To my generation, the Pointer Sisters were an act that leapt fully formed out of the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack; we knew their mid ’80s hits, from that album and 1983’s genre-crushing bajillion-seller Break Out, but we had no idea that, by the time that album was released, the Sisters had been making music — and hit songs — for a decade. (Not that we would have known what to do with their early records even if we’d heard them; for Izod-sporting New Edition fans, the comedown from “Neutron Dance” to “Yes We Can Can” might have been significant.)
Anyway, the point is this: By 1986, the Pointers were all but finished as recording artists of any commercial significance — a harsh, undignified end to a recording career whose momentum was built as slowly and savvily as anyone could have hoped or planned. Coming a mere three years after Break Out‘s release (and only two years after its singles were all over the charts), Hot Together was essentially a non-starter. Sure, it peaked in the Top 40 (barely) and spun off a medium-sized R&B hit in “Goldmine” (download), but these were whimpers from an act that had recently seemed unstoppable.
What gives? Does Hot Together suck? Much as I’d love to say yes — these posts are always so much more fun to write when there’s snark to be had — it really doesn’t. It isn’t what you’d call a distinguished record (egad, just look at that cover), but the Sisters and producer Richard Perry knew exactly what they were doing, and the players — including Nathan East, Glen Ballard, Jeff Lorber, and Robbie Nevil — were session aces. Songs like “All I Know Is the Way I Feel” (download) and “Sexual Power” (download) might not show the trio at its absolute best, but for ’80s R&B, you can’t ask for much more.
I think it’s R&B itself that was the problem, actually. Every genre is a harsh mistress, when you get right down to it, but R&B and hip-hop careers tend to run hot and cold faster than most, and those musical forms allow for reinvention less often than rock & roll. By the time Hot Together came out, kids were hearing the first strains of New Jack Swing, and acts like the Pointer Sisters seemed quaint by comparison. More importantly, they couldn’t adapt to the new trends without sounding awkward (as subsequent releases would prove, painfully and irrefutably).
This post wouldn’t be complete without a Pinball Number Count video:
…or a link to Jason’s infamous “Mr. Pointer” gag. But that’s really all I’m going to say about the Pointer Sisters. Their story gets sad (and sadder) from here on out, and I’d rather remember them half-clothed in a shower stall (except for Ruth — she scares me) than talk about what came next. (If you’re curious, the Pointers’ Wikipedia entry is impressively comprehensive.)