Friday, 9 September 2011

Word Up

There can't be many bands who have balanced so delicately on the edge between grandeur and absurdity than Cameo, whose aesthetic came over like the Benny Hill Show soundtracked by Ennio Morricone. They were simultaneously glacially cool and cheekily humorous, making some of the most elegant funk music ever recorded, and then coating it with the pucest lyrics.

They meant it as well. Singer Larry Blackmon genuinely couldn't understand why the media made such a big deal out of wearing a bright red codpiece on Top Of The Pops. From his flat top haircut and handlebar moustache to his spandex pants, he challenged you not to find him cool, knowing that it was impossible not to.

Their music sounds even better now than it did then. Never in a hurry, they always took as much time as they wanted. If only we could return to a time when funk was so ludicrously laid back....





12 comments:

Greyhoos said...

Heh. I'd was thought about doing a bit on Cameo. Despite the way their one huge "crossover" hit overshadowed the rest of their career, they were not only way more nuanced than many of their peers. And even though they helped pioneer that whole '80s stripped-down, minimal funk sound, they did it in a way that the groove didn't lose it's depth or its punch.

Perhaps these tunes might've been included as well...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=153d9tc3Oao

http://youtu.be/l78TpOMgq44

W. Kasper said...

I remember the summer of '86 being a vintage period for the pop charts. I'm yet to meet anyone who didn't like Cameo's biggest hits. Even the most affected pasty indie kid couldn't deny their grooviness.

The extended 'rap' mix of She's Strange is a bit of a blinder too - their '12 remixes never felt gratuitous or pointless, unlike so many others from the time.

Greyhoos said...

TV TALK-SHOW HOST: "Why the big red codpiece, Larry?"
LARRY BLACKMON: "Well, it certainly got your attention, didn't it? And we're on top of the charts. So...why not?"

Phil Knight said...

I just think they were one of those bands that are kind of unprecedented before you hear them, and yet seem to have been inevitable when you do - like AC/DC, Kraftwerk, Madness etc.

It's like you can't believe what sort of people would dream up this kind of music, until you actually see the people who dreamed it up.

If that makes any sense....

Greyhoos said...

Makes total sense to me.

In the U.S., their crossover popularity was overwhelmingly eclipsed by the Gap Band. (Who, IMO, might as well have been a one-hit wonder, since so many of their songs essentially sounded the same.)

Phil Knight said...

In the UK I think Cameo were second only to Prince in regards popularity and credibility. Maybe Alexander O'Neal matched them in popularity, but not cred (which is a shame as A O'N was fab).

The Gap Band actually were only a one-hit wonder here IIRC - certainly I remember them as being from an earlier era.

W. Kasper said...

Sorry, but A. O'Neal was horrendous (the epitome of mainstream soul's 80s nadir) and the Gap Band were actually THREE hit wonders:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjtOzLfebgY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJcQmXnAD3E

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlMIzAl_nDo

(There's enough variety there, no?)

Greyhoos said...

@ Wayne: Of that selection, sure. I was merely talking about their big crossover hits here in the US, the stuff that made it high on the "Pop" charts and got played on white top-40 radio -- "Burn Rubber On Me," "You Dropped a Bomb on Me," "Party Train." The stuff of theirs that charted on the R&B charts was far more varied and representative.

Greyhoos said...

And I only reason I brought it up was because "Word Up" and "Candy" were about the only Cameo songs that were a big hit w/ white stations at the time. For the most part, everything before & after fell on the other side of the segregated Billboard/demographic line.

W. Kasper said...

Yeah true - but like the Gap Band, Cameo were big in clubs for much longer than their top 10 existence.

As a side note, funny how Cameo were never sampled (to my knowledge at least). You'd think they'd be ideal for that.

W. Kasper said...

More gimmicky one-trick ponies:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9supqQToBEY

... but sheer perfection nonetheless.

Greyhoos said...

They weren't sampled very often, because hip-hop usually favored warmer and more complex "butter-funk" breaks from a decade before. But I seem to remember a "Shake You Pants" sample turning up in a Dust Bros. instrumental mix of the Beasties "Hey Ladies." (Yeah, I know...that doesn't quite count in any sort of 'authentic way, does it?) But beyond that...I got nothin'.