Join Robert Cass, Jeff Giles, and Mike Heyliger as they take a look back at the first three decades of Babyface’s career, with various detours along the stream of consciousness.
It’s been exactly two years since the last ‘Face Time three-way — or, if you’re easily embarrassed, “group post.” The series ended abruptly because of some personal issues I was dealing with back then, but a couple months ago I discovered e-mails that Jeff, Mike, and I had exchanged about Paula Abdul’s “Knocked Out” right before I decided I had to put ‘Face Time on indefinite hiatus in November 2013. I didn’t want to let the e-mails go to waste, however — the shocking revelation of my crush on Abdul when I was 15 years old needed to see the light of day, obviously, and with a song title like “Knocked Out,” how could we not rise to the occasion and peel this series off the mat for one more round? — so I compiled them into a belated post. Then last weekend I discovered, also belatedly, that Babyface debuted a new single in August, the effervescent “We’ve Got Love,” and that he’ll be releasing Return of the Tender Lover, his first solo album of original songs since 2005’s Grown & Sexy, later this year. (Thanks for clueing me in, Brian Baumley. You too, Mike.) Last February ‘Face and Toni Braxton won the Grammy for Best R&B Album for their superb 2014 collaboration, Love, Marriage & Divorce, so it’s as good a time as any to celebrate the continued strength of Kenneth Edmonds as a songwriter, producer, and performer. And since it’ll be 2015 for at least a few more months, please remind Jeff to keep his promise below about ‘Bone Time. —Robert
“Knocked Out” by Paula Abdul [Amazon / iTunes](written by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, and Daryl Simmons; produced by Edmonds and Reid; from Forever Your Girl, 1988)
Robert: “Knocked Out” is reportedly the first song Abdul ever recorded. It was released as a single three times in the UK and twice in the US, though in both territories the version issued in 1990 was a Shep Pettibone remix from Abdul’s Shut Up and Dance remix album, a stopgap release similar to Bobby Brown’s Dance! … Ya Know It! (1989) and … uh … who else put out remix albums back then?
Jeff: Milli Vanilli!
Mike: Jody Watley and New Kids on the Block. And 3rd Bass. And Babyface.
Robert: But of course — A Closer Look!
Did Milli Vanilli’s remix album come out before their lip-synching scandal? Abdul was also accused of having her vocals provided by, or at least seriously bolstered by, backup singers, but did her mini scandal come later? When I listened to Forever Your Girl a couple years ago for the first time in almost 20 years, I understood what those accusations were all about, especially on a song like “I Need You,” where Abdul’s vocal sounds a bit deeper than usual:
Jeff: Mike might remember more clearly than I do, but I think Paula’s vocal scandal occurred closer to the release of Spellbound, or at least toward the end of Forever Your Girl‘s appallingly long sales cycle.
Mike: Yeah, that’s correct. Her accuser was one of the Mary Jane Girls.
Robert: I see. And according to The New York Times, when Yvette Marine filed her lawsuit in the spring of ’91 she was claiming that her guide vocals for “I Need You” and “Opposites Attract” weren’t erased once Abdul recorded her own vocals; instead, they were allegedly blended with Abdul’s in the final mix, which Marine felt entitled her to performance royalties for lead vocals. Marine is credited as a backing vocalist on those two songs as well as “State of Attraction” and “Knocked Out,” for which she belts the line “I’m knocked out, I’m knocked out, I’m knocked ooooooout” near the end of the track, but she lost her bid for revised liner notes in August of ’93. (There are rumors that Pebbles, who’s also credited as a backing vocalist on “Knocked Out,” was brought in by Babyface and L.A. Reid to double Abdul’s voice on its verses and chorus, but she never filed a lawsuit, nor did Abdul threaten litigation when ‘Face, Reid, and Daryl Simmons recycled the song’s melody for Sheena Easton’s “The Lover in Me,” released as a single five months after “Knocked Out.”)
By the time Abdul’s “Promise of a New Day” video came out near the end of the summer of ’91, she was being accused of CinemaScoping her appearance so she’d look thinner on camera. I had a huge — you could even say widescreen — crush on Paula Abdul that summer, so I didn’t care for all those nasty rumors.
Jeff: Robert, you wanted Emilio Estevez’s sloppy seconds? I’m surprised.
Robert: She was still his funky firsts at that point, wasn’t she? But in the context of Paula’s “Rush Rush” video, yes, I wanted Keanu’s sloppy seconds.
Jeff: Ah, the “Rush Rush” video. Not only do you and Emilio Estevez have similar taste in women, but you also have a poodle-skirt fetish.
Robert: Are you implying that I’ve been engaged to women who look like pre-surgically-enhanced Demi Moore? Works for me!
Jeff: Huh. Yeah, that works for me too. (Begin the St. Elmo’s Fire theme in 5, 4, 3, 2 …)
Robert: Also cue Rob Lowe playing sax in a bar band since, you know, it was the ’80s. (And speaking of that most excellent decade, John Leland reported in the June ’89 issue of Spin that Babyface and L.A. Reid met Abdul two years earlier when they were mixing Pebbles’s “Girlfriend” in a studio next door to one in which Abdul was teaching Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks how to dance for the video of “City of Crime,” their single from the Dragnet movie.)
Jeff: Hold on, I’m setting up a dry-ice machine under a window to which I’ve attached a long, flowing curtain.
Robert: Did Glenn Frey just climb through that window with his “You Belong to the City” saxman? Oh dear, circa-1985 Rob Lowe is not going to be happy about this.
Why didn’t American Idol try to lure back Paula Abdul as a judge for the upcoming season? Think of the catfights she’d have with Jennifer Lopez. Your loss, Fox. Now that Arsenio’s back on TV, he’d better have Paula on his new show to perform “Straight Up,” though at this point in her career that song’s title sounds more like the tail end of a drink request than anything else.
Jeff: Oh my god, imagine if Paula Abdul and Jennifer Lopez recorded a duet.
Robert: Their vocals would be half as thin as their waists. (Paula and Jenny, I kid. I kid because I love. Don’t ever change. —Faux Telly Savalas)
Wait, should I have said “twice as thin as their waists”? Oh well, I’ve already screwed up the joke. Forget it.
Jeff: The point is that it would not be good. Not good at all.
Robert: When did Abdul last record new material? Nineteen ninety-five? Or did American Idol‘s success in the early aughts allow her to record a few new songs that could be tacked onto a new greatest-hits compilation?
Jeff: I think her last full-length album came out in ’95, but she did something with Randy Jackson a few years ago. I think he released a record or … *yawn* … something.
Robert: Was it called “A Little Pitchy, Dawg”? Discogs.com shows that a two-disc Abdul retrospective released just last year in the UK contains both versions of “Knocked Out.” Which leads me to ask: what happened to Shep Pettibone? I still like his extended remix of Level 42’s “Something About You.”
Jeff: We’ll cover him two years from now in the ‘Bone Time series.
Robert: With a name like that, we’re bound to get some traffic. Good thinking, Jeff!
Mike, anything you want to add to this thread?
Mike: Um, I don’t think so? This is still my favorite Paula Abdul song?
Robert: Good enough for me. Just so you know, I’m going to replace that question mark at the end of your second sentence with a period.
Then again, maybe I won’t. I like ambiguous endings.
For an in-depth look at Kenneth Edmonds’s discography as a solo artist, see Mike and Jeff’s Popdose Guide to Babyface. And if you’re a member of Spotify, check out the ‘Face Time playlist here.