Future Retro: The Weather Girls

Written by Future Retro, Music

TWO TONS O’ TALENT

San Francisco’s Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes first rose to fame in 1977 as Two Tons O’ Fun, background singers of choice for drag-tastic disco diva and ’70’s icon Sylvester. The plus-size gospel shouters — paired with the eccentric, electric Sylvester — were one of the most distinctive acts of the disco era. The ladies were hot and Sylvester was flaming. Sylvester is quoted in his album liner notes as saying “These girls can sing, y’all,” and indeed they could.

Martha and Izora appeared on numerous Sylvester albums including Living Proof, Do You Wanna Funk and Too Hot To Sleep. They can be heard wailing on many of Sylvester’s ’70s dance classics, including the infamous “(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real” and “Dance (Disco Heat).” Everything about them was big: their voices, their determination, their hairdos, and most of all, their talent. This made for a thrilling dance/soul combination. When the ’70’s came to a rousing close, the girls were busting out to go solo.

TWO TONS O’ FUN

As the ’80’s emerged, so did Two Tons O’ Fun’s solo career. In 1980 the group released their self-titled debut album for the Fantasy label. They were smart enough to bring Sylvester’s producer Harvey Fuqua along for the ride. Now a much sought-after fan favorite, the album contains several underrated dance/soul confections.

There was a heavy dose of gospel wrapped up in their powerful sound. Martha could raise her voice to the heavens and beyond, while Izora could make the earth rumble with her deep, gritty growl. The album spun off two huge club hits, including “Earth Can Be Just Like Heaven” which promptly went to #2 on the dance charts. Martha and Izora had established themselves as a vocal force like no other.

TWO TON TRACKS

“I Got the Feeling” (download)

The album’s second single was released in 1980 with a blazing Izora banging out a killer lead vocal. “I Got the Feeling” is a Hi-NRG workout that reached the upper levels of the Billboard dance charts, settling in at #2. This was due in part to the enduring popularity of the 12″ single format as well as the work of fellow San Franciscan Patrick Cowley on synthesizers. “I Got the Feeling” remains a beloved fan favorite.

“Just Us”

The flip-side to “I Got the Feeling,” “Just Us” also found itself close to the top of the dance charts. The combination of the two songs together on one release made it a nearly unstoppable dance smash. The song’s smooth, steady beat and Martha and Izora’s assured vocals make this the perfect tune to throw on towards the end of the night at your hippest retro party. “Just Us” also managed to score a slot at #29 on the U.S. R&B chart.

“Do You Wanna Boogie, Hunh?”

This is perhaps the album’s most underrated jam. “Do You Wanna Boogie, Hunh?” is, unfortunately, an ignored slice of upbeat disco soul. Martha and Izora are their usual incredible selves on this one. If this song had been released as a proper single and given a good share of promotion, it could easily have snagged the ladies yet another hit. A real missed opportunity here.

“Taking Away Your Space”

A beautiful ballad tinged with just the right amount of Philly soul, “Taking Away Your Space” seems like it’s from another era. It belongs nestled on some ’70s R&B album where it’s heralded as a near-classic of its kind. Martha’s expressive lead vocal helped made this one into a much-requested tune on the quiet storm radio stations of the time.

BACKATCHA

Their second album for the Fantasy label was also their second album of 1980 and their second with producer Harvey Fuqua. This follow-up was far less popular than the previous release. Despite several big club hits from the first album, there were no 12″ singles released from Backatcha.

Two Tons still managed to score a couple of minor dance hits with the tracks “It’s True, I Do” and “I Depend on You.” However, by 1980, disco was dying and mainstream music fans were changing their tastes. Their career momentum had taken a big hit and after the release of Backatcha, the Fantasy was over for Martha and Izora.

TWO TON TRACK

“It’s True, I Do” (download)

One of the standout tracks from the sophomore set is this percolating, upbeat ode to the joy of love. Martha is over the moon about her one true love and just can’t help but sing about it, ya’ll. It’s true, she’s in love, and you will be too with this great little mid-tempo gem.

SUCCESS

Jumping to Columbia Records in 1983, this is the first of their albums on which they were officially known as The Weather Girls. Despite being previously known as Two Tons O’ Fun, the initial release of a certain future dance classic provided the turn of events that led to their new moniker.

