THE POINTER SISTERS-SERIOUS SLAMMIN.’
THE POINTER SISTERS-SERIOUS SLAMMIN.’
When The Pointer Sisters released their fourteenth album Serious Slammin,’ it was their ninth and final album produced by producer Joe Perry and their final album for RCA. Serious Slammin’ which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 30th April 2012, marked a change in their sound, with Joe Perry giving The Pointer Sisters a harder electronic, funky sound. This meant their sound became much more like successful groups of the time, including The Gap Band and Cameo. Serious Slammin’ also marked a change in the group’s fortunes, becoming their last album to chart. Unlike their previous multi-platinum albums, Serious Slammin’ reached just number 152 in the US Billboard 200. Their previous album Hot Together, released two years earlier in 1986, had reached number forty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-nine in the US R&B Charts, whereas 1985s Contact had been certified platinum. That was more like the success The Pointer Sisters were used to. Since their first album The Pointer Sisters, released in 1973, five of their previous thirteen albums had been certified gold, one platinum and one triple-platinum. So, after the disappointment of Serious Slammin,’ The Pointer Sisters must have wondered why the album hadn’t been more successful? After all, He Turned Me Out, the first single released from the album, entered the top forty in the US R&B Charts and featured in the cult movie Action Jackson. That’s what I’ll try to work out, why Serious Slammin’ wasn’t a bigger commercial success. Before that, I’ll tell you about the background to Serious Slammin’ and what the music on the album sounds like.
Before the recording of what would become Serious Slammin,’ The Pointer SIsters and producer Joe Perry decided to rethink their sound. Joe hadn’t been happy with the previous album Hot Together, while Bonnie Pointer was concerned that the group’s profile was declining. Together, Anita, Bonnie and Ruth Pointer, plus Joe Perry decided the group had to reconnect with their fan-base. This meant the group needed a more urban sound. In came funky, hip-hop and dance-floor friendly music and a new face, with a famous name, Norman Whitfield Jr., son of legendary producer Norman Whitfield. Together Norman and James Reese were hired as associate producers. Also joining the “team” was John Bowowski, known for his skill in sequencing. With this trio of new faces joining Joe Perry and The Pointer Sisters, recording of what would become Serious Slammin’ could begin.
In total, ten tracks were recorded at Studio 55 in Los Angeles with The Pointer Sisters’ newly assembled team. Among the ten tracks were I’m In Love the second single released from the album. Written by Jonathon Butler and Simon May, It previously, had given Ruby Turner a minor hit in the UK. He Turned Me Out, was the other single released from Serious Slammin’ and was the opening theme to the cult movie Action Jackson. The eight other tracks saw the three Pointer SIsters fusing a variety of styles, and drawing upon various influences. This included soul, funk, gospel, hip-hop and dance music, to reinvigorate their career. Would this work though?
When Serious Slammin’ was released in February 1988, it reached just number 152 in the US Billboard 200. He Turned Me Out, also released in February 1988, reached number thirty-nine in the US R&B Charts. Then, when I’m In Love the second single that was released from the album in May 1988, it reached just number sixty-seven in the US R&B Charts. This meant that Serious Slammin’ was The Pointer Sisters least successful album since 1976s Havin’ A Party, which reached number 176 in the US Billboard 200 and number fifty-one in the US R&B Charts. It seemed that the plan to revitalize The Pointer Sisters’ music on Serious Slammin’ hadn’t worked, with their fans not buying into their new sound. Why was that though? That’s what I’ll tell you once I’ve told you about the music on Serious Slammin.’
Opening Serious Slammin’ is the title-track Serious Slammin,’ and straight away, you’re aware of the harder edged sound. The drums are crisp, the bass funky, while the guitars are hard and rocky. When Bonnie, Anita and June enter, they do so with throaty, dirty laughs at the Serious Slammin’ taking place next door. They’re accompanied by a wash of synths, with their delivery sassy and punchy. The arrangement has a bigger, bolder sound, fusing funk, rock and electronic music, giving the track a more contemporary sound. This results in a track that grabs your attention, demanding you listen, at the new sassy, ballsy sound of The Pointer Sisters.
Shut Up and Dance sees drums that crack like whips and synths key to the track. Smack bang in the middle of the arrangement are the vocals. The lead is delivered in a powerful, confident style, while the rest of the group add similar backing vocals. Meanwhile, layer upon layer of synths rise up dramatically. Washes and stabs of synths and crispy drums provide the backdrop for The Pointer Sisters, on a track that demonstrates their new sound fully. Gone are the soulful strains of previous albums, replaced by a sound that’s more contemporary dance oriented sound, aimed at the dance-floor and a broader, newer fan-base.
June Pointer takes over the lead vocal on Moonlight Dancing, on a track that’s quite different from the preceding tracks. It’s more like what older fans of The Pointer Sisters would come to expect from the group. Opening with drums that are slow, spacious and prominent in the mix, June’s vocal has a tenderness. Her vocal is augmented by Anita and Bonnie’s subtle backing vocalists, while the rhythm section, percussion and keyboards provide the backdrop for June’s beautiful vocal. Not only does this song demonstrate that the group hadn’t forgotten their roots and shows just how talented a vocalist June Pointer is.
