My wife and daughter went out of town a few weeks ago, leaving me alone in the house to do what I normally do when they aren’t here, which is write a lot, eat a lot of bad food, and watch hours and hours of horrible television â€” which is how I wound up sprawled in front of the TV one night, watching VH1’s 500,000 Most Awesomely Awesome One-Hit Wonders or whatever it’s called, which is how I finally learned that Cheryl Lynn got her start on The Gong Show.
Right now, you’re probably either saying “Pshaw! Who didn’t know that?” or “Who the hell is Cheryl Lynn?” I’m only answering the latter question. You know Cheryl Lynn’s music, even if you think you don’t; there isn’t a person on this planet who hasn’t heard her defining hit, “Got to Be Real.” Seriously, even Tibetan root farmers could probably sing along with it, and if you don’t believe me, check out this Soul Train footage:
See? I told you. Great song, right? And you’ve heard it thousands of times.As you’ve probably guessed by now, Cheryl’s career took a bit of a downward turn after “Got to Be Real.” Lynn bios tend to focus on the “R&B hits” and “other successes” she enjoyed, but really, she ended up on VH1’s Big Fat Assload of One-Hit Wonders for a reason. By 1987, she was reduced to titling her seventh album Start Over, even though Over would have sufficed. And hey, it just so happens that I’ve had a copy for years and years, so why not listen to it?
I’ll tell you why: It sucks.
It’s important for me to say here that Cheryl Lynn is a vocalist of monstrous talent, and the way she’s been underrated and neglected is really one of the music industry’s more egregious failures. Even the best singer is only as good as her worst material, though, and lordy, these are some weak songs. I don’t know who EMI put in charge of finding tracks for this album, but they should have been fired, after being beaten with the limp body of the person who designed the cover.
God, that cover. Even on her best day, Lynn was never exactly overflowing with sex appeal, but this looks like the product of a Glamour ShotÃ¢â€žÂ¢ session arranged to cheer up a receptionist after her second divorce. And the wardrobe, even for 1987, is appalling â€” it looks like her jacket and earrings are fighting over who will swallow her head first. The whole thing hurts to look at.
The songs, fortunately, are better than the cover, but they don’t have as much personality, and the production renders them all anonymous; Start Over is shellacked with that slick, mechanical sound we all remember from ’80s R&B albums. Synth after synth after synth. To her credit, Lynn never stops trying to rise above the material; she’s in fine voice throughout the record, and the album is dotted with little touches of her personality. The net effect is sort of heartbreaking, but whatever; her vocals are still a pleasure to listen to.
Anyway, get a load of this stuff. “New Dress” (download) sounds like the soundtrack to the opening montage in a crappy Blake Edwards movie. “Don’t Bury Me” (download) finds Lynn doing a spoken-word vamp at the end to say â€” I’m not kidding â€” “If you bury me, you’ll be burying mounds of pleasure.” “Don’t Run Away” (download), her reunion with “Got to Be Real” producer/co-writer David Paich, features some unfortunate synths, not to mention one of the least interesting drum tracks Jeff Porcaro ever committed to tape. (Seriously, I’m not convinced they’re real drums.) And the title track (download), God bless it, features a synth harp, and sounds like the soundtrack to the big slow dance scene in a crappy Blake Edwards movie.
She’s released a pair of albums since Start Over, neither of which I’ve heard, which I imagine puts me in some pretty good company. She’s apparently a pretty solid live draw in Japan, however, and don’t count her out for a second act â€” she’s still a ferociously talented singer, and a new album is supposedly just around the corner.