The song “It’s Raining Men” was originally part of the album Paul Jabara & Friends on which Martha and Izora, along with fellow session singers Zenobia, Stephanie Spruill, Maxine Waters and Julia Waters, were featured as a group called The Weather Girls. They made several appearances on the record, as did a young Whitney Houston. The now-infamous opening line “Hi, we’re your weather girls,” and the buzz surrounding the song led the group to be rechristened The Weather Girls for the single as well as for their future albums.

The popularity of “It’s Raining Men” allowed them to record the album Success, in spite of the somewhat lukewarm reception that was given to their two previous albums for Fantasy. A new name, a new label, new writers and producers and this iconic new tune would surely spell massive popularity for the ladies with the big voices. The success of Success, particularly that lead-off single, was considerable but ultimately short-lived for the group. Unfortunately this album couldn’t seem to spawn a proper follow-up to its first huge hit and the group again began to lose momentum.

TWO TON TRACKS

“Success”

The opening track easily describes just exactly what was happening to Martha and Izora in real life. After years of providing stellar backup and landing numerous club hits on their own, they had finally broken through to the Dance, R&B and Pop charts. This exuberant song celebrates all that they had worked so hard for. Their voices blend into a powerful combination as they sing about how thrilled they are to finally be on top. It’s also a tribute to the long-time devotion of the fans who had followed them from the beginning.

“It’s Raining Men”

“Because tonight for the first time, just about half past ten…”

Sing it, sisters! So perhaps you’ve heard this obscure song once or twice? According to all sources, the ladies have taken to the streets (no, not that way) to land themselves the men of their dreams (or at least one) to get them through the latest storm. Lucky for them, they find that they’re caught in one hellacious downpour.

Written by Paul Jabara and Paul Shaffer, “It’s Raining Men” was initially released to dance clubs as a 12″ single where it exploded into a colossal hit. It shot to #1 on the dance charts as well as crossing over to pop radio, exposing the group to huge, well-deserved mainstream worship. No one could have predicted that after two previous semi-successful albums, this little dance groove would go supernova. One of the biggest reasons that it remains a legendary dance track is the whole-hearted embrace it’s been given by the group’s fiercely loyal (and just plain fierce) gay fans. One spin of this tune on any dancefloor, and the humidity won’t be the only thing rising. Hallelujah!

“Dear Santa” (download)

The second 12″ single to spin from Success is this thinly-disguised revamp of “It’s Raining Men.” The lyrics have been changed to a Christmas theme and are delivered in a campy style by our favorite holiday honeys Martha and Izora. The ladies have only one request to fill their stockings and it certainly isn’t a lump of coal. They want a man this Christmas!

Warm, soulful vocals kick things off in a nice ballad style before a chimney full of Hi-NRG beats take over. Why hasn’t this tune become the kitschy holiday favorite that it deserves to be? Thankfully, towards the end of each year you can still hear this one playing on old-school radio stations as well as part of Christmas video blocks on VH1 Classic.

BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY

Released on Columbia Records in 1985, Martha and Izora had quickly lost the massive success they’d managed to gain from the previous album. Despite being dismissed as little more than a one-hit wonder novelty act, the group were really a hugely talented gospel and soul duo who could also tear up a dancefloor like no one else. They were never given a full chance to show what they could do or display who they really were.

By the time this album appeared they were back to making do with some second-rate songs and formulaic filler fluff. Without a huge hit and with little in the way of promotion or support, the album did badly and robbed the group of its chance to achieve more than just one mainstream hit. It also meant that some of the album’s quality songs went unheard. The clouds were starting to turn dark for The Weather Girls.

TWO TON TRACKS

“Big Girls Don’t Cry”

Move over, Frankie Valli — Martha and Izora have just brought four seasons of funk to this pop classic. You’ve never heard a golden oldie turned upside down and inside out quite like this. It’s been given a thumping beat, a breakneck pace and two sizzling lead vocal performances. No tears shed over this one.

“Well-A-Wiggy” (download)

So what the hell is a wiggy? No one really knows — probably not even Izora, who brings her heart, her soul and most of all, her magnificent pipes to this underrated gem. Izora is singing about her latest love to whom she feels deserves to be paid tribute.

“Well-A-Wiggy” was almost immediately ignored on its initial release, mainly because The Weather Girls were already losing ground, and in particular, because of the wacko title. It’s a shame, because aside from the passionate lead vocal, the chorus includes some light, beautiful harmonies that keep the song flowing smoothly all the way until the end.