He Turned Me Out was the second single from Serious Slammin,’ featuring in the movie Action Jackson. It reached number thirty-six in the US R&B Charts and sees another change in style. The track has more in common with the first two tracks. Drums and a bass synth contribute to the funky sound, combining with synths and percussion. Meanwhile, The Pointer SIsters add punchy, emotive vocals, which are some of the best on the album. Their vocals are impassioned, mixing power and emotion, on what’s one of the best tracks on Serious Slammin.’
Following on from one of the highlights of Serious Slammin,’ comes Flirtatious, another of the albums best tracks. It features some of the sassiest, most sensuous vocals on the album. Here, Bonnie, June and Anita unite as one, delivering the lyrics with a swagger. They’re accompanied by a combination of drums and a myriad of keyboards, which had a contemporary electronic sound. However, The Pointer Sisters’ funky, swaggering vocal is what makes this track to compelling and irresistible.
My Life was the first track on Side Two of Serious Slammin,’ and marked a change in sound. Gone was the contemporary and moderne sound, replaced by more popular AOR sound. Straight away, this is apparent. It shows that The Pointer Sisters hadn’t deserted their old fans. Here, The Pointer Sisters turn back the years, delivering some tight, impassioned vocals. This they do against an arrangement where synths and drum machines feature heavily, augmented by guitars which chime sweetly. Although the synths and drum machines are used extensively, they’re used in a way that creates an arrangement which has a more popular AOR sound. With this change in sound and style, The Pointer Sisters seem to lift their game, as if welcoming the safer, more familiar territory and sound.
I’m In Love sees Ruth get her chance to take centre-stage, her first lead vocal since the 1980 album Special Things. She rises to the occasion, delivering the vocal beautifully, bringing to life the romantic lyrics, with emotion and passion. Opening with just Ruth’s half-spoken vocal the rhythm section, Ruth’s vocal is slow, heartfelt and emotive, accompanied by subtle backing vocals. Although the arrangement still features synths and drum machines, they’re used quite subtly, augmented by guitars and a Fender Rhodes. Later, a sultry saxophone floats above the arrangement, adding just the finishing touch to what’s quite simply, the best and most beautiful track on Serious Slammin.’
Pride was co-written by Jimmy Lang and Matthew Wilder, who had a huge hit in 1983 with Break My Stride. Again, the track has a more populist, AOR sound. One difference is the arrangement. It’s louder, bolder and built with layers of synths, drum machines and organ. Similarly, The Pointer SIsters’ delivery is louder, bolder and more dramatic. They combine passion and emotion, their voices combining and complimenting the others perfectly.
Uh Uh is the only track the departs from the more AOR sound, having more in common with the contemporary sound of Side One. Drums crack and stabs of synths give way to The Pointer Sisters, whose vocal is one of their most soulful on the album. A funky bass and chiming guitar combine with the stabs and washes of synths and drums. Later, guitars even add a rocky solo, while the combined vocals of Anita, Bonnie and June combine peerlessly and flawlessly.
Closing Serious Slammin’ is I Will Be There, a song about love and friendship. This was an apt choice to close the album, as The Pointer Sisters and Joe Perry realized this would be the last album they’d work on together. With this the last song they recorded together, they combined to make it not just a good one, but a very good one. Against a backdrop of rhythm section, synths and keyboards, The Pointer Sisters deliver their vocals with a combination of emotion, passion and drama, highlighting the lyrics about friendship and love. The drama and emotion in their vocals is reflected in the arrangement, which grows in power and drama, fusing with the vocal to bring Serious Slammin’ to emotional, impassioned end.
Listening to Serious Slammin’ twenty-four years after its release in 1988, it’s very much an album of two sides and styles, containing some quality music. On Side One, The Pointer Sisters move their music forward, giving it a more contemporary sound, adding elements of funk, hip-hop and dance music. This was meant to widen their appeal to a greater, newer and younger fan-base. Then on Side Two, they returned to their more familiar, popular AOR sound, which would ensure their old fans wouldn’t feel overlooked. It was a clever and some might say, brave strategy, that should’ve worked. There was something for new and old fans alike. Sadly, this strategy didn’t work commercially, even though the music on the album was of the quality you’d expect from both The Pointer Sisters, and a Joe Perry produced album. Maybe, by trying to appeal to new fans, older fans were alienated by a sound that used hip-hop, funk and dance music influences. For younger fans listening to hip-hop and dance music, maybe their perception of The Pointer Sisters’ music wasn’t what the music on Serious Slammin’ sounded like. Both old and new fans missed out on an album that features some great music. The Pointer Sisters’ vocals are laden with emotion, passion and drama, while other times, they’re sassy and confident. Joe Perry’s production was tight and polished, with Norman Whitfield Jr. James Reese and John Bowowski helping give the album a more contemporary sound. This multitalented quartet helped produce a highly accomplished and quality album in Serious Slammin.’ It should’ve fared much better commercially than number 152 in the US Billboard 200. Now twenty-four years after its release, it’ll be rereleased by BBR Records on 30th April 2012, giving everyone the opportunity to rediscover what is an overlooked album in The Pointer Sisters’ back-catalogue. If you’re a fan of either The Pointer Sisters, soul, funk or pop music, then Serious Slammin’ will appeal to you and allow you to hear one of the most successful groups of the seventies and eighties…The Pointer SIsters. Standout Tracks: Moonlight Dancing, He Turned Me Out, I’m In Love and I Will Be There.
THE POINTER SISTERS-SERIOUS SLAMMIN.’