Lost in the ’80s: Shalamar
Shalamar began life as a studio project by Soul Train booker Dick Griffrey, but after the success of their first single, “Uptown Festival,” Griffrey had to put some faces with the voices quick. Looking to the Soul Train dancers, he recruited pop/lock empresario Jeffrey Daniels and the runway-ready Jody Watley. They were soon joined by singer Howard Hewett, and Shalamar began a decent run on the American R&B charts. The story was different overseas, where the trio crossed over with regularity on the U.K. pop charts. They’d score a U.S. pop hit here and there, but with the exception of the #8 peaking “The Second Time Around” in 1980, major crossover success eluded them.
1983’s The Look was concocted to solve this problem, with a slick sound that fused the funky r&b Shalamar typically traded in with the New Wave zeitgeist. The result was the band’s first significant crossover hit in years as “Dead Giveaway” (download) (here in its single version) became a bit of a hit, thanks in no small part to its blistering rock guitar solo and New Wave-y synth line on the chorus. The single’s video was also an MTV favorite, Shalamar being one of the first African-American acts to make that channel’s formerly tightly segregated playlist. Keep your eye on Watley (like you can’t anyway) – she spends the video posing and vamping, occasionally deigning to pretend to play the synth. She looks so entirely over the proceedings, it’s a hoot to watch:
“Dead Giveaway” struggled a bit up the charts, stopping just shy of the Top 20. The band was unable to capitalize on this for a follow-up until a few years later, when the even more New Wave “Dancin’ In The Sheets” hit the Top Ten. By that time, however, Watley and Daniels were a memory, replaced by two ringers while Hewett became the focus. Jody Watley went on to bigger mainstream success than Shalamar ever enjoyed and Shalamar called it day in the early ’90s.
The Look is currently out of print and fetches some decent dollars on Amazon, but there are tons of Shalamar compilations out there to fit the bill if you’re not a hardcore fan.
“Dead Giveaway” peaked at #22 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart and at #18 on the Club Play Chart in 1983.
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