The year was 1985. Earth, Wind & Fire were a few years removed from a run during which they competed with The Commodores and Parliament/Funkadelic for the title of America’s most beloved R&B band. Following 1983’s Electric Universe, the band splintered, and falsetto vocalist Philip Bailey released his first solo album, Continuation. That album wasn’t a hit, but the following year’s Chinese Wall proved to be a smash, thanks to production and a vocal assist by Phil Collins on several tracks, including the #2 pop behemoth “Easy Lover”. Recognizing the iron was hot, band founder and co-lead vocalist Maurice White went to work on a solo album of his own, and it was released in late fall of 1985.
The first single released from White’s self-titled debut was a techno-funk revamp of the Leiber/Stoller classic “Stand By Me”. Having already been a hit in two decades (Ben E. King’s original was a smash in 1961, while John Lennon’s 1975 version hit the Top Ten), the song was a proven quantity. It had all the pieces necessary to make it a success-a pumping, contemporary beat, a recognizable voice, a clip pulled straight from the Lionel Richie School of Music Video Making, Maurice rocking a tight wife-beater followed by a Ricardo Tubbs-esque white suit. It’s all here.
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Only-something didn’t totally click. The album peaked at #61 on the Billboard charts (although it made #12 R&B), and although “Stand By Me” and it’s follow-up, “I Need You”, were solid R&B hits, neither song peaked any higher than #50 pop. To add insult to injury, the following fall saw Ben E. King’s original version of “Stand by Me” re-chart in the Pop Top 10 following it’s inclusion in the Rob Reiner flick of the same name.
Two years later, Earth, Wind & Fire had reformed with White and Bailey, and they’ve rarely taken a break since. They remain a popular touring draw, and although White suffers from Parkinson’s disease and can’t do shows with his EW&F bandmates, he still writes and records. I wonder if he can still rock the white Ricardo Tubbs suit, though.