Jheri Curl Fridays 35: “Freak-a-Zoid”

Written by Jheri Curl Fridays, Music

Midnight Star wants you to be their freak-a-zoid. Or they want you to join their cult. Either way, check out the latest Jheri Curl Fridays column!

As the Eighties progressed, a lot of R&B bands went from a more traditionally funk-oriented big-band sound to an electronic approach, particularly once Prince and hip-hop opened the floodgates for synthesizer-dominated black music. One interesting development that came as a result of this change was that many of those 9 or 10-member funk bands became significantly slimmer in size (for example: Cameo.) One band that adapted to the more electronic-based sound but kept a fairly large lineup on hand was Kentucky’s Midnight Star. For a few years in the middle of the decade, this ensemble was one of the biggest selling artists in R&B, rattling off three consecutive albums that sold more than a half million copies. Probably best known at this point for the hit “No Parking on the Dance Floor” and the album of the same name, their first major hit came with that particular album’s lead single, “Freak-a-Zoid.”

This sizzling slice of risque electro-funk made it all the way to the runner-up spot on the R&B charts in late 1983, and set the stage for No Parking to become a double platinum success. It also boasts one of the greater “WTF?” R&B videos of the Eighties, with tons of space gear and near-nudity. Not to mention the fact that the video takes place inside an actual TV screen. I can only imagine how many illegal substances were involved in conceptualizing, casting and filming this video.

The focal points of the band were brothers Reginald and Vincent Calloway, and female singer Brenda Lipscomb. They joined up in college and signed with Solar Records in the late Seventies. No Parking, their breakthrough release, was actually the band’s fourth album. I would imagine that Midnight Star would have had a hard time breaking through, seeing as they were similar in name and personnel makeup (right down to the brothers in the lineup and the female singer) to another band we recently profiled in a JCF column-Atlantic Starr. The AS folks didn’t help solve that confusion much by releasing their own song called “Freak-a-Ristic” just a short time after “Freak-a-Zoid” became a hit. If I was Midnight Star, I would’ve been pissed.

At any rate, Midnight Star is certainly worthy of mention in the R&B history books, as not only were they commercially successful as artists, but the Calloway brothers had a pretty solid side hustle as producers. Among the hits they helmed were “Meeting In The Ladies’ Room” by labelmates Klymaxx and a trio of R&B #1s-LeVert’s “Casanova,” Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “Love Overboard,” and Teddy Pendergrass’ “Joy.” They also helped nurture the career of a fledgling songwriter named Kenny Edmonds, who dominated the charts in the following decade as Babyface. His “Slow Jam” was a standout track on No Parking on the Dance Floor, and was one of ‘Face’s first compositions to receive acclaim and airplay.

Reginald and Vincent split from Midnight Star in 1986. While the rest of the band scored a couple of moderately successful albums without them, their collective star had waned by the dawn of the new decade, and Midnight Star went on an extended hiatus which has been periodically interrupted by reunion shows and even an album a few years ago. Meanwhile,  the Calloway brothers went on to brief pop domination as a sibling duo, scoring a massive hit with the God-awful “I Wanna Be Rich” in 1990. Suffice it to say, Midnight Star and the Calloway brothers sounded better (as artists, anyway) together, and “Freak-a-Zoid,” despite the somewhat horrifying video, stands as proof.