Did you hear the one about the song released on a tiny label from California that went on to top the charts and rule the airwaves during the summer in 1986?
It only hit #8 on the pop charts, but from my vantage point on a Brooklyn stoop, there was no song more played on the radio, blasted out of car stereos (and my neighbors’ windows) or referenced more by my friends than Timex Social Club’s ”Rumors”. One of the first successful songs to fuse R&B melodies with hip-hop inspired production, it was a left-field smash, coming out on tiny indie label Jay Records and hitting pole position on Billboard’s R&B and dance charts.
Featuring vocals by Michael Marshall and production by label owner Jay King and up-and-coming producer/artist Denzil Foster, the hard hitting tune struck a chord with listeners and the song’s second verse also allegedly referenced some of the most important figures in mid-80s pop culture: Tina Turner, Michael Jackson and…Amazonian singer/actress Susan Anton? You’d think those references would date the song (particularly the reference to Anton…geez, has someone even given her a second thought since the mid-Eighties?), but it holds up remarkably well. In the age of bullying and people talking shit on social networking sites, ”Rumors” might be more meaningful than it was initially!
It also inspired one of my all-time favorite parody songs: ”Roaches” by Bobby Jimmy & The Critters. Take that, Weird Al.
”Rumors” would have been fated to be a one-shot anyway (hip-hop was still in it’s infancy, it was released on a small label, time-sensitive pop culture references), but it didn’t help matters that Timex Social Club split up almost immediately after ”Rumors” was a hit. Months later, Foster had formed a new band called Club Nouveau, whose first song ”Jealousy” was damn near a carbon-copy of ”Rumors”. The copycat ”Club” went on to much bigger success, as their cover of Bill Withers’ ”Lean on Me” went on to become a #1 pop smash in the spring of 1987. However, by the decade’s end, even they’d faded from the public eye. Foster (along with partner Thomas McElroy) would later go on to discover and nurture Tony! Toni! Tone! and En Vogue. Meanwhile, Timex lead singer Michael Marshall had another brush with fame in the mid Nineties, singing the hook on Luniz’ smash ”I Got 5 on It”, a song that sampled…a Club Nouveau hit, ”Why You Treat Me So Bad?” Confused? Yeah, I am, too.
Did you hear the one about Michael Parr? He suggested I do a column on this song. Good call, sir!