baby, I know things haven't been going easy for us lately
but I want you to know that I love you and I think that you're a beautiful person. La Toya, we make beautiful love together!
Toy Toy: Yeah, I know but more important than that, we've got to get ourselves together. Now I know you mean it but if we truly love each other we can't give up!
Seriously, Shakespeare couldn't come up with this shit! As for the rest of the song, it's pleasant enough and proves once and for all that La Toya can hold a tune. I'd describe this as very satisfying filler.
If I Could Get To You (Featuring John Pagano)
I really think Toy should release a compilation of her fabulous duets. The great woman has shared a recording booth with both the sublime (Michael Jackson, Musical Youth and Cerrone) and the ridiculous (Janet, Tom Beser, Lee Greenwood and Jed). Regardless of her partner, the final product is always memorable. I'd never heard of John Pagano before listening to "If I Could Get To You" and to be honest, I haven't heard from him since. Working with La Toya is usually the kiss of death for most musicians, so I was surprised to learn that John is still making music - touring with the legendary Burt Bacharach, no less. He's also still a total fox. As for "If I Can Get To You" - it's an 80s R'n'B ballad by the numbers. Nothing extraordinary but still well produced (by Bobby Hart) and impressively performed.
Turn On The Radio
I mentioned earlier that "La Toya" is the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde of pop albums. The first five tracks are squarely aimed at the American market, while the remainder explore European pop trends. "Turn On The Radio" is the handy work of iconic German producer Harold Faltermeyer - best known for the 80s smash "Axel F" and for his work with the Pet Shop Boys (he co-produced their 1990 album "Behaviour"). "Turn On The Radio" is typical Flatermeyer, heavily synthesized and very catchy. I love the strange percussion effects and the cute chorus. This reminds me a little of the great pop songs that Sheena Easton was churning out in the mid-80s. I always thought "Turn On The Radio" would have made an interesting single in Europe but it was ignored in favour of the Stock Aitken Waterman produced tracks. Given Toy Toy's luck, it would have flopped like everything else she has ever released.
Just Say No
You know that a song is TRASH when it's looked down on by La Toya fans. Our high threshold for low brow entertainment is legendary! As much as it pains me to disagree with my fellow Toy Soldiers, I find the general disapproval of "Just Say No" bewildering. As far as I'm concerned, Toy Toy's relentlessly upbeat anti-drug anthem is not only the crowning jewel of "La Toya" but one of her career highlights. I would even go as far as declaring "Just Say No" one of my all time favourite Stock Aitken Waterman productions. While I generally get the feeling that La Toya was dished out the songs that Kylie & Co. had already rejected, "Just Say No" was custom made to be the theme song of Nancy Reagan's anti-drugs campaign. Instead of going for something appropriately hard hitting, the Hit Factory shat out a gloriously cheerful ditty with some of the campest lyrics of the 80s - my favourite line being "don't let them guide you, don't put that stuff inside you!" It seems only the most hardcore crap connoisseurs can truly appreciate this exquisite dish.
Does It Really Matter
While the Euro-pop songs on "La Toya" are mostly quite conventional, Steve Harvey's magnificent "Does It Really Matter" is the exception. This 6 minute opus is an early example of the house movement sweeping the UK in the late 80s. If this had been released a couple of years later, it would have been lapped up by dance fans. Unfortunately, Toy Toy was ahead of her time - as usual. I love this crazy mess. The tinny beats and quirky sound effects have dated badly but the chorus and careful production are still a lot of fun. This was the B-side to "You're Gonna Get Rocked" and just about every other floptastic single lifted from "La Toya".
(Tell Me) He Means Nothing To You At All
The album concludes with two Stock Aitken Waterman productions. The first, "(Tell Me) He Means Nothing To You At All", is fucking dreadful. That might sound harsh but in 1987 (when this was recorded) the Hit Factory were at the very peak of their game and this shit simply isn't up to scratch. Hell, Mandy Smith would have turned up her nose at "(Tell Me) He Means Nothing To You At All"! It's clear what SAW were trying to achieve with the song - instead of going with their usual carefree bubblegum pop, they tried to imitate a more American sound but failed miserably. There is no melody, the chorus is unbearably clunky and the production plods along like a drunken whore. "(Tell Me) He Means Nothing To You At All" was a single in France. And quelle surprise - nobody bought it.
(Ain't Nobody Loves You) Like I Do
Happily, "La Toya" ends on a high with a much more satisfying contribution from Stock Aitken Waterman. "(Ain't Nobody Loves You) Like I Do" is the forgotten gem of the Hit Factory's canon of great pop music. This really should have been the album's first single in the UK. The song is effortlessly catchy, upbeat and lovingly produced. Most importantly, this effort captures the essence of La Toya with its fun lyrics and general fabulousness. If you're a Stock Aitken Waterman devotee, you really need this in your collection. I slightly prefer "Just Say No" due to its unprecedented trashiness but this is much more mainstream and provides a perfect example of what La Toya is capable of when she works with decent producers. "(Ain't Nobody Loves You) Like I Do" was a released as a single everywhere in Europe except Britain. Poor Toy Toy finally experienced some $ucce$$ when this hit the top 20 - of the German dance chart. Oh well. I highly recommend watching the craptastic video (below), which only leaked in 2007. It's a brilliant reminder of everything great about the 80s. Much like this sadly underappreciated album.