Jody Watley first came to my attention sometime in 1988 when my father recorded a block of MTV videos on a VHS tape for me. This was when he worked as a master control engineer at our local NBC affiliate WLBZ. Among all the videos were two from Jody Watley. The first was for the song “Some Kind Of Lover” and the other for “Don’t You Want Me”. A decade or so later,I found her debut CD with these songs on it at Bullmoose Music-also in my area. As my abilities to locate music have evolved,from radio and pre recorded VHS tapes to MP3’s, Watley’s music seems to pop up every step of the way.
Watley’s self titled debut turned 30 a couple of weeks ago. During the time when I was deeply interested in the music of Prince,the solo debut of this former Shalamar singer was a major reminder to me that the Minneapolis sound had a huge far reaching impact in terms of cutting edge dance music of the late 80s. Actually wrote a review of the album on Amazon.com,yet another they elected to take down from public viewing. In recent years,the song from the album that’s gotten my attention is the funkified “Looking For A New Love”. Of course, I went into Watley’s debut a bit further in my review here.
In terms of dance music the 80’s definitely had different parts to it. It started with a form of post disco music that would latter be called boogie which,in it’s many forms was basically an extension of late 70’s musical ideas. From there we go on to a mid 80’s synthesizer/hand clap variety of dance music heavy oriented around layers of sound that I sometimes dub “tinky tinky dance” just for fun. Around 1986 or so came a very stripped down and groove based style that occupied a very good point in the middle of both of us.
Jam And Lewis’s work with SOS Band and Janet Jackson really helped to get this particular sound going. Anyway around it usually someone from the Minneapolis scene is involved. And for her part Jody had already had her participation in all of these developments as a member of Shalamar until 1983. By this time married to one time Prince protege Andre’ Cymone she found in the music he’d been producing a way for her to stake her own claim in the late 80’s dance funk pool. And I think she won out on all levels.
At a time when almost every album in the R&B/soul genre had to have a least one slow jam involved,this album seems to come out of a serious of album where every groove was a funk groove of one sort or another. In the 70’s the Commodores Machine Gun and P-Funk’s Mothership Connection fit the bill for all funk all the time albums. Very much under the Minneapolis spell here,even more so than Miss Janet “Looking For A New Love” starts out the occasion with a stomping 80’s funk jam if there ever was one. And that same kind of flavor just continues on “Still A Thrill”,”Love Injection”,”Do It To The Beat”,”Learn To Say No” with George Michael and even the other big hit “Don’t You Want Me”.
Jody has managed along with musical co-participants Bernard Edwards,Tony Thompson and Herbie Hancock synthesizer player Jeff Bova to do something vital on these songs:create melodically inventive compositions that possess some great bass/guitar heavy grooves and a then contemporary dance/funk flavor. When the tempo goes up? Well you end up with faster grooves such as “Some Kind Of Lover” and “For The Girls”. It’s still fresh,it’s still funky and it’s full of Watley’s own unique flavor.
Jody doesn’t present herself as someone who is about to prostitute herself musically on this album. Her take on relationships on this album is very much as an equal co-participant who is also lucky enough to have a strong singular wit about her as well. There’s an appealing arty flair about the way Jody presents her music and lyrics here. Of course having one half of Chic and Andre’ Cymone involved certainly made a difference too. However Watley herself is a very multi talented person on her own as a producer/singer and songwriter.
She was also doing something that was not particularly common during this time much outside the Jackson family. She was presented herself as primarily an uptempo based artist rather than emphasizing the ballads and slow jams that were becoming somewhat of a mainstay among female R&B/soul/funk/dance artists around this time. The fact that her debut consisted of nothing but uptempo tunes showed that in the right hands,dance music could maintain a strong sense of groove and funk without sacrificing that for sometimes gimmicky up to the minute instrumental effects. If 80’s funk was baseball I’d say Jody Wately hit a home run on this one.
The musical vibe that Jody Watley set up a scenario similar to the one Beyonce picked up in recent years: a black American female vocalist who strongly emphasized uptempo music and a strong empowered female stance. Am unsure if this similarity is even a thing as far as the artists themselves are concerned. But I can hear it. Especially when it comes to this debut album of Watley’s. Also like Beyonce,Watley’s music would later mellow a bit in danceability and take on more direct social concerns. That likely makes Jody Watley and this album a strong influence on the career arc of the modern day funky diva.