“Down On The Corner”

What might seem like a odd choice for the group to cover ends up being a rollicking idea. The girls turn this Creedence Clearwater Revival classic into a soulful block party jam. Certainly this would make John Fogerty and the boys from CCR very proud. They’ve likely never heard a version quite this rambunctious and joyful. “Bring a nickel, tap your feet!”

THE WEATHER GIRLS

Released in 1988 on Columbia, their final album was a huge commercial letdown. The group had never been given consistent, high-quality material or producers that could truly make them shine like they deserved.

This last time around, they again have to sing their way through some sub-par songs and rather pedestrian production. By this time it was evident that their former mentor Sylvester (who died the same year) had been given much better treatment by his label with regard to promotion and material. After this third disappointment, Columbia Records knocked the ladies off their cloud. The Weather Girls had officially weathered their last storm.

TWO TON TRACK

“Love You Like a Train” (download)

Now this is a great, unique title for a song. Martha and Izora are two large locomotives of love speeding down the track to deliver their goods especially for you. “Love You Like a Train” chugs along at a fast-paced rhythm powered by two sassy, sensational conductors. You’ll have worked up a powerful head of steam before the ladies reach their destination. Choo choo!

EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!

In 1989 The Weather Girls disbanded, with Izora moving to Germany and Martha returning to session work. However, neither of them would stay silent for long.

Martha famously contributed stellar vocals to a number of the ’90s most popular dance tracks. Producers for C+C Music Factory, Black Box and Seduction took Martha’s background vocals and instead used them as lead vocals on songs such as “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” and “Everybody, Everybody.” This was done without Martha’s knowledge and without her being accordingly credited or compensated. Rumors flew that this was done because the official singers for these groups were far less talented than Martha, but were considered more marketable and photogenic. One of the most infamous incidents was when Martha was left out of the video for C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” and was replaced by the group’s regular lead singer Zelma Davis, who lip synched to Martha’s vocals. Anyone who had heard Martha’s voice before wasn’t fooled. Martha sued and eventually won.

As part of a settlement, Martha was allowed to record her first solo album, which spawned the #1 club hits “Give it to You,” “Carry On,” and “Runaround.” She was later invited by C+C Music Factory to appear on their second album Anything Goes. DJ Todd Terry paired her with fellow vocal powerhouse Jocelyn Brown for the hits “Something’s Goin’ On” and “Keep On Jumpin’.” A compilation album The Collection arrived in 1997, featuring songs from throughout her career as well as a new, campier version (if that’s even possible) of “It’s Raining Men” recorded as a duet with yet another dance diva, RuPaul. In 2000, Martha released “Listen To The People,” a collaboration with the group Small Voices Calling. Martha continues to tour and perform for devoted audiences all over the world. She is finally getting the long overdue credit she deserves.

THE NEW WEATHER GIRLS

In 1993, Izora released her only known solo single, “Don’t Let Love Slip Away.” When it failed to find an audience, Izora rearranged the sky and brought The Weather Girls back to life along with her daughter Dynell. They recorded several club hits including 1993’s “Can U Feel It” and 1994’s “We Shall All Be Free.” They also released several albums and were regular performers on the worldwide club scene.

Izora eventually became ill with heart problems and was replaced in the group by her other daughter Ingrid. Izora’s voice and talent were silenced on September 16th, 2004. Her memory will live on in her music and the love that fans continue to feel for her. Here’s hoping that she is wailing away somewhere in that great discotheque in the sky. Farewell, Miss Izora, you are missed.

STILL GOT THE FEELING

Even at the peak of their career, The Weather Girls were never fully taken seriously. Perhaps it was because of the perceived camp nature of many of their songs. They were never given the kind of material that they deserved, but as a result of the gospel firepower of their vocals, they still managed to make everything they did sound incredible. If anyone had bothered to listen a little deeper to their albums, they would have seen just how versatile these ladies could be. It had been through no fault of Martha’s or Izora’s, who had turned in terrific performances on anything they were given. It’s a story of yet another unique, talented act that got taken for granted and bounced around, and that music fans never fully appreciated at the time like they should have.

You can still get the best of their songs on several excellent compilations that put together key tracks from each of their albums. If you’re new to “disco soul” or longing to return to the dancefloors where it first enraptured you, The Weather Girls and their abundant talents are a great place to start … and leave those umbrellas at home!

“Hallelujah! It’s Raining Men & Other Gems” can be purchased at Amazon.

“Get The Feeling” can be purchased at Amazon.

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TWO TONS O’ LINKS

martha-wash.com

theweathergirls.com